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5 Best And 5 Worst Apple Arcade Games

The Apple Arcade sounds like a dusty corner arcade in your neighborhood, doggedly run by a guy named Frank since the '70s. In actuality, the Apple Arcade is Apple's answer to Xbox Game Pass: it's sleek, cheap, chic, and definitely not dusty. For just five bucks a month (Frank's old Pac-Man cabinet would eat that up in an hour), subscribers have access to over 100 games, many of them brand new and entirely exclusive to Apple. Although we doubt that Tim Cook is going to announce a console anytime soon, these games can be played on iPhones, iPads, and the Apple TV. 


The gaming world was understandably skeptical at first; Apple seems more concerned with slapping cameras onto its phones than curating games. But previews thoroughly impressed games journalists. The games in the Arcade are so carefully curated that it's hard to find a bad title; there aren't bad games so much as lackluster ones that are eclipsed by the new and inventive stuff. So "worst" here is more along the lines of just "meh." The Apple Arcade has a veritable smorgasbord of great games, good games, and just okay games: not a stinker in sight.

WORST: Big Time Sports is basic at best

Welcome to the big time. Big Time Sports has athletes with big arms and itty bitty heads doing sports. And that's about it. The game gets points for being an adorable amalgam of minigames, but this is the kind of app downloaded onto a toddler's well-insulated iPad. The gameplay is aesthetically pleasing, but simplistic to the extreme. It can be played by a small hand mashing itself against the screen.


There's nothing wrong with calibrating games for uncoordinated kids. Apple Arcade has been advertised as a family affair. Up to five devices can access a single subscription, so the company assumes that users are sharing their login with the whole family, including the little ones. But Big Time Sports is basic at best, boring at worst. It deserves a whole-hearted shrug for its lackluster gameplay.

That said, it also deserves some faint praise for its pleasing aesthetic: those athletes are goofy enough to bring a smile to anyone's face. But that's about all Big Time Sports has going for it, thoroughly outshone by some of the other, more inventive titles in the Apple Arcade.

BEST: Sayonara Wild Hearts is a wonderfully trippy ride

Say hello to Sayonara Wild Hearts, the beautiful music video of a game that's winning the hearts of mobile players everywhere. With a pulsating, neon, polygonal background to die for, the game tells a universal tale of heartbreak to an infectious pop beat. Sayonara Wild Hearts marries old school tarot motifs to cutting edge aesthetics. The game keeps players engaged and entertained with ever-changing gameplay. Sometimes you're on a classic side-scrolling adventure, other times you're fighting big bosses with mystical swords, and still other times you'll find yourself battling bikers with the power of dance. 


This is a game worth playing with the music turned all the way up. In an interview with The Verge, developer Simon Flesser of the Swedish-based Simogo studio said, "I think it has the same philosophy as an album, in that all levels are self-contained parts with their own little ideas and twists, but together they form a bigger concept. We also didn't want to use the same ideas over and over, every level needed to feel like they presented their own little tricks — just like a song on an album."

WORST: Dead End Job feels like a dead end job

Dead End Job pays serious homage to '90s cartoons with its style and penchant for puddles of goo. In this procedurally generated twin-stick shooter, players take on the role of Hector Plasm, a janitor-esque ghost hunter whose job is to bust the pesky spirits lingering in local businesses. The specters that Hector blasts range from cute to gross, as befits a game that feels like a cousin of Courage the Cowardly Dog


All that said, you might be better off playing Luigi's Mansion, because the same concept applies, except this version is a little more frenetic. The gameplay is fairly basic, but having the player grind through level after level really does feel like a dead end job after a while. There might be a boss every now and again, but the game is essentially a point-and-shoot-until-you-get-bored. Which you just might, if a twin-stick shooter that goes on and on and on isn't your thing.

BEST: Assemble With Care is carefully, colorfully chill

Assemble With Care is the newest title from Ustwo Games, the studio that gave us the addictive and alluring Monument Valley. As an offshoot of a UX (user experience) firm, the studio puts an incredible amount of focus into making the ideal touchscreen experience. They may have struck gold with Assemble With Care, which is not only pleasant to the touch, but good for the soul. 


The game has you reassembling broken objects steeped in nostalgia; there's a melancholy story behind every record player, old radio, and camera. As the player pieces these beloved objects back together, they pick apart the motivation of their clients who come to the player with heavy hearts. The game offers a pleasingly tactile experience that's easy to lose oneself in. Taking apart and repairing the objects feels like some real-life tinkering, with a gorgeous pastel cast that makes the gameplay even more zen. Short but intensely sweet, Assemble With Care is an art piece of a game, easily earning its place as one of the crown jewels of the Apple Arcade.

WORST: Hexaflip is a one trick pony

Want to know the deep meaning behind the title of Rogue Games' newest game? You play as a hexagon that flips ... thus the name: Hexaflip. Like it's name, Hexaflip is fairly shallow in its gameplay. In this simple puzzle game, you flip with a satisfying click into empty spaces. Sometimes these spaces have special abilities that propel you forward. Sometimes they make cool noises too. 


There are also bombs, spikes, and spatulas that try to keep the titular hexagon from flipping its way to the end of the level. It's a bright, shiny game with a familiar formula, something that we're sure Apple Arcade wanted in order to flesh out their offerings. Apple has curated the arcade so that there's very few microtransactions to worry about, but in this game, you go for the gold for new ... skins? For a hexagon? It's a thing. Hexaflip isn't bad, it's just very, very basic.

BEST: Bleak Sword is a pint-sized Dark Souls with serious punch

We doubt you've ever had the impulse to play Dark Souls on mobile, but even so, there's now the opportunity to do so. Bleak Sword is all about tricky, brutal combat in a highly stylized world taken over by evil ... kind of like a FromSoftware game. For Bleak Sword, however, the world is a monochromatic 8-bit adventure filled with foes in need of defeating. This is a game that takes serious determination and perseverance in order to master the right combination of moves to take on wave after wave of enemies. 


Those enemies are actually fairly frightening, too. This 8-bit dark fantasy manages to be quite immersive, with mood music crafted by the award-winning composer Jim Guthrie and diorama-esque environments pulled out of a horror story. Bleak Sword takes mobile to the next level with combat that feels seriously satisfying, a campaign that lasts around 8 hours, and bosses that take time and patience to defeat. Dark Souls fans will be pleased, and those who indulge in the mobile fare will be pleasantly surprised to find how intense this little indie darling is.

WORST: Dodo Peak is a lackluster homage to classic arcade games

Dodo Peak feels like a new and improved game from an arcade cabinet somewhere. Remember Q*bert? Dodo Peak utilizes the strategy of the block-hopping Q*bert, sprinkles in some mechanics from the age-old Snake, and is complete with a reskin fit for the modern day. Did we just call Dodo Peak a reskin of Q*bert? Kind of. This is another title in the Apple Arcade that is easily overshadowed by much more interesting and inventive titles. Everything that Dodo Peak does is something we've seen before. 


This isn't to say that Dodo Peak is a bad game. It's an easy, breezy strategy title suitable for players of any age. But it doesn't do anything new or particularly flashy. It's a good debut for the developer, Moving Pieces Interactive, who openly brand the game as a kind of love letter to classic arcade games. Dodo Peak fits into the Arcade snuggly, but it isn't exactly eye-catching, putting it firmly in the "meh" category.

BEST: We can't get over Overland

What's better than a road trip? How about an intense survival story told in a beautiful, polygonal world? Overland offers this experience with turn-based gameplay that proves how precious every moment is, because for many of the game's characters, time is limited. America has been ravaged by strange, spiky monsters as the protagonists try to get to the other end of the country with a dwindling tank of gas. Gameplay centers around looting, fighting, and trying to survive. The keyword here is trying. 


Like a good game of Dungeons & Dragons, Overland allows for players to get creative as they strategize their way through each level. Avoiding and fighting the monsters proves to be only one of many, many worries to juggle for the intrepid survivors. Keeping the gas tank full is sometimes more important than keeping everyone alive. Like other exemplary post-apocalyptic media, Overland demands players to make difficult decisions and really question what they would do in order to live another day. The game is melancholy is the best of ways, winning the hearts of those who have the guts to try, and fail, and try again to make it to the Pacific.

WORST: Grindstone is a barbaric match-three title

Grindstone is a match-three game for barbarians with anger issues. The protagonist is a super-buff hero slicing his way through matching-colored monsters in order to get at the real threat: the big boss waiting at the end of each level. This is where Grindstone marries match-three with turn-based combat. With 150 levels to grind through, there are plenty of fearsome foes well worth the, well, grind. 


Grindstone gets serious points for its unique aesthetic — it looks like a hand-drawn cartoon, very Adventure Time-esque — but even this distinctive style can't hide the fact that at its core, the game is just a match-three title. It's not a bad game, but it's not outstanding either. Grindstone gets lost among all the other, alluring titles in the Apple Arcade, and its inclusion feels like an attempt to pad out the Arcade's offerings: any list of popular mobile games would have a match-three title or two. For the Apple Arcade, Grindstone is the platform's token match-three game, little more.

BEST: We've fallen for Where Cards Fall

One of the most highly anticipated indie games to come to mobile, Where Cards Fall is a dreamy strategy game that has made good on all the promises pictured in the game's trailer. Made by the same talented hands that crafted Alto's Odyssey, Where Cards Fall pairs an autumnal aesthetic with gameplay that harkens back to a universally relatable past time: making houses out of cards. These houses are no joke: players wield magical stacks of black cards that can conjure up cafes and record stores, which are exactly as pleasingly hipster as we imagined they would be. 


Throughout the 52 levels, you'll use the stacks of cards to traverse the diorama-inspired world, climbing up and down while avoiding destructive gusts of wind. This platforming puzzle game tells a coming of age story that will tug at your heartstrings, while fan-favorite The Game Band plays its folksy indie songs. It's easy to get lost in the lush world of Where Cards Fall, a sometimes trippy and always beautiful place filled with puzzles to solve and places to go.