There's been a lot of talk about Dead Cells lately. Some of it was actually oddly peripheral due to some controversy surrounding plagiarism in reviews. But no press is bad press as they say. And so people were talking about Dead Cells. And then more and more they were talking about how damn good this game was. I don't know. I felt a bit burned out on these kind of one-man passion projects lately. Celeste was a pretty big disappointment for me this year, so I was reluctant.
But man all that talk was saying some things that I found intriguing. I know that the whole Rogue-like thing is slightly played out these days. But it does still appeal to me at times - mostly because of that year or so I spent obsessed with Spelunky. I guess there's a part of me that's always looking for "another Spelunky" just so I won't go back to playing Spelunky again. So you take that element and mash it up with a game that looks and plays a bit like Castlevania: Symphony Of The Night and now we're cooking with fire. I kind of HAD to try this game.
I'll tell you this... I expected to LIKE Dead Cells. I figured I'd have some fun with it and that'd be that. I did not expect to LOVE Dead Cells. But I do totally love Dead Cells. The best way to describe it is that my initial impression was sort of "oh, this game seems pretty good." And then I looked at the clock and realized that two hours had FLOWN by in what felt like twenty or thirty minutes. It's exactly that kind of game that does the "just one more game" thing so solidly that you forget how many one-more-games you've played.
Progression works well in Dead Cells. Your early runs will be very difficult, but slowly you'll start to unlock some global perks that will stick with you in later runs, making the experience a bit easier to get through. You might unlock the ability to keep some of your gold at death, or the ability to hold extra potions that refill your life. There's also weapon blueprints scattered around that will eventually give you the option to unlock those weapons in game. This game definitely handles its Rogue-like inspirations quite masterfully.
Those weapons and perks eventually become sort of second-nature to how you'll approach them. For instance I've never bothered to unlock a shield because it makes no sense to my play style. I prefer using a lot of projectiles and just keeping the best sword or knives I can ready for up close action. If I can help it, I'll always have a wolf trap and some kind of projectile turret that I can put down as secondary weapons as well. It makes progressing further down a level easy when you can drop this combo to help clear out the floor below you. But that's just me. There's also scrolls you will find throughout levels that will give you extra damage or health perks based on the color of your weapons. Oh, and there's mutations (temporary perks) you can add between rounds. OH! And there's also modifiers you can buy for weapons. To put it lightly: the game offers a shitload of depth that becomes further evident the more time you spend with it.
Soon enough I found myself not just trying to make it out of a level, but rather hoping to explore every inch in an attempt to find the best gear and kill enemies to grind for cells (which is how you unlock all those other perks). And now I'm finding that runs that would take me ten minutes at first, and then maybe twenty after a while, are now taking me upwards of an hour. As such, it's clear that I'm making progress (and possibly getting better). It feels good. It's also extremely exciting to find something new in a run - maybe it's some hidden area or maybe it's finally seeing a new level for the first time.
I've played a lot of Dead Cells since it was released, and I don't see myself being 'done' with it any time soon. This is just one of those kinds of games that you'll want to keep chipping away at for months. I'm not obsessed the way that I was with Spelunky - but that's a rarity anyway. What I can say is that Dead Cells is easily in my top tier games released this year. And I really wasn't expecting that at all.