Dead Cells
Image: Motion Twin

Today marks the fifth anniversary of Dead Cells on the Nintendo Switch in North America, and what a five years it has been. From humble indie beginnings to releasing a wave of DLC with Castlevania developers Konami, it is fair to say that the game we see today is rather different from the 'roguevania' (a phrase that we are still not 100% on board with) that lit the spark all those years ago.

Dead Cells left early access on 7th August 2017 and developer Motion Twin swiftly brought it to the Switch the following year. It is strange to remember a time before the game had any DLC, but this is how it was back in the early days — fortunately, the Dead Cells base game was enough to immediately grab everyone's attention.

We are sure that most of you will be familiar with the game's basic premise, but here's a brief refresher. You play as a mysterious creature capable of possessing corpses. Assuming the form of the Prisoner — a decapitated body whose head is now replaced by a spooky flame — you make your way through an unnamed island that has long fallen to ruin with the goal of killing its reclusive king. You (the creature) are immortal, though the body you possess is easily perishable, so each time that your body is slain you must return to the starting area and begin your run through the procedurally generated levels again.

A roguelike metroidvania hardly seems like the most original concept these days, but with gorgeous pixel art and a Dark Souls-esque combat system that was simple to grasp but difficult to master, this base game immediately saw us throwing a countless number of corpses at the island's maze-like corridors in the hope of reaching the end.

As with many games of this type, the end was not all that final — you can't claim to have really 'finished' Dead Cells until you have made it through the last level a good few times — but as the months went by, it became clear that the same was true of the game's content.

Motion Twin released Dead Cells' first free DLC a little under a year after its initial release. 'Rise of the Giant' set out to develop the game's lore, adding several new areas to the island like the Cavern and the Astrolab, but mainly expanding the story to explain who the Prisoner might really be and offering up some alternative endings. We won't spoil any of the major story beats here, but this first update ensured that the Dead Cells world was one that wouldn't be quickly forgotten.

The developer formed a spin-off team in 2019 called Evil Empire which would assist with the continued development of the game while Motion Twin began work on its next title. With this dedicated team established and the DLC ball rolling, a further two paid expansion packages, 'The Bad Seed' and 'Fatal Falls', came our way in 2020 and 2021 respectively, both of which included new weapons, levels and bosses. The ensuing two years were then awash with expansions and improvements with packages like 'Practice Makes Perfect' adding in quality of life changes like a training room and world map, 'Everyone is Here' bringing character skins from other indie games like Hyper Light Drifter and Hollow Knight, and 'The Queen and the Sea' providing yet another alternative ending.

This was all capped off earlier this year with the release of the game's third paid DLC package, 'Return to Castlevania'. Konami's beloved vampire-hunting series has long been an obvious inspiration for Dead Cells, and this DLC package saw the two worlds combine like never before. Suddenly, the Prisoner was away from the island and was instead exploring Dracula's Castle. Familiar faces like Richter Belmont, Maria Renard and Alucard each make appearances and the whole thing became a nostalgia trip that we didn't know we wanted, but one from which we immediately wanted more.

There are very few games that have received post-launch updates of the quality that we have seen for Dead Cells. Yes, the 'roguevania' *shivers* today is a very different beast to the indie darling that we came across five years ago, but we would be lying if we said that it wasn't all the better for it.

Evil Empire's CEO Steve Filby announced back in June that the game will continue to receive DLC support until "at least the end of 2024" and we now know that there is an anime series around the corner for the franchise too. Five years on, this little fire is still burning brightly.

Are you excited for even more Dead Cells? Vote in our polls below and share your love for this indie gem in the comments.

When did you last play Dead Cells? (1,280 votes)

  1. Within the last week — I love that game!33%
  2. About a month ago20%
  3. Some point in the last year23%
  4. Oof, it has been years8%
  5. Never played it16%

What has been your favourite Dead Cells DLC/major update so far? (796 votes)

  1. Rise of the Giant7%
  2. The Bad Seed4%
  3. Derelict Distillery  0.3%
  4. Malaise Update  0.5%
  5. Fatal Falls4%
  6. Whack-a-Mole  0%
  7. Practice Makes Perfect  0.4%
  8. Everyone Is Here6%
  9. The Queen and the Sea10%
  10. Break the Bank2%
  11. Enter the Panchaku2%
  12. Boss Rush  0.9%
  13. Everyone Is Here Vol. 25%
  14. Return to Castlevania57%
  15. Clean Cut2%