Review: Dead Cell’s The Bad Seed is how DLC should be done
For the price of two school lunches, Motion Twin gives you two new levels with new enemies, a new boss, and six new items. It’s a lot of fun, and adds new depths and challenge to a game that I’m already addicted to.
A fertile greenhouse…. OF DEATH!
The new levels are filled with new and challenging enemies that create a unique rhythm. The Dilapidated Arboretum is an overgrown greenhouse filled with carnivorous plants and mushroom people. The level is broken out into discrete sections and are packed with enemies who like to rush you down. It feels like you’re a nerd celebrity and everyone’s charging you, but instead of seeking autographs, they’re trying to rip your organs out.
The carnivorous plants spice up Dead Cells’ traversal mechanics. You trigger them by standing on them until they start to quiver. Then you jump up, and let yourself fall on their closed mouths, which will act as a trampoline that launches you to higher areas. The risk/reward mechanic is thematically in line with Dead Cells’ gameplay, but I was bad enough at navigating them that I just avoided them and accessed higher areas through slower means (which usually meant fighting more enemies).
The mushroom people, which come in big and small varieties, feel like the fanslash children of a Koopa Trooper and Toad. The small mushroom people will charge you with their hard shell-like heads. If you get hit, you’ll take damage and fly backwards. If you hit a wall, you’ll take dumps of extra damage, and if you hit a wall covered in spikes, you’ll take even more.
Big mushroom people will actually throw small mushroom people at you through walls and floors, similar to how Grenadiers hurl grenades at you. If they don’t have any nearby small mushroom people, they will chuck clods of dirt at you or just punch you in the face if you’re close enough.
And if there are no big mushroom people around, small mushroom people will hide in their mushroom cap shells, which are invulnerable to normal strikes. Whips and fire can still kill them though. Once they’re turtled up, you have to back off to make them emerge.
A delightful tree city… OF DEATH!
The Morass of the Banished level consists of a series of giant trees, full of spearmen and blowgunners. Unlike most of the enemies in Dead Cells, blowgunners are smart enough to try to avoid you. If you let them, they’ll keep leaping away and firing on you from above. Meanwhile, spearmen rush you down. They appear in pairs, which present a greater challenge, but also an opportunity for AoE damage and triggering speed buffs via kill combos.
The presence of blowgunners changes the entire vibe of the level. Even though spearmen rush you down, the real threat is projectile damage from the blowgunners. In contrast to the Arboretum, you are the chaser rather than the chased. These two levels are also back to back, which means success requires a strategy change.
Between each giant tree, there are huge mini bosses to contend with. I’m sure the wiki will come up with an official name for them soon, but to me, they look like giant evil quadrapedal bird things. They deal a pile of damage, and you deal with them in large, open areas that limit the effectiveness of your AoE attacks, particularly fire.
Both levels add a splash of color to the dark fantasy palette of muted purples, blacks, and browns that you see in Dead Cells’ earlier levels. This might not seem significant, but I’ve been staring at the same core levels for over 60 hours now; a little visual difference is very welcome after that much time.
Structure, challenge, and new items… OF DEATH!
The Bad Seed fits in well with the existing game. These levels slot into the game early, so even players who are struggling with Dead Cells difficulty level can experience The Bad Seed. They amp up the difficulty nicely, while not feeling like a retread of existing levels.
In terms of the sequence of the game, they are an alternate path that replace the second and third levels of the game, but feel slightly more difficult than the levels they replace. This is fine, because if you like Dead Cells enough to buy DLC for it, you’re up for a challenge. Also, if you like the core levels, the DLC doesn’t replace them - they are still completely accessible if you try The Bad Seed and don’t like it.
The new boss, Mama Tick, is surprisingly easy compared to existing bosses if you’re equipped correctly. Her level is full of ankle deep water, which means that electric and cold elemental attacks do extra damage to her, and she spends a lot of time just sort of hanging out, so a turret weapon can deal a lot of damage to her over time. However, given where she falls in the sequence of the game, she’s a Concierge replacement, so maybe she’s supposed to be easy.
The new items are mostly cool, and create interesting synergies with existing abilities and equipment. The dual flashing fans combine the best of fast melee and shields, allowing you to tear enemies apart at close range and bat their projectiles back at them. The blowgun is a ranged assassin’s dagger; if you hit someone in the back, you deal a critical hit.
The standout new item is Mama Tick’s scythe claws. It’s a single pickup that occupies both your primary and secondary attack slots; one is the left claw and one is the right claw. They’re meant to work together - if you hit with one, your next swing with the other deals a critical hit. So you go back and forth, dealing tons of damage, but with a high risk factor - these weapons are huge, slow, and dumpy. I’ve never been great with the slower, hard-hitting heavy melee weapons, but I enjoy the challenge and combo potential this represents. Getting the claws early in a run is a bummer, because they don’t do too much damage. But if you find them late in a run, they’re amazing.
I’m not sure exactly why the Bouzouki and smoke bomb are here. The Bouzouki feels just like a noisy broadsword, while I’ve never understood the appeal of turning invisible in Dead Cells.
They’ve also added a new pet, the Mushroom Boi. You can get one of the miniature mushroom people as a pet, who follows you around and rams people and knocks them back. If you hit right trigger again, it charges the nearest enemies, leaps into the air, and smashes itself onto the ground dealing AoE damage. Mushroom Boi also screams “WHY?!” because doing this will kill him. The item’s description refers to this as “violating your soul”. Dead Cells remains a funny and dark game, and The Bad Seed is a worthy add-on.