‘Dead Cells’ review: a good mobile port of an excellent roguelike game

Great visuals and some innovative control choices make for a great way to play

Games that require fast reflexes and good controls can occasionally be lost when ported onto mobile. Touchscreens are definitely getting better, but it’s still not the same as holding a controller in your hand and playing as some games are intended. So, with that in mind, while you can play Dead Cells with a controller if you wish, I’m going to be reviewing it using mobile touch controls.

So, for those who have never played or heard of Dead Cells, it’s basically a roguelike action game. It’s a roguelike where you don’t just get more powerful the more you play – well, you die and lose everything – but you unlock more powerful weapons and abilities for future runs. You even unlock new traversal abilities, too, which allow you to take new routes through the decrepit world.

The world itself is falling apart. You’re an alchemic experiment that has gained sentience, and you can move through the world by inhabiting one of an unending volume of plague-ridden corpses. It’s not an ideal situation, but hey, we all work with what we’re given. Thankfully, you’ve got the power to rise up and strike down the tyrannical foes in your path.

Dead Cells
Dead Cells. Credit: Motion Twin

You fight through hordes of weird enemies, both humanoid and otherwise, and have to overcome various bosses and hazards to make it to the final boss. Once you do, and if you can beat them, you’ll unlock the next difficulty. It’s a cycle that continues until you’ve got fewer resources than you ever thought possible, and it’s tough as the underside of a roadrunner’s feet.

Despite the state of the world, it’s all incredibly pretty. The gorgeous pixel art makes for some genuinely lovely vistas, and even when you’re trudging through the sewers and all of the exploding worms and monsters that that brings, you’ll still be amazed by just how good the game looks.

It also sounds great. The music shifts and forms into new tracks in the various areas and boss fights, and while it’s never overwhelming, it always captures the atmosphere of the area perfectly. Of course, it helps that the mood is usually “oh god no I’m going to die” but, well, it’s still impressive.

Now that you’ve got an idea of the aesthetics and setting, let’s get down to business: the gameplay.

Dead Cells
Dead Cells. Credit: Motion Twin

Dead Cells is a side-on 2D action game where you can fight, dodge and slam your way through enemies. Your main attacks come from two main weapons that you pick up. Sometimes these can be things like giant broadswords or a hefty shield, and other times these are things like explosive bows and fancy shoes.

Each weapon has an affinity for one of three stats, each of which you can level up by finding scrolls littered throughout the levels. Each of the scrolls lets you pick which stat to increase, which will both increase the damage of the corresponding weapons, and also give you a health boost.

That basically means that you’ll likely find your favourite stat to improve thanks to the weapons attached to it. Alongside the basic weapons, you also have traps, each of which also corresponds to a stat, so you’ll have even more reason to specialise if you find a build you like.

Dead Cells
Dead Cells. Credit: Motion Twin

The variety of builds in Dead Cells is huge. It’s one of the main things that keeps you coming back to try just one more run, all the way until your 20 more runs deep and it’s 4am. You can easily play the game constantly for days on end without ever having to do the same thing twice, and your options only get more plentiful the more you play, which, in turn, makes playing more even more appealing.

The bosses are hard-as-nails, and you’ll need perfect reactions, and an excellent run of luck to be able to take them down, especially as you make the game harder for yourself by activating the higher difficulties.

It’s an incredible game, and, for the most part, the controls can keep up. They’re not perfect, but they work most of the time. This is largely due to the fact that you can turn on an auto-attack, which stops you from button mashing on your phone, as it automatically hits enemies that come within range of your primary weapon.

Dead Cells is out now on iOS and Android.

Our Verdict

Overall, Dead Cells on mobile is almost as good as it is on console and PC. The touch controls work the majority of the time, and the gameplay is still just a heady mix of both style and substance. The core loop is so much fun that you’ll regularly find yourself cursing your phone’s battery, even if it’s usually up to the task of gaming.

Pros

  • Beautiful graphics
  • Incredibly gameplay
  • Infinite re-playability

Cons

  • Controls don’t always work
  • You’ll probably cramp your hands

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