iOS 13 launched on Thursday, bringing with it Apple Arcade — Apple’s premiere subscription-based gaming service. Apple Arcade promises 100+ games— all of which are free of in-app purchases, as well as advertisements. So what’s the catch? Well, it’s $4.99 a month. Subscription services have seen success when it comes to console or PC markets, but I’ve always had my doubts about one working efficiently in the mobile market. I’m happy to say that after taking my first bite of Apple's new service, my doubts have been cleared -- and yes, it was one sweet bite.
When first opening the service, you’ll be greeted by an absurdly large amount of games. It’s kind of overwhelming trying to decide what to play, but for $4.99 a month, this is a very good problem to have. Right off the bat, most every game I got my hands on had a certain level of polish that proved impressive for a mobile game. Finding a good game for your phone can be hard, as many either don’t support offline play or are so littered with advertisements that they disrupt the flow of the gameplay loop. Fortunately, Apple Arcade addresses both of these issues in the best way they can: by getting them the hell out. Eliminating ads from games makes for some very immersive experiences. Interruptions in gameplay only exist when you want them to, and the ability to play offline makes this service ideal for travel — particularly on airplanes. Still, despite the fact that this is a mobile gaming service, I was shocked to discover how much of a blast I was having playing these at home — in part due to a new feature included in iOS 13: Bluetooth Controller Support.
While all of these games are a pleasure to play with touch controls, quite a few Apple Arcade games make use of Bluetooth controller support. The best part? If you have an Xbox One/PS4 controller laying around, you’re good to go. Certain games, such as Exit the Gungeon or Sneaky Sasquatch feel right at home with a controller, with little-to-no input lag present. This small change can make a big difference when it comes to gaming on mobile — even when it comes to games outside of the Apple Arcade catalogue (e.g. Fortnite). Not every game supports it, but those that do are a delight to play. It’s responsive, easy to set up, and a great way to further elevate your experience.
Despite all of the praise, there are some issues when it comes to Apple Arcade. Many of them are smaller issues, such as slight framerate stutters on graphically intense games. Those will likely vary depending on what model phone the game is played on, and it remains a possibility that they could be addressed in future updates. However, the largest flaw I found — and it doesn’t apply to ALL games — is that some games will automatically shut off any music/podcasts you have playing when you open the app. One thing I’ve always appreciated about smartphones is the ability to multitask: you can listen to music while doing virtually anything else, so one must beg the question: why can’t you listen to music while playing these games? I’m hopeful that this will be addressed in future updates, but in its present state, it’s a bit of a letdown in what is currently one of the best ways to game on mobile.
In its current state, Apple Arcade is one of the best ways to play mobile games. Regardless of what kind of gamer you are, with more than 100 games promised this fall, you won’t have to look very far to find something you like. While shortage of games certainly won’t be a problem, having to select a game to play might. So, to help ease you into Apple Arcade, here are some highlights from my time with the service:
Sayonara Wild Hearts is a spectacle. It’s got stylish score-based gameplay, killer art direction and a catchy soundtrack that all culminate in a relatable, touching story about bouncing back from a broken heart. This isn’t just a game, it’s a playable pop album. Every level in the game is a song, and the game does a good job of making sure no two levels play the same. One minute you’re speeding down the road in a crotch rock, the next you’re a pixelated sprite inside of a character’s VR headset. Safe to say it’s hard to be bored playing this title. I played this game on my iPad with the use of a DualShock 4 controller, and was so engrossed in it that I ended up completing the game in one sitting. Whether you’re playing in long sittings or just to fill time, Sayonara Wild Hearts is one wild time.
Sneaky Sasquatch is charming, hilarious, and features one gratifying gameplay loop. Set in a campsite, you play as a hungry Sasquatch who must sneak around a nearby campsite to steal food and money from unsuspecting campers while being sure to evade Park Rangers. There’s a lot going on in each area of the map — mainly campers engaged in different activities — making for some fairly challenging stealth gameplay. You can spend the money you’ve stolen from campers to buy all kinds of upgrades in order to further maximize your ill-gotten-gains. It’s basically Yogi-Bear: The Game, and honestly? I’m here for that.
Projection: First Light is beautiful. The paper-puppet-esque art style present here is so well-designed, that I found the game hard to put down simply because I wanted to keep looking at it. The gameplay is that of a 2D platformer with a twist: playing with a controller, the left stick controls the protagonist, while the right stick controls a sentient light. With this light, you can cast shadows — which the protagonist can then use as platforms, making for some genuinely interesting gameplay. It feels as much like a puzzle game as it does a platformer, but it always feels fluid.
Cricket Through the Ages is witty, absurd, and hard to put down. It presents itself as a very loose retelling of historic events, but with cricket being the catalyst for these events. It’s as ridiculous as it sounds, and it is hilarious. This hilarity extends to the gameplay, which consists of you trying to play a game of cricket, but generally with some sort of twist. The physics engine is the star of the show here, and combined with the absurdity of the game, makes for some...unexpected situations. Maybe instead of a cricket bat, you’ll use a golf club. Maybe instead of a cricket ball, you’ll use a football — or maybe you’ll just play badminton instead, or better yet, fight in World War I. Don’t question it, just indulge it. There isn’t really too much skill involved here, so anyone should be able to jump in and enjoy this one.
Apple Arcade has only been out for a few days now, but so far it’s proving to offer quite the bang for five bucks a month. This initial launch offering has set a high precedent for what games on Apple Arcade can be, and if future offerings can match the level of quality seen here, Apple Arcade is without a doubt worth the price of admission. In all, I’ve had more fun playing games on Apple Arcade than I have any mobile game in the past 5 years. It’s safe to say I’m impressed by it. If you’re still unsure, there’s a one month free trial when you sign up, which should be more than enough time to allow you to test the waters before jumping in. In all, Apple Arcade, despite its shortcomings, is one of the best ways to game on mobile. If you have an Apple device, do yourself a favor: Close your apps, open the App Store, and take a bite of the Apple — you won’t be sorry.