You’ll feel a sense of familiarity once you pick up Dead Cells for the first time, like you’ve played similar games or maybe experienced the combat before. And you probably have. The game takes it’s inspirations from a lot of different places, and some of it’s core mechanics are borrowed from a few of the past decade’s best titles.
If I tell you to imagine a 2D pixel-art rogue-like metroidvania platformer which takes slight influences from the SoulsBourne series of games, you’ll immediately form an image in your head about what this game is like. And depending on your preferences, this may or may not be for you. But trust me when I say that if you are willing to give this title a chance, you will find few games as enjoyable and as addictive as Dead Cells.
In the game players take on the role of a mass of cells that control the body of a dead prisoner, or more accurately, bodies of dead prisoners. Because each time you die in the game, it resets all of your progress and you start over with a completely new body that just happens to look exactly the same.
And when I say it resets your progress, I mean that apart from a few permanent runes that are mostly used to activate additional methods of traversal and other basic items, you lose everything. All your weapons, traps, armor, mutations, blueprints and even increases to your stats are lost. And here’s the kicker, after each death, you start the game all over again from the very first level with the most basic equipment and the layout of the levels changes each time as well.
But you know what, I never once felt frustrated or annoyed with the game. Because there’s a really amazing flow to the gameplay in Dead Cells, and it only gets better the more you decide to experiment and take chances. I experimented with different weapons, tools and mutations, and found combinations that worked well for me, while at the same time adapting to situations where my preferred equipment was not to be found or if I found more effective equipment as I progressed through a run. You have access to two weapon slots, two traps or grenades and one armor slot, and you can literally come up with thousands of combinations to chose from.
Combat is extremely satisfying, to the point where I’m confident in saying that there are very few games that even come close to what you’ll find in this game. It’s fast, fluid and extremely gratifying. No joke, I can see myself coming back to this game years in the future as a reference to how good combat should be, and not just in indie games either.
After a few deaths in any level, I got accustomed to the enemies and the environmental hazards and found myself sprinting through them, decimating foes in my wake. The game is really good at making you feel like you’re invincible, that is until you make a dumb mistake and get yourself cornered by a bunch of enemies, or encounter an Elite or a Boss.
Then it swats you back down from your high horse and you’re reminded that this game can actually be very punishing. Unless you’ve made an effort to level up your health in a run and collect the necessary mutations such as the ability to deal more damage or the like, chances are that you won’t last more than a few hits with any of Dead Cells Bosses. They are relentless, and proper preparation is key to defeating them.
And yet you keep coming back again and again, getting better each time. You invest your collected Cells, which is a resource dropped by enemies in the game, in new equipment and upgrades, eventually allowing you to retain a faction of your lost gold each time or being given a random selection of your unlocked equipment at the beginning of each run among other things.
All of the upgrades in the game in fact can only be unlocked through an NPC called The Collector, who can only be accessed in a safe area between levels. You also deposit your Blueprints with him, and use him to unlock necessary items such as the Health Flask, which coincidentally can also only be refilled in this safe area.
There’s also so much to see and explore in the beautifully designed pixelated world where the game takes place. Levels are scattered with multiple hidden items in walls, secret areas, timed doors, cursed chests and so much more.There’s not much here in terms of story if you don’t actively seek it out, but I found myself slowing down my pace quite a few times to explore interesting pathways and rooms to learn more about the world, and maybe snag some hidden goodies while I was at it.
I’ve spent close to 40 hours with the game at this point and I keep on dying again and again. But I also keep on getting back up again and again. The losses are devastating, and death is all but guaranteed, but I just can’t put Dead Cells down.
This game is amazing, and I’m genuinely struggling to find something that I wasn’t satisfied with, but I can’t. You owe it to yourself to play this game, because it is one of the greatest experiences of the past few years and you will regret missing out on it.
Dead Cells is set for release on the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Linux, Mac OSX and the PC on 7th August 2018. It is developed and published by Motion Twin. This review covers the Xbox One version of the game.
The review copy was provided by the publisher.
There are not many mechanics that are truly new or unique in Dead Cells, but it’s the execution of those mechanics that matter. It is a phenomenal game, that is truly greater than the sum of its parts, and you owe it to yourself to play it.