It is my not-so-humble belief that experience in any endeavour is the mother of wisdom. Sure, teaching people the basics or essentials of anything is a smart process. But if it’s applied, if it’s something you have to physically do, then a textbook or a tutorial comes nowhere near actual hands-on learning.
What does all of this have to do with Dead Cells? A video game about a green clump of cells infesting a dead body and stabbing things a lot? Everything. In fact, that same concept applies to video games the most. But when your game is built around the concept of permadeath – as in death resets all of your progress – experience and learning become paramount.
What is Dead Cells?
Dead Cells is essentially Dark Souls without the third dimension. It’s a roguelike, metroidvania (as in it borrows aspects from the Metroid and Castlevania games) from 2018, available on Windows, MacOS, Linux, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. There isn’t an actual story to Dead Cells unlike the Dark Sous games. But what they have in common when it comes to storytelling is that all of the lore is learned from events within the game. No exposition whatsoever.
In Dead Cells, you play a mass of green goo that schlorps its way into a headless body, and then you traverse the various locations of a massive, ever-changing (procedurally-generated) castle to almost no end. You kill things, a lot of things, and you have a healthy variety of weapons, spells, tools, mcguffins and whatevers to help that process along. Why are you killing things? What’s the point? Much like life, there is no point. You just do it to progress and enjoy the ride.
What Does Dead Cells Teach Me About Life?
Glad you asked, Mahmoud. Like I said; experience is the best teacher when it comes to things dependent on trial and error. The most stark examples of which would have to be life itself, and video games (or really anything). So instead of the usual recommendation format that you’re used to from these articles, I’m going to list the various virtues Dead Cells teaches while also delving into its mechanics. So what’s the most immediate lesson one can learn from Dead Cells?
Much like anything in existence, it takes a fair amount of observation to try and discern a solution to a problem. Combat in Dead Cells – its main attraction – can get very viciously fast fairly often; you have to be light on your feet while dodging a flurry of damage from multiple sources. But the one thing between you and a very lacklustre death is figuring out enemy and environmental patterns.
You start to know who attacks how and when; you slowly develop a heartbeat-like rhythm when tackling foes and environmental hazards; and you slowly eliminate sources of contention with experience and pure precision. The only way to live a decent life, both in Dead Cells and in reality, is to learn problematic or essential patterns in your own processes and in the universe at large. Making the same mistakes, whether from ignorance or hubris, doesn’t give you much room to complain.
Thinking Long Term
The way you unlock more and more equipment – and there’s a lot of it – is by spending this currency in the game called cells. You get them from killing bad guys/girls, opening chests, and solving challenges. Equipment rarely costs that many cells on the long run; usually in the two-digit price, and later on (albeit rarely) three digit-costs.
At the same time, passive or strategic upgrades – more uses for your health flask, random weapons on each run – usually cost way more cells to unlock. But their benefits are permanent and flat-out increase your odds of survival, whereas equipment can only be obtained the first time you unlock it from the upgrade guy, and later on throughout the world in chests and from enemies.
Much like life, investing in long term solutions and plans doesn’t really pay out at first, if at all. Think of it like investment; you do not see much profit in the beginning, and it might not seem like it helps at all. And then you have simple, short-term solutions that you can neither fully depend on, nor usually find. That’s the basic difference between big upgrades, and random equipment unlocks. So you have to be wise about it.
Taking Risks VS. Staying in your Comfort zone
There are these passive buffs or upgrades that you unlock at the start of each new section of the map called mutations. They’re divided according to the game’s three main character stats: Brutality (red, offene), Tactics (purple, strategy/situationality); and survival (green, defense/support). In addition, a fourth section is for general upgrades, the most stark of which is an extra chance to live past death. Seeing as Dead Cells is based on permadeath, meaning you lose everything and start over upon death, an extra life sounds like a great investment, and it can be; it’s safe and low-risk. On the flipside, the first mutation in the Brutality section is the ability to do massively-increased damage for a set amount of time after killing something. Seeing as enemies come in groups, getting the first hit in and then following up with a damage buff means most things won’t have a chance to even hit you; it’s dangerous and high-risk.
In life you’ll often find yourself in a plateau; you do the same shit every day and try to stick to the walls more often than you should. Whereas when you take more risks in any endeavour, your chances of failure dramatically increase, but so too do your chances of getting farther ahead and learning more about yourself and the world. So why opt for something that basically means you expect to die, when you can choose something else that bolsters your chance to live?
Failure is a Blessing
You die a whole hell of a lot in Dead Cells; that’s the incentive the game has to make each and every attempt to beat it feel suspenseful. When you die, no matter where you are, you go back to the very beginning of the game, with nothing but a bit of money that you reserve upon death to find/buy items in the world and to upgrade them. You’ll fail a lot no matter what you do in Dead Cells; even the most experienced (or most defensive) among us have succumbed to dumb mistakes more than a few dozen times.
But the more you try, the more you get ahead in the game, you unlock more items to fight with, and abilities to traverse the world – growing vines to climb, wall-running, etc. Each attempt is smoother and more expansive the more you go, whether it’s from getting more stuff to start out with, or learning from your mistakes in the past and mitigating failure. Much like life, you fail way more times than you’ll ever want to. But if you don’t fuck up every now and then, you’ll never properly learn anything about the universe. You’ll miss out on many possibly new ways to tackle issues, or learn a new skill. Failure is the best teacher you’ll ever have in life, and it’s the most important in Dead Cells.
What an Experience
Apart from the philosophical aspects of Dead Cells, it’s a genuinely fun, fast-paced side-scroller. It has an amazing indie aesthetic with a seemingly simplistic and beautiful art style. Even the writing, more present in the environmental storytelling, is spot on and cheeky. It routinely goes on sale on every platform, and even without a discount, its $25 price tag is amazing, considering the enjoyment you can get from it. If you enjoy a fun, varied, thrilling, and educational gaming experience, give Dead Cells a try.