Dead Cells: A frustrating, challenging game that has me hook, line & sinker
Happy New Year to you all, dear readers. This, the first post of 2019, is the first of many this year. I hope you enjoy it.
Dead Cells, from indie developer Motion Twin, is a hard game. In fact, it is a very, very hard game, especially for an old man gamer like me!
Yet, Dead Cells is one of the most enjoyable games I’ve played in a long, long time and it has an element about it that despite you dying many times during each play through – and you will die many, many, many times – you’ll restart again, trying to go further and further each life into the rogue-lite ever-changing world that Motion Twin have created [each time you die, the dungeons are randomly generated so no two are the same, which means you can’t memorise specific paths].
The developers describe Dead Cells as a “rogue-lite, Castlevania-inspired action platformer” and many people describe Dead Cells as a metroidvania-like game but I’m not sure it is, really. Sure, there is a little bit of back tracking as you find the right path to the exit door that will lead you to the next level but by my understanding, metroidvania-like games limit access to other parts of the world by locked doors or obstacles until the player gathers specific items/tools/abilities.
Sure, there are doors in Dead Cells that are locked but they generally get unlocked by a pressure pad or similar so I’m not really sure you can class this game as a metroidvania-like, can you?
What makes Dead Cells interesting is that it has permadeath, and no in-game checkpoints, which means when you die [and again, you will die and die and die], your character gets re-incarnated at the beginning of the dungeon, fresh and ready to begin again. Let me make that clear: You don’t re-spawn at the last checkpoint, you re-spawn at the beginning. As Motion Twin says, “Kill. Die. Learn. Repeat“.
I thought long and hard before buying Dead Cells for my Nintendo Switch. I’d heard people rave about it, saying it was the best game they’d played all year, but I’d also heard about how insanely difficult it was, how unforgiving it was and how maddeningly frustrating it was at times. It sounds, though, I was wise to wait a bit to pick it up on Switch as it suffered frame rate issues at launch, which seem to have been rectified now thanks to a patch which lets you lock the frame rate.
It was a good few weeks [perhaps months?] between me thinking about buying it to me actually buying it. Ultimately, I didn’t want to buy a game that I would die constantly because, well, I suck at games like this.
I fired it Dead Cells for the first time and was proud of myself that I lasted 25 minutes to reach the second dungeon [The Promenade of the Condemned]. The foes didn’t seem too difficult and I got to grips with the controls easily enough.
“This isn’t too bad,” I said to myself. “What the feck were people talking about saying it was insanely hard?”, I said to myself. I then ran into guys with large swords and spikes that I didn’t realise drained health if I stood on them for too long [I know, right? What was I thinking?]. I died – and was transported back to the opening dungeon, having to find the new route to the next dungeon doorway.
But you know what? I didn’t curse. I didn’t scream. I didn’t turn off Dead Cells and go play Full Throttle. I continued on. I made my way through this newly generated dungeon. I was hooked.
I died within minutes, mind you: These new enemies were more brutal and tougher and smarter – One variant carried large broadswords and could telport about – but I carried on. Dying, respawning, delving deeper.The further you progress, the more secrets, weapons and abilities you unlocked. Statistically speaking, I shouldn’t like this game but I do. I like it a lot. Well done, Motion Twin, well done.
I was most pleased with myself when I found myself quite a way into the Promenade of the Condemned, entering a rather strange room that featured what appeared to be a garden variety archer. Sadly, he appeared much stronger than the others and when it seemed I had him on the ropes, he morphed into some sort of super archer and, yes, you guessed it, lopped my head off and sent me back to the start!!!
Despite me not buying Dead Cells until almost the end of 2018 – I can’t believe I waited so long to pick it up – it has turned out to be one of my favourite games of the year. Funny how that works, eh?
I’m loving the art style, too, and the intricately animated characters: Dead Cells is a damn good game that, for me, is a stand out in a year that had a fair few bloody good games.
Right, enough talk. If you’ll excuse me, I’m off to fire up Dead Cells, collect some cells and have my arse handed to me on a plate. Several times, I’m sure, but like the line in that song by Chumbawumba says, “I’ll get knocked down, but I’ll get up again …”