Dead Cells has arrived after being in development and early access for a little while now.
The basic premise of the game is that of a Roguelike (e.g. Binding of Issac & Spelunky) and mix it up with the Metroid and Castlevania series. So instead of having a set map like Metroid etc., you get a random map at the start of each life you have. You are essentially a blob that takes control of a newly decapitated corpse, I haven’t really come across any other story elements except that you must get out of the ever-changing castle. You’ll occasionally come across rooms where you can examine items which tell a bit of what has been happening, but that’s it.
For the game, itself, you always start at the same place, but despite the random layout, you only get one life to get through the entire game, and it has a permadeth mechanic so if you die, you go right back to the beginning to try again. There are some items which need to be unlocked, such as health potions and abilities like making vines grow. Thankfully, these items stay with you when (not if!) you die. Weapons that you have unlocked, though, will be scattered around the world for you to find. After playing a while, you can unlock a random weapon at start which will make things a little easier from the off.
The castle map layout is pretty awesome. It is built from pre-generated tiles. Each time you die, the game takes you back to the start and the tiles are rearranged. As the map has a different layout each time you play, that’s where the Roguelike features come in. This makes each run entertaining and non-linear. You can also take different routes, and the very first level in the castle dungeon will see you either going through some sewers with various toxic pitfalls and enemies styled for the locale, or you can head out to the upper grounds. This is ideal if you are struggling with one particular location and its enemies. Once you get through an area, you can spend your collected cells upgrading health potions and getting mutations.
Enemies are varied. You do get a few on each level like the shield carriers, flying bat type critters, green enemies and the bulbous pink ones which throw exploding orbs at you. There are also level-specific enemies like sword wielders on the second section if you go overground, spell casters on the Ramparts and so on. Each different combination of enemies have their own set patterns to learn and adapt to. The standard type green ones, as an example, have a tell when they are going to leap at you, so a timed evade will see them miss. If there is an archer there as well, however, you’ll need to time it just right to dodge/duck the arrows and also evade the leap.
I have seen ‘Dark Souls Lite‘ mentioned (on the official site being one place) a few times given the nature of the permadeath and learning patterns, I don’t agree with comparing 2D action games to the Dark Souls series, and this game certainly isn’t the first (I’m looking at you Salt & Sanctuary!). I feel Dead Cells as it has it’s own identity and doesn’t need the ‘Souls’ series to prop it up. There are only four bosses in the game, but the fact there are no checkpoints at all does mean you have to perfect what you are doing.
There are quite a few varied weapons available, ranging from swords that take longer to swing but have huge damage like the broadsword, to twin daggers which are much faster but deal less damage. Your secondary weapon will be a bow or throwing weapon which looks similar to the Japanese Kunai (daggers, basically). You also have two extra slots which you can fill with a grenade or traps which make your life easier. A good way to get further is having an ice-type attack so you can freeze enemies. Make sure you search about for these weapons and abilities, as they will help you get further into the game.
Dead Cells is solely a single player experience. However, there is a leader board for speedrunners if that is your thing.
Overall, Dead Cells is a great game – simple as that. I love the 16 Bit-era visuals (a la Super Nintendo, Sega Megadrive, Atari ST & Amiga). They are modern retro and look awesome, with each area having its own unique feel and the animation is amazing with silky smooth movement and combat. My only real gripe is the permadeath and having to restart from scratch each time you die. Don’t get me wrong – it slows you down and you tend to think a bit more instead of being cocky. It can, however, wear a bit thin pushing forward and then getting killed by a mob of enemies you haven’t encountered before.
Volgarr the Viking had a similar structure when released, but they brought in a checkpoint system so you could return to a previous level if you died, instead of the start. If my mind serves me right, you didn’t get the ending if you did this. However, it did give you a chance to master the layout and enemies, so essentially you could get in some practice at the levels before doing a full run start to finish.
- Developer: Motion Twin
- Publisher: Motion Twin
- Players: Single player only and online Leader Boards for speed runners
Retro at heart and lover of all things ’80s, especially the computers, the music and the awesome movies and TV shows! Crazy huge retro gaming collection spanning the ’80s and ’90s with hundreds of tapes, discs and carts for various machines on top of a 600+ strong Steam library that is ever-growing. No I am not a serial hoarder, just a dedicated retro gamer!