Hades hits all the right notes but adds so much more than expected
- Developer: Supergiant Games
- Publisher: Supergiant Games
- Release date: 17th September 2020
- Genre: Action-Adventure
- Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows
- Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch
- Game Supplied by: Publisher
Don’t be surprised if early in 2021, Hades, a game very few will have heard of, collects heaps of awards. The ultra-high quality of this game is astounding and something I really wasn’t expecting. Only in my wildest dreams had I hoped for a game to grab my attention half as much as the God of War franchise does, but Hades pulled me bolt upright from my slouching posture within moments of starting the game.
The first thing to grab you by the scruff of the neck is the outstanding visuals. Looking more akin to a game designed for the more powerful home consoles, Hades defies the graphical expectations of the humble, hand-held Switch. The art style is sumptuous and lavishes the screen with glorious, varied and vibrant colour, even though it is set in underworld dungeons. With a playing field littered with breakable objects that smash and tinker into small parts, backdrops providing eye candy of molten, boiling lava, the green hue of a distant underground city, right down to the wobble of an enemy belly, the visuals catch the eye instantly and wherever it wanders.
When moving Zagreus, the Prince of the Underworld, around the field, it is also discernible how smooth the animations of his actions work too. Despite the relatively small size of your playable character, there was a deft sensation of realistic weight, which coupled with how smooth the animations flowed, impressed just how tight and on point every aspect of this hack and slash game is.
What is a roguelike game anyway?
Roguelike games can and often do cause frustration with their permadeath game design. It can be frustrating and rewarding in equal measure. Rewarding when you get further than you did before into the level, tempered by the frustration of stumbling over a minion that sends you right back to the beginning.
Hades, however, uses that mechanic in a fascinating way. Every time you respawn at the beginning, you get a little stronger than before. This simple mechanic empowers the player to try again and becomes quite addictive. Simply put, dying isn’t the end, it is to be welcomed! Very few roguelike games can carry that monicker.
The hub world you start at and return to is your base of operations for each foray into the underworld. The further you get, the more items and help you receive, making the next attempt just that little bit easier. Even when you do escape the first time, it’s not the end of the game, as to get the true ending you need to escape multiple times.
There are only four levels to progress through, and each foray into the world will range from 5 to 35 minutes each. You would be mistaken to think going back over the same levels and the same monsters, again and again, to progress just a little further each time would become frustrating, and get boring quickly, but the genius of the game is that it has been designed not to do that. It accomplishes this by giving the player new weapons, buffs and interesting upgrades that alter the experience each time so that no two combat sessions with the same monsters in the same area feel the same.
Slashing your way through enemies with melee weapons, where aggression and close quarters combat is key, is vastly different from the constant movement and long-range engagements with the same enemies using a bow. These changes in mechanics, which are completely optional to the player, empowers the player to always feel that the next time they venture “Once more unto the breach,” could be the time they succeed in getting to the next stage and therefore offering a sense of progression and motivation.
The other option is that each doorway you arrive at will give a clue as to what is behind it. Do you go for a new powerful weapon or upgrade but die in the process, or try the door that will take you further afield?
So, after you have died, and died again, and wind up back at the hub world, interacting with the NPC’s rewards the player not only with magnificent moments of excellent voice acting but also clues to help the player on their next escape attempt. It is quite startling how much more impressive the voice acting in Hades is compared to most other games of any genre. Each line is delivered with relaxed aplomb, which excels in making the performances believable. It’s irresistible to not get caught up with each character and their back story.
The main cast comprises the Gods of Olympus aiding and encouraging Zagreus in various ways, to ‘stick it to the old man’ (Hades), and join them in Olympus (don’t tell Kratos, anyone!) The NPCs in the underworld are equally as entertaining, and it’s rewarding to engage with them often. Not only can you garner new information, but they often add an injection of levity to the proceedings.
Not only is the aforementioned voice acting of the highest quality, but the rest of the audio is of a superb level too. During combat, the heftiness and resulting slash of a sword are conveyed with believable authenticity, as are the thumps of blows you receive. Footsteps echo from the walls of caverns, and let’s not dismiss the simple joy of listening to exploding barrels!
The music has a modern energetic rock sound, mixed with a Persian twist which adds another interesting flavour to the mix. The font of the text is presented in the style of ancient Roman times, but that leads to one of the only criticisms of the game. When playing Hades with the Switch docked on a large TV screen, reading the text was not a challenge at all, however playing the game on the Switch’s handheld screen, it was hard to read.
Hades is most certainly punching way above its weight. So much so, that pound for pound it should be considered as one of the greats.
When you craft a game that features addictive gameplay alongside a compelling story, with a delicious cast of interesting, varied, and well-voiced characters, it has the hallmark of a great game. If you then sprinkle fantastic visuals over that, together with dynamic audio and excellent progression features, you will have something very special indeed.
Hades hits all the right notes but adds so much more than expected, and it really stands out among other games in its genre. Slaughtering monsters in the underworld never felt as good as this, and Hades is one bit of escapism that is worth dying for!