Hell. We’re all going there. There’s absolutely no two ways about it. What? You really thought you’d get to spend your life on earth mouthing off like that on the internet sans reprisal? Come on now, mate, accept your fate and grow up. However, before we all head off to roast for eternity in the fires of the forever abyss, we can at least indulge ourselves in Supergiant Games’ sublime Hades, a devilishly delightful roguelite romp through the netherworld that’s arrived on Switch in a port more heavenly than anything any of you lot can expect to see when you close your eyes for the final time.
Hades has of course been knocking about for a fair old while, having been in Early Access on the Epic Store since the tail end of 2018, and this lengthy gestation period has seen it updated, fine-tuned and tweaked to its current state of virtual perfection. The fact that it’s so good isn’t exactly a surprise; it’s not like Supergiant Games hasn’t already impressed the hell out of us with the likes of Bastion, Transistor and Pyre – all of whom Hades shares mucho DNA with – but this latest effort really does feel like the developer reaching some sort of high-water mark.
Where their previous titles could – if we’re being really picky – feel a little weightless and light at times, where their isometric viewpoints could irritate now and again, Hades just absolutely nails it all. Everything about this game sings. From its gaudily opulent vision of the House of Hades, to its deadly death chambers, wonderfully warped roster of fiery foes and supremely tight, expansive and satisfying combat. This is the work of a developer firing on all cylinders, providing us, the eternally damned, with an exquisite experience that easily ranks as one of the very best roguelike/action-RPGs released to date.
Assuming the role of Zagreus, the cocksure, rebellious and rather likeable son of Hades himself, your task here is a straightforward one; simply hack, slash and dash your way through the very worst that your angry auld da can throw at you in order to escape hell and ascend to Mount Olympus. Easy, right? No. No, it’s not. In time-honoured roguelite fashion you begin your journey here by being repeatedly smashed, albeit this time into the wonderfully intricate floors of the underworld. Starting off as weak as a kitten with a wall of boiling death stood in your way, you’ll fight and die and fight and die, slowly but surely gaining strength as you go, inching further forward upon each bloody rebirth until you finally make it all the way up and out.
If it sounds a little tough, well, it is. However, the genius of Hades is that no matter how torrid a time it’s dishing out, it’s never anything less than exquisitely addictive fun. Everything here, every tiny detail of the combat and narrative, has been perfectly implemented, intertwined and balanced to make your journey from meek little kitten-child to great big bloody death lion of the eternal abyss an absolute joy that you’ll find yourself returning to time and again once the credits have rolled on your first successful trip.
Dropping into the exquisitely detailed environs of Tartarus for the first time, Stygian Blade in hand, trembling at the thought of what’s to come, you’ll be greeted with a random gift from the gods, your generous Olympian relatives and benefactors who are on hand to aid you in your repeated escape attempts. These gifts take the form of run-specific boons, upgrades to your weapons and abilities that you can pick and choose between to tailor Zagreus for action.
Zeus, for example, can imbue your weapons with lightning damage and cause your dash move to fire off bolts at nearby foes. Dionysus adds a hangover effect to your attacks and movements that causes continuous damage to enemies you come into contact with, whilst Hermes provides you with increased speed and agility, giving you extra dash movements and blazingly fast attacks to help you dodge and weave your way through the mayhem. There are a whole host of Olympians here, and each one has a plethora of boosts and boons for you to get to grips with.
Each death chamber that you enter as you make your way through Hades’ four biomes gifts you with these boons and rewards and, upon completing each one, you’ll be presented with multiple paths forward. Each of these paths offers a different prize for success, enabling you to pick and choose how you’d like to curate your build as you progress. Want to focus on unlocking more of your arsenal of weapons? Take the route indicated by a key symbol. Want to earn more gold coin or treasure to buy temporary buffs or pay your father’s architect to add healing rooms to your next run? Open the doors indicating gold and treasure. There are routes that let you focus on each of the various Olympian’s perks and powers and it results in a wonderfully flexible system that ensures things never grow old, no matter how many times your dad’s big bads beat you down.
Added to this almost endless barrage of tactical options are the weapons you’ll employ in combat. You’ll start out with the relatively straightforward, up-close and personal joy of the Stygian Blade then expand your arsenal to include the likes of a bow for ranged combat, a shield that’s perfect for ricocheting through groups of foes – a real spectacle when it’s charged with a little bit of Zeus’ lightning – a spear that can be violently flung across rooms and recalled with the touch of a button and a great big pair of bludgeoning fists. The weapons here are a wonderfully varied bunch that, when mixed and matched with all of the boons on offer, give you a ton of choice in how you want to kit yourself out to meet the challenges ahead.
Alongside all of this there are also permanent upgrades to be applied to Zagreus using darkness shards gathered on your deadly runs. With these you’ll increase your core attack stats, gain additional dashes, get more opportunities to earn vitality and, importantly, acquire the gift of death defiance, enabling you to resurrect a number of times with a semi-full HP bar upon being defeated. There are, in short, a ton of moving parts and elements here – we haven’t even covered keepsakes or boon rarity levels – but they’ve been handled with such a deft touch that the whole thing still feels slick, unfussy and simple to navigate. Combat here is never sullied by distractions or collectibles, breakable scenery doesn’t interrupt proceedings by hiding rewards, there’s nothing but the flow of combat to focus on during battle, and it’s some of the best battling we’ve encountered in quite some time.
The enemies you’ll encounter as you dash and blast your way through the halls of Tartarus, acrid ash plains of Asphodel and lush fields of Elysium are thrown at you in carefully considered formations rather than simply piled on for the sake of difficulty. Chambers full of nasties and boss battles that initially seem like insurmountable obstacles slowly become gauntlets that you can run, not just successfully, but with plentiful style.
Each of the weapons Zag has at his disposal has its benefits and shortcomings – we’re currently besotted with the Eternal Spear’s long reach and devastating spin attack – and in experimenting with the many boons offered to you by the Olympians, you’ll find ways in which to upgrade them that fit your playstyle like a glove. Firing your electrified spear through a crowd of wretched thugs and numbskulls, ricocheting the Shield of Chaos around a room full of bone-rakers and inferno-bombers while all the while dashing and dodging, leaving pools of poison or ejecting great big bolts of Zeus’ lightning… it’s truly sublime stuff that feels gritty and satisfying and endlessly addictive.
However, where Hades really comes into its own, where it really sets itself apart from other roguelites that manage to nail the combat side of things, is how it handles its narrative. Each and every one of the many Olympian and Chthonic Gods you encounter here is wonderfully well written and acted, with a ton of incidental dialogue pertaining to how you’ve just performed in your most recent run. The story unfolds in its own time, whether you’re doing well and making progress or suffering harshly at the hands of your father’s fiends, and that core relationship between Zagreus and Hades is a constantly entertaining one with plenty of intrigue and incident to keep you hooked.
As you wander the resplendent corridors of the House of Hades between sorties you’ll get to know Nyx, Orpheus, Achilles and even Cerberus – a good three-headed doggo who loves a gentle pet on his heads as much as the next mutt – and all of these relationships can be enhanced and furthered by continued conversation and by plying your favourites with sweet nectar plundered on the field of battle. It’s an almost dating-simulator-esque element that nets you rewards and reveals little secrets here as you go, making the downtime between escape attempts an absolute joy, rather than just the usual boring void of menu screens and stats that it’s so often presented as.
It’s this gloriously heady mix between a superbly-handled narrative and that wonderfully brutal and flexible combat that makes Hades the all-consuming joy that it is. It’s just a perfect combination and it all looks and sounds fantastic, with a wonderfully vibrant art style that’s absolutely dripping in tiny little details and grotesqueries. On Switch, happily, this is a hugely impressive port, running at 720p in handheld and 1080p in docked. It aims for 60fps and, for the vast majority of its running time, it manages it, with just a few fairly minimal drops when things get properly hectic on-screen.
Graphically, it’s also pretty much a match for the PC version as far as we can tell and looks truly stunning in handheld where the action remains impressively readable no matter how hectic things get – this one really is an absolute joy to play portably. Cross saves too, although greyed out as an option just now, are on their way in an upcoming patch, a pretty big deal for those of us who’ve been indulging since this one originally hit early access.
Overall then, Hades is Supergiant Games’ greatest achievement to date – no mean feat considering the quality of what they’ve produced thus far. It’s a rip-roaring rampage through a glorious vision of hell that marries its story and combat together to wonderful effect. We’ve been enjoying this one for quite some time on PC and to have it delivered to Switch in a port of this quality, well, it makes the knowledge that we’ll all soon be roasting in the great forever fire just that little bit easier to bear.
Hades is a sublime mix of satisfyingly gritty and flexible combat, a wonderfully vibrant art style and genuinely fun and engaging narrative. Supergiant Games has an excellent track record thus far but this really does feel its finest hour, a rip-roaring rampage through the underworld that’s arrived here on Switch in a port that’s nigh-on perfect. Even if you’re yet to be swayed by the admittedly repetitive ebb and flow of the roguelike genre, we passionately urge you to at least give this one a try; for fans of the genre or anyone even remotely interested, this is one heavenly vision of hell that we highly recommend you sacrifice yourself to.
Edit – Oh meant to add, it has a “God Mode” option in the menu which has no negative side effects – doesn’t disable anything, doesn’t count against you. What it does is give you a 20% base damage reduction, and it increases every death by 2% hitting a cap of 80%. Super added this as a way to help combat the death/repeat cycle that can turn people away. It’s a perfect way to get a little extra mileage per run without feeling like you’re invincible, and also allows the player to eventually see the ending even if they’re horrible at rogues.
Cue people having issues with 10/10 scores. Me, I’m utterly delighted when a game impresses a reviewer enough for such an occasional scoring.
We all know no game is ‘perfect’ and giving a game a 10/10 doesn’t mean that. It means it’s a very special game that deserves to be placed alongside a finite group of other masterpieces – and we all know it’s a subjective view – so let’s not go round in circles with this, and just celebrate another masterpiece coming to the Switch.
I’m glad i waited for the switch version, it’s even better than the review makes it out to be
I mite wait for a possible physical copy if that ever happens, like Transistor. Wish Bastion was given the physical treatment too. Hows the music?
Man, it’s hard to support Supergiant with their constant console switching and exclusivity deals. This does sound good though.
The view point alone is making me not want to try this. Never much enjoyed games in that style. Oh and i don’t care how good a game is there’s no such thing as a perfect game.
Wow, every indie game now is getting a 10/10… I still feel sad the very best indie game ever, Hollow Knight, got a 9.
“Hades – A Heavenly Trip Into Hell That’s Utterly Essential For All Switch Owners”
Will I like it even if I hate roguelike games??
Wow, very tempted to pick this up. I had a decent time with Transistor, though the art style and atmosphere weren’t for me. This whole concept looks way more epic and compelling though. Plus I’m just waking up to the roguelites thanks to Mana Spark, so could definitely be swayed to what looks like a more seminal example of the genre. On the wishlist it goes.
It’s riding high on the European eShop chart and there’s a LOT of people on my Friend’s List playing this! Happy to see it doing so well, I’m absorbed in Super Mario 3D All-Stars myself at the minute. Looking forward to your Ori review @nintendolife, absolutely adored the first one!
I had sworn off roguelikes after I hit a skill level wall at Dead Cells 4BC, but this review makes me rethink that decision.
Is there a high skill level requirement to ‘complete’ this game too? As is the case in Dead Cells?
Been struggling to put this down since grabbing it yesterday. Really good game which definatly deserves that 10/10 score.
@Dm9982 that God Mode sounds perfect. I’d not turn it on by default as I’m always inclined to see how I get on but that sort of defined auto-handicap I like. I’d hope that it lets you know how much of it you’ve used as itd give an ongoing measure of how you’re doing.
Well, since I just finished Summer in Mara, which is nowhere close to the 3 this outlet awarded it, to name just the latest example, I have exactly zero faith in the accuracy of this score, so I’ll stick with my general disinterest in roguelikes, roguelites, roguelooks, roguelifes, roguelochs, and whatever other subgenres people insist on recognizing nowadays.
Absolutely deserves a 10, best game I’ve played all year. I played it on PC all the way through beta and now it’s out, it’s better than I ever could have thought. I never thought there could be a roguelike that surpassed Isaac but here it is. This and Disco Elysium are the only two ports I could ever wish for, not for myself but for all those Switch owners who get to play them.
Really, this is quite special. Up there with Celeste, Shovel Knight, Into the Breach and Hollow Knight!
@oatmaster It’s a really nice feature, and you can turn it on and off at will. Even mid run. It’s nice to see options like that included in games now days!
This and Rebel Galaxy Outlaw are all I want this month. I got Hades day one. Transistor is one of my all-time favorite games and I see myself playing this more due to the nature of the game. Hades is glorious. The reviewer said it all. This is a must have. Supergiant, you’re one of my heroes.
Downloaded it immediately when it went up on the eShop. Haven’t gotten a chance to play it yet but it’s next on my list, looking forward to it.
Although It’d be nice to have multiplayer – I kinda like it when a developer commits to making a very focused single-player only experience. Sometimes games dissipate themselves trying to do too much.
May get round to this eventually when I can put Mario 64 down. I’ve grabbed it during the launch discount b cause of outstanding reviews across the board. Ori 2 can wait for a sale I think.
@Dm9982 I’ve cashed in a few carts worth of gold points and bought it for fifteen quid, sounds like it’s worth it.
I was looking at this in the eShop to play with my son, it looks really good, but when I got to the bottom of the page and it said 1 player I moved on.
I’d be the first to admit I’m not much a fan of roguelikes myself but I decided to purchase this on a whim after the Direct due to being a fan of Supergiant’s other titles. Needless to say I’m impressed and find myself quite addicted to Hades, ha. The game positively oozes with style, the writing is so good and the gameplay is fast, weighty and satisfying. I’m really glad I took the chance on it. The 10/10 score is well earned.
WOW holy F##k, all the fantastic franchises and studios that exist, and this pulls the first ten I’ve ever seen. I was kinda on the fence, not anymore.
@FantasiaWHT You mean the two screenshots with dialogue from characters with totally different personalities? What kind of consistency were looking for, there, exactly?
Read fine to me. Don’t know the context, but Hades seems like a snide overlord, and Hermes, fittingly, seems like he can’t even wait for words to tumble out formally.
This game has gotten its hooks into me deep. I’ve already put around 25 hours into it since it hit Switch. That’s quite a bit for me. The gauntlets are the best.
I’ve been holding out for this Switch version! Will be picking it up coming week. Just love Supergiant and their creative outlook on videogames. Especially the art direction and overall game feel. Hyped!
Love this game. I’m not one to pick up random indies on day 1, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised myself. I love the different combinations of weapons and boons I’ve picked up in my dozen or so runs and expect I’ll be playing a lot more in the next few weeks
Another great game begging to be played is not what I need right now! I was afraid Hades would review so well I’d feel compelled to get it. I’ll just wait patiently for the physical release someday and hopefully catch up on the backlog by then.
I usually pass on Roguelites (I made an exception for GoNNER that I do not regret — that game was great), but this review and everything I have read elsewhere really makes this game sound special. I guess I will have to give it a go, once I can justify another gaming purchase (the 1 + 2 punch of 3D All-Stars and November’s Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity has eaten up my gaming budget for a while).
If I strongly dislike Bastion (which I know a lot of people love), is there any hope of my enjoying Hades?
@aaronsullivan No, even within characters’ own lines. The screenshots with dialogue have mysteriously disappeared from this article for me, but it jumped out at me immediately. And the cerberus line is eye-rolling.
I was so impressed with the videos and the reviews in the past days that I decided I’ll buy it and play after the 3D collection. It will be my first rogue-like (or lite)
I’m always really happy when Supergiant Games achieve great things with their games. Greg Kassavin, one of the most passionate games journalists and reviewers works for them.
@sketchturner Honestly, I wasn’t that into Bastion either, clearly a brilliant game but it wasn’t for me. This is just next level.
I say I hate rogues but I loved and still play Dead Cells and this is even better.
This game is a masterpiece. Not even 5 minutes in and I knew it was special. Everything about it just clicks so smoothly.
The voice acting, the music, the art, the flow, the upgrades, the story and dark humor and most importantly the flawless gameplay.
So many systems at play and they are all rolled out in a way that’s easy to understand and never overwhelming as part of the story which is brilliant. The combat may appear to be repetitive but it isn’t and nothing else is because of the way the story and upgrades are handed out.
Cross save functionality between PC and Switch (or other consoles) is the best idea ever. I love the flexibility it provides.
As for the game, it looks fabulous, I need to pick it up soon. Too many big games on the go right now though.
Hmm. A lot of rogue-lites or whatever that scored highly here on NL, I ended up regretting my time with. Didn’t enjoy Dead Cells, got tired of dying in Steredenn, etc. But they make this game sound quite good. And I do like Transistor. Maybe I’ll chance it…would have preferred a female or customizable lead, but oh well.
I really liked Dead Cells, but this game has deep story and characters, so I really want to pick this up soon.
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