Dead Cells by French Developer Motion Twin was one of the most promising Early Access titles of 2017. Part Dark Souls, part Metroidvania, with a fantastic combat system and plenty of unique weapons and abilities to experiment with — Dead Cells had plenty to offer for fans of the genre. After a year of updates to the game, Dead Cells is finally ready for full release and it’s one of the best rouge-lite games we’ve played since the 2016 release of Enter the Gungeon.
Dead Cells is a side-scrolling, single player experience that asks you to make your way through a prison island, where you, The Prisoner, must fight your way through a number of different areas that feature zone specific enemies and boss battles. All the while picking up power-ups and collecting a “Cells” currency to make successive attempts at escape easier. The gameplay ideas featured in Dead Cells aren’t that different from other recent Rogue-lite games. Your progression is tied to dying, a lot. In the process, the hope is that you peel back layer after layer of the game.
There’s a great natural progression in Dead Cells. You’re collecting blueprints to powerful weapons that can aid you in the future. You’re collecting Cell currency that can be spent on permanent unlocks that will give you various abilities, random starting weapons, and many other perks that can make life easier. The catch is that you need to make it to the end of each level to bank these cells and items, otherwise they’re lost forever. After each zone you’ll enter a hub world which features a number of different vendor type characters that allow you to spend currency on items to help you on your current run, as well as on permanent unlocks that will make things easier on successive attempts.
You will die in Dead Cells… Alot
There are a couple of different gameplay features that differentiate Dead Cells from other recent entries into the Rogue-lite genre. The first are its Metroid aspects. Dead Cells features a number of different zones in the game. There are 13 unique areas to explore (and more than that if you include boss levels). Some of which are only accessible if you can find runes that expand your abilities. The island prison is a complex maze of a map. You can go from start to finish on your first run of the game, but it’s highly unlikely. Each zone has multiple exits and you can progress depending on which runes you have. These exits will lead to different areas that feature zone specific enemies, boss encounters, and loot that can help you on your current/future runs. The game also features a timed mechanic that rewards you with treasure rooms that can only be accessed if you reach them within a certain amount of time from the start of the game. It makes you choose whether you want to spend time checking out a lower level area or to push forward into a zone that you might be under-leveled for to get these rewards.
The overarching progression systems of Dead Cells aren’t that different from other rouge-lite games. What keeps you coming back is the session to session gameplay of the game and the unique loadouts that you can uncover on each run. On every run of Dead Cells you’ll have the ability to find a number of powerful weapons, as well as scrolls that can upgrade your abilities in three different facets (Brutality – Red, Tactics – Purple, and Survival – Green). Brutality will make your damage output higher for melee weapons or “Red” items. Tactics will make secondary items “Purple” more powerful. Survival will give you a significant HP boost as well as make “Green” items more powerful. This is a general description though, different items and weapons can be bolstered by these scrolls depending on their color coding. You really have to make sure you are picking the right power-ups for the items that you are currently equipped with to get the most benefit. It’s an interesting and deep system of upgrades that can change the way that you play the game on any specific run.
A perfect combination of long and short term progression
Given that there is so much variety, it pushes the player to try out and experiment with new items. While you’ll definitely encounter items that you prefer in Dead Cells, over my time with the game my “favorite loadout” constantly changed and this kept the game feeling fresh giving it a lot of replayability.
The combat of Dead Cells is the bread and butter of the experience though. It’s got a tough but fair quality. When combined with the threat of progression loss, the game has a Dark Souls feel to it. You’ll need to learn the attack patterns and abilities of enemies, and it’s quite easy to be overwhelmed when ambushed by a group. You’re constantly trying to weigh out whether it’s beneficial to tackle an enemy or group of enemies for the rewards they might have or whether you’d be better off just b-lining to the nearest exit. Death is swift, and it’s almost always unexpected.
Motion Twin really nailed the progression and gameplay facets of Dead Cells, but one of the areas that they did not focus much on is in the story side of the game. Sure, it’s a rogue-lite, there’s not much need for a story considering that the progression is tied to dying a lot, but they’ve created a world that has a very mysterious element to it and the little backstory that they’ve created for it is drip-fed to the player. What backstory there is in Dead Cells is delivered to the player in interactive environments where they’ll encounter remnants of previous inhabitants of the island. There’s a ton of potential here that just doesn’t feel that fleshed out.
Essential for Nintendo Switch Rouge-lite fans
We’ve played a ton of Dead Cells on the PC during Early Access, but we did our final review of the game on the Nintendo Switch. This in itself changed Dead Cells from a game that I was playing occasionally to a game that I was playing all the time. Dead Cells and the handheld mode on the Nintendo Switch is a match made in heaven given that the game is designed for shorter play sessions. And while the game has a great art-style, it’s not a graphically intensive game and sees no real downgrade when going from docked to handheld mode. If you are a fan of rogue-lite and a Nintendo Switch owner we can’t recommend enough that you pick up this game as it’s hard to imagine anyone being disappointed.
Dead Cells Nintendo Switch Gameplay
Dead Cells takes some of the very best ideas from Rouge-lite and Metroidvania titles to make an action packed platformer that smartly allows the player to unravel the game’s secrets.
- Available On: Switch, Xbox One, PS4, PC
- Published By: Motion Twin
- Developed By: Motion Twin
- Genre: Rouge-lite
- US Release Date: August 7th, 2018
- Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch
- Quote: "Dead Cells takes some of the very best ideas from Rouge-lite and Metroidvania titles to make an action packed platformer that smartly allows the player to unravel the game's secrets. "