So I literally completed my first run today. After many hours of dying just before the final level (at least so far), I visited the High Peak Castle more times than my family. Through it’s lavish corridors and ornate walls, I mercilessly slaughtered many of the kings men. I spared all the king’s horses though. I’m not that sick. Now and then, when I could get a breather and wasn’t too tense to notice, I started to recognise certain gaming icons on the walls. Apparently the king is a fan of fantastic games. Among the elaborate decor you’ll find many portraits scattered around the castle walls. Take a closer look and you may see some familiar faces. The very first one I noticed was from the incredible game Transistor.
Among other icons, the always fabulous Solaire was doing what he loves to do. Praising the sun.
As far as I’m aware these are just references to these games and have no other impact on the game beyond aesthetic. It’s a nice touch though. The publishers, Motion Twin, clearly love video games, not only is it shown in these details, but also in their well crafted game. There are other video game references in these portraits and throughout the game but I’ll leave the rest to be found by yourself. So, next time you’re going through High Peak Castle, take in the artwork when you get the chance.
After my 20-25th death in Dead Cells, I thought I’d take a break and explain why I keep chucking myself at deaths cruel embrace. I’ve had my eye on Dead Cells for a while now but always been hesitant to fully jump on the hype train. The graphics looked amazing, the combat looked fluid and fast. It looked like a fantastic game but I kept hearing that word being thrown around, which kind of put me off it. That amalgamation of two brands, Metroidvania.
Before you brandish the pitchforks, I don’t hate those games. I prefer Metroid Prime to the 2D games though. I tend to fall off the 2D Metroid games at a quick rate. Except for Metroid Fusion, that was a brilliant game. Castlevania I haven’t really played except Castlevania on the N64 which, even in my 10 year old mind, I knew that was a dud rental. After that I never touched it again until the DS games, which I liked. But with both series there is always a point, where after hours into their respective labyrinths I think ‘Where do I go now?’. These games are designed so that you’ll find a pathway but will need a certain tool/key/skill to go that way. The problem is I always end up forgetting where that was and I just lose interest fast when I’m finding dead end after dead end. Dead Cells alleviates this issue for me by not only having a map that has pictures for my dumb brain but also by being a rogue-lite game. A fantastic one at that.
In Dead Cells you play as……….I’ve no idea actually. You are a blob that rolls into a corpse, controls that corpse and then heads off on his adventure. There isn’t much in the way of story here. It’s mostly filler text, scribblings on walls and observations your character can make. These help to fill the world but so far I don’t really know what this world is. Does that matter in a rogue-lite? Not really. There may be a story I’m missing or a reveal at the end but I’ve not even beat the game yet so I can’t explain the world. But that works in Dead Cells favour. As you control this blob controlling a body (I’m a bit of a blob myself so I know how that feels), you venture through different areas on an island, fighting your way through people and abominations. On your travels you will gather a bounty of resources including better weapons, stat boosts, blueprints for new gear, traps, money and the all important cells. Cells are the name of the game both figuratively and literally. Sure on your quest you may find a fantastic sword and astonishing bow but as soon as you die though, you lose all your gear. Cells however, are used to make your next journey easier.
As you progress and slay enemies, they will sometimes drop cells. Once you reach the end of the area you are currently in, you go to a hub between areas. Here you can retool your gear, refill on health, enhance your character through mutations (more on that later) and most importantly; spend cells on eternal upgrades. For example, on your previous area you found a blueprint for a slick looking bow. On arrival at the hub space, you speak to a character who trades cells for game wide permanent buffs. Say I had 40 cells and the new bow blueprint I found costs 30 to create and to put into the game’s rotation. I put my cells into that and unlock the bow. Now that bow can appear on all my future runs. Consider it an investment. Now I have 10 cells left. I’m sure you didn’t need me to do that math for you but there it is anyway. What to do with that spare 10? I could put it toward a sword that poisons enemies, an extra health flask on top of my other 2, a perk that allows me to carry over 3000 of my gold to my next run upon my death. There are tons of ways to increase your arsenal and better your odds on your next go. There are lots of ways to increase your chances as you play. You will come across shops, find chests with goodies inside, find cursed chests that offer tantalising surprises for those who are willing to risk it for a biscuit, secret areas and be able to utilise up to 3 mutations.
Mutations are basically buffs for that individual run. When you first start playing Dead Cells, you have a dozen of so to choose from. As you find blueprints though, you will expand that list of possibilities. Do you go attack heavy and increase your damage for 15 seconds after an enemy kill? Go defensive and increase your HP? Increase your damage when you deploy bear traps, turrets or any of the other throw-able tools? The choice is yours but the best of players will choose a mutation that combos with the gear that they have. All the above is why Dead Cells works for me. I don’t need to retain map data to know where to go. Dead Cells has branching pathways but you will always find an exit you can use. As you progress through the game you will encounter foes that once defeated, will leave a new power up for you which, will help you enter previously unreachable areas and will carry over after you die. It’s this continually satisfaction that keeps me coming back to Dead Cells. When I first played it, I couldn’t do the first area. Now I’m lasting close to an hour before getting my butt kicked. But even when I die, I know that all those cells I collected in the other areas, have all gone towards my goal of beating the game. It doesn’t matter that when I died I lost 26 cells because through the other areas I must have put over 100 cells into permanent upgrades and weapons. The more you play, the better you become. Not only that but your understanding of how the enemies fight improves. And on top of that! For all you speed runners out there. In a lot of the levels you will find doors that are only accessible if you get there within a certain time limit. Through the door you will find a stat increase, money and a stash of cells. So you always have a choice of going through the game at your own pace, or bombing it through the level like a mad man.
I realise I’ve written over 1000 words and barely said how I feel about the game. I’ll give a quick summary here but hopefully you found what I’ve described as interesting. This is a great game and thoroughly recommend you check it out. Besides its lavish environments and addictive gameplay, the one thing I love about the game is how it plays. It flows so well. It’s hard to describe except just to say that it plays really good. To compare it to another game, I would say it plays as good as Super Meat Boy. By that I mean, the sense of control and precision. The movement and combat in this game is on that level. Even when things are out of control on screen, I never feel out of control. Besides one or two times when I meant to jump down a narrow gap between two ledges. My character kept grabbing onto the ledges and pulling itself up. I died there which was annoying but on a mostly randomly generated game like this, that stuff is bound to happen. But that was a minor incident in my hours of game time. It didn’t stop me from immediately starting another run. If you’re looking for an addictive, expansive and combat heavy side scroller, look no further than Dead Cells.