It's safe to say tht the indie space is not wanting for more games inspired by Castlevania or Metroid. Likewise, the roguelike is a well-worn genre, many using procedurally-generated levels to switch things up on every run. Dead Cells doesn't stray too far from these conventions, but it does differentiate itself by being a game where dying might be a preferable strategy.
Every time you die in Dead Cells, the pile of glowing green mess that is you crawls into a new body at the beginning. From there, you're ushered into a hall full of hanging glass jars. These jars show your progress in Dead Cells; all of the weapons and equipment that you've unlocked, lending you a certain degree of persistence.
You're also given 50 percent of your gold from the previous run, but through future upgrades, you can get that percentage down to zero. This allows to buy even better weapons at the shop near the start.
Death sends you back to the beginning, but it's not a harsh penalty. You lose your current weapons and the eponymous Dead Cells you're carrying. The cells are the organic cast-off that falls from the corpse of every enemy in the game. They are used to open permanent character upgrades through transmutation and more powerful weapons related to each soul. In-between each level, the Collector waits, ready to accept two different types of dead cells to your persistent pool. Offer up 5 Grenade Zombie cells for example, and you'll add the stunning Magnetic Grenade to your arsenal. Give the Collector a few Archer cells to get a sweet deployable arrow turret.
You begin in a prison, but there are multiple paths to take to the final boss. Perhaps you'll head through the sewers, or scale the tall ramparts. In my playthrough, I went up, leaving the prison behind for sunny skies of the ramparts. Unfortunately, I ran into an elite archer, a teleporting monster that utterly wrecked my swag. That's what I get for being so damned confident.
Sections of the generated levels will be beyond your current capabilities. Certain doors are time-locked, meaning they're only open for a specific time from the beginning of the level, encouraging you to play faster. Other areas require skills that you haven't unlocked yet. Teleporters dot each level, allowing you to move around inside your current level, but sometimes the best way to travel is to kill yourself. That's an instant ticket back to the beginning, with the experience and new skills you've unlocked.
Movement and combat in Dead Cells is fast and fluid. You have a double jump and mantling to traverse the heights. Combat makes extensive use of a dodge roll that makes you invincible during its animation. Your full spread of available equipment for combat includes two equipped weapons (you start with a Rusty Sword and your choice of a Bow or Shield), two health flasks that you can refill in-between levels, and two cooldown-locked special items (the Magnetic Grenade mentioned). At its core Dead Cells is all about the hack-and-slash, but the wide variety of weapons adds a layer of choice and complexity to the game.
I was jamming pretty hard with Dead Cells, to the point that I wasn't willing to leave the game behind when my time was up. Developer Motion Twin says the game will be coming to Steam Early Access in two months, but for me, it's not soon enough.