There’s a new game out on Steam Early Access this week. It’s called Dead Cells and if I were to grab you in an elevator and throw a few buzzwords at your face, I’d call it Dark Souls meets Groundhog Day meets Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. That’s good. In fact, the game itself is rather fantastic in its design and key gameplay hook: Death.
Lots of it, so get used to it. I’m not talking about the kind of death that you can quickly respawn from, but rather a proper permadeath usually reserved for reducing me to a quivering wreck in Fire Emblem. You die, you restart from scratch. Live, die and repeat. You’d think that such a setup would be massively unappealing, but it isn’t.
That’s because Dead Cells excels at its core gameplay, which always feels unfair enough. It’s weird, it’s punishing and I love it. It’s masochistic gameplay for certain, yet there’s always a lesson to be learnt from each fumble. That’s not the primary reason why I’m loving this game however. Because while Dead Cells is a sadistic treat to play, it’s beautifully easy on the eyes thanks to its nostalgic visuals.
We’re living in an age where the biggest games boast High Dynamic Range options and visuals that are this close to bridging the uncanny valley divide. Games that are shining and gorgeous examples of how far the technology behind them has come.That’s good and should be admired, but the past should not be forgotten because there’s still plenty of charm in retro visuals done right.
The thing is, I’m not interested in a demake of graphics. I think it’s more than possible to have visuals which are symbolic of the past and the modern day. The emotional nerd side of my brain loves that idea, especially when the end result is a smooth and fluid translation of the past, done today. It’s more than just some solid character animation that makes this art form special however. It’s the backgrounds, the colours. The size of the block and how many are used.
Finding that sweet spot between yesterday and today in a collection of pixels is not an easy task. Dead Cells at least, has mastered the art of the pixel. If you’re interested in seeing it for yourself, Dead Cells has hit Early Access on Steam today. So if you’re in a mood to punish yourself, it’s well worth a look.
Last Updated: May 10, 2017