For the first time in years, I’m actually excited to play games on my phone when I hop on the train every morning. That’s thanks to Apple Arcade, Apple’s new $5-per-month subscription service, which offers 70-plus games you can play on your iPhone (and soon your iPad, Mac and Apple TV).
From stylish indie adventures like Neo Cab to addicting quick-fix titles like Bleak Sword, the Arcade library is bursting with great games in all genres. While its subscription structure might not be for everyone, Apple’s gaming service is a tremendous value, and a refreshing antidote to the endless glut of exhausting free-to-play games on the App Store.
Apple Arcade has its own dedicated tab in the App Store, complete with splashy graphics and videos, as well as curated sections for getting you to new games fast. You’ll find areas for new arrivals, Apple Arcade exclusives and handy tips for some of the top games on the service.
You can also sort by a handful of genres and categories, including Family, Multiplayer, Action, For Beginners, Puzzle, Adventure, Role-Playing and Platformer. I’m interested in seeing how the interface evolves as more games get added, but overall, the Arcade tab does a decent job of helping you sort through its huge catalog.
A stellar game library
Apple Arcade currently offers more than 70 games, and almost every single one I’ve played is fantastic. The sheer level of quality and variety on display here is staggering. From the hypnotic rhythm-action of Sayonara Wild Hearts, to the brutal Dark Souls-esque combat of Bleak Sword, to the challenging strategy of Card of Darkness, there are already well over a dozen games I keep coming back to on my daily commute.
I'd also like to highlight some of the best Apple Arcade games I’ve played so far: What the Golf? is a ludicrous physics-based golf game in which everything from office chairs to the golfers themselves become the ball (it’s so absurd that I caught myself laughing out loud at it on the subway). Assemble with Care is a touching, serene puzzler from the Monument Valley folks, while Hot Lava is a thrilling first-person platformer that turns your childhood games of “the floor is lava” into an addicting series of obstacle courses.
One of my favorite things about Apple Arcade is that it elevates smaller games and studios that normally might not have found an audience on the App Store. Games like 2D shoot-em-up Spidersaurs, chill skateboard sim Skate City and colorful platformer Dodo Peak might have gone unnoticed beneath a glut of free-to-play games. But as an Arcade subscriber, I find myself trying (and loving) nearly all of them.
That’s not to say there aren’t some standouts from bigger studios. Capcom’s Shinsekai: Into the Depth is a full on AAA experience, with a gorgeous 2D water world to explore, deep crafting and upgrade mechanics, and stunning sound effects that were really recorded underwater. Sonic Racing is a fun, satisfying kart racer (with a frustrating online requirement; a rarity for Arcade games), while Lego Brawls is a decent Smash Bros.-like multiplayer brawler with customizable Lego characters.
Not every Arcade game has clicked with me, though. Titles like Square Enix role-playing game Various Daylife and strategy game Red Reign just aren’t my jam. Then again, not all of them have to be. There’s something for everyone in Arcade’s massive game lineup, and I still can’t get over the number of quality games you get for just $5 a month (especially when there’s still more to come).
Playing your way
Apple Arcade is made all the better by iOS 13, which allows you to use PS4 and Xbox One controllers on your iPhone and iPad (other iPhone-compatible Bluetooth controllers will work, too). Slaying hybrid creatures in Spidersaurs, knocking enemy cars off the road in Agent Intercept and platforming in Shantae and the Seven Sirens all felt great on my Xbox One controller, especially on a big iPad Pro running the iPadOS beta. (Arcade doesn’t officially come to iPad until the official Sept. 30 iPadOS launch.)
Most of Arcade’s games feel optimized for touch (and, in many cases, one-handed) play, though there are certain gameplay mechanics, such as the technical fighting of Punch Planet and the precise platforming of Hot Lava, that didn’t feel quite right without a controller.
That brings me to two last pieces of the puzzle I’ve yet to test: Apple TV and Mac. Apple Arcade will officially come to Apple TV on Sept. 30, allowing you to enjoy its vast library of games on a big screen, while sitting on the couch with a controller. You’ll also be able to play Arcade games on Mac once macOS Catalina drops in October, which should give the Mac’s relatively paltry game library on Mac a nice boost (if you like smaller indie games, at least).
If Arcade’s Apple TV and Mac implementation works well, complete with seamless cross-saves between devices, Apple’s gaming subscription could go from a solid mobile value to an even better gaming package that you can enjoy throughout the home. We’ll be sure to update this review once we’ve had some time with Arcade on both Apple TV and Mac laptops and desktops.
If you look at any of the top game charts in the App Store, nearly all of them consist of free-to-play games with in-app purchases. These games demand either lots of money or lots of patience to get the most out of them. Apple Arcade feels like the antidote to that.
For an incredibly cheap $5 per month (with a free trial available), Arcade provides access to a massive library of complete, high-quality games with no timers or paid add-ons to get in the way of your fun. The service’s library of 70-plus games offers a variety of great experiences, from surreal indie adventures and challenging puzzlers to console-style platformers and quick-fix racing titles. And there’s even more to come.
We still need to evaluate how Arcade will hold up on Apple TV and Mac, and I do wonder how many folks addicted to Clash of Clans and Fortnite would be willing to pay a fee to get meatier games. It’s also worth mentioning that there’s no option to buy any game in Arcade a-la-carte, so even if you’re only interested in a single game or two, you’ll have to subscribe. And while Apple is promising a library of more than 100 games by fall, there’s no telling if or when games will be removed from the service, much like movies and shows are regularly ripped from Netflix.
But if you’re okay with living the subscription life, Apple Arcade’s huge roster of high-quality games feels like an absolute steal for a few bucks a month. Much like Xbox Game Pass has shaken up the status quo on Xbox and PC, Apple Arcade could have a big impact on the way we enjoy mobile games.