Say what you want about mobile gaming, it’s one of the fastest-growing and developing markets in the industry. The very existence of Apple Arcade is a testament to this, emulating services such as GamePass and Netflix but instead offering you a library of top quality, ad-free experiences for a monthly subscription fee that equates to roughly what you might pay for a single premium mobile game anywhere else.
In its infancy, mobile gaming earned a bad reputation. This is due to a majority of the games found on the platform in the early days suffering from a number of issues including but not limited to poor quality, intrusive ads, and microtransactions. For the most part, mobile developers would use a free-to-play model so they could compete and remain profitable in a market where people are reluctant to pay upfront for a game but may end up sinking more and more cash into their game should they become invested.
The Story So Far
This phenomenon creates a perception that mobile gaming is inferior to other platforms. In the meantime, the devices we carry around in our pockets are increasingly powerful, and as such are able to offer an even richer experience.
The days of pay-to-win and microtransactions are far from over, but people all over the world can rejoice at the fact that the platform is being taken more and more seriously by developers. We are seeing more and more premium quality games being ported and developed for mobile.
Enter services like Apple Arcade – people are reluctant to shell out cash for a game when there are so many they can play for free. Developers who want to offer a complete experience on the platform struggle to compete, so Apple has come up with a fantastic solution to offer a collection of the best games as a subscription service. Everyone wins! Without further ado, here are 7 of the best games this service has to offer.
If you’re looking for the classic JRPG experience, look no further than Mistwalker’s Fantasian. The company is headed by the man who created Final Fantasy, Hironobu Sakaguchi, and also credits Nobuo Uematsu for his musical talents. You might be thinking that just because these guys were involved in making a few great Final Fantasy games, doesn’t mean that Fantasian is any good. It might not be because of that, but these guys certainly know how to make a game, and the long-awaited Apple Arcade exclusive showcases their abilities.
The battle system is unique and well-designed for a touch interface from the ground up. Various mechanics such as curving and piercing attacks make it quite exciting to play, even if the elemental rock-paper-scissors-style magic system seems par for the course.
Visually, Fantasian is about as good as it gets. The diorama-based graphics are absolutely stunning, with various 3d-modeled details such as NPCs overlaid. It all comes together rather charmingly. This is a truly unique offering with an old-school flavor that is often imitated but often achieved. In terms of gameplay, the nuanced and touch-optimized controls are a treat. In the overworld, you simply tap to move and interact with the world, while in battle you are able to modify the trajectory of your attacks by selecting them and dragging the attack path in the direction you desire, enabling you to attack multiple enemies at once
Card Of Darkness
This bright and colorful offering credits Adventure Time creator Pendleton Ward, something you could probably guess just by looking at the art style.
This grid-based looks deceptively simple, but requires careful planning and more than a rudimentary understanding of the rules. Each enemy behaves in a different way, and the player has to strategize carefully using weapons, potions, and scrolls to fight their way across each level to a set of happy stairs at the end. The gameplay is challenging and addictive and kept me entertained for hours. It works well as an intuitively designed and engaging time-waster, without feeling like a waste of time. Each new monster you face behaves differently than the last.
Card of Of Darkness is at its best once you have gotten past the first group of levels when it starts throwing all manners of card combinations at you that will really test your strategic knowledge and how you plan ahead. It’s a careful balancing act where you will have to sometimes sacrifice a bit of your life, and decide whether to use or hold on to your scrolls. The treasure might be tempting, but who knows what’s underneath it? It might just be best not to activate that pile of cards as you push towards the staircase.
There are also periodic boss battles where in order to defeat the boss you have to find heart cards somewhere on the field. I found these to be exciting as they were challenging – fast-paced battles of wit and strategy, that you will often only scrape through with a few remaining life points.
Periodically, you will be rewarded with a Card of Darkness. These can be equipped to give you certain advantages, like spawning extra potions or a chance to resist poison. You might want to review them periodically and try the new ones out as you go along as you encounter new enemies, and need to develop new strategies.
There is also a story in there somewhere about the titular Cards of Darkness, but this is very much secondary to an all-around fun offering. I would highly recommend this particular game to anyone who loves a bit of strategy, and especially those who love card-based games with unique art styles.
What The Golf?
This silly physics-based game describes itself as a game for people who hate golf. The sport proper might be fun to play IRL, but it’s not all that exciting to watch. Thankfully, What The Golf? is here to turn the boring sport we are all familiar with on its head. Expect the unexpected – with its tongue-in-cheek humor you never know what to expect. Some levels are inspired by familiar games of just about every genre, and it’s impossible to ascertain how the ball will behave when you tee off.
In fact, you can’t even be sure what form the ball might take – it could be a car, a club, or even a planet! What you can be sure of is pure entertainment throughout.
There are games that take themselves seriously, and there are those that do not. What The Golf? is by nature inherently silly. The gameplay in itself is fun and simple lending itself perfectly to a touch interface – this game is available on several platforms, but I honestly think that touchscreen is the ideal way to play it.
Playing your shots is a matter of simply dragging away from the ball, whatever it might be, and the further away you drag the harder your shot will be as indicated by an arrow. I love how this game plays on a touch screen and found it best suited to the iPhone.
I am by no means scratching the barrel here with this gorgeous, mind-bending puzzler. At this point, the lines between mobile gaming and what one might consider more serious platforms become blurred. The gameplay centers around changing the direction of gravity, and from the start invokes Portal due to its first-person puzzle-oriented gameplay. Thankfully, there is a simplicity to the design that ensures that you mostly know which way is which, even though you get to choose which way is down.
Admittedly, Manifold Garden is not optimal using touch controls and you will likely get more mileage out of it, for example, playing on an iPad with a DualSense controller. Nevertheless, it plays just fine using the touch controls, which don’t take too much away from an otherwise immersive and engaging experience.
I still feel it deserves to be mentioned as one of the greatest games on Apple Arcade – it still looks and sounds stunning, even on the relatively small screen of the iPhone 12.
Assemble With Care
In this title, you play as Maria, a traveler who makes ends meet with her skills as an antique restorer. She finds herself in a small European town on the eve of the town fair, an occasion she decides to hang around for before heading off to her next destination. The core gameplay challenges you to fix various broken objects. The puzzles are not overly difficult and are in fact very relaxing to do. There is no time limit or pressure of any kind to complete them, with the main drive to do so being to learn more about the characters.
The core gameplay challenges you to fix various broken objects. The puzzles are not overly difficult and are in fact very relaxing to do. There is no time limit or pressure of any kind to complete them, with the main drive to do so being to learn more about the characters.
Usually, the owner of the object you are fixing looks on as you repair their item. Maria generally will strike up a conversation of some sort, allowing you to learn more about the character, and their item – and since this is a small town, you will also learn about their relationships with fellow townsfolk in some cases.
Mechanically, Assemble With Care game is simple. Using Maria’s trusty toolkit, and a few spare parts here and there, you restore each object methodically. Each new object tells a story about its owner, or rather, the owner will reveal a little about themselves as you restore their possessions.
It’s not a massively long game, but overall I enjoyed my time with it and would recommend it to anyone trying out the Apple Arcade platform. The way you move around objects, dismantle them, and fix them is delightfully intuitive. Not only that, it looks and sounds great – headphones recommended.
Alto’s Oddysey: The Lost City
I was playing the first iteration of this game a few years ago and became hooked on the simple yet challenging and gameplay. The Lost City is essentially an enhanced version of the sequel, Alto’s Oddysey, that is exclusive to Apple Arcade.
This is a great game to play if you want to relax – the mesmeric soundtrack and one-touch gameplay will have you bombing down hills at breakneck speed in a meditative state. For ultimate relaxation, you will want to choose Zen Mode where there are no challenges, coins, or distractions. It’s just you and an endless downhill.
To keep things fresh, there are a total of 7 playable characters who all have different play styles. There are also items that can be bought from the workshop to help you along the way. One example is a pickaxe that will rescue you from a pitfall or a helmet that will save you from a pile of rocks that would otherwise knock you off your feet.
Wrapping it all up is a pleasant graphical presentation that is uncomplicated and easy on the eyes. You can dive right in and absorb yourself – just you, a bottomless slope, and some hypnotic music. Sometimes, you just need something simple and soothing to get your mind off things. Alto’s Oddysey: The Lost City is an excellent choice if that is what you are looking for.
Monster Hunter Stories
If you haven’t heard of Monster Hunter, I don’t know what rock you’ve been living under! Then again, I may have been under a rock of my own because I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Stories is part of the Apple Arcade library.
Originally released on the 3DS, Monster Hunter Stories is a spinoff of the mainline series that is a more traditional turn-based RPG when compared to it’s big brother. Not only that, this game is more focused on befriending and fighting alongside the monsters rather than hunting them down.
By virtue of being a 3DS title, which was a bonafide handheld console, you can fully expect many hours of gameplay, and a top-quality game that isn’t just a mobile game with the microtransactions removed like many of the games on the Arcade service.
There is a metric ton of stuff to do in this title, from breeding and collecting monsters to exploring the vast, colorful world. If Stories flew under your radar back on the 3DS, like it did mine, this is a great opportunity to give it a go.
It may not have gotten the attention that Stories 2 got, but if you have the itch for battling and collecting monsters then look no further. You won’t find better on the service.
There you have it, folks! 7 fantastic titles, all available at one price under Apple Arcade. There are going on 200 more to choose from, all handpicked and curated by Apple to deliver the best experience possible. If you’ve been on the fence about trying out this service, Apple is offering a free 1 month trial with Apple One which includes Apple Music, iCloud+, Apple TV+ and a variety of other services.