Dead Cells Game Review

Dead Cells is an indie roguelike/metroidvania mashup video game developed and published by French studio Motion Twin for Windows, MacOS and Linux platforms, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in 2018; earlier in the year, preview versions of the game were offered to players through the early access system.

During Dead Cells, the player controls a creature trying to get out of the maze. The levels of the game, made in the spirit of a two-dimensional platformer, are procedurally generated; they are scattered with enemies and various treasures, including weapons with randomly generated characteristics. Similar to roguelike games, a Dead Cells character has only one “life” – if he dies, the player will be forced to start the game from the beginning.

Some once acquired abilities that open access to new, previously inaccessible areas of the game are transferred to subsequent playthroughs. The concept of the game changed a lot during development: initially, Dead Cells was conceived as a tower defense with the defense of the base from hordes of zombies, but later it was completely redesigned under the inspiration from The Binding of Isaac. Dead Cells received extremely high critical acclaim, with reviewers citing eye-catching visuals, challenging but addictive gameplay, and extremely high overall game quality.

Game process

The Dead Cells genre has been described as “roguevania” – a combination of roguelike genres with their procedurally generated levels and metroidvanias with their action gameplay and connected worlds that require gradual exploration[2]. The creature controlled by the player is a sentient bunch of cells, in each new passage taking possession of the corpse of one of the executed prisoners in a huge prison. During the game, the character explores various dungeons, defeats the enemies inhabiting them, and collects numerous items.

The character can carry two weapons and two auxiliary items and find new ones in the dungeons – from swords and throwing knives to grenades, traps and turrets. Weapons and items have different randomly generated characteristics and additional effects, similar to the Diablo series[3]. For example, weapons can deal increased damage to bleeding enemies or cause the corpses of downed enemies to explode. Items dropped from defeated enemies – “cells” – allow you to acquire permanent bonuses at the end of each level, such as the ability to use a flask more times to restore health or a particularly powerful weapon according to blueprints found in dungeons[4].

Each level in each playthrough is randomly generated – while the game collects intricate labyrinths from predetermined elements, randomly scattering enemies and objects over them. Similar to the Souls series, the game takes the player through battles against enemies with complex behavior and expects the character to die frequently and the player to learn from their mistakes. Although most of the battles in the game can be avoided, the player must defeat several particularly difficult bosses during the passage of Dead Cells.

Dead Cells supports integration with the Twitch video streaming service – this simplifies the broadcast of the game over the Internet and allows viewers of the broadcast to influence the gameplay, for example, by voting in the chat which way the player should move[6].


Motion Twin has been developing browser and mobile games since 2001. Over the years, this market has changed and become more competitive, and working on new games required more and more discipline, investment and market research. This situation depressed the developers, and they considered disbanding the studio, but in the end agreed that they would jointly develop “something that they themselves would like to play … something complex, ultra-niche, with pixel art and insane complexity,” even knowing that this kind of game has the potential to scare away rather than attract players[7].

Motion Twin originally intended to make a sequel to one of their previous games, the browser-based Die2Nite, a multiplayer tower defense game released in 2008. Die2Nite challenged a group of up to 40 players to defend the city against hordes of zombies: during each day of the game, players built fortifications to protect against zombies, and at the end of the day the game checked the fortifications, telling the players whether the zombies managed to overcome them and break into the city or not. Dead Cells was originally developed as a development of the same idea – players had to build fortifications during the day.

and at night directly fight the zombies; the game was supposed to be free-to-play[8]. According to one of the early ideas of the developers, only one player could become the winner in the game, and each participant in the multiplayer mode had to decide when and how to betray his fellow fortress-builders – to strike himself while no one is watching, or let the zombies do all the dirty work [nine]. While the concept of building a fortress one at a time and defending it against zombies worked well with large groups of players.

In 2014, the studio presented a single-player version of Dead Cells at the Big Indie Pitch event – in this version, the player also alternately went through the phases of battles and preparation for them; concept took second place at the event. In the future, the developers decided to completely exclude the phase of preparation for battles from the game as too boring and slow. It was not until the end of 2015 that the concept of the game took on its final form – from tower defense the game turned into an action-platformer[8].

Motion Twin borrowed the idea of turrets from the multiplayer shooter Team Fortress 2: one of the classes available to players in this game, the engineer, can build turrets and other objects that help other players. Turrets and some other elements included in Dead Cells at the stage when it was developed as a tower defense, moved into the final version of the game, although they ceased to be the main weapon in the arsenal of the game character.

The developers did not want the player to get used to constantly using the same combination of weapons or skills, as happens in games like Dark Souls – the game was supposed to encourage the player to try out new combinations of weapons and skills and experiment. According to Motion Twin producer Steve Filby, Dead Cells was heavily influenced by The Binding of Isaac, whose gameplay relies entirely on the combination of items the player collects, “that’s the main fun of the game.”