Usually, I would begin a review like this with some type of personal anecdote that would connect my forthcoming thoughts or experiences with a game. Today, I won’t sugar coat it or waste your time: I LOVE DEAD CELLS. There, I said it. End of review, right? Well, I would like to tell you why I love it and share some things that I don’t love as much before we call it a day. This is our Dead Cells Switch review.
Developed by French studio Motion Twin, Dead Cells is lovingly referred to by the team as RogueVania. This mash-up of styles takes the brutal die-to-progress formula of rogue-likes (or roguelites) and combines them with the side-scrolling combat and exploration of a traditional Metroid or Castlevania-style games. It is this endearing mash-up that gives Dead Cells its edge in the indie scene by playing on that nostalgia while offering systems that make a bit more unique.
In Dead Cells, you play as an undying prisoner condemned to an eternity of fighting and striving to unlock the mysteries behind your sentencing, the madness of a king, and a sickness that ravaged the kingdom. To do this, you will die… a lot. The dungeon corridors will shift around and you’re slithering remains will be redeposited where they began.
However, your fight is one that you will not do alone. Along the way, you will meet the shadowy Collector who will unlock perks for you, such as advanced healing potions or weapons, for the low, low cost of soul cells: orbs of etherial power collected from your foes. There is also a blacksmith who can enhance your weapon’s damage modifiers and an alchemist with a penchant for mutations. Where the Collector seems to have more arcane purposes, the rest are content with cold, hard gold.
You need not relay alone on the ambiguous intent of these follow prisoners; along the way, you will discover scrolls of power to enhance your abilities, the strength of your mutations, and the vigor for the journey ahead. Each scroll gives you the option of upgrading one of three categories with an associated color: Brutality (red), Tactics (purple), and Survival (green). As you select an upgrade, they will increase the damage of abilities or weapons which bear that color and provide an increase to your health pool. Be careful how you stack these stats; there is a diminishing return on the amount of health bonus you receive from a given category. More damage might be tempting, but it’s only good if you can stay alive!
Speaking of weapons and abilities, there are a vast number of unique weapons, abilities, bombs, and traps that you can unlock along the way. While melee weapons vary from swords to spears to whips, there are also shields and ranged weapons as well. You can have any combination of the two equipped at a time, all buffed by the stat scrolls you collect. The same is true with secondary items like traps, bombs, and special abilities – you have two slots to use as you choose.
So, why would I begin this review expressing my affections for Dead Cells?
Let me tell you:
Dead Cells takes a huge amount of inspirations from one of my most dearly beloved classic games (Castlevania: Symphony of the Night) but it isn’t content to be merely a clone. The rogue-like elements and randomized maps give it a fresh spin. While I am not always a huge fan of rogue-likes, it adds a dimension to each run which forces me to be aware of my surroundings and not get too comfortable. This is helped along in no small part by some quality of life updates.
One of the pitfalls with the classic titles Dead Cells draws inspiration from has always been their lack of mobility. Where games like SotN show its age in that department, Dead Cells shows off some new tricks: the ability to dodge roll AND to parry incoming attacks. These simple additions turn the pacing of the game up while affording you the option for how you play. You could play it safe with the dodge rolls or you could throw your enemy off balance by parrying their attack, leaving them vulnerable to your brutal assaults.
My biggest complaint with Dead Cells is that, at a certain point, it feels like your progression slows dramatically. Without some of the mobility runes to assist your runs or any clear path toward acquiring them, you are left in a bit of a pinch to figure out on your own how to. This leads to some measure of repetition, but that repetition does produce advancement in other areas – so, it isn’t a total wash.
Dead Cells is the perfect marriage of modern indie action and the classics that created the Metroidvania genre. This evolution of the genre creates a space for neoclassics to find their own home within a similar neighborhood.
Speaking of homes, we did not even touch on the performance of Dead Cells on the Nintendo Switch. After playing it on both PC and the Switch, I have to say that the Switch is my preferred platform for it. Maybe it’s all of those years playing Metroid Fusion on a handheld unit or kicking back with Castlevania games. Whatever the case is, Dead Cells couldn’t be more at home on the Switch, whether on the go as a handheld or in the comfort of your living room.
Note: Our copy was reviewed on Nintendo Switch with a code provided by PR.
COMPARE TO: Rogue Legacy, A Robot Named Fight, Castlevania