Dead Cells Review

Viktor Kurochkin
8 min readDec 8, 2020
Dead Cells

Overview

Dead Cells is a roguelike action platformer game with a lot of challenges in the atmosphere of mystery with a few revelations. It’s often used to say roguelike — like if it’s obvious, but what is roguelike exactly? So in short it’s a role-playing game about crawling in dungeons through procedurally generated levels — the ones that are not manually assembled, so basically with a random structure based on some pre-defined patterns and a list of required components. But the major thing is the permanent death of the player character. So if you die — you start anew. Of course, it’s not that bad, in most games this is the core mechanic that is made a bit more casual and engaging — you progress with every death, keeping gold, experience, whatever. Other properties from Wikipedia like turn-based gameplay, tile-based graphics are definitely not that important.

But let’s get back to the Dead Cells. It is developed by Motion Twin — an experienced indie games developer of 6 people from France, who build games for 19 years long. In my humble opinion, Dead Cells is the most successful game of the Studio, maybe just because I am not familiar with any other game. Following about a year in early access, Dead Cells was released for Linux, macOS, Windows, Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, and Xbox One on August 28, 2018. And then iOS mobile port was released on August 28, 2019, and the Android one on June 3, 2020.

Dead Cells

The game starts with an ambiguous spectacle — a slime-like creature appears from some pipe and then takes control of a headless corpse in some dungeon and this is what you need to associate yourself with. Then some warrior girl greets you to make some introduction and some basic tutorial — she is not surprised to see you, seems like you are not the first one. And then you start to explore. You start with a simple sword and a bow that you can use to slash some monsters, while searching for a way out, finding different places that will reveal you some details about this world and help build that puzzle. That’s mostly it, to avoid spoilers.

At first sight, it is a simple platformer, but there are a bunch of interesting features that might grab your interest:

Gameplay

I usually open only one door, to be honest

First of all, it’s simply a very satisfying process — just crawling those dungeons, defeating monsters, and finding interesting spots. What I found really engaging is bonus missions at the end of every location. So in short, you collect gold and cells throughout the game, that you can use to unlock new skills, skins, weapons, etc. And if you will kill 30 to 60 monsters depending on the level without being damaged, or finish the level before the specific time — you will unlock bonus rooms with cells, gold, and choice of a powerful weapon. And if you do both — finish the level quickly enough and without being hurt, you will get 2 rooms. And that is really challenging. I was so thrilled when manage to do so, and so upset with failing, that most of the time I just restart the game after the first damage taken! Of course, it’s not right, but I was stressing not about my game progress but this challenge alone. Plus you might not finish the entire sequence with a low-level weapon or simply a weapon you don’t like playing.

Collecting

My personal collection

In this game, you have so many things to collect — swords, bows, shields, bombs, traps, skins, skills and all of them not only create a great variety of the gameplay but also are the base of the main hall of your starting point in the game! It looks so beautiful filled with all things you have found so far. And you can find those anywhere on any level. Or, to be precise, you can find a blueprint. And then you need to unlock that goodie with cells. And cells are something you can’t bring with you on the next life, you need to use it in between levels, or if you die — they will be lost. I played on one platform, and when I decided to try another one — I felt so anxious about all my stuff. It was collected with so many hours of playing and getting them all again was a bit depressing. But anyway, collecting things is one more working engaging mechanic — I couldn’t stop playing before I unlocked all blueprints I have found, and with unlocking I was finding new ones. But eventually, I won. And then found a few more again.

After a few moments of being empty popup I found more blueprints

Story

This game is not that about the story. Because you can play and just ignore it — skip story rooms, ignore interactive elements and just slay monsters. And this is exactly the character you are playing — a hungry slayer who can’t stop. But on the other hand, you do can read all those and try to understand how all of that has happened to the world you are getting to know. And what was your role in all of this? I find it intriguing myself.

Groundhog Day

Slime from a pipe

I never played that much in the roguelike games, but I considered that it might be pretty boring. And this is so not true for this game. Even though I saw that slime poping out of that pipe so many times — I still looking forward to seeing that again, cause I know it will be fun and challenging. And why? Because this game is so different every time. You can’t choose the weapons — you need to deal with what you get. And sometimes you might need to use not the most comfortable weapon to be more powerful and that creates another challenge. The dungeons are different every time. The skills you choose based on the equipment you have progressing between levels. So every game is different. You do become stronger with every death, and for more challenge the game hame boss cells — another level of game difficulty. It does not only make your enemies stronger, but it adds more dangerous enemies to the levels — big and strong, invisible, etc that makes it so hard to get to those bonus rooms. So yes, this is perfect replayability I have ever so. You won’t be able to get the whole story from one round, as the locations you need to choose every time — you can’t run through all of them.

I am not sure how long exactly I played this game myself, I believe it was almost a month time when I played this game every minute I could — while watching youtube, getting breaks throughout the day, etc. My wife was already sick with me playing it all the time and sometimes I wake up just to try one more time. Honestly, I was super addicted to this game. And I played on my iPhone. It looks super good on the mobile and the controls are made nice, great port. And even after all of this I still have only 37 of 53 achievements in the Game Center!

Conclusion

What is truly unique about this game is that it is a solid product in its genre making every part of it so consistent and fitting perfectly. It is easy to learn and hard to master (I am still struggling from time to time to finish it with 1 boss cell) it can be so light — you started, played a few levels, and died and that’s fine, and it is a perfect balance of gameplay, look&feel, and story, especially for mobile. Maybe it’s just because this is the platform I played first of all, but even considering it is easier to play with a gamepad than with a sensible screen — I would play it rather on mobile, maybe Nintendo Switch, but not on the PS, or PC. But that’s IMHO. And it has so much deepness, even though absolutely not necessary to enjoy the game. I could not get for a long time how to get one thing on the Clock Tower behind closed doors so that I googled how to get it. The result shocked me, I don’t believe that anyone can get this on his own, really. But that makes the game accessible for people who just want to slash a few dungeons and for those who want to build fan pages and wikis trying to reveal all game secrets — and this game has that. I love that.

And all of this is implemented with great quality. I found no bugs, a lot of funny jokes, a great experience of a dungeon crawl, and battling with really nice controls on the mobile. Even though I sometimes miss the buttons and getting angry with the game, so the controls are much better with the gamepad, as the battles might be stressful, and missing the on-screen button will be frustrating. And also I can’t get the shields. I try to use it from time to time, but they seem so useless to me.

Going to the end of the story

As you might guess from my passionate text I loved the game. To be honest, I write mostly about the games I loved, and this one is one of the best I played recently. I even dreamed about creating something inspired by this game, but that can wait for now. Not a fan of pixel graphics, though in this game it looks so good on the mobile, creating the atmosphere, while I still don’t like how it looks on the TV when I played on the PS4. Also what is sad for me and why I eventually bought a PS4 game is that there is an add-on “The bad seed bundle” they don’t have on the iOS.

I missed so many things I can say about this game, but I want to believe you already got the idea. I will definetelly recommend you to try out this game for yourself and maybe you will love it as much as I did. Cheers!

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Viktor Kurochkin

A game developer, frontend architect, PhD. Desgining and building games, playing also. Wanna be an indie game developer, but lets release something first.