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Review: Dead Cells

Dead Cells game screenshot courtesy Steam
Review: Dead Cells
4.5

Platforms:

Windows PC, Nintendo Switch, macOS, Linux, PS4, Xbox One

Game Name:

Dead Cells

Publisher(s):

Motion Twin

Developer(s):

Motion Twin

Genre(s):

Roguelike

Release Date:

August 6th, 2018

Dead Cells from Motion Twin

Dead Cells is, in the words of its developers, a “roguevania” that combines the popular features of the roguelike and metroidvania genres; a game that aspires to provide the thrill of permadeath and the sense of persistent exploration that comes with finding hidden routes or accessing new areas. Dead Cells leans more towards its roguelike roots but it certainly succeeds at bringing metroidvania elements into its world design.

Motion Twin have embraced the high challenge of the roguelike genre and Dead Cells makes no effort to hold hands during its opening moments. Nonetheless I found the action to be immediately intuitive and the game is pleasingly simple to get to grips with. Little in the way of a tutorial is required and every element seems to fall into place effortlessly. No time is wasted and the moment I had the basic controls figured out Dead Cells immediately started to ramp up the challenge; I found this scaling to be almost perfectly paced.

An Abrasive Scrub

Dead Cell’s action revolves around side-scrolling combat and this is superbly realized; the speed of engagements is fast-paced but sufficiently intuitive as to be manageable. The range of weapons and, by extension, fighting styles is also vast. Some weapon combinations can be incredibly satisfying, too; I was particularly taken with a heavy crossbow that functions (and sounds) like a massive shotgun. The visceral sound of pumping and firing said weapon is delightfully realized.

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Each run through Dead Cell’s many levels starts, mostly, from scratch, with only a few upgrades persisting across attempts. The leveling system resets each time and is split between brutality, tactics and survival. As a general rule of thumb, brutality commands melee damage, tactics links to ranged attacks and survival provides the most durability. Thankfully, these are not hard rules and I was particularly keen on weapons that allowed me to capitalize on my preferred choices (brutality and survival) whilst using unconventional weapons (the aforementioned shotgun-bow is a survival weapon).

Head and Shoulders

Dead Cells stands out from other roguelikes in the way in which effective and synergistic builds emerge on each and every playthrough. It has been my experience that the random nature of roguelikes often precludes the construction of fun weapon or skill combinations that work together in a unique and powerful way. Not so, here; in almost every playthrough I found a collection of tools came together that I could tweak in such a way as to create an interesting new way to play that was often incredibly powerful. This is probably due to the aforementioned persistent upgrades that allow some neat tricks like gaining a random unlocked weapon at the start of each attempt. The combat and character upgrade systems in place here are engaging, complimentary and really very fun.

The levels, enemies and bosses of Dead Cells are all beautifully realized. The atmosphere of each distinct biome is unique and engaging, mostly thanks to the superb art and catchy music that gives each area its own personality. The pixel art style of the game evokes a retro feel and this compliments the rest of the aesthetics nicely.

A Hot Facial

Dead Cells draws you in instantly and then immediately provides a sense of escalating challenge that rarely abates. There are countless secrets buried beneath the surface of what, at first, can seem like a relatively short game. Hidden routes and levels abound and there is a vast selection of unlockable weapons. For those after a little more longevity and challenge a daily run mode is available to keep things interesting for a little longer. All in all Dead Cells is a superb roguelike that manages to offer enough persistent qualities and hidden routes to capture the metroidvania qualities that the developers set out to bring into their title. This is an easy recommendation for any fan of fast-paced, atmospheric action.

Rating: ★★★★½ 

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