Having just landed in Early Access late last week, Motion Twin’s Dead Cells has quickly become the Indie Darling of 2017. Rightfully so, this blend of stylized pixelated gore, Rogue-like repeatability, and Metroid-like exploration and combat mean Dead Cells is just about a perfect storm of gameplay and panache. All this, and it’s not actually coming out for another eight to twelve months.
Yep, Dead Cells is an early access game, but for the first time I can recall, I’d even recommend picking it up before it’s finished. It’s that good. Of course, 2017 is not short on great games, so waiting isn’t going to kill you either. But if you do wait, at least put Dead Cells on your wishlist, because this is definitely one to watch.
The game starts with your corpse dropping in from the ceiling of a sewer-like dungeon. Your soul bursts forth from the corpse and slinks over to a corpse that you reanimate. Your head becomes a fiery ball of light and smoke, while the rest of you becomes a resurrected tool for death and destruction. At launch, there are 11 massive and procedurally generated levels to crawl through. And yes, you’ll crawl through them because you will die a lot.
But as you go, you’ll experience success in the form of new lessons learned and new weapons, new spells, and new tools to progress farther the next time. Each death also slowly peels back the mystery of what happened to you to set you on this infinite life of death and rebirth. In the beginning, the game might even feel easy. Combat is simple enough, and the first level’s enemies are a cakewalk mostly. But then the enemies on the second level spike. The level itself can kill you, and suddenly you’re a crumpled heap back at the start of the game all over again.
Each randomly generated level comes packed with secrets too, and little bits and pieces to find which will hopefully make the progress easier. The downside is that since the game resets you back to basics, and the levels reset too, the actual progress you make feels like it takes a back seat. It really feels like you’re starting over, and I worry that at the later stages of the game this will feel like a kick in the nuts more than it should.
Still, for a game that’s a year away, Dead Cells already feels like a real winner. Much like Darkest Dungeon, it has all the hallmarks of greatness, and my newfound love of the Switch is already begging for Motion Twin’s game to come to Nintendo’s eShop. For now, it’s available on Steam for less than a month’s supply of vitamins, and totally worth the price of entry. Still, if you’d rather wait for the full launch, keep an eye on Dead Cells. It’s going places, that’s certain.