Apple Arcade Mini-Reviews: Batch One
From Frogger to Spek to Cat Quest, here’s the first batch of 10 highlights
Apple Arcade is here, and it’s so incredibly exciting to me that I couldn’t even write a coherent article about the service itself. I tried, but it was too messy, too rambly, too starstruck. In short:
- I love it.
- I think it can, and probably will, represent a renaissance for mobile gaming.
- I believe it has the potential to start including Apple in the same gaming conversations that today feature only Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft.
- I really love it.
So, with that out of the way (for now?), let’s talk games?
I went to café with huge internet speeds and downloaded every single one of them, and I will be playing through as many as my time and energy allow. My plan is to write short reviews for them in batches of 10. Every time I play 10 new games I haven’t reviewed yet, I plan on publishing a new article like this.
Starting with my least favorite of the bunch, and building up to my top recommendation, here are the first ten games I played.
Honestly? I didn’t spend much more than 5 minutes with this one. More like I couldn’t than I didn’t. Hexaflip is the only game in this batch that absolutely reeks of free-to-play bullshit: it has unnecessary fake currency, loot boxes, and timers. The graphics are flashy and the idea is simple, with all the makings of a solid timewaster, but this one was an immediate hard pass. 🙅🏻♂️
Optimal experience: not playing it.
09. Frogger in Toytown
It’s Frogger. It’s a classic. It’s also somewhat boring. Mind you: this game isn’t bad like Hexaflip, and in fact it has some great ideas built in – physics-based powerups! – but it does seem aimed squarely at little kids. Which is super important: parents will surely be signing up for Apple Arcade in droves to have access to a safe catalog of games that won’t tempt their kids to buy crappy crystals, so this is one occupies a strategic spot. It’s just not for most adults.
Optimal experience: whatever works best for your kid.
08. Rayman Mini
Remember Super Mario Run? You bought it, right?! Rayman Mini is an autorunner in that style, however it’s a lot faster, looser, and less tight because of that. You start a stage, Rayman starts running. You tap and swipe, Rayman jumps, glides, and attacks. If you do everything perfectly, Rayman reaches the end of the stage having collected 100 lums. When this works, it’s great fun (and the graphics are gorgeous) – the problem is, it often doesn’t. Rayman doesn’t control as precisely as he runs fast, and hazards come out of nowhere, so unless you really don’t care at all about performing well, you’ll have to be memorizing each stage instead of reacting to it. That’s a subpar experience.
Optimal experience: this game goes too fast to be comfortable if you’ll be playing holding an iPad in front of your face, so anything but this.
07. Exit the Gungeon
On one hand, it’s commendable that the developers at Dodge Roll managed to make a game that by all accounts is as interesting and deep as its non-mobile prequel. I came in expecting a smaller, simplified, experience, but this ain’t it. That’s super. However, Exit the Gungeon is almost unreasonably hard to play on a touch screen, even with all its adaptations, so because of that I couldn’t enjoy it that much. I imagine it will control superbly on an iPad with a proper game controller, though. Despite its difficulty, it’s actually one of the best and most full-fledged games on this list, so don’t skip on it.
Optimal experience: playing on a controller. Having patience. Being skilled.
A healthy mix of jigsaw puzzling and coloring book, Patterned is two extremely pleasant experiences rolled into one neat and polished app. It’s simple as heck, so anyone is able to play it, and they’ll probably be smiling and relaxing the whole time. Just don’t come expecting any kind of complexity.
Optimal experience: this one is nice anywhere, but it works particularly well on an iPad with Pencil.
05. Tangle Tower
A person was murdered while painting a portrait, and the portrait itself depicts someone holding a knife. The knife in the painting is red, but not with paint. With blood. And so begins this cartoonish and lighthearted murder-mystery detective game where the prime suspect is a painting. You’ll be investigating a huge mansion, talking to a cast of eccentric (and superbly voice-acted) characters, solving Professor Layton-esque puzzles and drawing your own conclusions through a very interesting deduction challenge. The game is from the same people who made the incredibly fun Snipperclips on the Switch, and while it could hardly be a more different experience, the expected quality is here.
Optimal experience: the art in this one is so vibrant, it deserves to be played on a bigger screen such as on an iPad. (But it’s perfectly functional on iPhone as well.)
04. Mini Motorways
Good news: it’s more Mini Metro! Bad news: it’s just more Mini Metro. If you enjoyed the first game as much as I did (which is: immensely), the former is more than enough to justify the latter, but honestly, I can’t say Motorways is quite as competent a game as Metro. Now that you’re building roads wherever you want instead of connecting stations in just a few possible ways, the game seems both looser and more crowded. (Judging by how hot both my iPad and iPhone gets when I play this, the CPU appears to agree.) Simultaneously, the scale and geography of the cities seem “off” somehow. Plus, new mechanics such as the traffic lights don’t seem to work correctly or help at all, and some features such as fast forward and infinite mode are entirely missing. Still, even with all that, it’s more Mini Metro, and that’s undeniably great.
Optimal experience: near a power outlet. This thing will eat your battery.
🥉 Assemble With Care
Probably many people’s standout game of the release lineup for Arcade, Assemble With Care is a touching game about touching things. You’re a repairwoman and, in the process of repairing and reassembling the broken objects of the people of Bellariva, you start pondering about everyone’s broken relationships – the cast’s, the protagonist’s, and even your own. With beautiful art, localization into many languages, complete voice acting, and a gameplay that wouldn’t make sense outside of a touch screen, it’s a game full of heart and soul. Avoid if you ever genuinely complained about “SJWs”.
Optimal experience: cozying up as you would for reading a book.
🥈 Cat Quest II
A light action fantasy RPG starred by cute kittens and doggos that’s better than it has any right to be. I was playing it and going “I can’t believe how good this game is! It can’t be! It’s a stupid cat game!” But it is. It is. Purrfect for both kids and adults, the action is simple but engaging, the graphics are cute but not embarrassing, and the writing is both funny and full of purrsonality. The gameplay is casual enough that you can squeeze in some actual progress towards your surprisingly story-driven quest in just 5 minutes at a time, but deep enough that you’ll still be interested in the game after a one or two hour session. Plus, if you have a couple of controllers, you can play co-op! I can only imagine it’s a blast to play it like this.
Cattimal experience: I found it slightly more comfortable to play on the iPad, but wherever you can play this, you’ll have a fun time.
More than anything else, I think what I look for in a mobile game is a combination of interesting new ideas and tight original gameplay that wouldn’t make much sense on a console. Spek delivers this in spades. It’s a very simple game to play, but horribly difficult to explain. The best I can muster is: “think in 3D, act in 2D”. Try for yourself and witness this incredibly polished puzzle, with the best minimalistic UI I’ve ever seen. The puzzles flow in and out of each other through transitions that honestly had my jaw on the floor, and each of them is short and stretches the core idea of the game in a new and interesting way. Just don’t try to understand the game based on screenshots – they’re lacking an entire dimension.
Optimal experience: playing it.