Games of 2018: Dead Cells compels with fizz, grime and grit

Dead Cells
Dead Cells is out now for PC, Switch, PS4 and Xbox One

Following our list of the 50 best games of 2018, we are now counting down our top ten releases across the year and reflecting on our time with each game. We follow Marvel's Spider-Man with grimy indie gem Dead Cells at nine. Let us know if you have played the terrific dungeon-crawler, if it deserves its slot and what might have taken its place. To join the conversation simply log in to your Telegraph account or register for free here.​

Despite my advancing years and increasing inability to press those darnedbuttons fast enough, I find myself constantly returning to Motion Twin’s tremendous 2D action-adventure Dead Cells.

It is a permanent fixture on my Switch menu screen, often nestled just behind the Nintendo game of the moment and my son's current obsession Pokemon Let’s Go. Dead Cells has a siren’s call; it is an abusive temptress. Go on, it whispers, just a quick go, see if you can get any further.

That is its main appeal in a nutshell, I think. Getting its full release this year after a spell in early access in 2017, Dead Cells is a Metroidvania of sorts, but one that relies on punishing rogue-like progression and a dash of Dark Souls to challenge and push its players. As the reanimated corpse of an unfortunate prisoner, you sprint through its grungy, gothic island jail. You collect weapons as you go, slashing and shooting at a bedevilling bestiary of nasties.

Defeating foes yields Cells, which can be pooled into abilities when you reach the safe zone between levels. The unlocks are the only thing you retain upon death, upon which you are punted back to the beginning to inhabit a fresh cadaver and start the process again. It is an entirely familiar premise, of course, and I often struggle with these rogue-likes as I pine for definable progression.

But Dead Cells simple party trick is to be an absolute pleasure to play on each run. Its movement is lightning-fast and super responsive, its weapons are varied and pack a hell of a punch. Hammers thud, swords swish, electricity crackles and arrows fly. I maintain, for all the fierce competition, that Dead Cells has the very best combat for a game of this type. It fizzes with purpose and response.

What keeps this all so fresh, is largely down to the variety and variability in your arsenal. You can only pack two weapons and two gadgets (grenades and traps, mainly) at any time, with their appearance largely randomised. So each run can play out considerably different simply because you are lead into a different loadout. One can be more parry and thrust as you wield a sword and shield, another more rangy and fantastical as you chain lightning attacks between beasts. You will have your favourites, but adapting to each is part of the combat’s joy.

When a game is this fun to play, it conjures the sense that maybe it doesn’t even matter if you are making any real progress. But Dead Cells defines its progress with its variety; you may start in the same place, but the further you get with each run, the more the paths through the island diverges. Simple abilities open up fresh paths which offer new challenges and rewards; always putting you in the position to choose which one to take.

The ideal maxim for rogue-likes is often ‘no run feels the same’, which is exactly what Dead Cells brings. A game perfect for quick blasts to harvest more cells, or lengthier sessions to try and push your progress and abilities. It is one of my favourite games of 2018, and is likely to keep that place on the Switch screen for some time yet.

The Telegraph's best games of 2018... and now it's time to have your say

1. Red Dead Redemption 2

2. God of War

3. Tetris Effect

4. Monster Hunter: World

5. Return of the Obra Dinn

6. Into the Breach

7. Forza Horizon 4

8. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

9. Dead Cells

10. Marvel's Spider-Man

What has been the standout game for you this year and why? We want to hear what your top picks are from 2018 and why it made your year. Fill in this form for a chance to feature in our readers' rundown. We will tally up the votes and run a Telegraph reader’s list alongside our 50 best games and our critic’s pick of the top ten games of the year. 

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