When it comes to Hades’ handsome, half-clothed prince Zagreus, it’s sometimes hard to tell his enemies from his exes. Supergiant’s gods are as cheeky as they are beautiful; everyone seems to have a history with Zagreus, whether it’s long-lost relatives or someone he’s scorned in his bid for freedom. It’s a rich web, woven by the creators of games like Bastion and Transistor, that makes roguelike Hades worth trudging through hell again and again for.
Supergiant’s latest follows Zagreus, prince of the underworld, dead set on getting out. Armed with the power of the Olympian gods, Zagreus must fight his way through hordes of gods and monsters. But defeat is only a temporary setback, one that sends players straight back to the house of Hades. It’s a clever conceit that makes death essential to the experience. It acts as a teacher, helping you refine your judgment and improve your strategies. Each run is different, from the randomly generated rooms you’ll fight through to the powerups and rewards you’ll cop along the way. Gods like Zeus, Athena, and Ares offer different abilities, from thunder boons to deflection, to ease your journey.
Death is also what moves the game’s story along. It’s these moments of what are essentially failure — Zagreus bubbling up out of a pool of blood over and over — that also usher in its best beats. Hades’ palace is full of gods and forgotten heroes who are a delight to spend time with, and each new demise grants the chance to build your bonds through talk and gifts.
It’s relationships like the one Zagreus has with the whip-wielding fury Megaera that make Hades so compelling. Meg is consistently the game’s first boss, and I looked forward to every run-in. Cool, collected, and with a voice meant for pillow talk, she’s an easy to love antagonist — the kind who adds just enough tension to make me want to cozy up to her later at the bar. Others, like the eternally sleepy Hypnos, offer much needed comic relief with quips every time Zagreus slinks out from his bloody pool; or Nyx, a maternal, gothic goddess with hair like a dead bird, who brings style and beauty to a game already overflowing with it. Hades’ cast isn’t just cool in the truest sense of the world; each is an irresistibly charming version of the mythological figures they’re based on.
Supergiant Games has a flawless track record. For nearly a decade, the indie studio has released consistently good isometric games, from Bastion to Pyre, that elevate its storytelling with catchy soundtracks, or clever narration techniques. After two years as an Early Access title on Steam, Hades’ arrival on Switch feels less like a culmination of that work, and more like proof that Supergiant doesn’t miss. Zagreus may suffer over and over, but at least his death is always easy on the eyes.
Hades is available on Steam and Nintendo Switch.
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