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.