Apple Arcade Unwrapped: September 22, 2019 – ATONE, Dead End Job, EarthNight, Over the Alps, Overland and Where Cards Fall

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. 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.

ATONE: Heart of the Elder Tree

I didn’t know much about Wildboy Studios’ ATONE: Heart of the Elder Tree, but what I saw of it looked like there were some puzzles involved and I absolutely adored the art style. It reminds me a lot of Hyper Light Drifter‘s look, though not as neon. It turns out the game also has a killer soundtrack and a deep story told through dialogue and impressive cutscenes. I would gladly watch an animated series in this style. It’s simply gorgeous. As for the gameplay itself, I’m not sure how I feel yet. It’s an adventure game where you tap to move your character around and interact with things and other characters. Sometimes you get dialogue choices, though I’m not sure how that affects things. My first half hour with the game involved a lot of storytelling, but I also encountered some puzzles. I was able to solve some with the clues given, but ended up using trial and error for one. The battles involve rhythm sequences and I’m terrible at those, so I hope they don’t appear too often. Overall, I’m intrigued by the game and, together with the art and music, that might be enough to keep me playing. I would recommend it to anyone looking for some eye candy who’s not turned off by a mixing of genres.

Dead End Job

Dead End Job is a twin-stick shooter from Ant Workshop and Headup Games, where you work as a ghost hunter. I only spent 15 minutes with it so far, but I like pretty much everything about it. The gameplay has you running from room to room shooting different types of ghosts until you stun them. You then suck them into your vacuum, very much like in Ghostbusters. I’m having a little trouble aiming my gun on my big iPad, but I still managed to get through my first job. I might try switching to my iPhone, since there’s iCloud sync, and see if I find that easier to handle. If that fails, I’ll try it with a controller on my Apple TV. But one way or another, I’m definitely continuing with it. The animation style is like a quirky cartoon series and the writing has my Twitter friend, Xalavier Nelson Jr.’s, signature stamped all over it. There are puns galore, some that will make you smile and others that will make you groan. Like the boss named SecreScary. But this game is just so full of charm. If you like twin-stick shooters at all, definitely give this one a try. And I’ll make sure to report back on the shooting controls once I play a bit on my iPhone.

EarthNight

I’m not very good at Cleaversoft’s auto-running platformer, EarthNight, but it’s hard to say anything bad about a game where you run down a giant dragon’s back. The game both looks and sounds great, and it has a simple control scheme that’s a great fit for touchscreens. Your character runs right automatically. Tap the left half of the screen to drop down quickly — for instance, to knock out an enemy below you — and tap the right half of the screen to jump and double-jump. When you get to the dragon’s head, you have to tap quickly to drain his health before the timer runs out. I’ve only managed to do so once, so I still need to work on that. Perhaps my biggest complaint with the game is the way it just throws you in and you have to discover pretty much everything on your own. There are helpful tips, but perhaps a monster encyclopedia would help, too. It’s hard to tell how different enemies react without experimenting on them. But then you’re risking losing health. I’m also not sure what the point is of the skydiving part after you die. Overall, it’s a well-made game that looks great and plays well, but might take a little patience to get a good grasp on all the different enemies and mechanics.

Over the Alps

Stave Studios’ Over the Alps is a stylish World War 2 spy thriller told mostly through dialogue choices. Each place you visit brings up a postcard and then you choose a stamp to select what you want to say or do. The stamps each have personalities, and using different ones affect the story, your overall personality, and how other characters react to you. At least, that’s how it seems from the small time I spent with it. At the moment, it appears to be somewhat broken. I was already having some issues getting the story to move along by tapping on a location on the map. It didn’t always work and I couldn’t tell if I was doing something wrong. I still managed ok — until I got caught by the police. At that point, I couldn’t continue. The game didn’t tell me I lost. I just couldn’t get to a new location and I wasn’t sure why. I tried going back to the main menu and then pressed “Continue” and it restarted that chapter for me. I got caught by the police again and had the same thing happen. So for now, I can’t really recommend the game. Hopefully it will get patched soon and I can get a better feel for it.

Overland

I’d been looking forward to Finji’s turn-based survival game, Overland, for years and was starting to doubt it would even come to iOS. When it was announced for Apple Arcade, I knew it would be one of the first games I’d try. That might or might not be because you can have dogs join your party and carry a knife. It also seemed like the perfect fit for touchscreens, since there’s nothing reflex-based that would be dependent on precise controls. Unfortunately, the controls ended up being the biggest problem with the game. In it, you play as a randomized person trying to escape some alien apocalypse by heading east. Each stop on the map is a confined area which you can explore for gas or other supplies. But there are alien creatures in your way and they inch closer to you with every move. They can also multiply if you kill one, because it alerts the others. Ideally, you want to get in your car and escape the area as soon as possible. But if you run out of gas, you’ll have to leave it behind and go on foot until you find another car. It’s pretty difficult even early on, especially since there’s no tutorial. But I was still able to figure things out and might have stuck with it if not for the broken controls. Basically, you tap on a tile to move there, with any interactions popping up as tappable buttons. For instance, let’s say you’re standing next to a dumpster. You can tap on it and the option to SEARCH it would pop up. The problem is, the game doesn’t always register your taps, or maybe it would be more accurate to say it misreads them. Too often, I would click on an interaction and it would close the menu instead. Early on, you might think that just means you can’t perform that action. But it’s just broken. If you persist and keep tapping on that interaction, it will finally work. But who has that kind of time or patience? The game is already punishing enough. I can’t imagine torturing myself with those controls. Hopefully they can be fixed so it’s at least playable. But even then, the game feels a bit soulless. Each character has a randomized name and description, which seems interesting at first. But when they rest between stops, the dialogue is boring and robotic. I had two guys who just talking about how they needed gas and were exhausted. I would love to hear them talk about their past, families, home town, etc. It’s hard to care about them when all they talk about is gas. So Overland was definitely a big disappointment for me, but I’m going to keep an eye on it and see if it gets some much-needed updates.

Where Cards Fall

I’d been looking forward to Where Cards Fall ever since Snowman announced they were working on it in collaboration with The Game Band. Snowman is best known for the Alto series, which are super stylish and highly polished auto-running skiboarding games. Where Cards Fall is a big departure, as it’s a puzzle game in which you build and collapse houses of cards so you can climb on them to the exit. I love the puzzle mechanics, and even early on they were challenging me. But there’s some issues that make it hard to stay interested. First off, the boy you control sometimes runs but other times moves very slowly. I’ve also had the game think I was trying to move him when I was building or collapsing a house, forcing me to start the whole thing over. There’s no way to rewind if something like that happens, so all you can do is redo what needs to be done. The other issue is that there are unskippable cutscenes at the end of each level. If they were interesting, I might not mind so much. But they just involve people talking gibberish in some very plain setting, like at a kitchen table or in a diner. Without knowing what they’re saying, it’s hard to tell what’s happening and it’s even harder to care about it. There’s also some weird eyes in the walls that so far have not been explained. It’s possible this will all make sense by the end, but I haven’t been paying close attention, so I might not even notice. And the cutscenes aren’t even skippable when you replay a level. I hope some improvements can be made, because I really do like the puzzles themselves. I just don’t like all the stuff getting in the way of them. I’m also working on a walkthrough here if you get stuck.

And that’s it for today’s Apple Arcade Unwrapped! Remember to check this list to see all my Apple Arcade coverage so far. I’ll be back with more soon enough, but until then let me know in the comments section what you’re enjoying and what you’d like me to cover next.

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