Apple Arcade Unwrapped: September 20, 2019 – Card of Darkness, Grindstone, WHAT THE GOLF?, Tangle Tower, Neo Cab, Sayonara Wild Hearts and More

Hi everyone, and welcome back to my daily roundup of Apple Arcade games, called Apple Arcade Unwrapped. It’s similar to my weekly roundup called My Week Unwrapped. At least while Apple Arcade is new, I’ll be posting every day about the games I played since the previous issue. The idea is to include gameplay videos and blurbs to help my readers decide which games to play first. There are already over 70 games available and I’m only one person, so please bear with me. But as I cover more games, I’ll be linking to that coverage here so you can find it all easily. Today’s roundup includes six new games that I tried and one from yesterday that I completed. Most are easy to recommend, but some have issues I’ll touch upon. There’s no shortage of good games in the lineup, but hopefully these roundups will help you decide which ones to focus on first.

Card of Darkness

Zach Gage is well known for crafting one-handed portrait games that feel great on iPhone and introduce new mechanics to familiar concepts. Whether it’s poker with a twist, solitaire with a slant, or word games with a shift, you can usually expect something of quality. Card of Darkness is no different, and it appeals to me probably more than any of his other games. It’s a level-based dungeon crawler with procedurally generated layouts, where you need to destroy cards that stand between you and the staircase to the next floor or the exit. Early on, the cards consist of different types of enemies, weapons, gold, health potions or spell scrolls. Enemies each have a single number on them that represents both their health and attack power. For instance, attacking a monster with a 4 on it with no weapon in your hand will destroy the enemy but also damage you for 4 health. Weapons minimize this damage. If you attack that same monster with a 2-strength sword, you’ll only take 2 damage. If you attack with a 4-strength sword, you’ll take no damage. But there’s a catch! If you’re wielding an odd-numbered sword and attack an even-numbered enemy, you’ll still do the damage, but your weapon will break. Otherwise, the sword stays intact. And there’s another wrinkle — you technically can make a run straight for the exit and try not to flip too many cards. But all that gold and potions are hard to resist. And once you take a card from the top of the pile, you have to clear that entire pile before you can leave the room. So there’s consequences for taking all the gold, and it could possibly lead to your demise if you get overpowered. Right now, dying wipes out all the gold you earned in a dungeon, but the developer said that’s unintentional and will be fixed. There are power-ups and upgrades you can buy with the gold you earn, but more important are the cards of darkness that you find on your journey. They give you extra health and other perks. I had a lot of trouble in the beginning of the game, so please go easy on me when you watch my video. I got the hang of it, though, and have been enjoying it a lot. I look forward to the rest of my journey and would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a deep but stress-free game that can be played anywhere.

Grindstone

If you’re a long-time reader of this site, you likely know that I’m a huge fan of match-three games, but only the premium IAP-free and ad-free ones. I even made a list of my favorites, though it’s very outdated. So you can imagine I was excited to learn that one of the Apple Arcade games is a match-three puzzler that uses similar mechanics to the now-gone Dungeon Raid. Capybara Games’ Grindstone is a level-based dungeon crawler that has you controlling a warrior who can only attack enemies that are all the same color. You start from him and then draw a path through same-colored monsters. If you make a chain of 10 or more enemies, it creates a grindstone, which drops randomly on the board. If you draw over the grindstone, you can then change the color you’re selecting. The idea is to try to make as big a chain as possible, because you need to defeat a certain number of enemies before the door will unlock and you can exit the level. The longer you spend in a level, the more dangerous it gets because enemies get angry. When you land next to an angry monster, they attack you. And you only have three hearts. While there are ways to defend yourself, they’re limited, and you lose the level when you run out of hearts. But there’s reasons to stay longer in a level and take the risk of losing everything you earned there. Once the exit unlocks, a treasure chest drops, along with a key. If you pick up the key and unlock the treasure, you might find a blueprint inside for some useful equipment. So it pays to stay longer. There’s a lot of depth to the game, and I’m finding it to be a solid challenge even just a few levels in. That said, there’s one thing I really don’t like. When you lose hearts, they’re permanently gone until you buy them back. You use grindstones to buy them — 5 for each heart. You only ever need to buy one or two at a time, since dying restores one of your three hearts. But this makes it difficult to take risks. If you die, you not only lose everything you earned in the dungeon, but you then have to spend another 10 stones from your earnings to buy back your lives. It’s something I might expect from a free-to-play game like a Candy Crush, but not in something premium. It definitely makes failing a lot more stressful and tedious than it should be. But there’s enough to love about the game that I’ll stick with it and hope that the lives issue doesn’t become too much of a problem. I would still recommend the game to anyone who likes deep and strategic match-three puzzlers.

Tangle Tower

I’m not sure why, but I never played SFB Games’ point-and-click murder mystery adventure, Detective Grimoire, despite owning it. I thought about it many times, but just never got to it what with all the new games releasing all the time that I needed to cover. So when I heard there was a sequel included in Apple Arcade, called Tangle Tower, I had plans to check it out eventually, but didn’t really have any expectations. Then I saw some of the gorgeous hand-painted artwork and some trailers and was told that I didn’t need to have played the original to enjoy this one. So Tangle Tower quickly shot up my list of games to play and I’m so glad I didn’t wait on it. It’s fully voice-acted, features a snarky duo with smart writing, and a ridiculous plot that I’m so on board with. The two detectives are investigating the murder of an artist who appears to have been stabbed by the knife in her painting. There’s no other knife to be found and the painting’s knife has blood on it, so that seems like the most logical explanation, right? I’ve only played about 20 minutes, but it moves at a swift pace and overall feels very polished. I can’t wait to get back to it, though with 70+ games launched at once, it might take me a while to get through it. If you’re looking for a light-hearted and well-made point-and-click adventure, move Tangle Tower towards the top of your list. I also started a walkthrough here if you need help.

WHAT THE GOLF?

Triband’s WHAT THE GOLF? is definitely one of the weirdest games I’ve ever played. It’s advertised as a golf game for people who hate golf, and it certainly lives up to that promise, at least for the most part. The game uses the same control scheme as most other touchscreen golf games — pull back and aim, then release to shoot the ball. But you don’t really have to worry about how many hits it takes you or how precise you are at reaching the hole. Just hitting that area is usually enough. And right away, all sorts of silliness happens. You’re hitting a house to the hole, a couch, the golfer himself! But as bizarre and bonkers as the game is, it does offer some challenge as you get deeper in. You start to encounter exploding barrels that you need to guide to the hole without touching anything. You might have to avoid cars that push your ball off the side of the mountain. Even though it’s not a traditional golf game, there’s more to it than just silly physics. I also love how you shoot the ball around the level select screen and into holes for each level. The levels also unlock in groups, and you need to hit the ball at the door to open it to the next group. I also discovered pretty late into the game that each hole has three challenges, making for a lot more content than I realized. It’s clear a lot of love went into WHAT THE GOLF? and I would recommend it anyone who likes some silliness in their games.

Neo Cab

I really didn’t know much about Chance Agency’s Neo Cab before starting it, but I liked the premise and the look of it. It’s a dialogue-heavy choice-based game where you play as Lina, a futuristic cab driver. You’re a rare breed, a human driver in a world where driverless cars have replaced most cabs. You have discussions with your passengers and decide how much to share with them. I’m not that far in yet, but the writing is strong and I’m intrigued. You also drove a long way to move in with an old friend who so far doesn’t seem to be treating you right. This is a good game to play if you’re looking for something that’s more like a visual novel, as it seems pretty limited when it comes to gameplay. So far, I’ve only made dialogue choices and I think I may get to at least choose which passengers to pick up. It looks great and has a chill vibe, so it might be best to play before bed when you’re too tired to work your brain or reflexes.

Sayonara Wild Hearts

Simogo loves to surprise us with each game the develop. Their genres vary from game to game, and I never really know what to expect from them next. Sayonara Wild Hearts is their latest, a music-focused auto-runner mashed with QTE rhythm sections. It both looks and sounds great and I really want to love it. Unfortunately, the controls feel awful. Auto-runners are very common on mobile, so I had some expectations for what the controls would be. Usually a game would have you flick the screen left or right to change lanes. But with Sayonara, you need to drag much longer and use much more effort to change lanes. It makes it very difficult to get all the collectibles, because by the time I change lanes, I’ve already missed most of them. The game seems very forgiving in that you might be able to complete it even if you mess up a lot. But I’m finding it hard to enjoy with the controls the way they are. I’ll give it another chance if they get updated or if I decide I don’t care about my scores. But for now, I’m going to put it on the back-burner while I play other games.

Assemble with Care

I wrote about ustwo’s Assemble with Care yesterday, but I had only started. I liked it enough that I went and finished the whole game. It’s not long, but enjoyed it immensely. I loved learning about Maria and the people whose lives she touched through repairing their beloved items. The objects also get more intricate and more interesting to take apart and put back together. They’re not very difficult puzzles, but I enjoyed them nonetheless. There was only one that I found a bit cheap. I got stuck on the projector for a lot longer than I should have because one of the mirrors had two possible slots where it could be attached and I only noticed one. I knew it couldn’t work the way I inserted it, but just didn’t see the other option. It also doesn’t make sense to me that a projector would have a space for a mirror where the mirror can’t do anything useful. It also gives you a wire before you have the rest of the parts, including the one that attaches to the wire. So I kept trying to figure out what to attach it to. Maria also wasn’t too helpful, because her dialogue hints would often make me thing I just needed to close everything up, when that wasn’t the case. That was my only issue with the game, though, and it seemed like an attempt to make the puzzles harder by tripping up the player. Overall, the game felt fair and I enjoyed taking things apart and putting them back together. The story and characters are also well-written. The game is on the short side, but the structure allows for possible future content if the developers decide to continue Maria’s adventures. I’m hoping we might see more, as it was such a lovely and heartfelt experience. Definitely don’t pass this one up. And if you get stuck, I have a walkthrough guide here.

And that’s it for this issue of Apple Arcade Unwrapped! I might take it a little easy over the weekend, but I’ll definitely be making some more gameplay videos of different games. Remember, I’ll be linking to all my Apple Arcade content on this page. Let me know in the comments section what games you’re enjoying and I’ll see you back here next time with more of Apple Arcade Unwrapped!

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Dr. Renier Palland

Hi Thank you for this! I know you receive more emails than the NSA and could only imagine what your email inbox looks like… And that’s a chill running down my spine! Disclaimer: Apologies if this comes across as slightly intrusive and unorthodox. Akin to Apple Acrade’s extremely subtle Beta launch pre-official launch, this is my extremely subtle Beta “non-game-request-e-mail-from-me” post. My emails aren’t quite working well – they didn’t get their flu injections – so I’m not impatient IN ANY WAY. Emails… They die en route to their destination sometimes. Mine do, at least. Great writing! Loving the games!… Read more »

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