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Switch_Hades_Hero.jpeg.87284050b0232faa35415457baeae9b7.jpegOver the past decade, developer Supergiant Games has seemingly gone out of their way to produce particularly unique games, covering a variety of gameplay features but retaining a certain impeccable sense of style in each. To be honest I wasn't thrilled to hear that their latest, Hades, was a roguelike, a genre that has never fully landed with me, even if I have enjoyed a few games that use its death loop mechanics. Leave it to Supergiant, though, to make me a believer. I suppose it shouldn't have been a surprise given their previous games so perfectly combine disparate gameplay aspects into a brilliant and unique whole, but even as a fan of the developer I wasn't prepared for how fully Hades would capture my attention.
In Hades you play as Zagreus, prince of the Underworld, who has grown tired of living in a world of shades and darkness and has decided to leave his father's realm to be with his extended family on Mount Olympus. Leaving the land of the dead isn't exactly a simple task though, and he'll need to battle his way through shifting hazards and guardians from Tartarus to the River Styx before he can escape the afterlife. Roguelikes don't generally have a lot of storytelling; the gameplay loop of restarting the entire adventure every time you die tends to downplay the story, or at least push it into small corners of the game's world. That's not the case with Hades. One of the best aspects of this game is the fact that it's not just the gameplay that compels you to keep playing and make another attempt but the story as well. You get little pieces of backstory and character development with every playthrough that will make you eager to push a little further and uncover more. It also helps that the developers have done an amazing job of bringing these Greek mythological figures to life (in a manner of speaking). Zagreus himself is a charming combination of moody and flippant without being obnoxious, and every other character—whether it's an underworld denizen or Olympic god—is just as wonderfully developed and charming. The short break between escape attempts might have been a dull housekeeping period in a lesser developer's hands, but in Hades it's an opportunity to talk with side characters and further immerse yourself in the game's setting.
Like all roguelikes, the gameplay of Hades is based around repeatedly playing through the game with a random assortment of hazards and upgrades. Zagreus is able to choose one of six weapons to use in his escape attempt, but beyond that there's an element of chance to everything that happens. Different enemies will pop up, different room layouts will impede your progress, and different gods will grant you boons which act as powerful upgrades. For example, Zeus will give your attacks additional lightning damage, while Athena grants defensive buffs that can deflect enemy projectiles. You may also see improved versions of their boons (rare, epic, heroic) as well as boons that reinforce the ones you already have. Which gods you see on your playthrough and even which boons they grant are randomly generated so every attempt is going to feel a little different, which keeps the gameplay feeling fresh and forces you to think strategically with the tools you're given.
What makes a good roguelike is essentially how much fun the core gameplay is, regardless of what boons/upgrades you're using and regardless of whether you're actually successful in your playthrough. Hades nails this aspect, ensuring that not only does each playthrough feel unique, but that the combat mechanics and combination of boons is always engaging. Even without boons the combat of Hades feels great. Each weapon has distinct advantages and disadvantages, from better range to defensive capabilities, and learning how to master each one's features is a blast (and tearing through enemies is super satisfying). Your attacks are sharp and responsive and you have a great amount of control over Zagreus's movements and dodges. Even basic sword swings just have a satisfying weight to them.
Then there are the boons that add so much variety and depth to the combat system. Mixing and matching them allows for incredibly varied approaches to both normal fights and boss fights, and learning how to best use each boon is another fantastic layer of depth and strategy in Hades. There were plenty of boons that, starting out, I didn't like at all and couldn't find a good use for. But after a few playthroughs and some experimentation I found that they could be just as powerful as any other, and testing out new combinations became something to look forward to. Early on you'll just be experimenting to see what each boon can do, but soon enough you'll be experimenting with different combos, weapons, and playstyles, and Hades has a fantastic amount of variety in this department. Even after dozens of playthroughs there are still surprising and exciting aspects of the gameplay to uncover.
Hades also allows you to make some permanent upgrades outside of the randomly generated boons, which is a huge help in making each playthrough feel useful and valuable even if you didn't make it all the way to the end. You're able to pick up a few different forms of currency which unlock permanent boosts to make you slightly stronger in your next attempt, and early on these incremental upgrades are a huge part of keeping you engaged for each playthrough. Then there's the flipside where, once you've finished the game once, you can choose to inflict additional challenges on yourself to make the game harder, like increasing enemies' health, damage, or attack speed. This will also net you additional materials for upgrades so it's not just designed to punish yourself, though by that point you'll likely be skilled enough that a little extra challenge is welcome. There's also God Mode which is an assist mode that will reduce the damage you take, perfect for players that need a helping hand or just want to see more of the story progress. Regardless of what upgrades or punishments you're using, Hades is a brilliantly addictive game that will leave you with that "one more try" feeling each and every time you finish a run, successful or not.
Even across different genres and gameplay styles, one thing that has never never changed for Supergiant is the absolutely stunning presentation of their games. Hades is gorgeous, from the atmospheric scenery that captures a subtle sense of foreboding underworld vibes to the beautifully designed character portraits that do an incredible job of interpreting the classic Greek pantheon that we all know. The hand-painted environments are so richly detailed that for your first few playthroughs you'll likely just be distracted drinking in the scenery. And although the game's isometric perspective doesn't allow for much close-up detail the game is beautifully animated as well. Even after your fiftieth playthrough it's worth taking a little pause to appreciate the amazing visual design of Hades. Then there's the soundtrack which is once again masterfully composed by Darren Korb. There's a very fine line to walk here for a game where you're going to hear the same songs over and over, but Korb's soundtrack is the perfect blend of catchy and action-packed without feeling tiresome even by the hundredth time you've heard it. And finally, the voice work in Hades deserves special mention too for the way it captures each character's personality so well in a subtle, magnetic way that pulls you even further into the impeccable writing and storytelling.
Hades is everything a roguelike should be. The controls and combat are so finely polished that even basic battles have a satisfying, addictive flourish to them. The gameplay is challenging without being discouraging, and always feels worthwhile whether you've made it to the end, collected valuable materials, or simply tested out new strategies based on what the game gave you. The writing is wonderfully engaging and uncovering bits of the story across each playthrough is another perfect incentive to keep playing over and over. Add onto all of this Supergiant's impeccable art and music design and you easily have one of the best Switch releases this year. Even if you're not a fan of roguelikes, there's something about Hades that will pull you in and won't let you go.
Rating: 10 out of 10 Boons
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