Dead Cells Review

Richard Walker

Dead Cells is a curious beast. A roguelike action platformer that adheres to the glorious traditions of its genre, punishing you in kind when you screw up and get yourself killed. Often, when you kick the bucket in Dead Cells, it's entirely fair: it's your fault for not timing a parry or attempting to steam in like a madman when you haven't yet acquired the weapons or skill to take on advanced enemies.

Then there are those other times, when you take a leap off a precarious edge while running along castle ramparts, and plummet off the bottom of the screen to your demise (here's some advice: if it looks like a bottomless pit, it probably is). Still your fault, admittedly, but it doesn't really feel all that fair at the time. But then 'fairness' doesn't always factor in to the roguelike, does it? Having to start again from the very beginning of the game, shorn of all your hard-earned items, power-ups and weapons is a bitter pill to swallow time and again, but you'll come back armed with knowledge, learning your lesson and taking things easier next time.

The trouble is, being a roguelike doesn't really add much to Dead Cells. I couldn't help but feel that it would have been a far better and more enjoyable had it been a straight-up Metroidvania adventure, where you get a genuine sense of progression, because the game's core mechanics are utterly superb. From its swift hack and slash gameplay complete with handy dodge roll and timing-based parry, Dead Cells just feels completely right.

Playing as an undead bundle of slime that takes possession of a corpse each time he dies and comes back to life, death is all part of a constant cycle in Dead Cells, the only respite coming from visits to helpful characters like The Collector who takes the cells you've collected and trade them for new items and abilities. Only a handful of these are permanent, however, making the process of advancing your character and building your arsenal a slow and steady one. Deeper into the game, meanwhile, you'll be able to reforge or improve your weapons with the Blacksmith, bolstering your armoury.

Initially, you'll want to invest in health potions in order to stay alive longer, while experimenting with different mutations from corpse custodian Guillain - like a reduced cooldown on grenades, increased combo damage or the 'Ygdar Orus Li Ox' which grants you a second chance at life - add a modicum of strategy. As you progress, you'll find 'Scrolls of Power' that upgrade your brutality, tactics or survival, each being a trade-off between a percentage HP increase and a boost to each respective stat. It's all a balance, essentially, and you'll soon tailor your choices to how you play.

Since Dead Cells' various levels are procedurally-generated too, you'll never quite know what awaits ahead each time you start anew. And as you unearth and absorb runes for permanent new abilities that unlock new areas and opportunities (Metroidvania style), the paths available to you gradually expand. Runes that enable you to grow vines from blobs of goo soon give way to ones that allow you to teleport between special statues, or a ram horn rune that grants the ability to stomp through certain floors. There's even a rune to unlock Daily Challenges; time-limited stages punctuated by a tough boss battle.

All manner of little wrinkles in Dead Cells' 'RogueVania' formula crop up throughout the game too, be it deadly toadstools that can conjure spikes through any platform, environmental traps, runes embedded in the scenery that harbour hidden secrets or access to special Challenge Rifts.

When and where weapons, items and scrolls crop up is completely random too, so one run could see you stuck with a wooden shield and your default rusty blade, while another could see you strike it lucky with a gold-level Balanced Blade that has a variety of perks. Then there's the gamble that comes with treasure chests, cursed ones in particular proving tricky, as you need to dispatch ten enemies to lift the curse in exchange for loot, or risk being killed by a single hit.

It doesn't matter how far you manage to make it through Dead Cells' myriad, beautifully murky, monster-ridden levels either; die and you'll be sent right back to The Prisoners' Quarters, where your pulsating green mass is deposited to slither into a new corpse and start over. It's testament to the innate strength of Dead Cells' sharp, tight gameplay that it seldom feels like a chore repeating the same actions again and again, although after extended sessions, it's hard not to feel a sense of deja vu when you cark it for the umpteenth time.

Yes, Dead Cells can be punishing and at times, it will seem incredibly repetitive, and even stretch your patience to breaking point. But as you grow to understand the game's many intricacies and explore each level's multiple paths, Dead Cells really comes into its own, becoming one of the most enjoyable roguelike action platformers you'll have likely played in recent years. It's tough and unforgiving, yet Dead Cells is also really very good indeed.

Dead Cells

Unapologetically tough, brilliantly slick and well put together, Dead Cells is a roguelike platformer that will put you to the test. And you'll probably end up enjoying (almost) every minute of it.

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Some nice acoustic guitar riffs playing over the sound of swiping steel and monsters being dismembered in flurries of offal and arterial splatter. Nice.


Sumptuous environments and fantastic Prince of Persia-esque animation make Dead Cells a beautiful and bloody slice of retro-style, pixel art nirvana.


Frenetic and fast-paced once you're in the zone, Dead Cells' combat is sublime, marrying responsive controls and twitch gameplay brilliantly. It's hard, but compulsive.


Numerous stages to conquer, with branching paths, taxing boss battles and cool little nuggets of lore secreted around each map. You'll feel a sense of repetition at times and permadeath is a bitch. Keep your eyes peeled for the obligatory Dark Souls nod, though.


A mixture of some easy, progression-based achievements and genuinely hardcore objectives that will test even the most seasoned roguelike players. Dig in; this is a taxing 100%.

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