Monday, August 6, 2018

Dead Cells: I'm Up, I'm Dead, Let's Do it Again. A Quick Review

I hate to die in games. I know I'm not the only one that shares in this frustration. It's why I find my fascination with Motion Twins new roguelike platformer Dead Cells so interesting. It's a game where you have to die, and I've become okay with that.
Don't get me wrong. When I'm on a deep run and have collected 20 to 30 cells and assume I'm close to making it to the collector and die... well, that still pisses me off. But I find myself sucked back in each time.

From the Ramparts, we watch, what was so gallantly streaming (the banners).
The outstanding pixel art was the first thing that gripped me. The character model of the decapitated protagonist, the prisoner, is well designed; tall, slender, and graceful. The animations are fluid and add personality, even humor (wait until he flips you the bird). The stages are varied beginning with the prison. You'll traverse sewers, castle walls, and even fishing villages. The color palettes for each stage are varied and feel different from any place you've been before.

These sewers don't have sharks, but they do have scorpions!

Combat is fast, fluid, and smooth as glass. There are a variety of different weapons, from swords to bear traps, that let you fight in a myriad of different ways. Even with a lot of enemies on the screen and effects taking place the frame rate never fell. The controls are also precise. Even when double jumping through wide spaces I felt like I had control over where my character would land. Barrel rolling through enemies, throwing traps, and blocking with a shield all happened when I wanted them to.

Like any good roguelike once you die it's back to the beginning. Your mass of goop of a character will spawn back in the prison. The layout of the stages will change from the previous run. The only thing you'll keep is certain bonuses that you can buy from the collector, like the ability to use potions, or runes that you'll collect from killing minibosses, one of the earliest is a rune that allows you to grow vines to climb to higher areas. As you unlock these runes you'll also open up the ability to access different stages. Instead of going through a promenade you can cut through the sewers.

Mixing it up with the undead in prison.

You'll have competing interests as you progress through a stage. If you kill the bad guys you'll earn cells and coins. You can buy better weapons with the money. You can buy bonuses from the collector with the cells. As you make your way through a stage you don't have to kill the enemies, you pass by them and press on. The reason this is important is that some doors are locked on timers. Typically there is a lot of items stored in those rooms so you have to decide is it worth skipping enemies in hopes of finding one of these rooms or do you want to farm bad guys for gold? You can also discover plans for powerful weapons as drops from enemies that you then turn into the collector and have to unlock with cells. This sense of micro progression in each successive run keeps you invested each time you die even if you don't make it all the way to the end.

What Dead Cells lacks in story it makes up for in character. From the prisoner to the enemies to the NPC's you'll meet along the way. The game is gorgeous, the protagonist handles like a finely tuned machine, and the system never feels like it cheats you when you die. It is a solid platformer and a great roguelike.

Score 9/10 The game is Fantastic!

A review copy of Dead Cells for the XBox One was provided by Motion Twin's PR team.

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