Of all the games I saw at EGX 2016, Dead Cells was probably the best one I accidentally stumbled upon. Nestled in the indie area and somehow missed in my planning for the event, we walked past the Dead Cells booth and had our eyes drawn to a beautifully colourful and detailed 2D roguelike that took level design tips from Castlevania and captured the combat feel of a Dark Souls or Bloodborne game. Put simply, it demanded we stop and take a look.
In Dead Cells you play a gooey green ball of cells that has found and inhabited a corpse in order to fight. Level layouts are randomised to a degree, made up from a series of pre-made chunks, and the idea is to fight as far through the world as you can. Many enemies you defeat form unique cells which persist between runs of the game and allow you to craft new weapons or items for the next attempt. These crafted items and weapons only last for the run they were crafted in, which necessitates switching up gameplay styles frequently.
The combat feels very reminiscent of that in Dark Souls and Bloodborne (or its 2D cousin, Salt & Sanctuary), not by virtue of difficulty but rather by virtue of the flow and momentum of combat. A dodge roll which allows you to reposition yourself and avoid attacks, the satisfying hit stop as you connect with an enemy, and the ability to regain health by dealing damage quickly after being hurt encourage the slow and steady combat of Dark Souls along with the aggressive combat responses of Bloodborne.
While most of the enemies faced felt a fair fight for most of the weapon types on show, bats and other enemies whose height varied during combat felt at times too fiddly to land a successful hit on. While this in a vacuum isn’t a problem, your game balance might be a bit off when bats are a more fearsome threat than bigger and more imposing enemies if the player doesn’t have the correct loadout that run. For example, some ranged weapons would only fire directly in front of you, and so attacking flying enemies involved having to perfectly time a jump while firing.
While procedural generation is always a concern, with the reliability of strong level design variety being tough to predict, it’s good to see that in my time with the game the content felt varied and well designed. Whether this persists to the full release remains to be seen.
While all we saw at EGX was a small slice of the game, Dead Cells is undoubtedly something to keep eyes open for. It’s looking good, let’s hope it holds out for greatness.