Far be it from me to tell you what to do, but, if there’s one thing that you should be doing this week, it should be buying and playing Dead Cells. Inspired by Castlevania, Dead Cells is a 2D rogue-lite action-platformer that takes that iconic concept and infuses it with a plethora of clever ideas and neat gameplay mechanics. The end result? Well, in my humble opinion, Dead Cells may well be one of the best games of its type this gen. I want to make it abundantly clear from the get-go, with no pretense whatsoever, that I don’t say this, nor give it its well deserved score, lightly.
Dead Cells thrusts its players into the role of a failed alchemic experiment, one that possesses the ability to reanimate the dead and use them as its conduit to escape its confining area. Upon death you’re sent back to the start of the game, a new corpse is inhabited, and then off you go into the fray once more. This does indeed mean that each attempt in Dead Cells is without any checkpoints, meaning that you’ll need to complete the campaign in one single run. Sounds bonkers, right? Well, let’s not forget how well this system worked in Rogue Legacy.
Thankfully, it works just as well, if not better, here. When you do die, and if you’re anything like me you’ll die often, you’ll lose much of what you’ve earned throughout the run that you’ve met your demise on. That’s not to say that Dead Cells boots permanent progress completely to the curb, on the contrary, in fact. Throughout the course of each run, you’ll encounter a range of enemies that will oftentimes drop Cells when they’ve been bested. These Cells can be used to unlock permanent buffs and additions in safe areas, which lends the game a very balanced and well developed loop.
Combat is massively empowering. Moving through the game’s gorgeously designed locations, there’s a healthy dollop of varying enemies with varying traits that are just itching to meet the edge of your swords, the tips of your arrows or the wrong end of your traps. There’s no shortage of interesting and exciting ways that you can dispose of your foes, and it never gets old. The level of gore within only makes Dead Cells feel that much more satisfying. The age-old saying that there’s more than one way to skin a proverbial cat, perfectly applies to this game right across the board, and then some.
It’s sickeningly gratifying, in a good way. Whether you’re witnessing an enemy bursting into a bloody puddle or foes being reduced to mere piles of gore, Dead Cells maintains that initial wow-factor from start to finish. It helps, of course, that the game is open to a lot of different play-styles that players can work towards; brutality, tactics or survival. These three elements focus on damage output, ranged damage output and defense, respectively. They can indeed be boosted throughout the course of natural progression, allowing you to follow a path that best suits how you want to play.
The weaponry within is also as vast as the game’s impressive scope, all of which function uniquely; heaps of swords, bows, spells, grenades, electrical whips and much, much more. Safe to say, there’s something for everyone to lean back on. The core gameplay loop typically consists of carefully using your life as you move through the game in the hopes of reaching the boss. There’s a strong focus on combat here, but there’s still platforming sections to overcome here and there. In addition to the aforementioned permanent buffs, players also get to keep; unlocked weapons, pathways and mutations, ensuring that even if you die a lot, you still feel rewarded to some degree.
Still, the difficulty never buckles under that generosity. Dead Cells can be a very unforgiving game when it wants to be. However, I should point out that it gets easier as you climb in capability and suss out the enemy’s patterns.Those that relish a challenge will get the most out of this, whereas those that seek something that’s a bit more simplistic, may be left feeling frustrated. I cant say that I fell to the latter of those examples, in fact if anything, the game compelled me to continue to push through for hours on end each session. That, for me at least, is the most alluring thing about Dead Cells. Much like Rogue Legacy, it’s been designed in such a way that you can play this for great lengths of time and still feel like there’s so much more to pull from it.
The game’s controls handle wonderfully and precise. Whether you’re clearing a deadly hazard, beating back a horde of creatures, or double jumping and dashing to safety, the game responds to your feedback fluidly and instantly. I’ll extend the same respect to the fluidity of the entire game and its several well structured systems. Everything just feeds into one another magnificently well, from the upgrade scrolls that define each discipline, to the deadly tools that benefit from those traits. I could go on and on and discuss the careful craft that developer Motion Twin has put to work here, but I would be here all day.
What I will say in summary is that Dead Cells’ gameplay is the product of perfection because of this care and attention to detail. That consistent push to better yourselves and obtain the necessary power to reach all eleven procedurally generated areas in the game is nothing short of outstanding. This is where Dead Cells gets to show off its diversity, too. Each area comes with its own unique challenge, design, enemies, secrets and more. Mercifully, unlocked levels will stay with you, so despite the need to complete a level in a single run, there’s so much more to this game than meets the eye.
My only minor gripe is that, despite the humorous dialogue in the game, the story didn’t do much to grip me. Though in all honesty, I rarely gave a rats ass about the plot in the face of everything that the game relays on the gameplay front. I just cant commend Dead Cells enough. It’s an experience that I fully plan on sinking several more hours into. Even now as I write this review, I’m pulled to it like a moth to the flame. That sense of never knowing exactly what I’m going up against due to two runs rarely being alike, or what loot and gear I’ll obtain next, has kept me awake at night. That’s the biggest compliment I’ll ever give a game.
Dead Cells is equally as impressive in the both the visual and audio department too. The game’s pixel-art aesthetic is striking and extremely well detailed. Whether it’s the environmental design or the design of each enemy, elite and boss, this game is a treat to behold. I don’t recall being as impressed with a game that takes this design choice since Hyper Light Drifter. The level of depth gives off constant wonder throughout, which is only further upheld by the game’s sharp audio cues and magnificent soundtrack. Again, if there’s one thing you do this week, it’s picking up Dead Cells.
Dead Cells is easily the best rogue-lite action-platformer game this gen. Developer Motion Twin’s care and attention to not only the game’s visual and audio detail, but its wonderfully developed multi-tiered systems, goes hand in glove to produce an outstanding experience throughout. The sheer amount of enemy, weaponry and functional variety within is as dizzying as it is impressive. Simply put, Dead Cells is epic.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.