The Best Games of Apple Arcade

By Michael Coffer 05 Nov 2019 9

Apple’s long-standing reputation for innovation and all-around brilliance is offset by its missteps, like bend-gate or the 32-bit app purge. Happily, Apple Arcade is a return to form, and a point in favor for those who choose to associate the Apple brand with careful excellence. They’ve carefully curated a selection of premium-style mobile games and bundled the lot for an excellent price of 5 dinero monthly. Subscribers can play anything and everything to their heart’s content.

Right now, there’s eighty-some odd games from pretty much every major genre, from action-RPGs to meditative je-nais-se-quoi art pieces. This is a quality catalog with no real weak members; a gamer could use a dartboard or divining rod to hazard their next play and not be disappointed. It will remind gamers why premium craftsmanship is worthwhile and hopefully change some market expectations for competitors.

While all are quite good, some of the games are exceptionally strong entries and without further ado, here they are:

Puzzles & Card Games

Card of Darkness

I’m calling it now, this is 2019’s best solitaire game to date, with Eliza’s minigame running second. It got some of the fun effects and progression at play just like in stuff like Card Thief while still retaining the whip-smart balance Zach Gage has delivered with previous titles. The happy-bouba-blob artstyle is very adult cartoon but suits the game perfectly, for both seem simple and are indeed ultra-accessible but belie a thoughtful, riotously colorful game. The enemy design in particular is just *chefs kiss*.

Grindstone

Capy hasn’t done a puzzler in ages, and this one is a surprisingly minimalist take. To ascend the Grindstone Mountain, your burly adventurer cuts through swathes of matching-colored foes, building up equipment as he climbs ever higher. The difficulty is stern but rewarding, with most later levels requiring some careful forethought. There’s very little actual grind necessary, only if you need to replenish resources wasted on failed attempts. Very pure and smooth fun.

Mini Motorways

Smoothing out traffic congestion has never been this soothing. Ironically, it’s an ideal game to play whilst commuting, spending the time stuck in your vehicle sputtering away on Mini Motorway’s intricate puzzles. Just as with Mini Metro, the game is more about building solutions than ‘finding’ them. It asks for a creative and constructive mindset when approaching its systems. Mundane but never plain.

Cardpocalypse

Cardpocalypse is another game-within-a-game whose premise leans heavily on teenage nostalgia and classic 80s nerd tropes. It’s got a lot more going on under the hood, though, and is a little less earnestly cheeseball than Guild of Dungeoneering was. The ever-mutating ruleset and cardlist are effortlessly cool, and do honestly gin up that giddy feeling of misspent youth. One more time with feeling.

RPGS & Quests

Cat Quest II

For those who might think the title is a gag joke or a quick play for feline fan sympathies, nothing could be further from the truth. Cat Quest II is a robust full sequel to an equally competent original take. (This one now accommodates dog-lovers, too). The theme becomes just a tad cute, then is quickly expounded on to become a feline-fantasy world. Very endearing mix of twee and mock-serious worldbuilding. Mechanically quite solid, and rather challenging if the optional side-quests are avoided.

Various Daylife

Various Daylife stands out from the other games on this list because it has a curious, free-to-play-like remnant. On the one hand, this is a true jRPG through-and-through with a wide cast of characters and wide-ranging scope. On the other, any time gallivanting with your party members is also split with professions and occupations, which provide slower, more passive kind of progress which is nonetheless enjoyable. Various Daylife, indeed.

Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm

This action-RPG throws off serious Zelda vibes. It has some light puzzling and enemy encounters, and is surprisingly terse in its sign-posting and hint system. It is the largest game in terms of data on the Arcade, and, not coincidentally, one of the most gorgeous. Deep natural tones and sweeping vistas really do help drive home the free-form sense of adventure. Best with a controller.

Strategy & Tactics

Spaceland

Spaceland has that soft-poly look that is becoming more common because it connotes ease. Xcom with rounded edges, literally and figuratively. This also makes the game its own beast, with a smaller set of tools to tackle admittedly more straightforward challenges. Not necessarily a starter, full enough to enjoy on its own but also an excellent springboard into other games of the type.

Overland

This is a procedurally-generated roguelike which has been on Pocket Tactics own best-upcoming list for quite a while, rightly so. Its debt to games like FTL and even Oregon Trail is clear, but it has stripped away any sci-fi or historical trappings to tell a straightforward story of dogged survival in post-Apocalyptic americana. It’s a weird, intense episodic game, best played in short bursts.

Stories & Style

NeoCab

Good storytelling about the near-future, all unfolding from the (dis)comfort of the driver’s seat view. Economic precarity, the gig economy and the practical impossibility of making life work out make for a heady mix. Every fare has a story, and these stories and conflicts mingle with a necessary amount of techno-politico backdrop. Every twist and turn on the journey of NeoCab feels intimate and local. There are no easy morals or routes here, just an uncharted path.

Sayonara Wild Hearts

So stylish it hurts, this rhythm-it-up from Simogo really shines with a nice set of headphones and controller. (Sidenote: all arcade games support controllers, so avail yourself of any you’ve got around for the action/real-time titles). The power of dance and physical coordination defeats all, but this hand-wavy theming is perfectly executed. Pop music as eternal youth, irrepressible optimism. The original soundtrack is legitimately catchy as well, so that’s a bonus.

All of the above games are hardly an exhaustive list. I had to axe other contenders like Jenny LeClue, Exit the Gungeon and Tangle Tower. Not to mention any new games that will be added. This is such a golden opportunity one scarcely wonders how Apple could improve the Arcade. Maybe with an MMORPG or MOBA? Quite a few of the games are so good that people are (paradoxically) sorely missing the chance to purchase them individually, ‘forever’. But app purchases function more like licenses than ownership of a digital entity; they don’t grant any ability or right to resell or modify an app purchase.

In this way, the subscription model is really only a stone’s throw away from business as usual. Many of these titles are either already on other platforms or might be soon. For now, Apple Arcade has quality and variety, and manages to offer it with economy and only a smidge of exclusivity. This is a service that will move the needle.

What have been your favourite Apple Arcade games so far? Let us know in the comments!

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