Apple Arcade Unwrapped: October 17, 2019 – Bleak Sword, Dear Reader, Exit the Gungeon, INMOST, Stela, Stranded Sails and More

Hi everyone, and welcome back to my roundups of Apple Arcade games, called Apple Arcade Unwrapped. It’s similar to my weekly roundup called My Week Unwrapped. As I make my way through the Apple Arcade games, I’ll be posting my impressions 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 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.

Bleak Sword

I pushed off trying more8bit’s and Devolver Digital’s Bleak Sword mainly because it looked like it would kick my butt, and I wasn’t wrong. It’s a level-based action game that plays in portrait mode with one hand (though there’s also a two-handed mode I haven’t tried yet) and has you fending off all sorts of monsters with your sword in a low-pixel world made up entirely of black, white and red. Despite the lack of detail in the graphics, it looks great in action, and I could definitely see playing more of it. I especially appreciate the effort taken to make the touch controls gesture-based and button-free. Sadly, I quit my first session after dying several times on the first boss, as each time I got sloppier than the last. I appreciate that dying doesn’t mean starting over, but what I don’t like is that I lost my equipment permanently because I didn’t kill him in my first or second attempt. I’m not a fan of the idea of punishing players who are having a rough time by taking away their hard-earned items. It just means I’m going to have a harder time with him. I would have preferred being able to keep trying to beat that boss until I could manage it, without losing anything. It’s not like it’s a high score chaser, so what does it matter if it takes me more tries to beat the boss than someone else? Luckily, I see that I can replay older levels for experience, so I may do that to make up for the stats I lost from my gear. I should also mention one other issue related to saves, though. Shortly after I played, I opened the game again to discover my progress was all gone. It turned out to be a GameCenter bug that was preventing GameCenter from loading for any of my games. But I mention it here because of the bizarre way the game saves. It has a separate offline slot and online slot. So if the first time you play you’re logged into GameCenter, your save will be linked to it. If next time you try launching the game underground without any internet, it won’t load that save. You can start another save for playing offline. I really don’t get the logic behind this and thought it’s something you should be aware of before playing. I still like the game and would highly recommend it, but don’t like how many Apple Arcade games are dependent on GameCenter just to launch.

Dear Reader

As an English major who feels guilty about not reading any novels in a long time, Local No. 12’s Dear Reader seemed like a good way to combine my passion for gaming with my love of reading. It takes you through condensed versions of well-known classics, starting with Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Having read that several times through high school and college, as well as having seen at least one or two movie adaptations, I have a pretty firm grasp on the plot, even though it’s been a while since I read it. Still, I found the game to be a poor way to read these books. First, it’s not the complete text, only excerpts that still get the story across. But it’s also hard to absorb the words when you’re playing. It shows you a few lines at a time, first with some words missing. You need to tap on one of the blue words at the bottom of the screen to fill it in. If you get it right, you earn some ink, the in-game currency. Any mistakes cause you to lose some ink. Other mechanics are added, like swapping, which, as you might suspect, asks you to swap two words or groups of words to complete the text. It all seems great in theory, but it makes it hard to focus on the story when you’re reading it this way. Sure, you can re-read page in full when you complete the “chapter,” but then you’re going to stop again to rearrange the words. It kills the flow. I also don’t like how the game uses ink to unlock new novels. It feels like something leftover from a free-to-play game. I should just be able to choose the books I want to read/play without having to go through a bunch I’m not interested in first. You’re much better off just putting your device down and opening an actual copy of Pride and Prejudice or whatever other classics you’ve been meaning to tread. Perhaps if you’re not interested in actually reading the book, it works as a word game to pass the time, but it just doesn’t do much for me. By all means, give it a try, but I think there are other Apple Arcade games worth playing first.

Exit the Gungeon

Devolver Digital has been going all in with Apple Arcade, publish yet another game as part of the subscription service. This time it’s Dodge Roll’s Exit the Gungeon, a mobile sequel to the frantic console game, Enter the Dungeon. Like Bleak Sword, I pushed off trying it because I didn’t think I’d too too well. And once again, I was right. It’s adapted well to touchscreens, with the left side being for walking and interacting, and the right side for dodging. Bullets fly everywhere, but when you’re in middle of a dodge, they can’t harm you. Your gun also shoots automatically, so at least that’s one less thing to worry about. But I still suck at it. It’s a roguelike, so each game is self-contained and you’re meant to try and last longer each time. You can also dodge up and down, which allows you to climb up or down platforms. It’s a well-designed game, but perhaps too frantic for me. I’m also not sure what items I’ve found do, like a tennis ball. And there are different classes to choose from but I can’t find any description for them. I know one gave me a flying hamster pet, but I couldn’t tell if he was helping me at all. Most of my time with the game involved swiping wildly and hoping for the best. So maybe it’s just not for me. I did see a Beast Mode setting, though, that perhaps acts as a cheat code? I’ll have to check. But if you’re better at these games than I am, definitely give it a try.

INMOST

INMOST, from Chucklefish Studios and Hidden Layer Games, is one of the best surprises on Apple Arcade. I wasn’t expecting it and knew nothing about it, but it sucked me in pretty easily with its gloomy setting and cryptic story. I’m still not 100% sure what’s going on, but I’m not that far into it, either. You switch characters every once in a while, and I assume all their stories will come together somehow in the end. Each one has different abilities, but the controls are all some form of taps and swipes. I’m currently playing as a guy in these underground mines where I have to deal with black slimes that want to kill me. It combines puzzle aspects with action, and things can be confusing at times, but it’s compelling enough that I want to stick to it. The only reason I took a break was because I was being hunted by some monster and I before I could figure out how to get away from him, I got a nasty cold. So over the last few days I was trying to stick with more relaxed games. But I definitely plan to play more tomorrow or over the weekend. There’s certainly a lot to like about it. I just wish the save system was a bit more robust, as I usually have to look for hidden pain crystals that I already found before. I also don’t know how I feel about those crystals often being hidden in plain site. From what I can tell, there’s nothing to actually search — you just jump into the air and get lucky that you hit one. It makes them less enjoyable to search for and less satisfying to find. But they’re also not necessary for completing the game, so I guess you can just ignore them. In any case, I do recommend giving the game a try sooner then later. And I started a walkthrough guide here if you need help.

Stela

When five more games were added to Apple Arcade last week, I booted up Skybox Labs’ Stela first. The screenshots made it look promising and I was curious about it more than any of the other new games. Unfortunately, the twenty-five minutes I spent with it felt too much like deja vu. It’s wordless, but you play as a woman who I assume is named Stela. The controls are exactly the same as in Playdead’s INSIDE, but you need to mess around with them to realize that or look for the controls help in the menu. The page that explains the controls looks almost identical to that of INSIDE‘s. So does the level select screen. But those wouldn’t be too much of a problem if the game didn’t start in a corn field and take you to a ramshackle barn where you fall through the floor and push a cart to a wall so you can climb up. And then of course there’s the forest section where you need to sneak past creatures so they don’t see you, similar to the dogs and people in INSIDE. So what time I spent with Stela felt like an unwhelming clone of one of my favorite games ever. INSIDE is an utter masterpiece in every way, while Stela doesn’t do anything to make me want to stick with it and see where it goes. Why should I, if it starts off by copying another game almost exactly? On top of that, the game’s audio shuts off if I record with a mic, so I have to choose between hearing the music and sound effects or including commentary in my video. The atmosphere is pretty much nonexistent without sound, so it’s quite a conundrum. And last, Stela runs in such a funny way, like she’s never had to run before. It makes me laugh at her when the game wants me to be scared. Sorry, but that’s not happening. It’s possible the game does more interesting things later, but if that’s the case, it was a terrible idea to start off with the least original section. I highly recommend just playing INSIDE instead. It’s a far superior game and a must-have experience.

Stranded Sails

Shifty Eye Games’ Stranded Sails had been sitting on my iPad since Apple Arcade’s launch, and I loved the icon art. I never actually took a good look at what the game was supposed to be like, though, so I didn’t really have any expectations. And first impressions were bad. The art style is not quite like the icon. They’re not necessarily ugly, but I’m not in love with them either. I could live with them if I liked the rest of the game. But right off the bat i was frustrated due the the controls. I played on my iPad and the joystick for movement is static instead of floating. I can’t find any way to adjust it, so it’s stuck in a very awkward position for me that started to cause discomfort after a short while. On top of that, your character walks at a slow pace normally. There’s a button on the right side you can press while walking to speed her up, but it consumes more energy that way. It seems entirely necessary, and the game could have just had the left side of the screen for movement and the right side for interacting instead of a small button for that. But it only gets worse. Later, when your ship crash-lands on an island and you start to pick up items for your inventory, the controls become even more cumbersome. You have these action and item wheels to cycle through to find what you need. I’m not sure why I couldn’t just use them from a drop-down menu. And besides the controls, I found the gameplay utterly boring and tedious, made worse by non-player characters that talked way too much about nothing interesting. I got to the point where I just started skipping all the dialogue for my own sanity. It also doesn’t help that there’s no map and you can’t see very far around you. So I went exploring and got lost and had a hell of a time finding my way back without any way to zoom out or tell which direction I needed to go in. Since you use energy just by walking, I almost ran out before I made it back to my bed. I’m not the biggest fan of these types of games anyway, so all the little issues just made my experience a whole lot worse. I don’t know who I would recommend this game to, as I’ve already deleted it from my device.

Grindstone

I’m still grinding away at Capybara’s Grindstone (ha ha) and al now around level 109 of 150. I’m still enjoying it a lot, and appreciate how new mechanics are added every few levels. The latest one is very puzzly, as you have to push a statue onto a tile in order to unlock the door, It occasionally feels like you can’t win because of bad luck with the layout, but I I’ve persevered despite it. Some of the lava levels annoy me, though, since it’s too easy to accidentally draw your path over lava and not realize it until it’s too late. I also noticed a lot of lag with some enemies, especially the ones that drop lava. They take a long time to act and it really slows down the pace of the game. Hopefully that can be fixed, if it wasn’t already done in the latest update. I still love the game, even if it can feel unfair at times, and wish there was an endless mode to keep me playing even after I finish the campaign. But I guess I’ll worry about that whe I get there. Anyway, definitely play it if you haven’t yet. And you can see my entire playthrough here.

Jenny LeClue – Detectivu

Mografi’s gorgeous point-and-click adventure, Jenny LeClue, started off a bit slow, but it’s really picking up now a few hours into it. I especially liked the graveyard section and I’m eager to see how this mystery unfolds. The puzzles are still not the most challenging, but I still recommend sticking with it. The dialogue is entertaining and the artwork is just absolutely stunning. I also recorded my playthrough so far, which you can find here. And I’ll be sure to let you know my final verdict when I finally finish the game.

Neo Cab

I continued playing Neo Cab, as well, and it keeps getting better and better. My sessions have been getting longer because I want to meet more passengers and find out what’s going on with Savy. The pacing is spot-on and I’ve really gotten sucked into this world. This is another game that I would have easily played through in just a few days if not for all the other games fighting for my attention at the same time. If you like narrative-heavy experiences with branching storylines, definitely give this one a go.

Pilgrims

And last, but certainly not least, I mentioned Pilgrims last time and have since gotten all the achievements and even took the time to write a proper review. Amanita Design is just so good at making memorable games that stick with you. I loved Pilgrims so much and am keeping it on my devices just to play around with whenever the mood strikes. Don’t wait on this one! And if you need any help with the achievements, I have a complete guide here.

And that’s everything for this installment of Apple Arcade Unwrapped! I’m going to go get back to playing games, including some non-Arcade ones. In fact, I’m hoping to have a My Week Unwrapped post ready tomorrow. I wanted to publish one today, but I wasted a lot of time troubleshooting a GameCenter bug that prevented me from playing some Apple Arcade games. Anyway, let me know what you think of these games and I’ll see you back here next time with more Apple Arcade coverage.

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