by Preston Dozsa
previewed on PC
Sometimes it’s best to go into a game with zero expectations. The only piece of information I recalled going into a 30-minute demo of Dead Cells was that it was a 2D roguelike, similar to Castlevania, featuring a pixelated art style. I’ve played several games like this over the past couple of years, with few managing to stand out from the crowd. To my surprise, Dead Cells not only turned out to be one of the most exciting roguelikes I’ve played in recent memory, but is easily one of the best games I played at PAX East 2017.
In Dead Cells, you play as a wandering ball of cells that inhabits the body of a dead soldier, tasked with delving through a dilapidated castle crawling with all manners of monsters, which you naturally kill with a variety of weapons. Along the way, you collect the titular dead cells to upgrade your character from the remains of fallen enemies, purchase a wide variety of weaponry, and generally die a lot.
The game world is procedurally generated upon each death, which happens very frequently in Dead Cells. While the general style for each area remains the same, there will be multiple areas that will be locked off until you obtain a certain ability or item later in the game, encouraging further exploration of the starting zones and unlocking new areas to explore. Upon each death, characters lose half of the gold they have accumulated, along with any weapons that were picked up along the way, and are forced to start fresh. That’s not to say you don’t have a number of weapons to choose from, as weapons will gradually be unlocked and available for pickup in the starting area. There is a shop near the start that also sells high quality items for advanced players, as each item is far more expensive than what a new player will earn.
Credit to the developers at Motion Twin for creating a gameplay system that was quick to pick up and exhilarating to play. Within the span of ten minutes, I went from being confused and frustrated with the controls and death mechanics to falling into a rhythm that just felt naturally good to play. Combat involves learning an enemies attack patterns and executing attacks that best suit whatever weapon you are wielding. For example, with a dagger I would have to execute a dodge roll at a precise time to avoid an attack and deal massive damage, whereas I would rely on a bear trap and a bow and arrow that fired grenades to take apart more dangerous enemies from a distance.
The variety of weapons did much to help keep the game fresh, as I utilized several swords, bows, daggers and axes in my brief time with the game. While the starting weapons were straightforward, there were plenty of weapons that carried additional effects that were fun to experiment with, such as the aforementioned grenade bow. While there was only some slight variety in the enemies I encountered, the number of weapons made up for it, at least in the opening stages.
Befitting a game revolving around precise timing, Dead Cells features detailed and impressive animations that make the enemies and characters stand out. The colour palette is varied, utilizing it to great effect to make sure each creature is unique and easily identifiable. Apart from the characters, the backgrounds themselves are detailed, but they do not measure up to the strength of the animations.
Based off my short time with the game, Dead Cells is looking to be a roguelike to keep an eye out for when it releases in the coming months. With a strong beginning, here’s hoping Dead Cells can carry that momentum to the end.