Ah yes, early access. The mostly unregulated practice on Steam where developers are allowed to put up incomplete versions of the games and have us pay to beta test them. Sounds terrible right? It is generally, you can predict how this generally turns out, developers make a spicy title, get money, stop development or turn it into a pay to win clusterfuck that no one wants to play anymore but it doesn’t matter because they can make another game under another guise and do the same thing until they have enough money to support multiple generations of offspring. I didn’t meant to get off to such a negative start but we must always recognize reality and try to play to statistics to keep us safe. That’s how humans have survived for 200,000 years.
This review, however, isn’t one of the safe ones. Since I’m talking about early humanity, let me spin it to you this way, big box games are like hunting ancient ungulates, they take effort, they satisfy you and serve their purpose of taking care of the supporters. This example is what buying games that go through the regular development process are represented by. Early access games are a totally different beast. An early access game is grabbing 10 of your best friends that are starving to death and saying “we’re gonna hunt this wooly mammoth and we’re gonna feed everyone” knowing damn well if you fail, you get burned and waste your energy. Dead Cells is represented by that one wooly mammoth that was gazing at the stars, wondering if there was more to life than grazing when your squad rolled up on it and managed to slaughter it. Let me tell you, this is a grand slaughter.
Obviously, as a video game, this is where the bulk of the clout comes from. Dead Cells would be classified as a MetroidVania Roguelight SoulLight. Naturally, most of you are probably really confused so let me break it down for you real quick. MetroidVania is a portmanteau of Metroid and Castlevania which are two genre defining exploration, powerup platformers. A Roguelight is a lighter version of a rogue game which are characterized by randomly generated dungeons and maps, it’s light because the areas are pretty static but the layout, enemy locations, and some items vary from playthrough to playthrough. A SoulLight is a lighter version of a soul collection game (cells in this case) that uses souls as a currency to purchase upgrades. So Dead Cells can be characterized as an action platformer with some randomly generated map aspects and a soul collection system to purchase upgrades.
Now that that is out of the way, let’s get into the nitty gritty. This is an action platformer with multiple weapon and fighting types that you can use to progress through the game. Possibly the most impressive part of this is that all fighting types are viable in this game. You can wield a variety of swords, grab a shield and counter and bash your opponents to death, shoot them to death with arrows or magic, or even use traps, grenades, and turrets to out maneuver your opponents.
I’ve been a min/max fiend for as long as I can remember so I naturally tried to find the most efficient way to kill enemies and progress. I can say with complete confidence that all of the weapons are viable. Different attack animations depending on what weapon you use essentially means you only need to get used to a new style as opposed to camping for a new weapon. Since weapons level up depending on your progress in the game, you can feel comfortable swapping for a higher DPS weapon as soon as you see them. Of course, we do end up with our favorites regardless of the developers meticulously balancing all of the weapons. I’m a huge fan of sword and board in this game but I’ll give the electric whip and board a close second.
Progression in this game is pretty cool too. The areas of the game stay consistent in order but change arrangement from playthrough to playthrough. It starts extremely difficult to the point of progression being almost impossible but finding blueprints of weapons and power-ups and feeding them souls unlocks them to give you a wider variety of weapon diversity and increased strength. Unlocked weapons are randomized at the start of a run which forces you to adapt to New styles which is always fun.
In addition to the weapons and power-ups, this game also has a rune system. The runes in this game are permanent augments necessary for progression through the game. In addition to the regular progress, these runes allow access to additional areas in the previous areas that hold treasure and more enemies to collect cells from.
So Dead Cells is fun and all but what does this have to do with Early Access?
I’ll tell you what it means, this is Early Access done right. To me personally, Early Access is as holy as a covenant, between gamer and indie developer. I promise to pay you a lesser amount for your game, in exchange I promise to beta (and in some cases alpha) test this game to the fullest extent of my abilities and not complain about bugs because I’m intelligent enough to understand that this is not a complete game. You, the indie developer, have a responsibility to me, to provide detailed updates and respond to bug reports in a concise and professional manner and to never, under any circumstances, abandon OUR game, for it is a beautiful product that should be shown to the world.
Motion Twin made a blood bond with every gamer that purchased and Early Access copy of their game (I got mine on sale) that they were not only adding more and more to the game but they would also keep us updated in a very succinct fashion. Their response is this page on the official Dead Cells website. A casual player may not care that much but then again a casual player may not even be playing a game like this. To people that do care though, this contains detailed patch notes of every single update made to the game as it progressed and you can also see those handy dandy “community suggestion” updates where the developer actually took feedback directly from players and implemented it into the game itself.
The last and probably best part of Early Access is that we get it for cheap. The current selling price is $19.99 for a 15+ hour game that will likely go up as more content is added (may end up cresting the 25 hour mark by the time it’s finished).
Dead Cells is not only one of the absolute best Metroidvania games that I’ve ever played, but it also sets a very high benchmark for how Early Access should actually be implemented.
Flyamese Final Factor
This one’s easy, Dead Cells is a definite buy hands down. $19.99 isn’t a very high price point but be careful trying to wait this one out. The final release date is May 10, 2018. The developers haven’t announced a sale before then or a sale when it comes out, so your best bet is to cop it now or you put yourself at risk of getting a slightly steeper price. I don’t foresee this title going for more than $29.99 with my assumption is a $24.99 price point if they actually decide to raise the price of the game. Even still, we’ll get at least 16 hours of gameplay according to their Early Access creed and will get more content upon release with a high probability of even more content after the fact. If you’re a fan of Metroidvania games, this should probably already be in your library. If not, load that Steam account (or next gen system if that’s your style) and get this game.