The term “roguelike” gets thrown around a lot these days. Most indie games have some form of “roguelike” elements in place. The environment is always changing each playthrough or what enemies you battle could be different each time. Even your weapons could change and you’re constantly trying different combinations. With “roguelike” games, you never feel safe or comfortable. You have to adapt to what the game throws at you and survive. If these types of games tickle your fancy or sound like a good time, Dead Cells is the cream of the crop. It is an extremely rewarding game, but it’s a grueling process to get through to the end. It honestly took me roughly three hours to reach the first boss and successfully kill him. If you’ve always wanted a bit of Dark Souls with your Castlevania or Metroid (or your Metroidvania, as the cool kids like to call it) Dead Cells was gleefully and sadistically made for you.
The game begins with you, a green blob, crawling into a prison cell and making your way over to a headless corpse to take over and use as your new body (if you die a lot like I did, you’ll be seeing this opening scene quite a bit). It isn’t exactly the most heroic opening, but it’s always more fun starting from rags anyways (I love progression). A young knight stands before you and gives you the basics of movement before sending you off on your own. You (the prisoner) are on an ever-changing island. What areas you traverse are always different each time you start another run through. This includes what weapons you use. You might get comfortable using Twin Daggers, but a short while later you could find a Greatsword that has much better stats. Dead Cells is always changing up your playstyle. This is actually a good thing because the way the game handles death could be alarming if you weren’t constantly evolving how you play.
If you die, the game kicks you back to the very start, with none of the weapons you had acquired or health boosts. You lose EVERYTHING. You know, that beginning where you’re a green blob of slime and you crawl your way back into that corpse. Yeah, you’re back there. Unlike Dark Souls, where you’re able to save your progress at bonfires and if you die, you’ll start back at the most recent one you rested at, Dead Cells is more brutal with how it handles its progression. After each area you battle through, you arrive at a safe haven where the strangest looking salesmen hangout. You are able to put Dead Cells (essentially souls, but the difference is when you lose them they’re gone for good. The game even shows you how many you lost when you died) into various permanent abilities, like being able to drink a healing potion more than once. You can put gold into “mutations” (you can have up to three on you at a time) that bestow extra damage or health and you can also fill up your potion bottle and heal yourself. Once you leave that safe haven and venture to the next area, you can’t retrace your steps and go back to that safe haven. The safety net comes off again and you just pray you can get through to the next safe area. You are able to save the game and pick up where you left off, but that’s about it for saving your progress.
Graphics wise, Dead Cells is gorgeous. It’s pixelated enough to give it that retro feel but its so well polished, it looks fantastic. The areas are large and varied but can be traversed quickly. You’re like some kind of ethereal ninja the way you double jump and dodge attacks by rolling through Sewers and Clocktowers battling all manner of creature. If you can run through an area fast enough, you can gain access to certain timed doors that hold lots of great loot for you to use. If you miss your chance though, it’s heartbreaking to see you missed unlocking the door by three seconds. The music and atmosphere are dark and haunting. There are wrinkles of humour found throughout, typically with how your character reacts to certain things, but the world you inhabit is far from funny.
Combat is very fluid. Everything responds well and each enemy you encounter has a certain attack pattern that can be dodged and mastered. If you prove unsuccessful trying to kill something one time, try and try again until you can duck and weave around them with ease. I played the PS4 version, so the Circle button allowed me to dodge the enemies attacks. Square and Triangle can be customized to have anything from Greatswords, Twin Daggers, Bows and Shields equipped, so if you want to have close quarters and long range combat as an option, it’s viable. R2 and L2 can be filled with usable Traps, Turrets or Grenades that have a bit of a cooldown. There is a ton of flexibility with how you battle your foes and this keeps things fresh and exciting.
The only thing holding it back is its difficulty. It feels great to master Dead Cells and you feel like a badass carving your way through each area, but you really need to be in the right frame of mind to play. It can be frustrating having to start over new every time you die. The permanent upgrades take the edge off a bit, but it’s no less disheartening. Just make sure you’re scouring each area for all of its secrets and you should be strong enough for the battles ahead. Dead Cells rewards players with tenacity and perseverance.
Dead Cells is a must play. It scratches that old school Castlevania itch I always desperately crave but combines it with the difficulty of Dark Souls with some roguelike elements with the ever-changing environments and weapon use. The difficulty curve might turn some people off, but Dead Cells is a game everyone should at least try out once. It has been out for Early Access on PC for some time, but console players will finally have a chance to experience one of the most rewarding games this year. – NVJ
Dead Cells is available on August 7th for PC, PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch
PS4 review code provided by Evolve PR