Flash Thoughts: Dead Cells - A Lesson in Pacing

Dead Cells is a violent roguelike platformer with pixel art. (Nowadays that doesn’t sound very revolutionary but I love this game all the same.) There’s one thing in particular that I quite appreciate in this game, which is their friendliness to “speedrunning”. Not necessarily actual speedrunning, but at least the feeling of it. Let me explain.

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Dead Cells

how to feel like a speedrunner

Okay, I’m not a speedrunner and therefore don’t know if this game is actually friendly for the community. But two mechanics make rushing through this game feel really good: the hourglass doors, and the paused locations.

The Hourglass Doors

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These are doors that lock themselves after a certain amount of time spent in your current session. If you manage to rush to these doors in time, they’ll contain several personal upgrades, money (currency to give you items in this run) and cells (currency to upgrade future runs).

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In general, they’ll contain slightly fewer goods than if you had taken your time in the previous level to explore everywhere and kill everyone.

But I’m an impatient animal! The largest loss you incur by door-rushing is a fewer number of cells obtained, but cells only affect future runs (and this isn’t even thinking about “cells per second” across runs) and so I am most definitely fine with taking a slightly worse amount of goods instead of spending a quarter of my run in zones that I've already mastered.

 
 'mastered' is a relative term

'mastered' is a relative term

 

On the other hand, if you take your time, you can find a lot of secret rocks that hold extra cash, healing items, blueprints, etc.

So basically: this game offers a reasonable spectrum of tradeoffs based on how fast or slow the player wants to go through the game. The player doesn’t need to feel guilty or like they’re missing too much power for rushing through the starting zones.

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“Didn’t you say that there were two mechanics?”

Yeah, so the other good mechanic is the fact that time pauses while you’re in a shop, treasure room, and upgrade room (between two zones). This is the only way to make the hourglass doors feel like a good implementation, IMO: I’d get way too anxious rushing through menu button presses or quickly comparing items otherwise. I hate when playing a game quickly means playing “menu navigation” or "reading speed" minigames everywhere. Ugh.

Conclusion: As you get better at playing Dead Cells, you have options to rush past the easy levels without losing too much character power. The anxiety of min-maxing your character (that's usually so prevalent in roguelikes) is softened by this alternative method of play. This works because you don't need to worry about losing time when comparing items or doing other 'unrelated' gameplay.

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