Apple Arcade Roulette #1

By Dick Page 02 Oct 2019 1

Apple Arcade launched with a huge pile of games and very little pre-release hype surrounding the individual titles. It's obviously a good value if you do a lot of mobile gaming, at only the price of about one premium iOS game per month. But which titles are worth your time?

In addition to these micro-reviews, we’ve already settled on a list of Apple Arcade games we think are pretty great.

It's hard to know when a hundred games launch at the same time. That's what this feature is all about. I've chosen five random games from Arcade and played them for an hour or so each. If this feature takes off we'll choose another five, and so on until we run out of games or run out of a willingness to keep living.

The question is, can we dig up any hidden gems before that happens?

What the Golf? (Puzzle) (3-Stars)

This goofy physics based puzzler has its best jokes in the first few minutes of gameplay, and wears its schtick thin at just about the same time it turns into a real game. You can approach it as a silly timekiller or as a serious Angry Birds-style slingshot challenge.

Give it a try for something fun that requires little attention, have a good laugh at the first few levels, and then play as long as it continues to be amusing - if it grabs you, there's a surprising amount of depth to the gameplay later on.

Over the Alps (Narrative) (4-Stars)

This choose-your-own-adventure game comes from writer Jon Ingold of 80 Days fame. The story here doesn't work quite as well, because it is much less flexible. Your character is an English spy in Switzerland at the lead-up to World War II. Your mission is unclear, but you quickly meet several characters with mysterious objectives. Gameplay has you choosing dialogue responses that correspond to certain spy archetypes: aloof, aggressive, debonair, noble, etc.

You also have some control over your route, and your choices determine how close the police get to catching you in each city. The story is interesting enough, with lots of double-crosses and opportunities to make meaningful choices. The mechanics are a little obscure at first, but it's easy enough to figure out, even though it can feel somewhat arbitrary.

Stellar Commanders (RTS) (3-Stars)

This is a micro-RTS that is online multiplayer only. In a lot of ways, it's very similar to Element RTS I reviewed last year. It also takes place on a spherical map with two factions vying for resources. Stellar Commanders has a much more dramatic ending, however, since the planet actually collapses under you about two thirds of the way through. Also, like just about every game these days, it uses a card mechanic, with new cards unlocking after more matches.

Your new units require resources, but also need to be drawn into your hand. This means your strategy has to adapt to both what your opponent is up to and what you have available at the moment. This can be frustrating when the card you need to counter their move just doesn't come up, but it works well to keep things tense within the super-tight timelines of each match (only a few minutes).

Don't Bug Me! (Tower Defence) (2-Stars)

This lane-based tower-defence game has a pretty animated aesthetic, but shallow gameplay, at least in the first hour. The game's main innovation is letting you blast stray mobs yourself in a corridor-shooter minigame. Otherwise, you're placing basic shooty towers, walls and landmines in preset spots.

It's easy and glacially paced. I could see the gameplay becoming more challenging later on: Don't Bug Me requires constant action since your towers quickly decay and you always have to jump into the fray yourself. It's not a set-it-and-forget-it TD game. For now, though, it takes too long to unlock new towers and enemies and the early levels are quite dull.

Speed Demons (Racing) (2/3-Stars)

Nominally a racing game, Speed Demons is actually an arcade driving title in the lineage of Spy Hunter. It's a good casual choice that can be played one handed in portrait mode, with your thumb simply weaving your car through traffic. There are a wide variety of modes within this basic gameplay--you could be chasing someone, running away, or racing against a timer--but they all amount to either avoiding or hitting certain other cars.

You also get different vehicles that handle somewhat differently, and a number of tracks with minor variations. As a casual game, it didn't grab me, but it might be worth checking out if an arcade racer appeals to you.

So far, the Arcade games I've played have been universally polished and pretty fun, so if the game is in a genre that appeals to you, you'll probably like it. You aren't likely to run into any true duds. Arcade still seems best for people who like a lot of different kinds of games and play and switch titles frequently, without minding if the games are the best of the best. We'll keep spinning that wheel, though!

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