GOTY 2018: The Top 10 Games of the Year: #2
Welcome to the Tenth Annual Silicon Sasquatch Top 10 Games of the Year list! Using our tried-and-true methodology (i.e., we play a lot of games and argue until we’re tired,) we've finally narrowed down the 10 games that we feel accurately represent the best and most important that 2018 had to offer.
#2 – Dead Cells
Motion Twin | August 7, 2018 | Linux, MacOS, Windows, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Procedurally generated games are hard to get right. If the algorithm is flawed, the game will at best be tedious and boring, and at worst it’ll feel unfair and unfun. It’s crucial that each run feel entertaining and potentially winnable yet still challenging. It’s that emphasis on potential that gives good procedurally generated games that “just one more run…” hook—and that’s something that Motion Twin’s Dead Cells excels at.
Dead Cells is a roguelike that empowers the player to tailor the experience of each run to their liking, but each choice comes with a cost. Emphasizing a particular type of build means sacrificing useful stats; spending money in the shops to get a desired weapon limits cash for other helpful situations; unlocking more upgrades dilutes the pool of available items, making the likelihood of finding a particular drop less likely. Dead Cells is a game of constant risk assessment, but it often moves so fast the player isn’t fully aware of their judgments until they’ve already been made. It’s a game of instinct and muscle memory as much as strategy, but it works so well that each run feels significant.
Dead Cells wouldn’t work half as well as it does if it didn’t have highly tuned control. The player-controlled avatar, The Prisoner, is responsive and fast. Each melee weapon, bow, and shield has its own animation, adding another layer of risk assessment in each run. Is the stronger choice always better? What about range? Is a higher-level weapon better than a legendary? These aren’t choices that get made just once; they pop up again and again, and still feel unique after dozens of hours.
Motion Twin’s art direction is also fantastic. Each level is gorgeous, with loads of detail and personality. The music provides a distinct tone and atmosphere that never becomes grating. The enemies are animated so well enough that patterns can be picked apart with the player feeling a little more empowered with each run. Bosses that felt impossible the first time can be demolished in seconds later on. The game plays well on any platform, but it feels perfect for the Nintendo Switch. Runs can last anywhere between minutes and a little over an hour depending on skill and thoroughness of exploration (though the game does encourage expediency at higher level play), and the console’s sleep function makes jumping back in a breeze.
Though it lacks the bespoke design of the Castlevania series, Dead Cells is one of the most satisfying action platformers to ever see release. Dead Cells is a game that continually surprises and wants the player to try to predict what’s coming. It always provides the tools to succeed but challenges players to successfully put the pieces together and execute on them. Each death is followed by a victory that was only just out of reach. It’s a challenging game, but it’s still accessible, and the tightness of the controls combined with the superb design fosters engagement in a way that digs its hooks in deep. Like any great run-based game, failure doesn’t feel like an accident—instead, it feels just preventable enough that it begs the response, “just one more run…”
– Tyler Martin