Recently, I downloaded Apple Arcade onto my iPhone: a mobile gaming subscription service I never thought I'd consider. Why? Well normally, I play a lot of games on my Xbox Series X, PS4 and PC, but smartphone games never really struck me for the obvious (if stereotypical) reason — the lack of any quality games, at least in my mind.
It felt like there were endless time syncs with excessive waiting periods that seemed to prey on people's lack of attention span. However, Apple Arcade apparently promised to hold more quality games than the base App Store was willing to offer. So I decided that, while seeking excuses to refresh my social battery over the Christmas period, I would try it.
Originally released in 2019, Apple Arcade is a subscription service like Xbox Game Pass, which gives users access to a vast library of titles. Currently, it is possible to make use of a subscription called ‘Apple One,’ which offers several plans. The one I chose gave me access to Apple Music, Apple TV, Arcade and expanded cloud storage. It’s a huge amount of content, but it does cost £18.95 a month so it is by no means cheap.
There’s a fair amount to see, Apple states that it has over 200 ad-free games on offer, and some of the titles were surprisingly familiar to me. As it turned out, Apple Arcade doesn’t just offer better games, it also offers some of the games found on the main store page, but often with small but significant improvements.
The question I am asking myself is this: as someone heavily invested in gaming, is this worth my time?
Hardware restrictions, but not in the way I thought
I currently use an iPhone 12 and I was somewhat worried that it wouldn’t be able to handle any of the games on the phone. However, the phone had no issues running the newest games, which speaks to the power of its A14 Bionic. I have no doubt the graphical prowess and frame rates will be better on the newer iPhone 15 or iPhone 15 Pro.
So, what's the problem? Simply put, it's the game controls if you're planning on playing using the device alone. There are plenty of titles that use very simple touch controls, such as one-finger inputs and the like — from Angry Birds to Solitaire. But the more involved titles will throw up on-screen controls, which just don't make for an enjoyable experience at all.
For example, Fantasian is a top notch JRPG with a gorgeous visual style that is compromised by trying to use and on-screen joystick and buttons. If you really want to make the most of Apple Arcade, a mobile game controller like Backbone One is essential.
If you have the content, the players will arrive
The obvious thing any company needs to nail in a subscription service like this is to have plenty of good games on it. Seeing as I only had a week I had to limit myself to the top titles on the list and see if they caught my eye, and ultimately, I'm a little conflicted about it.
One of the first was Sonic Dream Team, which turned out to be far more enjoyable than I would have thought — the 3D platformer translates well into a mobile game. Showing off the diversity of titles, I then moved over to the addictive Shovel Knight Dig, and turned my attention to Turmoil+, a business mining sim with plenty of tactical depth.
Keeping to my gaming roots, I then put a couple hours into Castlevania: Grimoire of Souls, which I honestly found more annoying than enjoyable. The auto-attack function kind of ruined that hardcore feel of a classic Castlevania, and the on-screen controls break the flow of gameplay quite badly.
As I used the service I did find myself returning to a few of the games and enjoying them more than I thought I would — while also knowing that I'd barely scratched the surface of what Apple Arcade has to offer. Usually, phone games start to feel more like a daily task that needs to be completed instead of a fun diversion. However, the better quality of games on Apple Arcade changed that, and the wealth of options meant I never felt like I had to stick with one option.
There are some disappointments in the library, but given the number of games available, it's easy to dip back in and find something new that will satisfy that gamer brain of yours.
Overall, I have enjoyed my experience using Apple Arcade, but the question of whether it is worth it is a tricky one. Honestly, I don’t think I would pay for just this service.
While the games are fun, you absolutely need a controller to get the most out of them, and at the end of the day, people will still focus on time-sync games over anything else.
When it is packaged with all the other options, then there is plenty to look at, but I personally find Apple TV+ to be a bit lacking at the moment. As such, I won’t be continuing my subscription once my trial period ends, but if the Cupertino crew continues to build on this foundation, my opinion may change.
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Josh is a staff writer for Tom's Guide and is based in the UK. He has worked for several publications but now works primarily on mobile phones. Outside of phones, he has a passion for video games, novels, and Warhammer.