For a game called “Dead Cells”, this title is surprisingly alive, as it tends to be the case with most of roguelike Metroidvania games. On top of that, the very island where the game is taking place is alive – this is the in-universe explanation for the fact that the world around you and the dungeons you explore change every time you start the game over, and the character you play as, known only as The Prisoner, is unable to die.
To make matters just a bit weirder, you are a person without a head – where the head should be, you have a smoky flame – and the only story that matters is that you’re on a mission to reclaim cells that once constituted your – now decomposing – body.
There is not really that much to the story, and it seems that 8-bit (or, in this case, 16-bit) dungeon crawlers with randomly generated levels are a dime a dozen these days… Except, this is a genuine passion project for Motion Twin, the studio that is behind this game, and that fact is more than apparent.
The combat system is one of the things that make “Dead Cells” a true pleasure to play. As you move through the levels, you’ll have two main modes of attack and two specials. There is a whip which is particularly powerful if you hit the enemies with its tip, a sword that does extra damage when your health is critically low, and an attack that covers your enemies in oil which makes them great targets for a flaming attack and so on. Did I mention that the game is always changing? Because this goes for the weapons you’ll be encountering along the way as well.
Some enemies leave a handful of their own cells behind once you defeat them, and those cells can be used to buy upgrades to the existing weapons or buying entirely new ones. That is, provided you manage to make it all the way to the end of a level. And that can be, to put it kindly, bewilderingly hard. This makes dying all the more devastating, since you’ll be back to the starting screen when you die, and forced to explore a brand new set of areas, weapon combos, and enemies. It’s fun!
The game is simply beautiful to look at, with smooth character animations reminiscent of the vintage “Prince of Persia”, and, once you get the hang of it, you can really take in the sights and sounds it has to offer. Its full release date is coming up on August 7, 2018, and the game has already sold over 750,000 copies. Its appeal is hard to put into words since it has so much to do with how the game feels – it feels like one of those old-timey games that were hard but just, a game that you could sink dozens upon dozens of hours into, feeling as if you are learning something new every time you die, and that it is you, and not the game, to blame for your failure.
The game will be released for all the major platforms (Microsoft Windows, macOS, Linux, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch) and if you have ever stayed awake till dawn promising yourself that you’ll go to bed right after you beat “just one more stage” (ha!) you should give “Dead Cells” a shot.