As mobiles have evolved from indestructible, Nokia-shaped bricks and into powerful pocket-sized pieces of magic, mobile games have matured with them. Back in the day, playing the likes of Temple Run or Fruit Ninja was a neat way to pass time during the commute to school or work, before then sneaking off to play Bloons Tower Defense on your lunch break. Now, navigating the App Store is a chore of wading your way through a myriad of mid-games, most of which employ annoying pop-up advertisements or invasive monetisation tactics. It is what it is.
All that in mind, there are still a good few games across the App Store that are well worth your time, and the launch of Apple Arcade back in 2019 took a big step in curating the best of the best. For a small subscription fee (£4.99 per month), Apple Arcade gives me access to a separate section of the App Store, one that’s home to advertisement-free games – many of impeccable quality – and some titles I was pleasantly surprised to see.
You can also play these games on your Apple TV, or using a real controller that you have lying around. Mobile gaming is no longer limited to these devices, but simply acts as a tool to help people craft their own gaming experiences; ignoring the gacha clones galore, mobile gaming is something that more of us should be enthusiastic about. Apple Arcade is an important step in reforming the image that mobile games have adopted.
It’s a shame that good games are once again locked behind a subscription service, but – as a side note – don’t feel like you need to commit. There’s a month-long free trial to check out which games scratch that itch for you, and many of them can then be purchased separately on the App Store afterwards. This means that if you find that you can’t put the likes of Survival Z or Sayonara Wild Hearts down, but don’t fancy paying a monthly subscription fee for them, you can go ahead and buy them outright on the App Store and have access to them forever.
Rather than seeing Apple Arcade as yet another subscription to add to a long list of services alongside Netflix, Amazon Prime, PS+, Game Pass, HBO Max, and more, I’ve been viewing it as a temporary means of discovering new games. And oh boy, I’ve discovered (and rediscovered!) so many great mobile games.
Of the ever-increasing library of Apple Arcade games, quality is very rarely compromised in favour of monetisation strategy, and these games are truly a joy to experience. Across the catalogue, you’ll find rejuvenated versions of timeless classics (there's a reason I mentioned Temple Run: Puzzle Adventure and Fruit Ninja Classic+ earlier). Yet you’ll also find games from other platforms easily accessible from your phone or iPad, such as Goat Simulator+, Dead Cells+, and even Football Manager 2023 Touch. Some of these are obviously adjusted to support the mobile platform better, as you’d expect, but they’re still full-fat experiences!
In addition to familiar names, there’s a dozen Apple Arcade originals that are simply a delight to dive into. Having been burnt out from big games, I spent the Christmas period nestled up with Apple Arcade (or Civilisation 6) as I tried to find the next niche title to revive me from my sofa and coax me back onto my PC. With Apple Arcade host to so many distinct indie titles, it was exciting to move from one game to the next, almost not knowing what mobile-sized adventure I’d land myself in. Mutazione had me gardening while unravelling the stories of local townsfolk, Sayonara Wild Hearts had me rhythmically riding and dancing, NUTS had me engaging in squirrel surveillance amidst a mysterious plot.
I spent time with games that I’d probably brush past on Steam or the Nintendo Switch Store, solely because I had access to them at no cost (or at least, what felt like a minimal cost given how much I was playing). Not only is Apple Arcade making big names accessible to those who can’t necessarily access consoles or a PC just yet, but it’s shining a light on smaller, more whimsical titles, too. I’d of never got around to actually playing wildlife puzzle-sim, NUTS, or engaged with the chaos of What the Golf? without having signed up to Apple Arcade. Ok, maybe I would’ve played What the Golf? At some point, but still.
After my brief period of burnout, Apple Arcade certainly helped me find a love for games again, without often feeling like I was playing a game. That’s the beauty, and the curse, of mobile gaming; it feels effortless, meaning you can also easily sink hours upon hours into feeding the Apple Arcade vampire. In a period of time when scouring the App Store for a decent mobile game feels never-ending and fruitless, Apple Arcade curates some of the most interesting titles available. Sure, it's all to Apple’s benefit, but I can’t deny that I feel I’ve benefitted from the service, too. Right? Right!?
If you’re still lost on which games to try first, I also compiled a list of the best Apple Arcade games to try!