Dead Cells (Nintendo Switch) Impressions

Dead Cells is a game I’ve heard incredible things about. I haven’t heard of a single person who doesn’t like it, and it’s always near the tops in lists of games you’ve just got to try. However, it is a rogue-like, and those games.. they scare me. Given that I grew up having to make very educated choices about what games I want to purchase, I decided that the best call would be to leave it alone. After all, the probability that I would enjoy a game in a genre that isn’t really my thing is low, right? That’s how math works, right??? At least, I think so.

Anyway, I’m in luck because Dead Cells has been made available for a limited time to all Nintendo Switch Online members, so now I can try it out at no cost! I’ve gotta say, these limited trials are amazing for people like me who are choosy with their money when it comes to digital purchases. Read on to see what I think of the game. (Spoilers: Me likey.)

Story

Okay, I admit. When I started playing this game, I didn’t really know what was going on. No exposition, no prologue, just vibes. The player looks like they came from, for lack of a better word, “a big pile of goop”, and I didn’t know what my objective was. As I looked into the game and its lore and tried out more times, I learned that I was playing a character called “The Beheaded”, trying to make my way through a land afflicted with “The Malaise”, which the King is trying desperately to keep under control. All other pieces of story are laid out in the procedurally-generated environments for the player to uncover. For someone like me who enjoys turning over every stone, being rewarded with story feels incredible.

Okay so I died and now this piece of goop is acting as my head. I don’t know if I consent to that.
[Credit: Motion Twin]

Presentation

Now this may seem like a sin to some, but I’m kind of tired of pixel art. I enjoy strange, unique art styles that make each game unique. Pixel art, while diverse, can get kind of same-y to me if all the games being released within a certain window utilise it in their design. However, Dead Cells hits a sweet spot in that it uses not only extremely detailed spritework, but also big, flashy particle effects that seem to come alive.

As you progress through the different areas (and for me it hasn’t been that many), you feel the mood of every environment. There’s something tragic about each place, and you can tell that the smell of death hangs in the air. As I moved through the areas like former prisons, I wondered what they were like in their heyday, who was here before me, and what befell them before I arrived. It’s a game that does atmosphere brilliantly, even without the use of big-shot polygons.

Take THAT, ugly green man!
[Credit: Motion Twin]

Gameplay

Players can equip primary and secondary weapons that become very necessary to defeat the hordes of enemies in your path. There are also defensive weapons that allow for parrying, pinning enemies down and attacking from a distance. More weapons can be found through blueprints, which must be brought to The Collector along with a payment of Cells, the game’s primary currency, in order to have the chance of encountering the weapon in one’s playthrough.

As previously stated, dying is part of the game, as more things are unlocked, more story elements, and so on as you go forth. In order to enter certain locked doors, players are encouraged to move swiftly through the biomes and kill enemies without taking damage, further incentivising skillful play. As someone who is usually unable to separate to concept of death from failure, dying doesn’t feel like I suck at the game, every death is a lesson. What’s that? Good. Game. Design.

Final Thoughts

I know it’s not surprising to hear, but I think Dead Cells is great. It’s well-designed, even in its procedurally generated areas, and the incentives to keep going keep deaths from feeling like a setback. For someone intimidated by the genre, it’s certainly welcoming. Just a big, rogue-like hug. Who knows, I may even give Hades another shot, though I doubt I’ll be any good. Darn you, Meg, darn you to heck.

I suppose it’s less creepy than collecting locks of hair from the monsters.
[Credit: Motion Twin]

VERDICT – “Loved It”

Rating scale for games, from best to worst:

  1. Masterpiece!
  2. Loved it
  3. Liked it
  4. I mean… it’s aight
  5. Just… don’t.
  6. Certified trash, burn immediately.

Dead Cells is available on Nintendo Switch for $24.99 USD/€24,99 EUR.

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