Dead Cells is another game in a long release line of Rogue-likes, Rogue-lites and Souls-like games. Developed by Motion Twin as their first Steam release, this company has made a plethora of web-based games for years. While the Steam platform is amazing for newcomers and veterans alike, plenty of Early Access games get flak for being incomplete or taking advantage of their customers. Will Dead Cells be able to rise above the expectations of the masses?
Like many Early Access games on Steam, Dead Cells lacks a proper story, you merely get a slight nod to Dark Souls as you awaken in a prison like area. A weird green slime ball falls from the ceiling and seemingly possess a body on the ground, from there we speak with an NPC who speaks cryptically to us. That is the jist of all the story on offer right now.
A single playthrough of Dead Cells can last varying amounts of time, as it is designed to be Rogue-Lite and death is just another means to increase your strength. Roughly between 16-20 hours in length from start to finish. There is some replayability as there are several weapons, skills and side-rooms to complete, along with maxing out all upgrades.
Form a beautiful fusion of Prince of Persia, Dark souls and Rogue Legacy, Dead Cells houses a robust and fluid combat system. You have 4 slots for items, 2 for your melee and ranges weapons on X and Y, and 2 for skill items on left and right trigger. Melee and ranged weapons come in the forms of swords, daggers, bows and shields. Skill items come in the forms of grenades, bombs, traps and summons. You will also be able to unlock a healing potion on left button, for a 1 time heal, which can be upgraded for more.
You play in a 2D world, running in all directions to collect items, defeat enemies and find the exit to the next area. The world itself reminds me of how Rogue Legacy handled its world design, a basic theme or detail that is then randomly generated on death. The further you travel from spawn the harder the area becomes, with hidden areas taking a jump in difficulty but containing much better loot. The main aim is to reach the end of the game, but spending more time in early areas will allow for much easier play.
As you defeat bosses and areas you will unlock permanent runes, which mostly give you a form of new transport, unlocking new areas and loot for future runs. Besides the transportation runes, you can unlock and upgrade items that you find in the dungeons, through a shop after each area is completed. To upgrade your gear you need to spend Cells, which are gained from killing enemies. Once this are spent they are “banked” on your account and stay there even through death. The only real thing you lose on death is your current loadout and progress in the dungeon itself, in a very Rogue Legacy style.
Combat is fast, as enemies attacks deal plenty of damage to you, along with the bullet hell attacks that become more prevalent as you progress. The action is amped up even more as the game rewards speed running, with extra areas of money and loot to be rewarded if you reach them under a goal time.
Like many Rogue-Likes and lites, you need to lose something on death or have death as the main concept. So, with Dead Cells whenever you fall in combat you will lose all the cells, money, equipment and map progression. Starting you back in your cell with nothing. This can be alleviated somewhat by upgrading your money bag to keep some money after death. It does feel somewhat aggravating to have to traverse all of the stages again, especially the beginning stages as they become so easy and boring once you’ve upgraded yourself sufficiently.
Overall thoughts and feelings
The soundtrack for the game sounds great, especially for intense battles and bosses. This greatness doesn’t last long however, dying out during exploration or becoming too quiet to even notice. The sound effects are powerful and fit all what they are meant to represent. Finally the graphics are a gorgeous reimagining of pixel past, with amazingly well-crafted animations that look incredibly smooth.
The overall difficulty of the game is on a great incline, it follows your progression while still allowing for people to grind up their character to have an easier time of it. The upgrade system is very reminiscent of Rogue Legacy and fits in nicely with the rest of the gameplay. Bosses can seem like hit sponges at times, but with several forms or tactics to cycle through they don’t become boring or stale too quickly.
From its design, Dead Cells is heavily inspired from the old Castlevania type games, from wall chicken to whips. Plenty of its enemy and aesthetic designs also remind me of the classic Prince of Persia games. This is all well and good for the old fans, but it seems to pull on nostalgia a bit too much, even from newer games like the Souls-Bourne franchise. All of this put together paints a strange love-letter image, leaving Dead Cells without a real unique or memorable personality besides what it takes from other games.
Overall Dead Cells is a great start for a game on Early Access, though as it does note on their intro screen that bugs, glitches and the like are to be expected. What they have to offer right now is amazing, much more than other EA games currently on the store. The level generation does become samey at times, especially if you have to repeat areas more than 3 times. For fans of this genre, you will love this game but newcomers might be put off by several of its design or aesthetic choices.