Review: Hades (Switch)

Who knew going to hell could be so much fun?

By Nick Dollar. Posted 12/11/2020 02:41 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
Editor's Choice
grade/score info
1-Up Mushroom for...
Beautifully drawn artwork; enjoyable characters; rewarding gameplay; great story to make you keep coming back (or is that escaping?) for more
Poison Mushroom for...
Death can be frustrating at time, but that's part of the genre

Hades is a roguelike game developed and published by Supergiant Games, makers of Pyre, Transistor, and Bastion. In Hades you play as the Prince of the Underworld Zagreus, son of the Grecian god Hades himself. In the beginning of the game you find Zagreus attempting to flee the Underworld for reasons unknown. He quickly makes contact with one of the nine Olympian Gods who bestows upon him one of multiple boons that they can provide. Ultimately, Zagreus is slain by one of the many denizens of the underworld that have been tasked to stop his escape. But dying like in many roguelikes is not the end, as Zagreus awakens in the blood pool of the house of Hades where all dead beings are sent when they die. This is where the blend of narrative and game mechanics just makes perfect sense because you’re bound to die eventually in roguelikes and the setting of the game provides a brilliant reason for a demigod prince to reawaken to begin his escape all over again.

As ironic as it might sound, dying does not feel like defeat in Hades, as the bitterness fades when you leave the blood pool you are greeted with and head out to discover new bits of story from each of the characters residing within the house. After death you also have the opportunity to spend the various bits of currency that you have obtained from your previous escape attempts, with some providing cosmetic changes to the house and others new rooms to encounter randomly with each escape attempt. You might have unlocked some new ability, or a new weapon that you’re just dying to try out, and that gives plenty of motivation to start that next escape attempt.

Each time you begin a new escape you bring along one of Zagreus’ six different weapons and a keepsake (if you have any). Each of the weapons feels like a whole new class unto themselves. With both light and heavy attacks, each weapon has a unique feel to it from the quick twin fists to the slower more methodical bow. Each of these weapons are further modified in the form of boons and upgrades obtained during each escape attempt and lost upon death or even during a successful escape.

Bouncing bolts of lightning and thunder strikes provided by Zeus or the power of the ocean waves to shove enemies away from Poseidon are a few examples of how the boons from the gods are themed to match them. Still, you might not know what kind of effects a god’s boons will provide when faced with a choice to help shape your perfect build.  Choices matter in Hades and you are bound to find a favorite boon or upgrade, but the game also rewards you for trying something you’ve never tried before in the way of what is called a fated choice, which grants some bonus currency when completed. 

Every bit of the world in Hades is a treat for the eyes, which you might not expect from the underworld. The range of colors for each of the different levels within Hades are very distinct and provide a unique feel to each. Going from the darker green and grey Tartarus to a warm lava-filled Asphodel is a stark contrast and signals to the player that they are in a new area and bound to encounter new enemies. Each room within the game is handcrafted and while you may encounter the same room many times over the course of several escape attempts, the order and frequency of those encounters keeps the randomization of it all fresh so as to not overstay its welcome.

Besides that, even though each of the rooms has plenty of small details to fill the space with character and life (or I guess death since it’s the underworld), they never distract from the fast paced combat. All of the characters are drawn in a striking graphic novel style and enhance each of their personalities. The art in Hades is what helps the game stand out in a market filled with roguelikes that can’t quite make the distance. Speaking of standing out, the voice work and soundtrack in Hades is something that will stick with you after you’ve put the game down. The soundtrack is something I find myself coming back to when just idly listening to music or even playing other games with friends. The sound effects are also quite solid but not nearly as memorable as the music, but they get the job done quite well.

If you’re looking for a game that you can invest tons of hours into then Hades has you covered here as well. Since roguelikes are bound to be replayed repeatedly they need to have something to hook the player and keep them coming back for more. Hades has that hook with the eventual escape from the underworld, which might take a player just a few runs to successfully complete but others upwards of 30-40 runs to succeed. It all depends on the randomness of the boons given and how well the player utilizes them. Ultimately, the player will escape and most might think that the game ends there, but there’s more, much more. Once Zagreus escapes there are bits of story left unexplored as well as a new mechanic called the pact of punishment to crank up the difficulty, as well as reward the player for dealing with the higher challenge. This pact of punishment mechanic helps keep the player engaged in testing their limits with their favorite build all while working towards escaping again and getting more of the story behind what’s really happening.

On top of all this Hades also offers a harder game mode called Hell Mode, which unlocks the pact of punishment from the start of the game and adds five mandatory modifiers to the pact which increases the difficulty considerably from the start, perfect for players seeking to really test their limits. Hades, with its fast-paced and occasionally unforgiving death mechanics, possibly isn’t a game for everyone. However, with its decently low price point and wonderful artwork and story, in combination with the amazingly well designed mechanics, Hades is a gem that’s hard to pass up.

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