In the world of indie games, the two most commonly used genres are roguelikes and Metroidvanias, but what happens when you combine these two styles? What you get is Dead Cells, a roguelike Metroidvania with some slight speedrunning elements, on top of wonderful gameplay, level design, and art style.
Dead Cells has the perfect setup that lends itself to the combination of the genres it borrows from. You play as a headless soldier who is trying to escape an ever-changing castle labyrinth for reasons that the protagonist doesn’t understand. I am usually one to not enjoy when a game relies on randomly generated levels, but Dead Cells does something special by making each playthrough quick and unique, with a large variety of enemy types and item drops.
Gameplay consists of platforming, combat, and collecting dead cells. Platforming is pretty simple, just climbing around dungeons and castle scenery. Combat, on the other hand, is rather strategic, as you collect different weapons like bows, swords, and traps. All of the armaments are colored coded between red, purple, and green, representing brutality, tactics, and survival, respectively. These weapon skills can be upgraded by power scrolls scattered throughout the world, but the benefits of them are only effective for the current playthrough. While there are a plethora of power-ups to collect, the main items of interest are dead cells, which are the main currency. You’ll use them to unlock new item drops and permanent upgrades, such as health potion capacity and restarting a playthrough with gold. Gameplay flow is seamless and with the use of random weapon and item drops, every trip through each section feels fresh and I thoroughly enjoyed starting every new playthrough.
Levels are well designed and sectioned out in a way that there are plenty of opportunities to spend dead cells and refill potions. This also lends itself to being a game for speedrunning, by providing extra dead cells and weapons for quickly reaching certain milestones via doors serving as time checkpoints. I found myself enjoying the choice to play this game fast to collect the bonuses for speeding through a level or taking a more methodical approach to finding every item in a dungeon. That one added touch, to me, made me want to keep playing, just to see what kind of items and areas I could discover through each approach.
The art style is wonderful and invokes memories of Symphony of the Night. Unique enemy designs are beautiful, whether it be a standard archer or insects. They look disturbing, yet vibrant. The levels themselves range from sewers to castle ramparts and look quite dynamic, ranging from dark and sickly to vibrant skylines. This pixelated style is glorious and detailed and compliments the rest of the game.
Dead Cells, is simply a must-have title that nobody should miss. This game is a masterclass in roguelikes, by bringing in the Metroidvania mechanics and providing incentives for trying different styles of play. Along with the brisk level design and art style, Dead Cells is a game that I will be coming back to for years to come.