Castlevania has always been one of my favorite series of all time, the being first video game I ever played back on the NES. You can imagine my excitement when I heard about a little title called Dead Cells made by Motion Twin that was being called a rogue-lite Castlevania inspired game.
Dead Cells is a rogue-lite, meaning that if you die, you die for good. After death you start right at the beginning with a new randomly generated group of levels to go through. You play as a nameless character only known as the Assassin as you hack and slash your way through the randomly generated levels of the game. To make permanent progress you collect cells throughout your many runs that act as the leveling up currency of sorts. After completing a level, you have the opportunity to spend your cells on various upgrades for the Assassin such as more health potions, new weapons or stat boosts. These upgrades are all permanent and transfer to each concurrent run which will help you get further into the game each time.
Speaking of dying… you will die in Dead Cells, a lot. It is a very challenging game, but never unfair and always rewarding. At the beginning of each run you are given the choice of three weapons to use of which you can only choose two. There is a sword, a bow and a shield, although not the only weapons you’ll find in Dead Cells, they are more than enough to get you through the game. As you explore each new area there are branching paths and enemies behind just about every door trying to kill you. Your only goal is to reach the exit to the next area, which leaves a lot of room for creativity when playing. You could simply choose the dodge by every enemy and run, if that is what you want to do. However, doing that will grant you no cells that are essential to making your character stronger. If you die on your way to the exit, all of your cells, weapons and modifiers will be reset and you will start with the base weapons and zero cells until you gain more in your next run. But, any cells you deposited into skills or unlocking new weapons are permanent, making the drive to play just one more run to unlock that item you only needed five more cells on all the more enticing!
Dead Cells has some of the most fast-paced, fluid action I have experienced in a modern 2D platformer. You can dodge through enemy attacks and hit them from behind, tank the hit with a shield and come out swinging or dodge a projectile and shoot an arrow right back at the enemy. There are so many options in the combat to choose from that those are just the main three you start with. Much like Castlevania you can find or buy sub weapons as well such as grenades and traps that you can be more tactical about attacking an enemy. For instance, there is one boss you can beat without ever touching yourself and just having a turret shoot blades while you dodge its’ attacks. There are seemingly endless ways to play Dead Cells and that puts the replayability of the game really high. The enemies are varied and always manage to catch the player off guard with new attacks. The bosses are huge and really hard to beat, as I found out the first time I fought one of them. The fun comes in learning their attacks and coming up with strategies for the next time you fight them. Finally crushing one of the bosses that has given you a hard time is always so satisfying.
I am playing the Nintendo Switch version of Dead Cells and I’m happy to say it runs smoothly in handheld and docked mode. I experienced a few small frame hiccups, but they are few and far between. The loading times between areas and after you die are fast too which is good thing since you will die and want to be restarting quickly. I also really like that the controls are fully customizable so you can tailor the controls to your liking. It’s really nice in a game that requires such fast reactions.
The graphics in the game are made up of beautiful and detailed pixel art sprites. The amount of different animations the Assassin has are amazing. There are also tons of environmental touches done to each of the varying stages that ad so much while playing Dead Cells. You can open a door in front of you or smash it down and stagger the enemy behind it. The door itself will break into pieces and the enemies splatter into little piles of blood on the ground. The level of detail put into a randomly generated game is inspiring. The music and sound design are also on point. You can hear every slash of your sword, drawing the string of a bow, the clanking of a chain as you climb it to the top of a tower. The soundtrack of Dead Cells sets the mood while you play, but is definitely meant to be in the background so you can hear everything that goes on while you explore the areas of the game. That being said, the boss music is as epic as you could expect in a Castlevania inspired game. Those tracks get me so amped up as I faced off against a giant boss that could kill me in four hits or less.
I’ll be honest that as the game got closer to release I was less sure about how much I would like it, but I am so glad that I picked it up. Dead Cells is a game that I can’t recommend enough to anyone who is a fan of rogue-lite or Castlevania style games. If you want a good challenge and a super fast paced action game, look no further. It’s more than worth your money and there is a physical release out now that I double dipped on because this game was one of the biggest surprises for me so far this year. It’s just a plain old fun game and that is the best thing I can say about it. Thank you for a fantastic game, Motion Twin!