August 1, 2021

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25 best Apple Arcade games to make the most of your subscription

18 min read

 Though Apple’s App Store has been in the news for all sorts of reasons lately, one of the good news stories to emerge is that Apple Arcade is still adding fun new games every month. This month, we’ve updated our top 25 best Apple Arcade games list with new titles such as the third game from a beloved indie team as well as a new adventure set in the world of Game of Thrones. All of this, plus our Apple Arcade Game of the month and more can be found in our latest list of the best Apple Arcade games.  



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Apple Arcade Game of the Month – Game of Thrones: Tale of Crows

If your most recent interactions with the Game of Thrones saga have been a disappointing HBO finale and an oft-delayed book from George R.R. Martin, you’d be forgiven for giving a stern side-eye to a new video game based on the property. Despite that, one of Apple Arcade’s latest additions, Game of Thrones: Tale of Crows, deserves more than the kind of distrust the Starks have for the Lannisters. By fusing the platform’s unique features with atmospheric storytelling, Game of Thrones: Tale of Crows earns the distinction of the best new Apple Arcade game this month.

The complete saga of A Song of Ice and Fire is still slowly coming together at the keyboard-averse fingers of Martin, but that’s not to say he hasn’t already established an entire universe of rich backstory, and Tale of Crows smartly pulls from the pre-Jon Snow saga to weave its own narrative threads of political intrigue and fantasy action. 

The gameplay looks simplistic at first. As members of The Night’s Watch, players take control of several characters, each with their own personality traits that directly affect the outcomes of every decision you’ll make. Think of Tale of Crows as kind of like the Mass Effect 2 suicide mission told through a text adventure-strategy hybrid game, all enveloped by some idle genre mechanics which allows the story to be told on a pace you prefer.

Early moments in the story spell out the gameplay loop. From the famously formidable North Wall, you’ll send characters on Expeditions which unfold in real-time, accounting for their personality. For example, you may want to send someone more diplomatic to recruit the Free Folk north of the border, but suppose it goes south and your verbose liaison is left gutted in the wilds. Instead, maybe it’s the “berserker” class Night’s Watchman you’d rather send, but will he be too quick to draw his blade? 

Moments like these give every action consequence and combine to carve out a grander series of stories that reveal the history of the North Wall. Even from behind the monolithic ice structure, you’ll make difficult decisions too, like when you come upon a mysterious figure who seems to have all manner of answers not thought held by anyone alive. Do you trust them? It’s on the property’s already sturdy foundation that Tale of Crows finds its footing to expand on one of literature’s greatest lore bibles.

While a text adventure-strategy hybrid like Tale of Crows is already enjoyable thanks to intriguing story threads to pull, it’s made better by the game’s smart use of the iPhone’s features. Haptic feedback gives your dialog options a literal weight to them, a finality in your choosing who to send out to likely die, at times. It teaches players to first be sure of their decisions. Some great use of audio accompanies this feature which brings the game right up to the border of an audio drama. Though dialog is never spoken, your choices still come with some audiovisual interactivity like convoys heading out of town and dramatic music which hangs on every word you choose. 

The game’s use of real-time questing is extremely inviting to on-the-go play. It’s not a game you can binge, instead relying on idle game mechanics which continue and complete in your absence. But they also don’t leave you behind, like some games do. Quests will be wrapped up while you’re away from the virtual Wall, but the story stops there, waiting for you to give the figurative greenlight with your next play session. With that, you can start a work commute (if anyone still has those), play a bit of Tale of Crows, and let your missions carry on until your lunch break or the ride home. 

I’m like a broken record with this, but I’m frequently impressed with how Apple Arcade has managed to rewrite the rules of mobile gaming. Game of Thrones: Tale of Crows is the latest in an already impressive lineage to do so. Whereas other games on the platform have reimagined what things like in-game item shops and artificial progress stoppers can look like in a world without ads or microtransactions, Tale of Crows’ own improvements to the medium come by way of its dramatic and engrossing story which deserves, but never demands, to be a timesink. 

Verdict

Defending the North doesn’t have to consume your life like it did so many in the book and TV series. Instead, you can push back against threats natural and fantastical while waiting at the bus stop, waiting in line, or lying in bed, and whatever your destination, the Wall will still be there in the morning. 

Turn to the next page to find our rundown of the best Apple Arcade games…

25. Frogger in Toy Town

Genre: Puzzle/Platformer

This Frogger revival project is one of the best examples of what Apple Arcade offers exclusively. While the famed arcade game has spent the last decade getting overshadowed by ad-heavy, microtransaction copycats like Crossy Road, Frogger has re-emerged in Toy Town dramatically reinvented, while still adhering to its namesake and player expectations. Toy Town adds an awesome physics-based puzzle-platforming element to Frogger. You’re no longer trying to just cross streams and roads safely, now you’re on rescue missions for baby frogs, and they’ll take you over wooden block castles, past obstructive babies and battery-operated toys, and even causing some wild pile-ups in the streets. It’s the kind of reinvention afforded to the studio thanks to Apple Arcade, where abstaining from microtransactions is a mandate, and your subscription money is in hand, meaning you can just focus on making a great game.

24. Word Laces

Genre: Puzzle

Word Laces is another great example of how Apple Arcade has immediately improved mobile gaming. As a puzzle game where players unscramble letters to form words based on images used for clues, Word Laces would be the prototypical microtransaction-heavy game. Letting you run out of hints or fail too many times would normally result in one of those dastardly “Buy More” screens, but on Apple Arcade, where microtransactions are allegedly forbidden, Word Laces thrives as a relaxing, untainted word puzzle game that it’s hard not to enjoy. One of the best one-handed games on the platform, there’s beauty in its uncorrupted simplicity. 

23. Creaks

Genre: Adventure

Creaks comes from the team behind Machinarium, which is evident in so many ways. It has a similarly washed out visual style, with gorgeous hand-painted animations and a suite of puzzling levels that will feel right at home for any fan of the genre looking to flex their point and click muscles. It’s also able to be played with controller, though given that most scenes aren’t so intensive, I never felt like I needed one in this case. It’s an imaginative world and it knows it, pulling players deeper, literally and figuratively, into its strange land of monsters and oddities.  

22. Butter Royale

Genre: Battle Royale

The moment in the sun for battle royale feels like it’s already fading, yet to huge fans like me, I’m not ready for it to end. That’s why I’m a big fan of one of the new games this month, Butter Royale. The title reveals its food-focused take on the survival shooter genre, but what the name doesn’t tell you is how quick and fun each round can be. Butter Royale takes most of the thrills of the genre, like scavenging, fighting others, and staying ahead of the storm, and condenses them down to rounds that only last about three to four minutes. With fast closing boundaries and smooth twin-stick controls, it’s a frantic race to the top slot. There are many skins to unlock already at launch, and because it’s in Apple Arcade, you get them all via leveling — for free. No microtransactions here. 

21. Beyond a Steel Sky

Genre: Point and click adventure

Certain players may want to see Beyond a Steel Sky higher on this list. As the surprise sequel to the 1994 PC game, Beneath a Steel Sky, Beyond seems as impossibly built as it is remarkably realized. With third-person over-the-shoulder puzzling and adventuring, Beyond a Steel Sky presents itself like a Telltale game in a cyberpunk world, which is truly a tantalizing mix to play on the go. Nostalgia would likely help, as I’m without it myself having missed the original due to… being in kindergarten. But regardless, it captured me completely.

20. Where Cards Fall

Genre: Puzzle/Adventure

Alto’s Odyssey developer Snowman makes a strong introduction on Apple Arcade with its most ambitious title to date. Where Cards Fall is a beautiful exploration of adolescence, all told through an array of spatial puzzles and serene flashbacks to a life half lived. Where Cards Fall has you building pathways through dreamlike environments with stacks of cards; it’s intuitive and imaginative, a game that tests your capacity for strategic thought as much as it does your ability to flow with dynamic puzzles. It’s relaxing and challenging in equal measure, the type of game built for those times where you just want to get headphones on and shut yourself out from the noise of the world for a little.

19. Rayman Mini

Genre: Auto-runner

Maybe Super Mario Run didn’t do it for you, or made you loved it so much that you want more games like it. In either case, you should download Rayman Mini. It’s Ubisoft’s take on the auto-runner genre and it shines thanks to its way of continuing the Ray-naissance that began with Rayman Legends on consoles half a decade ago. Rayman Mini brings back the same UbiArt design (even if the publisher stopped using the name) and packs in a ton of mechanics into what you would think needs to be pretty simple. Dashing, gliding, and somping through levels is seamless, and each level has such a brief runtime, it’s got a ton of time-killer potential for whenever you need to lose a few minutes to gaming.

18. Cricket Through the Ages

Genre: Action

One of the most overtly obscure games to land on Apple Arcade so far, Cricket Through the Ages is a history lesson told through the medium of the titular sport, because why wouldn’t it be? Best enjoyed with a friend fighting with you over a single screen, Cricket Through the Ages has you swinging bats and throwing balls to make it through the intertwined history of humankind. It’s a one-button game that finds the fun in exploiting an off-kilter physics system, a game that delights in thrusting you through an increasingly-bizarre array of situations and scenarios. Cricket Through the Ages will have you laughing whether you play it on your own or with a friendly foe, revelling in its own simple absurdity. 

17. Lego Builder’s Journey

Genre: Puzzle

Don’t be fooled by the branding; Lego Builder’s Journey is nothing like the Lego games we’ve all worn out of over the last two 15 years. Instead, it’s a smartphone- and tablet-ready puzzler dressed up in natural colors, subtle soundscapes, and a quaint mood. In that way, it’s actually the exact opposite of the Lego games we’re all used to. This 3D puzzle game asks you to complete a scene by guiding a small child-like Lego figure – not a minifig, mind you – to his father who waits elsewhere in the scene. Often that means building bridges and other pathways from loose bricks, and as the game goes on, these answers get more and more difficult. The quiet mood mixes perfectly with the tactile Lego building mechanics to bring you that classic Lego-building zen state.

16. Dear Reader

Genre: Puzzle

We think there’s room for two-word puzzle games in this top 25, so long as they’re both noteworthy, and that’s why Dear Reader has cracked the list as well. It’s a more intricate take on wordplay, too, if Word Laces is too simplistic in its approach. Dear Reader gives you pages of famous books like Moby Dick and Pride & Prejudice and moves words to the wrong places, then asks you to clean up the errors like a trusted editor. There’s a lot of sneaky enjoyment to be had in reading these often older texts and trying to decode them, knowing fully well that the prose can often sound confusing at times. It’s not the same as reading the books themselves, of course, as they jump around a lot, but you’d be surprised how much you get out of working through each story’s scrambled plot.

15. A Fold Apart

Genre: Puzzle-platformer

A Fold Apart is maybe the most tear-jerking of all games in Apple Arcade right now, and that’s a quality I appreciate more than most. It also tells a story of long-distance love, which is how my wife and I got our start, but I promise, your partner needn’t be 3,000 miles away for you to appreciate the puzzle adventure of A Fold Apart. With customizable characters and a heartfelt story at its center, it’s a game that runs as long as a movie and sits with you long after like a sad song. I mean that in the best way.

14. Little Orpheus

Genre: Platformer

Little Orpheus was selected as our August 2020 Apple Arcade Game of the Month because though it doesn’t wow you with deep mechanics, everything it sets out to achieve as a cinematic platformer is achieved. From Hollywood-quality sound design to some truly striking visuals, to its lovable characters sharing a story well worth unravelling across its eight episodes, Little Orpheus is a unique submission to the Apple Arcade library. For that reason, it’s also one of our favorites.

13. Jenny LeClue

Genre: Puzzle/Adventure

Make way for CSI: Cuteness. Don’t be fooled by the adorable illustrated style of this adventure game, it’s packed with mystery and mechanics that are worth the price of Apple Arcade admission all on their own. Miss LeClue is a young girl with a taste for investigating, and that means a mix of searching crime scenes, interviewing suspects and witnesses – using Sherlock Holmes-style observations to tease out information – and making deductions. The cosy world of the game is packed with interesting characters, like conspiracy theorist CJ, and there’s a knowing humour to the whole thing that will remind you of great adventure games of yore like The Curse of Monkey Island. 

12. Crossy Road Castle

Genre: Platformer

We spoke earlier of how Frogger reinvented itself for Apple Arcade in the face of Crossy Road overtaking it on the App Store, but we have to give credit where it’s due: now Crossy Road has also reinvented itself for Apple Arcade. Crossy Road Castles is totally unlike the original game, but it keeps the blend of characters of pixel and voxel art. Now it’s a platformer, and in our opinion the best on the platform. With procedurally generated dungeons and an addictive scoring system, it’s a game that feels fresh and demands more every time you run through a few levels. It’s got a sensible difficulty curve too, introducing new mechanics smartly even with its unpredictable levels. Platforming rarely feels this good on touch screens, and it’s all thanks to simple and effective controls and just the right floatiness to each unlockable character. 

11. Pac-Man Party Royale

Genre: Action

It was only a matter of time until battle royale came to Pac-Man, right? Okay, maybe the connective thread isn’t so obvious, but you may be surprised to hear just how well it works. Each round of Pac-Man Party Royale (PCPR) begins on the same kind of level any fan of the series would be used to. The game becomes an endurance race to see who can stay alive the longest. When you’re eliminated by the game’s ghosts, you join their ranks, while surviving pac-people can chase elusive abilities which grant them some clutch powers. Likely by design, it feels a lot like those moments in PUBG or Fortnite when you narrowly beat your opponent to the best weapon in the room. As a match goes on, the glitch (storm) slowly closes in, forcing conflict just like the genre greats. It’s a mash-up we never knew we wanted.

Turn to page three for our top 10 best Apple Arcade games…

10. Next Stop Nowhere

Genre: Adventure

All you really need to know about Next Stop Nowhere is it’s the latest game from Night School Studio, the team behind indie hits Oxenfree and Afterparty. While the former offered a Stranger Things-like supernatural story and the latter literally took players on a bar crawl through hell, Next Stop Nowhere returns many of the beloved mechanics Night School is known for but moves them to outer space. It tells the story of two passing strangers who become wrapped up in a solar system-spanning adventure to reunite family and dodge shady criminals and law enforcement along the way. With all the superbly written dialogue and intuitive systems dispensing it all once more as Night School has done before, Next Stop Nowhere makes a strong argument to be your next download.

9. Game of Thrones: Tale of Crows

Genre:  Text adventure

Before I played it, there were reasons to be skeptical of this Game of Thrones tie-in. The finale of the HBO show left a bad taste in many mouths and licensed games aren’t always a promising sign of quality. But there were reasons for optimism too, like how Tale of Crows is published by Devolver, a surefire eye for talent. Game of Thrones: Tale of Crows proves to be a perfect fit for Apple Arcade. Its idle-like, text-heavy delivery means it can be played on your own terms, or you can turn on notifications to jump back in whenever the story has progressed based on your countless tough decisions. If you’ve wanted to learn more about The Night’s Watch before Jon Snow showed up, this is your chance to live it. 

8. Overland

Genre: Strategy/Adventure

A post-apocalyptic road trip from Finji, the studio behind influential endless runner Canabalt and publisher of Night in the Woods. Overland is a turn-based strategy game at its core, where your task is to ensure the survival of a small group of travellers against an array of otherworldly threats. Overland gives you a fair amount of space to define the parameters of your own adventure, leaving you free to decide how to proceed through each and every disastrous scenario that you stumble into. Leveraging your need to search for supplies and navigate routes to safety, with the desire to save other stranded survivors, Overland is a smartly structured strategy game that you’ll find yourself coming back to time and time again. 

7. Grindstone

Genre: Puzzle

It’s easy enough to forget, but before Capybara Games helped change the landscape of mobile adventure games with Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP in 2011, the studio was known for developing puzzle games. In many ways, then, Grindstone – a smartly conceived and expertly executed game of sword slashing puzzle battles – sees Capy returning to its roots. It’s bright, colourful, and difficult to walk away from, which is exactly what you want from a game such as this. Grindstone also comes complete with an intuitive crafting system, a delightful progression structure, and over 150 levels designed to test your capacity for unleashing monster-hit combos and crashing through increasingly challenging stages. Grindstone is designed for commutes, but it’ll have your attention whenever you find yourself with a little downtime.

6. Yaga

Genre: RPG

I have to admit that every time I see RPG as a mobile game genre, I am skeptical. That’s because I had never found one that feels deep enough to keep me engaged. That was until I found Yaga. This folklorish 2D tale combines beautiful art, intelligent controls, and a fully voiced, branching story to make one of the platform’s best examples of a role-playing game I’ve ever seen. It doesn’t take itself too seriously with its humorous tone, but when it comes to gameplay, it actually feels robust. That’s so rare in this space that it’s immediately obvious Yaga is different. It’s special. For those most skeptical of whether mobile gaming can scratch a console/PC itch, try Yaga first.

5. Mutazione

Genre: Adventure

I’m going to hit you with the elevator pitch and you should know in an instant whether this is for you or not: Mutazione is a mutant soap opera where small-town gossip meets the supernatural, a super chill game about raising plants and embarking on spiritual journeys after the end of the world. Mutazione is a weird adventure game that’s quite unlike anything else in the Apple Arcade library. Its style is its own, a lush, hand-illustrated world full of interesting folks that you’ll be desperate to get to know. Plant gardens to create relaxing musical soundscapes, and, when you’re ready, embark on a story full of twists and turns. Mutazione is serene, in its own little way. 

4. Roundguard

Genre: Dungeon-puzzler

Nobody ever asked for Peggle to be made into a dungeon crawler, but maybe we should’ve demanded it years ago. As it turns out, that’s exactly what Roundguard is, and trust us, it’s brilliant. Built with the same mechanics of PopCap’s beloved pinballish puzzler but with a level of depth you likely never thought lacking, Roundguard is the Peggle disciple the world deserves. It’s on consoles and PC too, but it feels most at home on iOS as the kind of versatile game that is excellent in short bursts or extended sessions in equal measure. If you missed it, check out our Apple Arcade Game of the Month feature for an extended look at what makes Roundguard amazing.

3. Neo Cab

Genre: Adventure

Not that we’re handing out any uber-specific awards in this lineup, but if we were, Neo Cab would win the poignancy award. It tells the story of a rideshare driver in the near-future where automation has nearly taken over the industry once and for all, which is the publicly stated goal of companies like Lyft and Uber today, mind you. As you ride around the neon-lit town, you learn about each passenger, and you learn even more about yourself. The game demands we confront questions about who we will be in the jobless future we’re barreling toward, and it demands we not forget to look out for one another not just when that day comes, but today too. And yes, “uber-specific” was totally an intended pun.

2. What The Golf?

Genre: Puzzle

In a list of 25 games, there’s got to be at least one that we can hardly explain, right? Meet What The Golf? This is that game. If you don’t like golf, don’t worry. It’s just barely a golf game. Really it’s a puzzler that demands you get an object to a goal. Yes, early on that means a golf ball into a hole, but that familiarity quickly vanishes and is replaced by some of the most outlandish and unpredictable level design you’ll see all year, if not all generation. It’s also packed with homages to other games, like Super Mario, Flappy Bird, and so many more. We wouldn’t want to spoil all the fun, so just trust us. Golf fan or not, give it a try.

1. Sayonara Wild Hearts

Genre: Action

Simogo made a name for itself as one of the most ambitious and inventive mobile developers, thanks to its work on titles like Year Walk, Device 6, and SPL-T. Unsurprisingly, the studio is back and better than ever; Sayonara Wild Hearts is an interactive music video, a vibrant cacophony of high-octane races and dance-battle action. It’s overtly stylish in its design and subtly stunning in its execution of a drama – of breaking your heart at a 100mph. This is a game that is, frankly, out of this world. Sayonara is the sort of game that you’ll be able to get through across both ends of your commute, but come back to replay day-after-day. The self-described “pop album video game” isn’t just the best Apple Arcade game. It’s one of the best games of the year. Period.

There’s plenty more games coming to the service in the coming months. Why not check out this list of the Apple Arcade games confirmed so far.

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