Being The Grim Reaper is a hard job! Death incarnate has a lot of souls he’s responsible for but that’s what delegating is for. Unfortunately, turning death into a fully staffed operation has come with some downsides. Namely, Death Incorporated is now being run by a handful of operatives called “Sorrows” that are so busy on Earth that Death is being buried in paperwork and needs a break. Have a Nice Death gives us the opportunity to play as Death as he reigns in his employees so he can take a much-needed vacation.
Have A Nice Death is a 2D Roguelike with a lot of charm, personality, and humor. The concept of Death being reduced to a corporate paper pusher was funny enough, but that charm extends even to the dialogue, which can be downright hysterical at times.. Each character was well thought out and added to the charm, though my personal favorite was Harriet. She acts as Death’s personal Word Paperclip, taking players through the tutorial and pops up throughout the game to explain things coming up that are new. She seems to exhaust Death but honestly, she’s just trying to help!
Have a Nice Death is a game of repetition. Every time you start the game, you start from the beginning. One run consists of a single attempt to complete the game from start to finish. In one run, you’ll play 4 levels that are floors of the company before going to fight a Sorrow and then the cycle continues until you either die or beat all of the Sorrows. Either way, after a run is complete, you go back to the beginning and start a new run.
Each run starts with a little ditty that simply says “Welcome to the afterlife!” and then taking an elevator to the main floor and working your way through some fairly aggressive, albeit easy-to-defeat souls. Each floor of the company has different reasons for going there.
For example, the equipment storage is a floor that drops weapons. It’s important to have auxiliary weapons because your scythe is a basic weapon suitable for most enemies but may not be enough to fight the Sorrows. The scythe and its variations you can choose from at the beginning of your run do not do much damage on their own but Death is very fast and has a dash ability to quickly get away from an enemy. Because of Death’s speed, I found it easy to get away from basic enemies because even if I did get hit, it didn’t do much damage. Fighting a Thanager or a Sorrow was more difficult as it required learning their move set and still having a certain element of randomization in the fight.
There is something so satisfying about hacking and slashing your way through each level. Most of the attacks against basic enemies are just from one button. Jumping and doing attacks in the air or as you land can have a different effect. The combos string together very naturally and after a while playing I found a very comfortable groove to settle into when I was fighting basic enemies. That led to a therapeutic or even cathartic feeling to just sit, sometimes for a long stretch just hacking and slashing through the onslaught of enemy souls. Alternatively, boss fights were very difficult and required so much memorization and repetition, that beating one was a victory unto itself. The first time I beat a sorrow, I literally jumped out of my seat yelling at the tv!
Each level gives you the option to decide which floor you’re going to. This adds a great opportunity to strategize based on your own personal play style. You can prioritize getting health power-ups called anima, weapons, or money which you spend at the shop on a koffee break.
It adds another layer of enjoyment being able to strategize your way to each Sorrow and the minibosses called “Thanagers.” I don’t know that I would have enjoyed the repetitive nature of Have A Nice Death if I felt like I was doing these floors on every run just for the sake of doing them. Adding in that bit of strategy saved the gameplay for me in a way.
After completing four floors, you’ll go to the shop for a koffee break where you can buy power-ups with Soulary, the currency of Death Incorporated, to help prepare for an upcoming boss fight with a Sorrow. Because the Sorrows and Thanagers are both brutally difficult, it will require a lot of time in Have A Nice Death to understand how to fight them because they pack a serious punch. Not surprisingly, I lost a lot of boss battles while learning how to fight the Sorrows as I memorized their move sets and losing the battle meant going back to the very beginning…every single time.
The longer I played, the easier a specific boss battle would get but there was always an element of randomization that could end a run even if I thought I knew the pattern. I’d be ok with the learning curve here except that there is no real option for an easy mode. I know a lot of people like not having an easy mode in games meant to be difficult, but I feel like making Have A Nice Death more accessible to more players can only be a good thing without taking away from those who enjoy a difficult experience.
I don’t want it to seem like I’m complaining. The difficulty and the learning curve were a bit much sometimes, even to the point of feeling punitive. However, the silver lining to this was that it created a seriously addictive game. There were times when I would fail a run in spectacular fashion. I would groan and toss the controller from being so upset with how it ended. Then, I would pick up the controller again, return to the main floor, listen to the sweet sounding assassin of sanity sing to me “Welcome to the Afterlife!” and start again towards the first level.
After each Sorrow, you’ll go to another world in Have A Nice Death. Each world is based on a specific way to die like Toxic Food or Industrial Pollution. You can eventually unlock elevators to skip over parts of your run that you’ve already played through but there is a serious downside to this. Because you’re able to find specific power-ups on different floors of the company, going straight to a Sorrow with their elevator at the beginning of your run means that you skip over the entire prep period and only have whatever you start with.
For some, this might pose a formidable and enjoyable challenge. However, I found those already difficult boss battles to be even more difficult. This is because by jumping into an elevator straight to the boss, you skip the prep work, leaving behind power-ups and those auxiliary weapons that can turn the tide of a fight with a Sorrow.
While the spike in difficulty as I progressed through Have A Nice Death can be hard to overcome at times, it's saved by the sheer fact that this is one of the most fun games that I’ve ever had the opportunity to review. I’ll admit, too, a lot of that enjoyment was sitting in the recliner on my Nintendo Switch in the wee hours telling myself I’d just do one more run. Of course, it was never just one more run.
The replayability in this game is through the roof. I kept going back more and more wanting to see how far I could get, what great dialogue I might come upon, or whatever other secrets I have yet to find.
If you like a challenge, are a fan of Roguelikes, enjoy good humor, or are just wanting to try something new, I can eagerly recommend Have A Nice Death! I laughed. I rage-quit. I spent hours at a time trying to get farther than before. I still want to play more! Perhaps I’m addicted but I just can’t wait until the next time I get to hear “Welcome to the Afterlife!”
Full Disclosure: A copy of this product was provided by PR for the purposes of this review.