PC Gaming

Dead Cells Deserves Its Genre Defining Metroidvania Status

Dead Cells First Impression - Windows PC Gameplay

Dead Cells

Developer: Motion Twin
Publisher: Motion Twin
Release Date: August 7, 2018
Available as: Digital and Physical

Almost five years ago, Dead Cells was released in 2018 and is often described as the cornerstone to many successful Metroidvania roguelikes out there. In the many like-minded titles I’ve covered, Dead Cells was something I’d see come up several times. Within the cusp of a new anticipated DLC, now was an as good time as any to become acquainted with the multi-award winning title and to see what I have been missing all of these years.

The game begins with a giant blob, that somehow possesses a corpse and takes control of it. Known as the Prisoner, the game’s premise is to escape the prison, explore the island, defeat the bosses, and finally defeat the big bad. Like most roguelikes, there is a catch—Dying resets the player back to the beginning of the game, losing all of their stats, weapons, and progress in the process. The player gets to keep a certain amount of gold as well as whatever permanent upgrades they received, making each new playthrough a tad bit easier to manage.

That warning won't stop me because I refuse to read.

Each location in the game is known as a “Biome,” meaning the Swamp area is considered one venue while the Ramparts is another one. While each map is randomly generated, each Biome has a specific theme that makes things familiar while also keeping the player on their toes. I had just defeated the first boss when I got cornered, losing my progress as well as the sense of fulfillment in defeating the boss while taking little damage.

There are allies who will do their best to help you along the way, but most things in Dead Cells aim to kill you rather than assist the player. There was a door in one of the Biomes that was guarded by a thousand gold price tag. The player is given the choice to pay for the cost of entry, but who would want to do such a thing when it’s far more enticing to destroy the door instead? The player’s ‘reward’ is that they are then cursed, or in my run, I had to kill ten enemies before they could kill me in one hit. After doing so, the curse was lifted and I was free to use my shiny new shield…that I just so happened to come across as several duplicates.

...I guess reading is fundamental.

In most roguelikes that I’ve played, I never felt like a new run was “completely” different from other runs. Sure, the player dies and it sets them back a few, but the player could just return to where they last left off. The difference in the way the generated maps form in Dead Cells ensures that no two runs are exactly the same. What’s best is that on the PC version, the player can quit the game at any time and the game will save where the player left off. If it was in an unfavorable location, however, then sometimes it’s best for the player to eat the reset. 

Resetting isn’t the end of all of the player’s progress, as using the skills learned in a previous run will unlock new shortcuts and newer Biomes as well. Before I learned the ability to turn a cell into a climbable vine, many areas within the prison were off-limits. After I learned the skill, I was able to venture into the Toxic Sewers. It may not sound exciting to go to the Sewers, but think of each Biome as a “split path” and as you traverse, you’ll unlock new areas for each level. 

Parrying a boss and not allowing them to hit you is one of the most satisfying achievements.

Everything in Dead Cells flows seamlessly and since the only way to go is “right,” it’s almost impossible to get lost. The player is rewarded for completing Biomes in a certain time frame as well as bonus objectives like “Slay X enemies without taking damage.” There are three major stats—Brutality, Survival, and Tactics. Brutality increases the damage from melee weapons, Tactics scale with tools and ranged weapons, while Survival increases health and shield properties. Some melee weapons may scale with a stat outside of Brutality with others a combination of the three.

I’ve found success in the Survival stat as it fit my playstyle of patience being rewarded. The shield I had granted me a huge percentage buff on my next attack if I successfully parried. The timing window for a parry in Dead Cells is generous and not only does it prevent damage, but it also applies buffs like these. It lasted me for a while, but it was also my undoing as I was missing parrying windows and was losing tons of health from it. Eventually, I got cornered and died, losing all of my progress.

There are hidden challenges that promise riches but are usually obstacle courses such as these.

Currently, I was in the middle of my third run and I felt the addiction of "one more time, I'll do better next time for sure!" That mentality was what turned a mere hour of gameplay into almost three and yet I still feel like I'm learning as I go. Ultimately, now is a great time to give Dead Cells a look if it was ever on your watchlist for as long as it was on mine. With tons of cool and new content on the horizon, I feel as if I'll be able to convey my full thoughts once the review goes live. For now, first impressions are great and I will destroy every door no matter how many curses I stack.

Dead Cells is now available on the PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch.

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