Dead Cells early access: Gotta go fast!
(This is an old review, the reason that this is getting posted is for historical purposes and completeness sake, I have plans to do the full version later)
I do not normally review early access games due to the fact that they can change easily in quality making the review redundant fast. However I feel that I can make an expectation to this rule as of 17/12/2017 the game has improved drastically and I feel that I should talk about this great game.
Dead Cells is a rougelike dungeon crawler with combat heavily inspired by the souls borne series. It does not quite have the same dark fantasy/ horror elements of Fromsoft’s games but the pixel art style mixed 3d animation does lend itself to that atmosphere of tragedy and sorrow that is common in the souls borne games, more on that later.
You play as an unnamed organism that, after dropping from the ceiling climbs into a recently decapitated body and takes control of it. You meet a guard who tries to commentate with the organism trying to tell it to get out due to some unknown threat. You as the mass of cells for a head need to try and escape the island. That is all the story there is. It is not the most complex of narratives but it serves the game well. It gives the player and character some agency and acts as a motive to finish the game.
The main staying power of Dead Cells is the combat and by all that is holy is it great! Again the comparison to the Souls Borne series comes up as you have to time your attacks and dodge roll should they wind up an attack. However I would say that the combat is more in the vein of Bloodborne then Dark Souls due to the fast paced nature of the combat. It feels so exhilarating and fun to roll though a door mash the attack key until everything either dies or start attacking you which means you have to either throw a stun or dodge roll but then you see another monster lob a bomb and you have seconds to think before it goes off. It is the type of combat that feels fun and challenging and I love it. Skills and weapons are divided into three main categories. Red improves all red weapons and skills as well as increasing health by a small amount, the same goes with all purple skills and items, green improves all shields and increases health by a large amount. You find these upgrades as you go through the levels and not all of the colours will be available to you at a given time so you would have to choose what you want carefully. I like this improvement to the system as it allows the player to chose what sort of skills they want to improve, the game emphasises the need to balance how much life the player has vs how hard they hit in order to make it though the game.
As this is a rougelike you will die a lot though out the game, you will start out so weak and pathetic that you might die in one hit. The game is hard in the beginning but after each level you will be able to sell any cells (this game’s version of souls) from fallen foes to a vender for permanent upgrades. The rooms will also change each time you start over and new shortcuts will appear as you get further though the game. There are also timed doors that should you unlock them in time will give you nice rewards like cells, upgrades or money to get better items. It feels rewarding as they often are very difficult to reach in time and you do not always know where they are going to spawn. It can be both frustrating but also rewarding.
The graphics and visual style as mentioned previously are very bleak but has a glimmer of hope in the background, despite the lack of story there is a good deal of atmosphere in the visuals and creature designs, everything looks diseased and corrupted by some sort of external force. The 3d animation is blended well into the pixel art and helps the game stand out from the rest of the pixel art games on steam. I like the air of mystery the game has with simple but effective acknowledgments to the changing levels and why everything is the way it is. The inspirations to Fromsoft’s way of storytelling are strong.
However the trouble I have is that the lack of storytelling does not lean it towards long play sessions; I strongly advise playing this game in short bursts as long play sessions could end with the player feeling angry due to one misstep or mistake that sends them back to the beginning. I found the game the most fun during one hour or less play sessions.
In the end I say that Dead Cells as a game is well worth your time. Just prepare to die again and again.
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