Also On: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Publisher: Merge Games
Developer: Motion Twin
It?s strange to say it?s been 2 years since I first laid eyes on this title. It was PAX East 2016 and it was also the first PAX East which fellow editor Benny Rose attended. At this time he was making a soft pitch for me to start contributing to Gaming Age. Being someone who is relatively aloof and non-committal I wasn?t really interested but humored his attempts nonetheless. Part of his pitch was to invite me to tag along on some of the meetings he had booked for the show. At one such meeting he had insisted that I try the title because of my fondness for Metroid-vania style games, so this was where I first played Dead Cells. I had a relatively positive reaction to the title and didn?t think much of it until gaming site Giant Bomb covered the game?s early access launch. Remembering my session at PAX East, I put down the team?s asking price and purchased the title. Due to my underpowered PC (Shout out to the HP Touchsmart AIO, which wasn?t too weak to type this review), I played the game briefly and possibly for the last time.
Flash forward to closing weeks of July 2018, I have been a contributor to Gaming Age for a little under six months (The soft pitch eventually worked, your persistence paid off, eh Benny?). I receive an email indicating that Dead Cells is finally leaving Early Access and is launching on other platforms. As someone who already owned the title on PC, I wanted to pick a different platform. The Nintendo Switch made the most sense since it was seemingly the only platform I could get games for on the site (Damn, pecking order!). Little did I know this would work out so well…
Motion Twin is a French gaming studio based in Bordeaux which have been in existence since 2011. Primarily a mobile games studio, Dead Cells marks the first time the studio has released a title for computers and consoles. Starting with an early access release in 2017, the studio took feedback from early access players and fine-tuned the experience. The game finally saw a full release in August of 2018 and it also released on the three major consoles.
Dead Cells has you controlling an unkillable moss-like mass that inhabits a very killable headless body. The character dubbed ?The Prisoner? isn?t really given a grand quest. In fact you?re just exploring this mysterious island which hints at the fact it had a normal populace, but is now full of creatures that will attack you on sight. Killing these creatures can net you blueprints and cells, the latter can be used to build the designs in the former. Once built these items will be now randomly available in your travels. You?ll definitely need all items can get your hands on to survive.
Survival is purely on you, the player. The controls are extremely responsive. Enemies have definable patterns which a skilled player can pick apart. As you unlock more equipment you can cater your playstyle to your liking. Swords and Shield only? No problem. Archer? Sounds good, just pay attention to your ammo. Want to drop traps and lure enemies to their doom, my man that?s just the way I like to do it, just mind the cooldown.
That withstanding you will die…a lot. Dying however isn?t the end. As stated previously, while the body is killable, the prisoner?s head is not. It will make its way back to the prison to find another corpse to inhabit. Any blueprints and cells which were not ?banked? at the areas between stages are lost. A portion of your money is also lost. Unlike other titles which employs this type of punishment upon death, Dead Cells doesn?t given you the opportunity to recover your lost spoils as the stages reconfigure upon death. So if you got some good stuff and you?re near death, maybe play it safe and avoid combat and find an exit as quick as possible.
The title also has a daily challenge mode which pits the player to complete a static map within 3 minutes. The map is sprawling enough that you can?t possibly explore every inch of it AND kill the boss to end the challenge, but completing these challenges will unlock blueprints for the main game so these daily maps are worth tackling (It should be noted I was only able to unlock 1 reward, despite the game saying more can be unlocked, but maybe additional rewards are not available pre-launch).
Despite the shear amount of randomness to the title, Motion Twin leaves the plenty of choice in their time with this title. If you choose to rush through each stage, you can be rewarded with a time sensitive door filled with Cells and money. If you want to kill every enemy before you move on you can also do that and net just the same amount of rewards. If you know a path will take you to a boss character you don?t like, you are more than welcomed to take an alternate path that would skip the encounter entirely. Player choice can also doom you as I had a run where I had chosen to open a cursed chest, only to discover there were not enough enemies to kill to dispel the curse and my next destination was a boss room.
The portability of the Switch port will probably make it my preferred version until the PC version develops a robust mods scene. During my time with this game, having it on a portable platform in my bag made it easy to duck out and get in a quick run, or even continue a run that had to be interrupted. Not having to wait ?til one returned home to complete a run is definitely is gives the switch version greater value in the scheme of things.
Skipping Dead Cells while it was in early access and waiting for it to appear on the Switch might have been unintentionally the smartest thing I did with this title. Avoiding all the bumps and hiccups that came with early access and being able to play it on the go (As long as the Switch battery held up). Given the game?s structure will usually lead to short playthroughs, these short sessions won?t feel that empty and with the amount of unlockables means I?ll playing for quite the while before all the empty jars in the opening area are filled. With this summer having other similar platformers releasing (La-Mulana 2, Iconoclasts, Chasm, Salt and Sanctuary, Death?s Gambit, and Guacamelee 2), Dead Cells definitely will hold its own and it will be in contention to be one of 2018?s finest.
Note: Merge Games provided us with a Dead Cells Nintendo Switch code for review purposes.