Publisher: Motion Twin
Developer: Motion Twin
Genre: Action Platformer (Roguelike)
Reviewed On: Xbox One
Available On: Xbox One, Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows
Dead Cells is difficult. The new title from French developer and (self-described anarcho-syndicalists) Motion Twin, is much more difficult than any game I’ve ever played. I originally missed the boat for the ‘Soulsbourne’ games (those games in the Souls series, and those that sought to mimic their success), and despite the rave reviews FromSoftware has received, I’ve never felt the need to bash my skull against that particular wall. Dead Cells, however, has revealed the joy in repeated head trauma to me, because I can’t stop playing. I’ve put so many hours into this game, I’m not sure my corneas will ever be the same. As I write this, I’m experiencing a headache that feels like there’s sand behind my eyes and it’s tearing my optical nerve apart. Despite this, I keep playing because I’ve got to beat this game.
I still haven’t done it.
Now, before anyone starts questioning my journalistic integrity (looking at you, Filip Miucin), I have played most of it. I’ve made it to the final boss, who promptly murdered the crap out of me, and have visited most of the biomes (Dead Cell’s term for its various levels). And even though I haven’t beat it yet, I’m still torturing myself in order to make even the most meager amount of progress. So, I guess you could say I’m a fan.
This game pulls inspiration from tried and true gaming traditions. Its own Steam store description lists it as a “rogue-lite, Metroidvania inspired, action-platformer” with “2D souls-lite combat.” If that sounds like internally referential, industry specific jargon, it’s because it absolutely is. Motion Twin is referencing a handful of games that have been monumentally influential in the industry, but essentially this description is saying that Dead Cells is 2D platformer with procedurally generated maps, random loot, permanent death, and combat involving dodge-rolls.
The difficulty of this game comes through what Motion Twin describes as “tough but fair combat”. Though 2D combat isn’t generally difficult in and of itself, the game offers you many varied challenges to overcome. Each enemy has unique attacks and abilities, and though all of their behaviors can be predicted, the game does an excellent job of grouping them in such a way that forces you to think through your options and react extremely quickly. Despite their claims of fairness, this can get a bit overwhelming when there are enemies that can attack you through walls or from off-screen (though the age-old video game adage of “git gud” will often serve you well enough). In addition to that, there are very few ways to heal yourself after making a mistake, and the permanent death mechanic erases all of your progress. When that happens (when, not if, because you’re going to definitely going to die), you find yourself living Motion Twin’s tagline; Kill, Die, Learn, Repeat.
This may sound like