As most of you may know, Dead Cells is a game that has recently and unfortunately been pulled in to a vortex of controversy thanks in no part to the game itself. The fact that the issue stemmed from a tainted review of Dead Cells is unfortunate and hopefully won’t impact the game because it is wonderfully addictive and a whole lot of fun.
So skipping right over that messy plagiarism controversy, let’s just focus on the actual game itself.
I’ve been playing Dead Cells on and off for the past year thanks to its early access phase. I was drawn in initially by the premise and gameplay which, as of one year ago, was already rock solid.
As the first non-browser or mobile game from the French developer Motion Twin, I’ve been incredibly impressed by how often the game has evolved over the last 12 months through numerous updates. What we have now is the end result of a lot of hard work and it shows. With the game officially released on many different platforms, I figure it’s high time that I offer some thoughts on my experiences.
Dead Cells has been described by some as a Metroidvania, which, I’d generally disagree with. While you will be doing a lot of retracing your steps due to unavoidable deaths, it’s a game where you constantly moving forward. Yes, you acquire new and permanent skills (or Runes as they’re called here) but you can’t actively go back to re-explore areas you’ve already gone through.
In my eyes, this is a pure action-based roguelike. You play a nameless corpse, brought to life by some sort of smoke creature thing. As you play, you acquire new weapons, gadgets, and gold to improve not only yourself during that playthrough, but hopefully, improve your odds of survival. Naturally, the further you go, the more difficult the game gets and as other roguelike games, when you die, you lose your stuff and start at the beginning again. Hopefully, you’ve learned a thing or two in the process to help propel you further during the next attempt.
Each death also reconfigures the landscape a bit as each zone is procedurally generated for each run. That, combined with the really fantastic pixel artwork, really helps makes each run feel fun and unique. Yes, this also means that occasionally you’ll come across oddly created rooms that don’t make sense like a ladder leading to a room with no other way out of.
Players can also select different routes through the island to help mix up the familiarity from running levels over and over. For example, the first level known as the Prisoner’s Quarters offers two paths forward: Toxic Sewers or the Promenade of the Damned. If you’ve taken one route often, why not try the other for a change of pace? Or maybe you’ve found that one of the options is particularly difficult, so instead, you choose the other path. I’m looking at you Toxic Sewers…
Not everything is temporary in death, however. Between levels, players meet different merchants like The Collector where they can spend collected “Cells” (which occasionally drop from defeated enemies) on permanent upgrades. These range from unlocking new weapons or helpful passive skills like being able to use your health flask more than once. These areas also allow players to reforge certain item skills, improve gear, and select one of three mutations. My personal favorite allows you to be resurrected once during gameplay. Unfortunately, if you die before reaching this safe zone, the cells you have on you are lost for good.
What I love about Dead Cells is that it caters to all kinds of gameplay styles. For speed runners or players who want to basically run and gun through the game, they absolutely can. In support of this style, speedy players can come across randomized time-gated doors that lock at certain intervals for people that don’t reach them in time. In fact, the game even rewards players for quickly killing enemies, giving players a temporary speed boost which can be extended by killing more enemies.
On the other hand, players who want to explore and take their time will find lots to love here as well. Levels are full of secrets which can easily be missed by those opting to move quickly through them. Some have treasures which can be gathered while others offer a brief glimpse into this world with a bit of lore.
Speaking of, if you’re looking for a well-written story, Dead Cells will likely let you down as most things are left intentionally vague. The Prisoner is a silent protagonist, only relying on emotes to show how he’s feeling at times. There’s no real explanation as to why this is all happening, why you continue to be revived, or what has happened that made the areas of the island as dangerous as they are.
Frankly, that fact doesn’t bother me because I’m in it for the gameplay. Dead Cells has this addictive quality about it, which more often than not has me constantly saying “ah, one more run” after I die. It does enough to coax you into continuing whether it’s with upgrading a specific skill or perhaps finding the perfect combination of weapons and gadgets to push further than you ever have before. With a developer that’s motivated to continue making it a great game as well as rock-solid gameplay, Dead Cells is a very easy title to recommend.
Go pick it up.