Dead Cells: Our Original, In-Depth Review

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Dead Cells is an action-adventure 2-D platformer marketing itself as a “roguevania,” claiming to feature elements found in both roguelites (“lite” versions of roguelikes) and metroidvanias. Like most roguelites, Dead Cells spotlights procedural generation, permadeath, and a high level of difficulty. But the game’s metroidvania-like features aren’t as prominent as you might think. While exploration is rewarding, the capacity to backtrack is quite limited, and levels must be conquered in a linear way. Even so, Dead Cells makes for an excellent roguelite, and we’re excited to share our thoughts on this long-awaited indie title.

Dead Cells markets itself as a "roguevania," featuring elements of roguelites and metroidvanias.
Dead Cells markets itself as a “roguevania,” featuring elements of roguelites and metroidvanias.

Before reading further, please know that our review attempts to (shallowly) explain certain aspects of Dead Cells’ gameplay, which go unexplained in the game itself since it doesn’t offer a tutorial or built-in hints. If you want to experience Dead Cells as it’s intended to be played (by learning how things work through trial and error), we suggest skipping through most of our review so that you can play the game with no expectation of what you might find therein. However, we expect that most readers will appreciate gaining a bit of insight into what they might face in Dead Cells, which is why we’re (shallowly) explaining the basic gameplay in the first place.

The Prisoner, standing in the dungeon where he was presumably executed.
The Prisoner, standing in the dungeon where he was presumably executed.

Play as the corpse of a beheaded prisoner animated by a slimy-looking cluster of dead cells. (The cells also provide a “head” in the form of a smoking flame.) Work through a massive and sprawling castle, starting in its dreary prison and ending in its tallest towers. Battle hordes of enemies, collect drops and hidden items (like blueprints, scrolls, and dead cells), and discover bits of lore—but don’t expect much of a story from Dead Cells, since that’s not the focus of this game.

The platforming and combat in Dead Cells moves at lightning speed.
The platforming and combat in Dead Cells moves at lightning speed.

Instead, Dead Cells focuses on its gameplay, characterized by lightning-speed platforming and hack-and-slash combat against tough enemies. Succeeding in Dead Cells requires a mastery of its controls, and you’ll need to get through several practice runs to develop muscle memory in response to enemy combat patterns. Combat in Dead Cells is enhanced by a diverse range of strategies available to you, since the game’s large variety of weapons and sub-weapons can be combined in almost endless ways. Some weapons and sub-weapons are available at the start of a run, but others must be unlocked by pairing found blueprints with dead cells. Unlocking a weapon with blueprints and dead cells allows it to spawn during your run.

These jars contain items and weapons that have been unlocked with blueprints and dead cells. The clear jars represent weapons and items that have yet to be unlocked.
These jars contain items and weapons that have been unlocked with blueprints and dead cells. The clear jars represent weapons and items that have yet to be unlocked.

Other drops and finds include money, which lets you buy items and weapons at shops, and scrolls, which upgrade your HP and weapons. Weapons are color-coded, and so are their scroll-powered upgrades. Red stands for brutality, green for survival, and purple for tactics. It’s a good idea to upgrade the color of weapon that’s most prominent in your inventory. For example, if you find yourself with lots of red “brutality” weapons, you may want to upgrade your brutality when a scroll gives you that option, since you’ll maximize your benefit from the upgrade. In addition to scroll upgrades, you can also play around with mutations, which help to further customize your strategy. For example, some mutations give you health when you kill enemies, while other mutations reward you for using combos during combat.

Dead Cells' visuals are eye candy for fans of retro-style roguelites and metroidvanias.
Dead Cells’ visuals are eye candy for fans of retro-style roguelites and metroidvanias.

Dead Cells also places sharp focus on its brilliant graphics, which remind us of the art styles found in Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (albeit with a slightly modern twist). As you play, you’ll encounter a surprising variety of environments designed with a wide range of vivid color schemes, all contained within one massive castle. The graphic design of enemies isn’t as varied as we might have hoped, but at the same time, a greater variety of enemy designs means a greater variety of enemy combat styles, which would have made this already-super-difficult game even harder. We did experience frame rate issues, which the developers have addressed, and there’s a plan in the works for a patch. But the frame rate issues are only game-breaking for those who are sensitive to frame drops, and if that describes you, then you may want to wait for a patch before buying Dead Cells on Switch.

Frame rate drops sometimes happen—but not in this GIF!
Frame rate drops sometimes happen—but not in this GIF!

Dead Cells’ sound design is another aesthetic strength, blending foreboding music with immersive sound effects. And these sound effects aren’t just for aesthetics, since they often offer auditory cues that help you react to enemy combat patterns. For example, the stretching sound of an enemy’s bow and arrow being readied tells you to roll in order to avoid taking damage. But other sound effects do seem to be included for aesthetic enhancement, like the “whoosh” you hear when wielding your sword and the “crunch” you hear when crashing down on enemies. Dead Cells’ soundscape is just as impressive as its visual style, and the combination of both is sure to provide an immersive sensory experience.

See how high you can climb in Dead Cells today!

See how high you can climb in Dead Cells today! Is Dead Cells a Nintendeal? We think so, especially if you’re a roguelite fan. The game is definitely worth $25, especially with the replayability on offer. The ability to fine-tune your combat strategy with endless combinations of weapons and sub-weapons makes Dead Cells accessible for almost all players. Plus, weapons and items unlocked through blueprints and dead cells are unlocked for all future runs, so permadeath doesn’t mean all progress is lost. The more you play, the more items and weapons you’ll unlock, providing an increasing pool of resources to make you a better player. Practice, patience, and time help you grow in Dead Cells, and as you gradually improve your skills, you’ll feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment.

Platform – Nintendo Switch eShop Download
Publisher – Motion Twin
Developer – Motion Twin
Price – $24.99
Genre – Action, Platformer
Size – 445 MB

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