The best way to describe Dead Cells is that it’s a type of mixup between a roguelike and a metroidvania 2D action platformer. It’s also made in a pixel art style and oh, it is brutally hard. It’s also incredibly addictive, and a lot of fun to play, so if you’re looking for something challenging and a bit different, maybe stick around and I will tell you why Dead Cells might just be the game you’ve been after.
Kill, die, start over and kill again
Dead Cells takes place on an unnamed island that has a village and a castle on it. You play as a character simply known as The Prisoner, whose goal is to simply get off the island. The only problem is, the prisoner already had his head lobbed off. Thankfully, you are found by some organism in your cell, and your adventure starts there, you only have one life though, and each time you die, you get booted right to the beginning of the game, only to try again. The levels are a type of mixture between pre-rendered and procedurally generated, so each time you start a new run, you will have a map that is slightly different. As you progress, you gain a currency known as “cells”. which serve as your means of unlocking certain gear and abilities. Some of these unlocks are permanent, and this helps make your life a little bit easier.
Each time you die, you lose everything you have and get booted back to the beginning. By unlocking some weapons and equipment, you have a chance of starting with the said weapon when you start again. You can equip two weapons at a time, as well as two tools, which is something like traps, grenades and turrets. These items become invaluable, and learning to deploy them and use them correctly makes a helluva difference.
Easy to start playing, damn hard to master
Combat is pretty simple and straightforward, on the PS4 you attack with your primary weapon with Square, secondary weapon with Triangle, jump with X and dodge with O. You use items pressing R1, Heal with L1 and the tools you deploy are assigned to your triggers. It’s really simple and it works. Each weapon handles a little differently in terms of speed and impact, so you need to learn how they work pretty quickly if you want to survive. Throughout the levels, you can pick up ability points that will update certain traits, which helps a lot, but as is the case with everything else in the game, if you die, that also resets back to 1. Other than that you might find some merchants along the way, or some lore, that fleshes out a story that’s cool, but also a bit vague.
Dead Cells is a really tough game, and dying has a very expensive penalty. It is both what makes this game great and also probably it’s biggest weakness. On the one end, you learn from your mistakes and adapt, but it can be frustrating and a bit repetitive. You spend some time slogging through areas, only getting to the next area and getting nailed by tough enemies that have new and different patterns. I’m always up for a challenge, but then forcing me to go through the same levels and bosses again for the 20th time only to get back to the tougher enemies is not something I’m too keen on. I understand the logic behind it, but I honestly didn’t like it that much, and opening up some shortcuts of some sort might have made things a bit more enjoyable.
Rewarding and satisfying
I still quite enjoyed playing it though, and having another run and seeing if you can get further each time and actually making does feel rewarding. The game also looks very pretty. I’ve never been a fan of the pixel art games in the modern era, but Dead Cells looks and sounds great. The graphics are very smooth, and the sound effects are decent. The music, however, is a real treat. Each level has a different track associated with it, and it works well to give the right atmosphere and pacing to the game.
Overall, I enjoy my time with Dead Cells. As I mentioned it is a bit frustrating, and it is really damn hard, but I do enjoy going at it. It is the kind of game that will keep you busy for a long time, even after you finished playing it. It is a really good game and one that I can easily recommend if you’re into the metroidvania/ roguelike platformer type of games.