Dead Cells: The Bad Seed DLC review – growing content

Dead Cells: The Bad Seed screenshot
Dead Cells: The Bad Seed – pretty difficulty (pic: Motion Twin)

One of the best indie titles of recent years gets its first paid-for DLC and makes a great game even better.

Released in 2018, Dead Cells is an unusually competent Metroidvania-style roguelike, played on procedurally generated side-scrolling levels. It wears its Castlevania and Dark Souls inspirations on its sleeve and it has a difficulty level that steadily increases as you progress, etching fighting skills into your muscle memory during endlessly repeated deaths and restarts. It creates the kind of benign addiction that makes playing games worthwhile.

In the years since its launch, developer Motion Twin has supported the game with a cornucopia of free updates. These have fixed bugs and continually rebalanced the game based on community feedback, but they’ve also added new levels, weapons, special abilities, enemies, and bosses. Dead Cells is a far larger, richer and more nuanced game than it was in 2018, and it was very good even then.

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That neatly brings us to The Bad Seed, the game’s first paid-for DLC. It’s also the first to be produced by Evil Empire, a company spun-out of Motion Twin with the soul mission of continuing to support Dead Cells while its parent company moves onto other projects. The update adds three new levels, the first of which is accessible from The Prisoner’s Quarters, the game’s opening area.

Called The Dilapidated Arboretum, the first new level is a plant-themed extravaganza set in crumbling Victorian greenhouses, shafts of yellow sunlight piercing the gloom through broken windows. It introduces a clutch of new enemies, such as jerkshrooms – tiny mushroom men that can hunker down into a ball, rendering them invulnerable to all but fire and poison. Turn your back even for a moment and they charge at you.

They’re complemented by yeeters – larger, shuffling beasts who, as their name suggests, like to throw stuff at you. Their preference is to lob jerkshrooms, but if there isn’t one handy, they’ll throw rocks instead, or your character if they get close enough. That can be a problem, because the arboretum has many spiked walls, floors, and ceilings. Getting yeeted into those can cause very significant extra damage, especially during higher level runs.

There are also static carnivorous plants that chomp anything that walks over them, but once their beaks are closed, they can briefly be used as trampolines to access high platforms. You can also use them as traps by kiting enemies across them. Quite apart from its visual beauty, it’s these kinds of interactions between enemies, and the environment around them, that makes the new biome so brilliant.

Dead Cells: The Bad Seed screenshot
Dead Cells: The Bad Seed – an ominous backdrop (pic: Motion Twin)

The next new level is The Morass of the Banished, a giant-mosquito-riddled swamp, with enormous ticks to match. There you’ll be introduced to blowgunners; agile blowpipe-wielding creatures that jump and shoot through walls and floors. Their stealthy counterparts, the banished, hide in ceilings, dropping down in pairs to charge at you with flaming halberds.

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From The Morass, you head to The Nest and the DLC’s boss fight against Mama Tick, an enormous multi-eyed mutant with stabbing, razor sharp claws. She looks fearsome, even if she doesn’t prove quite as interesting a boss as Conjuntivius or The Time Keeper. After the battle you can follow paths to existing levels, The Graveyard or Stilt Village, where it’s back to business as usual.

As well as extra levels, there are plenty of new skills, weapons, and outfits. The stars of the show, depending on what sort of build you’re using, is the blowpipe, which does massive critical damage when you hit enemies from behind, and the left scythe claw, which you get as a blueprint after defeating Mama Tick. It’s the game’s first two-handed item, taking up both weapon slots in return for a massive sweeping blow that auto-stuns enemies.

As it is now, Dead Cells is even more fascinating, balanced, and addictive than it was at launch, featuring a truly huge range of weapons, equipment and complementary skills. Experimenting with different approaches and routes through its levels proves a constant joy, and the new additions of The Bad Seed maintains the quality we’ve come to expect from one of France’s leading indie developers.

Dead Cells: The Bad Seed DLC review summary

In Short: Dead Cells’ hugely engaging roguelike-meets-Metroidvania gets its first paid-for DLC and becomes even more compelling than it was at launch.

Pros: Excellent new biomes incorporating well thought-through interactions between enemies and their environments, and a raft of new skills and weapons that fit perfectly into an already nuanced game.

Cons: The Morass of the Banished could do with a few extra teleport points to make getting around easier, and the new boss isn’t the game’s most exciting.

Score: 9/10

Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC, and iOS
Price: £3.99
Publisher: Motion Twin
Developer: Motion Twin and Evil Empire
Release Date: 4th February 2020
Age Rating: 16

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