Supergiant Games, the studio that brought us critical darlings Bastion, Transistor and Pyre, is back again with Hades, a gorgeously fiendish, roguelike romp through the Underworld of Greek mythology — and one that players everywhere will find difficult to put down.
Hades starts with little preamble: taking on the role of Prince Zagreus, the son of the eponymous god of the Underworld, the game immediately throws you into your first battle, armed with a sharp sword and a variety of even sharper moves to use with it. Your goal is to battle your way through the recently- and not-so-recently deceased to try and escape the gloomy clutches of the realm of the dead. There’s no opening cutscene, no slow tutorial gently easing you in. Hades begins as it means to continue — just you and your weapon, progressing room by room through the ever-shifting labyrinth of the afterlife, forging relations with your distant relations up on Olympus as they give you a hand here and there… and then you die.
This is where Hades truly begins. Your goal throughout the game remains the same, to escape the Underworld, but with each death — and you will die, a lot — you’ll have learned a little more about the game’s intricate puzzle of a narrative. Every time the river Styx washes you up in a pool of blood, back where you started in the House of Hades, you’ll find some new characters and/or interactions, the opportunity to upgrade your stats, modify your abilities, or unlock new weapons using treasures you’ve gathered during your myriad escape attempts. It’s a fiendishly addictive cycle that’ll constantly leave you hankering for one more run.
Combat makes and breaks games like this, and Supergiant has nailed it with Hades’ fast-paced, flashy combat. The Prince has a variety of weapons to choose from, each designed for a certain style of play. Those who like to get up close and personal might favour the Stygian Blade or the Twin Fists of Malphon; others might prefer to hang back and hit enemies from a distance with Coronacht, the Heart-Seeking Bow or the Adamant Rail, Exagryph; and those who prefer the best of both worlds are covered with Varatha, the Eternal Spear and Aegis, the Shield of Chaos (which you can channel Captain America by throwing around the map). Zagreus can also use a dash to flit around enemies and pick them off, or to nip in close to set off an environmental trap before quickly escaping the blast radius.
Choosing your weapon and mastering the mechanics is just half of what Hades has to offer, though: along each run, you’ll meet different Olympian gods who offer you Boons that change how your weapons function, how you move, or how much damage you can deal or withstand; you’ll find yourself constantly adapting and changing things up. You’ll want to meet the gods for more than just the perks they provide, though — each one comes to life through beautiful portraits and full voice acting, and they have plenty of unique, characterful dialogue. Hades himself is a harsh, critical overseer of the dead, and the sort of dad who would lament you doing an Arts degree instead of getting a real job. Dionysus is more the kind you’d find hanging out by the keg at a frat party, while Hypnos floats around in the hallways of the House of Hades and reminds you exactly how you last came to a gruesome end (yes, thank you Hypnos, I was there). My particular favourite is Dusa, the floating head of a certain infamous Gorgon, who stammers and blushes at any interaction with our leading man.
The dialogue is all charming and although it’s technically a setback in your quest, it’ll have you looking forward to each return to the House of Hades just to see who’s there, what’s new and what each character has to say this time. You’ll also meet other figures in Greek mythology along your quest, some who will provide momentary respite from your constant fighting and others who’ll be trying to send you back where you started; no matter their intentions, each named and rendered character has a story to tell, and the only way to uncover it is to keep on encountering them.
If there’s any critique to be found against Hades, it’s the fact that the Switch version does squash everything into a relatively small amount of screen real estate. This is at its worst when it comes to flavour text, which is sometimes so tiny as to be almost unnoticeable. Too many rounds of squinting at small type combined with the whirlwind pace of combat has left my eyes reeling in their sockets on more than one occasion.
Having launched in Early Access back in 2018, Hades’ final build has been a long time coming, but the game has expanded dramatically since then and Supergiant has clearly put a lot of work and dedication into crafting an experience that is both extremely satisfying and insanely moreish.
Hades is a lesson in taking the best of a number of genres and combining them into a smooth, slick gaming experience that players will be eager to return to.
Ruby reviewed Hades using a retail Nintendo Switch code purchased on the eShop.
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