- Today, we embark on one of the most interesting posts I’ve ever covered here on AppleToolBox: A review of the best Apple Arcade games.
- Some housekeeping before we cover the best Apple Arcade games
- The best Apple Arcade games: Reviewed
- Outlanders: A farming game with just the right amount of challenge
- GoodSudoku+: The best sudoku game is now on Apple Arcade
- wurdweb: The most addicting word game on iOS
- Assemble with Care: An interactive reparative narrative
- Thumper: Pocket Edition+: A tight, intense rhythm game for mobile
- Hot Lava: An incredible look at the future of mobile gaming
- Patterned: Beautiful, soothing puzzles to pass the time
- Bleak Sword: An original and challenging action game
- SongPop Party: A super fun, super lightweight game for music fans
- Sneaky Sasquatch: An Apple Arcade favorite that I don’t get
- Do the best Apple Arcade games make the subscription worth it?
- What are your picks for the best Apple Arcade games?
Today, we embark on one of the most interesting posts I’ve ever covered here on AppleToolBox: A review of the best Apple Arcade games.
I have been extremely interested in Apple Arcade ever since it launched, primarily because it makes no sense to me. It’s difficult to tell if Apple wants to eventually have it taken as a serious gaming service. Or maybe it’s happy keeping Apple Arcade as a cheap service to bundle with Apple One.
There is some serious talent on Apple Arcade, to be sure. Many games on the platform feel very quality. But a lot of them also seem like any other mobile game you would find on iPhone. Several of these games are just tiled swipe-and-match games with different themes (à la Candy Crush).
That said, I don’t play mobile games very often, so I didn’t feel that I had much of a reason to test the validity of Apple Arcade as a service. That was until I realized that I was paying the same amount for iCloud and Apple Music Family as I would be for the Apple One bundle that includes these services and Apple Arcade.
Needless to say, I upgraded and have been experimenting with various Apple Arcade games for the past two months. And today, I’m going to be reviewing my favorites.
Some housekeeping before we cover the best Apple Arcade games
Before we get too deep in this article, I do have some housekeeping I want to address.
First! I am not much of a gamer. I’m a lightweight. I like Stardew Valley, Hollow Knight, (some) Pokémon, and SoulsBorne games. And now and then I’ll dive headfirst back into my League addiction.
That’s about it! I have played a lot of games, but most of those games are from 2015 or earlier. So if you’re a hardcore gamer, don’t expect this to be a hardcore review.
Second, I have (obviously) not played everything. I think there are at least a hundred games on Apple Arcade at the moment. I don’t have that kind of time. Instead, I’ve focused on games that seem to be popular on the platform and/or are personally interesting to me. That’s why you won’t find any tile-and-match games on here – I have zero interest in those games, so my review of them wouldn’t be worthwhile.
Third, there are a bunch of “Mobile Game+” games on Apple Arcade. These are games that existed before Apple Arcade that have been copied to Apple Arcade for free. I am reviewing one of these games because I’m pretty passionate about it. But I didn’t bother touching games like Fruit Ninja+ because we all lived through 2010 already. We don’t need to revisit it.
The best Apple Arcade games: Reviewed
Alright, with that out of the way we’re ready to start reviewing the best Apple Arcade games! These are not ranked in any particular order, so feel free to click around at your leisure. After we work through all of these games, I’ll give my closing thoughts on Apple Arcade as a service. That way, you can decide if it’s for you!
Outlanders: A farming game with just the right amount of challenge
First up on our list of the best Apple Arcade games is one that I have probably played the most: Outlanders.
When I saw this game in the App Store, I seriously expected it to be boring. Farming clones typically don’t do it for me unless they have some kind of story or other elements propping them up (cough Stardew Valley cough).
Oddly enough, Outlanders doesn’t have anything else going for it. It’s a very straightforward farming game, and yet I was addicted to it for about two weeks.
For me, what makes Outlanders such an addicting game are the challenges. Most farming games are intentionally sandbox-y so that you can unwind with them. Outlanders does have a sandbox mode, but the default mode has you solving challenges. And they’re pretty difficult.
You start with a limited number of survivors and resources, are given a task to complete (“Collect X number of resources,”), and you have several in-game days to complete that task.
It’s really simple, and yet the level of challenge feels just right. I would either fail once or get close to failing and have to reevaluate my whole approach to survive. And that happened at every level, so it never felt too easy.
What ultimately led me to stop playing this game is that it just made me want to play Stardew Valley. This is something we’ll see on a lot of these games. They’re good, but not very deep. So you just end up wanting to play a more traditional video game instead. Kind of like how reading a comic book makes you want to read a novel. It pokes at the itch, but it doesn’t quite scratch it.
Anyway, I loved this game. I would give it a 7/10. The interface leaves a bit to be desired and the color scheme is a bit dull. Otherwise, I think it’s a great game to try if you’re new to Apple Arcade.
GoodSudoku+: The best sudoku game is now on Apple Arcade
If you follow my monthly series on the best iOS and macOS apps, then this will not be your first time hearing me rave over GoodSudoku. It’s a game that existed before Apple Arcade. And in this incarnation, there’s not anything new other than the fact that it’s included in the price of Apple Arcade. Without Apple Arcade, it’s $4.99.
I have nothing new to say about this game that I haven’t said before – I’m just further promoting it because I love it. Zach Gage is an excellent developer when it comes to simple, creative takes on old games. All of their games are aesthetically pleasing, have perfect interfaces, and capture the heart of classic games with a modern touch-up.
If you like playing sudoku, give GoodSudoku a shot! It comes with the classic version of the game as well as some updated versions with new features that take your play up a level. I view it as automating the boring parts of GoodSudoku so that you can start tackling more puzzling puzzles. This game taught me so much about sudoku that now I can’t help but crush average sudoku puzzles with my eyes closed.
Seriously, check it out!
wurdweb: The most addicting word game on iOS
Third on our list of the best Apple Arcade games is wurdweb. You’ve probably seen this game if you’ve spent any time browsing through Apple Arcade, as it’s featured pretty prominently.
And I’m happy to say that after playing it, it definitely deserves to be paraded around by Apple! It’s excellent.
Essentially, wurdweb is single-player Scrabble. The goal is to place words on the checkerboard, but you can only set words down that intersect with words that have already been placed. When you start, there’s one word already on the map, and the goal is to set down as many as you can.
And that’s it! It sounds simple, and it is, but wurdweb has smartly added just enough depth to make this simple formula very addicting.
For me, the biggest of these touches are the aesthetics. It’s a very pleasant game to look at. The animations, colors, little characters, etc., are all very satisfying.
Additionally, the interface is spot on. Everything is drag-and-drop, but the words have to switch between horizontal and vertical orientation. wurdweb compensates for this by automatically switching the word’s orientation for you based on where you’re hovering it, and it’s incredibly spot on. If it wasn’t, this game would probably be no fun at all.
Another key way that wurdweb keeps the game fresh is the variety of challenges. There are several game modes, tons of features to unlock as you progress, daily leaderboards, and more.
I may not have spent the most time playing wurdweb out of the games on this list, but I’ve probably played it over the most amount of days. It was the first game I tried and I am still playing it nearly daily.
Assemble with Care: An interactive reparative narrative
The next game on our list of the best Apple Arcade games is Assemble with Care. Visually, this is one of the prettiest games on Apple Arcade, and for that reason alone, it had caught my attention some time ago. Additionally, the snippets of gameplay I’d caught in App Store trailers made it out to be a very satisfying game.
Assemble with Care is a game where you repair small objects. Cameras, video games, watches, cassette players – things of that nature. There are a handful of levels, each beginning and ending with a narration sequence. During the sequence, you learn a bit about the person needing the repair and their plight.
You play as a traveling repairperson, which sounds like one of those jobs you dream of having as a kid.
The gameplay, where you are actually repairing small devices, is very satisfying and fun. The controls, clicks and screws, movements, snaps, etc., are just as pleasant as they should be. I showed this to my partner and she immediately went “Oooh,” as she unscrewed her first screw.
The other half of the game, the narration, didn’t land as well for me. It isn’t blended in with the repairs at all. Instead, it’s something you have to complete to start making a repair. The story itself is fine enough; characters are recurring and gradually gain more depth, which helps prevent these sections from being completely skippable.
That said, I do think the game would have benefitted from being made into a more cohesive package. Maybe, instead of just being handed objects by characters after hearing their story, there could have been an interactive section where you diagnose the device while talking to them. Something of that nature would’ve prevented the story portion from feeling like a distraction, which is a shame since it was pleasant to listen to.
The art in this game is also stunning. Whoever made the art and music for the game did a great job, they each carry the atmosphere very well.
Overall I enjoyed it. I just wish the narration and gameplay fit together a bit better, and I would’ve also liked more complicated puzzles. I was nearly able to beat the entire game in under an hour.
Thumper: Pocket Edition+: A tight, intense rhythm game for mobile
Initially, I tried playing Thumper on my Mac. However, I couldn’t find it in the Mac version of Apple Arcade, which I found odd. After playing the game I realized that the reason for this is that Thumper is a console/PC game adapted to mobile. You can buy the full version on Steam or Switch for $20.
And I have to say, there are several elements of Thumper that make it feel far more robust than the average Apple Arcade game.
First, the graphics are unreal. I know that metallic objects are easier to get right with 3D models, but even still, the lighting, animations, and movement of this game are very immersive. As the tagline implies, it’s a rhythm game that feels “violent”.
For those that aren’t familiar with rhythm games, they typically follow a Guitar Hero-esque format. Music plays in the background, and you have to push buttons, jump, and/or move with the music.
I’ve always been a sucker for rhythm games, and I think anyone who was a kid or teen during the early 2000s probably is. And Thumper does a great job of bringing this style of game to a mobile device.
If I had one complaint (and it’s not really a complaint), it would be that this game throws you in. By the third section of the first level, I was beginning to struggle. It’s super fast-paced, your move set builds quickly, and the game starts throwing curveballs at you right away.
But as I said, this isn’t a bad thing! It makes Thumper a very engrossing game despite how simple the concept is. The music, visuals, and action-packed gameplay suck you in instantly.
I enjoyed this game. It is definitely one of my favorites on this list, even though I initially was just testing it for this review. It’ll be keeping a spot on my iPhone and I recommend you make a space for it on yours, too.
Hot Lava: An incredible look at the future of mobile gaming
Holy sh*t, this game blew my mind. This is not just my favorite Apple Arcade game – it is seriously my favorite mobile game I’ve ever played. And I’ve played Bloons Tower Defense, so that’s saying something!
Where to start?
Hot Lava is a game that we’ve all already played before in our childhood. The floor is made of lava, and you have to jump from couches, benches, barrels, pillows, etc., to avoid touching the ground. I had a blast playing this with my siblings growing up, and the premise is just as fun in a video game as it was in my imagination.
Aesthetically, this game is almost perfect. Maybe the lighting could’ve been a bit more immersive and the music a bit more hard-hitting. Otherwise, it’s adorable and slick. You play as an action figure, which is ingenious, and you unlock more as you go. Everything looks great in the 3D environment, comparable to a PS3 game, which is pretty stunning.
The controls are even closer to perfect. I do think things could be made a little more fluid, but maybe if I practice more I’ll change my mind. I only started playing this game to test it for this review, given that Apple gives it so much coverage in the App Store, so my time with it has been somewhat limited.
Hot Lava is a 3D platformer and free runner, comparable to games like CSGO or Mirror’s Edge. I haven’t played either of those games too much, so I can’t make side-by-side comparisons. But if you like those games, you’ll love this pocket version of them.
Alright, so what makes this game so great?
When I first started playing this game, the first thing I did was turn off the gyroscopic controls. If you’re an older gamer like myself, then you’ve grown up playing with a controller. Gyroscopic controls (like those found in Wii or Switch) are a novelty. And usually, it’s an annoying novelty. So when Hot Lava tried to get me to move my iPad around to control the camera, I disabled it in favor of sliding my thumb around the screen.
Pretty quickly, I found the game frustrating. The game requires precision and fluidity, which isn’t something you can get from touchscreen controls. I almost went to connect a controller to my iPad, when I decided to give the gyroscopic controls another shot. Maybe the game was built around those or something.
A few seconds into using these controls, I realized that they were a bit limited. I was sitting down, and so could only turn the iPad so far to my left and right. You need a full 360 degrees to play. So I groaned, annoyed, and stood up so that I could pivot in a full circle to play this game.
Instantly, I was immersed in this game. I spent about thirty minutes spinning in a circle, unaware of my surroundings, exploring this game. I’m being so earnest right now that it might read as sarcasm, but I’m being genuine – it made me feel like a kid playing a video game for the first time.
You hold the iPad in front of you while standing, moving it up and down and left and right, looking for the next thing to grab onto, the next place to jump, racing to get the best time possible. It’s the difference between playing as Mario and feeling like you are Mario.
And to be clear, I’ve played VR games before. But most VR games (at least that I’ve played) just feel like a typical 3D game for PlayStation or Xbox except with a headset instead of a right stick. The VR doesn’t change anything about the game, it’s just neat.
But Hot Lava is built to be played this way. Other VR games treat playing with a VR headset like playing a first-person shooter with the Guitar Hero guitar controller. Sure, you can do it, but it’s not that fun. Playing Guitar Hero with the guitar controller, however, creates a wholly unique experience.
This is what Hot Lava accomplished for me. For the first time, VR felt immersive and real. I felt like I was there. I bounced on my toes with each jump, the same way you turn your shoulders when driving in Mario Kart. It sucked me in and caught me off guard. And it did it without a headset, any buttons or storyline, etc.
I don’t think this game is for everyone, and I don’t expect everyone will enjoy it as much as I did. But for me, this was one of the most rewarding gaming experiences I’ve had in a long time. If you’ve already had that “Aha!” moment with VR gaming, then you probably already know what I’m feeling. I hadn’t had it yet, though, and Hot Lava gave me a taste of what’s in store for the future of gaming. I will be playing this game for a long time to come.
Patterned: Beautiful, soothing puzzles to pass the time
Patterned is maybe the most passive game on this list of the best Apple Arcade games. It’s relaxing, with nothing in the way of competitiveness. This is something I play when I’m watching a video in the background, listening to an album, or just looking for a quiet moment.
If you’ve ever played a drag-and-drop puzzle game on the internet, then Patterned is not much different. What makes Patterned unique is the beautiful artwork. All of the art in the game is commissioned by artists from around the world. You can easily see the credits and social media handle for each artist, which is a very appreciated touch.
Each puzzle piece that you correctly place not only snaps into place but also goes from being a black-and-white pencil sketch to a piece of the final colorful image. And all the while, relaxing piano music plays in the background.
The only complaint I have is that the puzzles are a little simple. Each one can be solved in fifteen minutes or less. This is partially due to the pieces being straight-edged and also due to the puzzles being relatively small. On iOS, this isn’t so bad, but on an iPad, it can feel too easy at times.
That said, there are so many puzzles in this game that it’s not a major concern. Fifteen minutes is a pretty decent amount of time to spend on a mobile puzzle anyway, and if you want to go for longer, you can just start another one.
Overall I’ve enjoyed this game. I don’t play it too often, but I do come back to it with regularity. If you like puzzles and relaxation, then Patterned is worth a try.
Bleak Sword: An original and challenging action game
Bleak Sword is maybe the weirdest game I’ve tried on Apple Arcade. So weird that it’s almost hard to believe Apple gave it the green light.
That’s certainly not a mark against it – more so criticism of Apple Arcade’s homogeny.
As mentioned at the start of this article, I tend to like challenging games that fall into Metroidvania and SoulsBorne categories. Repetitive games where you fail over and over again until something clicks and you start crushing it – only to have a new challenge thrown your way.
That’s exactly what Bleak Sword is. You’re given controls that are simple to learn and difficult to master. You defeat enemies by parrying, countering, and cutting them down. It’s about timing, reactivity, and capitalizing on opportunities.
But Bleak Sword is also an artistic vision. You’ll immediately notice the strange 8-bit graphics in a 3D space. Everything is black, white, or red, and the environments you fight in are super tight. It’s kind of like fighting enemies in a Zelda dungeon.
The music is beautiful as well. Very haunting, very eery. Combined, the visuals and audio create an immersive experience. Despite how simple this game is, it feels like an indie game on Steam more than a mobile game for iPhone.
That said, it is a mobile game, and it has some drawbacks as a result.
First, it feels like a game that’s meant to be played with a controller. This is especially true on Mac.
Second, the game is almost too simple at times. It prevents the story and the gameplay from ever scratching an indie itch. I would almost say it feels like a demo, but it doesn’t graduate from that point.
Given the talent and vision that went into this thing, I feel that this has to be a result of trying to make the game playable on an iPhone. If this were a PC or Switch game, I have a hard time believing it would still be so basic.
Even still, I’ve had a lot of fun with this game. If you’re someone who likes challenging games and doesn’t mind an oddball experiment, Bleak Sword is certainly worth downloading. Even if it does put you in the mood to play Shovel Knight more than itself.
SongPop Party: A super fun, super lightweight game for music fans
Nearing the end of our list of the best Apple Arcade games is SongPop Party. This is one of my and my partner’s favorite games on Apple Arcade, and oddly enough, it also has some of the most negative App Store reviews.
I have no clue why this is – I like this game so much I even included it in another AppleToolBox post where I reviewed karaoke apps for Apple TV. It’s been a blast to play single-player as well as with friends.
SongPop Party is just a trivia game that centers around music. You can explore different genres and decades, unlock new genres, decades, and characters, and continually put your music knowledge to the test.
And that’s about it! There isn’t much else to this game, which I think makes it a lot of fun. Like solitaire or minesweeper, this is something that you can pick up whenever you’re feeling bored or listening to a podcast in the background. It’ll play a few seconds of a song and ask you a question about it. If you’re even remotely interested in music, then SongPop Party deserves a place on your phone, in my opinion.
Sneaky Sasquatch: An Apple Arcade favorite that I don’t get
Before Sneaky Sasquatch fans crucify me, hear me out!
Sneaky Sasquatch is one of the most popular Apple Arcade games. It’s won awards and is constantly on the front page of Apple Arcade. So even though I hadn’t played it before writing this review, I figured I had to give it a chance.
My first few minutes of this game did not go well. I immediately found it repetitive and boring, and felt like I “got it”. But wanting to do my due diligence, I looked up reviews and community thoughts on this game to see if I was missing something.
As it turns out, I was! There is a lot more to Sneaky Sasquatch. I’ve heard people mention buying vehicles, running towns, playing golf, working as a photographer, foraging for mushrooms, going surfing, excavating dinosaurs, and way, way more.
The comparison I’ve seen thrown around is that this game is like kid-friendly GTA. I’ve never played GTA, admittedly, so I don’t exactly know what that means. But it does look like Sneaky Sasquatch has a sneaky level of depth to it.
When you start playing the game, everything seems straightforward. You are a Sasquatch living in a national park. You need food to eat and also to sell for money to buy gadgets that make stealing food easier. So, you wander through the campgrounds, taking food from campers without being seen by campers or park rangers.
As you progress through the campgrounds and buy more items, you start to encounter more characters, unlock new possibilities, and get better and bolder at the game. Early items include disguises so that campers don’t recognize you and a map that lets you teleport back to your home base. Already, these items start to reshape the way you play the game dramatically.
While I haven’t played much of this game (it didn’t grab my interest), it seems like the items and characters exponentially increase the complexity of the game. Kind of like if Halo: CE started with you playing Candy Crush.
I think this is a neat concept and a great game for kids as well as adults who want a laidback, portable game that has a similar level of depth to a console game. It might be one of the best games for that since people adore it so much.
For me, though, it never clicked. I’m not crazy about the art, the controls feel slippery (I like tight platformers and combat), and free-roam games like GTA or Saints Row have never really appealed to me.
Maybe if I spent another hour or two with it, I’d get to a point where it registered for me. But I’m of the mind that if a book doesn’t grab you in the first chapter, a movie or game in the first thirty minutes, or a show in the first two episodes, then it’s time to move on. Sadly, Sneaky Sasquatch didn’t break this threshold for me – but it might for you!
Do the best Apple Arcade games make the subscription worth it?
And that’s it! Those are, in my opinion, the best Apple Arcade games. That brings us back to the thesis of this article – whether or not these games justify the price of an Apple Arcade subscription.
Yes. A thousand times yes. I mean for crying out loud, it’s $5/month. If you play one or two new games per month, then you’ve completely justified the cost.
The real question is whether or not you’ll use your Apple Arcade subscription. As mentioned at the start of the article, I grabbed an Apple One plan for this review, which means I can (and have) shared this subscription with five of my family members. They all know they have access to this subscription; I’ve sent them games I thought they would find interesting, many of them play games on their iPhone already.
And yet, I’m the only one (aside from my partner) who has played any Apple Arcade games. If they had all paid for these subscriptions individually, I would’ve told them to cancel them. Likewise, I also have Apple TV+ with this bundle, and I haven’t watched anything on it because I don’t like TV shows or movies.
A deeper question might be whether or not Apple Arcade has anything unique to offer. Is it the same iPhone games we’ve all played a thousand times before, except now locked behind a subscription? Or are the Apple Arcade developers doing something new to iPhone?
From what I’ve seen, it’s a mixed bag. There are certainly innovative games, like Hot Lava, Sneaky Sasquatch, and Bleak Sword. And some games aren’t necessarily innovative but are bringing a new caliber of quality to iPhone, like wurdweb and Patterned.
But there are also a lot of banal games on the platform. There are far more tile-swap games (i.e., Candy Crush) than I would like. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with this type of game, it’s just that it’s a dead horse at this point. I also find the number of “OldGame+” titles to be concerning.
Additionally, there is a lot of gaming innovation on the iPhone that is happening outside of Apple Arcade, and I see a problem with that. Wild Rift is one of the most intense gaming experiences I’ve had on mobile; it’s a “real” game through and through. And it has nothing to do with Apple Arcade. The same goes for a lot of the tabletop card games on iOS as well.
If I had to guess, I would say that this is probably because Apple Arcade is out of touch with the gaming industry. A lot of these games feel like slightly better mobile games because that’s all Apple is familiar with. When you have a breakout like Sneaky Sasquatch or Hot Lava, it’s because the developer has their finger on the pulse of something special – not Apple.
I would love to see developers like Team Cherry, Yacht Club Games, and Studio MDHR come to Apple Arcade. These are smaller developers that have created excellent, crowd-pleasing games that don’t require a lot of processing power or storage. They would translate perfectly to mobile, raise the profile of the developers, and bring a breath of creativity to the Apple platform.
Again, though, for a service that costs $5, you can’t complain too much. The games would have to all be terrible for that price to not be worth it. There are a handful of games on Apple Arcade that completely justify the price. I’d love it if every game was hit, but even Netflix is 80% garbage. I guess that’s the streaming era!
What are your picks for the best Apple Arcade games?
And that’s it! That’s my review of the best Apple Arcade games. I was expecting this to be a quick, “Loved it/Hated it” review, but that isn’t what ended up happening.
A lot of these games caught me by surprise. I went into this article thinking I would tell you that these were the same games you’ve always played on the App Store. And to be fair, a lot of them are. But some developers are pushing the platform forward.
For a lot of gamers, myself included, a platform like Apple Arcade can’t be a “real” gaming platform until it can match games on traditional platforms like PC and console. But what I learned from playing these games is that this isn’t the case at all.
In the same way that a unique platform like the Nintendo DS or Wii leads to unique games that wouldn’t work as well on other platforms, the games on Apple Arcade are unique to it. You won’t find a game like Hot Lava or Sneaky Sasquatch on Xbox. But that doesn’t mean these aren’t “real” games.
What I learned from this review is that Apple Arcade is a way to build on the concepts we’ve seen in iOS for years. Taking basic mobile game ideas and filling them out in unexpected ways.
I still think it has a way to go before Apple Arcade is a “serious” gaming platform. But for $5/month, maybe it’s already carved out its place.
For more insights, news, and guides on all things Apple, check out the rest of the AppleToolBox blog.
See you next time!