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My Brief Fling with Apple Arcade

In 2019, as summer cooled and the autumn leaves turned to rust and gold, my thoughts turned to Apple Arcade, and the promise of her arrival from my beloved masters and overlords in Cupertino. It was ‘nigh on September 13, 2019 that the IOS Update began and my romantic nine month interlude with the young Apple Arcade had begun - and along with it all the twists and turns and foolishness that so often accompany love.

Apple Arcade, with it’s promise of unlimited gameplay and a huge, always-growing library of quality, carefully-curated mobile games, all overseen by Apple itself was, and still is, pretty damn alluring. This was Netflix for mobile games. No more sorting through 812 Candy Crush clones or 1406 iterations of idle sushi chef games for something decent. This was going to be the best of the best on mobile - top to bottom.

Ooh, look! There’s innovative card and puzzle game designer, Zach Gage. I love that guy. Wait? a new Steven Universe game coming in a couple months. Take my credit card, please. Square Enix is signed up to make games for the service? Just hook it straight to my veins!

This was all heady stuff, but the best news was still to come. The announcement that there were no IAPS anywhere to be seen in any Apple Arcade titles. In app purchases. Enemy of inattentive parents (or in my case all-knowing spouses) everywhere. You know the drill: get the idle RPG clicker for free. Play for hours. All goes well. Ranks are attained. Suddenly, an ad is served in your face. A gorgeous Barbarian woman holding a huge diamond sword. You must have it. And her. Yada yada, you’re out $29.99. Fin.

But there would be none of that here. The games looked mighty great right from the jump - and what you saw was what you got. Barbarian sword and all. Exciting times!

Let’s look at five shining stars of Apple Arcade I encountered during this love affair:

Roundgard

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Don’t let this get around, but I love Peggle. Got every Xbox Achievement twice on Peggle, Peggle 2 and Peggle Nights. Named my first born son Peggle. So when I heard there was going to be a Peggle clone with roguelike and RPG elements, well, you can imagine how I felt. I woke my daughter Hearthstone and we played until the sunrise because this is an awesome game. Why? Because it nails the secret Peggle formula: the game is at least 95.4% luck, but the remaining 4.6% worth of skill is just enough to suck you in and be very, very dangerous.

Grindstone

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Match-3’s are the best. Over the years, they’ve become a kind of cheap out for lazy coders looking to impress on a Tinder date, but then Grindstone happened. And it was so good. Have you ever played a game where, just thirty seconds in, you can literally feel all the joy and love that went into making it? That’s Grindstone. It’s just a dumb Match-3, OK? But it has so much personality and fun details that if you let your mind wander just a little, you’ll feel like you’re playing a AAA title.

Overland

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Overland is basically a turn-based episode of The Walking Dead. And not one of those “let’s all talk about our feelings because stupid Carl got himself killed” episodes. The good ones, where things are quiet...a little too quiet. And if you make the slightest wrong move or sound, it’s going to have nasty zombie repercussions. Actually,when you put it like that, it’s more like A Quiet Place the game. The minimalist art style just adds to the sense of bleak hopelessness that a melancholy gamer like me snarfs up like cotton candy.

Card of Darkness

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Remember that Zach Gage fella I mentioned at the beginning of this alluring post? Well, he’s an innovative, charming one-man game studio who has crafted some of the best card and puzzle experiences on mobile. His formula, which is on full display in the incredible Card of Darkness, is to take an existing formula (in this case, the classic Card Crawl set up comes to mind) and then polish it to the finest shine in every way. Next, add your own innovative and ingenious twists (here, the strange and unique powers of the cards themselves) and call it a day, handsome. This might be the best game on the service. Full stop.

Over the Alps

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Ever wanted to play a Wes Anderson movie? Well, now you can with Over the Alps! This game is quirky personified, but with one of the most unique looks and original color palettes I’ve ever seen on a mobile game. And just like Cinema du Anderson, it’s filled with odd and funny characters you won’t soon forget. Won’t give away too much of the plot, because not knowing is half the fun.

So there you have some genuinely high quality games. The kind of titles that keep you subscribed to a monthly service for a long period of time. The kind you wouldn’t mind paying ten bucks for in the “real world” of the Apple App Store. Please hold that thought. We’re going to address it in a few moments.

Of course, you can’t have bright stars without some lesser lights, and hoo boy does Apple Arcade offer up some stinkers. Here are three of the most pungent offenders I found.

Pac Man Party Royale

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Pac Man Party Royale is neither fun nor particularly regal. Discuss. Where to begin with this giant yellow wedge of crap? First off, do not confuse it with Pac Man Battle Royale. That is a fun game and worthy of your Pac-ing dollar. The nightmare of Party Royale begins and ends with a simple rage-inducing problem: It is a multiplayer game but to play against other people you must have their game player code. That’s right, Year 2020, you have to find actual friends who have an Apple Arcade subscription AND have downloaded this abomination before our Pac-lord. You can’t play against random strangers! The Pac-hell is going on here?

Various Daylife

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I’ll keep it short here: Various Daylife, is a game where you master mundane daily tasks to slowly earn underwhelming prizes and achievements. In other words, this isn’t Daylife...it’s LIFE-LIFE. And I’m doing a pretty mediocre job of that all on my own thank you very kindly. Pass.

Loud House Out of Control

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Back in the 90’s we just loved kids who got themselves into a whole heap o’ trouble. Steve Urkle. Home Alone Boy. Hey, Arnold! Those lovable scamps. And if you were a 90’s kid, Loud House Out of Control is for you! It recaptures the silly hijinks of the high rated after school shows of the era. Oh wait, I’m old. I had a damn job in the 90’s and was too busy worrying about the crisis in Kuwait City to watch a bunch of dumb kids shows. But you know, it’s ok, because this game sports some stiff and annoying gameplay that should have never made it to syndication. At any age, stay away.

So where did this all end up, you ask? Like many love stories, this one burned brightly and fizzled out quickly. I terminated my subscription when I saw Disney+ was going to be showing Hamilton this summer. And I haven’t really missed it since. Why? Because despite the above average number of great games on the service, I felt like the most recent releases have been...meh. For every amazing Steven Universe game there are five mediocre retreads. Zach Gage left the party hours ago is what I’m saying here.

And remember when I said, Grindstone and other top games were worth ten bucks each. After a couple of years with your veins hooked up to Apple Pay for the monthly service, you’re going to end up paying LOTS more than that for all the stuff you actually enjoy playing. And you’re paying for all the Pac Man Private Party games that get launched as well.

A good effort, but yeah, I fell out of love with this service. The romance was gone. Or maybe I just missed the IAPs.

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