I want to preface this entire Early Access review by saying I am not a fan of this kind of system usually. I’ve only every bought into a few Kickstarters and Early Access games on Steam. My reasoning is that many games sometimes don’t see the light of day and get stuck in development hell. One example is Starbound, an amazing 2D game that blends action, platforming, exploration, and building elements together. However, the game is just about to come out of early access after nearly four years. Then there’s ARK which is charging for DLC for an incomplete game. The benefits for devs is that they can basically get a free test market for the game and make it easier to find bugs if the community gives feedback. It’s my opinion that there are more bad points such as games that never come out, or games that fail on their promises.
Okay, enough of that rant. Dead Cells was on my radar when the initial reveal trailer hit sometime in January of this year. Though, due to the fact it was on Early Access I kind of stayed away the first few days of release. An old friend eventually convinced me to pick it up seeing as the genre is something I do enjoy.
I’ll also go ahead and make this easy on anyone who doesn’t want to read this entire review. If you like Castlevania style games and you like rougelikes, then do yourself a favor and head over to Steam and pick this up right now. It’s worth every penny in its current state and warrants a purchase if you like the aforementioned genres.
As I stated, this game is very much in the vein of Castlevania. Some would probably use the term “Metroidvania”, but considering the rougelike elements and the overall linear nature of the game it might be better to just call it a Castlevania-like.
You start out in a prison cell where you’re greeted by another adventurer that tells you a little about your situation. You’re dead, but you pretty much can’t die and you can keep challenging the castle(?) over and over. You’re given a simple melee weapon that does very little damage. As you start your first (of no doubt many) run you’ll quickly obtain blueprints and cells dropped by enemies that are used to upgrade and make weapons/sub-weapons. Between each map transition you’re greeted by a…a something, I have no idea what it is. It’s basically some creeper that wants your cells for some reason or another, seems pretty foreboding to me. Note that if you die before this transition, you will lose all cells and blue prints collected in that current map. During this time before stages you will also be able to refill your health flask as well as fill your current bar.
Currently there are 11 maps, two of which are very small because they house the only 2 current bosses in the game. There’s a little bit of variety to each of these maps and the pixel art is gorgeous. The only maps that are kinda carbon copies of each other are the “Toxic Sewers” and the “Old Sewers”. Each generally provide varied enemy types specific to those areas and force you to reassess your approach a little.
As most rougelikes are, it almost goes without saying there is a bit of a difficulty curve here. However, the controls are pretty tight and include a dodge roll that you should basically be using ALL the time. When you die it usually seems pretty fair. There are pickups in game, that disappear after death, that boost your health, attack, and sub-weapon strength and recharge time. You start with one recharge of your estus…I mean health flask, and can currently upgrade it to 4 in the current build of the game. You also eventually unlock the ability to keep up to 85% of your money as well. Which, speaking of money, there are random shops in each stage to buy accessories, weapons, upgrades, and sub-weapons from. There are also chests littered throughout some maps that sometimes give you good stuff from money to weapons. There are also chests that have a face that curse you but generally give you something okay. In order to lift the cure you must kill 10 enemies. It sounds easy, but one hit kills you during the time you’re cursed.
Another nice thing the game does to kind of help you is that weapons and sub-weapons often come with modifications. For example, my main weapon might do extra damage to enemies on fire, so if I find a fire bomb as my sub-weapon I can starting doling out major damage. This is just one of many many examples but it really makes you consider picking up weapons and items that you might not normally use in a run. There are also a couple of other attacks, such as dropping down from above by doing a dive attack, or attacking a door and subsequently stunning enemies within range behind it. One other thing the game does to help you during combat is that all enemies that are about to attack you will have an exclamation mark appear over their heads.
Last but not least is the support the current level of support the game is getting. The game recently released the “Elemental Update” which, like the name implies, let’s elements work in tandem with the environment. For example, if I’m standing in water and use my lightning whip it electrifies the water dealing extra damage to enemies in the water. Also in this update I noticed some chests started to release enemies instead of giving up something good. Other small tweaks were made, but they don’t often release patch notes. They recently said they’re listening to the community and will begin doing patch notes because the community seems to be quite involved for this title.
In the end if you enjoyed games like Rouge Legacy and the previously mentioned games/genres, please do yourself (and Motion Twin) and go ahead and pick it up. For the price it’s going at now (15 bucks), even if they didn’t add much too it, it’s still worth it for what’s there. Considering how much support it’s already gotten since it’s release in May, I’d be surprised if Motion Twin just dropped it. Though I remember that time I got burned by Cube World…