Dead Cells - Critique
During my second part on Dead Cells, I reached the last level by being certain of having understood it. 63 tries later, when I finally manage to kill the boss, I'm 100% sure I'm just starting to understand the deep nuances of Motion Twin's incredible platform and action game.
Dead Cells is a true triumph in its conception; the bowels of its levels with dynamic decorations and beautifully illustrated, its impressive set of weapons, its revolutionary gadgets and its sense of movement merge in a captivating loop. It is so motivating that even after tens of hours of play in this fortress, I still manage to discover and devour new passages.
Choice and consequences
The heart of Dead Cells is its commitment to risk and the reward it provides. As it stands, we embody a decapitated and resuscitated prisoner for an unknown reason in order to navigate a dozen beautifully detailed levels - even if they are procedurally generated - or die to use what you have learned and collected in order to go even further next time. This loop is at the heart of what makes advancement in Dead Cells so special. Each new area you discover, each new artifact, each new weapon or skill you learn, stimulates that rewarding, bittersweet feeling as you remove the veil of mystery surrounding the game.
The placement and order of levels in Dead Cells are like an unchanging skeleton, but the level design and positions of enemies and objects are constantly changing, and turn out to be the blood flowing through its veins. This is what makes each test different enough to motivate and surprise you, while challenging the notion of hoping to have seen everything after traveling the areas a dozen times. You just don't know what you're going to find, because it could be a huge supply of equipment coming in at the right time, as the next test, a new shiny toy will pop up so you can shine with the Collector.
And even if it can be painful to say goodbye to these perfect turrets that have allowed you to progress more than ever - those that set your victims on fire by doing twice as much damage - or in the tens of thousands of gold collected, the real progression comes from the unlocking of buffs, skills and weapons between each try which never disappear, no matter how often you die in these old sewers.
Through this constant repetition, where you would be trapped in a ghost train, you collect money, blueprints for new items, and cells that you can then spend to unlock blueprints and upgrades for future use. Each element improving your power is good to take, as if you were a snowball hitting the slope while being unstoppable.
Fast like a demon
The most incredible moment when Dead Cells really shines is in its running, jumping, dodging and hitting system. In his dungeon that we are traversing, there is something enjoyable in the fact of moving and attacking quickly, which quickly outweighs the caution that you must have and that can therefore make you die.
The subtle design of Motion Twin takes you through environments in an ingenious way. You are then rewarded during your multiple attacks by an increased movement speed allowing you to continue to propel yourself forward. You only take damage when they attack you, so you can get into them, giving you a sense of security even in the face of deadly and deadly enemies. If you're smart enough, move fast enough, or jump precisely enough, you're untouchable. It should be noted that this type of lightning attack is where I have sometimes seen some drop in framerate on all platforms, often in the middle of half a dozen enemies, and most often on Nintendo Switch. But even if it's annoying, progress has never been a problem.
The movements and battles of Dead Cells encourage you to make every effort to go further. These two elements are made so that you reuse them dozens of times, releasing small - albeit significant - fragments into the wide range of skills with each new artifact you earn. Once you've unlocked all of the skillfully learned skills of a Metroid, you'll be able to move freely through the darkest corners of the game to uncover its history and hidden references in secret areas.
There is a real interest in exploring the most secret areas of Dead Cells because you will unlock more powerful elements than you can have at the start of the game. Finding a rune in the acidic pits of toxic sewers has changed the start of my next test. I had access to much of the new equipment that allowed me to access alternate locations and routes that were previously inaccessible. There was almost a rush to die because it meant I could go back in the first few minutes of my run to find out something I couldn't do before. This feeling lasts with each new artifact, and even more after discovering what is hidden beyond the final boss.
The true diversity of each run comes from an excellent set of choices as to how the game works every minute. Perhaps you will quickly pass certain zones with the fire of your sword - you will then be rewarded thanks to the doors locked with a stopwatch. Or maybe you will methodically cross Dead Cells using ranged weapons, traps and turrets to safely pierce, poison, burn or shred enemies, or explore every inch of each level to find treasures. You will then be stronger thanks to that.
These play styles can also be changed on the fly using Dead Cells' intelligent system of collecting Scrolls of Power. At first you are weak and fragile, but when you collect these scrolls, you have a choice depending on your playing style and your items. The trap is to improve only one aspect of the skills and associated weapons (improving your maximum health in the process).
The more parchment you use in a single aspect, the less life you gain, so if you want to be a safe bloodthirsty warrior, it's wise to vary your use of parchments. However, this means that you are not particularly powerful in a set of specific objects, risking that your damage will then not be sufficient to mitigate that of the enemies always more numerous in the last levels. I like the fact that Dead Cells lets us experiment freely, without knowing how it will go. Your starting weapons, the items you pick up, and their modifiers are always different. This keeps a global improvisation.
After all these tests, all these ploys, I realized that it was not always possible to go to the end of the road. My first 10 runs in Dead Cells were aimed directly at the final boss, but I quickly realized that spending more than an hour on the file to die immediately because I was not sufficiently prepared was a waste of time. Once I understood that, my strategy was to find plans to unlock new toys for certain runs, while unlocking items and upgrades. And from time to time, I would rush like crazy without being afraid of dying to explore as much as possible.
And to dramatically change the way you play, you can count on a daily dungeon which is outside the main campaign, and which offers you a map with random elements challenging you to know how long you will succeed in killing the boss. And, like everything in Dead Cells, the rewards in this mode are permanent (plans). These daily challenges are a fun distraction and give you the chance to test equipment you haven't found in the campaign yet.
[Note to our readers: On August 6, IGN US released a review of Dead Cells with unacceptable similarities to someone else's work and was immediately removed. We apologize again; read our press release at this address. This new test was written by a different journalist and respects our editorial standards. Note that this test (and its score) represents only the opinion of the new tester based on his experience with Dead Cells.]