Review – Dead Cells
Dead Cells (available now on PC, PS4, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One) melds the roguelite and metroidvania styles into an action-adventure ‘roguevania’ that blew away all my expectations. Roaming the halls wiping out enemies and collecting the Cells, cash, and items they drop, activating teleporters to enable quick movement to old areas, and finding hidden spots full of secret items…Dead Cells is one of those games that makes 15-minute play sessions turn into multi-hour marathons.
The influence of roguelite is everywhere in Dead Cells, from the procedurally generated levels to the attribute-increasing scrolls and sudden difficulty spikes. Roguelites are a kinder, gentler offshot of the roguelike subgenre, eschewing the more punishing aspects of the gameplay style to make it more approachable to new gamers. Where roguelikes, for example, frequently feature permanent character death, Dead Cells swings in the entirely opposite direction – expect to die, and frequently.
Death does retain a punishment, however, as you need to reach hub areas to bank the blueprints, cash, and Cells you’ll find during your exploration. Blueprints add new weapons and abilities to your armory, which Cells are then used to unlock. With a pair of weapon slots (X and Y buttons on Xbox) as well as a pair of item slots (left and right triggers) that hold gear or abilities, it’s possible to create some powerful loadouts – if the fates allow. Every time you die, you’ll start the game with a regular sword and immediately have the option of a bow or shield to complement it, but further weapons you’ll have to find along your run, with the option to either equip it in place of a current weapon or turn it into cash.
Reach a hub and you can spend your cash on upgrading the weapons you’re using, doing a one-time upgrade to a stronger version or generating a new effect it will have: throws a grenade when you swing, victims burn, victims explode into gas cloud, etc… Pairing up effects is key to beating harder enemies, like using a bow that poisons the enemy it hits, and having a sword with a ‘increased damage to poisoned enemies’ effect. Hubs also allow you to choose mutations, one at a time to a max of three, to provide perks like doubling your ranged weapon ammo, increasing your hitpoints, or recovering health when you kill enemies.
The game rewards speed runners, with special doors that lock after a set amount of time has passed, so it can be more effective to simply roll past some enemies to get through the level faster. There are also cursed chests that provide powerful items, but at a cost – having to kill 15 enemies without taking damage, for example. Complete the requirement and the curse is lifted.
Dead Cells has a ton of gameplay elements that aren’t even introduced until you’ve played a fair few hours – new collars, for example, that provide major changes to your abilities, like the ‘jump and smash’ attack gaining a fire element to it, lighting up anything that’s near where you land. Then there’s Runes, permanent upgrades that can give the ability to do things like wall climb – opening still more areas for exploration… There’s a whole lot going on here and you really need to treat yourself and check it out.