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Dead Cells Review

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2018 could be the year of the roguelikes as I have played a handful just in July alone. Dead Cells is the latest addition to my library and it did not fail to impress and stand out among the others such as The Persistence and Mothergunship. Dead Cells' great art style, flashy combat and fast-paced gameplay manage to deliver something fun and entertaining. While its overall direction of gameplay and progression is questionable, I could not stop respawning and attempting the deadly dungeons again, and again and again. 

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Dead Cells is described as a roguelike, Metroidvania game in which the developers are calling it Roguevania. Sure, the genre name makes zero sense as you simply cannot mash genres together to create something unique for the sake of it but I will give it to the developers Motion Twin. Dead Cells takes the likes of Rogue Legacy, Binding of Isaac and Enter the Gungen and merges it with classic games like Castlevania. It delivers a 2D souls-like experience with a range of weapons to find and master. Most important of all, when you die you are dead and you revive right at the start of the game with very little money and no weapons to show off your accomplishments. 

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Every time you die in Dead Cells you can analyse how you died and build up a new approach to the challenge ahead. Every respawn you get to choose between a bow and arrow or a shield and as you go about the attempt you will try and level up your rank across the chosen items. Red is melee, green is defensive items and purple is traps and magic. You will find perk scrolls scattered around the game and each one will grant you the ability to choose a specific colour class to increase along with a large health increase at first. 

I tried and bow for a while but every now and then I jumped onto the shield for a few attempts to try it out. You can start with one weapon set and slowly change it as you play through the level and find new weapons and spells. In theory, you build a character class and build each time you die so it gives you enough room to experiment with different ways to approach each playthrough. 

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Dead Cells sees you go anywhere you want if you know how to get there. Scattered across just under a dozen levels, the game is quite large and having to master each area and each area's enemy type can be a tough task. While it is all procedurally generated, the start and finish of each level are sort of in the same place. You know that if you want to go to the sewers first you need to go down and if you want to go to the bridge you need to go up. It is the in-between that changes with different secrets, enemies and various rooms to explore. 

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What makes Dead Cells so great is its stellar movement and combat system. It is fast and fluid and you never stop leaping around the stage to either kill or avoid being killed. Your four inventory slots are divided up between a melee weapon, bow or shield, and two traps and those are the survival items that you need to utilize to make it through the game alive. Weapons have different perks like a whip that can spawn a grenade and a grenade that can spawn tiny slugs that eat enemies alive but it all depends on what you find.

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Chaining together your equipment makes for a great experience especially when you know what you are doing. Freezing an enemy then leaping into them with a dual blade swipe and then jumping away only to toss a grenade at them is just one example of how awesome this all plays out. It is always a risk leaving a weapon behind when you find something new as you will need to make sure you can adapt to that playstyle before you die. Luckily, Blueprints are like permanently unlocked weapons that you find in the game. However, you will need to find these and then safely get them back to the mid-level point and hand them to an NPC before you can unlock them. 

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This combat system and fantastic gear system ties the game together and it works very well. You feel like a god at times but you always need to watch your back and be careful not to be too confident else you will most likely die. Even the smallest decision of choosing the bow instead of the shield at the start of the game can alter your gameplay experience.

Of course, a deadly roguelike game would not be the same without the enemies and Dead Cells has its fair share of annoying yet perfectly crafted deadly enemies. From the green undead skeletons that leap at you from the distance to the mages that shoot beams at you through walls. Each enemy type has an attack pattern and you need to make sure you learn them so when you face a handful at a time you know how to dodge and roll around to survive the swarm of them. The game also has two challenging boss fights which can be hell if you are not prepared and chances of you killing them when you first meet them are slim as they too have an attack pattern to learn and deadly strength to avoid. 

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An average playthrough of Dead Cells sees you start with a fresh body, choose a starting weapon and head into the world to try and live another day. Along the way you pick up weapons and skills, gain gold and Dead Cells from killing enemies. These Dead Cells are used to level up permanently unlocked perks such as a healing flask that you can only use once, or twice if levelled up, as well as all unlocked Blueprints. You can also buy new random starting weapon perks that change the bow and shield to one of the blueprints you have turned in. What weapon this is all depends on what RNG luck you have on that round. 

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Dead Cells also looks fantastic. It is a tiny game at under 500Mbs but it shines on screen. Its particle effects and smooth animations create an enjoyable visual feast that you never want to look away from. Even when you die and have to face it all over again, just running to the first door you remember just how smooth and gorgeous it all looks. Enemies are detailed, the sound is creepy yet satisfying and the soundtrack hypes the overall vibe you get while running through the halls of the game. It all comes together to create the best roguelike game I have played since Rogue Legacy. 

Dead Cells is a must for anyone looking for a challenge and craving a good old roguelike experience. Its overall gameplay is backed by a fantastic combat system that is fast-paced, brutal and rewarding. This all revolves around a solid level system that feels great even when you have died a thousand times before. 

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This review was conducted based on a review copy sent to us by Motion Twin

Available On: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch | Reviewed On: Xbox One | Release Date: 7 August 2018 | RRPR319

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