On September 19, 2019, Apple made its attempt to change the face of mobile gaming. By change, I mean, “Fix the nightmare hellscape it used to be and still kinda is.” After years and years of well-poisoning with microtransactions, gacha mechanics, and games explicitly designed to prey on children, now we have the Apple Arcade. It’s a subscription service that promises none of the above, with no online-only DRM, no microtransactions, no ads, and even decent controller support. While Apple Arcade launched with a fairly generous free trial, people probably passed the free month and are now paying. Once it isn’t free anymore, is it worth it?
Most of my problems with Apple Arcade right now are structural. It makes sense that the service is tied to the App Store, but at the same time it feels bolted on. Compared to the usual streamlining you get from Apple’s interfaces, Apple Arcade feels like a dump truck. There are no notifications or notices when new games come out, and right now there’s just a slide menu in the UI that displays new games. Meanwhile, the ways Apple Arcade is organized are weirdly inconsistent. I feel like if Apple Arcade had its own app, like how iTunes was separated from the App Store, there would be more room for experimentation. For example, a section for guides was recently added, but they’re far too buried under everything else.
Despite the complaints, Apple and its suite of game developers are engaging with feedback. One notorious issue saw popular games like Grindstone totally missing the point of playing stuff like puzzle games on a phone. If you had outside music or a podcast playing, launching almost any game in Apple Arcade would immediately pause the outside audio. This is changing in several games, so it seems to be some sort of oversight. But it’s a good sign that something folks were complaining about right off the bat was getting addressed.
New games are coming out at a good clip, and so far the variety has been solid. There are a lot of card-based games, but we’ve also seen spooky thrillers, racers, roguelikes, and a weird version of Pac-Man nobody likes because there’s no online multiplayer. There’s even a brand new Frogger game from Konami, and it’s actually good! Discoverability could start to become an issue over time, what with those organizational snags I mentioned earlier. Especially if Apple is trying to cram little extras and other non-game features in there.
What I do like is that so far, Apple is sticking to its guns. There are games in Apple Arcade that totally feel like they were originally designed for the normal app store. They have mechanics and visual structures that resembles plenty of other free-to-play titles on mobile. Yet, they are totally stripped of all the negatives. With Ubisoft’s Rayman Mini, for example, you can see all the familiar structure from Ubisoft’s other Rayman mobile titles, but there’s no limit to how much you can play and no badgering you for your money. It’s just a fun, silly little platformer. My current favorite, Card of Darkness, definitely would’ve been begging me for coins to continue, but as an Apple Arcade joint, I can retry as often as I want.
Aside from that, Apple Arcade is also clearly intended to be a destination for quality. Sure, there are games that feel like normal mobile games stripped of bullcrap. But there are also games that feel like console-level titles, and even games that are literally on other platforms. Oceanhorn 2, Sayonara Wild Hearts, and Neo Cab are all multiplatform games you get for a small, monthly fee. There will definitely be games that show up on Apple Arcade, exclusive or otherwise, that will grab renewed attention because of this service.
Overall, Apple Arcade is definitely worth the five bucks a month. It’s the Netflix-like model everyone wants for games, on a platform that needed it the most. With Apple separating the service from the App Store, via limits on DRM, microtransactions and advertising, Apple Arcade already feels like a new platform. As it grows, Apple will definitely need to reconsider its interface and structure, to ensure new games don’t get lost and special features like guides have more room to breathe. Gripes aside, Apple Arcade is off to an impressive start, and I look forward to discovering more games I may not have otherwise.