Dead cells in the test - controlled chaos

Author: Jonas Gössling
Date: 2018-08-14 17:30:00
Dead Cells combines the best elements of both genres as a mixture of Roguelike and Metroidvania - but also reveals a few weaknesses in the long run.

Roguelikes are great for both their developers and their players. Because some deliver content through random levels that they could never cobble together by hand. The others are surprised every time the game is played. However, such titles can quickly appear very arbitrary - there is largely an algorithm behind them.

But what if you give the random principle a structure? Curtain up for Dead Cells, who mixes the procedural levels with a dash of Metroidvania and wants to combine the best of both worlds. The result is a successful mix that also inherits the weaknesses of the role models.

A lump alone on the island

In Dead Cells we take on a slimy lump that ends up in the dungeon and slips into a body lying around. Why, we don't know that at first because our hero doesn't speak. For this, the figure gestures violently at every opportunity and thus makes one or the other laugh. In fact, Dead Cells has an interesting but playfully unimportant story about a kingdom on a living island.

Because the island pulsates and breathes, it always changes its structure. For us this means: We jump, run and fight our way through a total of 17 areas such as the prison or later a cemetery or a clock tower. As soon as we hand over the spoon, we end up in the dungeon at the very beginning and the levels are "diced again" - just like in a Roguelike. The Metroidvania portion comes from a simple trick.

Unique locations change position within the level, but always remain in the same area. There are therefore fixed routes through the island, which we are gradually uncovering with permanent items.

An example: We always start in the "prisoners' accommodation". From here we can go to the "Promenade of the Damned". There we find the tendril rune (allows plants that can be climbed to grow in certain places), which we use in the first level to pave our way into the "toxic sewage system".

A lump against everyone

Keyword way: This is not for the faint of heart. Because up to the last of the only four boss opponents we chop through heaps of monsters and die a thousand deaths. From normal zombie to archers to small ninja fighters, everything is on board.

Each opponent has special skills. For example, the enemy grenadier throws luminous balls at us through massive walls. It's not a problem individually, but in conjunction with other critters, we have to use all our skills to avoid the bombs.

We use two slots for direct attacks, on which we put melee and ranged weapons, and two for special items, such as a self-shot system or traps that increase the damage we cause.

This plays pleasantly brisk, since our hero obsessed with the lump runs nimbly and the blows give great visual and acoustic feedback. A hammer makes a lot of hums, a lance blows through the air, and a crossbow bangs properly as the enemies break apart.

In addition, all pieces of equipment have their advantages and disadvantages, which encourages experimentation. For example, it can be worthwhile to use a weak melee attack that freezes the opponents for a short time - which gives us time to distance ourselves again and use the bow. In general, the game with the low cooldown times of the special weapons motivates us to use them constantly, which makes the fights pleasantly varied.

A lump and its tools

The game hides all these weapons and blueprints for new argumentation enhancers indiscriminately in the areas. So what we find depends largely on chance . At least at the beginning. After each level, we end up in an intermediate zone, in which we can buy permanent improvements and build new swords and bows using the diagrams - which we may find in the levels in the next round.

At the beginning we have no healing potion. We unlock it at the so-called collector (a bizarre robot retailer) in the zone and treat ourselves in the future. We also use gold here to ensure that we get better equipment than the standard stuff every time we restart. However, we cannot determine certain weapons, so a bit of chance remains.

We pay permanent improvements (which generally increase the quality of the items found) with cells that we find, like gold for defeated opponents, in chests or in time doors. The latter are a kind of challenge.

A goal in the second area "Promenade der Verdammten" closes after two minutes of play. This promotes a risky game style - because the rewards behind the door are worth it, new schemes and cells are waving. But be careful: if we die before the next saving zone, all objects will disappear.

With death, we also lose the general upgrades for brutality (melee), tactics (ranged) and survival (shield and dodge). We find them as scrolls in the levels and have to decide for each find on which of the areas we apply them. So we can concentrate on long-range combat in one round, but in full contact in the next.

A lump and its weaknesses

By merging Roguelike and Metroidvania, Dead Cells masterfully combines the advantages of the genres. Because we die often, we have to go through the same levels again and again. But because they are constantly changing, it does not turn into blunt processing.

Conversely, the world does not appear completely arbitrary, since nodes and connections always remain the same. The character development also finds a healthy balance, even if some runs can get frustrating due to gun bad luck. We are still willing to go again and again. Because the next upgrade is already waiting!

But even the Roguelike bonds cannot hide after a few hours that we always walk through the same areas . Knowing what is waiting for us in the levels doesn't make it any better - on the contrary. After over ten hours, every restart feels like backtracking, and every walk through the beginning areas becomes annoying due to the structure being thrown through. You never know where to go.

Until then you have a lot of fun with Dead Cells and because of the fluid battles and the motivating upgrade spiral, the next run will attract you sooner or later.