Thanks to access to statistics due to running this site, one of the best indicators for me of a game’s popularity (whether it be an existing or upcoming title) is the amount of traffic that follows a story about that game.
Dead Cells from studio Motion Twin wasn’t on my radar until August, when publisher Playdigious emailed me letting me know it was bringing the release to iOS. I replied querying whether Apple TV-compatibility was on the cards, and on receiving a response in the affirmative, I posted this story.
The response via site-traffic was immediate, and that post has been one of ATVG’s consistently biggest hitters since, even among all the noise surrounding Apple Arcade’s arrival.
So the question of course is, now that Dead Cells has come to Apple TV, arriving two days ago as a universal app (meaning that owners of the iOS and iPadOS versions don’t need to buy it again for Apple TV), does it warrant all the attention?
Because sometimes games can achieve cult-status and popularity despite a lack of quality. Something about them will be seized on by influencers and after a certain cumulative mass-hysteria of hipness, it will be a brave soul that then speaks out negatively against it, which in turn feeds the beast even more.
What about Dead Cells though? Is it only good by popular decree, or is it actually good?
Hit the Continue button below for ATVG’s take.
Publisher Playdigious is no stranger to Apple TV gamers. Having brought titles with the quality of Teslagrad by Rain Games, and Evoland 2 by Shiro Games, it’s not hard to argue that the publisher is championing the Apple TV platform in its fledgling years.
Have a read of ATVG’s thoughts on Teslagrad, and review of Evoland 2 and you’ll know that these are not console-like titles (and won’t it be nice to one day do away with that terminology when talking about Apple TV games?), these are simply must-have titles that belong on the hard drive of any console owner, whether that console is branded Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, or Apple.
Dead Cells fits squarely into this same high grade of quality, making a hat-trick for Playdigious on Apple TV. Developer Motion Twin certainly found the right partner in bringing its work to the platform.
But now it’s time to praise the work itself, which means moving on from publishing, and commending Motion Twin for the care that’s clearly gone into crafting Dead Cells.
For the last handful of years, there’s been an all too oft-used phrase that games writers have relied on, and it’s probably no coincidence that it’s risen in popularity since Dead Souls sent its ripple of influence throughout the gaming industry. I’ve been guilty of using it myself.
The phrase used by games writers in various permutations, goes something like, “Prepare to die. And die a lot.”
It’s as if simply being difficult has become a mark of quality. Something I’ve always felt, and something that Dead Cells has helped me put into words these last couple of days, is that difficulty alone is not what makes players come back over and over again. It’s the quality of the gameplay between those many, many, many deaths that draws us back.
I’ll get roasted for saying this, but I’ll say it anyway – Super Meat Boy is an example of difficulty over substance, and I didn’t enjoy it. On Apple TV, an example of a tough-as-nails game, and yet one that absolutely shines and constantly draws me back in is Le Parker Extraordinaire.
Everything about Dead Cells feels designed to make you want to incarnate yet again following death, and as soon as possible.
Following your first run, which introduces you to the basics, more and more layers are gradually folded into the mix with each successive venture.
Soon you’ll be resurrecting into the game’s opening hub with the choice of taking a secondary weapon with you, either a bow or a shield. I feel I’ve become a bit reliant on the bow, and my close-range combat has suffered because of this. In future runs I’m going to force myself to start choosing the shield, not just for the variety, but because I want to get better and explore further, a clear compliment to Motion Twin’s more-ish gameplay loop.
Being able to kill from distance with the bow is not going work for every enemy, as you’ll encounter foes in The Promenade area that teleport straight in close, meaning quick work with your sword-hand and defensive roll is the optimum strategy.
Following more deaths, players will unlock the ability to equip tech such as blade turrets, ice grenades that freeze, and wolf traps that ensnare enemies. A primary and secondary weapon (or shield) can be equipped, and eventually also two special skills such as those traps and turrets. Death will strip you of your equipment, but tokens you collected with each kill can be spent to enable permanent upgrades for future trips, such as a health refill, or simply unlocking more formidable equipment that then has the chance to drop in-game.
While none of this is particularly original, Motion Twin has forged it all together so exactingly, that it adds up to so much more when played to how it reads on paper.
The animation of the silky smooth pixelated action, dressed in bright, bold anime colours, with a hint of neon and the royal, somehow vampiric tones of blood-red and purple dress the gameplay in garb befitting its stature.
And there’s small, unnecessary details that always flesh out a title to take it up a notch. An option in the game’s menu allows food dropped in-game to be changed to different themes, such as Fruitarian for the health-conscious, Baguette for the wimsy, and even Castlevaniesque, belying the heavy influence this industry icon has had on Dead Cells.
I’ve called this an ‘Appreciation’ as opposed to a review because I really can’t find anything in Dead Cells to fault. And I really haven’t covered everything.
There’s also secret areas to unlock, boss fights, and lore and mysteries to uncover that remain consistent despite the randomly generated levels of each attempt, giving even more reason for another go, as if you needed one.
Right in the middle of the Apple Arcade frenzy, I’d only just started to sink some serious time into Oceanhorn 2 (also excellent by the way) when Dead Cells crashed the party. So while I was at first hesitant to tear myself away from discovery after discovery on Apple Arcade (and finally start to spend some quality time with a couple of individual titles), the quality of Dead Cells has made that time away easily worthwhile.
It’s now a fair and balanced fight over my gaming time between Apple Arcade and Dead Cells.
Wish me luck.
In a Nutshell:
It’s so easy to rely on well-worn descriptors such as rogue-like, and to namecheck obvious influences like Castlevania when it comes to writing about Dead Cells. But those things feel lazy when compared to actual hands-on experience with this release from Motion Twin, with the end result far transcending a simple listing of comparisons and genres.
If you’re new to The Apple TV Gaming Blog (ATVG), or just new to Apple TV gaming in general, or both, then the best place to get acquainted is our Best Apple TV Games of 2019 article. You’ll find a great collection of games to play, and a bunch of useful links to our previous site content. Welcome aboard. Enjoy the ride.