Dead Cells (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £21.99 (+£4.04 for the soundtrack)
Where To Get It: SteamHumble StoreItch.IO

If you’ve looked at my past coverage of Dead Cells, you’ll know that I’ve been quite positive, and, over time, seeing things that I’d thought of as mild flaws within the game corrected, almost as soon as I thought of them. Motion Twin, as it turns out, have their heads firmly in the game, and now that Dead Cells is released?

It’s pretty nice! On the one hand, the game is a sort of deliberate twitch, in which you can hang back, but, in many situations, the best option is to get in there with one finger firmly controlling your dodge rolls, and the other on the weapon options. Combat with an enemy is never impossible, but the less you’ve found, weapon and power up wise, the more fraught it becomes.

Reminder: It’s not cowardice if your HP is this low. Even when it isn’t, it’s *being cautious* , and cautious goo blobs live longer. (But they probably won’t get the speedrun reward, booooo!)

In the Ossuary, for example, I never quite feel comfortable without some damage over time weaponry, like the Blazing Torch or Bleeding Sword, because the creatures that live specifically there are meaty, often quick, and their general theme is to punish both the close and unwary. Considering I am occasionally the latter, and often the former… Well, something where I can throw it, hide away for a second, then throw it again in order to get through relatively safely is my touchstone.

Part of the fun of Dead Cells, however, is that you don’t always get what you want, and adapting to the various weapon styles the game throws at you is important. Which makes it equally nice, then, that they’re easy to understand. Simple combos for each weapon mean that you very quickly “get” the weapon’s deal, and, equally, you can clearly see where there’s something you’ll be wanting to try and find later down the line. Somewhere. Somehow.

Example: There are doors. They don’t open right now, but they’re numbered. I’m not worried. Sooner, or later, I’ll work out what they’re there for, on the routes I have available. Similarly, I see areas only reached with a walljump, and I say to myself “Aha… I have to get further to get that.” The more you play, the more, seemingly, there is to find. Although that will, no doubt, have its limits as the end approaches.

This wasn’t here pre-release. And I’m okay with it being here, because I know, sooner or later, I’ll find the key(s) I need. Sooner… Or later…

It even has an interesting world, where, in the release version, Motion Twin have added something that was always subtly in the background, but is now available in a lot of the explorable lore of each area: Humour. This is, yes, an ooey-gooey game about smashing enemies into bits, before being smashed yourself, hopefully getting further each time, before being brutally killed and doing it all over again, from the beginning. But, as it turns out, our protagonist is a bit of a fish out of water. “Huh, all those bodies look a bit like… Me” , they think, examing what is presumably… Well, them, dead, over and over again. They do make the connection, but the subtle animation, the scratching of their slimey goop head, adds charm to it. The bratchests remain, just as bratty, just as into the act of being violently opened, and just as into punishing the player as they have been, but there are little bits where the protagonist lampshades the seriousness, such as the statue of the king. How did he see out of that helmet? Weird.

So, it’s got humour, and subtle humour at that. It’s got charm, it’s got good visuals, clean menus, and excellent sound design. What it also has is its core game loop, and this, fellow readers, is going to be your make or break with Dead Cells. Are you, the potential player, okay with the fact that, no matter how many shortcuts you do or don’t unlock, no matter what new toys you successfully get (You have to complete a level to keep them, complete more levels to attain them, after all), you are, upon death, going to be sent straight back to the beginning, albeit with some things retained?

Pile of oddly reminiscent corpses may or may not reflect number of deaths in game. Looks a little short for my playthrough so far…

Personally, the answer is yes, because it’s an interesting world, and I want to see more. But I can perfectly understand players who’d be put off by this, because, until a shortcut is unlocked (and you know roughly how to get there, and through it), every new area, every new miniboss, every elite enemy or even new enemies, are potential run enders. Many give visual clues to their function, but, in the end, how much you like Dead Cells depends on how comfortable you are with being sent back to Jail, Do Not Pass Go, Okay Fine You Can Keep This Much Gold.

As mentioned, I’m fine with it. But it is a core part of the design, and I highly doubt it’s going away any time soon.

The Mad Welshman has died many times. But each time, he oozes back, because the Editors of Reality demand he keep up. Damn their galaxy-filled eyes…

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Dead Cells (Early Access Review 2)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £13.99
Where To Get It: Steam, Humble Store, Itch.IO

It’s funny, sometimes, the things you have to think about in a game like Dead Cells. After all, sooner or later, the player’s going to have trouble getting new blueprints, or collect them all. Thankfully, I have discovered that yes, Motion Twin have thought of both aspects, while continuing to improve a game that I’ve already been liking so far.

See… I *told* you I’d get closer to that goal of getting all the lovely bubbly vials of cool things! Soon, my pretties. Soon.

When last I looked at Dead Cells, quite a few months back, it was already shaping up to be a characterful, clever 2d platforming slash-em-up with a lot of depth, paths, and ooey goo to enjoy. And since then? There’s been a lot of changes. And you know what? They’re good. The new levelling system, for example, balances a concern that the older system had, where you could go for damage, health, or ability, but could level yourself into a corner. This time around, every upgrade path gives you some health, and there’s good reasons to take any particular level up, from damage boosts on killing enemies, to improved parrying with shields. Similarly, some upgrades allow for selling things you don’t want on the spot, reshuffling the shop (for a price), a Daily Challenge mode where you try to balance getting through a level quickly with murdering the Best Monsters, and new areas galore.

For first time players, the level design hints at things that you can achieve, or get. Glowing sarcophagi. Weird blobs, strange sigils… Where I’m currently at, ability wise, I’m looking at walls too tall for me to climb, and I’m not thinking “Oh boo, an area blocked off”, I’m thinking “Hrm. Somewhere, currently out of my reach (but not forever), there is someone I’ll defeat to get wall climbing or jumping. And then, my pretties… Oh yessss, theeeennnn…”

When a plan comes together, and enemies go SQUISH, it’s a good feeling…

It encourages with its blockages, rather than feeling like a limitation. Sounds like a contradiction, I know, but somehow… It works. Similarly, Elite enemies are a thing you can choose not to engage. Hit ’em, and you fight ’em. Avoid them, and, okay, you miss out on some lovely Cells for unlocking new weapons and abilities, but you wouldn’t be avoiding them if you didn’t think that maybe they’d be too much for you right now.

The things I’ve said previously, about the cool, disgusting sound design, the goo, the interesting visual design, and the twitch, remain the same. The aesthetic is awesome, the game mostly lets you deal with it on your own terms, while encouraging weapon experimentation with synergies and special abilities, and… Well, I liked it then, and I still quite enjoy it now, even where I am, pretty late in the collection game and hunting for the next step forward.

The briefest of glimpses of an area recently added, the Clock Tower. Suffice to say, it was brief because I was murderised shortly thereafter.

The Mad Welshman is running and running to stay in place, oh, what a mixed up world this is!

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Midboss (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £10.99 (£14.98 for game and soundtrack, £3.99 for soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam, Itch.IO

It has always been the position of TMW that experimentation is good. It’s good to try new things, because by trying new things, exploring new possibilities, games as a whole improve. Unfortunately, while Midboss experiments, it also falls prey to the problems of genre past, and feels somewhat humdrum and unfriendly as a result. Let’s unpack that.

The game, essentially, is a turn based dungeon hack, where you play that most maligned of any Dungeon Lord’s denizens, the humble Imp. Except the Imp, rather annoyed at being the punching bag of all those skeletons and zombies, decides to finally use its power of possessing creatures to work its way up the hierarchy. Viva La Impvolution!

Alas, La Impvolution often ends quite quickly. Imps are not the beefiest revolutionaries.

And this, in the end, is its core gimmick. You have an ability in Imp Form, to mark an enemy for possession. Kill it, and you become it. Kill other creatures with it, and you unlock its powers. You then have the option of using those powers in imp form, and, if you’ve got all the skills, mastering the form, you can also gain their stats. It’s clever, it’s understated, and that understatement, along with the unfriendliness of the traditional roguelike, forms the main problems.

Yes, it’s nice to be a high damage skellington, for example. But animations are light on the ground, so combat is mostly “Bash self into enemy, numbers happen, enemy bashes itself into you, numbers happen.” It is more involved than that (Speed factors into how many turns you get to move and hit people versus them hitting you and moving, for example), but it rarely feels more involved than that. Similarly, you hit crates, cratefish (Normally a subject for a joke, but here, it’s just A Thing That Happens), yarn, and maybe items pop out. The items, except for potions, blend somewhat into the floor, it’s not always clear what kind of item they are due to this colourblind unfriendly problem, and, of course, in roguelike fashion, you don’t know what they are until you pick them up.

The game has “Retro modes” , shaders that appear mostly accurate to older graphical modes. Here’s the VIC-20, one of the *less* eye-searing ones.

There is a lot of vendor trash, so improving yourself equipment wise becomes an exercise in tedium, itself not helped by the fact that there is, as far as I am aware, one vendor, who is a cat, and may exist on any given dungeon level. See, again, potentially interesting and amusing thing, made humdrum. They accept balls of yarn as currency, and, for some reason, this Dungeon Lord keeps lots of bundles of yarn. No, I don’t particularly know either. There’s one kind of scroll that I’ve seen (Identify), a variety of potions, and skill/spell books, which let you use abilities without having the form equipped (A limited number of times.)

Even with the turn based nature of the game, odds are high you’ll forget that you can go into your inventory, right click a book or a potion, and lo, your odds of survival/damage/stunning/whatnots have improved… Because yes, you have to do this.

There are some nice touches to this game, don’t get me wrong. When you equip a form on top of another form, your palette changes to reflect this (So a vampire bat/skellington is a red skeleton, while a lightning bat/skellington is pale blue), and there are unlockable “Retro Modes”, basically palette accurate shaders of days gone by, from the eye-searing CGA palette (Pictured), to the more reasonable tones of the VIC-20 or C64. They don’t help the colour blind problems of the game (In fact, CGA makes it worse, because CGA was always a fucking terrible video mode), but they are somewhat nice.

When the majority of items are vendor trash, and there is only one vendor… Problems arise.

Overall, though, Midboss places me in an awkward spot. It’s not quite friendly enough to be a starter for folks wanting to get into Roguelikes, beyond its core gimmick, it isn’t quite interesting enough to recommend to Roguelike fans looking for something new… I could maybe recommend it to folks looking at game design and gimmicks that change gameplay, but otherwise… It just doesn’t really seem to get me going, and I don’t feel like I’m doing more than going through the motions when playing.

The Mad Welshman sighed as he watched the Imp. Soon, he would have to reveal himself, and he was getting really tired of saying “Yes! I WAS that sheep!”

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Dead Cells (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £13.99
Where To Get It: Steam, Humble Store, Itch.IO

For a bundle of ooze, condemned to murder and drain the genetic information of magical weapons and experiments just like itself, the titular Dead Cells are quite an expressive character. They sort of have to be, as they can’t say anything, and that’s easily explained by the fact that they’re an oozing thing with one burning eye and no mouth. But hey, they understand folks fine, what’s the problem?

Ahhh… Soon, I will have *aaaall* the goopy vials… And maybe then, I can rest.

Anyways, Dead Cells is a game about dodging blows from various enemies, leaping about frantically, slashing and murdering frantically, and occasionally dying frantically, before your little pile of ooze is piped into another headless corpse to begin the whole palaver again for the nefarious purposes of a Necro-Alchemist. It’s a simple game, and pseudo-random level generation means that while I know roughly what to expect from a level, I don’t know the full ins and outs.

Design wise, it’s pretty tight so far. It’s one of the first games where I haven’t found a subweapon I haven’t found a use for, the weapons, similarly, are solid. Enemies telegraph things well enough that I’ve quickly worked out how to dodge, say, the venom of the scorpions in the old sewer. You start with only one path, but unlock more by getting far enough (You take the high road, and I’ll take the low road… And I will be murdered by scorpions!) , you have a fair few weapons already (From main weapons like the electric whip and the BLOOD SWORD, to subweapons like the Meat Grinder, or my personal favourite, Ice Grenades), and, obviously, a bevy of monsters.

What’s that coming out of the ground, is it a Scorpion, it is a scorpion!

It must be said that, if you can’t play twitchy games, Dead Cells is sadly not for you, because it’s twitchy as hell. In fact, one of my current criticisms of the game is that Elite enemies following you gives you absolutely no chance to heal (Which takes time), and sometimes, the fight goes so quickly that you’re not sure what actually killed you (Each individual fight tends to take between 1 and 3 seconds, and, at the end of that time, either they’re dead, or you are. Unless they’re Elites, in which case the fight lasts either too long, or a painfully short time.)

But the sound design is good (The slish and squish of your ooey-gooey body shlorping into your next headless host is… A thing to behold), the visuals are good (Pixellated gore, goo, and viscera is the order of the day… The game revels in its griminess, but everything except the pipe ladders in the sewer levels are clearly differentiated), and even getting past the first level means you improve, albeit slower than if you get further each run, so the difficulty evens out over time. Overall, Dead Cells is already looking promising, and, along with Drifting Lands, is currently my go to for a quick, fun game. The tunes are good, and my only grump right now is that Elite enemies are, if anything, too elite.

Are you… Are you *Bratting* on me, Cursed Chest? Goodness me, I’d almost be tempted if I didn’t already *know* you’d bite me and inflict a death curse!

The Mad Welshman grimaced, if a pile of sentient goop could be said to grimace… This zombie looked… Different somehow. “Is it your hai-URK.”

Welp. Time to start over.

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Dungeon Kingdom: Sign of the Moon (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £13.99
Where To Get It: Steam

If it weren’t for my party, I think I would have given up on Dungeon Kingdom: Sign of the Moon long ago. They’ve revealed dungeons to me, told me about buttons, and, in at least one case, showed me where a puzzle was that I absolutely needed to progress (And hadn’t found in any of the previous updates.) But I can’t help but think a middle ground between “Tell me where things are (occasionally)”, and “Give me one line in dialogue and another in a book to clue me into a puzzle’s existence” would be helpful. That this is true for more than one aspect of Dungeon Kingdom is, sadly, damning with faint praise.

Ninja, Warrior, Priest, Wizard... Where have I seen those before... *Think*

Ninja, Warrior, Priest, Wizard… Where have I seen those before… *Think*

For all that a lot of effort has clearly gone into the environments themselves, with lovingly rendered caves, temples, and towns, and again, work has clearly gone into the various character portraits we encounter, a game is the sum of its parts, and what fills these environments and character portraits is less than impressive. My last session was a couple of hours, but in that time, I had progressed from a kitchen knife to… Er… A slightly bigger kitchen knife, wailed on rats and bees for what seemed like hours, gained four spells (Three of which I had discovered simply through experimenting), and kicked myself as I missed out on a bashable wall, before reminding myself it took several swipes to knock it down.

I’d also met a high priestess Bavmorda, who was obviously up to no good. This shouldn’t be too surprising, considering the naming seems to be geek reference heaven. The priestess Eilistraee, taking a break from being the deity of Good Dark Elves and Hunting. The dark knight Astaroth, in no way a duke of Hell, honest! The list goes on, and… This reminds me of how the game goes on. And on. And on.

This is the oddest problem… A step-based RPG that feels too slow. And it’s obvious there’s time pressure, as the developers have taken leaves from the Dungeon Master book pretty much wholesale… Character recruiting is the Recruit/Resurrect mechanic from both Dungeon Master games, the classes are exactly the same, the emphasis on puzzles is exactly the same… And both food and water meters are present. Oh joy. Oh joy of joys. And yes, that was an incredibly tired and sarcastic “Oh joy”, because, outside of a setting that demands it (Dark Sun, for example), I do not like water meters. I haven’t seen a desert, and don’t think I’m likely to. In any case, that’s your time pressure, as while water is largely unlimited (Making it just added tedium), food isn’t. I have yet to see a “Create Food” spell. So the game is, much like Dungeon Master, very much a case of “Save Early, Save Often” (And use different saves, obviously.) At the very least, you’ll want to save before hitting the inn to avoid the long walk into town.

No, really. Bavmorda. Luckily, we're all pigs anyway, by virtue of being adventurers!

No, really. Bavmorda. Luckily, we’re all pigs anyway, by virtue of being adventurers!

This, in essence, is my main problem with Dungeon Kingdom right now… That there is potential, but it’s also got a lot that has me saying “Meh.” I hit things, and honestly, only the bashable walls react. Throwing things, oddly, involves physics where good placement is often important. The music is generic, and what voicework there is, is often flat or poorly directed (“Big… Trouble…”) There are awkward moments where it’s not very clear what to do, even with very simple instructions (Stand facing the entrance, and I will come back. What this means is “stand in the next tile along for a little while, which is facing the entrance of the place you have to go, and I will come back. Nowhere else counts, nor does any other direction), and the story… If I didn’t know Bavmorda was evil, or at the very least suspicious, I would have to find confirmation in… Everyone’s private quarters. There’s no consequence for looking at them, there’s no challenge in looting them, but you have to know, ahead of time, that this is old school enough to expect you to do this. The game also assumes the main hero(ine), chosen by being… The first character you pick is a man in the intro. Whoops!

Dungeon Kingdom: Sign of the Moon is undeniably pretty. Some of its puzzles are actually quite good (Which races don’t bow down? Oh, I get what you mean there, haha!) and the developers have made strides in making the game somewhat more accessible with the aforementioned Party hints, a map system, making the food and water meters go down more slowly (Yes, I did notice, and am grateful.) But it feels slow, it seems to progress quite slowly, and it seems to be learning the wrong lessons from Dungeon Master and its ilk.

Monsters will attack, but not always consistently. They generally won't respond to being hit until they die.

Monsters will attack, but not always consistently. They generally won’t respond to being hit until they die. Also this is a ghost bat. I thought I’d best mention that.

The Mad Welshman peered myopically at the scroll… Damn these fantasy worlds and their lack of Opticians!

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