Surprise! Apple Arcade Is a Walled Garden I Actually Like

Apple Arcade
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Think of Apple Arcade as the ultimate walled garden: no ads, no annoying in-game purchases, just immersive, beautiful iOS games with inventive gameplay styles and intuitive controls. 

I had a chance to go hands-on with some Apple Arcade titles ahead of its Sept. 20 launch. And although I was a skeptic when I first heard about Arcade, it definitely seems worth the $4.99 per month.

The only problem? Once you're locked in this walled garden, you won't want to leave.

On the surface, Apple Arcade doesn't seem all that impressive. Besides Pac-Man, Sonic, Lego and maybe Rayman, there aren't many household names in its initial catalog, which will exceed 100 games in the coming weeks.

Apple Arcade

Apple Arcade (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

But then I started playing Spek, a mind- and body-bending puzzle game that has you collect fragments by literally changing the shape of the puzzle as you move yourself and your iPhone around. And that's just the AR mode of this challenging title.

If you're looking for something more chill, Skate City should be on your playlist. This game is dripping with warm California sunshine colors, and it's easy to pull off all sorts of tricks, from ollies to grinds. But it's also easy to fall, so this one will take some practice.

The weirdest Apple Arcade game by far — in a good way — is Sayonara Wild Hearts from, Annapurna. This musical adventure has a very sleek visual style, and you'll seamlessly transition from riding motorcycles to wielding swords at a very brisk 200 mph.

This is one title that looks even better on Apple TV, especially since four players can join the action at once.

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And this is an important point. All Apple Arcade titles will be playable on iPhone, iPad, Apple TV and Macs, so you can play on your Apple device of choice. And thanks to new Apple software updates, you'll even be able to use your PS4 or Xbox One controller.

If you're into action and exploration, Capcom's Shinsekai Into the Depths will captivate. The developers recorded sounds underwater, making the aquascape incredibly realistic. However, I found the gamepad controls more challenging than the touch-screen controls, as I had a devil of a time shooting at one of the sea creatures while thrusting.

Are you a Monument Valley fan like I am? Where Cards Fall takes next-generation puzzlers to the next level. You can literally turn cards into buildings so that your protagonist can navigate the pathways you build. 

Some titles, such as Overland, didn't resonate with me, however. This postapocalyptic survival game seemed too slow-paced, but I'm also not a fan of turn-based games. 

And then there were other games that proved too challenging. They don't call it Super Impossible Road for nothing. This fast-paced racing game with roller-coaster-like tracks makes it extremely difficult to stay on track, but you can hop back on the track when you fall off (if you have enough skill).

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This is just a taste of what to expect from Apple Arcade, as lots of other games are on the way.

My takeaway so far? It's one big, beautiful trap. And that's because some Apple Arcade games are available only through the subscription service, such as Gameloft's Ballistic Baseball, Sneaky Sasquatch from RAC7 and Cards of Darkness from Zach Gage. You can't get those titles a la carte through the App Store, and I'm sure there will be more.

And chances are that if you get hooked on only a few Arcade-exclusive titles, you'll probably want to keep playing — and paying.

Mark Spoonauer

Mark Spoonauer is the global editor in chief of Tom's Guide and has covered technology for over 20 years. In addition to overseeing the direction of Tom's Guide, Mark specializes in covering all things mobile, having reviewed dozens of smartphones and other gadgets. He has spoken at key industry events and appears regularly on TV to discuss the latest trends, including Cheddar, Fox Business and other outlets. Mark was previously editor in chief of Laptop Mag, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc. Follow him on Twitter at @mspoonauer.