DEAD CELLS [Review]: A Tedious Wonder.
And by that, I mean I can’t put it down. Believe everything good you’ve heard about Dead Cells,
but be aware that there are a few hearty doses of B.S. that go along with it (which I’m surprised aren’t mentioned in a lot of the game’s reviews). It’s a good 80/20 split on the good vs. bad, so let’s kick this off with the good.
The first thing that pops at you is how beautiful the game is. Visually, it’s easily one of my favorite games so far this year. The animations are fluid and everything is packed with great detail. Enemies explode and leave splatter on the walls, sparks and particles accompany certain attacks, flames cast shadows, etc.
Combat is another high point. Your controls are: primary weapon, secondary weapon (or shield), jump, and dodge. Battles with enemies move at breakneck speeds with your melee weapons or you can also pick opponents off with turrets and bows. What makes things really interesting is the modifiers that allow for a ridiculous amount of varying strategies. You can’t choose item modifiers, but you can re-roll for a price and hope for the best. One of my favorites/good example is having one turret that sets enemies ablaze and a second one that does +100% damage to burning targets.
The map layouts manage to feel fresh –to an extent, more on that later– thanks in no small part to being procedurally generated each time you die/have to start over. I know what you’re wondering: “All this sounds great, handsome giant. What’s this B.S. you mentioned?”
Well, you know I mentioned that the maps are procedurally generated each time you have to start over? Well, I hope you enjoy seeing the same scenery and fighting the same enemies. A lot. Every time you die, you start at the beginning. “Of the level?” No. At the very. Damn. Start. This isn’t that big of a deal when starting out with the game, but when you’re breezing through the Promenade or the Toxic Sewers for the 15th time, it gets tiresome. It’s an idea that’s a lot better on paper than in execution. The game would’ve benefited greatly from optional starting points on levels you’ve conquered.
The other thing that’ll have you fuming is the little in-game mechanic of losing all of your cells when you die. The game has two types of currencies: gold and cells. The first is used to buy weapons, open certain doors, re-roll weapon specs, and get health powerups. Cells are harder to come by and are also used to purchase upgrades and unlock new weapons. Only some enemies have cells (and some chests) and there is zero distinction between enemies with cells and those that don’t have them. My problem with this? You lose all cells when you die. Because of course you do. At first I compared this to Dark Souls, but at least in that series you get a chance to get your currency back. Here? Say goodbye to the 37 cells you wasted time harvesting.
If the game only incorporated one of these mechanics, I wouldn’t find it as maddening and tedious. But having both just feels like a massive and unnecessary “screw you” whenever you die. Should you get it? It’ll piss you off more than a few times, but at 25 dollars, you absolutely should. It’s one of the freshest takes on the Metroidvania sub-genre available; just make sure to pack some patience. 3.75/5 Cells.