The right kind of random
In the world of roguelike/roguelite games, we’re often doomed to repeat the mistakes we make. Whether it be in the form of dying in that same area over and over again, or simply failing spectacularly in the name of Lady Luck, the carrot dangling at the end of the stick tells us we can make it a few feet further each time. That’s definitely the case with Dead Cells, but the eternal loop on display here is one of the most satisfying the genre has to offer.
Dead Cells mixes roguelite gameplay with a Metroidvania style of progression, continuing the tradition of procedural map generation while maintaining some form of cohesion throughout its bleak, sprawling world. Players immediately find themselves in the role of what can best be described as a rolling blob of cells. These cells serve as the primary explanation for your ability to continue possessing prisoner corpses in the dungeon where your adventure begins, always setting out along a similar path while constantly finding yourself somewhat stymied thanks to the way the dungeon’s twists and turns have changed.
The enemies scattered throughout each area can be pretty vicious, but thankfully there’s a suite of evasive and defensive moves at your disposal that are pretty intuitive right from the start. If you opt to skip out on an early ranged weapon, for instance, you can use a starter shield to parry projectiles with the pinpoint timing. Dead Cells is all about making these micro-choices throughout, from the mutations you choose for your character—which will grant buffs and certain abilities depending on how many you have activated—to how wisely you use your available weapon slots.
Despite the fact that most of the layout and item drops are left completely up to chance, each run of Dead Cells feels like a pretty fair roll of the dice. Sure, there will inevitably be a run or two in which you barely make it out of the first area, but careful play combined with upgrades that carry over to each attempt make progression seem ever within reach. Like Dark Souls, you will eventually hit a roadblock or two in the form of a boss, but even these seem increasingly surmountable with each attempt. By the time you have their pattern and telegraphed moves figured out, you’ll turn these encounters into a relatively trivial bump in the road.
Another feature that makes progression enjoyable is the way weapons and powers are consistently divvied out to the player. The Prisoner doesn’t have to wait too long to get his hands on the good stuff, and each new method of attacking feels completely different from the last. Beyond your traditional swords and spears you’ll find a bevy of items that can be used as automated traps. From flamethrowers to the immobilizing Wolf Traps, working these into your attack and defense strategies is one of the keys to making it out of the dungeon alive.
Games like Dead Cells have gradually changed my opinion of the genre over the years. While I’m still predisposed to liking maps that are rigid and carefully crafted for the purpose of thoughtful level design and world-building, I’m not as opposed to procedural generation as I used to be. If more titles like Dead Cells make their way to today’s systems, I’ll be more than happy to roll the dice and hit up these ever-changing challenges over and over again.
publisher: Motion Twin
developer: Motion Twin
system(s): PS4, Xbox One, Switch,
PC, Mac: availableNow