Designed as a side-scrolling roguelike with heavy inspiration drawn from the Castlevania games, Dead Cells brilliantly squashes any frustration that arises from death with reassurances that most of the work the player puts in before their final breath adds up to something meaningful. The next run will be better because of the time and effort put into the last. This boost of confidence makes Dead Cells a dangerous game, as I continually found myself saying “just one more run.” As the clock turned from night to early morning and I made more gains in weapons, perks, and areas to explore, I didn’t want to put the game down.

In the opening seconds of play, you learn Dead Cells’ nameless protagonist is designed to handle failure well. He has recently perished, and you get to witness his resurrection. This odd being walks again, but only one thing is different: His head is missing. That vital space is now occupied by a swirling vortex of fire and smoke that can consume cells from other living things. His mission from this moment forward is to kill demons and devour their cells to become more powerful. When he dies, he goes back to square one, but if he can reach a safe zone, the cells he earned carry on.

That’s it for the story, and while the world’s strange foes and locations call for explanation, the brevity of narrative works. You don’t need to know who this guy is or where he’s going. Your only hope is that he did enough with his last life to reawaken with a better sword or an extra health flask.

The focus of the entire experience is on the pursuit of power, which is glorious. Developer Motion Twin wastes no time placing you on the hunting trail, which unfolds across sprawling, procedurally generated areas occupied with heavy enemy resistance. These foes range from slugs with pointy teeth to aggressive knights who will strike you down if you so much as pause for a second. The adversaries are well-designed in that their weaknesses are easy to exploit if you are on your game, but can be a handful if you screw up in any way. They all have unique behaviors and tells, and when jumbled together with other foes, take on whole new identities and may need to be addressed in different ways.

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