Magic Design Studios launched Have A Nice Death in Early Access on Steam roughly a year ago. Created by a team of former Ubisoft employees, this roguelite puts you into the role of Death — CEO of Death Incorporated. Go figure that after thousands of years, even Death would be left dealing with the burnout of everyday life, which I’m thankful is something most of us (if not all) deal with in one form or another.
Have a Nice Death feels familiar if you’ve played Dead Cells and honestly, that’s something I always want more of. See, because roguelikes are generally my cup of tea, I can always appreciate what the developer is trying to do. Doubly so when I can easily relate to the protagonist who despite being Death himself, is dealing with unruly employees who have not only caused havoc but left the mess for the boss to clean up. In another life, this was my situation and quite frankly, it hit closer to home than I expected it to.
Death Comes For Us All
In a bid to reel in his unruly employees, Death sets out to cut his workforce filled with Sorrows, the various ghouls and monsters acting on Death’s behalf. Having done their jobs a little too well, Death is now stuck with eliminating Sorrows within Death Incorporated at every level of the business. That entails having to travel throughout the company and cut down Sorrows who run the various departments, essentially trying to ebb the flow of souls pouring in.
I mentioned the team is made up of former Ubisoft employees because Have a Nice Death is not only beautifully animated, but it also reminds me of Rayman Legends. The character designs are simple but detailed and a bit comical to boot. Seeing everything come together in motion is rewarding due to the incredible work the team at Magic Design Studios put into this project. Even Death’s workplace exudes so much detail and it feels like a Disney movie transposed with a video game. The levels are procedurally generated and each floor you enter comes together so seamlessly that it looks and feels incredible exploring.
Using Dead Cells as a reference point, you’ll know what sort of gameplay you’re getting with Have a Nice Death. Essentially fighting your way through your headquarters before having to defeat the supervisors on each floor, Death is more than up to the task. His animation is a standout amongst a trove of incredible animations. In the case of controller Death, his cloak and scythe when mixed with speed provide a highly engrossing combat system. Not only do you have a scythe but also several spells that can be collected along the way, giving you the breadth to take back and clean up the straggling workforce.
Give me a Break
Death also has access to Curses (it makes sense, right?) with each Curse acting as a buff (or modifier if you will) for our overwhelmed CEO. There are three types of Curses you unlock after meeting Mr. O’Shah, which do various things depending on the colour. Red Curses are for your cloak and spells, Blue Curses are defensive, and Green Curses focus on spells and Mana. Finding the right combination goes a long way if you ever hit a run and want to clean up. In some cases, you can find and work with a good mix of all three but finding a card that can cause bleeding, or a card that heals you make all the difference when fighting the Thanagers, especially since these boss battles are the most challenging aspects of the entire game.
How do you kill Death? Well, in this case, you don’t? If you’re defeated by a boss, you wake up back in your office before returning to the halls of Death Incorporated. In-game the lore makes sense and I mean, it’s not something you’ll hear about often, but be prepared to enter your office often as many of the enemies offer a challenge and require memorizing their movements.
Part of the fun in engaging with the mechanics in Have a Nice Death is learning what weapons work with the right spells. You might be able to dive headfirst for a short while but without understanding the Curse Cards, spells, or which rewards you want to pick up at the end of a run.
Thankfully as it turns out, while all the above is important, so too are the elevators you find in the various departments. Acting as shortcuts, the elevators bypass much of the busywork of the departments so using them allows you to move directly to the boss levels. In an inspired move, using elevators is good if you’re trying to move on but at the expense of missing out on collectibles and potential upgrades that you’d normally find within the department. You do have the choice of which department to go to so there is some leeway on how to proceed.
Have a Nice Death is filled with wit, humour, and a ton of satisfying moments. This roguelike understands what it is and does so exceedingly well. Sure, the gameplay might be challenging but the payoff is worth it, especially when you overcome the obstacles in front of you. Given how difficult some of the bosses can get, this isn’t something for everyone and I know it’ll find an audience with a penchant for punishment.
[A copy of the game was provided to us by the publisher for review purposes.]
Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch