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Dead Cells

Dead Cells - Early Access Impressions

We took a closer look at Motion Twin's so-called roguevania.

  • A. R. TeschnerA. R. Teschner

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Dead Cells is a fast-paced action platformer from Motion Twin that randomises its themed levels fairly effectively, putting together a map that feels purposeful and not too jumbled, filled with well-animated, detailed sprites to kill, and a wide variety of weapons, abilities, and currency to grab. The initial beauty of the game's gothic backgrounds and characters is a bit overwhelming, but once you've played through levels enough, that impression may become more clinical, which we'll go over below.

Even the starting level is randomised, but not too extensively, as you can crawl through fairly easily, providing a good place to practice basic skills with whatever weapons you find. You also get a preview of two rune abilities that allow you to skip levels and uncover secret items. Killing a creature will usually net a smidgen of gold, which can be used to purchase items within the levels or open optional doors, and sometimes a cell. Cells unlock weapons and strengthen items you already have between levels, and the first time you unlock an item blueprint in between levels you get it as a drop, and can try it out to see if you like it. But now the item is forever in the random drop tables, so even if you wind up rejecting it outright it'll still have a chance of showing up for the rest of the game. Dead Cells allows multiple save slots, so you could go through the game again and make sure you only unlock the stuff you want, though, if you're up for that.

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Controls are by and large smooth, though at this stage in the beta there are certain fiddly interactions at times, sending you in unexpected directions. Also, rolling doesn't seem quite as good a dodge as you'd expect, leaving you vulnerable when you thought you would clear an enemy, and hitbox distances aren't always the easiest to judge. There is usually a sense that you deserved to die, though, often because you were risking too much at once, or had been too casual early on and now have too little health to get through.

Another resource is, interestingly, your ranged shots. If you happen to have a ranged weapon with a limited amount of shots, which is most of them, until the creature you hit dies or you move on to the next level, you don't recover the shots, forcing you to use the better ranged weapons wisely, and making all-ranged builds harder to pull off. Melee weapons do the most reliable damage and often have the most interesting quirks, giving the player critical damage if they're wounded, at half health, attacking from the back, or hitting multiple targets at once. The third type is shields, perhaps the hardest to master, which give you a second of directed protection, and often an effect when an enemy's attack is effectively countered. Skill items usually allow for bursts of damage on a cooldown, with little slugs biting at the heels of enemies, various grenades, damaging floors, or turrets.

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