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Have A Nice Death is a fun roguelike that needs more meat on its bones

Lean with potential to be really mean

Have A Nice Death is a roguelike where you take control of an overworked Death, whose employees have ditched their jobs and run amok. You’ll journey into the bowels of your company, find the miscreants, and scythe them back into work.

Despite the game’s grim backdrop, it’s a joyful experience stacked with cracking combat and funny characters. The moreish roguelike hook is there, albeit with some early access hiccups to overcome. Give it some time and it could really shine, but whether it’ll get lost in the Steam release cycle before it even has a chance to fill out remains to be seen.

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You might be thinking it, but Have A Nice Death isn’t much like Hollow Knight, really. It’s more of a mash-up between Dead Cells and Hades, in the way you’re slicing through progressively difficult 2D stages and uncovering bits of story in the process. You upgrade as you go, and you go as far as you can, selecting stages that’ll best complement your ever-evolving build.

What makes Hades such a great roguelike (and one of our favourite games of 2020) isn’t just its precise combat or bevvy of powerups. Time after time you defy death because you want to reveal just a bit more of its story, like taking a penny to a scratchcard over successive runs. You’re motivated not only by the action promised by Tartarus, but the characters you might meet and their reasons for being there, whether that’s by your side – or across the arena.

While Have A Nice Death’s story doesn’t strike me anywhere near as deep or complex as Hades, it still motivates in a similar way: you’re keen to meet these employees of yours and give them a whooping. Early on you encounter Brad, a burly security guard who reclines with a bit of bat and ball. He’s just sitting there, relaxing, while you’re working overtime to even make it down to his workspace. It’s easy stepping into Death’s shoes at this stage and letting your scythe set him straight.

Death faces off against a giant, oily boss in Have A Nice Death.

And over successive runs, the game will drip-feed you new interactions, many designed to keep your runs fresh with... mixed results. There’s a coffin that’ll offer you incremental upgrades and a weird dude with post-it notes plastered all over his head that can tinker with your scythe. You’ll stumble into a shop, too, with a few bits and pieces on offer. Many of these characters are quirky and fun, albeit with wares that aren’t super clear on whether they’re permanent or temporary. Spend a valuable chunk of Prismium (a super rare resource) on a new slot for the shop and it’ll disappear on the next run, which seems a bit much.

The game’s also stingy with health upgrades and potions, barely doling them out. If you’ve got a few in your back pocket, you won’t be able to heal to full health without having the special potion that lets you do so. You won’t even get a top-up after beating an entire floor, which often means you’ll enter a new zone and have that sense of wonder cut short in seconds by some stray toxic goo.

Teething issues aside, the game’s roguelike battling is wonderful. The combat is super crisp, with movement that’s precise and responsive. Death has a zippy dash that feels great and he’s lithe with that scythe, capable of slashing upwards, downwards, and hanging in mid-air for some flashy aerial antics. Couple this a variety of collectible weapons - of which, you can wield up to three at a time – and you’ve got serious combo potential here.

Despite some minor annoyances, Have A Nice Death is a good, if familiar, time. Aside from its charming art style and premise, other roguelikes have it beat on sheer wealth of "stuff you can come across and collect and eat". But the game is a Steam Early Access title, after all, so it will only continue to add more challenges, bosses, and zany characters. Given some time, it definitely has the potential to compete with the big boys. Death's a joy to scythe around with, so I just hope he doesn’t get lost in the endless churn of the video game release schedule.

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