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For anyone even remotely interested in gaming, Apple Arcade makes a pretty appealing value proposition. Nearly 100 new and (pretty much) exclusive games for $5/month, with no pesky ads or in-app purchases to dilute the experience. The quality on show is impressively high, too – these titles are, by and large, leagues better than your average App Store find.
That means the problem facing most subscribers is one of choice. How do you dig into such an overwhelming catalog of titles?
We’ve been exploring Apple Arcade since it hit beta release, with each of our five writers picking three of their personal favorites to tell you about. This list is by no means exhaustive – plenty of hits missed the cut – but it should give you a good idea of where to start, especially if you’re just trying out the month-long free trial of the service.
Giving these fifteen a shot is a great place to start. With any luck, it will help you decide if you’d get enough out of these games to justify the subscription fee.
Tom’s top three
What the Golf?
Forget the title; this is no more a golf game than beer pong is table tennis. Instead, this strips golf back to its very simplest form – get object to flag – and toys with the formula endlessly.
Less than a minute into the game you’ll be firing the golfer himself towards the green rather than the ball, perfectly setting the tone for what’s to come: gravity puzzles, archery games, car chases, and lots of cats – all part of this madcap golfing world.
You can really tell its creators had a blast in the making of this one, and that incessant joyfulness bleeds into the gameplay. It’s sublimely silly and consistently creative in a way that will have you grinning from ear to ear.
This is a game that could be accurately described with just three words: not quite Zelda. But to do so would be to do its developers a disservice, as Oceanhorn 2 puts its own joyful spin on a well-loved genre.
Forget the obvious influences, and what you’re faced with is a remarkable action RPG and one of the most expansive gaming experiences to ever grace iOS. Magic, puzzles, side-quests, boss fights, and a robot companion who wields a samurai sword – this game has it all.
The lush, vibrant kingdom of Gaia is a both technical marvel and a joy to behold. Grab a wireless controller and you’ll forget this is a mobile game.
Mystery games are ten-a-penny on the App Store, but child detective Jenny LeClue ventures beyond simple room escape fare. This is a heartwarming adventure game that focuses on storytelling above all else.
Memorable characters and a wonderfully tactile presentation keep the game engaging despite its relatively slow pace, and the investigative mini-games do a great job of simulating detective work.
Icing on the cake is a genius “choosiness” mechanic that keeps track of every decision made and judges you accordingly, like a Buzzfeed quiz written by Agatha Christie.
Craig’s top three
Super Impossible Road
The original Impossible Road was a breakneck arcade thrill-ride that had you cling on for dear life as your ball-like craft blazed along a path threaded through the void. Super Impossible Road comes across like a big budget take on that indie hit – only without losing its soul.
The game finds you bombing along what now resembles an interstellar roller-coaster, your metal vehicle occasionally leaving the track to soar through space and rejoin later – a risky proposition, but often necessary to win multiplayer races or get to gates in the timer mode. It’s tricky, varied, engaging, and relentlessly exciting – you might even say it’s ‘super’.
Sayonara Wild Hearts
Described as a pop album video game, Sayonara Wild Hearts is a visually dazzling experience that finds you attempting to restore the harmony of the universe. No pressure. To achieve this, you fly through the air, ride motorcycles, and have one-on-one scraps, all while moving in time to the beat.
Collecting hearts is the key to a high score, but this is ultimately a game that wants to be played. Everyone comes along for the ride, but those who care most can aim for perfection. However, the latter may require you use a controller – Sayonara Wild Hearts isn’t quite so responsive when you’re swiping with a finger.
Assemble With Care
This narrative effort features globe-trotting antique restorer Maria. Estranged from her parents, she travels the world, repairing precious objects. Only when she arrives in Bellariva, it becomes clear objects aren’t the only things that need fixing.
What follows is a short, sweet, emotionally charged dive into the importance of possessions, and the fragility of relationships. The story is tight and beautifully illustrated. The puzzles are clever, tactile, and designed to give you a bit of a challenge, but without robbing the story of momentum.
Chances are, you’ll be done in an hour. But that hour will live with you for a long time.
Jon’s top three
We’ve seen an awful lot of Puzzle Quest-aping match–3 RPGs on iOS over the years, but Grindstone adds something genuinely new and thrilling to this hybrid genre. Situating your warrior character on the grid lends a sharp focus to proceedings, while cutting a bloody swathe across the screen by linking successive matches is a real kinetic thrill.
The ability to craft and equip items adds a little extra RPG depth to proceedings. And Capybara Games has managed to pull all this off with its usual visual flare, this time channeling a certain irreverent Cartoon Network spirit.
If you were to describe Painty Mob in a sentence, it might be hard to distinguish from any number of cheap and cheerful arcade action games. You are, after all, simply wandering around arena-like levels blasting a growing crowd of enemies with paint bombs.
But it’s the tight execution of the action, the tactical limitations of your primary weapon, and the need to utilize your colorful environment that carries Painty Mob well beyond novelty status. Each garishly hued stage is packed full of countless incidental details, things to collect and explode, and a general aura of chaotic joy.
Card of Darkness
Card of Darkness is a collaboration between indie gaming legend Zach Gage, BIT.TRIP developer Choice Provisions, and Adventure Time animator Pendleton Ward. Which is the kind of fever-dream-team line-up we would never have imagined gracing the App Store.
The result is this beautiful and strange solo card battler, which sees you drawing cards from a grid until you’ve cleared a path to the exit. Those cards have assorted properties – some good, some bad – and there’s a constant, tantalizing balance between risk and reward. Dash to the exit, or grab that treasure? Either way, you’ll have a blast.
Andy’s top three
This post-apocalyptic strategy game really ramps up the tension with its turn-based approach. Start out at as a variety of characters that come and go as they demise, and sweat it out as you close in on that all-important weapon or gas canister as untold spiny beasts bear down on you… step by step.
Overland will very much appeal to board game fans due to its familiar survival goals, slower pace, and levels resembling dioramic sets. The graphics are moody and the conversation between characters during the rich post-stage cut scenes are suitably bleak, truly capturing the end-of-the-world backdrop.
Dead End Job
As one of the few games that really tickled our nostalgia buttons for looking, sounding and acting like an 80s cartoon turned arcade game crossover, we’re highlighting Dead End Job as a must play.
You play Hector Plasm, a pest control worker… for ghosts. Your job is to use your plasma gun to attack a variety of mischievous entities just trying to live their post-lives across various backdrops from the humble office to the local park.
If it wasn’t obvious, Dead End Job is extremely silly, but it’s also incredibly well crafted thanks to its slick graphics, incessant wordplay, and devilish difficulty. If in doubt: button bash.
The Get Out Kids
It’s another ode to the recent past, but what could be be more nostalgic than a narrative tale set in 1984 about a couple kids and their dog sneaking out of their parents house to watch a midnight showing of Ghostbusters? Nothing. The answer is nothing.
Its chapter-based approach, mini-puzzles, and mysterious events drive the game and easily earn it a place in our post-Stranger Things world, dimmed by the industrial afterglow of the 1980s. Fans of a good story and a unique approach to point-and-click games (with plenty of spinning worlds and hidden items) will love the way The Get Out Kids unfolds.
Joe’s top three
For fans of town-building strategy games, this is a great title in the Arcade lineup. While the mechanics of the game will seem familiar – you’re in charge of a town and need to harvest and manage resources while working towards a series of goals – what’s great about Outlanders is its excellent look and feel.
It’s clean, crisp, and quick, and doesn’t seem cluttered or sluggish (as so many similar titles do). And it’s well grounded with storytelling hook: rather than letting you go off your own, Outlanders requires gamers to help town leaders through problems or dilemmas. It’s a game you can easily get lost in.
Projection: First Light
It’s easy to overlook this game as just another Limbo clone, but this 2D platformer-puzzler is a real gem. In it, you take control of Greta – a shadow puppet girl chasing a ball of light through a shadowy sepia world. Players can help Greta out through pulling levers and moving objects which are hidden here and there. But you can also manipulate the light to cast shadows over which Greta can walk, creating hills and bridges out of thin air.
Combined with the game’s rich environments and careful soundtrack, this makes Projection: First Light a lot of fun to play – especially on an OLED iPhone in a dark room!
The beauty of an Arcade subscription is you can try lots of new things, and this is a great example. It’s a turn-based tactical sci-fi game for people who don’t usually go in for those genres, in which you investigate a strange, icy planet inhabited by dangerous alien monsters.
Turn-based gaming might sound slow-paced, but that isn’t the case here: you can quickly tap through moves and attacks to progress through areas at a pretty fast rate, uncovering new characters and topping up your ammo as you go. Spaceland lets you build up a squad and take on enemies in team-based combat, too, and with a huge range of weapons (and enemies) to discover, you won’t get bored quickly.