Friday, December 14, 2018

Dead Cells Review (XONE)

Dead Cells is what classic 2D Castlevania would be like if it was fast and fluid and actually felt good to play and was also a procedurally generated roguelike. I know that is kind of a loaded opening statement - sorry, I just don't like Classicvania and greatly prefer the SOTN-style Metroidvania formula - but Dead Cells takes the retro Classicvania formula and elevates it far and above where it has ever been before. It looks and sounds great and feels awesome to play with excellent combat and movement mechanics and offers unique gameplay hooks that make it one of the most addictive and satisfying action games in a long, long time. Dead Cells is awesome. Continue reading our full Dead Cells Xbox One review for all of the details. 

Game Details

  • Publisher: Motion Twin
  • Developer: Motion Twin
  • ESRB Rating: "T" for Teen
  • Genre: 2D Action
  • Pros: Fantastic presentation; great feeling gameplay; satisfying upgrades; very challenging
  • Cons: Procedural generation doesn't add much; some items just suck
  • Price: $25

Buy Dead Cells
Dead Cells takes place on a prison island where a terrible disease has corrupted the populace. You play as an immortal pile of goo that can take over bodies of the deceased. When you die you start over at the beginning where your goo is dumped back into your prison cell and you have to fight all the way from the depths up to the highest towers to try to escape all over again. As you get further into the game you can learn little tidbits about the overall story in neat little optional side rooms off of the beaten path.  

Dead Cells is a procedurally generated 2D action platformer roguelike. What all of this means is that you run and jump around 2D levels, though the gameplay is much more focused on combat than platforming, and when you die you start over at the beginning with a brand new level configuration in front of you. The roguelike part means that when you die you lose you collected weapons / items / cells / upgrades, etc. and start over from the beginning with nothing. There are some permanent upgrades such as more health flasks and abilities required for exploration such as an ability that lets you grow vines to climb, the ability the climb on walls and wall jump, an ability to break through marked areas on the ground, and more.

The game is split into several different areas all with unique enemy types and hazards. There are several different progression paths you can take through the game, accessible by finding alternate exits in levels that usually require the permanent ability upgrades. As you play you collect cells from fallen enemies and gold that you can spend between levels to unlock new weapons and upgrades as well as pay to upgrade your current weapons. Sprinkle in a few boss fights here and there and you've got a stew goin'.

Combat consists of your general medieval weaponry with swords and shields, spears, bows and arrows, and the like, but you also can use traps and grenades as well. Your defensive options are to parry attacks with a shield or to dodge roll through them. Simpy running away from enemies is definitely a viable strategy, though you won't earn any cells or gold if you don't fight. Your movement is also noteworthy because the game is very fast and very smooth to run and dodge and jump up on ledges and pretty much do anything you want. There is no pesky stamina meter here, either, so you can really go to town and do whatever you need to do to survive.

The gameplay loop is pretty simple - you play as far as you can until you die and have to start all over from scratch. Every run grants you more knowledge about how to deal with various enemies / traps / situations and you also slowly accumulate permanent upgrades that make things a little easier. It is very addictive and very fun. It is also extremely fair because when you die it never feels cheap or wrong or like you aren't in control. That's very important in games like this.

It has to be said, however, that the procedural generation and roguelike elements kind of do more harm than good to the overall experience. The fact that the levels are always different means you can't learn level layouts and master them. Loot and upgrades are also randomly scattered around as well, which means some runs are a lot more of a struggle than others if the game doesn't dish out the upgrades often enough. The weapons and items are definitely not all created equally, either, and getting stuck with stuff you don't like or things that don't really help for a particular boss fight can doom runs before you even get started. Likewise, finding a load out combo you love and getting tons of upgrades only to lose it all in the briefest loss of concentration later in the game is especially heartbreaking. It's all just in the nature of these types of games, I suppose, but it won't appeal to everyone.

The presentation in Dead Cells is fantastic all around. The 2D visuals are great looking with distinct highly detailed biomes for the various levels and sharp extremely well animated characters. The game sounds great too.

All in all, Dead Cells is easily one of the best 2D action platformers ever. The moment to moment gameplay feels incredibly good and the branching level paths and progression system make for some very satisfying and rewarding exploration. The game is very, very difficult, however, on top of being a procedurally generated roguelike, so folks that can't handle frustration or repetition well likely won't like it much. For anyone else, though, particularly retro gaming fans, 2D action fans, or folks looking for a satisfying challenge, Dead Cells is very highly recommended for a purchase.