Apple Arcade Unwrapped: November 21, 2019 – Cat Quest II, Explottens, Rosie’s Reality, Sonic Racing, Spelldrifter, Stellar Commanders, Takeshi and Hiroshi 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 100 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 seven new games that I tried and others 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.

Cat Quest II

As a cat lover, one would think I’d be a huge fan of a game series that features a world inhabited by cat warriors. But when The Gentlebros.’ original Cat Quest released, I gave it a try and bounced off it pretty fast. My main issue with it was the controls. It’s tap-to-move, which can be fine in many cases. But usually games that use tap instead of a joystick would also have some path-finding technology. That’s not the case with Cat Quest, so I would constantly get stuck on things, even if just a bend in a path. Together with awkward magic controls that have you tap and hold on your character, then swipe to the skill you want to perform, I found it to be an unpleasant experience. Sure, it has great hand-drawn art and the cat puns can be cute, if not also a bit annoying at times. But controls make or break a game, and for me they broke Cat Quest. That’s why it took me so long to try the sequel, even though it’s been on Apple Arcade since day one. I like that Cat Quest II adds a dog companion who fights alongside you. You can also switch between the two. But the controls have remained pretty much the same, so I’m still having a hard time enjoying it. The enemies also seem overly powerful early on, perhaps because it’s meant to be multiplayer co-op? Death also forces you back to the very start of a quest instead of the start of a battle, so it makes them extra tedious. Perhaps it’s a better experience with a physical controller, but if you’re playing with touch controls, I’m not sure I would recommend it. You can watch some of my gameplay video below if you want to see what it’s like in action.

Explottens

WRP’s Explottens is another cat-themed game that I was hoping I would enjoy. But right from the get-go, the controls are an issue. It’s a twin-stick shooter in which the left joystick controls you’re plane’s movement and the right joystick controls the gun. Unfortunately, it’s really hard to steer the plane. I got through the first few levels mostly through sheer luck, as I never felt like I was truly in control. But even on easy mode, I found the second boss unbeatable. He shoots both regular projectiles in an arc, as well as homing missiles that you have to constantly out-run or destroy. After several attempts, I finally gave up. The game also feels like another free-to-play game that had its IAPs removed so it could be part of Apple Arcade. You open treasure chests at the end of each level and everything you unlock costs coins in order to actually use them. It has an overall very cheap feel to it and I’ve already deleted the game. I wouldn’t really recommend this one.

Rosie’s Reality

Rosie’s Reality is the latest game added to Apple Arcade and, as a puzzle fan, I was excited to try it. The general idea is to play tiles down for the robot named Rosie to cross so she can make it to the exit. It starts off with a very slow tutorial and dialogue that seems aimed at little kids. It teaches you the mechanics as you play, but the way it’s done makes it feel like a long, drawn-out tutorial. It doesn’t help that you have to watch unskippable animations before and after every level. But the worst part is that each level has a timer. It scores you on how long it takes you to solve the level, and if you run out of time you have to start over. As a straight puzzle game, it’s completely ridiculous to have a timer at all. It’s the kind of game you want to sit and mess around with at your own leisure until you solve it. But instead, you have to work quickly so you don’t lose the work you’ve done so far. The timer doesn’t even make sense for scoring, as once you know the solution, it just becomes about laying the tiles as fast as possible. The timer also keeps going while Rosie very slowly moves across the tiles. The whole system just doesn’t make any sense. The game seems to be geared at kids, yet the timer is not kid-friendly at all. It’s also insulting to have to sit through painfully slow animations between levels and then have the game judge me on speed. There might be a good game under here somewhere, but it needs a huge overhaul before I would recommend it to anyone.

Sonic Racing

SEGA embraced Apple Arcade with several new games, and I finally gave Sonic Racing a try. I’m not a racing fan in general, which is why I waited so long to play it. But even if I was, there’s so much wrong with it that I couldn’t see recommending it. I only played a few minutes, but this was my experience. The tutorial told me I had to win the race, but didn’t explain the controls. I saw a steering wheel in the middle of the screen, so I tried to turn it left and right, like you would a steering wheel. It wasn’t until near the end of the race that the game finally told me to tap left the left and right sides of the screen to turn left and right. Once I got through the tutorial, there was no offline play option. And the privacy agreement made me wary of agreeing to it for online play. After a very long loading screen, it then pushed me back into the tutorial again, only this time it did explain the steering controls right away. After the second playthrough of the tutorial, I was told to choose my main car, but couldn’t find any explanation for thwart stats. At this point, I lost all interest and deleted the game. I’m not sure who would enjoy this mess, but if you really want to try it, be my guest.

Spelldrifter

Free Range Games’ Spelldrifter is a turn-based tactical RPG with some impressive graphics. There’s a lot to like about it, including its gameplay. But there’s also too much fluff bogging it down. There are unskippable animations at the start of each level. And since the levels themselves are not that long, it makes the waiting even worse. On top of that, there’s way too much dialogue. I don’t find the writing particularly gripping, so thankfully yon can tap to speed through it. But even when I do feel like reading it, it seems like it’s going to give me whiplash. Instead of having the dialogue in middle of the screen, either at the top or bottom, it goes back and forth between the characters on the left and right sides of the screen. So I’m constantly moving my head back and forth to read it. It’s not the most comfortable way to read. I do think there’s a lot to like here, and it’s a promising game if they could streamline some of the animations and work on the quality of life issues. I do think it’s worth checking out, but you may want to skip through all the tiresome dialogue.

Stellar Commanders

I didn’t have any expectations whatsoever of Stellar Commanders, so I’m not too disappointed that it turned out to be a bad experience. It starts off with a tutorial that tells you exactly what to do, but doesn’t really explain why. So by the end of it, I didn’t really feel like I had a handle on the mechanics. It’s a multiplayer game where you play against another player and try to take over a planet, including all its resources. The problem is, whatever I thought I understood from the tutorial turned out to be wrong, and I was useless when left to my own devices. The game looks nice and perhaps players who are more familiar with this type of game would have an easier time, but I just feel lost. So I personally wouldn’t recommend it.

Takeshi and Hiroshi

I started off absolutely loving everything about Oink Games’ Takeshi and Hiroshi. It’s about two brothers, one who’s sick and spending a lot of time in the hospital. The older brother, Takeshi, is a budding game designer and he distracts Hiroshi by letting him try his games. The only catch is that Takeshi isn’t very good at programming, so he has control the enemies in real times, without Hiroshi knowing. Even though the story is a little cutesy and aimed at younger players, I appreciated the sweet tale of brotherly love. I also liked the gameplay until about the halfway point. This is how it works. Each battle consists of five rounds. In each round, you need to choose which monsters Hiroshi battles, and in what order. They all appear on the screen at the same time, but the ones in front will attack first a and get attacked first. Hiroshi attacks automatically, but you do earn some skills to help with, like dodge and critical attacks. The idea is to have Hiroshi take enough damage that his stress level increases, and therefore also his joy level, but not enough damage that he dies. Each battle has a certain amount of joy you need to reach by the end of the five rounds in order to win. Early on, the game feels like a puzzler, as you can get pretty reliable results based on the monsters and order you choose. For instance, you know that slimes hit harder than shielded worms, but they also have less defense. There are also enemies that hit you for half your maximum health, but they take several turns to charge up. I really enjoyed the game when things were more predictable and I felt like I was really learning from my failures. But once speed became a factor, I started getting annoyed. There are some monsters that are so fast, you’ll almost always miss them. Once I realized that, I tried to avoid choosing them when possible. But the pool of monsters to choose from is randomized, so sometimes I was forced to use them. And even if I didn’t, there was still too much luck involved with my own hit chance. For the same battle, I could choose five specific enemies and never miss, therefore having too easy a battle and losing joy. But that same layout on another attempt could end up with me nearly dying just because I missed one or more of my attacks. The opposite is true, too. I could choose what I think would be a good layout of enemies, just to have them all miss or none of them miss. I’ve also gotten stuck many times in a stun lock, where an enemy confuses me because my attack missed him, and then continues to confuse me for the rest of the battle until I die. There’s just too much randomization to deal with, from the amount of damage your attacks deal, as well as the enemies’, to the hit rate. I had many battles go well until the last round, where I mess up and lost. Since you can’t restart a round, you’re always forced to start back at the beginning of the battle, no matter how well it was going. I still managed to make it to the final battle with some persistence, and was even 100 points over the goal. But then the game threw a boss battle at me. It was different than every other battle in the game and I didn’t really understand what was happening, so I died. Instead of giving me another try at the boss, the game wanted me to restart the entire battle leading up to the boss. At that point, I lost all patience. I would like to see the ending of the story, but I don’t have the time or patience to deal with that kind of user-hostile design. I see no reason why it couldn’t just let me have another go at the boss alone and figure out what I was doing wrong. It’s especially puzzling since the tone of the game and story seem geared at kids, but the unforgiving nature of the battles makes it less than kid-friendly. I how the developers consider balancing it a little better and adding more checkpoints, as I’d like to see it through. But as is, I’m too furious at the game to give it another try. I have not interest in replaying that final battle over and over just for another attempt at the boss. I still recommend giving it a try, as it’s got a lot going for it, but be prepared to get frustrated if luck isn’t going your way.

Guildlings

I already mentioned Guildlings before, but this past week I completed the current content. I really enjoyed my time with this group of misfits as they take on different quests while trying to get their friend Syb to her date in time. The game is a great fit for mobile, since all the dialogue takes place on smartphones. The controls also work well for the platform, as it’s all tap-based. You tap to move, tap to select dialogue choices, and tap and hold to activate magic on certain items. The characters are quirky and fun, the world is colorful and cheerful, despite the fact that chunks of it are splitting off and floating up into the sky without explanation. I also like how you level up your guildlings by picking dialogue choices that would make them happy. The battles are also very forgiving, allowing room for you mess up. But if you play more skillfully, you’ll earn bonus rewards. Only the first chapter is available right now, but it took me about four hours to play through, and left me eager to play more but also perfectly happy to wait for the developers to work on it. By the time more comes out, I’ll have had a break and it will feel fresh again, instead of playing ten or more hours at once and getting burnt out. I also appreciate that the developers have been squashing bugs in a timely manner. Guildlings is so obviously a work of love and I’m excited to see where the the story goes next. Don’t wait on this one, as it’s the cream of the Apple Arcade crop. And you can see my complete walkthrough here if you get stuck on any puzzles.

Over the Alps

I gave Stave Studios’ Over the Alps a try when it first released, but I got stuck because it wasn’t really clear how to progress. I decided to give it another try, and almost got stuck in the same place. I finally realized that I wasn’t supposed to tap on the name of a location on the map, but on one of the white dotted lines leading to it. There are multiple white lines, because each one is a choice. I think the game could have been a lot clearer about that, as it’s very subtle and easy to miss. I also didn’t realize until fairly late in the game that some of the locations have more than one interactive spot. So I’m not sure how much branching storylines I missed due to that. I think it could also be more obvious at times which character is speaking. I’m surprised that a narrative-heavy game is trying to be so minimalistic in its presentation to the point that it becomes confusing. But I do like the overall design of the game, where your dialogue choices are depicted as stamps. The different stamps also represent your mood and can change the story. Despite some confusing aspects, I am enjoying it now and look forward to playing more.

And that’s everything for this installment of Apple Arcade Unwrapped! Make sure to check my complete list of Apple Arcade coverage to see what I’ve said about the rest of the games I’ve played. I’ll see you next time, but until then, let me know in the comments section which games you’ve been enjoying.

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