It’s maybe not the most cheery subject in the world, but there are plenty of video games that deal with death. Some of these games pull on the heartstrings like Spiritfarer, others see the lighter side of death like the Double Fine classic Grim Fandango. Have a Nice Death takes a wildly different approach, with you playing as Death himself – the CEO of Death Incorporated.
Taking lives is big business it turns out, but our skeletal protagonist doesn’t really have the support he needs. His subordinates (the sorrows) just aren’t pulling their weight, and have left him drowning in paperwork. Death decides to show these useless employees who’s boss, and heads on a company wide tour with his trusty scythe.
This journey will take you through all the different departments of this grizzly business, and see you fighting all manner of death related enemies. Have a Nice Death is an action Roguelike with more than a few similarities to Dead Cells, which is by no means a bad thing. Combat involves a lot of attacking with your scythe and other sub weapons, followed by a lot of dashing and the invincibility frames it provides to get yourself to safety. The main reason this works is because the motion of Death is absolutely perfect, and before long you’ll be dashing and double jumping through incoming attacks with ease.
Once you get used to surviving the attacks of walking cigarettes and angry burgers, you’ll need to start collecting and upgrading your equipment so you can bite back. There are abilities called Cloaks that can be used on a cooldown and have a load of powerful effects, and spells that use up your mana (which regenerates extremely quickly). One run might see you equipped with a homing bow and the ability to summon meteors from above, another might involve you setting poisonous clouds around enemies and luring them into their damaging radius. The variety is really impressive, and once you start upgrading them and finding curses that power them even further you’ll be ready to take on anything.
Curses are essentially passive buffs you’re granted by a coffin at the end of some areas, which you’re offered a few of to pick from. They’re separated into different categories and added to different skill trees, and selecting the right combination is key if you want to succeed on a run. A lot of my runs I focused on making one specific type of attack stronger so I could really deal some damage, but I ended up surviving my first complete run with a build based on making the shop cheaper and healing me every time I made a purchase. There are always a few directions you can take a build during a run despite the random nature of the game, which means that if you play smart enough you’ll stand much more of a chance against the rogue employees of Death Incorporated.
As well as weapons and curses, you’ll find plenty of different helpful collectables and upgrades on each run of Have a Nice Death. Each time you complete a floor (which is essentially a single stage) and make it to the lift that takes you to the next one, you’ll be offered some choices of where to go next. Some floors will offer a guaranteed amount of currency for the shop, some will buff your max health or mana, and others will have challenges to try and overcome for a more substantial reward. It’s just another way that the game puts a choice in your hands, and enables you to be the one who decides what’s important for your playstyle.
Regardless of the floors you pick though, eventually you’ll end up having to fight some bosses. These heads of department are as powerful as you’d expect, and all have a range of screen-filling attacks that you’ll get to know and love as they batter you time and time again. With limited health it’s inevitable that you’ll get taken down sooner or later, and these nasties are more than happy to ensure that.
If you have a nice collection of Anima though you might be able to survive some of these tougher encounters. These healing orbs can be used at any time to heal your injuries, which is the portion of your health bar which hasn’t been blacked out entirely. If you collect more Anima than you can carry though, one of these blue orbs will turn yellow, and can be used to restore the missing portion of health. It’s an interesting system that differentiates regular healing and “pure healing”, but I felt it maybe made the game more punishing than it needed to be.
If you’re having trouble like I did though, there is a lower difficulty option called Self Fulfilment mode. When playing on this difficulty you start the game with a full stock of healing Anima, enemies deal less damage and the healing from the Anima is more significant. This still wasn’t enough to keep me alive on earlier runs, so I was delighted when I realised that the more you die while playing on this mode, the less the damage taken becomes and the bigger the heals become. It’s a really clever system that means no matter what happens on a run you’ll eventually start to improve.
After each run (whether you succeed or fail) you’ll also unlock some permanent upgrades going forward. From the amount of Anima you can carry to the ability to start with a curse reroll, these handy buffs make Have a Nice Death more enjoyable and manageable.
You can also unlock new weapons and spells between runs too, using the gold you earn as you go. What’s really clever about this system is that the items you can purchase get discounted based on certain conditions. Sure you can buy the shuriken for three hundred gold, but if you beat a certain boss enough times it’ll keep getting discounted until it’s practically free.
It’s worth mentioning that Have a Nice Death is a visual delight, with beautiful animation and a striking art style. Each death based world is a feast for the eyes, be it full of fast food, flying pills or bullets with legs.
Have a Nice Death is a fantastic action Roguelike, with superb combat, wonderfully varied upgrades and gorgeous visuals. Some aspects of the game are a little more punishing than they need to be, but it’s well worth pushing through to get your company back in working order.
Silky smooth combat
A whole lot of variety between runs
The upgrade system is really clever
Can be too difficult
The healing is overly complex and punishing