The Souls-inspired “roguevania” Dead Cells [official site] has slithered its way to early access today. You play as a disgusting glob of cellular organisms that has taken over a headless corpse and will not rest until it has seen all the levels. It’s got swords and rolling and whips and bear traps and grenades that freeze your enemies so that you can smash them to bits. I’ve only played a bit, so I can’t tell you Wot I Think. But I can tell you Wot I Reckon.
I reckon: it’s rather good. The feel of a Souls game isn’t anywhere near as strong as it makes out. You die often and you need to bank “cells” to buy new things and permaupgrade your decapitated chappy, but it’s a fast-paced rollicker more than anything. The levels are procedurally wobbled around each time you die but the feel of them always remains the same (this level has lots of spikes, that level has long drops). And each area – as far as I have made it, anyway – links to the same areas as the last time you played. Only the doorway is in a different place.
It does a lot very well though. The controls are clean and responsive, the pickups feel powerful and useful (throwing knives, poison bombs, invisibility amulets, freezing spells, etc), and enemies have easily discernible strengths and weaknesses that you need to learn. The rougelite elements fit well with the constant dying, and being thrown back to the very start of the game each time somehow doesn’t feel like a huge setback, despite losing all your cells, goodies and a massive chunk of your gold.
It helps that it looks gorgeous. This is absolute GIF-bait. The level of detail in the pixel art is wonderful. Shadowy little rats scurry away from you in the foreground, bats flap out of nooks, chains dangle and clang when you pass them. Then there’s the giant dead warrior in the shadowy background of your jail cell who just sits there, rotting and looking good.
I like him. In short, it’s a nifty little thing. I’ll have more thoughts scribbled out at some later date but if you’re looking for a bit of hacking and/or slashing with rando weapons and gorgeous pixel art, you can do a lot worse. It’s normally priced £13.99/$16.99 on Steam and, like I say, it’s still in early access. More bits and pieces will likely be added to keep the respawning fresh. Right now I try to find my trusty Twin Daggers wherever I go, which hurt enemies extra++ upon the third strike. Then I freeze baddies with a frosty grenade long enough to carry out that last critical daggerswipe. It’d be good to see some more weapons and items that work well together like this. Anyway, there you are. Dead Cells: looks good, is good.