Dani explores the constantly changing world of Dead Cells
How do you consistently explore an area when it changes every single time you reach it? When every time you enter the traps, enemies and paths shift entirely? Is it even possible to do so? That’s what I wanted to try after getting my hands on the achingly pretty pixelated prison that is Dead Cells. There’s also the added challenge of actually having the skill to reach a certain area as you restart from the beginning every time you die. But investigating this captivating actionplatformer for all of its hidden secrets is well worth the extra challenge.
Starting in the Prisoner’s Quarters is rather bleak. It may be pixelated but the whole place feels damp and cold thanks to to the choice of colour and the way the brickwork often has patches of mould hanging off of it. Everything is dimly lit in shades of green, giving the whole place a sickly pallor. The sense of confined dread makes it all the more rewarding when you escape it for the first time… into a forest full of hanging corpses. Lovely.
While the Promenade of the Dead may stink of death it feels like a peaceful woodland compared to the dungeon that came before it. Sure, your path is often covered in spikes and you’re frequently dive-bombed by ferocious bat things, but somehow that transition from awful to slightly less awful feels like paradise. Perhaps it’s because the trials you’ve undergone to get there make everything feel a little shinier – you bask in a brief afterglow of victory before you inevitably succumb to some pink bastard lobbing things at you. That feeling increases as you reach every new location, no matter how many piles of fly-riddled corpses you encounter along the way.
The Ramparts show off the game’s world design at its best – as the sun sets in the background it drenches everything in fiery shades of red and orange. It’s breathtakingly beautiful while also giving the impression that everything is burning around you as you cut your way through in an attempt to find the next exit. The castle walls are dark and harsh like the world you’re running through – it’s a perfect balance of pretty and horribly oppressive, which is what makes Dead
Cells’ atmosphere so special.
Hide and seek
While the pleasure of finding somewhere new may be brief, as an untimely death throws you back to the start, the journey back is filled with constant little secrets to uncover along the way. Thanks to the way the world randomly resets itself you never become bored of your surroundings – there’s always a new offshoot to explore that can lead to treasure or even a peek behind the curtain of what led the island to fall into such disgusting disarray. Occasionally you’ll stumble across ‘lore rooms’ that give you a little insight into the story, such as the desk of a corrupt prison guard complete with bribes, signs depicting unfair orders that have come down from the King and paths of escape attempts made by other prisoners.
Even the walls themselves are filled with hidey-holes – keep your eyes open and you may spot small runes that reveal hidden gems or perhaps a long-forgotten slice of cake if you’re lucky. You might also come across paths to a totally new area altogether. Bosses can leave runes that grant you powers to interact with the world in new ways, opening up branching paths and places to explore.
While the game appears to be fairly linear on the surface, there’s actually a lot of space to forge your own path in unexpected ways. Yes, it’s a sidescroller with flat backgrounds but those branching and ever-changing paths grant you a huge range to explore. Add all of the secret spots and sometimes it feels like a proper adventure game that rivals larger, open-world affairs. There’s a lot to discover here for any fellow travelling enthusiasts, you just need to persevere to reach them.
“The world is a perfect balance of pretty and horribly oppressive”