GameCentral reviews the first wave of Apple Arcade games and asks how much the new subscription service will really change mobile gaming.
In the post-Netflix world in which we all live, the new gold rush is to offer products as a service. That means that rather than paying for something and then owning it, you instead pay an ongoing, never-ending monthly fee in exchange for temporary access to an expanding range of content, whether thats TV, music, or games.
Microsofts Game Pass has led the charge, with Sonys somewhat milquetoast nod in the direction of complimentary games for PlayStation Plus members not quite living up to the same standard. Although the elephant in the room is Google Stadia, which has been at pains to compare itself to Sonys offering rather than the Netflix-of-gaming everyone had been hoping for.
Google has also been making vague grumblings about a Google Play Pass, the Android version of Apple Arcade, but its still a long way from being ready, which makes Apples leadership in this all the more interesting to watch. That goes for the games, how it works in practice, and the eco-system in which its built. Not to mention the vast amounts of money theyre spending on it.
That last part is iOS 13, Apples latest update, which is a prerequisite for using Arcade. Its already available for iPhone and iPad, and offers the ability to pair your device with a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One controller. You could previously buy specially designed MFI Bluetooth controllers, but few ever did, and this brings controller-usage firmly into the mainstream.
Not all Apple Arcade games support external controllers, but plenty do (with varying degrees of success, although wonky ones should be patched in short order), and for action games in particular, this is the start of a sea-change that will make the genre far more viable on mobile. For other Apple customers, Mac users, and those with an Apple TV, Arcade support is due in the coming weeks, with the ability to switch devices and pick-up games exactly where you left off.
Subscribing to the service costs £4.99 per month, with the first instalment free, which gets you a solid roster of mostly exclusive games presented in their own tab on the App Store. Downloading them is the same as for any other software, except you dont have to pay, and none of them goes anywhere near microtransactions, which is an unexpectedly glorious breath of fresh air. You can see the full list at the bottom of the page, although at time of writing not all titles are available yet.
In a boon to frequent flyers, almost all the games can be played without an Internet connection, and theres an excellent selection of developers, from heavy hitters like Sega and Capcom to indie favourites such as Devolver Digital and Annapurna Interactive. Its a great list and offers multiple titbits for all tastes. Heres a selection of titles to give you a flavour of the first tranche…
ChuChu Rocket! Universe (Sega)
Sonic Teams 1999 puzzle game was one of the Dreamcasts more memorable launch titles, in which you placed arrows on the ground to guide a conga line of cartoon mice to an escape rocket, whilst avoiding spiked pits and cats.
Unlike the originals flat levels, there are now ramps, fences, and little Mario Galaxy-style planetoids around which to shepherd your tiny procession of vermin. This version retains multiplayer, where you direct as many mice as possible to your rocket, while sending cats to everyone elses.
Mini Motorways (Dinosaur Polo Club)
From the same developer as Mini Metro, this is a similar concept. Your job is to connect houses and offices of matching colours, substituting Metros underground trains for an increasingly complex spaghetti junction of roads.
Like Nintendos formative Game & Watch units, Mini Motorways gradually escalates in speed and difficulty, and what starts relaxing becomes more pressured as roads get congested and traffic backs up. There are always motorways, traffic lights, and relief roads to be built in this wonderfully satisfying motion puzzle.
Assemble With Care (ustwo)
From ustwo, developer of the fabulous Monument Valley and its sequel, comes a piece of interactive fiction about a woman called Maria who specialises in repairing appliances and household objects.
Wielding a screwdriver, super glue, and electrical wiring you mend whats broken, before uncovering a new chapter in Marias life. Its pace and lack of interactive dialogue wont be to everyones taste, but as with their previous games its an experience that is perfectly designed for mobile and feels like it would never work as well on any other format.
Where Cards Fall (Snowman)
Where Cards Fall is a tale of very small, near-stick figures going about their lives, speaking a language thats similar to but presumably legally distinct from Simlish. As well as watching them go about their business, you also need to guide them across charmingly drawn landscapes using a house of cards that you collapse and reconstruct with a pinch of thumb and forefinger.
Its almost free of text, letting you infer the drama from its scenes of domestic normality, its languorous animations, characters in no hurry to get from A to B, and a generous hints system; signs that this is more about the journey than a traditional video game challenge.
Overland isnt an exclusive, its also available on PC and consoles, but Its turn-based post-apocalyptic survival proves as brutally hard as it does on other formats, even if some of the text proves trickier to read on a small screen.
Taking place in a series of cute 3D dioramas, that you rotate and tilt to get a better view of enemies and stuff to steal, youll need to be careful of monsters, who have a nasty habit of lurking unseen in the shadows. If you can handle dying a lot, and frequently running out of petrol during your skin-of-the-teeth road trip through Armageddon, theres an early XCOM buzz about the game that will appeal to players who actively enjoy a bit of self-inflicted suffering.
Cricket Through the Ages (Devolver Digital)
This revisionist history of cricket as a combat sport has you facing off against a computer or human opponent with an increasing arsenal of ridiculous sport-related ephemera. Hold the screen to swing your cricketeers arms around and release it to let your ball fly; even if this version of cricket is at least as much a contact sport as it is anything to do with where the ball ends up.
One of relatively few games capable of making you cry with laughter; its protagonists arms floundering helplessly on the floor, the balls bowled skyward or behind you, and the mock serious commentary conspires to make this one Apple Arcade game thats particularly well-suited to post-pub entertainment.
Skate City (Snowman)
Although nowhere near as deep or rewarding as the older Tony Hawk games, Skate Citys simple 2D grind and flip-athon still manages to pack a huge number of tricks into an inspiringly simple control interface.
You can earn in-game currency to spruce-up your skaters outfit and deck, as well as unlock fresh world cities to noodle around.
Shinsekai: Into the Depths (Capcom)
Capcoms side (and downward) scrolling underwater adventure has your deep-sea diver encountering a range of subaquatic obstacles from deadly terrain to fierce flora and fauna, all of which needs to be traversed, hopped over with your underwater jetpack, or pummelled into submission.
Collect dead creatures to craft more ammo and minerals to upgrade your suit as you descend, gradually expanding your horizons in time-honoured Metroidvania style. And all that against the backdrop of a steadily reducing oxygen supply.
Frogger In Toytown (Konami)
Konamis 21st century take on Frogger has you touring the floors of peoples houses, avoiding columns of toy cars and a range of other playroom-related traps in your quest to rescue the froglets waiting in each level.
You have access to occasional bombs, decoy frogs, and a scattering of other single-shot weapons, but they cant make up for a control method and collision detection that feel frustratingly random. Although you can earn coins to unlock challenge levels and new outfits for your frog, if you can muster enough enthusiasm to care.
Spaceland (Tortuga Team)