The term “souls-like” is a phrase that is heard occasionally when talking about video games. This term is used to compare games to the Dark Souls series, which is infamous for grueling difficulty and brutal fairness. Characterizing a game as “souls-like” indicates that it is abnormally difficult, and will take more skill and time devotion than the average player may be willing to give. Few games actually live up to the difficulty and design of the Dark Souls series, but those that do are always candidates for an amazing experience.
On May 10, 2017, a small indie game appeared on Steam in early access, meaning that it could be bought for a reduced price, but the game was unfinished. This game was Dead Cells, developed by Motion Twin, and got amazing reviews even as an early access game. The game received dozens of updates throughout its first year early access stage until version 1.0.0 was finally released for PS4, XBox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC on August 6, 2018. It is safe to say that the game fully lives up to the term “souls-like”, and even surpasses the souls series to a certain degree.
The game features a beautiful pixel art style, an amazing soundtrack, deep lore, and best of all, amazing gameplay with a unique system. The game is a two dimensional action side scroller, and showcases your humanesque character cutting through ranks of enemies and dozens of levels to unlock rewards and discover the deep and intriguing lore. Gameplay is extremely simple with a button for jump, one for roll, two for different weapons, and two for your abilities. Though the combat is simple, chaining all of the abilities together makes one feel unstoppable, especially when the incredibly dense and diverse weapons and ability set is added to the mix. What makes the game so difficult is that when the character dies, nearly everything is lost and it is sent all the way back to the beginning of the game.
The genius of Dead Cells is that, throughout the game, one will collect a currency called Cells. At the end of a level, cashing these cells into an NPC for permanent unlocks (such as new weapons or health potions) will ease further runs of the game and allow the player to reach later levels and acquire even more loot. These items could range from a pair of sandals to kick enemies away, a sword made of blood, a bow that specializes in close- range combat, or even an ability that allows for teleportation behind enemies for extra damage attacks. Other permanent abilities come from bosses that are found naturally in a level. One such ability gives the player the power to grow vines in certain spots to access completely new areas and doors to new levels. This ability is found in level two, but when the player inevitably dies, there is a place to use the ability in level one that unlocks a completely different and harder path with better rewards for your trouble. This system of progression makes the game completely addicting and endlessly replayable, especially since every level is procedurally generated, meaning that a new experience will be waiting every time the game is played.
At the end of the day, Dead Cells is one of the best games that has come out this year, made amazing through its addicting gameplay, gripping lore, deep weapon systems, beautiful soundtrack, and infinite replayability.