Dead Cells is not for the faint hearted, let me just get that out of the way straight away. It’s tough, really tough, but my words, is it rewarding. It also wears its inspirations on its sleeve with pride and it delivers a fresh take on the rogue-lite genre.
But calling it a Rogue-lite feels like it’s something that will just put off way too many people already and it’s the most basic way to describe what is a fantastic game. Yes, it has the procedurally generated dungeons, it’s also an RPG, but as I said, it draws inspiration from many quarters. These games almost seem dime-a-dozen these days, but this is one of the greats. There’s a lot of metroid and there’s a lot of Dark Souls in here. The nearest comparison I have is probably the incredible Hollow Knight.
There’s little story here, and what is to be found in the world is delivered piecemeal like the Souls games. A lot of the things you will find don’t really make sense on the first few playthroughs but some of the environmental details are very clever. You play the equivalent of a hollow, always dying, but always resurrecting in the place you started. You’ll even use souls (called cells here) to upgrade the things you’ve unlocked, but the difference here is you lose everything upon your inevitable death.
Like Metroid you’ll traverse sprawling dungeons, uncover secret treasure and upgrades, and fight a series of increasingly punishing enemies. Despite all the dying you feel like you’re always making progress as you inch closer and closer to the final boss. Permanent unlockables/power opens up alternative paths, but they all ultimately lead to the same place in the end.
You’ll also find blueprints that allow you to start with different weaponry and these can all be upgraded. Whilst you are encouraged to explore, getting through in a timely manner also gives you access to doors that are on time locks. In here you’ll find a wealth of treasure and maybe a healthy load of upgrade cells.
You can carry up to two weapons and two powers at once. These cover close combat, shields, bows and some basic magic powers. You’re encouraged to experiment with the variety of weaponry at your disposal and some things work better than others. In fact, some of the additional powers you can find could be considered overpowered – for example, the magnetic grenade and the ice based powers absolutely destroy everything!
Each of the weapons also have randomly assigned modifiers that can turn you into an unstoppable death machine. Well until you hit some of those bosses that is! But even then you’ll find yourself instantly jumping back in for another run.
Before you get down to the gameplay though, the first thing that will hit you is the game’s gorgeous aesthetic. As you can see from the screenshots, the pixel art here is of the highest quality. Each piece is beautifully designed and highly detailed. They really made me appreciate how much work has gone into creating unique looking environments, enemies and NPCs.The animation is also of the highest quality. It evoked memories of the rotoscoped animation of Flashback and the original Prince of Persia. It really is beautiful in motion.
In addition to the standard game, players will also have access to daily challenges. You have an allotted time to get to the end of a randomly generated level and score as many points as you can. It distills the gameplay into a quick one shot and takes out some of the deliberations you will undertake when progressing through the main game. It’s tough, but it’s also a great deal of fun.
Now as many of you will know if you’ve read my previous reviews, I really enjoy this style of game but I am very particular. Dead Cells is definitely one of the best examples in the genre. It never feels unfair and can be a very rewarding experience. There is still a lot of luck involved in getting the right tools to get to the end, but when you do, I dare you not to punch the air with joy and also breathe a sigh in relief. I can bet you also start all over again. I implore you to give Dead Cells a try, even if it’s not normally your type of game because it’s very, very rewarding.