You would think that playing as a pile of sludge would feel sluggish and lethargic. Not in Dead Cells. This Castlevania inspired side-scroller has you playing as a clump of goo that inhabits a dead soldiers armour. What follows is quick souls-lite combat that has you slashing, dodging and shooting your way through a grim prison, toxic sewers and all over an ever-changing castle. Developers Motion Twin have created something special in Dead Cells, making it one of the best 2D action platformers to come out in years.
Dead Cells is not for the impatient or the easily frustrated. You WILL die, a lot. But just like Dark Souls (you can forgive me for drawing the comparison) death is an inevitable burden you must carry to improve your character. Yes, you will have to start from the beginning and yes you will lose all your upgraded stats and cells (think souls), but the game keeps certain upgrades and weapons that will make your next journey a little bit easier. That is until you hit another difficulty wall.
The addition of rogue-like procedurally generated levels means that every time you die you will have a fresh experience. This somewhat softens the blow of constant deaths and eventually, other paths will open to different locations, meaning you can take a different route each time. There are constants running through each location. You will always find a chest and there will always be a weapons vendor or a timed door that will only open if you get there on time.
If you make it to the end of a location you will have the chance to spend your cells on upgrades and weapons, as well as heal yourself and replenish any health potions. Your upgrades include increasing the number of health potions you can carry, recovering more of your gold after each death, better starting equipment and adding new, more powerful weapons to your potential arsenal. These weapons will still have to be discovered when the slate is wiped clean again, but the more devastating weapons you have in your potential pool the more likely it will be to come across one.
Combat is the main area you will want to master and there is more depth to it than meets the eye. Each weapon is unique in the way your character handles it, from quick slashing twin blades to heavier slow swinging broadswords and secondary weapons such as whips and bows. There’s even a shield if you feel like being a little more cautious and trying to master the parry. Hitting down doors leaves the enemies behind them stunned or simply opening them while the enemy has its back turned can allow a stealthier approach. Dodge rolling allows a split second of immunity and is imperative to master if you’re to progress, especially past the bosses. There is plenty to play with in terms of combat. Figuring out an enemy’s attack pattern and using it against it is possible and extremely satisfying. If an enemy typically lunges forward, you can use this opportunity to roll around behind and attack. There is also the ability to freeze enemies with the right weapons or cause burn damage or poison. Mixing up your combat can make these exchanges extremely fun to play.
As far as story and plot goes there isn’t much to go on. Dead Cells borrows heavily from Soulsborne games the idea of discovering plot and lore through setting. You may come across some scratchings on a prison wall or even someone hiding behind a door who will speak to you but it’s quite hard to get a handle on what is going on. Luckily the game shines brightest through its art style and gameplay rather than through the plot. There is enough in Dead Cells to keep you entertained without having to bore you with constant dialogue or story beats.
Dead Cells is a joy to play if you’re patient. Combat is slick and carries a lot more depth than you could expect from a Castlevania inspired action platformer. The merging of this style with the rogue-like genre works exceedingly well and is one of the main reasons you will continue to die over and over, yet still want to push further each time. The settings are grim, and the characters are bizarre and wonderful, making Dead Cells one of the best looking games of its genre, and certainly one of the best.
*Code kindly provided by the publisher for review*