Dead Cells first appeared on Steam back in early 2017. The game we saw then was but a taste of what the full version offers. After months of early-access, Motion Twin has listened and learned on this long journey, and their final product is impressive.
Dead Cells takes the Metroidvania formula and combines it with a rogue-lite experience. Put simply, this game will most likely not be for everyone. While minor issues, that really aren’t even worth talking about, can slightly dampen the experience; Dead Cells is a game that is going to set the bar for any others that follow it.
The concept is simple, get as far as you can, while collecting as much as you can, before you inevitably need to start a new. While this rampant repetition might push some away, Motion Twin has an answer for it. Every time you die and respawn, the game resets with you! The entirety of the game is procedurally generated every time you die, meaning every run is a fresh start, entirely. Yes, you lose your progress, yes, you lose your weapons, and upgrades… and perks, BUT the things you keep make every consecutive run that comes after, easier… eventually.
At first, Dead Cells can be a “grindy” experience. I say that only because finding good weapons early on, in my play-through, was difficult. Eventually, I stumbled upon an “Elite” enemy who granted me an ability that let me “tickle” (their words not mine) some moss and POOF! A new means of navigating these constantly changing tunnels opened up to me. Now, instead of wandering passed these subtly pulsating clumps of vegetation, I could “tickle” them (seriously, thats the terminology they went with) and vines would shoot up out of the ground, allowing me to then climb up and discover whatever lay ahead.
Dead Cells constantly treats you in this way. You’ll have 10 runs, where all you do is lose a bunch of upgrade materials and maybe find a couple new weapons. Then, you’ll have that one run that ends up being different from the last 10, and the assembly of rooms and corridors lets you find that boss or Elite you’ve been waiting for. Just like that, after the enemy is slain, new areas become readily available for you to do the same thing in. And that is what makes this game so rewarding.
Just when all feels lost, Dead Cells throws you a little pick me up before repeatedly beating you into the dirt again. But that’s okay because that’s what the game is all about. It’s something that should be expected going in, really.
Aside from weapons, the skills, or abilities, or whatever you’d like to call them, keep their standings as well. Basically, throughout your time with Dead Cells, you’ll be after these blue orbs that some enemies randomly (or is it?!) drop. After finding a way of accessing a new area, these orbs can then be used as a way to increase or unlock certain things, which in turn also change the way your runs will eventually start.
Some are pretty straightforwardand expected, like having x-amount of gold stay with you, even after you die. This allows you to purchase weapons that might have been out of your reach, financially speaking, a few runs prior because you had to spend that hard earned gold on something else. Other upgrades make the game extremely interesting though, like having a random weapon that you’ve previously found become an option for the weapon you pick up at the start. To digress for a moment, at the start of your run, you have your base sword and then the choice between a bow or shield. LAME.
So, these things you unload orbs into eventually unlock, and some drastically change how the game will play from then on. It’s a great rogue-lite mechanic that should really be utilized in the genre more often. These skills feel like they give you more control over the hell you’ve been thrown into.
In regards to gameplay, this game should really be played with a controller. I know, I know, “PC Master Race!” we get it, you’re cool, you’ve got a high-end PC that runs Destiny 2 so hard you can see the pixels in the pixels. But seriously, even Motion Twin recommends their game be played with one! To be fair, I tried both, and in the end, I agree with their assessment.
This game is going to feel remarkably responsive the second you plug in a controller. It’s just one of those games that you’ll get more out of if you keep your mouse and keyboard away from it. It’s okay, your PC will understand. Having said all that, in terms of using a controller to play Dead Cells, it feels great! The controls feel incredibly responsive, so responsive in fact that it felt like the game knew I wanted to dodge before I even did.
Speaking of seeing pixels in pixels (you pretentious fucks), the environments are deeply detailed for a “retro style” game. Some of the enemies can be a little hard to discern what they exactly are? But the environments are gorgeous. Whether you’re running through toxic sewers or fighting across decrepit castle walls, the scenes around you will take your pixelated breath away. I mean… they probably actually won’t? But still, the game is beautiful.
The mystical soundtrack compliments the game as well. It makes you feel like you’ve been dropped in the middle of the renaissance, or something medievally similar. For you lore seekers theres some story in there for you as well. Little scenes or NPCs vaguely fill you in on everything thats happened to the island you’re trying to escape. It has a very Dark Souls vibe to it, so if you enjoyed piecing the puzzle together in those games, this shouldn’t feel much different.
All in all, this is just a solid, well developed game. From it’s highly responsive gameplay, to it’s fluid mechanics and execution, Motion Twin has delivered an all around fantastic experience. While the learning curve is harsh, and the idea of constantly starting over might sound infuriating, I can guarantee you; after an hour with this game, you’ll be fighting off whomever tells you to put it down. Dead Cells makes you excited to start over, excited at the prospect of finding new secrets, and in a game built on procedural generation, new twists and turns are always right around the corner.