Review: "Have a Nice Death" is cute but challenging
Memento mori is a complete aesthetic.
Burnout is terrible and even the Grim Reaper can reach a boiling point. Overwhelmed by handling souls alone, Death created Death Inc., but lately, his employees have run amok. Paperwork gets misfiled, souls get misdirected, and Death needs to set everything in order before taking a well-deserved vacation. Have a Nice Death is a 2D roguelike suitable for adolescents and adults, but the amount of reading required and the occasional scythe-to-a-head might be too much for kids.
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For the uninitiated, roguelikes are a subgenre of video games characterized most often by dungeon crawling, hack-and-slash gameplay and procedurally-generated levels inspired by the 1980 computer game, Rogue.
After years of stamping paperwork, Death is ready to take up the scythe again and whip his rogue employees back into shape, with the help of a few co-workers along the way. There are five levels to move through before reaching the Thanager, the mini-boss at the end of every floor. Defeating the Thanager results in moving on to the next floor.
The main bosses are the Sorrows, top-level executives who once helped Death manage reaping souls, but have grown arrogant and greedy, and are reaping more souls than they should be in order to maximize their profits.
Each floor is based on a different form of death, from war to more mundane methods, like choking on a piece of gum. At one point, Death is fighting birds slicked in oil, harkening to the many environmental disasters we face in life — many of them man-made.
Along the way, Death finds new items – from weapons to rejuvenating beverages like koffee – to help in each level. There are also Curses, a mechanic that allows Death to receive a bonus in exchange for a penalty. For example, gaining increased damage but at the cost of total health.
Boss fights can be punishingly difficult, but are incredibly satisfying. Gamers will need to utilize the full gamut of weapons and combos in order to successfully beat the Thanagers and Sorrows. If Death is defeated, he simply gets returned to his office to begin again.
The artwork is delightfully hand drawn and the soundtrack shines as it enhances the environment of Death Incorporated.
Another very cute detail is Death’s coworkers, from the aggressively enthusiastic Harriet — who puts Death on a rigorous training regimen — to the endearing Pump Quin, a local intern eager to please. Throughout the game, Death can overhear their conversations about typical Underworld workplace drama and it’s incredibly charming.
Have a Nice Death embodies the artistic trope of memento mori, the Latin phrase for "remember you must die." It possesses a visual allure and silliness overlaying the deeper themes of death, but it does contain the occasional gory image (remember, scythe-to-the-head) that may be disturbing for children, so caution is warranted.