Have a Nice Death is an excellent roguelike indie game with a charming cast and an alluring story.
One of my favourite reads this year is an older 2005 book called Death with Interruptions by José Saramago. In that book, the author asks what would happen if the personified Death were to take a vacation. What would the consequences be? How would humanity react? It’s a fantastic read chiefly due to Saramago’s peculiar writing style.
Have a Nice Death, a game released earlier this year by Gearbox Publishing and Magic Design Studios, asks a similar question: What if Death ran a company but suffered from burnout? That question results in a charming indie-roguelike that I’ve come to love.
The game is beautifully designed (just check out that trailer), full of dark workplace humour, with intriguing characters that remind me of some of the more charming personalities from Hades. Since the big boss suffered from burnout and has taken time out, his lackeys have taken over the company, and continued the business of dying – with, at times, catastrophic consequences.
To take matters into his own hands again, Death needs to progress through different levels, each represented by a new floor in the Death Inc.’s building. At the end of every area, one of his lackeys awaits as an area boss.
As a roguelike, each playthrough is unique, except for the boss fights. The floors change, you meet different enemies, and you can choose, Slay the Spire-style, what floor you want to progress to help make your run easier. Sometimes, you are lucky and find a floor that heals you. Other times, you find a unique floor where you need to progress in a certain way for a reward.
The whole dying thing is also part of the level design since every new area represents one way of dying. There’s the food poisoning area, the warfare area, the sickness area, and many more. I am not even sure I have discovered them all already.
Gameplay-wise, the game takes its inspiration from Dead Cells. It’s a side-scrolling combat game with fast and frantic gameplay. You can jump, dash, slash, use finishers, and more. And similar to Dead Cells, you can choose between different primary weapons – scythes in this case, and find several other powers in the form of spells or secondary weapons throughout the game. Each weapon or power also has a special finisher move, with some more focused on crowd control and others on powerful damage to a single enemy, which is especially useful in boss fights.
Throughout the game, you’ll unlock different curse cards, which level up your character or add special abilities to your weapons like bleeding or poisoning, and sometimes curse you by giving you a debuff.
In typical roguelike fashion, dying scores you points to unlock new powers and weapons for subsequent runs. The game is unforgiving, so you’ll die a lot in early parts of the game just so you can get some stronger weapons and progress. Some of the boss fights are Souls-like, as you need to memorise your enemy’s fight patterns, or they’ll slay you in no time.
I don’t know how many times I’ve died in this game.
But the more you die and play, the more you progress the game's lore. This lore is its most charming aspect. Interacting with your different employees (I love Harriet!), trying to figure out who is leading a mutiny against you, and some holiday-themed events make this game fun. Also, that soundtrack is chef’s kiss.
Despite its darker undertones (death, sickness, burnout, exploitation), I got some good laughs out of Have a Nice Death (the title of this review is a direct quote from the game that made me laugh way too hard).
Have A Nice Death
Steam Deck Verified
Have a Nice Death is a great indie game you can buy on the Steam Store for $24.99. It’s Steam Deck Verified, though I mostly played on the AYANEO Air 1s (hooked up to a TV). Although it doesn’t have quite the same sticky replayability as Dead Cells or Hades, it’ll definitely put a smile on your face and entertain you for several hours.