Dead Cells wants you to die, a lot

In case you can't tell, things are not going well for you in this screenshot.

Dead Cells [official site] is a game in which dying is sort of the point. Every time you kick the bucket, whether that’s because you got booted in the head by an armoured beast or because you fell down a shaft by accident, you get access to new items in a mash-up of my two favourite activities: reincarnation, and shopping.

“We’re huge fans of Roguelikes and Castlevania,” say developers Motion Twin, “so it was only natural for us to give birth to their bastard son, the Roguevania.”

(A Roguevania is a portmanteau of roguelike and metroidvania, which itself is a portmanteau of Metroid and Castlevania, and one day in the near future all game genres will be heaving, boiling masses of words smashed into each other like that bit at the end of that game that I won’t mention because SPOILERS.)

Anyway, that’s the core concept of Dead Cells, in which you play a sort of sad trash-lump that takes over the fallen body of a soldier. You run through the dripping sewers and across the ramparts of a castle, killing enemies and collecting their souls (the titular “dead cells”) with which you can purchase upgrades later.

God, it’s hard. I played at IndieCade Europe a couple of months ago, and I died so many times that the developers had to jump in and help me get to the next part. Your mileage may vary, of course, because I’m terrible at combat, which is roughly 90% of this game. I know it’s been said a lot, about almost every game that’s a bit hard, but if you liked the way Dark Souls treated you, you’ll get a kick out of this, too.

The game combines all your favourite game mechanics du jour: procedural level generation to keep you on your toes; a total lack of checkpointing, because checkpoints are for babies; branching paths with different secrets and surprises down each one. That procedural generation in particular is very Rogue Legacy, meaning you can’t just hope to go back to the bit you were before and make incremental progress – once you’re dead, that level is gone. Sorry.

Dead Cells will be out some time this year. Prepare to die.

42 Comments

  1. friik says:

    If it’s a tiny bit like Salt & Sanctuary, I’ll definitely give this a whirl. :-)

  2. gabrielonuris says:

    Sorry for the bitterness, but when exactly dying in a game became its main selling point?

    Why is it being compared to Dark Souls? Of all games, why it always has to be Dark Souls?

    Why a lack of checkpoints (a mechanic that at this point should be present in all games, or even better: a save system) is now “a thing for babies” and, again, a selling point?

    Will bugs and bad optimization be considered selling points in the future too? What does the future reserve for us gamers, oh God I wonder…?

    • Pich says:

      because for a while mainstream games were, and a lot still are, really easy (for example i don’t think i’ve ever died in my Mass Effect 2 playthroughs), so these kinds of games cater to a more hardcore audience that wants more of a challenge. In a more cyincal view, the Souls game were critically praised and sold a lot, so a lot of devs jumped on the bandwagon.

      • feverberries says:

        Or the devs just plain liked Souls, and got inspired from it?

        Nah, lets stay cynical. Devs just want to rip some money out of Souls’ success.

    • Baines says:

      Patches for bugs and bad optimization have been treated as a selling point for years. As has being allowed to pay to play an unfinished version.

      But as for why dying has become a selling point? It has always existed as a measure of difficulty, but these days I think it is because so many developers and players are so relatively young…

      “Nintendo hard” has become idealized (and distorted) by people who either had only vague memories or who never even played games during that era. Masocore has become a praised design. “Roguelike” means the modern version of the term, which isn’t even “Roguelike-like” anymore, but rather “has one to three ideas that were somewhat related to Roguelikes”. You’ve got people who’s game play knowledge dates back to Dark Souls 1 and Rogue Legacy. And these days you are probably starting to get more people who never even played the first Dark Souls, much less Rogue Legacy.

      You’ve got people whose knowledge comes from distortions of second or third-hand distortions of evolved distortions.

      • gabrielonuris says:

        I completely understand (and agree) with what you said. People usually say that back at Nintendo times, games were hard. I disagree. Maybe back then we were all children, and as such, games were difficult, but to be honest I never struggled to finish a game back then.

        Today, when I play games like Castlevania, Metroid and Mario using an emulator, I don’t find them hard. They actually has their types of checkpoint and other ways of saving your progress (see the coffin mechanic on Symphony of The Night, for instance).

        It’s like you said: some people didn’t even play those old games, but have a distorted memory of them being frustratingly difficult, because other people with distorted memories said so.

        And talking about Dark Souls, that game has a good portion of bonfires and shortcuts to make its experience less frustrating and more challenging, but in a good way. But let’s forget that and remember just its subtitle: “prepare to die”… Maybe it’s because it’s hard, no?!

        • Chaoslord AJ says:

          Try Wizards and Warriors series by Acclaim, Mega Man 1/2, Super Mario Brothers, Faxanadu.
          Games had limited lives before “true” game over, iceskate- platforming and “unfair” mechanics like over all. They didn’t care a bit about player ragequit.

          • Baines says:

            Mega Man 2 is a counter argument against “Nintendo Hard.” Capcom at the time felt Western audiences did not like the harder games that were popular in Japan, and thus made MM2 easier for the Western release.

            Beyond that, it wasn’t like Mega Man 2 was particularly hard. It had a lives system, but passwords effectively gave the game infinite continues. There were also multiple areas seemingly designed for farming item drops (like extra lives), many farmable simply by activating Leaf Shield and letting the game run for an hour. E-Tanks were introduced, giving players a full heal on demand in a pinch. Item-2 made the longest disappearing block section trivial. Etc.

            Super Mario Bros wasn’t crushingly hard either. Warp zones were easily accessible with basic skill, and meant you could reach the end of the game after only a few levels. The Super Mario Bros series also offers a MM2-like counter argument to people’s memories of “Nintendo hard”, with Super Mario Bros 2 being a completely different game in the West than in Japan. Nintendo felt the Japanese Super Mario Bros 2 was both too similar and too difficult to be popular in the West, so they rebranded Doki Doki Panic as a Super Mario Bros game and released that instead.

            Wizards & Warriors was hard in part due to some poor design issues (some iffy collision detection, poor attack range, and the like). It also had infinite continues (or was it just an insanely large number?), and continuing put you back I think in the area you died? I remember you could pretty much brute force your way through the game, at least.

            Castlevania 1 was crushingly hard, but was followed by the extremely easy Castlevania 2. Metroid 1 was “hard” primarily due to a bad design decision, that continuing (or even simply using a password to resume) reset your health to 30, forcing players to mindlessly farm for health. Zelda 1 honestly wasn’t that hard, its difficulty came from leaving it to the player to figure out what to do. Metal Gear 1 was easier than its MSX original, though that was in part due to limitations of the NES.

            Faxanadu might have been hard, but it also wasn’t popular. It was only later that people started calling it an overlooked gem and claimed it was better than Zelda II. (Zelda II also met a relatively poor reception, with annoyances related to its difficulty being one of the culprits.)

            Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was popular, but also hated for its frustrating difficulty. It was only later that people started treating it as some badge or proof of ability akin to “In my day, we walked 10 miles to school through three feet of snow, uphill both ways!”

            But these games weren’t seen as good because they were hard. There were plenty of difficult games, either through sheer challenge or just bad design decisions, that did not see the same success or acclaim of titles like Ninja Gaiden. No one would put 8 Eyes on the same pedestal as Castlevania. The Adventures of Bayou Billy was just a really badly designed game. Etc.

          • Chaoslord AJ says:

            @Baines below. Yeah it’s usually (we’d say bad today) design. I forgot Zelda 2. Limited lives for the adventure and I never got good at it.

    • Ansob says:

      You seem to not understand what a Roguelike is.

      • Tigris says:

        A badly balanced game, made by people who are to lazy/to bad to do actual leveldesign?

        • Reefpirate says:

          You’re really doing some scattershot criticism here… Or hyperbole. Either way it’s annoying.

          Some roguelikes take game balance a lot more seriously than other genres. Level design is a completely different challenge that involves a lot of work on, believe it or not, balancing the levels. Ie. kind of the complete opposite of ‘lazy’.

          It’s a weird metric, but random level generation is a very ‘unlazy’ way to make 10 or 50 levels but perhaps could be considered a ‘lazy’ way to make 1,000,000 levels. However, either way it will always take more work than you think to make good levels this way. It doesn’t just happen on its own, it takes a lot of programming hours.

        • horrorgasm says:

          You might as well be holding up a giant flashing neon sign that says I’M BITTER BECAUSE I’M NOT GOOD ENOUGH TO WIN THESE GAMES! Always good for a laugh.

    • Chaoslord AJ says:

      Dying is a selling point for Dark Souls but that’s not the reason of its success. Progress actually feels rewarding. Slowly you’re getting good, carving your way through the world, you learn, you train, you grind, you find the way of least resistance.
      You snipe them cowardly where they can’t retaliate, you fight them in narrow spaces, you lure them into chasms.
      Eventually you defeat a boss/area who seemed invincible.

    • horrorgasm says:

      I dunno man, life is just so unfair now that these are the only games that exist anymore and that someone is forcing us to play them at gunpoint and ignore the hundreds and thousands of other games that aren’t the genre we dislike. So harsh bruh.

    • mitthrawnuruodo says:

      I came here to ask the same thing lol. Tired of this “I love to lose, coz I R HARDCORE!!!” pretense.

      I am all for optional difficulty settings. Once you master a game, you can move on to higher challenges. But forced permadeath, and labeling ugly un-balanced garbage as hardcore to sucker that pretend-hardcore crowd is nothing short of exploitation and elitism.

      Besides these games invariably confuse tedious trial-&-error with difficulty. Hearts of Iron is challenging, because it requires actual skill and intelligence to overcome, whereas something like Darkest Dungeon, while beautifully designed in many ways, ends up becoming a chore and a waste of time due to this fake hardcore gimmick.

      What I find really funny is that stuff like pause and savegames are optional by definition. Yet this pretend-hardcore type loves to look down on such quality of life features. If you are really “hardcore”, why do you lack the willpower to, you know, NOT savescum or NOT pause? Why do you feel the need to have those features blocked for everyone else?

      • Babymech says:

        “Exploitation” of whom? “Elitism” towards whom?

        You’re talking about a popular niche genre of games that exists for the joy of people who are into that kind of thing – how is that exploitation? There are plenty of other game niches – games where difficulty is voluntary, games where difficulty is low, or games where difficulty is non-existent. Personally I’ve never played a Dark Souls game in my life, and I’ve managed to still find a lot of enjoyable ways to fill my free time.

        The only elitism I’ve seen here so far is the guy who, for no apparent reason, keeps talking down to ‘pretend-hardcore’ gamers as opposed to some kind of weird, real hardcore.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      Some games are difficult, some aren’t. It’s really not that bad.

      • ThePuzzler says:

        I like the fact that we have both games where there’s no real death-penalty (like Just Cause 3, where if you die while attacking a base, you respawn outside the base with full ammo, and bits of the base you’ve destroyed stay destroyed), and games where if you die you lose everything.

        Just play the games you like.

    • unacom says:

      I believe your first question can be answered by exploring: Cannon Fodder and Hotline Miami.
      The second one, I cannot answer.
      Thirdly: Some kind of saving system would be highly regarded.
      For those who just have to jump up, because crying baby or the like. I know, doesn´t happen at all. The tiniest fraction of consumers is affected. Nonetheless. Nice to have.
      Lastly. I´m sorry to break it to you. Software is -in our time- generally considered to be a so called banana product. It ripens after shipping.
      If I remember my adventures with autoexec.bat and config.sys correctly, then I might add: Them good old days weren´t much better.

  3. BooleanBob says:

    Funnily enough I just got finished with Rogue Legacy, which is another game in which dying, rather than living, seems like the point of the exercise.

    Unlike traditional roguelikes, your character doesn’t really become any stronger from the moment you begin your delve (unless you’re playing a Lich). Instead it’s the post-mortem shopping your heirs do with the money you amassed in life that progresses you along the power curve.

  4. MrUnimport says:

    Starting to get a little bit tired of meta-progress roguelikes. It’s starting to feel like the game is bribing the player to stick with it after every death.

    • Baines says:

      It is bribing people to stick with the game. That unfortunately has become an increasingly important element of games in general. As long as people are unlocking stuff, they’ll keep playing even if they don’t like the game. Once people stop unlocking stuff, they stop even if they do like the game.

      But it serves another purpose in at least some modern Roguelikes… It allows games to get away with putting less effort into balance or ‘fairness’. Being able to grind away for permanent upgrades is similar to grinding in RPGs, where players can replace “skill” with “time”. It doesn’t matter if your game is statistically too unfair over a run (or is even flat out impossible for a starting character), because the player will accumulate upgrades that shift the balance in their favor. Permanent unlocks also soften the blow of ‘unfair’ deaths, as death becomes a way to get a new toy or ability faster.

      • Babymech says:

        “As long as people are unlocking stuff, they’ll keep playing even if they don’t like the game.” Where are you getting this idea from? I don’t know that anybody plays games they dislike in order to get more of the game they dislike.

        Games have always gated additional content – gated it behind time spent, behind prowess, behind microtransactions, etc. None of this is new, none of this is a ‘bribe’ – an essence of any game (electronic or not) is the mechanic behind which it gates further access.

    • horrorgasm says:

      So…don’t play them. Plenty of people out there who still want more.

      • N1kolas says:

        If you don’t like the comments people make about the absurd design of roguelikes, you can always not read them.

  5. Chaoslord AJ says:

    Dark Souls isn’t unlocking by dying and most modern roguelites don’t reward you for dying but for reaching set goals before dying or finishing see Isaac, see Enter the Gungeon.
    I know of a few games with unlocking by dying certain times but they are not very good starting out artificially hard until you finally get the unlocks.
    In my opinion unlocks and rewards should be connected to effort and skill as it is in the best games.

    • Pyromanta says:

      I like the idea that each death can bring hope of better gear to help you get further. As long as the game doesn’t become blindingly easy once you’ve died a hundred times. Then again, if you’ve put that much time and effort into it, don’t you deserve a helping hand?

      • Chaoslord AJ says:

        Well after a hundred times you’ll probably get good at it anyway.

  6. Lobotomist says:

    Did that thing enter his butt ?

  7. Suits says:

    Sure you don’t want to show the reveal trailer instead? link to youtube.com
    It’s newer, has more footage and SOUND

  8. Pyromanta says:

    Played an early build of this as EGX last year, really enjoyed it. The combat was tight and it had some interesting mechanics.

    I think we need to be a bit careful of words like ‘roguelike’ becoming synonymous with ‘good’. Just because a game forces you to start over when you die and rearranges everything doesn’t mean it’s well designed.

    Also I think the reason it’ll be compared to Soulsbourne is because its tough and has a heavy penalty for dying. While there are a lot of indies that share these mechanics, the Soulsbourne games are pretty much the only modern big budget titles that do, making them a broad point of reference.

  9. Merry says:

    Dying is a selling point for Dark Souls but that’s not the reason of its success. Progress actually feels rewarding. Slowly you’re getting good, carving your way through the world, you learn, you train, you grind, you find the way of least resistance.

    It doesn’t feel this way to me, or probably to many others.

    Defeating a boss in Dark Souls feels to me like finally getting in through my front door having had to walk home in the dark through a torrential thunderstorm with a nasty cold. It’s an ordeal. I suspect that very hard games, just like zombie games, WW2 games, pixel graphics, and so on, are less popular than their creators imagine. They are simply very common and inescapable.

    • Babymech says:

      Hmm. link to eurogamer.net

      I can absolutely understand if you don’t like these games. You can’t pretend that they’re not popular, though. Well, you can pretend, but I don’t know what that’s gonna get you.

      • Merry says:

        You seemed to have posted to describe your dreams about my mind and to criticise them. I don’t think there’s much mileage in that.

        I am sure many people enjoy really tough games, and the developers that write them are presumably amongst them. I would guess that’s because, as Baines says, “so many developers and players are so relatively young”, but I wouldn’t have included “players”.

        I am one of two people who “wrapped” Space Invaders in my local pub, meaning that I got to the last level with a score of 999,999 where the game starts again with zero score and you just carry on. Only a year or two after that, I had no interest in playing the game at all, never mind entering the frame of mind where I could succeed at ridiculous play speeds. I grew up.

        I would guess that a huge majority of the people who enjoy very tough games (or speed runs, which is just manufacturing the same situation for yourself) are 25 years old or less. After that, things like beauty, historical accuracy, philosophy, complexity, and so on start to become more important than just struggling to do something arbitrary because it is hard.

        Of course there are Peter Pans who continue to enjoy Serious Sam into their 40s (do I need to say that I have no problem with that?) but for most of us it’s just not interesting any more.

        If I’m right, then the surge of teenage coders would do well to reassess their market. It pretty much essential that you want to play the game you’re writing, but the new classics will be the studios who can imagine right now what they will want to play for the rest of their lives.

        • Sian says:

          “I would guess that a huge majority of the people who enjoy very tough games (or speed runs, which is just manufacturing the same situation for yourself) are 25 years old or less. After that, things like beauty, historical accuracy, philosophy, complexity, and so on start to become more important than just struggling to do something arbitrary because it is hard.

          Of course there are Peter Pans who continue to enjoy Serious Sam into their 40s (do I need to say that I have no problem with that?) but for most of us it’s just not interesting any more.”

          And on what, pray tell, do you base that assessment? Because it looks to me like you’re projecting what you like onto the larger population.

          The thing is, it wouldn’t matter if you were right. There are so many games out there, why shouldn’t some exist that cater to the people who like their games to be tough?

          And I guess there is one more thing: You say you don’t have a problem with older people playing games that you deem to cater to the interests of a younger crowd, but your choice of words makes you sound quite patronising. Calling those people Peter Pan indicates that they don’t want to grow up – it’s a negative connotation. Also your correlation between younger people liking “arbitrarily hard” games while grown-ups (as opposed to Peter Pan) like beauty, philosophy and complexity. Whether it’s subconscious or not, you’re setting people over 25 up as people of superior tastes and interests. Fie!

      • Merry says:

        I’m sorry, I also meant to talk about your statistics.

        If the advertising industry choose to spend millions on stuff like the Yorkie bar “not for girls”, Weetabix “can you eat three?”, Lynx “find your magic”, then we can be pretty certain that youths are susceptible to stuff like that.

        I would love to see how far such people get into any of the Dark Souls games, but I’m pretty certain that it would be peer pressure driving the initial purchase. It’s the same reason that trainers and iPhones can command such a high price: they’re de rigeur for the average teen, who would rather fail every exam than be seen without the correct kit.

        • Babymech says:

          There was a long bit up there about how once you liked Space Invaders and then you didn’t which I don’t know what to do with – I’ll assume you were just having a nice mumble and leave it at that. All I was saying, and which I think makes sense, is: people are buying these games, people are playing (and replaying) these games, and people are talking about these games – so I guess they’re popular. I assume that the people who are playing them are, on average, exactly as clever as you or I, so their popularity is as valid, I guess, as anything you or I like. I’ve never played Dark Souls, but it seems pretty self-evident that that’s a popular game, regardless of whether you liked it or not. I’ve never played Overwatch or Cookie Clicker either, but the numbers seem to show that those are fairly popular as well. Either all of these games are just faux popular, their sales driven by advertising, peer pressure (???), or the folly of youth… or you’re a deluded old crank, shouting at the kids to get off your lawn? I dunno.

  10. Snacko says:

    Dead Cell was cool but FOXHOUND and the the Cobra Unit were both cooler.

  11. feverberries says:

    I’m a huge fan of metroidvanias and Souls series, but i goddamn hate roquelikes, so i have lé problém.

    I might give it a try, but there’s nothing i hate more than randomly generated levels. It’s soulless. I prefer carefully handcrafted game world, where designers have thought through all the details.

    • Merry says:

      I’m not sure why you felt your message would be better written in very bad French, but “a problem” is un problème while “the problem” is le problème. “lé” isn’t a word at all.

      I hope the French readers will understand that it was somehow misguided and not just rude.