At the time of writing, Apple Arcade – the tech-giant’s subscription gaming service – has a catalogue of 102 games. The diversity among those 102 releases is expansive, covering nearly every gaming genre imaginable (except you FPS, I’ve got my eye on you).
There are RPGs of many flavours (ARPG, JRPG, tactical, turn-based), twin-stick shooters, puzzlers that prod both sides and every corner of the human brain, 2D platform games, various multiplayer joints, and much more.
This level of diversity would be worthless if the quality was not there to match it, but fortunately, it proves equal. Apple Arcade is a labyrinth of gaming goodness that players of all ages will be happy to get lost in.
Whenever I’m exploring one of Apple Arcade’s titles, I feel sorry for the other 101 games I’m not playing, wishing I could clone myself 101 times in order to share the love. But I am just one man, with two hands, so one game at a time it must be.
A few weeks back, I attempted to start a regular feature for this site called Pick of the Week, but didn’t follow up with any more of them. I don’t think any sort of regular, predictable feature really suits this site. ATVG is more of a wake up and see what’s what sort of site, and regular features dilute the energy of that. Until I change my mind and try a regular feature again.
So with that said, it’s back to our regular programming, which is writing about whatever Apple TV gaming related thing that’s currently occupying my gaming time.
Recently I spent some quality time with Apple Arcade title Stela, from Skybox Labs – a dark, brooding, haunted journey through a nightmare wasteland, in which the shadows have eyes, and claws… and teeth.
Sounds like fun, right?
Players will be quick to make obvious comparisons between Skybox’s Stela, to studio Playdead’s Limbo and Inside. Cynics will see this as a negative, citing a lack of originality, but if games have been played and enjoyed, is it not a good thing to have more of what you like? Especially if the quality in that flattering form of imitation is of such a high standard as we find in Stela.
In addition to that, the horror genre has long been a staple of the gaming industry, and games such as Limbo, Inside, and Stela simply combine two classic gaming genres – horror and 2D platforming.
Based in Canada, the team at Skybox Labs is not new to game development, with the founders having cut their teeth helming many of EA’s sports titles (NBA STREET, Madden NFL, NBA Live, and Need for Speed), while more recent efforts include Halo Infinite and projects within the Minecraft universe.
This impressive resumé is evident in the quality brought to Stela.
The music underscoring Stela at times evokes the film soundtracks of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis (have a listen to The Proposition and The Road), with the droning strings and sparse dissonance a perfect accompaniment to the stark visuals – painterly depictions of burnt skies over a seemingly abandoned world of broken, silhouetted landscapes.
Within this bleak environment, players are made to feel daunted as the game’s avatar is often dwarfed by her surroundings, much of the time appearing small within the screen. It’s a successful technique that’s contrasted during the rare times when the camera zooms in slightly on the heroine’s frame. The effect would be lost without an occasional change in dynamic, and it’s these little details that heighten Stela’s atmosphere.
Journeying through the environments laid out by Skybox involves physics puzzles, switches, and the use of light and its absence. Again, not original ideas, but implemented with care by the studio.
The creatures inhabiting the world of Stela are shadowy creeps, all exaggerated angles and limbs – the stuff of bad dreams. Players will need to employ a variety of speed, timing, distraction, and sometimes just simple patience to avoid or evade them.
While the darkness within Stela’s world dominates the light, the environments are varied enough so as not to get boring. Waking up in a cave and exiting to a field of dead corn, dilapidated barns and buildings, landscapes in which everything is afire, underground labyrinths of stone in which ancient forms have been sculpted – there is certainly beauty to be found.
A quality stereo system or headphones are highly recommended, as Skybox has put serious effort into not just the music but all of the accompanying sound effects, and maximum enjoyment is achieved when the care invested in Stela’s aural aspects can be fully appreciated.
And yes, before anyone asks, controllers are fully supported.
Stela is an easy recommendation for those lost in Apple Arcade’s winding corridors, wandering virtual shelves, unsure of which figurative cartridge to pull down next and slide into your Apple TV gaming console.
If you’ve enjoyed other dark, 2D platform games of Stela’s ilk, you will definitely dig Stela. And if you’re new to this twisted, creepy take on platform gaming, then Apple Arcade is offering up a stellar introduction.
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.