Not to brag, but I have one hell of a Biro on the go at the moment. You know the kind of thing, right? Cheap disposable pens tend to have their own characters – the grindy one, the gritty one, the one that you’re forever trying to coax back to life with mad eddies and whorls. This one, though, this one is the one you dream about. Oh man, it is glorious. A thick black line that just flows out onto the page. So smooth! Strangely rich. I feel like I could take that line anywhere, even if I’m just writing a shopping list or a phone number. The line makes me feel like writing. I am already starting to mourn this Biro a little, because I know it cannot last forever.
And – grinding sound – this sort of puts me in mind of Dead Cells, which I have been playing, it seems, for a good half of my magical Biro’s lifespan. Honestly, this is not the miserable reach that I have made it sound like. Dead Cells is a hard game. How hard? The main menu says “Continue”, even when you have actually died in a run, because life and death is all the same in a game like this. You die, but hopefully you unlocked a few more permanent perks for your next life. You will die again, of course, the predictable enemies swarming and overwhelming, the procedural tunnels and ramparts forcing you to lose your bearings. No matter, the game says: the line, as it were, makes you feel like you can take it anywhere.
I felt it instantly, too. My first steps into this game’s deeply inhospitable world. People – including the people who made it – would like you to believe that Dead Cells is a bit like Dark Souls, and it is, it is, in a hundred different ways. But there’s one way it’s very different. When I started Dark Souls, I found myself cringing, retreating into a more compact version of myself, weighed down by the sense of all the awful things that lay ahead and deeply aware – this is the thing of it – of my complete and obvious inadequacy when it came to dealing with them.
But with Dead Cells? Stepping into Dead Cells for the first time I found a great and boundless and entirely misplaced confidence. It comes, I think, from the movement, which is precise but swift: you can move so quickly, and yet you can stop exactly where you mean to. And combat: Snicker-snack! The blades igniting the air with bright sparks, so swift, so brisk, so much a case of exactly what you intended to happen when you pressed the button.
Dead Cells, for all its murderous intent, for all its mocking tool tips, monstrous bosses, and hideous odds stacked against you, Dead Cells is ingratiating. And it has to be ingratiating because otherwise someone like me would never get anywhere in it, such is the inevitability of defeat. I will die here, each time, and inevitably I will never make it anywhere near the end of the campaign. And yet! Each life flares with a hundred little victories, all sparking from that single, central victory – that it just feels so good to move, to dash, to roll, to attack. This line! Maybe this line really can take me anywhere.