Dead Cells Review: Charmingly Hard, With Just A Splash Of Salt

8.5
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  • Windows
dead cells
Dive into the dungeons of Dead Cells Motion Twin

Dozens of video game developer booths lined the floors at TwitchCon 2017. There were virtual card games with overplayed gimmicks, furry adventures with basement dwellers and a whole lot of GFuel. Almost by mistake, I found the Motion Twin booth, manned by a developer with a very thick French accent. That’s when I first laid my eyes on Dead Cells , the side-scrolling adventure that’s become my newest obsession.

Dead Cells, currently in Steam Early Access, is an homage to the classic games Metroid and Castlevania, and combines the two worlds in a nearly seamless blend. You take control of a nameless grunt, starting off with nothing more than a rusty sword, shield and bow. Collect loot and the souls of your fallen enemies, slash your way through green jumpers, purple orbs and evil archers. You’ll get caught up in this pixelated universe.

The world Motion Twin has created is absolutely lovely as each of the game’s levels, known as Biomes, brings new and terrifying monsters. There are eight stages in total, with more to be released when the game leaves early access. I’ve only seen four Biomes before death abruptly cut short my Dead Cells experience, but that hasn’t made them any less awe-inspiring. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget traveling through the grime of the Old Sewers while fighting slug monsters that drop egg bombs or scaling the tall buildings and chains of the Ramparts. Every Biome’s path is randomly generated and makes fighting through the same Biomes over and over less of a chore and more of an adventure.

At the end of each level, you can drop off the souls you have collected and spend them like currency on upgrades or new weapons ranging from simple crossbows to molten blades that bleed any enemy foolish enough to enter your range. Throughout these levels, you can also pick up blueprints. These blueprints allow you to craft even more elaborate traps, like the Meat Grinder, a spinning blade of death placed on the ground to turn enemies into chowder. In Dead Cells , you must figure out which two weapons and two traps are needed to get past a certain level. It’s pure euphoria once you find that perfect pairing of weapons and traps. Like an Overwatch loot Box with four Legendary skins, it’s a high that lasts as long as you keep your health bar above zero.

If you die before spending your souls at the collector, then the souls disappear and you will have to start the levels again. You do keep your upgrades, but you lose all your inventory and cash. At first, it’s incredibly aggravating. Hours of dodging magic missiles and samurai swords takes its toll. To lose my fighter seconds away from the finish line is beyond annoying and I have rage quit Dead Cells more than Super Mario Odyssey and League Of Legends combined. Yet, I persisted through the pain and instead of giving up, I improved and got quicker through the Biome. Knowing when to dodge, jump or slice is crucial and only comes with practice.

If you want an easy game, Dead Cells is not for you. Randomly generated levels sometimes don’t give you what you need. I’ve gone 10 minutes without encountering a single useful weapon or upgrade, which meant I was as good as dead when it was time to fight a boss. There are also some slight graphical hiccups, with some enemies clipping into the wall or attacks that missed when they shouldn’t, but that’s to be expected out of an Early Access title.

If you're a fan of classic NES games that didn’t skimp on the difficulty, Dead Cells is for you. If you struggle with “My Little Pony’s Christmas Adventure,” then you might want to try something simpler. Continuous patches keep the content spicy and I’ll be keeping my eye on this one until it has an official release sometime in 2018.

  • OS X
  • Windows
8.5
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