There is an "Apple Look" I imagine when I think of the biggest hits on iOS. From Monument Valley to Alto's Adventure, some of the platform's most popular games carry forth the Apple ideal; its art is modern and clean, almost like it came from the dome of famed former Apple designer Jony Ive himself. These are the sorts of games that are readily accessible, intuitive, and have charm. They feel very "Apple."
Apple, the corporation, is a prestige brand. Its services and hardware are built on usability. Their designs are simple and calculated. And in terms of phones, they have the most powerful chip on the market. But Apple is not only user-friendly, it's expensive too. To this day, it's the most prohibitive factor, and it makes Apple products status symbols. Strangely, Apple Arcade, its latest service, does not fall in line with the company's usual prohibitive nature. The Xbox Game Pass-like service is just $4.99 a month, comes with a one month free trial, and it's a family plan too—so you can share it with your loved ones with ease. In layman's terms, it's a lot of bang for your buck.
Apple's done a frankly poor job promoting the service. At its most recent keynote, it showed off a bad-looking Frogger game from Konami; Simogo's charming Sayonara Wild Hearts (which we had already seen at other trade shows and presentations), and a game that was so forgettable that I can't even be bothered to look up what it was. Then launch week came, and Apple Arcade released early in beta against developers' knowledge. And then the launch lineup trickled out: part one of the newest Shantae game, that Hot Lava game Klei has been working on for a while, the cyberpunk dystopia Uber-simulator Neo Cab, a new Zach Gage game, a new Ustwo game, 2014 Kickstarter darling Jenny LeClue. The most shocking thing about the lineup of games: they're all brand new.
So basically, Apple Arcade just fucked up my backlog in one fell swoop. And yours too.
Scrolling through the 50-something games, it's an impressive array. I expected it to be a handful of Apple-like games alongside a bunch of bundlecruft-types that maybe people usually would let sit in their libraries forever. Instead, a good majority of the games look compelling. They're for all levels of players too; on the Apple Arcade's tab of the App Store, there are even sections sorted for "Beginners." While I don't imagine every month keeping up this measure of quality, I unexpectedly found myself downloading the vast majority of Apple Arcade's offerings immediately.
Of course, there are the headliners of the service that everyone will check out. Sayonara Wild Hearts, ChuChu Rocket Universe, Frogger in Toy Town, and Overland, among others, are easy standouts; either in pedigree, name, or just general excitement I've seen online. Today, I'd like to highlight some of the lesser spotlighted games on the service's storefront. So here they are, 10 under the radar games you should definitely check out on Apple Arcade.
Bleak Sword will probably be compared to Dark Souls quite a bit in the coming days. And it's understandable: from its interstitial bonfires to its intense and steady combat, the influence is apparent. But The Devolver Digital-published game is very much built for smartphones, which is what sets it apart.
It's intuitive too: you swipe to dodge roll, and hold down to attack and swipe in the direction of an enemy. The art style is 8-bit (considering the lone developer's name, More8Bit, it's fitting), but it has a tilted isometric look to its battlefields. There's a lo-fi fuzz distorting everything too. The sound design has a satisfying crunchiness to it, helping the style of Bleak Sword all come together. The atmosphere is just as bleak as its name suggests, but I imagine I'll be hacking and slashing at monsters with long tongues for some time.
Card of Darkness
Card of Darkness is, as with all his games, simply credited as a game by Zach Gage. (And in Card of Darkness' case, it's co-developed by Pendleton Ward and Choice Provisions.) It has an adorable art style, reminding me immediately of Cartoon Network shows. Genre-wise, it's part card-game, part puzzle-crawler (think like 2017's Fidel Dungeon Rescue). On a board, you navigate through the cards you pick up, equipping bustable weapons or pocketing health items all along your journey to the other side. Despite its cheery aesthetic, it's actually quite challenging, but in a fun way.
Earthnight has a look to it. (I mean really, look at the header art up top, that's it!) On pen and paper it's another runner, but in action, it's so much more. It blends 2D art with a 3D world, with 16-bit sounding music soundtracking it all. In addition to your usual runner-platformer expectations, you also fall through the sky to land on dragons. It's a strange premise, but aesthetically, it really pops. I can see this becoming a go-to commuting game when I need something to keep my thumbs occupied while I listen to podcasts.
Jenny LeClue - Detectivu
I wouldn't blame you if you didn't remember the big Kickstarter campaign of Jenny LeClue. The point-and-click adventure game, all completely hand drawn, has been a long time in the making—and an even longer time nearly radio silent. For awhile I would see it at random events, but never was a release date confirmed. Until now, I suppose. Five years later, the cute detective game has arrived.
In just the first few minutes of Jenny LeClue, I'm dazzled by it. There's something really smooth about its animation, and I'm still in love with its general art style and tone. I might hold off on playing it in earnest until Apple Arcade comes to MacOS later on, as right now it feels wrong to play it on my phone. Don't let my particularness sway you though, it's definitely a mustplay, and it's the game I'm most excited to play more of in the Apple Arcade library.
I love Mini Metro, so imagine my surprise this week when I learned the developers behind it had another game in store: Mini Motorways! It's Mini Metro, but with highways, and just as satisfying! I love being a disaster city planner!
Over the Alps
Over the Alps is one of many games I had never heard of before today. Immediately, its sleek painterly art style grabbed me. It reminds me of the illustrations you might find on a vintage postcard—which is a funny observation, considering that upon playing its first act, I found out that it was a text-based adventure game navigated through postcards. Different stamps signify different dialogue options for the 1930s-set game.
The lively music, scenic train trips, and espionage-tinged atmosphere make Over the Alps an overall pleasant surprise. I'm looking forward to playing more of it in the days to come.
Alto's Adventure has always been one of my favorite iOS games. And now the studio has a new game: Skate City, a skateboarding game that's decidedly more in the arcade realm than Session, the other skateboarding game that came out earlier this week. If you're too intimidated by Session, then Skate City is definitely worth giving a try.
And a side note: Skate City isn't even the only Snowman game released on Apple Arcade today. The puzzle-adventure game Where Cards Fall also is now on the platform.
Spek has something I haven't seen in most of the Apple Arcade games I've tried out so far: an AR mode. It's pretty neat for a puzzle game about shifting shapes to lead a ball to its destination. Immediately, I whipped out the AR mode in my room, and had a challenging time tracing the transparent outlined shapes. Spek is another commuter friendly game, with simple puzzles and even simpler mechanics. If anything, I wish Apple Arcade had more of these lone finger, low impact sorts of games.
What the Golf?
I demoed What the Golf? a long time ago, and it seemed to be in great condition even back then. Today, it joins the others on Apple Arcade, where it stands out for its hilarious, GIF-friendly physics. It's a game about golf... but not really. It escalates quickly from hitting a ball into a hole, to flinging your ragdolled human into a hole. There are even some levels that parody other games, like Superhot. It's a silly game that's sure to entertain for many, many bus rides.
Word Laces strikes me as the sort of game that a little kid would be really into, and I love it for that. In Word Laces, you swipe your finger to lace a bunch of letters into a word, tied to a picture of some sort. Some of the words get more complicated as it goes on, as you're inched into connecting more than just one word at a time. Still, it's a very kid-friendly game, and I can see it being a useful tool for possibly kids who want to practice reading fast. Or, y'know, adults too.
Apple Arcade launched this morning alongside the iOS 13 update. And honestly, the above is just a small sliver of what I'd recommend downloading. Apple did a surprisingly great job curating for the launch lineup, even if it didn't promote it too well. For $4.99, it feels almost criminal to have access to so many new, interesting looking games in just one day. Inevitably, it means many of the games launching today are going to get buried, and that's a shame.
So I hope this list serves as a helpful guide of what to not gloss over, even as a new ChuChu Rocket or new games from familiar developers like Capybara and Ustwo beckons you. Regardless, it's all worth a download, in this humble writer's opinion. And soon, Apple Arcade will be accessible on other Apple devices like Apple TV and MacOS, which is where I suspect I'll sit down and play games like Mutazione and Jenny LeClue when the time comes. In the meantime, I'll keep building highways in Mini Motorways.