Learning Through Perpetual Failure – Dead Cells Review


Brian Wu, Staff Writer

Dead Cells, the newest release of studio Motion Twin’s collection of games, is a 2D action platformer that had been stuck in early access for over a year. With the first early access edition popping up on Steam on May tenth, 2017, the game has gained a notable amount of fame due to its difficult nature. I picked up the game on Steam a couple of weeks before school started, and was not expecting the same quality and polish as I had seen playing other games of similar difficulty like Dark Souls and Bloodborne. However, the game more than exceeded my expectations. After already beating the game three times and failing countless other runs, I’ve learned that Dead Cells works on a different basis than the other games that I’ve played of a  similar genre. Though Dead Cells is far from perfect, it shows amazing potential, and I can’t wait to see what it will become as Motion Twin continuously updates and improves the game.

The first thing that catches a newcomer’s attention when first firing up the game is the art style that the game consistently displays. Calling it pixel art would be appropriate, but Motion Twin’s animators have done such a great job at creating unique characters and enemy designs that I often find myself looking forward to the next sprite. The animation is something that is extremely well-crafted as well. Many pixel art games animate their characters either sluggishly or with blockish movement. Dead Cells’s animation could not be further from this stereotype. Every action, from the idle animations of your character to the large and intimidating wind up of enemy attacks, is smooth and shows weight appropriately. The levels are all created beautifully, with differences in themes that allow you to follow the character’s journey The changing of colors make the game far more enjoyable and unique than if it had only used a set palette the entire way through. The overarching visual theme of rot and decay permeate throughout the game, reminiscent of games like Dark Souls and Hollow Knight; however, Dead Cells’s pixel art style and the usage of neon colors make the game refreshingly unique visually. The audio design of the game is superb as well. The music, while not having the most extensive soundtrack at the moment, still carries some catchy melodies and tunes. Dead Cells will leave you wishing for more, though when more will come remains unknown.

The largest portion of Dead Cells is focused on the combat and mechanics of this game. Dead Cells’s combat, at its simplest, revolves around attack and counter-attack, not unlike the combat of the prior-mentioned Souls games. However, being that Dead Cells is on two dimensions and the fact that another similar game, Hollow Knight, was already gathering widespread fame, Motion Twin had to do something to set their game apart. The resulting system makes the game extremely replayable, unique, and extraordinarily fun to play. Dead Cells’s map is procedurally generated with a few set pieces. Most levels are built in a different way, and some levels come with their own mechanics like poison water. Each level is unique, differing from both its previous runs and from other levels. Weapon variation is an integral part of the game, as each weapon is unique and carries its own usage and viability. You can only get these weapons by slaying monsters and hoping for one to drop the weapon blueprint. After that, you must invest currency in the blueprint to eventually unlock the weapon. The weapons you start with, the drops, and the blueprints you find in your run are all randomized and completely left to chance. As a result, each run is completely different from the last, and I often find myself repeating the phrase “one more run” in my head when I lose.

The enemies are relentless in their attacks, and more than one mishap will end in a quick trip back to the start. However, the game never felt unfair. The movement in Dead Cells is well-done and makes you much faster than your enemies, letting you dodge through most attacks if you are skilled enough. The highlight of the combat is definitely the four current bosses. These bosses are more of a challenge than your average enemy, and I know some people who have invested hours and not gotten past the first boss. Overall, the boss combat and second-to-second combat is exciting and intense. Each death doesn’t make me frustrated, but instead more motivated to beat the game. Some of the most enjoyable weapons are actually unlocked after initially beating the boss. Even after completing the game and unlocking every perk and weapon, there is still an NG+ system called Boss Cells. You receive a Boss Cell for beating the game when you have the most amount of Boss Cells equipped. Each time you obtain a Boss Cell you will be able to access to another NG level. This new level increases enemy health and damage, and also means that you can find higher quality items and blueprints. Compared to games like Celeste and Hollow Knight with a set map, Dead Cells beats them in replayability by spades.

Unfortunately, there is a downside to the current build of the game: its length. Dead Cells, with a single run, takes around 20-50 minutes to complete. Now for those who are new to the game, they will not complete it on their first run and will find at least twenty or so hours of enjoyment. But for people that have been playing since the beta, running through the levels is easy and makes the game horrifyingly short. Though the enemies are well-made, their AI leaves something to be desired save for the bosses with custom AI. Finding weapon blueprints is fun, but once all are found nothing much is left to do. In its current state, Dead Cells is far too short, leading to another problem with the replayable nature of Dead Cells: the enemies’ difficulty. The variety of enemies, even though the enemies that do exist are well-made and designed, after ten to twenty runs, they start to seem mundane and easily beatable. The enemy variability throughout the entire game as a whole is generally lacking. Though this isn’t a major problem as the game is still in v1.0, those who have been playing since day one will find nothing new with the release.

Despite its flaws, Dead Cells’s beautiful visual and audio design is detailed and well-crafted. The slew of hidden mechanics and features, not to mention the large collection of unlockable weapons, kept me playing for longer than I would like to admit. The amount of content within the game is low at the moment, but the procedural generation of the levels keeps the game fresh and exciting for some time. I rate this game an 8.5/10 and eagerly await the next update.