Dead Cells Preview

Sometimes you will see a game on Steam, its visual style will catch your eye but after checking the tags you will think to yourself “No, that’s not my kind of game” for your own personal reasons. That’s the way I thought about Dead Cells, until I bought it and played it. How wrong was I…

Dead Cells is a Roguevania, as the developers mention, action platformer where your character explores procedurally generated levels killing enemies and taking their Cells in order to exchange them, becoming even more powerful in the process. Each time you begin a run you have only a sword and a choice between a bow and a shield. Immediately you have a say on the play style, the way you want to approach the enemies.

During your run you will gather gold, find scrolls that will make you stronger, you will unlock more powerful weapons and amulets. Every item in the game will give you that boost to your confidence in order to explore a bit more, reach the next area. But if you don’t pay attention to your surroundings and the enemies, all of it will be lost and you will start from the beginning.

The death in Dead Cells is permanent but it is being done in such a way that you don’t feel like your whole progress is lost. You see, every time you visit a new area, you can exchange your Cells to upgrade part of your character. You can spend them to become stronger with the sword, to be able to carry another health flask with you, to save a percentage of the gold you gathered previously, even to have the chance to begin with one of the weapons you unlocked.

What this offers to the player is the sense that you become stronger, and even though at a slow pace, the progression is there. Now, you can build strategies around this information. I personally learned the enemy patterns and started grinding the first two areas for Cells, going into suicide runs without much caring about reaching as far as I can. When I upgraded my character with a bit more damage, I took on the later areas. The way you play is totally up to you though, experiment with the items and I am sure that they will compliment your style.

It is tricky to have a game with permadeath and actually make it feel hard but fair. Motion Twin manages this perfectly by designing a beautifully fluid battle system and gameplay. In your arsenal you have a melee attack, a ranged attack, buttons for your skills, jump and dodge. You will need to master everything in order to adapt to each situation and you will need to count on your instincts and reflexes to make it out alive. The feeling of facing enemies from both directions, analyzing a situation, performing your strategy in a lightning fast way and living to tell the tale, is a reward in itself.

The visual style of Dead Cells is equally incredible. High quality pixel art with the animation being fluid, which is pretty important in order to recognize the enemy patterns. The areas are designed with great detail and if you pay attention you will get a glimpse from the lore of the world, since there isn’t an actual story to follow. The music does a good job to keep your adrenaline high, even though I sometimes was pretty focused on my run that I didn’t pay attention to it.

In Dead Cells you will get to explore a world with procedural generated levels. To some these words might be scary, since most of the procedural generated content seems to be feeling a bit impersonal. That is why the developers chose to mashup carefully designed parts of the level each time you begin a run. I definitely felt that every run was slightly different, I knew what kinds of enemies to expect but I had no idea where the exits or the items were, which is definitely a good thing, makes it exciting to begin again and again. Some times there were the occasional doors that led to a wall, but in the frantic pace of the game, I didn’t even care.

The RNG definitely plays a factor, you might run without having dropped weapons that compliment your play style. That is not a huge deal in the early areas, but when you reach the later stages and you need to hit an enemy ten times in order for them to die, then that might become a problem. The great thing is that skill factors even more, so you won’t feel cheated because of RNG.

I need to confess that I am not the greatest gamer of Metroidvania/Roguevania like games, just because I don’t have that much free time to dedicate in them. My hardcore days ended after Playstation 1, so when I see such a game, I let one of the cool guys at Hyper Light Up review it. With Dead Cells things are a bit different.I saw that the game was on the first page of Steam, I loved its visual style but I saw that the gameplay wasn’t for me, so I just clicked away. That changed the moment I found out that one of the developers in Motion Twin made the sci fi adventure Badass Inc., a game made in 48 hours for Ludum Dare. I really enjoyed that game, its atmosphere, the main character, the story and the music by Volkor X. I knew of the quality of it so I immediately went back to Steam and bought Dead Cells.

My purchase could go either way, either I would play for a while and then leave it, or there would be some elements that would appeal to a mostly casual gamer like me. Thankfully, the second thing happened. I mentioned before that there is a slow but steady progression in the game, so at no point I thought that I spent my time without reason by playing.

The other thing is that you can come back to it in small bursts. Say you just have thirty minutes to spare in your free time, you can load Dead Cells, do a few runs, make your character a tad stronger and definitely enjoy your time with it. The fact that each run starts immediately after you die without cutscenes or loading screens will make you think “Ok, let’s go for another one” and another one, and another one…

I mention all of the above because I know that there are many gamers that might think the same way about Metroidvania/Roguelike games and it is a shame for them to not experience Dead Cells because of that. It is definitely worth your time, as much as you can spare to it, and you will enjoy every minute of it.

You can buy Dead Cells on Steam Early Access for the price of 16,99€.

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