GameCentral reviews the first wave of Apple Arcade games and asks how much the new subscription service will really change mobile gaming.
In the post-Netflix world in which we all live, the new gold rush is to offer products ‘as a service’. That means that rather than paying for something and then owning it, you instead pay an ongoing, never-ending monthly fee in exchange for temporary access to an expanding range of content, whether that’s TV, music, or games.
Microsoft’s Game Pass has led the charge, with Sony’s somewhat milquetoast nod in the direction of complimentary games for PlayStation Plus members not quite living up to the same standard. Although the elephant in the room is Google Stadia, which has been at pains to compare itself to Sony’s offering rather than the Netflix-of-gaming everyone had been hoping for.
Google has also been making vague grumblings about a Google Play Pass, the Android version of Apple Arcade, but it’s still a long way from being ready, which makes Apple’s leadership in this all the more interesting to watch. That goes for the games, how it works in practice, and the eco-system in which it’s built. Not to mention the vast amounts of money they’re spending on it.
That last part is iOS 13, Apple’s latest update, which is a prerequisite for using Arcade. It’s already available for iPhone and iPad, and offers the ability to pair your device with a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One controller. You could previously buy specially designed MFI Bluetooth controllers, but few ever did, and this brings controller-usage firmly into the mainstream.
Not all Apple Arcade games support external controllers, but plenty do (with varying degrees of success, although wonky ones should be patched in short order), and for action games in particular, this is the start of a sea-change that will make the genre far more viable on mobile. For other Apple customers, Mac users, and those with an Apple TV, Arcade support is due in the coming weeks, with the ability to switch devices and pick-up games exactly where you left off.
Subscribing to the service costs £4.99 per month, with the first instalment free, which gets you a solid roster of mostly exclusive games presented in their own tab on the App Store. Downloading them is the same as for any other software, except you don’t have to pay, and none of them goes anywhere near microtransactions, which is an unexpectedly glorious breath of fresh air. You can see the full list at the bottom of the page, although at time of writing not all titles are available yet.
In a boon to frequent flyers, almost all the games can be played without an Internet connection, and there’s an excellent selection of developers, from heavy hitters like Sega and Capcom to indie favourites such as Devolver Digital and Annapurna Interactive. It’s a great list and offers multiple titbits for all tastes. Here’s a selection of titles to give you a flavour of the first tranche…
ChuChu Rocket! Universe (Sega)
Sonic Team’s 1999 puzzle game was one of the Dreamcast’s more memorable launch titles, in which you placed arrows on the ground to guide a conga line of cartoon mice to an escape rocket, whilst avoiding spiked pits and cats.
Unlike the original’s flat levels, there are now ramps, fences, and little Mario Galaxy-style planetoids around which to shepherd your tiny procession of vermin. This version retains multiplayer, where you direct as many mice as possible to your rocket, while sending cats to everyone else’s.
Mini Motorways (Dinosaur Polo Club)
From the same developer as Mini Metro, this is a similar concept. Your job is to connect houses and offices of matching colours, substituting Metro’s underground trains for an increasingly complex spaghetti junction of roads.
Like Nintendo’s formative Game & Watch units, Mini Motorways gradually escalates in speed and difficulty, and what starts relaxing becomes more pressured as roads get congested and traffic backs up. There are always motorways, traffic lights, and relief roads to be built in this wonderfully satisfying motion puzzle.
Assemble With Care (ustwo)
From ustwo, developer of the fabulous Monument Valley and its sequel, comes a piece of interactive fiction about a woman called Maria who specialises in repairing appliances and household objects.
Wielding a screwdriver, super glue, and electrical wiring you mend what’s broken, before uncovering a new chapter in Maria’s life. Its pace and lack of interactive dialogue won’t be to everyone’s taste, but as with their previous games it’s an experience that is perfectly designed for mobile and feels like it would never work as well on any other format.
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