A few years back, I downloaded an extremely early version of Dead Cells, a game that’d later go on to be one of my absolute favorites from 2018. It only took a few minutes before I realized Dead Cells was something special, but given how hard it is to stay current with games out right now, I put it down, determined to return when the game left early access.
And now, in the words of Twin Peaks: it’s happening again. Say hello to ScourgeBringer.
Most of my emails on a given day are pitches about games I should try, which leads to a lot of companies trying to unfairly summarize a game as “X” crossed with “Y.” Most of the time this doesn’t work, but dammit, they sure as heck got me with “ Dead Cells meets Celeste.” Invoking one of my favorite games of 2018 and my favorite game of 2019? How dare you!
By how dare you, of course, I mean “I’ll try it.” I’m glad I did, because ScourgeBringer, even in its early state, slaps. Platformers are my favorite genre because of how satisfying it is to directly control a character, and successfully navigate a space. I trust my fingers more than my mind, and it’s why I’ll spend countless hours with games others see as masochistic. When a game with excellent platforming feel comes along, there’s nothing else like it; it becomes intoxicating to see what I can pull off, and then ask the game to demand more.
ScourgeBringer feels terrific to control, and it’s apparent within seconds of playing.
The invoking of Dead Cells is probably the weakest part of the whole comparison, beyond ScourgeBringer and Dead Cells both being 2D action games with roguelike (roguelite?) elements. Dead Cells is about managing a fluid combat build around loot drops, and while ScourgeBringer does have loot, your base level move and attack sets are more important from the jump.
You start out five basic abilities: a sword that can attack rapidly or with a powerful charge attack, a jump with the option to both double jump and dash, and a gun. ScourgeBringer is a game about moving extremely fast and trying to manage the chaos laid out in front of you. It’s honestly best to just see the game in action, to make sense of what that all looks like:
The moment you enter a room, enemies spawn in have one motivation: to kill you. This comes in various forms of direct attacks and spiraling projectiles. It’s easy to dash about the room, but you cannot dash through attacks, which means you need to plan out a route.
Did you notice the little “!” mark that sometimes appeared above an enemy’s head? This is the most important part about trying to survive a room in ScourgeBringer, and it’s easiest to illustrate by seeing how the mechanic works when it’s deployed against an early mini-boss:
Deploying a charged attack against an enemy in a “!” state, which signals they’re about to hit with something harsh (and often screen-filling), puts them into a stunned state. In particularly outrageous rooms in ScourgeBringer, you become a traffic cop in ninja form, as you try to stun various enemies, providing breathing room, while placing your attention elsewhere.
This becomes all the more stressful when you later unlock the game’s combo mechanic, which rewards players for varying up their attacks by granting additional power. (Akin to a game like Rogue Legacy, there are permanent upgrades to be unlocked for each run.) The only way to achieve additional power is by a sustained offensive, which means you’re not only trying to clean up rooms as fast as possible, but having to swap to attacks that might not be as effective in the moment, but contribute to the combo, making it worth the risk. And when the room is cleared? You dash off to the next one, hoping to keep the meter running.
It’s so good, and that’s without touching on the way different abilities can have a profound impact on the way you play. “Floor Is Lava,” for example, provides a 10% bonus each time you manage to kill an enemy without hitting the ground. Each time! It fundamentally changes how you approach combat, as you become hyper conscious of where you’re at.
ScourgeBringer has already nailed the hardest part, its foundation. It is easy to imagine where the developers go from here, and they’ve already plotted a map of where they’re headed. Like Dead Cells, I’m probably going to put down ScourgeBringer for the moment, while the game figures itself out, but I cannot wait to come back. I’m still thinking about it.
I mean, look at this boss!
That, friends, is the good stuff.