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The new roguelite from the developers of Dead Cells has one big goal: matching the intensity of Japanese action games like Devil May Cry, but with online co-op

 Windblown roguelite.
Windblown roguelite.

When Dead Cells developer Motion Twin started working on its next game, the plan wasn't to make a roguelite. It was to do something they'd never seen an action game accomplish before: match the speed and fluidity of Japanese action games like Devil May Cry and Bayonetta, but with friends.

"There are rougelites where multiplayer is cool, I can play with my friends, but I cannot do that stylish Japanese action that goes super fast," said designer Yannick Berthier. "Merging both is what we wanted to do. And it took a long time—I think we did like three games already to make [Windblown], because it's been four years of [iteration]."

Based on an hour I recently spent watching Motion Twin demo an in-progress build of Windblown, it seems like those four years were well spent. The game is fast—really fast—and looks set to be more intense than Dead Cells with just one player, let alone the maximum co-op party of three. Unfortunately Motion Twin wasn't ready to hand over the controller quite yet, and my argument that it was rude to talk about co-op without letting me play didn't manage to convince them. But by the end of the demo, I was convinced Windblown is on my "when, not if" list of games to play this year.

Its star feature is a lightning speed dash move that you can use on an incredibly quick cooldown in combat and with zero cooldown outside of combat, blinking between floating islands in a quite pretty fantasy world that has a heavy aquatic bent. Fishing hooks, anchors, cannons, and pirates combined with animal characters provide a cartoony canvas for all the blood that's going to be spilled in Windblown, as just a few hits from enemies can mean death. They're not kidding about the Japanese action game influence.

I also see a lot of Supergiant Games' Bastion in Windblown, with a hub town that you'll return to between runs and see expand as you progress through the game. The perspective, too, is a Bastion-like isometric 3D, rather than Dead Cells' flat 2D. Some of the abilities you'll unlock within runs in classic roguelike fashion are also reminiscent of the godly boons in Hades, which Berthier pointed to as an inspiration. But his colleague Thomas Vasseur, who was controlling the demo (and thus is my new nemesis), pointed out one aspect that's absent in Hades.

"One aspect we wanted to keep in Windblown is that you can go explore, find secrets," he said. "Having this kind of freedom in the game, even if it's a bit scripted—this is not an open world—you're happy to find a secret behind trees or bushes, and then call your friend over making emotes. This is the kind of energy we want for a multiplayer game."

While Motion Twin did end up retreating to a space it was familiar with by making Windblown a roguelite, the decision was a practical one: the developers wanted friends to be able to play together without worrying about level scaling or one member of the party obliterating everything with OP gear while the other two sit on their thumbs. By having the bulk of progress reset between runs and most of the progression being new abilities and modifiers entering the possibility pool, players can experience the full power curve together on each short run.

It was also a practical choice for the size of the studio. After watching Dead Cells sell 10 million copies (and get piles of DLC developed by partner studio Evil Empire) it's easy to forget that Motion Twin is tiny, with a team of just nine. With online multiplayer in the mix, Windblown already feels like it's punching above its weight.

"In the last four years, we spent two years to do the multiplayer, and one of that was just readability," said Berthier. Because the game moves so fast and the screen is regularly filled with flashy attack animations from players and enemies alike, Motion Twin spent ages dialing in filters for certain visual effects so that you can keep track of your character and tell what your friends are doing, but not see all of the same visual feedback they're getting on their own screens.

After incubating for years, Windblown is finally in alpha and being playtested, with feedback from players helping Motion Twin get it into shape for an early access launch this year. "Right now we're still focused on singleplayer, nailing the last base systems and making it super clean," Berthier said. "Next month we'll start focusing on the multiplayer and having closed alpha players able to play multiplayer… We want to have multiplayer from day one for early access. It's the premise, and we have to deliver on it."

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Motion Twin plans for Windblown to be "super polished" when it lands in early access, with about 10 hours worth of stuff to unlock. At that point, the focus will be on adding more to expand the replayability—already a key focus of the weapon system, which the team recently threw out two years of work to completely redesign.

There was some drama in February when Motion Twin's co-founder (who's no longer at the worker-owned co-op studio) said that the team ending development on Dead Cells was "the worst imaginable asshole move against Dead Cells and [Evil Empire]." Whatever went on behind the scenes I can't say, but after five years I'm excited to see Motion Twin finally making a new action game that looks like it has the potential to catch fire just like Dead Cells did.