Developer: Motion Twin
Publisher: Motion Twin, Playdigious, Merge Games

This review is pretty easy. Do you like Castlevania/Metroid type games, but feel they are lacking a certain Dark Souls sadism? Well then, Dead Cells is for you.

<editor note: This review references ‘Dark Souls’ numerous times. If you are unfamiliar, Dark Souls is notorious for being one of the ‘hardest’ games to play, nevermind ‘beat’. It can be done, but not by most mortals.>

At a quick glance, this might be perceived as just another derivative platformer knockoff. However, after spending some hours with Dead Cells, it’s obvious the developers are paying tribute, rather than ripping off, the well worn retro-platformer genre.

Initial impressions of the graphics date it to the golden age of Sega, but there is an intricate and unique 3D pixelated style that allows this game to stand on its own artistic merits.

That said, the comparisons to other games is hard to miss. The map is so similar to Castlevania type maps, it has to have been done on purpose.

The major difference between this game and its predecessors, is the rogue-like mechanic of permadeath. (Rogue-like refers to a sub-genre of video games that is typified by procedurally generated dungeons and a death that results in starting back at the very beginning).

The tag line for the game is: “Kill. Die. Learn. Repeat.”.

They should probably spell REPEAT in all caps. Because that is what you will do many times. These games are geared to that particular uber-nerd of a gamer who considers himself above and beyond the challenges posed by traditional games. These are the people who go back after beating a game, and set the difficulty as high as possible and wade through it all again just for the challenge.

The hard-core gamer in me respects the formidable task of trying to beat any rogue-like, but the repetition just kills it after awhile. There are about 9 different ‘levels’ one needs to complete to beat this game. There are 13 different levels total, but there are multiple paths so you don’t have to beat EVERY level. The last 3 levels are all boss battles. Each area takes roughly 20 minutes (although that will significantly drop after you’ve played the level 163 times), so by the time you get to the bosses, you have invested too many hours to get there. Only to be stomped on because you haven’t figured out the boss patterns yet…. and back to the beginning you go.

This is me looking the wrong way as usual.

If there was any kind of save spot before the bosses, this would be a fun challenge to beat. As is, rogue-likes get less fun the more you play it. After repeating the first levels 20 times, you start of get the feeling of being ‘over it’.

I am sure the satisfaction of beating this game is quite high, but it’s too far offset by the repetitive grind. But you WILL get good at those first levels.

I made it to the first of the end three bosses two times. On the third run, I chose a different path just to break up the monotony. However, that level had like a poisonous evil gas that would drain your health unless you stood next to the sporadically placed ‘lights’ that would protect you. And since the dungeons are all procedural (meaning, they are different each time), trying to gain any advantage with repeated plays is lost. And that was the deal breaker for me. It’s one thing to have a boss kick my ass, but to place me in a level that just drains my health, in a game with permadeath, is so far beyond ‘challenging’ that it’s just cruel.

 

Dead Souls, I mean, Dead Cells does have a leveling mechanic that keeps any investments you made with previous lives. So even if you die a lot, you will be grinding towards a more powerful character. The idea being, even if you suck, you should be able to grind your character to the point where the game becomes a little more player friendly. Attempts are made to break up the repetition (like weapon and treasure drops that change with each game and the dungeons are slightly different for each run), but they do little to stave off the ‘been here/done that’ vibe that soon settles upon the player.

It’s too bad the game felt the need to appeal to just the hardest of the hardcore gamers. With a little compassion for the player (or perhaps a setting that allowed a limited number of saves), this game would be very popular to the afore-mentioned Castlevania/Metroid fans.

In its current form, it’s just going to piss you off.

Verdict: Play only if you are a sadistic bastard who thinks Dark Souls is for noobs.