Even with the plethora of Metroidvania style games releasing in the market at the present time, we’ve got something special with this crop, as each one of them does something unique and different, while staying true to the formula and being incredibly fun. Motion Twin has crafted an experience with Dead Cells that is incredibly satisfying and insanely challenging. If you’re a fan of that classic Metroidvania style or the Souls formula, strap in.
Title: Dead Cells
Publisher: Motion Twin
Developer: Motion Twin
Available On: PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Reviewed On: PC (Steam)
Release Date: August 7, 2018
Game Provided By Motion Twin for the Purpose of This Review
Dead Cells takes the tried and true formula we’ve all come to know and love and blends in with the gameplay found in more modern roguelikes, including the procedurally generated areas and world. There is no correct way to tackle the journey. Every style of play can succeed and be used to overcome obstacles, defeat enemies, and progress through the stages. If you prefer the more hand-to-hand and up close style of combat, be on the lookout for swords and daggers. If you’re like me and prefer to stay at ranged, bows, throwing knives, and whips will be your best friend. There’s also gadgets like the slicer, grenades, and wolf traps which will hinder enemies completely useless while you chip away at their health bar. Oh yeah… just remember that everything is random.
Each run begins the same way, no matter what. After emerging from a sewage pipe, you enter the body of a prisoner in, coincidentally enough, the Prisoner’s Quarters. Before venturing out into the first area, you’ll be assigned a random set of weapons and gadgets that you can pick from to start your journey. Until you begin leveling up, don’t expect anything spectacular. You’re getting the bare bones of items available, but don’t worry. Upgrades come fast and it won’t be long until you’re ripping and tearing through enemies with precision and speed.
Speaking of speed, Dead Cells actually rewards the speed runs. The faster you can make it through a level, the better chance you’ll have at more powerful rewards and secret areas. Certain doors are locked behind a timing mechanism, and if you take too long to get there, you won’t be able to open the door no matter what. Who knows what you potentially missed out on, but I can assure you it was probably something great. The few times I’ve managed to beat a timed door, I was rewarded with excellent weapons and a hefty amount of gold that can then be used to purchase better equipment at the shops you’ll find scattered throughout the levels.
Dead Cells is difficult as hell, and it gets harder with each new run you do. Depending on how far you make it before dying, the enemies that can potentially spawn in the Prisoner’s Quarters continues to grow. So you could be dealing with enemies you’ve seen in a previous area that were originally not there in the opening stage. As I said, everything is random. The enemies that spawn, the weapons that drop, and the design of the individual areas themselves. While the names and locale never change, the platforms and layout always will.
Due to this being a classic Metroidvania at heart, there is a satisfying amount of platforming and exploration. It’s amazing how fluid everything felt as we dashed through the levels with ease and instantly scaled structures. One thing we found odd at first was that Dead Cells does not allow for backtracking and revisiting previous areas, like other games in this genre. Instead, death is truly the only way to progress. New abilities will be unlocked the further into the game you get, and these abilities are vital in order to unlock new areas in previous zones. For example, you’ll unlock the ability to tickle shrubs, which will make vines grow that you can then climb to reach new heights. Motion Twin has said that the name of the game is dying, and they weren’t kidding. While it is technically possible to complete the game quickly in one run if you’re truly skilled, the deeper levels of enjoyment will come from progressing through death and unlocking new abilities and areas in the previous locations.
So how does one level up? By defeating enemies, they have the chance to drop cells. These cells can be used in transition rooms, think Bonfires in Dark Souls, to invest in certain skills. You can put cells into the ability to have better weapons spawn at the beginning of each run, more health flasks, start with a certain amount of gold, or have weapons spawn right then and there. You can also eventually customize your gear through the blacksmith, and equip the prisoner with mutations which will allow for even greater customization and unique runs every time. Struggling with low health? Invest in the mutation which allows for health to be restored upon defeating every enemy. Good at dodging but it’s taking forever to kill enemies? Go for brutality and get higher DPS for your weapons. No matter what type of player you are, there’s a guaranteed combination that will work and feel rewarding.
My biggest complaint with Dead Cells is that the flow of the game felt slightly off at times. While it’s incredibly fun and easy to speed through the levels, certain areas you can visit while exploring led to nothing except a warp gate and one or two lone enemies wandering about. I’m all for exploration and dead ends, but the amount of times I thought I was on my way to the next area, only to be met with a dead end, it began to get frustrating, especially after making it to the last stage and then dying on the end boss. If that happens, you know exactly what comes next. Back to the Prisoner’s Quarters, and back to square one.
Dead Cells is a great new addition to the Metroidvania genre, and it’s amazing that this is Motion Twin’s first major outing besides free-to-play based browser games. Kudos to the team for creating such a memorable experience that sinks it’s claws into you and keeps dragging you back for “just one more run” at 3:00am in the morning. Now if you’ll excuse me.. I have another run to do.
9.5 / 10