There is an argument that can be made that independent studios are crafting experiences on par with Triple-A titles. That’s not to say the production values are comparable, they are working on a tighter budget, but these indie developers counter these restrictions by being creative in regards to their gameplay and its reflected in the final product. I got into indie gaming late, it started with Bastion, but I wasn’t fully invested until the release of Journey. Now, I view these indie titles in a different light and applaud those small development teams for these memorable experiences.
(Credit to Motion Twin)
Sometimes a title will be released in which an hour of gameplay can quickly turn into four hours. Productivity will decrease because the gameplay is so addicting that it feels like you were putting in no time at all. This is exactly how it feels when you play Dead Cells. Released in Early Access in 2017, Dead Cells is a metroidvania title with rogue-like elements, strong production values, and soulsborne gameplay. It’s challenging, addictive, and incredibly charming for a game with a macabre motif. If you die at all during a playthrough, you will start from the beginning. Your inventory and stats reset completely, putting you back at square one. Dungeons are randomly generated so you cannot rely on memory to get past a difficult section.
While this will be offputting for some, the sense of progression in Dead Cells is so good that I dont mind using different tactics to replay certain areas. There are a number of hidden areas that are only accessible if you acquire certain abilities. These abilities are only uncovered by exploring the dungeon. Some require you to be quick as there are doors that lock after a certain period of time. To fully prepare yourself for one of Dead Cells difficult boss battles, you need to acquire upgrades that can only be found during combat and exploration.
This is a title that requires careful consideration when it comes to the selection of weapons and abilities. Players will have access to two weapons and two active abilities. These can either be bought or acquired during encounters. Each weapon and ability comes with their own unique buffs and as you progress, currency can be used to re-roll their properties. Be warned though, you can completely nerf a weapon based on these re-rolls and it becomes more expensive the more times you do it.
Players can also invest souls into unlocking passive abilities, such as using a health potion twice or reviving with a certain number of currency, but you are limited into what will be activated. It’s a system that forces you to prioritize what’s important. For myself, it was health regeneration upon kills and ensuring I had an extra life. There are so many unlockable blueprints that it makes combat and exploration worth the risk of dying.
My favorite aspect of Dead Cells are the boss fights. There are only four encounters in the game but each are relentless. My favorite is the Assassin, primarily due to their overall speed and the variety in attacks. When they get brought down to around half health, players need to be practically flawless because these bosses do an incredibly amount of damage and will give you no time to heal. The Assassin in particular will dash across the screen and then try to grapple you, if it connects, it can kill you in one hit. Like Dark Souls and Bloodborne, there is a sense of accomplishment when you defeat a boss in Dead Cells.
2018 is shaping up to be a particularly strong year in gaming with so many titles exceeding the expectations of the community. Dead Cells might get overlooked because it’s an indie title and it was released in the summer. But that shouldn’t deter people from playing this excellent title. You can play it for short bursts if you like, but I doubt you’ll be able to put it down after the first hour. This is the metroidvania that you’ve been looking for, don’t hesitate, pick it up now.