Apple Arcade Report 2022
Hard to believe that already a year has passed since my last report. I wanted to write these more frequently, but that might become a 2023 resolution.
Anyway, 2022 was a good year for Apple Arcade. Not a great year for many--the fact that Apple feels it needed to bump up the game library count (and keep doing so) with "+" remastered versions of iOS games available separately on the App Store could be seen as an acknowledgement that it's not an attractive platform for developers. There's truth to that, of course, and the platform has gained a reputation as being the gravesite for failed gacha games. It was always going to be difficult, and Arcade is hampered by the fact that it is mobile-first, but I've always thought that having only original games on the platform was missing the point a little as well.
Nevertheless, here is what I played this year:
“+” Games: Old Man's Journey+ The Gardens Between+ GRIS+ Love You To Bits+ Prune+ Monument Valley 2+
All very welcome ports with a few tweaks and modifications for Apple Arcade. Nothing major, really, but it was great revisiting these games. Monument Valley 2 and GRIS in particular are sublime visual advertisements for the platform, too. Highly recommended.
Kingdom Rush Vengeance TD+ Bloons TD 6+
On a platform where there is so much choice, it is difficult to recommend tower defense games, even if they are as polished as the Kingdom Rush ones. Every wave, I feel my time could be better spent playing other games. Bloons in particular feels a bit too bland for the platform as well.
My Bowling 3D+: I never knew this game existed, but it's a fun and surprisingly well-designed game. A little bland, though. Recommended.
Sonic Dash+: This is an endless runner featuring Sonic released just in time to coincide with the release of the Sonic 2 movie. I was hopelessly addicted to this game for a week, but then came to my senses when the game asked me to collect gems for "Movie Sonic". With a game previously so reliant on IAP in its original guise, it's bizarre seeing it on Apple Arcade where there are none.
Pocket Build+: A building game without many of the stress points of games such as Sim City. The concept by itself makes it seem very intimidating, but it's quite interesting. I would not recommend this game on anything smaller than a regular iPad, though. Recommended.
Alto's Adventure--Remastered: The remastering of this endless runner extends basically to a more stable framerate (or a smoother 120 fps frame rate if you own an iPad or iPhone with ProMotion) and a mode with a new hidden character. Doesn't sound like much, but Alto's Adventure didn't need that much to begin with. There are times when the game becomes magically hypnotizing. I can respect Alto's Odyssey for what it added to the genre, but Adventure is amazing. Highly recommended.
Shadow Blade+: A simple platform game with some of the smoothest wall-jumping dynamics I have played. Strong PSP-like energy here, but not that special, really. A fun ride. Recommended.
Updates: Crayola: Create and Play: Back in the summer, the developer decided to update the game with a bunch of new toys/modes and a reimagining of the UI for the game. Gone is the metaphor of a factory/museum, and instead you get a one-pane menu of sorts with games spread across vertical levels. I personally don't like the changes, and my child didn't either... But that might simply be because they have outgrown the game. A slight disappointment.
Layton’s Mystery Journey: After a year of playing the game every day in 5/10-minute chunks, I finally completed this. I liked the story, and it was really enjoyable to see the game getting more and more compelling the further you got. Definitely not a game for a wide audience (and I can see the terrible second chapter/case really souring the experience), but the pace of the game, the various catch-up messages you get when you start the game to remind you of where you were, and the various mini games make it great for portable play. Recommended, and I wish they made some sort of sequel.
Easy Come Easy Golf: My most-played Apple Arcade game last year, and to be fair to developer Clap Hanz, they have tried to keep it a compelling experience with regular updates and new features every month or so. The problem for me is that this game is that the courses don't really have as much longevity, and the control system has been polished just a bit too much. Touch screens offer so much more versatility and complexity for golf game controls, but that's been discarded for this game. What a shame.
Amazing Bomberman: Bomberman updated for a new generation with a "lo-fi" aesthetic and an online-first structure. It's good, but it's a chore on a phone. Recommended if you have a controller.
Garden Tails: The makers of Two Dots do their own take on the Candy Rush/match-three genre. This game features some of the worst localization I've seen in years, but the game itself is good. Not really for me, though.
Stitch: A logic puzzle game with stitching aesthetics based on area and color/texture management. Looks nice, and the overall design of the game is very well done, but I have never clicked with this kind of game. This might be one of the more boring examples, too.
Shovel Knight Dig: A platform Downwell clone with other rogue-lite elements that feels like it could be a great experience with a controller. As it stands, it's very awkward on mobile. The camera needs work as well. The game has great presentation and a wonderful soundtrack, but it's lost on a small phone like mine. Also: why this is not presented vertically is a mystery.
Horizon Chase 2: An intriguing sequel. The original Horizon Chase was a reimagining of SuperScaler-like console racing games from the 90s (in particular Top Gear), but the sequel has a very different energy to it, taking the feel of the original game and adding the visual depth and aesthetics of 90s arcade Sega racers such as Sega Super GT Plus or Scud Race. Nothing truly groundbreaking, and the soundtrack is not as good, but the sequel adds a lot of variety to the courses you race on. The effects during races which get more varied and imaginative the more you progress through the game really surprised me. The frame rate suffers sometimes because of that, but in general it's a great experience, and it plays remarkably well on a phone with the on-screen touch controls. Magic. Highly recommended.
Nickelodeon Extreme Tennis: Apple Arcade features a bunch of these types of Mario sport game rip-offs with popular cartoon characters. The best one is this one, by far: an entertaining tennis game with a control scheme with a surprising amount of depth. The game itself is really bare-bones, and the online aspect very shallow, but it was a great experience for a couple of weeks. Recommended.
Moonshot: A planetary physics-based puzzle game from the makers of Stickman Golf. It's good, but oddly forgettable.
Jetpack Joyride 2: An unnecessary sequel to the popular endless runner. Still, the developers obviously had a lot of fun developing the game. It has a nice selection of new features and items, a smooth framerate, and the various fourth-wall-breaking references to the development of this game so long after the original manage to be actually funny most of the time.
Air Twister: There was a lot of hype surrounding the announcement of this game, having Sega legend Yu Suzuki as producer of sorts, but that died out even before it was released. Maybe I can see why: this is a Space Harrier-like into-the-screen shooter with an odd anesthetic and... that's it. There are a lot of secondary modes that encourage you to play every day, including a map by which you unlock new weapons, items, and wardrobe. The odd soundtrack is incredibly memorable. All said, though, I wish they had just made this just an arcade-style shooter; with so many bells and whistles, it feels like a chore at times. It is also disappointingly difficult to control on a phone. Touchscreens are great for shooters, but not for the into-the-screen variety, as your finger will inevitably cover part of the screen, and amalgamating movement and shooting direction into the same input makes the game more difficult than it should be. There is a clock boss in this game in particular that highlights the limits of the control scheme, and it’s never not frustrating. A significant disappointment.
Warped Kart Drivers: There's a lot of competition in the driving/racing genres on Apple Arcade, surprisingly. Warped Kart Drivers is an attempt to have a Mario Kart clone on the platform, but it's not very good. It's not a bad game, but the characters, featuring a cast from Family Guy, King of the Hill. etc. are off-putting and the physics and course designs are unsatisfying. A waste of time.
Subway Surfers Tag: This is an unusual game inasmuch as it has been positioned as a spin-off of the popular Subway Surfers infinite runner game, and yet it has very little in common with that game. I would not be surprised to hear that this started as another game, and either the developer or Apple told the developers to DinosaurPlanet-ify the game to make it more appealing to an iPhone audience. Subway Surfers Tag puts you in control of a skateboarder, and you go through enclosed arenas with the aim of tagging some objects and doing tricks in the spaces to get a high score. The timer for each stage is the amount of spray paint you have, which is an interesting dynamic, but the overhead perspective perhaps makes it feel too twee, and in general it's just very vapid.
Gear.Club Stradale: I'm tempted to describe this as a driving sim of sorts with a variety of famous sports cars, but to be honest I have no idea what I am really supposed to do in this game. I enjoy playing it when I just want to relax and enjoy the sights and virtual experience of an early summer drive through a straight road in the southern French countryside.
Gibbon: Beyond The Trees: It's now been ported to other platforms, but this was a standout exclusive for Apple Arcade with a strong environmental message. Using a touch-and-go control scheme for controlling your Gibbon traveling through the jungle sounds like a great game, but I found myself put off due to the surprisingly unintuitive controls. What a shame.
Frogger and the Rumbling Ruins: This is my Apple Arcade game of the year. I was not expecting much at first when I started playing the game. Q-Games had already made another Frogger game for Konami at the launch of the platform (Frogger in Toy Town), which was an attempt to update Frogger for 3D. It was successful in that regard, and really well-made, but nothing special. I was expecting something similar in this game, but what I got was a wonderful adaptation of the Frogger mechanic bolted onto a Captain Toad-like puzzle/physics game in which the game places Frogger inside an enclosed 3D puzzle and it's up to you to guide them to the exit. Frogger becomes friends with an axolotl and an enigmatic lizard, and has a sprawling adventure across continents and hidden lands in search of treasure as well as the answer to a mystery involving the axolotl. Every world has its own gimmick (sliding platforms in the first one, Rubik's-cube-like contraptions in the second, trap-like stage gimmicks in the third, etc.) and every level in the world is really well-designed. It has a great soundtrack as well, and if you play long enough, you get access to a voluminous selection of alternative BGM tracks from Konami's past games, including Goemon games. Highly recommended, especially on a big screen, where it really shines.