I play a lot of roguelites these days. Since my debatably precious free time seems to diminish with each passing day, run-based games fit quite nicely into my hectic schedule. Instead of sitting down for hours at a time with a title that requires a huge investment, I can scratch the proverbial itch in something like Enter the Gungeon or Slay the Spire without feeling as though I’m working a part-time job (I’m looking at you, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey). Not only that, but they’re an absolute blast to play; despite the hate that roguelites seem to attract, meta progression and unlockables have become my drug of choice. I seem to love them all equally, regardless of their shortcomings.
Enter Hades, the latest endeavor from Bastion developer Supergiant Games. Remember way back in the opening paragraph when I said that roguelites were perfect bite-sized games that didn’t require oodles and oodles of my oh-so-precious spare time in one sitting? Hades doesn’t play by those rules. Hades wants all of my time, seeping into my thoughts when I’m trying to do some work or focus on things like preparing dinner or trying to get some sleep. Hades demands total submission, and I’m willing to obey. It’s the perfect roguelite, offering a wealth of content in addition to a wonderful story powered by a remarkable voice cast and gorgeous artwork. I want to mainline Hades directly into my brain so I can experience the rush at all hours of the day. If I could program my mind to experience the joys of Hades while I slept, then I would throw all of my hard-earned money at that bleeding-edge roguelite-based technology.
Enough hyperbole. But seriously, Hades rocks.
Folks who immediately roll their eyes whenever they hear the term roguelite will probably have a lot of negative things to say about Hades at first glance. From the outset, it seems to check all the boxes associated with the genre. Meta progression? Check. Randomized levels? Check. RNG tomfoolery? Check. And I won’t argue the point. Hades is most definitely a roguelite from top to bottom, but here’s the thing: Supergiant Games knows what people have come to expect from these experiences. Hades nimbly subverts all of your expectations. It’s almost as if the developers took a deep dive into the seemingly endless supply of roguelite titles on Steam and made a running list of the things they wanted to do differently — and then they knocked it completely out of the park. So, yes, by definition, Hades sits alongside other like-minded games, but this offering provides so much more than its contemporaries. The end result is staggering.
First, we need to talk about the story, which will immediately charm and impresses. You play Zagreus, the dashingly handsome Prince of the Underworld, though he’s not particularly thrilled about his station in life. Apparently, being the prince of this realm is pretty boring and mundane, and he’s had his fill of it. So, instead of hanging around the Underworld, Zagreus decides to make a break for it. Unfortunately, trying to escape isn’t as easy as it sounds on paper. His father, the gruff and grumpy Hades, thinks his quest for emancipation is a lost cause, but that doesn’t mean much to Zagreus. He’s a young prince on a mission, and regardless of how many times he encounters defeat during his seemingly endless journey, he keeps pushing forward. The guy is definitely headstrong, for better and for worse.
Fortunately, Zagreus has plenty of help along the way. His estranged family, comprised of many famous Olympians, decide to help Zagreus escape from the depths of the Underworld. To make that happen, they offer up a wide variety of different buffs and power-ups, which often give our hero a leg up on the dozens of nefarious enemies that stand in his way. Of course, these varied advantages will only work if you know how to use them. properly. You’ll definitely need to sharpen your skills if you hope to survive. Supergiant has balanced this game to perfection, and it’s fun to experiment with the different synergies. If one build doesn’t line up with your playstyle, then chances are there’s another combination that will help you make it to the end of your run with your hide intact.
Since this is a roguelite, the advantages you receive from your Olympian pal differs from run to run. The rooms move around, the enemies swap places, and the tools that help you defeat your foes constantly change up. Granted, the Underworld isn’t entirely procedurally generated, but the game juggles things just enough that you’ll still need to perfect your own skills if you hope to survive. And don’t be too surprised if you end up dead — that’s just the nature of this beast, and Hades isn’t easy. And that’s totally okay! You see, the more you die, the more opportunities you’ll have to learn about the characters that populate this brilliantly colorful world. Even when you lose, you win!
Although the artwork will no doubt dazzle your senses, the writing is where the game truly comes to life. Hades tells a wonderfully witty and warm story, and I found myself wanting to learn more about everything. Roguelites rarely tell interesting stories, let alone ones of this magnitude. As mentioned, when you die, you’ll return home, where you can converse with your friends about your quest and discuss other important matters. You really don’t have to talk to these people, but if you want to dig deeper into the story Hades has to tell, you’ll take a breather between runs and chat up these intriguing characters. Spending gems to upgrade your surroundings will unlock more conversations and encounters, though you’ll also want to splurge on a few things that will make your runs a bit easier. Also, pet the three-headed dog, okay? Tell Cerebus he’s a good boy and give him a few scratches behind the ear. Please, pet the damn dog!
For the record, I clocked a lot of hours during the game’s days as an Early Access title on Steam, and I intend to spend a lot more time with Hades on the Nintendo Switch. What’s amazing is that Hades runs exceptionally well in handheld mode on Nintendo’s portable console. While other developers struggle to get their games to work properly on the Switch, Supergiant has clearly spent a lot of time optimizing this title so that it loses absolutely nothing in translation to the smaller screen. Granted, it’s not as sharp or as fast as its PC counterpart, but Hades is no slouch on Switch. So, don’t feel you’re compromising if you decide to play it on the handheld.
Straight up: As of this moment, Hades is Game of the Year for me, and I doubt that’s going to change before 2020 finally comes to a close. This is truly video game perfection: It sports great gameplay, a robust amount of content stunning artwork, a wonderful narrative, and a main character you love. You want to see Zagreus succeed in his mission to escape the Underworld, and you’ll spend a lot of time making that happen. And when you’ve finally defeated the final boss, you’ll have plenty of reasons to keep going for hours during the end game. Hades is the complete package, and if you only have a few bucks to spend this year, set aside some room in your budget for this one.
This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version. A review code was provided by Supergiant Games.
Hades is not only one of the best roguelites on the market today, but it's also one of the best games of the year -- if not the best. Supergiant Games, firing on all cylinders, has given us a wealth of content to explore, characters to meet, and challenges to overcome. If you're not a fan of roguelites, this one could easily change your mind.