There’s nothing like a good action game. To me, they’re the prototypical video games. Whether it be Pac-Man, Kaboom!, Ninja Gaiden, or whatever your choice of FPS, I think action games define the hobby. More and more genres come about every few years, but if you’re a gamer I think you can always feel at home with action, platforming, or a combination of both.
That’s why it’s so satisfying to play Dead Cells. An action game done well is tough to beat. Add in elements from somewhat more modern genres like roguelikes, and there’s not much to complain about. You play as a fallen warrior whose head is humorously replaced by a neat little burning candle sort of effect. You can get resurrected ad infinitum, which is good for you, the player. Reason being that the levels are expansive, and the challenge is gradual but tangible. Like other roguelikes, dying isn’t so much of a failure but part of the process.
At this point I feel it’s necessary to quickly mention how I loathe the naming conventions for video game subgenres. Dead Cells even does it in its own promotional materials, and I don’t know why. I don’t understand why Dark Souls now gets credit for every game that bothers to have tight controls and engaging combat (Souls-like or Souls-lite). I don’t understand why every game with a nonlinear map has to be called a Metroidvania. In both cases I assure you that many other games have had good combat and alternate paths. It’s not a knock on Dead Cells, and its not like these terms aren’t descriptive, but Motion Twin should give itself a little more credit.
Regardless, I say that with love because Dead Cells is extremely good even in Early Access. The controls feel very responsive and you’ll be mantling, jumping, and rolling intuitively. The graphics are a solid example of maybe a 32-bit quality art style. They’re gothic and medieval but colors are vivid and interesting. As it stands there are a respectable number of weapons and items, of which you can equip up to two each.
Throughout your runs you collect cells which are procured by killing enemies. If you survive until the end of a level you can then exchange them towards upgrading your various armaments, as well as unlocking new abilities. What I prefer about Dead Cells compared to say, Rogue Legacy, is that Dead Cells lets you improve your tools over time, but still leaves a lot of the skill up to you. Simply playing the game over and over again will upgrade your favorite swords and grenades for instance, but it won’t allow you to take more of a beating or cut you a break if your reflexes aren’t up to snuff. In that sense I think Dead Cells perfectly mixes side-scrolling action with the roguelike formula, and the maze-like maps add significant depth when making run after run. I also like how you always feel you’ve made progress or at least had fun after each of those runs. This as opposed to feeling like a sucker for getting your ass handed to you constantly, and maybe even wondering if you should just play something else.
Put simply, this is one of those Early Access games that is actually a full-fledged game, just not quite finished yet. This isn’t the cobbled together beginnings of a game, where the developer is asking for your money prematurely. Dead Cells is a game ready to be played right now. Over time, Motion Twin wants to amass twice the content the game started with, and that’s probably a justifiable goal to focus on. In my 10-12 hours with the game so far, my only real negative takeaway was that I get a lot of the same items. Granted, there are modifiers that tweak seemingly generic items that you’ve picked up before, but I think more weapons and items would enhance the game greatly. It could be the one aspect that gets more people into that 100+ hour range for total time spent.
Right now, the short review for Dead Cells is that it’s a good purchase through and through. $16.99 is definitely a fair deal, and a sale price would just be icing on the cake. If you need a game that reminds you of Symphony of the Night, you’re probably not getting any closer than this. What do they call those games again? There should be a name for it……