Dead Cells can best be described as a roguelike 2D action platformer, developed and published by Motion Twin. Dead Cells use pixel art and side-scrolling as a gameplay element similar to other games, including, the original Metroid, Castlevania, and Axiom Verge, but in a twist; add the difficulty of Dark Souls to create a uniquely fun but frustrating gaming experience.

The Dead Cells

In Dead Cells, the player character is a cluttering of dead cells that inhabit a headless corpse, simply known as ‘the prisoner’. At the beginning of the game or when players die and the game resets, the cells take control of a recently decapitated corpse in which the head is replaced by a flame radiating black smoke. The developers chose to make the player character a silent protagonist that emits the barest of emotions such as irritability and misunderstanding at various elements of each level.

Gameplay for Dead Cells consists of the player running, jumping, and falling through various levels. As they progress through the different areas, players can scourge the map to eliminate every enemy on the map. Players can also effectively speed run each area, allowing access to the time-sensitive doors to obtain a myriad of money, weapons, and blueprints. As the player progresses through each stage, they will gather money that can be spent at stores, which are randomly generated throughout each map, on weapons or to unlock special doors.

Some enemies may drop orbs that can be spent, at the conclusion of each map, to pay for permanent augmentations such as being able to use the health potion multiple times per stage or to keep a set amount of gold after death. The player will also get to choose a mutation that will carry over until the player gets to the next map. Mutations cause a beneficial status effect that will aid the player in their journey, some mutations include healing the player upon enemy death, increased health or revive the player once upon death.

Fight or Die

The developers have made the combat challenging enough that players are nearly required to test various weapons and fighting styles. Dead Cells offers players the ability to have two primary weapons (sword and bow) and two secondary weapons (grenades and traps). As players progress, they can obtain weapons that have higher damage as well as elemental effects like freeze, burn or bleed. Players have several options regarding combat, they can get up close and personal using swords, shields, and warhammers; players can choose to use bows, grenades and traps so they can keep their distance or any combination of the weapons as the player sees fit.

Dead Cells is an extremely fast-paced game. Players will need to constantly watch the enemies to learn their attack pattern while simultaneously attacking and dodging as most enemy encounters will be with multiple baddies. Each time the player dies, all the weapons they were carrying will be reset which also applies to the items and layout of the maps. Dead Cells has a vibe very similar to Dark Souls with its difficulty curve and combat mechanics which can leave players extremely frustrated who are not used to the Dark Souls series.

…Mostly Die

When players die in Dead Cells, no matter how far they have advanced, the game will restart from the beginning dungeon. As the player re-progresses through the stages, the layout of the levels will have altered and items in the areas will have reset and been randomized. This makes each playthrough unique, interesting and makes replay-ability enormously fun for seasoned veterans of roguelike games, however, the gameplay can be frustrating for players not used to the mechanics.

The plot for Dead Cells is the prisoner starts in a dungeon on an unknown remote island. During gameplay, it is revealed that each time the player is killed and must start over, the island reforms thus explaining the new level layouts or roguelike elements of the game. Players will come across piles of corpses that resemble the player character. If players click the button prompt near the piles, the player character will comment on them adding to the dreary atmosphere of Dead Cells.

Death is a Theme

Despite the dismal tone of Dead Cells, the color palette is surprisingly robust. The developers were able to employ a wide range of opposing color combinations to create one of the best-looking pixel art games to date. The pixel sprites hold their own in the modern era paying homage to the old-school consoles while employing techniques that make the game look modern, however, some of the background sprites don’t look as detailed as those of its major competitor, Axiom Verge. The lighting in the game is quite impressive. In most 2D side-scrollers lights are static items that have little interaction, other than the occasional flicker with the environment. In Dead Cells, the ambient lighting interacts with the player character casting shadows that look incredible.

The musical score for Dead Cells consists of dreary melodramatic music that fits perfectly with the setting of the game. Upbeat action tempos do make their way into certain maps, but the soundtrack overall is lacking when compared to the eerie but diverse soundtrack of Axiom Verge. Taking cues from Thomas Happ’s sound design on Axiom Verge would add a better ambiance to the game and make it more prominent among the competition.


Overall, Dead Cells is a frustratingly, fun game that will keep players entertained. The randomization of the layout of the levels and the items on each map makes every playthrough unique. The art style gives an old-school yet modern look, while the soundtrack could be improved. Players who may want to get into other roguelike or even the Dark Souls games will benefit from giving Dead Cells a chance.

Dead Cells Review
The Good
  • Combat mechanics
  • Overall artstyle
  • It's basically 2D Dark Souls
The Bad
  • Music could be more atmospheric
  • Some background sprites need polish
9Overall Score
Reader Rating: (0 Votes)

About The Author

Christopher T
Staff Writer

I'm an old timer that started in 1988 with Tempest at the Disney arcade; in 1989 I was given an NES with Contra and Super Contra, thus sealing my fate forever. I moved onto the Genesis, followed by the original PlayStation, PC (mainly just for DOOM) and the N64. I got a launch day PS2 settling for the PlayStation family of consoles until 2015 when I renewed my interest in the PC world. Outside of gaming, custom PC water cooling and car parts are life.