It’s becoming increasingly difficult to make a game that actually stands out, with seemingly endless streams of games launching on all platforms every week. While there isn’t a definitive way of doing this, making a good game is surely a start. Creating something that is visually appealing and fun to watch when streamed also adds to the desire of people wanting to buy it. Take the tried and true Metroidvania formula that rarely sees any entries from its namesake while adding in rogue-lite elements and you’re almost guaranteed some sort of success. Dead Cells does all this and so much more.
Starting out you’ll see a little pile of goo head to a corpse and reanimate it – this is you. Shortly thereafter you are welcomed by a female adventurer, giving you a little bit of backstory for the situation. From here you set off to gather your bearings and will likely die before doing anything too grandiose. I managed to make it to the first boss and didn’t stand a chance having no idea what to expect. You’ll then see a similar scene as the opening, with a bit more conversation from the woman. Eventually you’ll respawn to a room filled with hanging jars that are filled by the runes you unlock by giving your Cells to the Collector (no, not the one from Marvel). As the game makes use of the permadeath mechanic so often found in rogue-lites, these serve as the progression you’ll make in the game.
The game is pretty brutal in difficulty, and the ever changing layout of the map only adds to that as you are never able to memorize how to traverse it. This means there are plenty of secrets to be found, although there are some factors that are pretty standard throughout. In the second area you enter you can safely assume that a timed door can be found by going down the first elevator you encounter. If you happened to make it there quickly enough, there’s a fair amount of rewards to be found, including a trophy/achievement. I actually didn’t manage to do this until I went to the third area with about a minute to spare. The game is full of little things like this catering to all sorts of play styles and encourages trying something new.
Starting from the beginning you’ll have a sword and the option to choose either a shield or a bow and arrow. Each weapon is tied to a different class which is color coded by red, violet, and green. As you explore you’ll undoubtedly find scrolls that allow you to increase the skills of one of the classes of your choice, which will also upgrade your health. The boosts for each of these will change each time you find them, so perhaps you don’t have any of the survival (green, shield) items, but you really need a health boost – I’ve found myself collecting the 60% health boost over the 31% with a 15% boost to damage of my sword. Each combination of weapons also means a completely different form of playing the game. Whether you end up defending/parrying attacks with green or attacking from a range with purple changes the experience entirely, and I wholeheartedly advise you give both a fair chance. Without a shield you’ll want to get familiar with the dodge mechanic and the proper timing for it, as each enemy has their own tells and abilities. In addition to the three main styles of weaponry, you’ll find tertiary equipment with cooldowns, such as AOE grenades, turrets, traps, among others. These also tie in with the classes, so your choices are pertinent for progression as the enemies grow stronger. If you’re not finding what you want just laying around, you always have the option of buying items from the local merchant.
The enemies at first glance may look pretty standard, but it doesn’t take long for their designs to become rather intimidating, as well as exceedingly dangerous. Whether they’re teleporting after you until you give in or they drop an assortment of explosives upon death, everything wants to kill you, and they’ll do everything they can to do so. Even the minuscule enemies can be a threat if you’re not paying attention and end up surrounded. Each area has new strategies you have to employ, so be leery when entering the unknown. You are going to die quite often, and that’s okay. It may be frustrating, but the randomness keeps things fresh, and eventually you’ll find some wall chicken and other assorted goods hidden throughout the game to keep you going, along with the upgrades. Honestly, I keep finding things I had no idea about by accident, and it makes me wonder just how much this game has hidden and whether or not everything will be found. There’s plenty of lore to be found in your exploration, and there’s a fair amount of humor which was unexpected, albeit pretty dark.
On top of the runes you unlock from the Collector, you’ll be granted various abilities from besting the elite enemies which will help you not only traverse different areas and find secrets, but help you progress to new levels. If you find parts of the world that you can interact with but nothing happens, chances are you’ll need to beat one of the bosses first. You’ll also find a large assortment of temptations that may result in your untimely death. The first time I came across a chest the size of a room I opened it excitedly and without thinking and was caught off-guard by the outpouring of enemies that resulted. This is a fair way to gather cells, but if you’re unprepared a chest can spell your doom. Alternatively, they can pose no danger and just provide a boost to your journey in the form of new gear.
To be quite honest, I’m not sure I ran across anything in the game that I’d say would fault it – even backtracking is a non-issue with so many teleportation devices. The game is about as good as it gets for the genre, and this is a prime example of how you stand out from everything else being released – indie or otherwise. If you’re looking for something that is both challenging and feels good (side note: you can either open doors regularly or bust them open and stun enemies doing so – I’ve never felt so satisfied with a door as having it explode open in this), Dead Cells checks all the boxes.
10 out of 10
- Beautiful Aesthetic
- Fluid Gameplay/Mechanics
- Upgrade System
- Enemy Variance and Designs
- Writing and Delivery of Text
- Extreme Difficulty?
Dead Cells was developed and published by Motion Twin. It launched on NS, PC, PS4, and X1 August 7th, 2018 for $24.99. The PS4 copy of the game used for review was provided to us. If you’d like to see more of Dead Cells, check out the official site.
Here at GBG we use a rating method that you are more than likely familiar with – a scale of 1 to 10. For clarification, we intend on using the entire scale: 1-4 is something you should probably avoid paying for; 5-7 is something that is worth playing, but probably not at full price; 8-10 is a great title that you can feel confident about buying. If you have any questions or comments about how we rate a game, please let us know.