Now and then a game comes out that you know you’re going to love. And when it finally releases, it’s even better than you’d hoped. Supergiant Games’ most recent release, Hades, is exactly that kind of game for me.
It takes some of my favorite parts of past Supergiant games, improves on them, and adds my favorite roguelike implementation in any game. I adore each of the developer’s games and count Transistor and Bastion in-particular among my favorite games ever.
In Hades, you control the lord of the underworld’s son, Zagreus, as he attempts to escape the underworld. The dungeon-crawler gameplay is extremely satisfying: You’re given 3 main attacks, with a close-range, heavy, and ranged options. You’ll clear a room, unlock an upgrade of some sort, then choose which path to take next. Rinse-and-repeat.
There’s a huge risk-reward to the gameplay and the route you take: Do you stockpile resources for future runs, or go for immediate upgrades that will assist during this go-around? This is where the true genius of Hades Roguelite implementation shines.
In a typical Roguelike game like Spelunky, every time you die, you start completely over with no upgrades. Your improvement is solely based on learning about the game, combined with a little bit of luck on individual runs. Roguelite (emphasis on the “lite) games — think Dead Cells or my favorite, Rogue Legacy — carry some sort of progress or story between the randomized runs. One of the core tenets of rouge-ish games is the difficulty; a complete, successful run in a game might only take 30 minutes, but the games’ longevity comes in trying over-and-over to get to the end.
Hades’ fresh take on the genre adds many incentives to take repeated journeys through hell. First, the story is exceptional. All along, you will meet a variety of Greek mythological characters, guiding Zagreus’ journey. The reveal of his motivation for leaving the underworld is expertly handled, and I truly want to help him reach his goal.
Every time you die, Zagreus respawns in the House of Hades, where he can check in with dad, his three-headed dog Cerberus, Achilles, Nyx, and more. Conversations here are informed by your runs through the underworld and more of the game’s overarching story is revealed. This is where you can also buy upgrades for the underworld that will either make things look different, or spawn new buffs during dungeon dives.
Before re-entering the ever-changing underworld, Zagreus can upgrade his stats and choose a starting weapon and another boon, such as more money, more damage, or an additional resurrection. All of these things — the story, the buffs, the weapon types — give Hades a different feel from other Roguelites. The motivation for finishing Zagreus’ journey isn’t just to beat the game: The motivation is to help him get out of the underworld and reach his goal while interacting with the various Greek gods and chthonic characters.
Visually, the game is stunning. Supergiant has a pretty specific look and feel to its games, and Hades fits well within the overall catalog. The characters that pop up when they’re speaking are gorgeous (in multiple ways, ahem, Aphrodite). Combat is fluid and satisfying both visually and in feel. I’ve been playing on the Switch, fully in handheld, and the game can stutter from time-to-time and visuals aren’t as sharp as they could be.
The sound design and music are also highlights. Supergiant’s various soundtracks are among my favorites in gaming, and Hades is no different. I’m especially a fan of Euridice’s signature song, “Good Riddance,” enough that I’ll pause when I reach her just to listen. Other tracks like “The King and the Bull” are heavy and fit their boss fights perfectly.
I love everything about this game — aside from the very occasional hiccups on Switch — and wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone. I know that “rogue-lite” is a dirty word to many, but Hades is absolutely the best example of a rogue-lite I’ve ever played. I’m 20-plus runs into my journey, and I’m still unlocking new story and gameplay moments. Hades is a must-play and further cement Supergiant Games as one of the best developers in gaming.
Review by GamesReviews contributor, Seth Roy, on the Nintendo Switch.