Along a string of multiple triple-A titles which are released each month on both PC and Consoles, there are hordes of indie studios attempting their hand at fulfilling the dream of a successful game. Thousands of games flood PSN, Xbox Live and Steam each month only to be noted by a small minority of players. How successful the game is, apart from it being actually good, is also due to how it is promoted. Some games, however, manage to make it big without actually being plastered on billboards, walls, bus shelters and TV Ads. Dead Cells is one of them.
Created by French studio Motion Twin, Dead Cells is a rogue-lite sidescrolling platformer reminiscing of simple games of old, where you only needed to move to the left, kill the bad guys and progress until the end of the level, where you will start a new level with the same mechanics. You take control of a headless, nameless protagonist, who finds himself in a dungeon with nothing, and it is now up to you to get out of the dungeon. You will find items along the way, namely weapons, which will make it possible for you to defeat enemies and progress further in the level. There are four slots which can be filled in. Two for weapons, and two for items. The weapon slots can hold either melee weapons, ranged weapons, or shields, while the item slots can hold grenades, turrets and traps. There are also special items like Vampirism which can be equipped to these item slots, and while these expire after a number of uses, they are more powerful than normal items.
Pretty normal right? WRONG.
There are three main twists to the game which make Dead Cells stand out from the rest, and honestly make it one of the best games I have played this year. These are:
- Permadeath. There are no checkpoints in the game, so if you die, you will respawn at the very start of the dungeon, with nothing.
- Procedurally generated levels. The base for a level will always be the same (Sewers, Ramparts, Clocktower) but the level design, secret areas and enemy location will always be different for each playthrough. This will keep it interesting even after beating the game, as you will find a different combination of enemies and locations each time.
- Unlockable upgrades. These will carry on even after death. This affects the amount of money which you will respawn with, the available weapons you can find along the way as well as unlocked abilities.
The above totally change your perception of the game, as each encounter can be fatal and will make you go back to the start and lose all your sweet loot. In the beginning, you will get careless and will die a lot. Even after a couple hundred playthroughs, you will still find that you are dying a lot, and that probably makes the game such a “joy” to play. You feel that you have mastered the game only to be killed by an exploding worm’s remains in the sewers. That damned worm, how I hate those things.
Another great aspect of the game is the way in which it pokes fun at itself or at game design in general. The main character will sometimes say something which almost breaks the fourth wall indirectly. For instance, in between level transitions, you will find an area where to spend the cells collected throughout (upgrades which will either manifest themselves directly in front of you in the case of weapons or other bonuses which can be found along the levels). In this area, you can also choose a mutation, which is a unique ability for the playthrough, of which you can have a maximum of 3, and reforge weapons. Reforging means you keep the weapon and its trademark ability but change its secondary skill, hopefully for the better. Here the character is wondering how a stone mill can be used to reforge a grenade.
If I have to nitpick and find a negative side to the game, it may have to be the lack of information given, but as the nature of the game is to learn the hard way, that cannot really be considered to be a downside to the game. It is a complete experience, from start to finish. If you manage to finish it.
The Dead Cells TL;DR:
- Great gameplay mechanics, easy to understand and hard to master
- Level design, enemies, soundtrack, everything is basically created together to make one huge blend of success
- Gold weapons will have you drooling for more
- Daily challenges and infinite replayability due to procedural generation