Apple Arcade Roulette #3

By Michael Coffer 21 Nov 2019 0

Say what you will about Apple Arcade, one of its definite drawbacks is the difficulty in navigating the home page and simply locating the good games on the platform. Cursed with low discoverability and a burgeoning catalogue that everyone (including us) says you can traipse through at random and find great games, Apple Arcade is being continually subjected to Pocket Tactics’ cruel whims. This is Apple Arcade Roulette #3, because jamais deux sans trois. ‘Never twice without a third’. If there’s a consistent trend with these games it is that they easily fit themselves into genre conventions but then proceed to tweak or even subvert expectations.

If you want more Apple Arcade goodness, you can read the other games we've reviewed so (Arcade Roulette #1, Arcade Roulette #2), as well as check out our current list of favourite Apple Arcade Games. For reference, we've also put together a complete list of Apple Arcade games available as well.

Nightmare Farm (Management) (3-Stars)

A girl wanders through her cursed and scattered memories, scavenging apples and other supplies to farm her way into a charmed life. It’s leisurely-paced with the ‘farming’ scheme playing out like something halfway between Stardew Valley and Cookie Clicker. Plenty of timers, conversation rates and production chains. Apples become coins which are tendered for building materials, giving further gizmos and whatsits to prolong the cycle.

The proper chain of unlocks and actions is a little obscure, unfortunately. The creepy-cute aesthetic and silent movie storytelling set it apart from other genre entries. The emotional content is confusing and ambiguous, but the gameplay is linear and purely points-driven. The tone is silent but gothic: not morbid or scary but treading the fine line between melancholy and debilitating sorrow. It’s a very good game to play whilst alone because to explore another’s solitude is a mind-expanding endeavour, and it is this slow-burning curiosity which makes Nightmare Farm a rewarding, if weird, play.

Guildlings (Adventure) (4-Stars)

Guildlings is a rad game positioned somewhat at odds with the Arcade model. It’s billed as an episodic adventure and is quite promising but still just getting started. Right now it’s a slickly rendered, sweetly told game about youths getting up to magical mischief. Levity, insight and a low-key vibe of deep emotional support make this a wholesome game. I can’t stress enough how impressive it is that Guildlings instantly evokes long-standing relationships and nails a fresh tone without being too trying.

Managing your party members’ moods to solve puzzles and clear battles is a unique way to blend visual novel and RPG elements. Right now the storytelling and art direction are stronger pluses than the RPG and turn-based battles, but hopefully the later stages will grow more complex. The first episode is a decent chunk of content and will take you a handful of hours to complete. Unfortunately, with something this promising it would be nice to play it semi-regularly. I hope it updates soon.

Spelldrifter (Card Battler) (2-Stars)

Theoretically this should have been most up my alley, given it’s a story-based tactical card-battler. I love this type of game and will champion any and all worthy entries, but this one is just a little weird. It has grid-based combat, a dynamic action-point turn system, and a mixture of equipment- and deck-building aspects. Stack the laudable goals of fleshing out four different main characters, an original fantasy setting and full campaign and you have an insanely ambitious game.

It rips itself apart trying to excel on too many fronts, unfortunately. The writing is a strange mixture of styles and tones, the art has more attention paid to gear and weaponry than the oddly proportioned faces, and the actual gameplay is too muddled. The card design is decent and the party system has distinct class roles for each character, but strangely enough this beast of a game is less than the sum of its parts.

Dead-End Job (Shooter) (4-Stars)

Twin-stick shooter about a gig sucking up ghosts to escape a truly ghoulish fate. (Obligatory Ghostbusters and Luigi’s Mansion nods). Management-mission schtick mixes well with the short missions, which are almost like action set pieces, what with the various character, item and level quirks. The game rewards reflexes, sure, but also some planning. A little kitchen-sink in terms of the appeal. The art and sound design feel like misplaced cartoons. It has really clean storytelling and the action bits are pure adrenaline, so if you even have the slightest interest I would say jump right in. Effortless control scheme, level design and laid-back lore-dumps mean this is a no-brainer recommendations.

Dear Reader (???) (4-Stars)

A dearie and rather inventive title, but its intended audience is rather narrow. Still, it manages to turn the quirks and conventions of that supreme omnishambles, the English language, into decent entertainment. The raw material is drawn from classic lit in the public domain a little too faithfully, so the game can be ‘spoilt’ by over-reliance on familiarity with the source texts. Correct answers and patterns can be deduced from a limited context or logical rules, of course, but also by invoking memory of the plot or big picture. By gamifying the act of reading, it layers a sort of self-consciousness about an activity that is traditionally more free-form and undirected.

To max out a score, one must attend to theme. This mixed approach is actually rather nifty because it’s how learning and language acquisition work in other cases. As a grammar and reverse-mad libs type puzzle it’s quite good but leans a little too heavily on nostalgia. It is clearly a labor of love, and rather a fine one at that. The score and persistent in-game currency are both measured in ink, which is later used to unlock other books.

So, based on these latest five games, I would say the general quality of Apple Arcade still holds. The safest bet for anyone wandering into the service is to just try whatever types of games are usually their favorites. These releases are clearly striving to cater to as wide an audience as possible while still somehow satisfying the more discerning hobbyist. It’s an impossible, paradoxical goal. Nevertheless the effort and results thus far have been a pleasant surprise. We’ll see what the next spin of the wheel brings.

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