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Dead Cells follow-up Windblown takes some surprising cues from Nier: Automata

Three characters set out on a quest in Windblown.
Motion Twin

How do you follow up something like Dead Cells?

Developer Motion Twin’s hit roguelike became an instant genre staple when it launched into early access in 2017  and it’s only gotten better since then. After seven years of long-tailed support and high-profile collaborations, Dead Cells has become a foundational indie game that’s hard to top. It would be safe for Motion Twin to follow that up with a sequel, just as Supergiant Games is doing with Hades 2. Instead, we’re getting Windblown — and you should be thrilled about that.

Windblown tosses away the dark pixels and 2D dread of Dead Cells for a much brighter 3D world. It’s still an action-based roguelike that has players snagging upgrades and slashing enemies during a 30 to 40-minute run through biomes, but its sunnier art style is sure to catch Dead Cells fans off guard. There’s no need to worry, though; based on the deep look I got at this year’s Game Developers Conference, Windblown looks more than worthy enough to follow one of the roguelike genre’s greats.

Switching it up

In my hands-off demo, developers from Motion Twin would walk me through a few (unsuccessful) runs. What immediately stands out is Windblown’s art. It’s a remarkably vibrant game that looks even better in motion. During the demo, I’d watch the developers hop around bright sky islands as an adorable axolotl. It’s all quite whimsical, though Motion Twin teases that the underlying story – told in a manner similar to Dark Souls — gets surprisingly dark.

A character dodges a boss' attacks in Windblown.
Motion Twin

The second thing that catches my eye is just how lightning fast the actual gameplay is. That’s apparent right away when I see Windblown’s signature traversal mechanic, which has the aquatic hero quickly zipping over small islands in the blink of an eye. Once it hops into a larger land mass, it finds itself locked in an arena battle as enemies spawn in. Combat is quick too, with lots of fast slashes and some hectic evasion to get away from bullet hell projectile patterns and devastating swipes from towering sub-bosses. Motion Twin cites some surprising influences for that pace. It namedrops Nier: Automata several times during the demo, citing its movement as a north star.

Monster Hunter also comes up during our conversation, though more to describe how the studio built the game to work equally well solo or in three-player co-op. Multiplayer is so seamless that players can drop out from a crew at any time and the difficulty will automatically scale down to match (a decision inspired by Diablo 3). Other decisions to account for multiple players are especially creative. To heal, for instance, players smash a flask on the ground to create a healing circle rather than chugging a potion down. Motion Twin also confirms that Windblown can be played both online and offline.

Much of the roguelike formula here is familiar. Players snag “gifts” throughout runs that act as relics. One might add burn damage to a weapon, while another might summon a protective circle of knives. There are some Metroidvania hooks, though that aspect seems to be a bit lighter than it was in Dead Cells. Windblown also features a permanent upgrade system to add some long-term progression.

A character shoots at an enemy in Windblown.
Motion Twin

What’s entirely new, though, is Windblown’s approach to weapons. Players can hold two weapons at once, which can synergize with one another through what Motion Twin calls its Alter Attack system. That essentially adds a powerful extra move to players’ arsenal that’s unique to the equipped weapon combo. The developers say that the system is meant to encourage players to switch up their weapons and experiment rather than sticking to a single loadout. There are a lot of good reasons to tool around too; each of the 11 weapons scheduled to launch in early access are totally distinct. One blade has a Super Smash Bros.-inspired twist, where players inflict more damage if they space out their attacks and hit enemies closer to the tip of the sword.

While I didn’t get to see a fully successful run through Windblown’s five biomes, I got to see more than enough variety to get me excited. It seems like Motion Twin has taken everything it learned from Dead Cells and applied it to a 3D action game with several inventive layers. Its eclectic array of influences may sound a little hodgepodge on paper, but they’re all coming together to make something that feels truly fresh.

Windblown is scheduled to hit early access on PC this year.

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Giovanni Colantonio
Giovanni is a writer and video producer focusing on happenings in the video game industry. He has contributed stories to…
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