Hades – The Underworld Has Never Been This Addictive

Cover art of Hades. Also the cover of the review

Released on: September 17 2020

Available Platforms: Nintendo Switch. PC, macOS

Price: $28.99 CAD ($24.99 US)

Developed by: SuperGiant Games Developed by: SuperGiant Games

With the holiday season approaching, many highly anticipated games are getting ready to make their big debut. Over on Nintendo’s eShop service, a couple of games have staked their claim as the best sellers of the last month: Super Mario 3D All-Stars, Animal Crossing New Horizons, and an independent game called Hades. I’ve heard a lot of impressive things about Hades on Twitter and Youtube, but to be up on the best sellers page along with Super Mario and Animal Crossing, I just had to check it out. Does Hades emerge from the underworld to be the hit indie game of the holiday season?

Title screen of the game to start the Hades review

The player controls Zagreus, the son of Hades and Nyx, as he tries to escape his father’s underworld. Along the way, however, he will have to deal with Hades’ minions, other mythological creatures and treacherous terrain. While playing the game, the player will encounter a whole slew of characters from Greek mythology (like the gods of Olympus, Achilles, Cerberus, etc.) This is my kind of story. The plot is short, sweet and to the point. As the player progresses through the game, they become privy to Zagreus’ motivation for escaping the underworld. Hadesˋ lore is strong and doesnˋt overshadow the main plot.

Hadesˋ visuals, despite taking place in the underworld, are surprisingly vibrant. When the player reaches new stages, the first room tends to have a look-off point, which shows off the world’s flair. The character portraits are another nice touch. I don’t remember some of these characters looking so nice in other forms of media.

Elysium in all of its glory to show off Hades' visuals
Who knew the underworld could look so pretty.

Even when writing this review, I’ve been thinking about playing Hades. Hades has the player hacking and slashing their way across the underworld in their attempt to reach the surface. Before beginning their escape attempt, the player chooses what weapon they use for the run. The player starts with very few choices but will soon earn keys that will unlock more weapons. Each weapon has its own attacks and special attacks. The player also has a cast attack that causes the player to throw a blood-red gem by default. The cast attack is irrelevant to the weapon the player chooses and can change depending on the player’s boon. Throughout their playthrough, the player will receive boons from the various gods of Olympus. Each time the player finds one of these boons, they will get one of three power-ups. Depending on which god the player meets, these power-ups will have different effects. One example is Aphrodite will make it so that the player’s attack will weaken the enemies they hit. Using these boons effectively is detrimental to the player’s success, as the rooms get more challenging the closer the player gets to the surface. At the end of each world, a boss is waiting for the player. These bosses usually require a couple of attempts to learn their patterns. The biggest thing the player will realize is what happens when the player dies. If the less-than-subtle clues did not give it away, Hades is a Rogue-like. When the player dies, they return to the house of Hades, spend their spoils that they carried over from their last run, and try again when they are ready.

Beating a boss to show off the satisfaction of victory in Hades.
Not today!

What has me completely hooked to Hades is its gameplay. There are many games I could compare Hades to (Diablo is the biggest one that comes to mind.) What I feel separates Hades from them, however, is its fast pace. Every time I load Hades, I grab my weapon of choice, go murder a bunch of demons, inevitably die, and go again. When choosing my weapon, I typically gravitate towards the shield or the spear. The shield has a short normal attack range, but the weapon’s special attack allows the player to throw the shield to hit multiple distant foes. Of course, when the player throws the shield, they have to wait for it to come back to attack again. The spear has a long reach in front of the player and can charge their attack into a spin attack. The special attack causes the player to throw the spear, but unlike the shield, the player needs to call the spear back themselves. When it comes to boons, Ares is my personal favorite. He grants the power of doom to the player’s attacks, which, after a few seconds, causes severe damage to all affected with doom. This additional damage has saved my hide on more than one occasion. Chances are there are builds that I am missing with different weapons, but that goes to show Hades’ depth in gameplay.

On a more relaxed note, I love the writing for the non-player characters in Hades, whether they are friend or foe. The characters are all beautifully voice acted, and I can’t get enough of everybody’s personality. Hypnos comes to mind as he comments on the player’s death and gives “helpful” advice. While I could see how this could irritate players, I find him hilarious, thus giving his snark remarks a pass. I also love Dusa, a medusa head that acts as the house’s cleaning lady. She is charming but shy, so seeing her make friends with some of the other residents of the house of Hades is nice to see. Hades’ endearing characters give a welcoming respite after feeling the sting of a seemingly fruitful attempt being cut short.

A picture of Zagreus petting Cerberos to show the player that they can pet the dog.
Who could forget the most important feature: being able to per the dog!

With Hades being a Rogue-like, one would expect the game to be on the problematic side. Those that think that are correct. My end usually comes from trying to dodge multiple waves of projectiles while avoiding the floor traps and escaping the unwanted advances of cheeky demons. The player has a dash that immensely helps with survival, but the dash is also responsible for causing me to run face-first into another group of projectiles. I enjoy Hades’ gameplay loop to the point where it made me play “one more run” for the forty-seventh time that evening, but I understand that Rogue-likes are not for everybody.

A gif to show off how many bullets the player is expecting to dodge, amd me failing to do so.
This will happen a lot…

The many praises I’ve heard about Hades are all well deserved. It has beautiful visuals, fantastic characters, fascinating lore, and immaculately designed gameplay that make Hades a must-play for fans of Rogue-like games.

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