Dead Cells (Switch Review) – A Definite Must Buy

Back in January, I reviewed the early access version of Dead Cells. At that point in time, the groundwork had already been set, the game already boasting of addictive combat and a beautiful art style. The only thing giving me grief was the minor bugs and crashes that plagued my time with it. Despite hearing of numerous early access horror stories where games released unfinished, bugged beyond repair, there was no doubt in my mind Dead Cells would not be one of them. The problems I’d listed would be fixed upon the full release, and I was definitely correct about that.

What renewed my excitement for the game was news of a Nintendo Switch port. Fast forward to Mid-August when the physical release hit the shops in my area, I managed to snag a copy since I pre-ordered. After playing nearly ten hours on the Switch, I’ve completely fallen in love with the game again. The ability to pick up and play whenever I have free time is such a treat for a game like this. Dying is just practice for the next run and I easily get sucked into playing longer than I would on the PC.

In Dead Cells, you play a prisoner who cannot die. Your background is shrouded in mystery, you do not know how you came to be or what your goal is. As you try to escape prison and fight your way through monster-infested towns, you’ll slowly discover what happened to the denizens once living there. When I played the game during early access, there wasn’t much of a story. Even after it’s full release the story elements are still extremely light, told through clues you discover in various levels.

If you’re looking for a epic story or evocative tale with brilliant characters, look elsewhere. The focus of the game is ultimately its gameplay. However, I’m a fan of this style of storytelling, where the player uncovers parts of the mystery piece by piece and slowly puts them together. Things get clearer the longer you play. Different areas have different clues, they revolve around how the land was infected by a Malaise, documenting the King’s descent into madness.

The port is fantastic. I was worried how it would hold up, but it turned out better than I imagined. It’s not perfect, there are moments when the game visibly lags and stutters, but those moments last one to two seconds at most. It occurs in places one would expect – like when entering a boss room, or when you face off against a horde of enemies and use multiple items. That’s the price of portability, but it’s one I’m willing to pay.

Graphics wise, details aren’t as crisp, but the art remains lively and gorgeous. Most importantly, combat and gameplay are still buttery smooth. Controls are tight and responsive. I can dodge a hail of arrows and leap to the next platform without missing a beat, then leap back and freeze enemies before turning them into crushed ice. Dead Cells remains challenging especially when you first start out. Getting into the groove of things takes time, and many many deaths. My advice is to stick with it and try not to get frustrated, if you fail, put down the game and try again later. Blindly rampaging never gets you far.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with weapons and skills. With the ‘Cells’ you collect from enemies, you can unlock weapons that are put into rotation you can discover during each playthrough. My go-to style when I play is to have at least one item that lets me freeze enemies in place and another that deals passive damage when I can’t attack. This works exceptionally well for bosses. Their attacks can be quick and vicious, you can’t always depend on your main weapon to deal damage or you’d be rolling and ducking for at least an hour.

Investing the ‘Cells’ into upgrading health flasks and gold reserves is also important. It is a tremendous help in the earlier stages when you’re still fumbling about, extending your playthrough for a little longer. Collecting Scrolls can upgrade your character’s stats: Brutality, Tactics, and Survival. After completing each level, you can choose to get additional skills in a safe room to further your character build. Enemies seem to scale to your level, meaning the more scrolls you collect, the tougher they get. Translation, don’t get cocky because you will get your ass whooped.

The game’s procedural generation is a double-edged sword. Each time you die, you spawn at the start of the dungeon and have to fight your way through the same areas and bosses. Though levels aren’t the same, it can start to feel repetitive once you get several hours in. This feeling can get especially keen if playing for several hours in a row. If you’re a gamer who doesn’t like grinding for gear or loot, Dead Cells might test your patience. Still, the addictive nature of its combat keeps making me come back and it might be the same for you.

Overall, this is a fantastic port of a phenomenal game. Dead Cells should have a permanent place in every Switch owner’s library.

Endless Playability – Dead Cells Early Access Review

Dead Cells is the kind of game that baits you into hour long marathons. You dip your toes in to test the waters and end up free falling. Sessions end with a pounding head and bloodshot eyes, but your regret is tempered with unwavering satisfaction. You promise yourself this won’t happen tomorrow, but when night comes around, you find yourself in the same chair, the same game, with the same results. I consider this a litmus test, where your enjoyment results in something tangible.

Dead Cells considers itself an illegitimate child of a Metroidvania and Rougelite – a RogueVania. The world it tosses players into is ever-changing, each run guaranteed a unique experience due to a non-linear progression system. Endless replayability wrapped up in a merciless, electrifying package. There’s never a dull moment as you explore the labyrinthine corridors of each level. For every platform you scale, a surprise awaits, be it a reward or an enemy, exploration is exhilarating because you never know what’s around the bend.

The world of Dead Cells is vibrant and lively. Each level has its own ecosystem, and while some enemies are constants, there’s always a newer and stronger enemy to contend with. Dying is inevitable, but every death pushes your progress forward even by a single centimeter. This isn’t the kind of game you can brute force your way through. Practice makes perfect, and the road to victory is a slow, steady one. An insurmountable obstacle today becomes a cakewalk tomorrow.

Collecting ‘Cells’ from enemies allows you to upgrade your character’s abilities and equipment in the rest area between each level. You lose the cells if you die half-way, so think carefully before diving into the fray with swords swinging. It’s a gamble on the chance to earn more or potentially losing everything.

Non-permanent upgrades arrive in the form of ‘Scrolls’, allowing you to customize a preferred build for your character. Want to be a glass cannon? Go for it. What’s that you say? The best offense is a good defense? Sure, whatever floats your boat. The headless character you control is but clay, waiting to be moulded into your ideal.

Your character lacks the ability to speak, but its personality shines through its reactions to various NPCs and events. Overzealous head nods, shoulder shrugs, I find it amazing how much it conveys despite not saying a word. I never missed a thing, because the gorgeous pixel art makes it near impossible to look away. Dead Cells oozes style and beauty, the amount of detail put into the sprites, background and objects, is staggering. Projectiles exploding in solid, pink spheres, the shower of sparks on the tail end of a chain lifting a wooden platform. Early Access isn’t something I’d associate with this game.

Other than the art, combat is easily the best thing about Dead Cells. Combat feels buttery smooth, an intricate dance instead of messy, clumsy blows. The pool of weapons you can choose from is varied; from swords to whips to bows. There are advantages and disadvantages to each of them, experimentation is key in finding a favourite weapon to eviscerate an enemy. I stuck to the traditional sword and shield as I have an unfortunate preference for rubbing elbows with things that bite back, and a shield is handy for times where I’d miss a target and stare down at a nocked arrow.

Players can also arm themselves with gadgets for extra firepower. They are especially useful during boss fights, the bear traps and grenades come in handy when faced with an enemy twice your size.

I’m reminded, very rudely, of the fact that Dead Cells is still a work in progress, when I’m interrupted by an error message. I don’t mind it too much since it’s nothing ctrl-alt-del can’t fix, but it chips at my enjoyment when I’m half-way through a really, good run and have to restart. These incidents are rare, I’ve come across only two so far, but it can be a tipping point for fussy gamers.

If you can handle the occasional bug, I’d heartily recommend Dead Cells. It is a challenging, mesmerizing experience that will have you craving more after the first taste.