Dead Cells

Crash­ing cas­tles

PCPOWERPLAY - - CONTENTS - CHRIS THURSTEN­ing re­set back to the start of the game ev­ery time you die makes it a slog to prac­tice...


Dead Cells has ro­bust DNA. This is an ac­tion plat­former with Castl­e­va­nia’s en­vi­ron­ments and gothic bes­tiary, wed to Dark Souls’ ex­plo­ration and sense of risk.

And it’s gor­geous. Smooth an­i­ma­tion, evoca­tive pixel art, and grat­i­fy­ing ef­fects cast Dead Cells in a good light from the off. Its moody fortresses and haunted vil­lages are at­mo­spheric but never drab, and each zone in­tro­duces a new splash of color to the game’s pal­ette.

These touches gild a su­perbly-ex­e­cuted move­ment and com­bat sys­tem. You have a dou­ble jump and a dodge roll that grants a vi­tal win­dow of in­vin­ci­bil­ity. You can bust through doors to stun en­e­mies with a sat­is­fy­ing crunch, and leap from chains to dodge pro­jec­tiles and reach new ar­eas.

You can carry two weapons and two items. The for­mer range from swords to spears, bows, throw­ing dag­gers, and hammers, each with vari­ants, spe­cial com­bos and the po­ten­tial to drop in rarer forms with stack­ing ef­fects. Items in­clude grenades, traps, and tur­rets, with their use mit­i­gated by a cooldown.

Your ac­cess to gear is gated by Dead Cells’ pro­gres­sion sys­tem. As you play, you col­lect cells from fallen en­e­mies. These can be spent on per­ma­nent up­grades—like more uses of your health-re­gen­er­at­ing flask, or the abil­ity to hold onto more of your gold af­ter you die. Most im­por­tantly, you can in­vest cells in item blue­prints. You’ll find these as you ex­plore and kill en­e­mies, and once you’ve spent enough cells you un­lock a new item which can be found in sub­se­quent runs. When you die, you lose all the cells you’re hold­ing and are re­set back to the start with your up­grades in place.

You’ll earn a rush of up­grades at the start of the game, with the pace slow­ing as you get deeper. Un­like Metroid­va­nia games, you’re not wholly re­liant on spe­cific up­grades to progress: The ones you do need, like the tele­port, you’ll earn early on.

The world it­self is split up into zones, with each play­ing host to its own unique en­e­mies and se­crets. You’re re­warded for both stick­ing around to try to garner as many re­wards as pos­si­ble from an area and for speed­ing ahead. Dead Cells’ strength as a rogue­like comes from the way it lets you choose the kind of run you’d like to em­bark on—lev­els are re­ar­ranged ev­ery time you die, but not to the ex­tent that they be­come un­rec­og­niz­able.

Dead Cells’ pun­ish­ing struc­ture can cause grief. Its bosses are grat­i­fy­ing to over­come, but be­ing re­set back to the start of the game ev­ery time you die makes it a slog to prac­tice against them. And when a good run goes south, it’s heart­break­ing.

Even so, per­se­ver­ance has its re­wards. When it all starts to come to­gether, frus­tra­tion fades, and your love af­fair with Dead Cells’ phe­nom­e­nal fun­da­men­tals can start all over again.

The gear you find de­fines each run.

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