After wanting it for absolutely ages I finally scraped together the funds to buy Dead Cells. I had been watching gameplay, reading articles, reviews and just dreaming of it in general. It was like building up to spending money for pure frustration, but somehow it is an incredibly enjoyable experience.
Dead Cells has shaped up to be a delightfully-irritating experience, driving me forward to beat my progress. Mixing up my playstyle, utilising different weapon combinations and considering alternative routes across the ever-changing landscape.
Starting off and getting the option of a bow or a shield, I instantly went bow. In RPGs, I love playing ranged characters, and I figured Dead Cells would be no exception. The bow was incredibly fun, stopping yourself mid-air to fire a volley of arrows, and then quickly dodge out of the way. But after dying time and time again, I took up the shield and played the defensive game.
Rather quickly the shield became one of my favourites as I deflected projectiles and blocked leaping enemies before carving them up with my sword. That is until I found the Ice Blast, then the kunai, then the dual blades. Dead Cells has an incredible amount of weapon types you can discover, but they aren’t all available from the get-go. Each weapon opening up new avenues to slice and dice your foes to oblivion.
But as you progress through the game, you can acquire special items that massively change how you react to the world around you. Grenades, turrets or magical blasts anyone?
But it isn’t just the weapons, as Motion Twin have utilised procedural generation along with key hand-crafted elements to make each Dead Cells run unique. While many of the elements look the same and operate the same, the layout of the levels in this gem of frustration has changed. Enemy positions and compositions are different, there may be hidden lore for you to discover where there wasn’t any before, upgrades to find, weapons to uncover.
Within this ever-changing landscape, you will be presented multiple routes to reach your goals. For example one of the choices I faced was to either go straight through a sea of dual-sword wielding maniacs or to go the much safer overground route. Of course, being me and loathe to not tackle a challenge, I charged right in, only to learn exactly why you don’t charge in. Back to the start I went.
Magically bound to this shape-shifting caste/dungeon, the threat of permadeath and subsequent resurrection is always looming. You only get one chance to get as far as you can, before being sent right back to the start, losing most of your accumulated resources in the process. It is essentially 2D Dark Souls – punishing and unrelenting. But one that always invites you to try again…albeit, try better.
Mutations and upgrades are abundant within Dead Cells, allowing you to fine-tune your runs, try out new combos and otherwise try to conquer your foes. Your mutations and upgrades, the latter earned by collecting Cells, carry on with you, giving you an ever-so-slight advantage as you approach to rectify your heart-crushing failure.
But with almost endless waves of enemies with unique fighting styles, you are constantly forced to adapt and approach the fight differently each time. For example, utilising a bow may make short work of the enemy archer, but may prove ineffective against the shield-hefting warriors. And trust me when I say there are some truly wondrous combos and improvisations to discover.
My personal favourite: Running a melee build on low health with a horde of angry dual-blade wielding robots chasing me. Spoiler alert – it didn’t end well.
But why are we locked in the ever-changing castle trying to fight our way out through waves of hostiles? Who knows? But with an abundance of lore and hidden secrets to uncover, you may truly find what has happened to you and the others that came before you. You are just a decapitated, constantly-reviving prisoner trying to fit into their new life.
And the lore fits in with the constantly changing landscape of Dead Cells, you just have to keep playing to find it all. And then you’ll find some other game-changing item that spins you off on a new exciting tangent.
The movement system Motion Twin has implemented in this game is simply remarkable. In much the same way Warframe allows players to flow through a sequence of movements, Dead Cells allows simpler, yet just as precise control as you leap, jump, dodge, all the while attacking when you have a relatively safe opening. Your fingers begin to fly faster and faster across the buttons as you progress further, in an exhilarating adrenaline-fuelled desperation that rewards a keen eye and sure fingers.
There is a conscious choice every time you venture into the dungeon – speed or thoroughness? Spurred on by the timer, you could parkour your way across the map, tearing through your foes all the unlock special time-locked doors, all for bragging rights and special time-locked doors. Or you could take it slower, exploring every dark corner of the maps, hunting for new weaponry, secret reward caches or new challenges.
Take the Cursed Chest for example, which sets adds an extra layer of difficulty to any run and one that I have never successfully beaten. It is not necessarily hard, but your loadout definitely matters, and a fair bit of luck thrown in for good measure.
But the ever-changing nature of Dead Cells mean it is incredibly hard to master, you can’t simply fail at a level until you learn a particular pattern or movement set, you cannot anticipate how the design will change, which is what makes it so joyous, and so challenging.
This has rapidly become one of my favourite games, but it isn’t a game I can spend hours upon hours playing straight. Rather it is a game that is always in the back of my mind, calling me back and daring me to try again. And I heed this call every time.