Have A Nice Death Early Access Review – Rest In Paperwork

Developed By Magic Design Studios

Published by Gearbox Publishing

Available on PC

MSRP $14.99

The market for 2D side-scrolling rogue-lites is as saturated as ever. Almost daily, a new entry into the genre is announced. It takes a lot to stand out in this cutthroat genre war. Thankfully, Have A Nice Death avoids the competition by rising way high above it. There is nothing particularly new that Have A Nice Death does, but it excels in the basics you would expect in a rogue-lite experience. You play as Death, the capital D Death. After years of reaping all on your lonesome, you decide that death (lowercase d) can be treated as a business. Why should you have to reap by yourself when you can hire some lost souls to handle it for you? There’s a lot of paperwork that goes into processing the dead. Why not outsource that to someone else? The afterlife isn’t running short on souls to help.

After so many years of building up his business, Death has grown soft and gotten short. Once a towering force of nature, a god walking amongst the sheep, you’re now about 3 feet tall, trading in your fearsome scythe for a three-piece suit. Your lust for the dark work of reaping souls has been replaced by a lust for dark coffee. A force of nature is reduced to idle watercooler chatter. That is, until one day you realize things aren’t getting done. Souls aren’t being reaped properly, the souls that are reaped aren’t being processed properly. You’ve put people in place for this, but they’ve forgotten who runs this place. They’ve turned their back on who they view as a relic, wasting away on the top floor in their office. They’ve lost respect. It’s time to remind them. Ditch the suit, get the cloak. Throwdown the soul reports and get your scythe.

This is where you start in Have A Nice Death. You’re setting off on a journey across your sprawling business to correct your wayward employees. You won’t be alone. There are plenty of sympathetic ears in your company. There’s your constantly hyped-up intern, on his 400th intern contract and ready for another. Shaw; your head of H.R., is there to provide you with helpful/hurtful curses. There is a whole supporting cast of weirdos in Have A Nice Death. As you move through the company, you’ll come across thanagers (Thanatos/Managers), the middle management of the afterlife that serves as mini-bosses. W. Hung, the first you’ll come across, appears as a hanged man until you interact with him and realize that the rope around his neck is actually the sentient one in that situation. Have A Nice Death relishes in its setting, framing death (lowercase d) as something inevitable but funny. Benign almost. It’s a bureaucracy, the same as the DMV or County Clerk.

If you’ve played a rogue-lite, you’re already accustomed to the situation. You go from floor to floor on an elevator, fighting enemies and upgrading Death as you move towards the final stop on the floor, which contains a boss. Death is pretty well-armed with a scythe but has two additional slots for weapons that can be found in the world. I became pretty partial to star craving mad weapon; which rains down giant green meteors across the screen. It’s very effective. These secondary weapons and tools are unlocked through a performance review at the end of every run. In a fun twist, additional items can be unlocked through the gold you get from performance reviews, but you can also complete challenges throughout the company to make them cheaper. Initially, there is no discount, but as you do things like, say, beat W. Hung 5 times, there is a sliding scale of discount.

By doing this, it presents a challenge beyond just collecting gold bars for upgrades. I held off on a lot of unlocks because I was more interested in getting them as cheap as possible through completing challenges. It just feels better when you can unlock something at a 95 percent discount because you kicked so much ass. The combat is satisfying in it’s own way. Death doesn’t have a dodge roll like I’m accustomed to, but instead a dash that propels them across the screen. It takes a bit of getting used to. Combat is very mobile. You’re able to ride your scythe upwards, downwards, side to side, and keep that momentum going throughout a room. It’s easy to learn, hard to master in its purest form. It’s okay if you don’t get it right away. Have A Nice Death is often forgiving in the earlier levels. At control rooms scattered across the company, you can upgrade your scythe or secondary weapons by using the soulary (souls/salary) that you’ve picked up along the way, or a more hard-to-find currency that I’ll let you figure out.

The real drawing point for me in Have A Nice Death is the art and aesthetic. It looks like – this is going to be weird – cutesy German expressionism. There is a dreamlike quality of strange angles and unrealistic lighting. It’s an almost monochromatic dream world where nothing quite makes sense, except it kind of does. You’d have to see it in motion to understand it. Death moves fluidly from one place to the next, providing a smooth combat and exploration experience. Other characters move a bit like claymation in this stilted, low FPS way. It’s unlike anything I’ve seen and Have A Nice Death knows it. The different areas each have a unique look and feel, with enemies slotted in to fit the area. The first area is an office, with enemies being standard office drones in button-down shirts and slacks. Nevermind the fact that they have fire where their heads should be. Ledger books swoop through the air and fire paper airplanes at you, and overseeing all of it is… Brad.

Brad isn’t much of a name for a Sorrow. Sorrows are what Have A Nice Death calls its bosses. If Thanagers are middle management, then Sorrows are department heads. Brad is a social media-obsessed dude bro who spends more time uploading videos to the afterlife’s version of TikTok than working. When you first meet him, he’s idling at his desk, where he expresses disdain for the small skeletal Death that has encroached on his workspace. The fight that follows is kind of a full-on introduction to all the mechanics you’ve learned in the first level. It’s an excellent design. Throw Brad a whoopin’ and tell him to straighten up and fly right and he’ll head off to actually do his job. In a game where you play as Death, it’s surprising that you’re not killing your wayward employees. You’re kind of just throwing them a beating to remind them who’s in charge. If you feel like you’ve got management potential, you should check out Have a Nice Death.