Dead Cells

Crash­ing cas­tles in DE AD CELLS.

PC GAMER (US) - - REVIEW - By Chris Thursten

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. From Di­ablo it in­her­its weapons with ran­dom­ized ef­fects and deep combo po­ten­tial, and from Spelunky it learns how to cre­ate that ‘just one more run’ feel­ing with new sur­prises to dis­cover. This is an am­bi­tious act of suc­cess­ful syn­the­sis, as its com­po­nents have been ex­e­cuted beau­ti­fully. It’s gor­geous, for a start. 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. De­feated en­e­mies erupt in a shower of gems and weapons strike with grat­i­fy­ing force thanks to on-point sound de­sign.

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 wooden doors to stun en­e­mies with a sat­is­fy­ing crunch, and leap from chains to dodge pro­jec­tiles and reach new ar­eas—and that’s with­out fac­tor­ing in your ar­se­nal.

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. You’ll start off by us­ing what­ever’s to hand and fig­ure out op­ti­mal com­bi­na­tions.

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. In­stead, mas­tery means dis­cov­er­ing what the quirks of a given en­vi­ron­ment are and how to rec­og­nize ar­eas where the best re­wards are likely to ap­pear.

Bro­ken Swords

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. Sim­i­larly, you might grind to un­lock the right weapons for an en­counter you’ve been strug­gling with, only to find that they don’t spawn where you need them. And when a good run goes south, it’s heart­break­ing. This is an ex­cel­lent game, but it can be mean. Or to put it an­other way: This is one of the best games I’ve ever quit in frus­tra­tion.

Even so, per­se­ver­ance has its re­wards. With ex­pe­ri­ence comes knowl­edge of which weapons and en­coun­ters to pri­or­i­tize, which routes to take, and how to get back to tricky boss bat­tles faster. When it all starts to come to­gether, frus­tra­tion fades, and your love af­fair with Dead Cells’ phe­nom­e­nal fun­da­men­tals can start all over again.

This is one of the best games I have ever quit in frus­tra­tion

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