|Release||Linux, macOS, PlayStation 4, Switch, Windows, Xbox One|
August 7, 2018
August 28, 2019
June 3, 2020
Dead Cells is a roguelike video game inspired by Metroidvania-style games, developed and published by Motion Twin. After a year in early access, Dead Cells was released for Linux, macOS, Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One on August 7, 2018. A mobile port for iOS was released on August 28, 2019 and an Android port was released on June 3, 2020.
In the game, the player takes the role of an amorphous, gelatinous creature that takes control of a corpse in a dungeon, through which they must fight their way out. The player gains various weapons, treasure and other tools through exploration of the procedurally-generated levels to fight undead creatures within it. At times, the player gains "cells", a type of in-game currency that can be used to purchase permanent upgrades or unlock items. Dead Cells uses a permadeath system, causing the player to lose all cells and other currencies and items upon each instance of death. Motion Twin was inspired by The Binding of Isaac in developing the game.
Dead Cells is described as a "roguevania", a combination of procedurally-generated roguelike games and action-exploration-based Metroidvania games. The player controls a mass of cells that occupy and control the body of a deceased prisoner at the start of each game. As they explore a series of dungeons and fight the creatures within, they collect weapons, skins, abilities, power-ups, and money. Enemies will sometimes drop cells when defeated, which can be used to obtain permanent power-ups such as additional health potions or items that can be bought or found in later runs. These cells can only be spent at the end of a dungeon section, though players can choose not to spend them; if a player dies before then, they lose all collected cells.
Each level is procedurally generated by merging of predesigned sections in a random configuration along with random placement of enemies and items. The game's combat is compared to the Souls series, with difficult enemies with certain behaviors the player can learn, and where frequent player-character death is a fundamental part of the game. At intervals throughout the game, the player must defeat boss enemies known as "Keepers". There are eight Keepers in the game—The Concierge, Conjunctivius, Mama Tick, The Scarecrow, The Time Keeper, The Giant, The Hand of the King, and The Collector.
The plot of Dead Cells is minimalistic, only giving bits of information to the player, as the player character is selectively mute, and lore is fed gradually from area descriptions and background details. Taking place on an unnamed island, the player character is the Prisoner, a greenish blob of an unknown substance capable of possessing executed bodies in the depths of the island. While the "head" of the Prisoner is immortal, the bodies it possesses are not, and dying will force it to slink back to the Prison Quarters.
The Prisoner awakens in the depths of the Island's prison, next to a giant skeleton with a spear inside of it, a character named "The Giant". A soldier implies that the Prisoner has been trying to escape for an unspecified period of time. As the Prisoner works their way out of the Prison Quarters, they navigate the Island, and it is revealed that the Island was once a mighty kingdom, until a plague known as "The Malaise" swept through, reducing most of its citizens to mindless zombies or monstrous husks. The Kingdom's Alchemist worked tirelessly to find a cure, but mysteriously disappeared as the King became reclusive. As the kingdom fell, the remaining citizens began to rebel against the King, only to either die by infection, seclusion, or by their own hands.
The Prisoner encounters and fights several entities as they travel across the island: The Concierge, who was once the prison's guard Castaing, before his infection and subsequent transformation into a hulking monster; Conjunctivius, a nameless, faceless bloated corpse that was transformed into a grotesque tentacled Beholder-like monster; and The Time Keeper, a woman with some mastery over time, who continuously resets time each day to prevent her own infection. They also encounter The Collector, a hooded figure who trades items to the Prisoner in exchange for Cells, which drop from defeated enemies and are implied to be a sort of essence of life; and The Blacksmith and his apprentices, who upgrade the Prisoner's weapons and arsenal.
Eventually, the Prisoner reaches the castle's throne room, and faces off against the Hand of the King, while the King sits seemingly comatose upon his throne. The Prisoner defeats the Hand of the King, takes his weapon, and uses it to kill the King. The King's body violently explodes, destroying the Prisoner's host body and resetting the game, though giving the Prisoner the ability to act outside of a host body while still possessing the body. As the Prisoner's head returns to the quarters to find a new corpse to possess, it remarks on how even though the king has died, nothing has changed.
Rise of the Giant
The Rise of the Giant downloadable content adds additional content, including new endings. The Prisoner gains access to a new area of the Island, The Cavern, which houses the titanic undead skeletal Giant, who acts as the boss for the area. Upon defeat, The Giant reveals that the Prisoner is actually the King himself, his soul split from his body by consequence of his and the Alchemist's experiments. As the Prisoner continues, The Time Keeper begins actively altering the timeline to prevent her own death. After defeating the Hand of the King again, if the player has all five Boss Cells (modifiers which make the game substantially more difficult, earned by beating the game on each difficulty) active, they are able to gain access to the Astrolab and the Observatory. There, the Prisoner can find the Collector, who is implied to be the King's Alchemist. The Collector reveals that he has been collecting cells to create a Panacea, to cure the Malaise once and for all. The Collector however, upon drinking the Panacea, goes mad with power and attempts to kill the Prisoner to reset the game so they will bring him more cells. While fighting the Collector, the Prisoner drinks some of the Panacea, which, upon the Collector's death, causes the Prisoner's host body to evaporate, resetting the game once more.
This time however, the Time Keeper fully resets the timeline. This allows the Prisoner, upon reaching the throne room and defeating the Hand of the King, to possess the King, getting his original body back. However, the body is infected with the Malaise, and so to prevent his own decay, he continues to the Observatory to face the Collector again. This time, upon the Collector's defeat, the Panacea cures the King and binds his body and soul once more. The King returns to his throne, where he remarks over a glass of wine that he was honestly having more fun crawling around the sewers, when, due to the Time Keeper's meddling, a time-displaced Prisoner arrives in the throne room. The King and the Prisoner face off, and begin to duel.
|The Making of Dead Cells, by Red Bull Gaming|
Dead Cells's developer Motion Twin had been developing games for the browser and mobile gaming market since 2001. The studio found that competition in the mobile market required more investment to make viable games, and decided to switch focus to develop what they considered their "passion project", a game that was "something hardcore, ultra-niche, with pixel art and ridiculous difficulty" that they knew would be a potential risk in terms of interested players.
Initially, Motion Twin had set out to make a follow-up to their browser game Die2Nite, which was a cooperative tower defense game for up to forty players released in 2008; for most of the game, players would work together to form defenses around a town, and then during a night phase, wait to see if their town survived waves of attacks by zombies. They wanted to have the sequel improved by allowing players to take actions and fight during the night phase, implementing free to play mechanics. While this version worked well with large number of players, Motion Twin found it was not very exciting for single players. In 2014, they stripped down the game to basically a single-player experience between preparation and combat, and took it to an event called the Big Indie Pitch, where the idea came in second place. Inspired by this, they decided to strip away the game's preparation phase and focus it as a combat-based game. The process of figuring out how to keep and work from these combat elements took about a year up through the end of 2015.
To tighten the gameplay, Motion Twin took inspiration of the Engineer class from Team Fortress 2, where the use of turrets and other buildable items helps to strengthen the character's abilities, and took Dead Cells into an action platformer where the player used weapons along with a variety of skills (including some elements they had developed for the tower defense approach). They did not want players to get used to having a single weapon/skill combination that they used indefinitely, and arranged the roguelike elements as to require the player to try out new combinations of weapons and skills as they progressed in a given run to defeat newer foes, and keeping what items they would get in a random manner every time they started a new game. Motion Twin's producer, Steve Filby, said that The Binding of Isaac was a significant influence, as there, the way the game proceeds "is entirely based on the choice of items that you get. That's the fun of the game." To give the player enough options, the developers crafted about 50 different weapons, avoiding having too much duplication in how each weapon worked so that there would be unique gameplay possibilities with each. The team used an iterative process in gameplay and graphics and art so that each of these weapons also exhibited unique animations or behavior so that the player would get a sense of a tactile response and the special nature of each weapon.
Motion Twin opted to use Steam's Early access approach to both gauge interest and to get real-time feedback from players on game features and the balance from procedural generation. They feared the stigma around indie games at the time, fueled by industry speculation of an "indiepocalypse" where too many indie games would have caused a collapse of the games market around 2015, but which never occurred. They did not want to release too early within early access, and made sure the first version available, while only about 30 to 40% complete, had tight combat and gameplay controls that players would appreciate. This allowed to address balance issues, as the developer did not want to punish players for a specific style of play, and used the feedback to address this. This allowed them to make sure that regular combat encounters should be short, and that maneuvering within the game's levels itself was not a challenge to the player. Motion Twin planned for the game to spend about a year in early access before its full release, during which time the content was fleshed out and incorporated much of the player feedback on both bug reports and feature suggestions into the game. Lead designer Sébastien Bénard estimated that 40 to 50% of the features in the final game were drawn from feedback during early access.
The early access period was launched on May 10, 2017 with support for Microsoft Windows, and released macOS and Linux versions in early access on June 26, 2018. In November 2017 the game was released on GOG.com as part of their drive to provide an alternate way to purchase games that are in development. In January 2018, Motion Twin stated they are planning on console development for the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, with a planned release in August 2018 to correspond with the Windows' version leaving early access. Motion Twin does not anticipate creating a sequel, and instead focused on adding a robust modding system for the personal computer versions to allow players to expand the game following release. The studio considered developing downloadable content for Dead Cells and other ways to expand the existing game.
Motion Twin released a free downloadable content update to the game called "Rise of the Giant" in mid-2019. The developers announced plans to port the title to mobile devices running iOS and Android, modifying the game's interface to support touch controls as well as remote controllers. The iOS version was released on August 28, 2019, the Android version released on June 3, 2020.
Around January 2019, Motion Twin wanted to start work on their next title while still developing Dead Cells. While they expanded with more developers, Motion Twin wanted to keep its small eight to ten person size to stay a viable cooperative, and instead created a new studio under them called Evil Empire to take over Dead Cells development.
The game's first paid downloadable content, "The Bad Seed", was released on February 11, 2020 adding two new biomes, Arboretum and Swamp, as well a boss for early game content. New content includes weapons, enemies and game mechanics. On the same day, a new physical package for the game, the "Prisoner's Edition" was announced for PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch, which in addition to the game and DLC, includes the soundtrack, an art book, and a figurine of the player-character.
A second paid DLC expansion "Fatal Falls" was released on 26 January 2021. It adds 2 new levels, 8 new enemies, seven new weapons and a boss. On the same date a bundle called "The Fatal Seed Bundle" was released that contains the base game and all three DLCs.
About a year from its early access release, Dead Cells sold over 730,000 units, and exceeded 850,000 units just prior to its full release. By May 2019, within ten months of its full release, Dead Cells had accumulated sales of two million units. Following the release on the Switch in August 2019, total sales exceed 2.4 million units, with Motion Twin stating that Switch sales were "insane". By November 2020, Dead Cells had sold over 3.5 million copies and as of March 2021, it has sold 5 Million copies fueled by the game's mobile release in China. 
The game was nominated for "Best Indie Game" at the 2017 Ping Awards, and was a runner-up for "Best Action Game" at IGN's Best of 2017 Awards. It won the award for "Best Indie Game" at the 2018 Golden Joystick Awards, whereas its other nominations were for "Best Visual Design" and "Ultimate Game of the Year". It also won the award for "Best Action Game" at The Game Awards 2018, whereas its other nomination was for "Best Independent Game". It was also nominated for "Fan Favorite Indie Game" at the Gamers' Choice Awards, and for "Independent Game of the Year" at the Australian Games Awards, and won the Off Broadway Award for Best Indie Game at the New York Game Awards. At the NAVGTR Awards, the game won the award for "Control Design, 2D or Limited 3D", whereas its other nominations were for "Art Direction, Fantasy", "Control Precision", "Game, Original Action", and "Original Light Mix Score, New IP"; it was also nominated for "Excellence in Gameplay" and "Most Promising New Intellectual Property" at the SXSW Gaming Awards, for "Original Property" at the 15th British Academy Games Awards, and for "Best Indie Game" at the Italian Video Game Awards, and won the awards for "Best Mobile Game" and "Best Game-as-a-Service" at the Pégases Awards 2020.
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