Hi everyone, and welcome back to my almost 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 several times a week 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 eight new games that I tried and a few that I’m revisiting. Some are easy to recommend, but others 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.
The Bradwell Conspiracy
Bossa Studios’ first-person narrative-driven exploration game, The Bradwell Conspiracy, just made its way over to Apple Arcade a few days ahead of other platforms. It takes place in the future, and I’ve only played through the first area so far, but I really like where it’s going. It starts in a Stonehenge museum that’s collapsing around you, while an Alexa-type guide speaks to you through an earpiece. It tells you how the controls work and then helps you get to the exits. It starts to open up more once you make contact with another person and share photos of what you’re seeing so she can help you. To explain why you can’t talk to her, your vocal cords have been damaged from smoke inhalation. So you can hear her, but you can only communicate with her through photos and whatever your guide decides to tell her. Everything is voice acted and the world is fleshed out well, with readable information found throughout the museum. My only issue so far with the game is the touch controls. You have a joystick on the left for movement and another on the right for the camera, with a button for crouching and another for snapping photos. For the most part, that all works fine, especially after adjusting the camera speed. But I wish the camera would stay with my finger instead of continuing to move unless I take my finger off the screen. It makes for some pretty clunky movement. But I could still manage with that. What I think will become hard to bear after a while is the way you interact with objects — such as puzzles — in your environment. There’s a reticule in the center of the screen and you have to adjust the camera so it lands directly on the object, then you tap the screen to interact with it. It’s far from ideal, especially on a large iPad. Gone Home had similar controls, but there was an option to allow you to touch anywhere on the screen to interact with objects. I turned that on right away and it made the game a million times more playable. I would love to see something like that here, because it just makes sense. You want to be able to tap directly on the item, not have to fumble around with the camera to do so. If that were fixed, I could see getting fully sucked into this one. Even though I got some motion sickness, it wasn’t too terrible. Anyway, I highly recommend giving The Bradwell Conspiracy a try, but be prepared to deal with controls that aren’t perfectly optimized for touchscreens.
There was a time where I enjoyed playing Q*Bert, so I was optimistic about Dodo Peak from Moving Pieces Interactive. It has you taking control of a dodo bird, hopping up and down layered platforms to collect dodo eggs, which then hatch into baby dodo birds who follow you around. The catch is that there are all sorts of things trying to kill you and your babies, such as snakes, piranhas, spikes, and rolling boulders. If you get hit, it’s game over, and if a baby gets hit, you lose them. There are also coins to collect and an occasional ruby, and a timer as well. You can earn three stars on each level, usually by collecting all the babies, possibly a ruby, and completing the level within a certain amount of time. There’s a lot of interesting ideas, but in the end I just found it too annoying. Your dodo starts off very slow, and then you unlock slightly faster ones using the coins you earn. It’s a very strange design, as your reflexes can only get you so far until you unlock faster birds. It makes it feel like a free-to-play game with the IAPs removed. I can’t think of any other game that does this, crippling you until you grind enough coins to get faster. It makes the game feel like it’s lagging and slow to respond to commands. I might have enjoyed the game more if it just started off with a dodo that moves quickly. As is, I wouldn’t recommend it unless you normally like these sorts of games and don’t mind having to push through the slower birds until you get one that feels right.
I like a lot about Rogue Games’ level-based action puzzler, Hexaflip, even though it feels very familiar, like I’ve been there, done that. It has you navigating a hexagon-shaped piece through hexagon-tiled labyrinths. The controls are simple, though a little strange for a portrait mode game. It requires two hands to play, because you tap the left side to move left and the right side to move right. The goal is to pick up all three orbs in a level and make it to the exit. It starts off simple, with the only real way to fail being if you fall off the side by accident. But soon enough, things like spikes and hammers are added, along with arrow tiles that throw you over tiles or gaps. The orbs also start to disappear if you don’t pick them up fast enough, so you can’t just take your sweet time maneuvering around the obstacles. It’s a solid concept with decent execution. My main issue with it, though, is that it’s yet another Apple Arcade offering that feels very much like a free-to-play game with the mictrotransactions and ads removed. You earn coins after completing each level. At first, it’s not clear what they’re for. But the first time you die past a checkpoint, you’ll be offered the option to continue from that checkpoint — for 250 coins! I think I earned maybe 1000 total from the first twenty levels, and that includes any bonus rewards I got. So if I used continues when I died, I’d have been out of coins in about five minutes. It’s absurd that this system even exists in a premium game. Either don’t have checkpoints at all, or make them work as checkpoints normally do — for free, simply because you passed them. The only reason to have a continue or revive cost anything is to get players to buy more currency with cash or watch ads for them, and neither one is possible here. I’m also turned off by the fact that the game rewards you for checking in every day. I even saw one for playing thirty days in a row. Again, this reeks of free-to-play mechanics that need to get people coming back and watching ads. There’s no other reason to dangle the carrot, and I find it insulting that the game thinks it knows better than I do how my time should be used. I guess if you can ignore all that, along with the checkpoints that aren’t really checkpoints, there’s an enjoyable game here. It’s certainly worth checking out, but I wish they’d done a better job removing the free-to-play mechanics.
Operator 41 is a stealth puzzle game that feels a bit like Square Enix’s Go series, but in real time instead of turn-based. The opening credits are stylish and set me up for some high expectation that were sadly never met. There aren’t really any instructions, but you can gather that the goal in each level is to reach the phone — for whatever reason — without being spotted by a guard. You tap on a tile to sneak over there, hopefully while the guards are turned the other way. You can also pick up potted plants and throw them across the room to distract the guards. Overall, I found it too easy once I understood how things worked, but the camera got on my nerves. It only lets you see a small part of the scene until you move, at which point it shifts perspective. That makes it harder to plan things out. It especially makes it difficult to throw the plant with any real accuracy, because you can’t see much of the room when you’re holding it. I still enjoyed what I played to some extent and made it to the twelfth level, where I quit out of frustration. I later learned that was the last level, so I’m not too bothered about abandoning it there. The camera just became too much of a hindrance, and it’s the first level where you need to move quickly or you’ll get caught and have to start over. There’s no checkpoint, so if you get through the first half and mess up near the very end, you have to start from scratch. It just wasn’t worth the effort for me. I applaud the game designer, Spruce Campbell, for the effort, especially since he’s only 14 years old. I hope he, together with Shifty Eye Games, can build on the idea to make something more satisfying and user-friendly. I would still recommend trying it out, but there are other Apple Arcade games you should play first.
I’m not sure what I expected from Borderleap’s Patterned, but I liked the artwork I saw in the App Store description, so decided to give it a try. There’s probably someone out there who will enjoy it, but unfortunately that person is not me. Between the boring and repetitive soundtrack and the mind-numbing gameplay, I almost didn’t stick with it for even one puzzle. The entire game consists of some hand-drawn art that’s used as a tile and repeated — like a pattern. It starts off in black and white and you have to drag colored pieces to the correct spots so that when the puzzle is complete, it will all be colored in. You can only drag pieces to the center, though, and I would often spot the right piece of the image outside the borders and accidentally drop it there instead. It’s silly that it doesn’t count when you do that, but even it did, I wouldn’t have enjoyed the game much more. It just feels tedious and boring and I can’t imagine any situation where I would want to play this game over doing just about anything else. By all means, try it out if you’re curious, but there are so many better ways to spend your time.
Pilgrims is a brand new game from Amanita Design, the makers of quirky and beautiful experiences such as Samorost 3 and CHUCHEL. I’d like to write a proper review about it, so I’m going to try and keep this brief. But it’s possibly my favorite Apple Arcade game, and it’s most definitely one of my favorite games ever. It’s a puzzle adventure game in which your characters and inventory come in the form of cards. You tap on a place on the map to walk there and then drag the cards to the scene to see what happens. For instance, you can drag the mustachioed man to the scene and then drag a pot of water to him and he’ll drink from it. If you hand him a rope, he’ll lasso it above his head. I don’t want to give anything away, but some characters you meet tell you what they want and you have to figure out how to get it for them. Others don’t tell you anything, so you have to get more creative and figure out what might make them respond the way you want. Some characters join you and then you can take them out during a scene, as well. They respond in different ways to the items and people you meet, making for a very playful game that encourages experimentation. In some ways, it reminds me of my favorite Samorost 3 puzzle, which had you arranging cards in the right order to make some hunters kill a woolly mammoth and then cook it. I can’t be happier about the fact that the developers seem to have expanded that one idea into an entire game. There’s also tons of funny reactions, lots of punching, and some disturbing stuff, too. It’s a short game, but I’ve only unlocked a handful of the many achievements available. It seems that there are multiple ways to solve puzzles and therefore get other achievements. I can’t wait to dive back in and see what kind of alternate paths I can take. If you have Apple Arcade, this should move to the top of your list. Don’t wait — just play it now. And if you get stuck, I’m working on a walkthrough guide here.
Spaceland is a turn-based strategy game from Tortuga Team in which you need to hunt down aliens with your group of space rangers. It’s very mobile-friendly, as you tap to move, tap to attack, and nothing is reflex-based. The levels are also short enough that you can play in small bursts or long sessions. You can take as much time as you need to plan out your next move. The game seems pretty forgiving so far, in that there’s no real penalty for getting a ranger killed. If you fail a mission, you simply restart it. There are bonuses for completing a mission in fewer moves and with no casualties, but from what I can tell you can always replay a mission if you didn’t do as well as you wanted. You also earn currency that can be used to buy new gear, but the progression feels very natural so far. This is one of the few Apple Arcade games I played where it seems like the economy was designed around being fun and balanced and not around some mictrotransactions that were later removed. The story and dialogue aren’t doing much for me, but you can fast-forward through them if you want, so it’s not a big deal. If you like strategy games, Spaceland seems like an easy choice. Even if you don’t think you do, give it a try. It looks nice, plays well, and might surprise you.
Way of the Turtle
I started off really impressed by Illusion Labs’ auto-running platformer, Way of the Turtle. Auto-runners are a bit of a tired genre, but I liked the polished graphics and it seemed pretty easy-going at first. I managed to do alright for a little while, as there weren’t too many controls to worry about. The turtle walks on its own and you tap the right side of the screen to jump and the left side of the screen to make him stop in place and pull into his shell for defense. Then swipe anywhere on the screen to change directions. This is all perfectly manageable at first, but I got to a point where I had to change directions multiple times in quick succession while also jumping, and I kept falling. Each time I’d go back for another attempt, the camera would make me dizzy from all the quick directional changes. I ended up having to stop just to avoid getting motion sickness from it. It’s a cool game, but I honestly wish it was just a regular platformer so I could take my time with each jump. Having to manage all the different taps and swipes while the turtle is auto-running just causes me to mess up — and get dizzy in the process. If you like these types of games, it seems well-made and the graphics are impressive. But if you don’t, it’s unlikely to change your mind.
Card of Darkness
I started playing Zach Gage’s Card of Darkness a couple of weeks back and really liked what I saw but was having a hard time mastering it. I spent more time with it this week and still enjoy playing it, but I find it takes me a while to get a handle on things. It can be pretty difficult, but I’m slowly learning to avoid monsters if I can and take the shortest route possible to the exit. I’m glad the game is level-based and there aren’t any real consequences for dying, as it means I can take chances and experiment with strategies. The monsters keep getting weirder and tougher and it definitely takes some solid strategy to manage them. It’s not a fast-moving game because if its difficulty, but it’s still a great one-handed game for playing anywhere due to its turn-based nature. If you haven’t tried it yet, do so!
I’m still loving Grindstone to pieces. I don’t have much more to say about it other than that you should play it if you’re a fan of match-three games, especially Dungeon Raid. And remember, I have a walkthrough guide here if you need help.
Jenny LeClue – Detectivu
I was waiting for an update for Jenny LeClue before continuing, since some of the controls were bugged. That update finally came and I got deeper into the story. I’m liking it more and more, especially the dark sense of humor. I do wish it moved at a bit of a quicker pace, though. The puzzles are still mostly about finding clues around a person or area, and it’s not the most exciting mechanic. I think maybe the game could have benefitted from some editing, but I’m still going to stick with it and see where it goes. At the very least, the easier puzzles mean you’re unlikely to get stuck for too long, so you can keep following the story without having to stop. And don’t forget that I’m working on a walkthrough guide here.
And last but certainly not least, I continued playing Chance Agency’s choice-based narrative game, Neo Cab. My first two sessions with the game were only about 25 minutes long, as I was enjoying it, but wasn’t sucked in enough to have trouble putting it down and taking a break. That changed when I picked it up again, as I got some passengers who made me actually laugh out loud. These two guys were convinced Lina was a robot and they were infuriating but so entertaining. The main plot line also got more interesting, and I’m eager to find out what happened to Savy. I ended up playing almost an full hour before taking a break this time, and I would have likely played more by now if new game hadn’t released yesterday. Definitely give this one a go if you like narrative-based games.
And that’s all for this installment of Apple Arcade Unwrapped! I still have a whole lot of games to try, as well as a bunch that I want to return to. Remember, I’ve linked to all my coverage here and rated the games to make it easier for my readers to choose which to play first. And as always, I’d love to hear what you’re playing, so let me know in the comments section. I’ll see you back here in a few days with more Apple Arcade coverage!