Title: Dead Cells
Available On: PC
Developer: Motion Twin
Publisher: Motion Twin
Genre: Rogue-like Side-scroller
Official Site: https://dead-cells.com/
Release Date: May 10, 2017
Where To Buy: Steam
Over the years, “rogue-likes” have found their way to prominence in the gaming sphere. After The Binding of Isaac took gamers by storm, other developers have begun implementing rogue-like tendencies into their own projects. Some of these have done fairly well, like Rogue Legacy and Enter the Gungeon; others have not had the same charm or impact. But one that is on early access right now is one that could very well make its way onto that list of prominence.
Dead Cells is a rogue-like “Metroidvania” style sidescroller created by Motion Twin. You wake up in a dungeon, headless, and have a humorous if not a somewhat uninformative conversation with a knight. Then, you pick up some basic gear (a rusty sword and either a bow or a shield) and set off into the dungeon to try to fight your way through.
In this dungeon, you will find some very peculiar characters who will sell you goods, some chests that may or may not be cursed, and eventually, a creature who lets you use all those dead cells you’ve picked from killing things to start upgrading your arsenal, even beyond death. When you inevitably die, you will respawn without your gold and equipment in a newly designed dungeon with nothing but your upgrades to help you get even farther than before. Though you don’t start with a whole lot of information, it does seem that the farther you get the more things seem to unfold.
While the initial floor of the dungeon isn’t horribly difficult, the game definitely ramps in difficulty the farther you go through. Fortunately, there’s consistency in being able to deposit your dead cells through each of the first stages before moving to the second, no matter what way you take. There’s definitely a somber level of humor in the game, enough to make you chuckle. Each stage has a particular atmosphere that lends itself to whatever enemies you fight. At a certain point, you’ll come across an acidic sewer full of scorpions who deal acid burning damage for example. Some will seem familiar with similar enemies, others will change things up.
There’s a level of customization to your character that makes your playthrough feel unique. When given the option between a bow and a shield, I found that I wasn’t very competent with the shield. Later, when depositing my dead cells, I quickly found that there were things that could fix my shortcomings, like being able to keep some of the gold I had when I died. Other upgrades include boosting the damage to specific weapons, being able to heal more frequently, and differences in play style. These become even more expanded as you pick up blueprints off the bodies of your enemies.
Combat in the game is fairly straightforward. You have two separate attacks: one with your main weapon, like a sword or a whip; the other is with a secondary, like your shield, a bow, or throwing knives. In addition to this, you have extra ability attacks that come in the form of stun bombs and grenades that can either deal large chunks of damage or temporarily incapacitate your enemies, leaving them open to some big hits or a quick getaway. You can also add different medallions that can protect from damage and some other equipment that gives you extra stats. Each time you get to the end of a second stage, you have to fight an elite enemy who spawns other little minions to fight you as well. These fights can be very difficult, but they’re also the only way to get access to important areas, as the boss will drop a pickup that can be used even after death.
Though these are sort of boss fights, I did feel like there was a lack of major bosses in Dead Cells. The challenge of the stages themselves is entertaining, but there never seemed to be a climax, which is too bad. In comparison to the rest of the game, this missing element made the fatigue of rogue-likes come sooner rather than later. I only ran into a few technical glitches here or there, which is surprising for an early access game. That being said, from what I’ve played the thing I want most strangely is more detail. More story, more stages, more reason to keep playing.
Verdict: As someone who tends to steer clear of rogue-likes, Dead Cells does an excellent job of feeling like an excellent side-scroller, enough to distract me each playthrough. I consistently felt like I was finding new items, new abilities, and new challenges each area I entered. While the game itself technically feels like it could leave early access tomorrow, there still seems to be a lack of climax to the challenges you face. That being said, the game feels great, has a personality, and is more than just another entry into the genre pool. It’s an excellent experience.
- Fluid, customized combat
- Intriguing level design
- Somber, yet humorous personality
- Repetitive after a point
- A few technical glitches
- No climax