Jumping into Motion Twins’ new roguelike, Metroidvania action game was a little frightening at first. I have a tough time with roguelikes and the whole permadeath mechanic. But I was anxious to try it out. The fantastic art style and the satisfying combat looked like a hell of a good time. After sinking my teeth into Dead Cells and getting a feel for the combat, I can say with confidence that this game will be at the top of everyone’s list. Let’s dive in.
Don’t expect a riveting story from Dead Cells. It’s definitely there in bits and pieces as you explore the island. You’ll find letters nailed to the wall, or on dead bodies, revealing little snippets of what’s happening around you. Right, when you drop in, you are given a little intro, then sent on your way to find answers and kill as many enemies as you can. This is where Dead Cells pulls you in and locks you into place – the combat.
Fighting your way through the island is exciting and intense. Along with your sword, you can choose between a bow and arrow or shield at the start of a run. This will define your play style, as you can stand firm with your shield or dodge-roll infinitely to get behind your enemies and blast them in the back with an arrow. I chose the bow because it adds that ranged attack that you will definitely need to gain the upper hand in a fight.
The buck doesn’t stop at just swords and arrows. There is a whole array of weapons and gadgets at your disposal, ranging from grenades, firebrands (basically a fireball that burns baddies), to bear traps and shovels. Each weapon or gadget can come with some additional perks such as the ability to poison, burn, freeze and so on. This is one of the coolest aspects of the combat, allowing you to experiment with your gear to see which weapons can be used in sync to apply the most elemental damage. It’s super satisfying to take down a big enemy in a matter of seconds thanks to your arsenal.
Alongside your weapons, you can unlock mutations while you run through the game. These mutations add a whole new level of insanity to how you can fight. One of my favorites is the ability to obtain a sizeable amount of extra DPS after you kill an enemy. This chains together nicely in a mob of baddies. After you kill the initial enemy you can go to town on the rest, making for an easier encounter. Some other mutations include the ability to resurrect once after you die, which can be a game changer later in a run. The ability to gain a bit of health after killing an enemy is one I take often to help offset my stupid mistakes when fighting because if you die, you lose your cells and gold. Then it’s back to the drawing board.
During your runs, you will collect cells. Along with finding temporary upgrades out in the field, these cells help you unlock permanent upgrades and weapons to help you through your runs. The first time I died and realized that I lost everything was terrible. I then decided to make sure to tread a little more carefully and really focus on how I would treat certain encounters. By doing this I could collect those precious cells to turn into permanent goodies to help ease the pain of dying.
Because you will die. Oh yes, you will die a lot.
But this is what gives you that rush. When you are in a hallway with ten plus enemies, with little health and no other way out. With all sorts of baddies that can shoot arrows, bash you with shields, slice you with swords and even pound you with cannon balls, it’s do or die. When you make it out alive by throwing out all of your gadgets and dodge rolling until Optimus Prime starts getting jealous, slaying anything that moves is a fantastic feeling and something that you will be presented with a lot.
Speaking of having your back against the wall, the boss fights in this game are fantastic. My first encounter was frightening. It started off simple enough, then as you slice away more and more of its health, the more enraged it becomes. The lower the health, the more is coming at you and the more patterns you have to learn. By the end of the fight, you are left breathing a little heavier and being thankful it’s over. Be prepared for these fights, they will test you.
Aesthetically, Dead Cells is gorgeous. It combines the pixel art look with very simple and nice backdrops that really mix well together. Combine that with the smooth and rich animations when you cut down enemies or you yourself are being hacked apart. It all meshes well in the end. You can really tell that Motion Twin put their hearts into this.
The music in Dead Cells is stellar. Each level has its own tone and does a good job of creating a specific atmosphere for each level. A few times I found myself just listening to the music and not paying attention to what I was doing. Although it’s no Mozart masterpiece, it serves the game justice in immersing you into it.
There’s only one issue I have with the game. That being the movement of your character. If you’re like me, you will dodge roll a lot. A LOT. Sometimes I’ll be smashing the “O” button to get behind an enemy to no avail. I either don’t move or stop short. This has happened a few times and really messes with what I’m thinking as I go into an encounter. It is not a game breaking issue, just something that I have seen and dealt with.