Putting Apple Arcade through its paces

Things That Go Bump is a bland, repetitive experience with poor control. Inmost is a genuinely scary game that takes on some heavy themes

I’m undertaking possibly the longest, most time-consuming and ultimately the least fruitful venture of my adult life. I’ll be playing, at least in some small part, every Apple Arcade game released. Then I’ll tell you if each game deserves to be played.

Apple Arcade was released in mid-September 2019 and since then I’ve been dipping into many of the titles to see how Apple’s foray into gaming has fared.

I’ll regularly offer a brief look at two or three games at a time. These aren’t intended as full reviews but rather a taste of the style, gameplay and my overall impressions. At the end of each I’ll grade the game on a Play or Nay rating system.

But first, a few of notes:

  • Apple Arcade games are designed to be played on Apple TV, iPhones, iPads and Mac computers. I chose to play on Apple TV with my Bluetooth PS4 controller connected, since this is my preferred way to play video games.
  • Some of the games are available through other digital stores like Steam and can be played on other platforms like Nintendo Switch. I’ll try to mention other platforms available for each game.

Is Apple TV worth the time and money? Will this time-consuming endeavour pay off? Do I have too much time on my hands?

All will be revealed. I hope you haven’t had too much cobbler for dinner because you’re about to be served all the Apple you can handle.

The first thing to note is there’s not great controller support. I have to un-pair and re-pair the controllers every time I start the Apple TV and many of the games have lacklustre controller functionality.

Apple required that every game can be played with a controller and some need a controller. It seems strange that so many of these games went halfway with their implementation. It comes up in many games and is a negative factor.

There’s a wide range of game offerings, from fighters to adventure to puzzle to racers, so anyone interested in video games will likely find something to play. Just don’t expect incredible graphics. And note that performance suffers in some games. Apple TV and iPhones obviously don’t have the power of dedicated gaming consoles, so these games had to be built accordingly.

Many of the games straddle the line between a classic phone game and a console game, with varying degrees of success. They appear to be aiming mostly for casual play, certainly closer to the mobile game market than home console players. There are a few exceptions, however, and I found some really good titles of both the close-to-mobile-gaming and console-style varieties.

If you’re used to being bombarded by ads or micro-transactions in your mobile games, worry not. Apple has guaranteed there will be nothing of the sort in its Arcade collection. You’re essentially getting a curated collection of ad-free games that you will never have to put more money into above the original $5.99-a-month price.

And at that price for access to over 100 games, you’re getting a pretty good deal, even with the range of quality I saw. There are some good titles here and they alone make it worth the price of admission.

Now, let’s get into the games!

Things That Go Bump

You’re a disembodied spirit that has found its way into a home and must possess household items to use to combat other disembodied spirits doing the same thing. You essentially put a body together from junk-drawer knick-knacks or small appliances.

You first need to find a torso (I used a cheese grater once) legs (a spring), weapon (a whisk), head (an electrical plug) and a special item, each of which do different things (I used a mini umbrella). You can collect all those pieces, but only a torso and weapon are necessary. The other parts make traversal easier and add abilities.

Once you have what you need, it’s time to take on the enemies. Your attack will differ depending on which weapon you’ve picked, from a clamping paper clip to a spinning yo-yo.

This all sounds like a fun, novel concept. It’s got a quick, easily-understood tutorial (which I learned is not the case in many Apple Arcade games), simple controls and you can play online with strangers or invite friends.

In practise, however, the game just isn’t much fun. The controls are simple but don’t feel good. To control motion, you use the analog stick (I was using a PS4 controller) and the game doesn’t allow you to use the direction pad. The controls for jumping up or falling to a lower level are to tilt up or down on the stick. But it was very easy to tilt slightly up or down when you intend to run sideways, resulting in unintentional leaps or falls.

The AI enemies when you’re playing solo aren’t very smart, often just running around heedless of where you are and doing a better job of frustratingly staying away from you rather than making any type of attack. The online matches against real people devolved into hopping around each other in a tight little circle to see who got some lucky hits in first.

The game is mostly “run, run, run, whack, whack, whack, repeat.” And that’s it. There doesn’t seem to be any more to it. The three levels to choose from get tired quick.

The core idea of this game is novel and interesting. Assembling your body and duking it out sounds fun. But in reality it’s a bland, repetitive experience with poor control. We’ll leave this one in the junk drawer.

Rating: Nay

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An online game of Things That Go Bump where the buttons the player has chosen as “feet” allow them to zip around more quickly

Inmost

(Available on Windows and Switch in 2020)

This is intended to be a short look at the game, not a full review and I didn’t spend a huge amount of time with Inmost. But even in that limited context, I can say with certainty that Inmost is great.

It’s a genuinely scary game that takes on some heavy themes and deals with them well (so far).

It’s a pixelated side-scrolling adventure game. You switch between three characters, all of whom are connected, though in what way isn’t made explicit in the beginning.

The manner in which each character is limited – in their movement or their (in)ability to attack – contributes to the telling of the story.

The game communicates largely with artistic style and audio queues (sound effects, ambient music) and it uses these tools well. The visual style is on a depressing grey scale, which put me in a specific emotional place.

All the characters are capable of different things and will break your heart in different ways, especially the little girl. Each part of the game was handled with care, specifically chosen to tell the story.

Rating: Play

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The little girl playing with her only friend, her stuffed bunny, who has a – possibly – imaginary personality

Sam Stewart has a diploma in theatre studies, a degree  in film studies and has worked professionally in both areas. He also worked in the tech industry and loves to indulge his lifelong passion for video games, from the classics to new releases.

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Sam Stewart

Sam Stewart

Sam Stewart, has a diploma in theatre studies, a degree film studies and has worked professionally in both. He also works in the tech industry and loves to indulge his lifelong passion for video games, from the classics to new releases.

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