Both the #2 and #1 games for my list this year share the fact that their gameplay loops were spot on. With Dead Cells, we have a game that establishes itself with an amazing foundation of design that only grew better from there.
Dead Cells isn’t the first or last action rogue-like to be released, but it’s the best current example of how getting the core gameplay loop of your game settled early leads to a richer game.
From the very first version of the game on early access, the developers had one of the most fluid combat systems I’ve seen from the 2D space; to the point of making similar titles released this year worse by comparison. Combat is fast-paced, but not about button-mashing, as you fight through waves of enemies who are all eager to get you.
Similar to the Binding of Isaac, Dead Cells’ experience only gets more involved as you unlock new content in the form of gear that can show up. While not as expansive compared to BOI, the game does feel different as each run turns into its own different build to use.
With that said like most rogue-like games, Dead Cells definitely has the room for more content. With the game already doing well for the studio, we’re all waiting for the first of hopefully many content improvements to the game. The last patch added in 2018 was a quality of life balancing one, but did not add more content.
The reason why Dead Cells takes #2 this year is that it’s an example of a game’s development hitting every point from beginning to end. As mentioned, the gameplay loop worked from the very first version on early access; something that we have seen developers struggle with.
All improvements, additions, and changes were filtered through the core gameplay loop to make sure that everything was firing on all cylinders. There was never a moment where it felt like the developers were just adding things in haphazardly from a design perspective.
Of course, some of you are probably wondering with all this praise I’m heaping onto the game, why isn’t it #1? While Dead Cell’s gameplay loop is amazing, it doesn’t have the same legs compared to BOI or even Spelunky.
The limited # of biomes and enemies makes the runs start to feel samey. Not helping matters are all the fixed boss fights in the game. There needs to be a greater reason to purposely select harder biomes, as once you have the blueprints you want, you would be doing yourself a disservice by making the game harder.
I’m also not a fan of the difficulty modifiers in the game. As you go up in difficulty, the game removes and restricts your ability to recover health. In a game this fast-paced, even taking one hit from an enemy can prove difficult to recover from. I would have preferred making the enemies more interesting to fight as opposed to making it more punishing.
With that said, it’s time for my #1 game next. This one is a title that managed to achieve the rare task of being an amazing experience no matter what your skill level is.