By Jason Quinn / April 1st, 2020
|Release Date||August 7th, 2018|
|Platform||PC, Switch, PS4, Xbox One
|Age Rating||T for Teen|
Dead Cells is a 2D platformer rogue-like. This review is focused mainly on The Bad Seed DLC, however I’ll be going over some basics of the game itself as we don’t have a review of that. You are The Beheaded, a prisoner trapped on some island that’s been laid to waste by some ailment known as the Malaise. So you sally forth to see what’s what. The story in this game is fairly light, being mostly contained in “lore rooms” that are sprinkled throughout the various levels. There’s even an option to turn them off if you just really don’t care. The reason why you play this is the gameplay.
I’m gonna cover the basics of the game just for context, but I’m also going to assume folks reading this are mostly familiar with the game, as it would take a significantly longer review to cover the game in its entirety. Its a rogue-like, so you proceed from area to area, exploring, finding loot, and killing enemies. That really sums the gameplay up quite nicely, but the combat is just absolutely superb. There’s so many varieties of weapons, so many different possibilities, and all with controls that are just buttery smooth. Enemies are wonderfully varied and all have distinct behaviors that make combat really engaging and fair. Every attack is telegraphed well in advance. Because of all of this, if you die, it really just feels like your own fault. You will die quite a bit too, as you’re learning.
However a concept pushed by the developers is that “death is only the beginning” and that rings true. Every time you go back in, you’re a little bit better, and a little more knowledgeable. Or for a more tangible difference, you’ll occasionally unlock permanent upgrades called runes that open up whole new areas to explore. This is where the metroidvania influence comes from. There’s one that lets you teleport between certain statues, one that lets you grow vines to access certain areas, one that lets you destroy specific floors, and one that lets you wall jump. Each one of these upgrades unlocks a potential different path to take, giving a lot of variety to each playthrough.
It should be noted that this Dead Cells DLC requires you to have the Vine rune and the Teleportation rune, which are found in two of the other first areas, Promenade of the Condemned and Toxic Sewers. This DLC aims to increase some early game variety. The game can broadly be split between two main “paths”, and this kinda adds a third one for the first few areas of the game. There’s two new areas, one new boss fight, and an assortment of new weapons. The first new area is the Dilapidated Arboretum. Its a level filled with really densely packed rooms, and the notable new enemy is a giant mushroom man called a Yeeter. He uh, “yeets” little mushroom babies at you. This is particularly troublesome as the mushroom babies become enemies themselves that can knock you about and do a surprising amount of damage. In terms of difficulty, I think its easier than Toxic Sewers, but harder than Promenade of the Condemned. Its a good middle ground.
The second area is Morass of the Banished. I think this area really ramps up in difficulty. There’s giant flea monsters that serve as mini-bosses, blow-gunners that can harass you from afar and can jump away to avoid you, spear wielders that can drop down from the ceiling, among other nasty things. It’s just as dense as the Arboretum, though this level is much more vertical, whereas the Arboretum was very horizontal. In terms of aesthetics, I really like what both bring to the table. Arboretum is this lush greenhouse type area, and Morass is a sort of dirty swamp type area.
This brings us to the boss fight, Mama Tick. In terms of first boss fights in this game, I think this one is my favorite. I really get the sense that their boss design has improved since the base game, as my favorite boss fights are all from the DLC. This one just has really fun patterns, and you can absolutely melt through it if you’re really good at parrying. Its also reasonable to not get hit during the fight, allowing you access to a legendary weapon after it. The other fights, Concierge and Conjunctivius are both pretty tough to not get hit, especially if you have a melee build.
After this, you get access to two of the mid-game areas, Stilt Village and Graveyard, though the second is only available with the spider rune. This is one of my favorite features of the DLC, being able to access the Graveyard from a different path. Before, the only way to get there was by traversing the sewers and fighting Conjunctivius, which is my least favorite fight. So in terms of levels, this DLC accomplishes what it set out to do and then some. It adds variety to the early game, and opens up other areas that previously could only be accessed in one certain way.
Lets get to the weapons now. There’s three melee weapons, one ranged weapon, and two powers. The first melee weapon are the Flashing Fans, a set of fans that can parry projectile attacks, after which it gains critical hits for several seconds. A really fun weapon that gives you some defensive options if you don’t have a shield, though the damage outside of critical hits is pretty low, so you better be good at parrying. The second weapon are scythe claws, unique because they take up both weapon slots. If you alternate between the left and right claws, you can get critical hits. This weapon is really slow, but the damage is insanely high, well worth foregoing defense for it. The third weapon is a stringed instrument called Rhythm ‘n’ Bouzouki. This hits slow like the greatsword, but if you time your attacks correctly, you’ll do massive critical hits that hit all around you. If you have really good timing, the weapon essentially has an endless combo. Tricky to learn, but so rewarding.
The ranged weapon is the blowgun. Nothing really fancy here, but you get critical hits if you attack from behind an enemy. The first power you get is a smoke bomb that makes you invisible for several seconds, and increases the damage your next attack does by 50%. The second power is the mushroom boi. It gives you a tiny little mushroom baby as a pet that will follow you around and attack enemies. Its attack has quite a lot of knockback, so it can definitely get kills in with good positioning. You can also tell the mushroom to explode, which of course kills it, and also probably kills anything in the immediate vicinity. All the weapons are a lot of fun, and it’s hard to pick favorites. I’ve had successful playthroughs utilizing all of them, so they’re all pretty strong.
There is one thing I dislike about the DLC, which is what happens when you don’t actually have it. The door that leads to the Arboretum is still there in the first area, the game just tells you that you need the DLC. I really kinda dislike this sort of thing, where it feels like the game is dangling a carrot in front of you to get you to buy it. Its always gonna be there as a constant reminder. If it just didn’t show up, I’d find that to be preferable. As it is now, the game is gonna feel pretty incomplete to folks that don’t care to put more money on the game down.
Still, I do think the DLC is well worth it if you like Dead Cells. It’s more of a good game, and I’d argue that it’s some of the better content, at least as far as the early game goes. The weapons are all really fun too. It’s $5, and even though you can technically see all of the content within 20 minutes, this is a rogue-like. You’re gonna be replaying it quite a lot, and on a larger timescale, which adds quite a lot of variety. The base game is $25, and while that might seem somewhat steep for what the game is, I’ve put over a hundred hours into the game, so it’s well worth it.
Review copy was provided by the publisher.
Bad SeedDead CellsMotion TwinplatformerRoguelike