My twenty-or-so hours with Dead Cells so far has been nothing short of enthralling. Motion Twin’s roguelike meets Metroidvania action-platformer is constantly engaging and rewarding. The sense of progression and always-changing environments means you’re never bored. All while the flow of gameplay and pacing of the action come together to make a game that’s always intense and engaging.
What exactly is Dead Cells? For the most part, it plays like your standard roguelike game. You try to get as far as you can in the world during a “run”. During that run, you acquire “cells”, gold and blueprints. When you die, you lose everything. All the weapons you had on you, all your cells and blueprints and most of your gold. Make it to the end of a level and you’re able to bank those blueprints and cells for permanent upgrades. All of which help you get further and further in the world. Thus getting you more cells and more blueprints.
It’s a vicious and addicting cycle that’s always rewarding. Short runs where you find bad weapons are still good, as they’re slowly getting you closer to a permanent upgrade. They also help you learn each level’s style or the enemies’ patterns. Moments of “oh, I have time for a quick run” turn into thirty-minute play sessions (which is a good or great run at my current stage).
There are two distinct ways to play Dead Cells that I’ve found so far. Speedrunning, or exploring. The former has you sprinting through levels, barely touching enemies or going off the beaten path in order to make it to the next level as fast as possible. Most levels have timed doors (right) which you can only open if you reached it under a certain time. These doors contain a large number of cells, gold, and sometimes blueprints, making it worth your while. The latter, exploring, has your scouring the corners of every level, killing every enemy and finding every hidden treasure. There are merits to both, and one isn’t better than the other, which is really good in a game like Dead Cells. You get to play how you want.
I had one run where I almost quit it three separate times in the early levels. I was dealt a bad hand and got a couple of weapons I absolutely hate. So, I decide to run for it and turn it into a full-fledged speedrun. A couple wrong turns mean I reached the first timed door a mere twenty seconds late. I had no weapons, barely any health, and no run-specific upgrades. These upgrades boost your total health and base stats, are found throughout the level and are lost along with your weapons upon death. Effectively, I was screwed. So I decided to take it slow. I made sure to slowly kill every enemy, dodge every attack, and look, quite literally, everywhere for weapons and upgrades of any kind.
While this turned into a long-run overall, it also meant that I was able to get the most upgrades and health possible. Pair that with a couple very lucky drops of weapons and what started out as my worst, most agonizing run turned into my best one. I got further than ever, beating two bosses and amassing nearly an hour runtime. It’s just a testament to this game. Sticking with it and adapting to whatever your run throws at you can lead to a very, very rewarding experience.
From a technical standpoint, the game is pretty good too. The graphics are nice, particularly the backgrounds on each level. Later levels are especially varied and gorgeous. The sprites of each enemy are also unique and interesting. The music is good, but I’ve yet to find any standout tracks or anything truly noteworthy.
The game runs fairly well (I think) at 30fps, however, it drops down to very low frames in times of high action (which is semi-frequent). I’ve also had quite a few crashes in pivotal moments of runs, however, nothing is lost run-wise except that specific level’s progress. Regardless, these issues are annoying but not hindering, and don’t hurt how fantastic the game really is.
Dead Cells Overall – 9 out of 10
It’s hard to capture what makes this game so great in words. It’s really worth just playing. Relatively cheap and easy to pick up and play means you don’t lose too much if you end up not liking it. By the way, it’s great to support indie devs like Motion Twin who are making great games without microtransactions. Dead Cells constantly finds ways to reward the player, and by making each run different in small (or large) ways, promises an engaging, exciting and varied experience every time you start a new run or go into a new level. I highly recommend.
Alex put around 20 hours into Dead Cells to prepare for this review, all of which were played on the Xbox One version of the game. This game was not sent to us for review and this review is one-hundred-percent Alex’s own opinion and not plagiarized from any smaller YouTuber (I couldn’t help making this joke, either).