Dead Cells is what developers, Motion Twin, call a roguevania. A hybrid of the rogue-lite play, die, repeat loop made popular by The Binding of Isaac, Spelunky, Caveblazers and the like mixed with the rich level design, detailed animation and abilities you’d associate with a Super Metroid or a Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.
The first thing you’ll notice are the stunning visuals the game has, as it has a detailed pixel art style all of its own with really detailed, wonderful animation. In motion it has a fluidity to it that makes movement feel really satisfying. Traversal is solid and it feels great just moving around this world, rolling, double jumping, slamming to the ground, wall running, everything feels right.
The game opens with you awakening as a corpse with no physical head (obviously) in a prison cell. Your first few deaths introduce you to characters and basic elements of the game, such as the titular dead cells. When you kill enemies you’ll sometimes earn blue orbs, these cells are the main currency of the game and tie into the rogue-lite nature of the progression. You spend these after each area of the game to unlock permanent upgrades that persist through death, in theory making the game easier over time.
The world is split into a number of areas, each procedurally generated but in such a clever way that they almost feel handmade. Each of these areas from the opening Prison Quarters through to later sections like the Black Bridge has a distinct, unique look to them with their own enemies and obstacles to contend with.
You initially start with a blade and immediately get the choice of either a bow or shield. You also have slots for two trap items, these come in many forms but most common are grenades of various types and snare-style traps that get triggered when an enemy stands on them. Each weapon/skill and trap in the game has a chance to come with secondary effects ranging from freezing or burning an enemy to constraining their movement for a period.
The combat is described as 2D souls-like but it’s not really an apt description. Fights are much less deliberate than in something like Dark Souls, instead going at a breakneck pace with you taking advantage of synergies like throwing a freezing grenade then following up with a flame strike that deals more damage to a frozen opponent. The comparison makes some sense in that enemies can easily one or two shot you if you aren’t paying attention and adapting to the enemies you come across however but it’s definitely not a slow methodical game.
As you discover weapon and item blueprints and spend your souls to give you bonuses, a wide variety of builds and play styles opens up to you giving the game a lot of replay value as you try to find all the items to fill up the bottles in the start location. It’s a nice way to illustrate your progress and how much you’ve seen.
Fighting feels skillful and satisfying, your character able to pull off more and more as you unlock traversal option making previously unreachable areas available which in itself gives extends the breadth of choices you can make based on how your run is going.
The idea of a Metroid-style platformer blending procedural generation, randomised items and visceral combat whilst making it all feel great seems like an impossible goal but Dead Cells nails pretty much every element. It’s not an easy game by any stretch as you’d perhaps expect from a rogue-lite but it’s extremely rewarding and enjoyable in moment to moment gameplay. If the concept appeals to you then it’s possibly the easiest game I’ve ever been able to recommend.
Dead Cells (Reviewed on Windows)
Excellent. Look out for this one.
A beautiful, challenging game that is supremely polished in every area. A fantastic blend of tactical combat mixed with metroidvania style progression. Combined with an interesting and very quirky setting makes it a compelling package overall.