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Dead Cells

Dead Cells

After more than a year battling through the dungeons of Early Access, Motion Twin's pixel-perfect action-platformer is out in the wild.

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The old palms are starting to sweat. We know there's a dastardly boss just up ahead. We've already tried to beat it many times and every single time our efforts have ended in failure. But this time we're sure that it's going down because we've memorised all of the attack patterns and have a good gear set equipped. But things rarely turn out as planned. Our concentration slips just for a moment and we're dead again. However, there's already another corpse in the prison waiting to be reanimated, and next time we'll get that boss for sure.

For the most part, this is how we feel about Dead Cells, a game that even coins a new term: roguevania. It's a combination of roguelite mechanics and metroidvania design; the difficulty and permadeath come in via the "Rogue", whereas exploration and slowly building a larger arsenal of weapons and skills comes as part of the "vania".

The hook comes from the fact that you have to start the adventure over and over again. Nearly everything resets at this point, and you'll have to beat every level and boss monster again. Not everything is lost though, as one can build up an arsenal by acquiring blueprints and taking them to a creature called Collector. Unlocking weapons is done by using cells that act as a currency. Every weapon, gadget and skill is available for future runs, so over time your range of options grows and grows (although at some point there might be so many weapons unlocked that you don't see them all in one playthrough).

Dead Cells

The world in Dead Cells is alive, at least that's the reason why it's procedurally generated again after each death. That means you can't learn the layouts by heart, as the levels are always a bit different compared to the last run. Enemies, on the other hand, stay the same, so you know what to expect from each level. The world also contains locations that are inaccessible at the beginning. However, by discovering secrets and new abilities such as wall climbing, previously locked areas become available over time. This opens up new avenues and areas and offers more choices in terms of how to proceed. Eventually, all roads meet at one point, but the way there can be chosen to fit the mood of the player and the purpose of the run.

This pseudorandom level design is the game's single largest fault, as the level structure is quite uninspired. Sure the areas are challenging, but we'd still take carefully crafted environments over this generic collection of turns, traps and twists. But as mentioned earlier, there are several ways that you can proceed so that at least keeps the adventure interesting. Quite often there's a choice between two completely different paths, offering completely different enemies and bosses.

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