Released on: August 7th 2018 (macOS, Linux, Windows, PS4, XBOX One, Nintendo Switch), August 28th 2019 (iOS)
Available Platforms: macOS, Linux, Windows, PS4, XBOX One, Nintendo Switch, iOS)
Price: $33.99 CDN ($24.99 US)
Independent games are a blessing; they are the solution to those looking for something unique. Dead Cells was a game I discovered when I heard about a controversy involving a reviewer plagiarizing another ironically enough. Despite this unfortunate association, Dead Cells got more positive attention. I decided to give it a shot since it looked like a great, two-dimensional action-adventure game.
The story of Dead Cells involves a mysterious green blob that possesses a deceased soldier’s body. As the player progresses through the game, they will uncover more of the Dead Cells lore. The initial plot, however, is minimalistic. This does work in Dead Cells’ favor as it makes the beginning short, sweet and succinct. The player’s goal is just as simple; get to the end.
Dead Cells’ visuals are distinct and vibrant, despite its gloomy setting. This makes everything easy to see and differentiate. Enemies are recognizable and loot has a brilliant contour to it. Dead Cells also gives the player the option to have enemies telegraph their attacks with a giant yellow exclamation point when they are about to strike. This is extremely helpful, as the enemy count can get overwhelming the further the player gets into the dungeon.
Dead Cells has randomly generated dungeons. This means that the entirety of the dungeon design changes with every attempt. The player can find shops within the dungeon to buy weapons, health recovery items, shields, grenades, powers, and deployables. These shops use gold that the player earns by defeating enemies, finding gems and opening treasure chests. This helps keep the game’s levels fresh as the player is expected to re-explore them frequently.
The gameplay of Dead Cells is its strongest quality. The controls are responsive, making them easy to learn but hard to master. The game allows the player to remap buttons to whatever action they see fit, adding more options for optimal control. They have the ability to attack up close (weapons with a red contour), at range (weapons with a purple outline) or block with shields (denoted with a green border). Shields also allow the player to parry oncoming enemy attacks when they press the block button at the right time. This gives them extra benefits depending on the shield equipped. The player also has the ability to roll which gives them a chance to dodge enemy attacks and bypass foes. As the player finds more blueprints, they will gain access to more weapons, shields, grenades, powers, and deployables that will help in their adventure. The catch, however, is that they can only equip two weapons or shields and two grenades, powers or deployables at any given time. While the player is locked out of some areas when they first play through Dead Cells, they will find runes that will unlock these areas in subsequent attempts. All of this makes the game feel well thought out. These are the kind of mechanics I like in a two-dimensional action-adventure game as everything the player finds and what they decide to equip gives them a sense of urgency.
The biggest thing the player will notice with Dead Cells is that the game is challenging. Dead Cells describes itself as a rogue-like, meaning the player has ONE chance to make it to the end of the game or get sent to the start and lose all equipped weapons and money they acquired. Fortunately, the player can find blue orbs that the game calls “Cells” by opening chests, defeating enemies and besting bosses. By finding the aforementioned blueprints and using Cells, they can unlock more findable weapons, shields, grenades, traps and even increase the amount of money the player finds making every consecutive attempt a little bit easier. To those that have played other rogue-like games, this is expected. To the uninitiated, this can be a hard pill to swallow. Getting sent back to the beginning for dying once can be discouraging, especially when the run is going well only to get overwhelmed and lose everything.
Once the player does complete the game, they are given a “Boss Cell” that makes future runs more difficult. Boss Cells also unlock more levels to explore. Even with this, the initial playthrough will feel a little short. The longevity of the game is entirely dependent on whether or not the player is willing to replay the game on harder difficulties. Upon repeated playthroughs, the game does start to feel a little monotonous.
Despite being a little wearisome and unforgiving, Dead Cells is well worth it. The tight, responsive controls, the vibrant art style and the myriad of discoverable loot make Dead Cells a great purchase for those who like tough action-adventure games.