Dead Cells (PlayStation 4) Review

By Michael Keener 11.08.2018

Review for Dead Cells on PlayStation 4

"Metroidvania" as a side-scrolling action genre is well understood by most to have a handful of stereotypical characteristics, but with the number of releases these days it can be hard to find the differences between them all. Here is a game that takes a cliché way of describing indie titles, and reinvents the core mechanics within. Action plays out with more strategy and more fluidity than any other one before it, and the permanent death mixed with career progression means the more time spent playing, the further players will make it in the world. Welcome to Dead Cells on PlayStation 4.

A life lived in the world of Dead Cells will be either short and brutal, or a little longer than the life before… and still brutal. The world is incredibly unforgiving as it forces players to restart from the cold and damp confines of a prison upon every death. That may sound harsh and repetitive, but there are a few reasons to keep pushing on through multiple deaths. Each failed attempt will at the very least provide experience and develop overall skill with the combat and traversal. Later on, though, those failed attempts will be less of heartache due to permanent unlocks that help jump-start the next try. Taking control of the unnamed protagonist, thanks to some slime with a motive to embody the dead and bring them back to life, players will begin by moving toward the exit of the prison corridor.

Quickly, the sight of a sword, bow, or a shield, will bless the man with a chance of survival. The sword is a for sure weapon, but the bow and shield will be interchangeable based on play style. The shield can help defend against enemy attacks until the distance between them can be reduced and the swinging of the sword can dish out damage. The bow has no defence properties like the shield, but allows attacks from distance that arguably is a defensive-minded strategy. The bow and sword combo is by far the coolest lead-out to have as it offers a non-stop attacking style.

Screenshot for Dead Cells on PlayStation 4

Experience over time will allow players to overcome diversity via technique rather than a shield and no ranged attacks. Movements are aided by the ability to jump and roll. Climbing ledges is as simple as double jumping to them, and dropping down below the floor is a matter of holding down on the analogue stick, and so when this is matched with the bow and sword, damage is dished out to enemies in rapid spurts. Rolling is the get out of jail free card, if timed right. Enemies swinging their weapon will miss even if in adequate range, but the window to hit a clean roll is small and any failure will result in a chunk of the health bar being depleted. Enemy attacks will be easily predictable thanks to a big yellow exclamation mark above them just prior. Parrying this is just as easy (or difficult) as rolling out of the way. Once health has been taken due to failed defence, the only way to refill it is by reaching the next major checkpoint, and/or by unlocking health flasks.

Unlocking permanent progressions is a slow, but appropriately paced, aspect of the gameplay. As enemies are slain, they will occasionally drop dead cells (hence the name of the game). These cells, once collected and saved, are spent at various checkpoints on permanent upgrades. The health flask, which was previously mentioned, is the very first one to unlock, and it will have a few tiers that increase the number of uses it has. Other permanent unlocks include being able to carry over a minimum amount of the money used to purchased weapons and other various items, and possibilities to start playthroughs with better weapons. It's all very simple, yet time consuming to progress all of the permanent upgrades, and it encourages the investment of time.

Screenshot for Dead Cells on PlayStation 4

Early on in Dead Cells, the weapons will be weak and the bow will only have a few shots before it must cool down and reload. Swords will need to be swung immediately following a roll in order to prevent enemies from getting off any attacks first. The enemies early on will be fodder once the controls have been warmed up to, but bosses will increase the difficulty tenfold. Occasionally, enemies will be protected by a brightly lit magic that will need to be removed before attacks can do true damage. It is not hard to find the culprit of the magic as there are bright lines between them and the enemies they are protecting.

While most enemies are anywhere from three to six shots to kill, bosses take dozens of hits while they also have the ability to spray the entire area around them with relentless attacks. On top of the already difficult encounter with bosses, players will need to fend off the handful of spawning minions who are also capable of killing in their own right. Death is unavoidable and even the best players will see the difficulty catch up to them sooner or later. It is not an impossible game, but one that takes a sizeable amount of time to master. It's as much about rhythm as it is about knowing the mechanics.

Screenshot for Dead Cells on PlayStation 4

Moving quickly and killing enemies will become almost a dance. As the dance becomes a refined art form, new paths and doorways will be available. This is because players are expected to be able to almost speed run certain parts due to high levels of skills and unlocks. If specific doors have not been reached within a pre-determined, yet unknown, time, then they will be locked for that run. It's easy to guess where these doors may be, but the procedurally-generated areas mean memorising will be unlikely.

If there was one area where Dead Cells could be improved, it would be the story and back-story. It can feel difficult to feel an attachment to the character, even though he is supposed to be a short-lived reanimation of an executed prisoner. The few times lore could make an appearance in the form of books and characters, it is either under emphasised… or not used altogether. Asides from a lack of storytelling, there is nothing to hate the game for since it does everything amazingly.

Screenshot for Dead Cells on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

9/10
Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

Rated 9 out of 10

Dead Cells surpasses expectations regarding gameplay and destroys the developmental cap for pixel art games. It not only reinvents a genre that has seen little diversity in the last decade, it does so in a way that encourages everyone to invest time to improve and progress. The balance between permanent upgrades and complete wipe-out upon death is perfect, as it will never feel too discouraging to reset due to the optimism that the next run will see a further dive into the world.

Developer

Motion Twin

Publisher

Motion Twin

Genre

2D Platformer

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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