...being reset back to the start of the game every time you die makes it a slog to practice...
DEVELOPER MOTION TWIN • PUBLISHER IN- HOUSE • PRICE $ US20 www.dead-cells.com
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.