3.5 out of 5 - Roguevania - Delightfully addictive. Fast and fluid combat and movement is designed where Skill will still trump the RNG, but that RNG will still provide plenty of aggravating runs.
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How Metroidvania is it? Low Fit. Dead Cells is a Roguelike with Metroidvania Elements. It’s meant to be repeated over and over until you finally win, and you technically can beat the game on your first run with getting only one of the Metroidvania upgrades (Though if you do, I hope you were recording it.)
Primary Challenge: Melee Combat
Time to beat: ~16 hours
Review Info: Dead Cells was played on Steam

More Info

Developer: Motion Twin
Publisher: Motion Twin
Sub-genre: Roguelite
Features: Map System, Random Loot, Combo-Based Fighting, 2D Platformer, Procedural Generation, Melee Combat, Fast Travel/Teleporters, Environmental Storytelling, Level-Based
Difficulty: High
Linearity/Openness: Level Based
Platforms: Windows, Linux, MacOS, Steam, GOG, Switch, PS4, Xbox One
Release Date: 2018/08/06
Available Languages: English, Japanese, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Simplified Chinese, Turkish, Traditional Chinese

Store Links

    Amazon    Steam    Humble Bundle    GOG    Playstation    Xbox Store    Nintendo eShop    

Buy Dead Cells if you like…

  • Roguelikes
  • Great Combat
  • Sassy Protagonists
  • More Linear Experiences
  • Repeating solid gameplay

▼ Review continues below ▼

This review is written as of the 1.0 release of the game. It has not been updated for subsequent patches or DLC

In my opinion, addictive gameplay isn’t necessarily a good thing. You can find yourself doing completely worthless activities and only realize after the fact that you have nothing to take away from the experience. That is, other than hours spent not thinking about real life. For some people, that’s enough, but I personally try to differentiate between something that is merely engaging, and something that brings enjoyment.

Dead Cells is very engaging – every run is different, so you have this feeling that “Just one more” will be the run that is meaningful. But it took me almost 6 hours of banging my head against its roguelike wall before I started actually enjoying it. In fact, at first I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere. There were a couple of times I lost 80 cells – the currency that allows you to power up for a subsequent run – in areas I hadn’t figured out the biome gimmick. I often wished there was a Dark Souls -like “homeward bone” or “go back to the beginning keeping 50% of your cells” option. I longed for Rogue Legacy’s “everybody wins” formula, where you only lose the excess of cash you don’t spend after you die, rather than your whole load from a specific section. But, in all that frustration this is actually an aspect of Dead Cells that I can respect – skill still trumps luck, even if luck will help you a lot.

The combat system in Dead Cells is its primary, and maybe only, selling point. It’s designed to be taken slowly, watching for very well telegraphed enemy attacks as groups swarm you to preserve your health and survive. It’s also designed to be taken as fast as possible, with a powerful “ground pound” attack adding speed to your drops and dispatching enemies in a fluid motion. The game rewards both styles of play. For speed, there are checkpoints that only open if you get there in a specific time limit and grant substantial rewards if you make it. There are also plenty of secrets in each biome that, because of the random nature of the game, would be very difficult to obtain while still meeting those speed check points. You never have to play each run the same way twice.

However, the bosses do require you to strategize in some way, which is where the frustration sets in. I actually made it to the Clock Tower on my very first run before I knew what I was doing (I got a freezing pair of assassin’s daggers that were destroying everything.) After that though I got screwed over time and time again with weapons I didn’t know how to use effectively or didn’t match a strategy I felt I could conceivably execute. Those kinds of runs end with trying to get as many Cells as possible, which I could use to buy new weapons to add to my weapon pool, increase the number of healing potions I had access to, or other minor upgrades that could make the next run easier. Finally after 14 hours of this, I had both a winning plan and the luck to find the items I needed to use that plan. That final run took me one hour of meticulously collecting items to complete.

Each run is a combination of powering up in-game and powering up as a skilled player. Eventually you’ll hit your personal threshold of in-game power and your ability to execute a winning strategy. Technically, you can beat the game on your first run if you’re lucky enough, or if you’re skilled enough. But if you do that you’ll quickly realize that Dead Cells is in fact just an hour-long game that is stretched into a 15 hour game only thanks to its roguelike mechanics. I couldn’t help but feel like the game was lacking in content because of this – and this is made worse by the fact that the game’s story is incomplete – or at least inconclusive – in spite of this being the 1.0 release.

I can really appreciate Dead Cells’ emphasis on player skill, and I laud the effort, but I also feel like a large portion of the experience is more addiction than enjoyment. I think to achieve greatness Dead Cells’ really needs to step up its narrative, since the gameplay is solid enough that I can’t think of anything that would improve it. I think that for many players, simply having an infinitely playable game with these mechanics is enough. For fans of games that offer an experience that’s lasting in your memory, Dead Cells provides that, but it’s only after wading through a lot of grind. Thus, it might not be worth it to many when there are so many other memorable options that don’t require the time sink to get the most out of them. Dead Cells is almost great, and who knows, maybe someday it will achieve greatness as more content comes.


Final Score

3.5/5

Scoring system overview


Metroidvania Breakdown

Combat
– 4.5

Expertly telegraphed with a good mix of monsters at any given point in a seed - though the physics can feel a liittle off at times

Platforming
– 3

Occasional ''Trap'' Sections give little trouble or challenge, which is fine becuase it's not the focus

Exploration
– 2.5

Being as every playthrough is random, it can be rewarding to find things the first time, but once you know what each level always holds, it's a matter of hide and seek

Puzzle
– 3

There are a few find-the-pixel puzzles to solve which breaks up the usual flow, but doesn't excel to a point of mention

Story
– 3

The story is currently incomplete with the 1.0 release, though the method of telling the story that's there is very souls-like

Graphics
– 5

Excellent low-res polygon style graphics give a unique and sleek look to the world

Music
– 3

Appropriate ambient music but not very memorable

Replayability
– 5

Replayability is the primary thing this game has to offer. It could keep you busy for hundreds of hours if you let it


Want a second opinion? See what other reviews say:

Steam Reviews
Recent: Overwhelmingly Positive
(97% of 5,236 Reviews)
All Time: Overwhelmingly Positive
(96% of 61,223 Reviews)


89 Metacritic
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