The top sellers list on the Nintendo Switch is, usually, dominated by AAA releases and first-party Nintendo games, which has for the most part in 2020 consisted of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. But the Switch is also the best vehicle for indie games this side of PC, and sometimes a smaller game hits all the way up to the top, or close to it. That’s the case right now, when Super Mario 3D All Stars sits at #1 on the main chart, but an indie title sits both right below it and at the top of the “download only” chart. It’s Hades, which you should just go play.
Hades is the latest from Supergiant Games, makers of the critically-acclaimed Bastion, Transistor and Pyre. It’s a roguelike, which to the uninitiated means a long series of semi-random levels that you try to make it through in one go, absorbing powerups along the way. If you die, you start over at the beginning, but you maintain a couple of currencies that you can use to buy permanent upgrades. You play Zagreus, son of Hades, as you attempt to escape the underworld for reasons I won’t go into here. And it’s the most addictive experience I’ve played in years.
I’m still planning on writing a full review of Hades in the coming days, but in the meantime, I’ve been playing a little too much Hades to actually do it. For now, however, it keeps revealing new ways to stun me. The most interesting part of the game is the way it plays with continuing narrative despite the repetitive nature of its gameplay, slowly revealing more and more of its little world to you every time you find yourself respawned back at the beginning. It’s beautiful, both in terms of sound and art design, like all Supergiant games. It is brutal, in many ways, but it surprisingly sweet, in ways that continue to reveal themselves even dozens of hours in.
But that’s the top-level stuff, the stuff that will drive you after a few hours in. It’s the foundation that makes it all worth it. I come back to Hades time and time again to see if I can make it, to see what I can do with different powerups, to see what people have to say if I see them again. But more than any of that, I do it just to do it. I play just to feel the smack of my sword against an enemy and watch it slam against the wall, to line up elaborate combos and watch the status effects domino, just to dash across the screen and narrowly miss an enemy attack, Zeus’s lighting rewarding me with a well-timed strike. It is sheer, mechanical perfection, a return to the relatively straightforward isometric action of Bastion that I’ve been wanting from Supergiant for years.
And while Hades is difficult at its base level, and even harder on the unforgiving Hell Mode or with the numerous difficulty modifiers you can throw at it after your first successful run. But if that worries you, note that Supergiant is not as dogmatically committed to that particular level of difficulty as some other popular games. There is also a “God Mode” which will both reduce the amount of damage that enemies do and also continually give you more boosts each time you die, effectively adjusting the difficulty level until you find the point at which you can proceed. The rest of the game—story, unlockables, abilities, etc.—remains the same, and you can toggle the mode on and off whenever you want.
So go play it, you won’t regret it. More to come later.