In the world of video games, it’s easy to make fun of the big guys. The strange tribalism that stems from the console wars means that folks spend countless hours online defending one billion-dollar corporation while throwing insults at another billion-dollar corporation. Disappointment towards specific games or monetization strategies leads to EA being voted the worst company in America instead of, say, companies that were literally destroying the planet itself. And Stadia was immediately at a disadvantage just by virtue of having the name “Google” come before it.
Another major company that’s carved out its own corner of the gaming space is Apple, particularly with the launch of Apple Arcade. While the service made a minor splash when it launched back in 2019, it feels like it was quickly tossed to the wayside like so many other competing game services. And again, it was easy for folks to lob insults at it, given Apple’s monolithic status. But digging past the surface-level hot takes, what Apple has done with its Arcade service has quietly become a pretty fantastic curation of games that are well worth your time.
Though it shares a lot of the same unfair stigma that pervades mobile games in general, the fact of the matter is that Apple Arcade is a great resource for a lot of really neat indie games from some notable and talented developers. At the time of this article, there are currently over 145 games on the service, which is available on iPhones, iPads, Macs, and Apple TVs. It might not have the depth or consistent new releases that make Xbox Game Pass a must-have service month in and month out, but for $5, it’s absolutely worth dipping into for a month or two so you can experience some of the most fun, creative, and emotional games on the market.
Capy’s Grindstone was one of the standouts of Apple Arcade’s 2019 launch lineup and found reignited interest when it finally came to Nintendo Switch a few months ago. It’s a smart, bite-sized puzzler that combines the observation of a match-three game with the kinetic energy of a hack-and-slash. I still find myself popping back into it on a fairly regular basis.
Likewise, a pair of Annapurna games got a lot of positive attention thanks to launching on other consoles as well. Sayonara Wild Hearts from developer Simogo is one of the most stylish, energetic, and infectiously positive rhythm games in recent memory. And though it got lost in the shuffle of the new console launches, The Pathless from Giant Squid turned out to be one of my favorite games of 2020 and is currently available on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5. These three games alone would run you over $60 on consoles, so the prospect of blasting through them in a given month for $5 is a fantastic deal.
I ended up spending a lot of time with Apple Arcade over winter break and jamming through a bunch of games I missed, many of which were delightful. One highlight included Alba: A Wildlife Adventure from Monument Valley developer ustwo. It’s a warm family story where you explore a colorful island, help out its citizens with a bunch of small tasks, and take photographs of the wide array of wildlife. It feels like a Pixar short mixed with Pokémon Snap, and it’s just as refreshing as it sounds. Alba was also featured in a recent Nintendo Indie World Showcase, so it’ll be making its way to Switch this year.
Less heartwarming, but just as worth your time, was Creaks from Amanita Design, the team behind Machinarium and Botanicula. Creaks is a bleak, atmospheric adventure game where you have to guide a man through a nightmarish fantasy world that exists inside the walls of his home. Its unique vision and smart puzzles make it well worth your time.
There are legitimately dozens of games worth jamming through on Apple Arcade. South of the Circle is a beautiful story of love, loss, and survival in the Antarctic wilds. The Last Campfire is a series of neat Breath of the Wild-like shrine puzzles from the developers of No Man’s Sky. And What the Golf? is an absurdist take on the sport that uses slapstick comedy to evolve the Scottish pastime into increasingly bizarre and clever ways.
The nice thing about a majority of these Apple Arcade games is that they’re either short, single-sitting games or built to be played in quick bursts. So even though many of us aren’t spending the same amount of time traveling or on public transportation as we were a year ago, the library is still an excellent source of palate cleansers to play between bigger and lengthier adventures on consoles and PC. For me, a lot of these games acted as fantastic interludes between stuff like Yakuza: Like a Dragon, Cyberpunk 2077, and Immortals Fenyx Rising.
We also know of some exciting games coming to the service in the next year or so. Fantasian is the upcoming game from Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, featuring a score from the iconic Nobuo Uematsu. We don’t know a ton about the JRPG, but it’s been in development for the past three years and features a really neat aesthetic that uses actual hand-crafted dioramas. Another exciting game in the works, again published by the tastemakers at Annapurna Interactive, is The Artful Escape. Its aesthetic is a bit Studio Ghibli, a bit David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust, and a bit Wes Anderson, and it’s every bit as promising as that amalgam sounds.
It feels like any time someone scoffs at something like Apple Arcade, it’s usually because they’ve never actually tried it out. Obviously none of the aforementioned companies or services are above criticism, but ignoring the good work they put out is simply ignorant. Hell, even the disastrous Ouya was the exclusive home to the incredible local multiplayer game TowerFall for a bit.
I have no idea what the long-term future holds for Apple Arcade, but as of now, it’s absolutely worth popping into for a bit for anyone who likes bite-sized indie games and has an Apple product to play them on. Apple Arcade has helped some really talented developers make some really excellent games, and at the end of the day, that’s unquestionably a good thing.