Anyway, the point is... we had a manageable number of genres, and those genre labels pretty much accurately described the game they were applied to.
Nowadays, young people games journalists - you know the sort - in addition to using the word "agency" about 20 times per paragraph, and in-between cribbing from other people's reviews - have added two new sub-genres to the list, and every time I see them used, it's like rusty nails down the blackboard of my spine.
The two biggest offenders are "rogue-like" (named for the long-forgotten 1980 dungeon-crawler Rogue), and "metroidvania" (a portmanteau, obviously, of the sprawling, side-scrolling, action platformers Metroid and Castlevania). I know what these two terms are supposed to mean. I know what they relate to. I just don't like them. What's wrong with "randomly-generated" or "action platformer"? That's what we used to call these sorts of games back in the day.
I mean, where do you draw the line? Release a game that's a bit like a cross between Assassin's Creed and Dark Souls, and decide it's a new genre called "AssSouls"?
Do you see? It's a real good joke!
Dead Cells is a brand new sub-genre of two sub-genres - no less a godawful thing than a "roguevania". As ghastly as that may be, this basically means it's a fantasy-tinged platform combat game, which mixes pre-designed level bits mixed with randomly-generated stuff.
In all honesty, I tend to steer away from games with randomly-generated elements. I want an experience that's more curated and structured, with a framework that has been crafted by the hairy hands of an skilled artisan, not a machine. However, I was lured to Dead Cells by the positive word of mouth, the lovely pixel graphics, and the desire to play something new on the Switch during my recent jolly holiday.
There was one issue; it apparently borrowed a certain degree of its structure - and difficulty level - from the aforementioned Dark Souls series. And I really, really don't get along with Dark Souls. Nor do I appreciate developer Motion Twin's attempt to describe Dead Cells as a "Souls-lite" game.
Where will this millennial madness end?!?! Hopefully with a firm boot up their hairless backsides.
Regardless, progress in Dead Cells is about learning attack patterns, and gradually upgrading your character through purchasing new weapons and abilities by spending "cells" dropped by enemies. You always go back to the start, albeit with (hopefully) an incremental upgrade, before setting out into a familiar-looking - but randomly-generated - area. After the initial opening always being a prison, the areas you then venture into get mixed up.
This should be really annoying, but the visuals and the satisfying combat and movement are such that - like an amorous dog with a new soft toy - I kept pumping away, long past the point my patience would have usually frayed.
Dead Cells feels so nice to play, by leveraging (and refining) long-established gameplay elements in a successful way, that it was only in the early stages that I ever really rage quit. Once I started to realise that I was making progress, it kept me going.
To progress in Dead Cells, you have no choice but to die. There's probably some profound comparison to be made there, but the only "real-world" comparison I can think of is reincarnation... and that doesn't even exist!!!!
There's a certain balletic, rapid fluidity to the combat in Dead Cells - along with a brilliant selection of upgrades and weapons (personal early favourites included a pair of mantraps you can drop in your enemies' path and a sort of remote tower gun thing).
Also deeply satisfying is how you deal with doors; you can open them slowly, or smash through them - taking down any enemies lurking behind them.
Of course, where the challenge really sets in is when you reach later levels; you'll never develop the same familiarity with the themes and enemies you encounter deeper into the game as you do in those early stages. Going back to the beginning, and stockpiling the "cells" you'll spend on your inventory, is when Dead Cells' backtracking can, just occasionally, start to feel like a grind.
Even so, it's never less than confident in its approach, a cocktail of familiar genre elements strapped together by some properly gorgeous visuals, with a strong soundtrack, and enough mystery in its setting to hint at a deeper backstory, without ever laying out everything out on a plate.
It's a very indie sort of game, but like the best indie games it pulls down the trousers of most blockbuster, mainstream, releases and blows a raspberry on their lack of ambition and originality.
Now that's agency!
Is that how you use it, kids? I dunno what it even means. Get off my lawn.
SCORE: 8.94343999999 out of 10.1111111111