Have a Nice Death Review: A Killer Job (PC)

Have a Nice Death is the next game by Magic Design Studios which has been in early access for the past year. After picking up a fair amount of interest and hype leading into the official release, how does this roguelike fair in the gauntlet of like-minded titles? Pretty well, actually. Here's our review of Have a Nice Death, the exceedingly charming 2D roguelike.

Have a Nice Death Review: A Killer Job (PC)

Have a Nice Death has been an early access darling for over a year now. It’s a 2D roguelike developed by Magic Design Studios and published by Gearbox Publishing which stars the titular character of Death himself, who has to restore order inside of Death Inc. so that he can finally get a well-deserved vacation. It has such a funny, entertaining premise and it met a large degree of fanfare upon entering early access.

After a year of updates and changes, Have a Nice Death is set to launch out of early access and into Version 1.0 on March 22nd. It will arrive alongside all the early access content as well as some more additions including a new department to explore, new enemies, bosses and several endings to the main story. So how is it? 

Have a Nice Death is a very interesting title when compared with other roguelikes. It exudes an absurd level of charm in nearly every aspect from its story to its cast of characters while maintaining a high level of quality in its combat and environment design. There a certainly a few hiccups here and there, though, and there are things that make it weaker than its contemporaries in several areas. However, this is a superb video game and one that any roguelike fan is sure to love in one way or another.

Have a Nice Death is an excellent addition to the roguelike genre and it is certainly a game to die for, flaws and all.

Have a Nice Death is available on Steam and Nintendo Switch

A quick disclaimer: Have a Nice Death covers some very sensitive topics regarding death in a comedic way, including a few which may upset or disturb select players. The game itself has this as a disclaimer and I will repeat it here. If anything regarding the game and the topics it covers upsets you, check out this website

Have a Nice Death | Official Announcement Trailer

A Dead End Job | Story

Have a Nice Death puts you in the shoes of the one and only Grim Reaper. Following many, many years of reaping and collecting souls, Death created Death Incorporated to aid in his mission. Now, though, he has grown into a meagre version of his former self and his employees have begun acting out of control. With souls pouring in and a ton of paperwork piling up, Death picks his scythe up once again so that he can cut the workload (and his mischievous workers) down to size.

The story of Have a Nice Death (and the entire game as a whole, really) can be described as being incredibly charming. While not as sophisticated as something like Hades, the main story is focused on being thoroughly entertaining. Death is a great main character with an endearing design and his constant “done-with-everything” attitude goes down a treat every time you get to hear him speak. The actual story he inhabits is similarly great: the mere idea of the afterlife as this corporate entity is intriguing, but the comedic twists tacked on by Magic Design Studios made Death Inc. a continuous joy to return to. 

The supporting cast of characters in the game share this sense of grim delight. Whether its the cute intern Pump Quinn and her adoration of the tiny reaper, the sarcastic, borderline passive-aggressive complaints of Jerry or the colourful two-sided personalities of each of the Sorrows, you’ll come away from most of the interactions in this game with a smile on your face. A lot more attention is placed on emphasising the quirks of each character, almost making them feel like caricatures in some ways.  

That being said, there isn’t anything particularly outstanding about the story, either. With a focus on comedy above almost everything else and a macabre but jovial tone for the entire run time, Have a Nice Death’s story is a nice addition to the overall package but nothing you couldn’t live without. It serves to frame the events of the game and heighten the experience without distracting too much from the gameplay elements. Everything from the exaggerated take on the grisly topic of death to the playful cast of characters serves as an excellent piece of window dressing to suck you into this world, but it may leave some wanting a bit more if expected a deeper dive into this world.

Coffee in the Lobby

Coffee in the Lobby

Have a Nice Death as a Roguelike

One interesting thing to note about the story is where it fits into Have a Nice Death’s identity as a roguelike. With notably few exceptions, roguelikes are built on their replayability. Stories or lore are secondary to the need to give players a constant reason to jump back in, be it a new weapon to try or a new build to construct. This means that a lot of time, roguelikes are either lacking in story or don’t have one altogether. 

Have a Nice Death walks down the same path paved by Hades, only with smaller strides and cartoony sound effects playing with each step. It takes a novel approach to storytelling, giving us a concrete narrative with clear goals, enjoyable characters and a surprising amount of background lore to contend with while still playing into its strengths and identity as a roguelike. Death will die a lot in his journey to reprimand the Sorrows and that cycle is played into the story for either laughs or progression: bosses will taunt you if you die to them or employees will grow more confident in complaining about Sorrows as you defeat them, for example. 

Showdown Time

Showdown Time

Another part of this that may be more contentious is that Have a Nice Death is a rogue-like with a defined ending. When tackling a story in a genre famed for how many times you can replay it, creating a compelling narrative with a satisfying endpoint can be difficult. Have a Happy Death has multiple endings and getting them will be a challenge, but they are definitive endings. You won’t feel that constant pull to return after you’ve beaten the game. Once you’re done with the story, you’re just done.

It’s a commendable aspect that you don’t tend to see in this kind of game. It actually encouraged me to play more than it hindered me: knowing that getting better was bringing me ever closer to a realistic goal was far more motivating than anything else. I don’t need to keep coming back time after time if the original story is well constructed and Have a Nice Death certainly delivers there.

In almost every aspect of the story, Have a Nice Death is here for a good time and not a long time, and I prefer it that way. 

A Clean Up Job

A Clean Up Job

Death Never Felt so Good | Gameplay

The gameplay is where Have a Nice Death both lean into and away from some of the contemporary features of modern rogue-likes.

As Death, your goal is to traverse through several of the departments that make up Death Incorporated, all of which are themed after different ways to die. Each department is made up of 7 individual floors which house many enemies, upgrades, secrets and more, ending with a boss battle against the department’s boss: one of the Sorrows, beings Death created to aid in his reaping of souls. Beat the bad apples in each world, kick the Sorrows back into working order and earn Death his well-earned vacation.

In some parts, Have a Nice Death is a shining gem among the category of roguelikes. It has a wicked selection of accessibility options that allow players to tune their way of playing while still keeping the challenge of the game consistent. Alongside that, combat is fun and frantic with tons of ways to customize Death and how you can play him. 

In other ways, though, the game feels like a bit of regression. A want to stand apart from others in the genre leads to aspects of the exploration feeling like a slog, whereas some parts of the combat feel unpolished or simply unfair.

Duck, Dive and Dodge

Duck, Dive and Dodge


To begin, let’s discuss combat on Death’s end which is (on the whole) one of Have a Nice Death’s best parts.

Death himself comes equipped with his signature scythe which can transform into a variety of different forms at the beginning of each run. There are about 5 of these transformations and they each give Death a new set of combos and drastically switch up how you approach each combat scenario: I may use the Diss-Scythe’s additional range to play if I wanted it safe or I could use the Twinsies if I want to play all-out aggression. Each of Death’s different weapons feels distinct and meaningful. They are quick to learn and not too hard to master, either, giving the average player a badass tool that always feels good to use no matter what.

Alongside the scythe is a variety of equipment and spells that Death can equip to mix up combat. These are on a relatively short cooldown and are the main way of augmenting your playstyle. There’s everything from a Berserk-style greatsword to a wave of lightning bolts, homing bees that sting your enemies to long-ranged bows tracking bows and much, much more. Almost every single piece of equipment has a place and feels snappy and responsive to use, allowing you to truly dive down the rabbit hole of possible builds and wacky combinations. 

Catch These Hands

Catch These Hands

This isn’t even mentioning the Curse system, which functions as a type of upgrade system similar to Boons in Hades. There are three different types that each have a wide variety of bonuses and additions that create openings for some very unique builds and options for combat. You could go all in on a Poison build, choosing cloaks and spells that deal Poison while picking the Curse that allows all of your normal attacks to also deal Poison and the Curse that lets Poison deal more damage. There’s so much more here to explore, too, and the game seems to weigh the likelihood of helpful Curses in your favour to incentivise build crafting even more.

However, there is one big flaw in Death’s moveset: his dodge. No matter how many times I used it or how far into the game I was, I never felt like I could rely on the dodge. It just never felt right – the amount of invincibility it gave me never seemed to line up with the animation of the dodge itself – and it made playing aggressively a much riskier option when I could just sit back and be safer. Dodging is Death’s only way of avoiding attacks (he doesn’t have a traditional block or parry) and having it feel so unreliable made certain parts of the combat far more frustrating.

That slight hiccup aside, Death controls like a dream. He’s fast, snappy, and responsive and comes packing with plenty of options for players to toy around with. Plus, he’s so charming you can’t help but like him.

Curses and Cloaks Galore

Curses and Cloaks Galore

Enemies and Bosses

Have a Nice Death has a great amount of variety and choice when it comes to enemies. Almost every department has a suite of 5-6 unique standard enemies exclusive to that level, as well as several unique mini-bosses called Thanagers. These aid in making each of the departments feel distinct and different a lot more than any other way the game attempts and knowing that you may have to change up your playstyle from department to department was an interesting quandary every time you ride the elevator. 

The enemies themselves are all distinct and recognisable on sight, allowing you to instantly get into the thick of an encounter. Most enemies only have one or two attacks which, while limiting the potential depth of combat, lets you just focus on how to correctly counter each foe and push forward with style. The best parts of this combat framework shine when you get to set rooms in each level where different types of enemies are combined and you have to weave between them, dodging each attack while countering each as best as you can. In these moments, the combat really shines on both ends, no matter how simple it may be.

The bosses are similarly great. Between the Sorrows and the Thanagers, there’s so much variety in terms of what your fighting and how you’re fighting. They thoroughly test you from the regular enemies while still being easy to understand (for the most part). 

Here's Waldo!

Here’s Waldo!

Just like with Death himself, though, there’s some unevenness here, though. Certain attacks have a weirdness to them that makes them feel unpredictable, either because they react weirdly with the dodge or the animations themselves are strange. For example, any projectile attack, whether it comes from a Seaglue or Mr Grimes, feels incredibly hard to dodge for no reason at all. Similarly, AoE attacks like fire last an eternity and can still get you even if you dodge at the correct moment. There are a lot of enemies that use one of these two attack types, only making it more annoying to deal with. 

Another issue has to do with how larger enemies and bosses target Death. With some attacks, the enemy can turn around in what feels like a single frame to execute. Even if you dodge at the right time (which is indicated by a red exclamation mark), This results in you taking damage even though you dodged the attack: your foe just decided to turn 180 degrees in an instant to get some cheap damage off. Enemies who used this were rare but there were certainly enough times when I took unfair damage to make me notice.

Things Are Heating Up

Things Are Heating Up


Fighting the denizens of Death Incorporated may be a pretty fun time, but navigating the halls is a different matter. 

Unlike other roguelikes, Have a Nice Death doesn’t funnel you directly from encounter to encounter. Instead, each of the different levels consists of numerous winding corridors and tunnels filled with enemies which you fight through until you claim the reward at the end and continue delving deeper. In the earlier departments, this isn’t a problem. The longer levels give the game a nice sense of pace and allow you to take in the beautiful scenery that the game has to offer. 

It’s in the later levels that exploration falls apart. As you get into harder departments, the levels steadily grow longer and longer. Instead of structured floors that break up combat nicely, you get labyrinthine affairs that make you wander about aimlessly. Corridors will shoot off in different directions and the steady pacing of enemies groups together into lumps of intense combat and dull silence: in particular, the Department of Medical Illnesses and Department of Addictions are a nightmare to navigate and quickly become the worst parts of the experience thanks to how long and convoluted each level is. 

In a lot of cases, these longer levels don’t pair well with Have a Nice Death’s identity as a roguelike. Dying and restarting are a natural part of these games. Dying at a later level, only to realise that you’ll spend about half of the next run walking around is always a bummer and sucks a lot of joy out of the locations fast. 

What Are You Looking At?

What Are You Looking At?


Difficulty and challenge are a large component of most roguelikes and for good reason. When replayability and the desire for players to craft intricate, powerful builds is a keystone of your game, you want to give those same players something to really chew on. However, that same difficulty can be a real draw or a real deterrent depending on the type of person approaching the game.

Fortunately for everyone, Have a Nice Death has an interesting suite of accessibility options that allow players to tune the type of game they want to play.

The first, and most major, is something akin to a difficulty selector. Before each run, you can select what kind of day it is going to be. Self-Fulfilment is a mode which gives you full healing charge, slightly lowers the damage of mob-tier enemies and increases the amount of healing an Anima will do, whereas Imminent Breakdown is simply the game as intended. Despite this seeming like an easy mode at first, it’s really just a way to give more people more options: the game is still difficult in Self-Fulfilment mode, especially the bosses, but it opens the gates and allows more leniency so less skilled players can have a more fun time. 

What'cha Buyin'?

What’cha Buyin’?

In addition to that are several other things that simply provide more options. Joe, one of the NPCs in the game, is your vendor for new gear and items that, when unlocked, will become available as options in your runs. All of these cost a set amount of Ingots and you have the option of lowering their price by completing certain objectives or just buying them outright. Similarly, Jocelyn (the spirit inhabiting the elevator that begins each of your runs) has several Contracts that augment each run, making them more challenging or easier depending on what you pick right from the get-go.  

Perhaps one of the best is that, upon earning enough experience, you will unlock elevators that take you straight to the bosses of worlds 1, 2 and 5. These are very grindy and you’ll need to play the game a lot to unlock all of them, but they are a great option that gives players a more direct route to the endgame should they be struggling. It also just gives you more options once again, allowing some players to go through the whole world to acquire more powerful items of Curses while others can try and test themselves right against the bosses.

All of these things together may not seem like a lot, but they all work to create a more welcoming atmosphere compared to other roguelikes. If you’re willing to give it a go and put in the time, Have a Nice Death will respect it and give players of all kinds a rewarding experience. 

Watch Your Head

Watch Your Head

The (Under) World of Death Inc. | Graphics and Sound

Art and Design

Something that almost everyone will agree on is that the art direction in Have a Nice Death is simply astounding. 

Each of the different departments in Death Inc. feels so distinct and different from one another while remaining unified. From the endless stacks of paperwork that make up the Halls of Eternity to the haunting depictions of illness in the Addiction department, every part of Have a Nice Death’s visual style is superb. It captures that grim childlike whimsy seen in the works of Tim Burton while still being able to showcase arresting displays of awe or terror. Without a doubt visiting each new department for the first time and witnessing how the team at Magic Design Studios curated the environment, the enemies and all the little bits and bobs to work together is one of the best parts of the entire package.

One tiny, minor complaint in that sea of positivity is that the actual levels don’t change much outside of looking different. You can play a section from the first world and the fifth world and there won’t be any major difference aside from the stacks of paperwork compared to the mortal shells and barbed wire. When everything else works so harmoniously together, the lack of diversity in how the environmental changes are applied is only a tad bit disappointing.

On the whole, everything from the morbidly cute characters to the visceral depictions of death in the environment is a true staple and is almost worth the asking price of Have a Nice Death alone.

Where to Next?

Where to Next?


The music of Have a Nice Death greatly helps support the general atmosphere. Every time a piece of music plays, it seems to perfectly fit the surroundings. Nothing goes without an accompanying track and it helps make the world seem, ironically, very alive. The tone the music creates works in harmony with the visuals to craft a consistent theme for each location, that feeling then shifting beautifully with each world change. The bouncy, patriotic music that accompanies the Modern Warfare department stands in stark contrast to the sickening, shiver-inducing music of Addictions and that’s the same for all of the departments in Have a Nice Death

The sound effects are similarly dynamic and help fill out the soundscape with memorable little moments of noise: Brad’s laugh before you fight him, the high-pitched ding of the elevator and, of course, the harmonic sounds of “Welcome to the Afterlife” accompanying every death. They fit the world and the art to a T. 

The biggest downside is simply that the audio accompanies the art instead of standing alongside it. There are a lot of groovy jams from Have a Nice Death and while they certainly enhanced the experience in the moment, I won’t be tapping my foot to them in a few days. They serve their purpose well and act as a great foundation for the astoundingly good ambience that the game reaches for.

Watch Them Burn

Watch Them Burn

Work Yourself to the Bone | Technical State

To close, let’s quickly go over how the game runs and what glitches I ran into. 

The game as a whole ran extremely well. It maintained a steady, high framerate without ever falling or stuttering. Even when combat was thick and the screen was covered in enemies and particle effects, I didn’t drop frames and I never died or took damage because of performance. 

However, there were a few questionable bugs I ran into. One time, for some reason, Death become immune to all damage and later became unable to damage one of the Sorrows, leaving me perpetually stuck until I restarted the game. Another issue was that I wouldn’t pick up Animas (the game’s main source of healing) if I stood too close to it as it dropped, resulting in a fair few times where I would just walk away without actually having picked the item up. 

The most serious bug I encounter completely bricked my save file, leaving me on a never-ending load screen upon start-up. Fortunately, this isn’t a deal-break as, like most roguelikes, progression is a lot more extrinsic and on the player rather than on the game itself, but losing 6 hours of conversations and story developments definitely stung. I don’t know what caused this or how to fix it and needed to start a completely new save file to continue. 

These issues will also likely be addressed in patches down the line and, thanks to the nature of Have a Nice Death, needing to restart a run or even start the game again aren’t as soul-crushing as they could be. However, it is still a worry and if you like your games to be in tip-top shape before playing them, wait until a few patches roll in first.

Game code for Have a Happy Death was provided by fortyseven.com.

While it may not reach the Olympic heights of its contemporaries, Have a Nice Death gets remarkably close. Despite a few hurdles in level design and lacking the replayability of others in the genre, it has incredibly tight gameplay with plenty of potential alongside an immensely charming story and cast of characters. If you like roguelikes then Have a Nice Death is simply to die for.
  • Incredibly charming story, characters and world with fantastic art
  • Combat is fun and varied with a lot of options for customization
  • Easily accessible to players of all skill levels
  • The long levels can lead to gameplay becoming dull and repetitive
  • Some combat mechanics feel unfair or unreliable
  • Slight lack of replayability compared to others in the genre

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>