There’s a little nerve that sits on my neck just under my left ear. It often begins to twitch when I hear certain things that irk me, the kind of irksome things. One of those is when indie games companies throw comparative buzz words at you like you are the weedy kid on the losing team of dodgeball. Dead Cells, despite its critical acclaim, is no different. Dead Cells’ official website describes the game as “a rogue-lite, Castlevania-inspired action-platformer…” with “…souls-lite combat”. So safe to say my nerve was visibly irked.
However, prejudices and irked nerves aside, I jumped into Dead Cells with a clear head and, to my surprise, it gets a lot of what it claims right. Dead Cells, for those of you who don’t know (this is my official journalist bit), is a 2D action Platformer developed by French studio Motion Twin. The story revolves around an Undead Cell, whose sole purpose is to escape or explore a castle… I think. The story, whilst existent, is not exactly explained nor is it engrossing. Like Dark Souls, it thrives on ambiguity and relies on characters to provide the world’s context. There’s King, his Hand, a Clock Keeper, an alchemist and the rudest Concierge I’ve ever met to date. However, unlike Dark Souls, it’s too ambiguous: characters feel disjointed and often irrelevant, the quantity of its many elements excessive. There was a point where I honestly questioned how it came about that I needed to fight a giant eye-ball with Pink eye. He was aptly named ‘Conjonctivius’ so that made sense, I guess.
THE REAL GAME
Once you resign yourself to the fact that every Boss, mini-boss and enemy type are simply fodder for your ever-growing stat-boosted weapons things become clear. And herein lies the real game: That sweet delicious repetitive grind to progression. The real game is the combat and RPG elements that sit front and center on your UI and menus. Each weapon feels unique and the variety of ranged to melee combat to choose from is cleverly reigned in by a two-by-two slot system for weapons and support traps. Building upon that again with ailments/effects each weapon can roll with like fire, freeze and poison creates a truly diverse playstyle for everyone.
LIES & SLANDER
I would argue that Twin Motion’s claim of “adrenaline-pumping threat of permadeath” is false and untrue. You are an undying cell-regenerating yourself to go again and each run nets you upgrades, abilities and progress that benefits each successive run. Its lack of permadeath is what makes this game truly work and as such an enjoyable experience you can dip in and out of every run knowing you’ve not wasted your time in your latest unsuccessful run.
A truly enjoyable “rogue-lite, Castlevania-inspired action-platformer…” with “…souls-lite combat”. Hours of repeatable entertainment as long as you are not looking for Story for your entertainment…Cause then you wouldn’t be entertained. Duh.