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Lifewire / Sandra Stafford
Strong narrative within the replay loop
Excellent musical score
Severe Joy-Con drift in menus
Hades has a touching narrative that emerges through roguelike gameplay. This fast-paced game is challenging, but the journey is the reward.
We purchased Hades for the Nintendo Switch so our reviewer could put it to the test. Keep reading for our full product review.
Hades is a ridiculously popular game of the roguelike, or rogue-lite, variety. Other people can debate about the distinction, but it’s a procedurally generated dungeon crawler with some carryover between runs. Hades is a heartfelt story that takes place in the Underworld, where fickle Olympian gods can add to the danger or help you overcome it. After 45 hours of play, I finally beat the game and put my Nintendo Switch down long enough to share some thoughts.
Hades begins with Zagreus’s first attempt to escape the Underworld. He mutters a goodbye to his father and begins to fight his way through chambers full of enemies. The Gods of Olympus take notice of him, offering boons and advice, but the escape is a solitary and nerve-wracking experience. I knew I couldn’t beat the game on my first attempt, but that didn’t keep me from trying desperately to stay alive. I won a few trinkets before the enemies overtook me, and Zagreus landed in a pool of blood.
The characters are well-written, with natural and nuanced dialog that always seems to suit them.
The story and setting emerge through Zagreus’s multiple attempts to escape the Underworld. Other characters have a lot to say about Zagreus’s escape attempts, and it is through their conversations with one another and with Zagreus that we learn so much about the story. The characters are well-written, with natural and nuanced dialog that always seems to suit them.
Nyx calmly balances her partnership with Hades and her support of Zeus. Achilles trained Zagreus, but it’s clear he doesn’t wholly endorse Zagreus’s defiance. Even Hades, King of the Underworld, is believable as a frustrated but loving father. I am the type to hurry through dialog, but I listened to most of Hades’.
I knew I couldn’t beat the game on my first attempt, but that didn’t keep me from trying desperately to stay alive.
Hades steps away from the perma-death tradition of other roguelikes. After Zagreus dies he has to fight his way through the chambers all over again, but he keeps his cache of weapons and other goodies. In the House of Hades, all of the currency he amasses is going to come in handy.
Keys unlock weapons, darkness unlocks upgrades at the Mirror of Night, and nectar unlocks the hearts of the gods who reward Zagreus with gifts in return. It’s possible to swap these disparate elements and create strategic builds, but the builds are beholden to the fickle RNG gods.
In the beginning, I stuck to a build, but Hades rewards players for stepping outside their comfort zone. Diamonds are in short supply, but the Fates had plenty to offer if I tried every keepsake and boon. Dark Thirst encourages players to use different weapons, which is how I found out I was pretty good with the sword I ditched after my first run.
Giving players incentives to experiment shakes up every dungeon run. The element of randomness and the low cost of death keeps Hades fun. Even when I went in with a plan, the chambers had ways to keep me on my toes. Did I want to part with precious health to gamble on Chaos’s boons? Would I rather take the easy road by visiting Hermes, or choose between Poseidon and Zeus?
Both of them offer powerful boons but choosing one is going to make the other jealous. Every run is fraught with these decisions, but failure isn’t so frustrating in Hades. Failure means a trip back to the House of Hades, where I can uncover a little more about Zagreus’s motivations or Achilles’s past. After that, it’s head-pats for the three-headed dog, then time for another escape attempt. By reimagining the perma-death mechanic, Supergiant Games made Rogue-lite that I never wanted to quit playing.
I had one problem with the performance. In the different menu interfaces at the House of Hades, Joy-Con drift was an intermittent problem. The cursor would scroll down quickly and continuously, making selecting anything specific impossible. I didn’t realize this until I emailed tech support, but the “dead space” option in the Controls settings fixes this problem. This problem is common enough that I felt it was worth a mention. It was a minor annoyance in an otherwise fantastic game.
It took me a while to appreciate the scenery during the chaotic escape attempts, but I noticed the characters right away. Nyx has skulls and moons adorning her clothing. She looks calm and detached, but not at all cold. The King of the Underworld looks every bit the part. Cerberus is imposing, yet charming. I love the character portraits.
Once I stopped hurrying, I was impressed by how good the rest of the Underworld looked.
The characters and house are nicely detailed. Great voice acting brings them to life. I loved the music and sound effects around the house, too. Altogether it’s a great setting for the stories that unfold.
Once I stopped hurrying, I was impressed by how good the rest of the Underworld looked. Tartarus looks like a classic dungeon with columns, fountains, and traps. Asphodel is classic Underworld, where boats made out of bones float on rivers of magma. Disembodied hands reach up out of the magma, and the urns are reminiscent of skulls. Elysium is green and lush, a paradise for exceptional shades.
Surviving each encounter means navigating through flying projectiles, magic spells, and traps.
Combat is a stress test for the graphics. All the boons I picked added up into lots of colorful explosions. Surviving each encounter means navigating through flying projectiles, magic spells, and traps. Boss fights are absolutely wild, but the graphics are always smooth.
Hades is so good that I had to double-check the price to make sure it was really $35. This game keeps adding challenges that make me work for every new piece of the story. A game that remains fun even after it’s beaten is rare. Don’t tell Supergiant, but I would have paid more.
The use of Greek mythology for the setting and plot makes Hades a joy to play. As a player you step into Zagreus’s life, learning more about his complicated relationships with other characters between chaotic escape attempts. Dying is brutal, but Zagreus emerges from the bloody river Styx ready to try again. Death isn’t so frustrating in Hades because it’s another part of the story being told.
Not so with The Binding of Isaac. Dying to grotesque enemies like hostile feces and floating heads is definitely frustrating. Dark humor runs throughout the game. If you’re lucky, items like Mom’s Bra or a severed cat head will help you on your way. It’s simple where Hades is complex. With no carryover between runs, The Binding of Isaac doesn’t bother explaining what that mystery piece of poop you found is going to do. Both games are worth playing, so how do you choose? If a strong narrative maintains your interest, Hades is perfect. If you’re after a serious challenge, go for The Binding of Isaac.
A surprisingly deep story under the roguelike gameplay.
Hades uses roguelike mechanics to tell beautiful stories. The sheer variety of gameplay mechanics makes each run through the Underworld new and exciting. All the fun is in the journey, making this game as fun on the hundredth play as it was on the first.
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