I ran out of battery.
As of writing, I’m taking a break from playing Dead Cells on Switch after 4-hours straight sitting on the lounge, and staring at that screen. My neck hurts, I’m dehydrated, but holy shit do I want to keep playing Dead Cells? After a few hours of playing the game on the PC, I was concerned about making the switch (get it?) to my portable dream baby; could I be bothered starting from scratch? Would it perform well? The answers: Yes, and yes, but with a minor grievance. Dead Cells, is one of two games – the other being God of War – that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about on release. Here’s why I think that Dead Cells is virtually a perfect game so far.
Look, you can find countless reviews online (plagiarised, or otherwise), and they’re all going to tell you what Dead Cells is. This article is not about that, but I’ll give you a generic sentence that sums it up: Dead Cells is a rogue-like that adapts Metroidvania elements in a ‘partly’ procedurally generated series of levels. There you go.
First things first, and this goes out to you, Lawn, don’t be afraid of the word ‘Metroidvania’! This game is more a display of combat rather than any environmental puzzle-like elements. There is a constant throughline across each level that is incredibly easy to follow. You go straight, and there are smaller paths along the way that might have a goody, or will require a new ability to progress through (presumably to another goody). This design, accompanied by a litany of teleporters means that it’s impossible for you to get lost, though, it also entices you with the risk-reward of exploration!
It seems as though the Metroidvania-style abilities that you unlock were put in the game so that there was something else to give the game its character, beyond the combat. The brilliant thing is though, the light Metroidvania elements play a tremendous role in keeping the game fresh. They subtly reveal new paths and lead you to encounter new enemies and blueprints.
JUST when you think it’s starting to get a bit stale, they reveal a new environment that, although still pixelated, presents its own sense of character that matches the theme. Up in the ramparts? You’ll be traipsing along scaffoldings and bridges suspended above high falls. In a fisherman town? Get ready to enter buildings rather than finding secrets underground.
Then they throw a fucking Roadhog-type enemy at you that hurls a hook to reel you in. On the face of it, the additions don’t seem like a huge deal, but it’s the environment, combination of enemies, and variety of weapons you have at your disposal that make everything feel so God damn fresh.
I know what you’re here for though, you want me to talk about the combat, and I’ll gladly oblige. Dead Cells feels about as tight as a toddler’s swimming rashie on Dwayne Johnson – real tight. It isn’t just the responsiveness of the abilities and attacks – although that is part of it – no, everything in Dead Cells feels so perfectly and meticulously designed to make sure you ALWAYS feel in control.
Animation canceling on the roll, rhythmic attack animations, no collision damage when running through enemies, and big telegraphed strikes. On top of mechanical perfection, there’s an enormous amount of weapons to find, each with their own strength and variability to mix-match with other items. Comboing between each ability is so fluid, and you’re encouraged to find a play style that suits you best. The more tantalising thing is, I’ve barely scratched the surface.
For posterity’s sake, I will reassure those of you concerned, that progression has been very steady and well-paced over the last 6~ hours that I’ve played. I’m not only getting more cool and interesting stuff, but my skill level is improving at a rate of knots. Though, here’s a few pointers that took me a little while to figure out:
- If you pick up a blueprint and infuse cells with it through the collector: It gives you the item then and there, but also adds it to the selection of items that will drop/spawn throughout the levels.
- Once you have expended your cells on the blueprint to add it to your collection, you can then upgrade an ability that chooses from you collected weapons to give to you at the beginning of a run.
- The challenge mode (clock door) unlocks after you defeat the first boss.
Now, I’ve heard tell that maybe the Switch version doesn’t perform as well as the other consoles. Whilst I can’t really disagree with that assessment, it hasn’t affected my play time AT ALL. Even in pretty hectic places, I haven’t really noticed a slowdown. Though, that could be because my senses are deceived by the smaller screen. There’s also been a VERY rare case of sometimes my inputs not being recognised, but it’s happened so rarely that it could very well have been a ‘me’ thing.
Developer, Motion Twin, has stated that they’re aware the FPS drops a bit in some places (40-50). However, unless the fan base is noticeably frustrated at the performance, they will prioritise the first batch of free DLC before jumping back on optimisation issues.
Just pick up Dead Cells. That is unless you hate combat, 2-D platforming, or pixel-graphics. Check the video embedded in this article for a brief first impression, presented by myself and Lawn to see if you might be in for the ride.