Ever since The Binding of Isaac and Enter the Gungeon became massive successes, companies have tried their hand at making roguelike games. Some are truly unique, others understand the fundamentals, with Have a Nice Death going in a very different direction. Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, Have a Nice Death offers a more humorous approach to the idea. It’s an interesting take, one that could go either way. With an intriguing base, and proven concept, does it prove to be a good time, or is it a dark joke?
It’s rare that an opening cinematic amuses me as much as Have a Nice Death‘s did. Instead of portraying Death as an intimidating fellow, he is closer to a Looney Tunes character stuck in a dead-end job. There is an amusing sequence of him working hard to collect the souls from a wide variety of deaths, both tragic and comedic, before having the idea to create a company to do the work for him. Overtime his power diminishes as the freedom the corporation offered becomes a different prison. It’s an unfortunately relatable situation that retains the same humor going into an endless stream of approving paperwork.
With Death now taking a more active role, you get to see how the world has changed since your departure. Levels are largely designed with a dark aesthetic centered around certain elements. There is an area devoted to drugs, food, pollution, and you get the point. What makes the concept work is a good balance between common roguelike elements, and the delightful humor.
Levels are generally straightforward. There are a couple enemies, occasionally there will be a gauntlet for additional rewards, with rewards sprinkled throughout. Sometimes you’ll get your choice of a power enhancement, other times new powers, with these elements expanding as you progress. What I like about the systems is a good understanding of opportunity cost.
A lot of these games center on a single item, or at least items, that are clearly better than everything else. There are some in Have a Nice Death, with most hinging on the path you take. For example, the sword is great for predictable enemies, though bad for those harder to predict. Close range magic can be amazing, unless you get enemies that are strongest at said range. You’ll have some control over your destiny, though not enough where there is an objective good/bad option. You’ll oftentimes need to make the most of whatever you have. This, to me, is the fundamental aspect that makes the genre so intriguing.
Whenever you finish a level you’ll have the option of various floors. Each has a clear benefit, making the choice somewhat difficult. I personally like to pick on bosses, even if that results in me sometimes not having a nice death. Some other big choices include spells, resources, and visiting the vault.
An interesting element are tying worlds to paths. There isn’t a set path forward, just options that boost a specific type of power. This goes back to how opportunity cost works, as you might want one set, but prefer another level set. There are reasons to explore all the options, something you’ll probably do, which gives Have a Nice Death a fair amount of replay value.
I also really like its approach to improving. First and foremost, there is an area to actually try each and every ability. This is massive for determining how to play, or which choices you might make on a given run. Especially since these options are typically steeped in mystery until RNG blesses/curses you. The other is the unlockable system itself.
Most games in the genre use the same gameplay loop. Certain items are locked behind tasks, others can be purchased, with everything building overtime. With Have a Nice Death, progression discounts options. Some are still locked behind progression, though if guides say the best item in the game is the one you get for beating the final boss, you can actually purchase it for a premium to make your journey easier. It’s a small touch that I think a lot of players are going to appreciate.
Another thing I can’t say enough is how much I enjoy the humor. There aren’t a lot of scenes where it appears, but you’ll get a variety of different interactions before and after a boss battle. They all have the same cynical humor found in the opening, so if you’re like me and love it, you’ll probably find yourself reading every encounter and laughing.
I… Don’t Recall Wanting to Be There for the Tutorial
Combat is also simple fun. Outside of the wide array of optional items, you need to overcome obstacles with your basic weapon, and an evasive move. It has some depth, along with a variety of different starting weapons that add a delightful learning curve. Like, the downward strike tends to stun lesser enemies, making it a safe tactic to rely on. However, bigger enemies will typically punish you, so it isn’t mindless either. But, once you get a feel for things it’s a lot of fun to experience.
Despite the positives, Have a Nice Death has some struggles on Nintendo Switch. Load times are not particularly impressive. Even early levels can take 20 seconds to fully load. This might not sound like much, but in a game where a run can easily be 20 or more levels that is almost 7 minutes of loading. It’s also fairly common for lag to appear during the transition and start of a level, along with during really intense fights. How often this occurs is based off your build, but during some of my playthroughs I’ve gotten single digit FPS numbers.
At Least the Enemies Stand Out
Level design could also use some help. While I get the black, white and gooey look is atmospheric of this universes hell, it makes levels feel the same. It isn’t like Enter the Gungeon where I can clearly tell the world apart, you need to look at the finer details of each level to determine what is going on. This is unfortunate, as the repetitive nature of the genre amplifies this issue.
Have a Nice Death Review Verdict
Have a Nice Death: Performance issues aside, Have a Nice Death is a really fun game with a great sense of humor. Even if some of these issues are annoying, I found the engaging gameplay and general laughs more than made up for them. Add in a deep meta game, some welcome changes to the genre, multiple endings, and more really helps Have a Nice Death stand out. So, if you were looking for a new roguelike to get into, this is a fantastic choice. – Grant