Dead Cells Preview: Metroidvania Goes Rogue

With upcoming games like Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night and Runic helping to restore the Metroidvania genre to prominence, we are seeing a resurgence of interest in that straightforward exploration experience. No pretenses or bombast, just enter a large castle or sprawling structure and unlock your way through a host of enemies. Dead Cells is a new entry in that genre but with its own twist: the Roguelike genre staple of permadeath that really raises the stakes. Add in 2D Soulslike combat like that found in Salt and Sanctuary and now you’ve really got something interesting. Indie Developer Motion Twin recently announced that the game will be heading into early access on PC on May 10th,  Let’s take a look at what the fusion will look like.

Genre: Metroidvania/Roguelike
Developed by: Motion Twin
Published by: : Motion Twin
Release date: Early Access on May 10th
Platforms: PC

Dead Cells Features

  • RogueVania: Intense 2D action with the adrenaline pumping threat of permadeath in a castle full of cuddly creatures.
  • Souls-like combat: Pattern-based bosses and minions, weapons and spells with unique gameplay. Roll roll roll your boat gently down the stream…
  • Nonlinear progression: Unlock new levels with every death, take a new path. Tired of the stinking sewers? Why not take the ramparts?
  • Exploration: Secret rooms, hidden passages, charming landscapes. A fine place for a holiday.

Story & Setting

You play as an immortal collection of…cells, that is able to inhabit the bodies of dead soldiers in order to advance through the game’s sprawling environments. Beyond that not a whole lot of lore has been revealed. In the typical get in there and die fashion of these types of games, the focus is more on the gameplay and making your way through the challenge. They want to hear what the players have for ideas on backstory of the character and world.

They are creating several different biomes for the game, from swamp, forest, rooftop, mass grave, island and these all have their own unique visual flair and vibe. This sets it apart from some other -vania type games in that they are instituting a bit of visual diversity. Within these biomes, the game world will be procedurally generated that will change upon death.


The game borrows heavily from the roguelike style of gaming that we have seen in some modern titles like Rogue Legacy, Binding of Isaac, Risk of Rain and FTL. What Dead Cells has added to the genre specific mechanic of permadeath is a system of actual progression. This tempers the danger and despair of dying to an extent, because even if you’re on your way and taking some heavy damage, it is not necessarily a total loss if you do die, as there is a chance you have unlocked a permanent upgrade. Sure you’ll have to make your way back through the level, but you won’t find yourself totally set back. This does give the game a sense of push forward as opposed to the careful trepidation we sometimes use when playing Roguelikes.

As for the Metroidvania influence, it forms the backbone of the experience. In Dead Cells you will be exploring a deadly world with a bunch of secrets and shortcuts as well as a large variety of settings and monsters that will provide some staunch challenges. In a game predicated on permadeath, you are going to die a lot. However, similar to the Soulsborne series, the goal of the punishing difficulty is not to sadistically maim you, but to teach you little by little everything you need to know to advance. Even if it’s arduous. Every time you get past a boss or a shortcut the game hopes to reward you with a strong sense of reward.

So if you combine the roguelike permadeath sensibilities, with the careful exploration seen in the Castlevania series and add in the procedural generation that keeps the game diverse and fresh you start arriving at a fairly new gameplay experience. All of these elements conspire together to force you to really pay attention to the world you’re exploring and what you’re doing. Call it a brain teaser of sorts, where you’re testing and experimenting with your choices and possible paths, finding unexpected ways forward.

The different paths you can choose defy the concept of rigid or static levels. There will be some room to choose paths through the game that suit your playstyle. Perhaps you will take a shorter path that is filled with some extremely  difficult foes, or perhaps you will opt for a more meandering journey, that avoids certain challenges while testing your ability to navigate. Whatever you choose it’s completely up to your skill how far you go.

The combat is designed to be a close representation of what we see in the Souls series of games. There are invincibility frames while rolling, the bosses and enemies all have patterns you can study and exploit to help you overcome their brutal difficulty. Quickly dealing damage will allow you to regain some health back similar to Bloodborne. All of these elements in its 2D perspective give you a combat system that will offer some of the signature feature of Dark Souls, Bloodborne and their to date best emulation, Salt and Sanctuary.

The enemies are going to present some of your toughest challenges in the game and defeating them will allow you to earn experience that will allow you to craft new weapons and equipment. The caveat is these only persist for the current run. The weapons and equipment are an extension of the same system, as weapons have their own unique handling and art. There are also projectiles are your disposal, such as an Ice Grenade and Magnetic Grenade and other unique skills and gear you can use to alter time and get from platform to platform. Overall, the combat system is aiming for a tough but fair feel.

But you will die and alot. However, if you do, it’s not the complete end of the world (although it is the end of the level). Dying will unlock further areas and routes to explore, which will give players choices on which of the generated places to explore if you’re having trouble getting through a particular location. Within these locations will be even more hidden secrets, items and new paths to find as well. Yes the game is going to be tough and at times unforgiving, but there are going to be options. There is a lot of artistic detail being  packed into the world that will encourage players  to investigate and explore, finding out bits of the lore along the way.

The gameplay of Dead Cells looks promising even from the perspective of a masochistic player. It seems to be taking the best of things we love about games like Castlevania, Salt and Sanctuary, and Rogue Legacy and applying its own unique approach. The distinctive art style gives the game a inviting nature that is going to be needed when you’re faced with your umpteenth death. With the hint of a unique and deep weapon system as well as a variety of tools, there is a lot of potential to be had when exploring its procedural levels. One only hopes that the deaths while numerous don’t stall progress completely.

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Editor at Fextralife. I look for the substantial in gaming and I try to connect video games to the emotions and stories they elicit. I love all things culture and history and have an odd fondness for the planet Jupiter. I think my dogs are pretty awesome too.

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3 comments on “Dead Cells Preview: Metroidvania Goes Rogue”

  1. Avatar Daos_Strange says:

    Looks fun. Too bad it’s PC only.

  2. Avatar TSMP says:

    Permanent upgrades plus permadeath is a very interesting gameplay combination.

  3. Avatar skarekrow13 says:

    Permadeath but with permanent upgrades is exactly like Rogue Legacy actually from the sound of it.

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