Dead Cells: Perfection of the Formula
Dead Cells by every conceivable measurement is a great game. None of my flowery words can do it justice, though I will attempt, it’s just a well-made game! Overall every inch of the game is polished and filled with marks of a game made by people that play and care about games. It was clear that on the top of the team’s list was making it FUN! Where many games are attempting to become a live service an ever-evolving monster of content, which is fine, one of my favorite games is Warframe. There is though something to be said for the perfect package of a game, that has a clear beginning, middle, and end. In short to skip the rest of this article just play the game, if you like 2D platformer action games play it. If you like Dark Souls, play it. If you like Metroidvania games, play it. If you like games in general just play it. It is an absolute crime this game is only $20!
Dead Cells is a rogue-lite, Metroidvania inspired, action-platformer. Where you explore an ever-changing number of areas on an island. You will die constantly, but most importantly you will learn, repeat, and progress a little bit farther the next time.
For someone that doesn’t play games the mishmash of words and genres, I threw at you was probably a little confusing. It was a little too much for me also. Games have progressed in such a way there are dozens of different labels, that never quite do the right job of actually conveying what the game is about.
In Dead Cells you will be fighting your way through levels, that are procedurally generated in a sense, there will always be a straight line of mostly left to right you must go to get to an exit, but the many side paths will still be slightly different. When you die you end up back at the very start of the game, but the catch is that you will have collected Cells throughout your run that can be invested towards permanent unlocks that will carry over to your next run. Along with these unlocks you will fight bosses and collect certain permanent runes that will give you new abilities that can open new areas to explore and new shortcuts to cut through old levels. All of these concepts are not exactly new, but many other games were promising this type of gameplay never really delivered. But oh boy did Motion Twin deliver.
Motion Twin is a French workers cooperative based in Bordeaux of only 15 people. This is amazing to see such an excellent product from such a small studio and a studio that shirks any greedy or unfair practices committed by the big publishers. The gaming industry is full of stories of developers working an insane amount of hours for little pay, or skipped bonuses, and higher-ups getting the bulk share of the profits. It’s nice to see that this co-op is able to make such a great product and be recognized for it, each of them have equal pay and input into the game. I believe this choice indeed shows in the product, every part of the game meshes just show well together. Whether it be the art, music, gameplay, level design, or writing, it all just flows so well together. Many other games it is clear that the writers did not work closely with the game designers, or specific mechanics need to be changed to meet the marketing teams goals. In Dead Cells it is just nothing, but polish and seems to be made by a team that works very well together.
Why is Dead Cells so great? Well it comes from the rhythm of their game how everything is seamless, it is no one feature that it stands on, no one gimmick that it has, it is the whole package. But to start one thing that will be first notice when loading up the game is the excellent animation. Screenshots do not do this game justice. At first, it might seem like any other pixel-art 2D platformer. Though there is a cell shading to its art style and the environment and models are not entirely 2D, but actually have depth making the backdrops really pop and have information to tell the player.
Next noticed is the excellent gameplay that the slick animation provides. In the combat, it relies on clear telegraphs from the very well designed enemies. But oh no you swung your sword and stuck in the animation for the combo, and the monster is about to hit…just dodge. In many other games animation canceling is not a thing, and that is ok, some games like Monster Hunter are built around that deliberate planning and attacks. Though this can make those games feel slow and plodding, not like Dead Cells. In Dead Cells any attack animation or any movement or jump can be instantly canceled out by a dodge. This gives you complete control over the character making every hit taken feel fair, as it is your fault. Apart from the dodge roll, there is also a ground stomp you can do whenever you are falling. With a simple input, you will come soaring down and deal damage and stun any below you, which can be chained perfectly into a combo attack.
Another excellent feature in this game is opening doors. To open a door you can just open it, or you can smash it open with a satisfying crunch and spray of wood stunning any on the other side. Last of the general gameplay features is the killstreak ability that triggers after killing a few monsters in quick succession. When this killstreak activates your character will start moving and attacking faster, this feature will stop if you get hit or do not kill another monster in a certain period of time. This killstreak may seem simple, but is one of the best things in the game, it urges you and pushes you to keep moving. Don’t stop, don’t just fall down to the next level, ground stomp down there, don’t just open the door dodge, roll into it to smash it open and start swinging.
Aside from the general combat there are many different weapons and items to be used, along with amulets to give your character new abilities and build them in a certain way. Your loadout is always two weapons, with two gadgets, along with the one passive amulet. These weapons can be anything from swords, throwing knives, bows, shields, axes, or even a spartan kick and much more. Each of these weapons has different rarities and a lot of different passives and active on them. For example, you can have a Blood Sword, that passively bleeds a target on strike, and on the random attributes of the sword you could get deals +100% damage for bleeding targets, or it could be something like victims explode or shoot a grenade when swung. As for the gadgets they can be anything from a razorblade turret, many different grenades, a bear trap, and much more. For example one of the coolest ones I found when it dropped from a boss was a feather. The feather gave me the ability to fly, but not only that but created a storm below me damaging all I flew over. Also, it had attributes that also created a deadly storm with lightning and poison damage, it was awesome.
That is the fun of this game. The amount of variety of the weapons and gadgets and how they combine with all of the different attributes that can be randomly generated makes it so every run you can be trying out something new, but always have something decent. Along with an excellent design of levels and later mechanics make for running through areas multiple times a joy. Then to top it off is the superb boss designs that challenge without frustrating, except for that last boss is almost too much. Motion Twins has made a perfection of the Metroidvania formula and the best 2D action combat out there! It is an absolute must buy!