All I want for Christmas is Apple Arcade

Sorry for not having paraphrased Mariah in this festive season in the title there. Let me rephrase more precisely – everything I need for Christmas, it’s Apple Arcade.

While all eyes are on Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass often (and not without reason) when the discussion turns to game services, Apple Arcade has had an enviable 12 months. The mobile game buffet continues to grow at a steady pace, adding more and more ambitious games and casual titles, as well as a handful of mobile classics.

At pocket prices for a monthly subscription, it’s totally upset the way I play games. And, coupled with ever more powerful iPhone and iPad hardware and a growing market for iOS game controllers to pair them with, after many years of testing, Apple is finally offering a legitimate alternative to rivals like Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo. . Yes, your first console should be a Switch, a PS5, or an Xbox Series X. But your second? With Apple Arcade, it should be the iPhone in your pocket.

Here’s a look back at Apple Arcade’s relatively short history, and how the past 12 months of great additions to its library have made its presence on my Christmas wishlist a dead certificate.

Disney melee mania

(Image credit: Apple)

A new challenger has appeared

It’s hard to call a company as big as Apple a “challenger” in any market it seeks to enter, but when it comes to games, that’s exactly what it is – du. less for the hardcore gamer. Aside from the doomed Pippin, he never puts himself in the same console space as Nintendo, Microsoft with Xbox or Sony with PlayStation, and so you can be forgiven for forgetting the high-performance gaming machine he has. put in your pocket in the form of the iPhone.

As a result, millions more people are playing games than without Cupertino’s smartphone, and the App Store is one of the biggest game libraries, if not the biggest. These are just games on a different scale – the genre you return to over and over again for five minutes at a time when there is nothing else to entertain you than your phone.

Apple Arcade then represented the company’s first major attempt in decades to position itself as a name that gamers of all faiths could come together under. Not just those who wanted to throw birds at pigs in castles, but also those who wanted to dive into full-scale adventures by some of the biggest names in game development. And these had to be exclusives – on mobile, at least – further enticing gamers to join the new $ 5-per-month service.

The initial response to the subscription launch in September 2019 was overwhelmingly positive. The library was well stocked with inventive and stylish games from top brands, performing well in all four major categories of Apple devices: phones, tablets, Macs, and an Apple TV set-top box.

But then there were the signs of a stutter. A Bloomberg report in June 2020, developer funding was withdrawn from titles in development, with the company focusing more on games that encouraged long-term engagement than on the oddities that had largely made up its initial roster. There was a feeling that the eccentricities that had made Apple Arcade so compelling, from the broken gadget simulator Carefully Assemble to the short but sweet fairy tale Pilgrims deckbuilder would be wasted in favor of more Candy Crush clones.

Fortunately, this was not the case. Apple Arcade has had its best year yet.

Arcade’s stellar year

Apple kept its commitment to regularly add new additions to its store and continued to reveal inventive and visually creative games throughout the year at a rate that made the monthly subscription fee seem like a drag. good deal.

Oceanhorn Chronos Dungeon kicked off in January, a clever multiplayer dungeon crawler with beautiful pixel art. But things got a lot more interesting at the end of January with NUTS: A Surveillance Story, which looked like Firewatch with a sinister squirrel and a unique filtered art style to complete its lightweight photography-based puzzles.

Mars brought us Cozy Grove, somewhere between Stardew Valley and Don’t Starve, a survival craftsman who looks like a picture book, and has since proven its worth on PC and Nintendo Switch (where you’ll pay $ / £ 15 for the privilege to play it.

Apple Arcade

(Image credit: Apple Arcade)

My favorite of the year is Wonderbox: The Adventure Maker, which launched in March. It’s a gorgeous adventure title that ticks so many boxes – essentially a “build your own Zelda”, it has elements of Minecraft, Little Big Planet, and in-depth social sharing elements that let you post and play games. great games of other people. Both a simple introduction to game design and a full-fledged fun toy box, it’s as accessible as these DIY games. And it’s also great fun in multiplayer for short, crisp bursts.

The biggest service update of the year was the introduction (or should it be a reintroduction?) Of classic mobile titles in the Apple Arcade catalog in July. Dozens of paid apps like Monument Valley and Mini Metro have joined the service as Monument Valley + and Mini Metro +, along with classics like versions of chess, backgammon, and sudoku.

3D Fantasy Diorama

(Image credit: Mistwalker, Hironobu Sakaguchi)

A comeback of a whole different kind has come with the launch of Fantasian – perhaps the best looking game on the service. From Hironobu Sakaguchi, the creator of Final Fantasy, it was a full-scale JRPG to rival the classics of the genre, but with a little twist of its own – its digital characters ran around actual miniature dioramas handcrafted by the game development team.

Clap Hanz Golf was also a big robbery for Apple. An arcade golf game, it comes from the same studio that manufactures the Everybody’s Golf titles, usually reserved for PlayStation consoles. Clap Hanz Golf is, except for its name, Everybody’s Golf for iOS.

Another giant title was Monster Hunter Stories + for Apple Arcade. Usually £ / $ 17.99, this is an RPG from a steroid franchise that had previously launched on consoles. And while that diluted Apple’s original “Arcade games will be exclusives” mantra, it was hard to find fault with the free integration of a Capcom hit into the subscription. Likewise, the highly anticipated Baldo: The Guardian Owls debuted on Apple Arcade with releases for other platforms that followed each other very quickly – his Studio Ghibli-style art style was a delight, even when his Zelda-style adventures failed.

Castlevania: Grimoire of Souls

(Image credit: Apple / Konami)

The long-dormant Castlevania franchise has also been resurrected with Castlevania: Grimoire of Souls. It was a relief to see the long-running franchise rekindled, and Apple Arcade would have been the perfect outlet for a new 2D side-scrolling series. Too bad then that his final arrival is a pale imitation of the best Castlevania games of yesteryear.

Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga for consoles remains forever delayed, but fans of minifigs and this galaxy far, far away may still find a solution thanks to Apple Arcade, which has added two new Lego Star Wars games in 2021. Lego Star Wars Battles launched first, mixing elements of real-time strategy and tower defense with PvP combat and familiar Star Wars characters. The most ambitious launch was Lego Star Wars Castaways, an MMO-lite that allowed players to carve out a Star Wars legacy in multiplayer quests in a brand new Star Wars location.

Lego Star Wars Battles

(Image credit: TT Games)

And those were just the highlights. In between all of the above, there were a host of other releases, each with an interesting concept, accessible for a quick test due to the try what you love nature of the subscription. It has been a fantastic year.

In a hurry

Now, with that Bloomberg report in mind, the fear will be that the 2021 releases represent the last titles to pass before Apple changes tactics with its Apple Arcade content approach, and that 2022 instead focuses on pricing. more superficial application games.

But even if that were the case, you now have a couple hundred games at your fingertips for just $ 4.99 / £ 4.99 per month – unlike other services Apple (at least so far) doesn’t. not rotate titles in and out of the Arcade Catalog. It is simply a growing library. And there are already classics there.

Third-party accessory makers also see Arcade’s long-term potential. The Backbone One Controller for iOS, awarded 5 stars in its TechRadar review, uses a mix of stellar hardware and a smart app to turn an iPhone into a legitimate portable gaming device to compete with the Switch, introducing a unified interface for all things to play. on an iPhone. A smart Apple would consider buying Backbone for its own branded Arcade controller accessories. In fact, it’s the Apple TV 4K that always seems to be the weak link – not powerful enough to do justice to the most demanding games, requiring a third-party gamepad, and without the storage capacity of an unlimited library. like this one feasts for multiple game downloads.

Disney melee mania

(Image credit: Apple / Mighty Bear Games)

Then to end the year we have Disney Melee Mania, a sort of multiplayer MOBA that will combine the addicting hero-driven gameplay from titles like League of Legends and Dota with Disney’s most recognizable characters in one all-powerful scrap. , ala Smash Bros.

Beyond that? Well, how about Proxi, a new game from SimCity creator Will Wright that appears to be part AI builder, part life simulation, and part human brain emulator. If that doesn’t sound like an ambitious premise, we don’t know what it is …

Add Arcade to your Christmas wishlist and make the most of this App Store gift card. Xbox Game Pass may steal all the headlines, but the best gaming deal is truly in your pocket with Apple Arcade.

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