Roguelikes can be generally hit or miss. For all the successes like Rogue Legacy and Spelunky, there are others that just aren’t as engaging. The procedurally-generated levels give these games a big replayability factor but oftentimes results in a game that’s devoid of personality.
Thankfully, Dead Cells, from developer Motion Train, is not one of those. That’s because, although Dead Cells is heavily roguelike-influenced, in reality, it is a Metroid-inspired action game. One that is frantic, fast-paced, unforgiving and one of the year’s best.
Jack of All Trades
If you were to boil Dead Cells down to one sentence it would best be described as a combination of the best elements of other games. A world full of secrets that’s a little bit Metroid, mixed with some Dark Souls-esque combat, with a little bit of Spelunky for good measure.
Fortunately, Dead Cells is not a simple rehash of any of these games. It takes the best parts of them and allows Dead Cells to be its own unique game. Yes, the game is essentially reset after each death but there’s also certain aspects of the map that will remain throughout each playthrough.
In Dead Cells, you are the Prisoner. Waking up (without a head, natch) in a prison, the backstory for your ordeal is not explained. There’s very minimal story here, save for some internal quips from The Prisoner.
The world of Dead Cells is unforgiving right off the bat. Enemies are waiting for you the moment you step out of your cell. Enemies that are waiting to kill you. And you’ll die a lot.
Try, Try Again
Dead Cells is hard. Enemies of all types will be waiting for their chance to get their chance with you. The opponents you face are relentless but they also have patterns that you’ll learn as you engage with them. Like a certain game series, the key to defeating those that face you is learning these patterns and exploiting them.
As explained in the game, the island you inhabit is a living being and constantly changes each try. Through this, however, you’ll continually learn from your mistakes. It may be frustrating to completely start from the beginning but hopefully you’ll have the knowledge and experience (and equipment) to make these earlier sections a breeze.
The gameplay loop of Dead Cells culminates in a showdown is a boss fight. These are the toughest challenges you’ll face by far. Don’t be discouraged, though. These bosses all have their patterns, as well. Learn their tricks well enough and eventually you’ll be able to conquer them. It won’t be easy though. You may start off from the beginning but you won’t be starting completely at zero. You’ll lose all the cells you acquired after visiting each hub – We will get back to them in a bit – but your progress isn’t totally forgotten. All the blueprints you’ve discovered retain and all the cells you’ve spent stay intact. Most excitingly, all the weapons you’ve unlocked prior are still available. In one playthrough, I equipped both the Broadsword and some…flame throwing things. I was devastatingly powerful in the first few minutes of the game. Sadly, I lost it all and the subsequent playthrough was nowhere near as much of a power trip.
The best part of Dead Cells is the sheer customization. Right off the bat you’re given the option of choosing between a bow and shield as your secondary weapon. Naturally, as someone who tends to play more aggressively and puts defense to the back burner, I chose the bow every time.
There’s a ton of fun in figuring out which combinations of weapons work best. For me, I found the one-two punch of a melee and ranged weapon the best. There’s just something so satisfying about closing in on an enemy, offing them, turning around and shooting a projectile at the next.
Other players may find a better option to go with the classic sword and shield or maybe even forgoing the melee weapon completely. Some combinations naturally work better than others but there’s still a beauty in experimentation. Dead Cells may be about learning the enemy patterns but it’s just as much about you figuring out how to play the game most effectively.
When traversing between levels, you’ll make your way to a hub, which is a safe room of sorts. Here is where the true customization comes into play. You can use the titular Dead Cells you collect from defeated enemies to unlock new weapons and gadgets. Each piece of equipment costs a certain amount of cells to unlock. You also have the ability to add mutations, which are essentially buffs, extra ammo, regain health each kill, etc. They really help change the game up but be careful you can only have three at a time.
You also have gadgets. These can give you an extra edge in especially tricky situations. From shooting out blades to classic grenades, these gadgets offer just another way to play how you want.
Dead Cells will put you through the ringer and that’s the way it should be. It’s a relentless game, never letting up but that is what makes it so beautiful. Like any roguelike, playing Dead Cells is a tale of having everything…and losing it. Some playthroughs will be a power trip, others will have you barely scraping by. Each tale of Dead Cells is different and thankfully avoids the pitfalls of most other roguelikes. That’s because it’s a secret Metroidvania with a sprawling world just begging for you to explore it. The map opens up considerably as you play it, all full of secrets for you to discover. Dead Cells is unforgiving, but it’s also unforgettable.
- THE GOOD
- Unforgiving gameplay.
- An ever-changing map full of secrets.
- A range of weapons for you to experiment with.
- THE BAD
- Those enemies are jerks.
Dead Cells will put you through the wringer but it’s all the better for that.