Review: Dead Cells
Dead Cells achieves quite a bit with a very simple formula. A formula that consists primarily of slicing, , exploration, and shooting all manner of projectiles. This manifest itself with a velvety smooth loop of reoccurring maps that somehow never get old, a fondness for blue circles, feeling cool when you have a giant snot for a head, and loud and wild proclamations of hatred for neon colored sword wielding dream crushing… monks, I think they are monks. Neon jerk monks aside, Dead Cells is a romp through Metroidvania retro style greatness. This is a must buy for anyone looking for a game to break your usual routine or a new game to dump hours into, mastering the simple yet challenging combat. So, lets break this down into the shapely and seductive parts that make one hell of a great game.
Let’s take a quick look at the graphics. I was surprised that the retro look worked so well. There is vivid use of color and effects outlining and augmenting some enemy types to keep them from being bland and boring. You see a mix of anything from basic humanoid glowing green baddies with their emerald illuminance to the awful purple hue of the swords wielded by the aforementioned dick monks whose moment is smooth and believable (given the setting of the game). All of which are a shining example that you can achieve high caliber work with a minimalistic design.
You and your loogie headed avatar will hop, skip, and “dear god that was close” your way through various stages ranging from battles through fishing villages to runs atop the castle walls. Cells of the Recently Deceased manages to make these feel connected with nothing more than a glowing gate. Each area is set up a bit differently so it looks and feels wholly different despite all of them being restricted to what amounts to platforms and gaps in the platforms. These graphics are better than what I thought was possible with this retro style. This is not to say that I was ever of the mindset that the retro style couldn’t look good… but I did not think it could look this good.
This is a clever segway into the game play section of this review. (Clever isn’t it?) Microscopic Bits of a No longer Living Thing has a firm mastery of the idea of simple to learn and hard to master. The simple loop of fighting, improving, and dying (usually due to therapy inducing violet cock monks) is extremely addicting. This is all done in the search for cells. Cells being the means of permanently upgrading anything from how many health potions you start with and how much gold you can keep to widening your pool of randomly selected weapons both ranged and melee.
The control scheme is nothing more then run, jump, roll, and attack. The attacking uses all of 4 buttons each tied to a weapon or trap. Yet the choice presented by the randomly populated merchant slug people (I don’t think that is offensive) and their randomly selected wares forces you to adapt to what Is available as opposed to finding your favorite weapon set up and then repeating that until you're bored. You may say at first “but I should be able to play with the weapons I want" and you would be wrong you terrible assumedly nasally, dull, dull, awful person. The random placement and selection drives the adaptive and tense play style that makes this game so much fun. You have to learn how to make the most of your situation instead of letting you ignore the arsenal that Motion Twin has painstakingly crafted to give you seemingly endless possibilities of combinations and play styles that always feel fun and unique.
Further adding to the love salad (love salad? who is writing this… get better writers Next Gen) that is Building Blocks of a Corpse, is the continuing theme of mastery of the simple in the level design itself. I briefly touched on this in the graphics segment we ran through earlier but I want to talk about it again. The general set up for the game in all maps is platforms and gaps of varying heights. Yet despite the seemingly meaningless set up, the jumps require you to have precise timing without being so challenging that each gap is cause for alarm.
Alongside the level design is, of course, the exploration of these lovely little levels. (Clap if you like alliteration, don’t clap you’ll scare your roommates) With each play through you have to decide how quickly you want to push through as there are timed gates that will close off after X amount of time. It’s a fair but difficult challenge to reach. However, the reward is a room full of money, a level up, and those big beautiful blue cells. You will find when you break the cells from their glass carrier they explode outward and then bounce to your green goo headed friend in an almost whimsical fashion. This is not to say that you have to rush past every enemy in order to progress. Cells can be acquired from defeating enemies, thus encouraging exploration and the search for runes. Runes being permeant skill unlocks that give you access to new areas of the map and even entirely new maps. Each map has its own unique collection of enemies, there maybe repeats here and there but each map has a few of its own and every enemy has its own attack pattern. So, if you have a hard time with a particular enemy, say one of the purple sword using Monks belonging to the order of I didn’t get hugged enough as a kid. You can find a way around the area and avoid them altogether.
The honest truth is that every time you venture out into the prison city that sets the background for our tough but fair adventure into the white knuckled ride that is Dead Cells ( I ran out of new ways of saying that, I am at work so hush) is really just a blast. It is tough because if you die you will lose any cells you may have gathered but fair because you get to level up after each level. It is difficult because the enemies hit hard and fast and can swarm you if you don’t deal with them quickly and efficiently, but fun because the combat is smooth, rewarding, and fast paced. It strikes a wondrous balance between challenging and fun. The only part of this game that is not great is the sound. It is too simple, okay. There is nothing to really complain about the sound or music but it's nothing groundbreaking.
This game is for people who want a challenge and don’t mind dying as a means of learning. Failure here is a guarantee but so is a fantastic experience. It's quick and simple but has a lot to learn and master. There is humor and lore that is well worth finding. Like everything else in Dead Cells, it's simple but extremely well crafted.
This game is not for people who want a long story to sink their teeth into. It is without big skill trees and class selection, so if you need a large character driven experience or multiplayer action to have a good time this game may not be for you.