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Issue #41: Is Apple Arcade worth it?

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Fancy playing a game? If you’re an Apple Arcade subscriber, you have over 180 titles to choose from now, a whopping amount of content for $5/month to be sure, but is it worth the money? After all, the App Store is jam-packed with games, some truly great titles, and then there’s always the chance you have a game-capable PC or games console that begs for your attention. Apple sure is pushing for it, it’s on the front page on as I’m writing this, and the landing page makes a compelling case.

Let’s examine Apple Arcade, and if it’s worth the monthly fiver, from a few different points of view.

What is Apple Arcade?

Apple Arcade launched back in 2019, and is a subscription service for games. The titles made available on Apple Arcade are playable on iPhone, iPads, Macs, and Apple TVs, at least overall, we’ll get to that in a bit. All games are free of ads, privacy-friendly, and there are no additional subscriptions or in-app purchases. You can install and play one game, or as many as you like. The games are, as of now, only available through the Arcade subscription if you want to play them on an Apple device, but you can get some them on other platforms (Yaga is available on Switch and PC too, for example).

Now, all of that used to be true, but then Apple started adding what they call App Store Greats and Timeless Classics, which are re-issues (if you like) of previous games. That means that the likes of Threes! and Really Bad Chess are now available in Arcade versions through the subscription, while still being offered in the regular App Store. It muddies the water a bit, but I think it’s a great idea, bringing the best from the App Store, to the Arcade offering. After all, Threes! might be an old game, but knowing it’ll be updated to work on modern devices, and getting sucked into it again, is great for me as an Arcade subscriber. These releases muddy the water even further though because they’re not necessarily playable on Apple TV or the Mac, which is true for the original Arcade releases, so there’s a slight divide in the offering there. I think it’s understandable though, the games were made years before Apple Arcade existed. The point will be moot in the future anyway, when all Macs have Apple Silicon and thus be able to run the games just like any other App Store app.

So, Apple Arcade consists of three types of releases: Arcade Originals, App Store Greats, and Timeless Classics. New games are coming on a weekly basis, sometimes in chunks like this last release, with the addition of the latter two categories, and they’re all included in the subscription. And yes, you can get Apple Arcade with the Apple One or Family offerings.

🎮 Which controllers work?
Controller support for iPadOS is pretty good. Xbox One (including Elite Series 2, but not the Series X version yet) and Dual Shock 4 controllers can be paired, as can a bunch of third-party compatibles. Future updates will add support for the Xbox Elite controller, as well as the Dual Sense controller that Sony introduced with PlayStation 5. There are also Made for iOS controllers that’ll work, but not necessarily all of them and unless you own one you like, I advise against them — they’re just not as good as Microsoft’s and Sony’s offerings.

Apple Arcade for the family

It’s no surprise that Apple Arcade is fairly family oriented, it’s Apple after all. You won’t find any Gears of War-likes here, even the zombie games are family-friendly. It’s a safe place for kids and adults alike, which makes Arcade a pretty solid addition to a Family subscription. While there’s nothing for the smallest family members, you can certainly find games suitable to either play with your kids, or for themselves to enjoy.

Three games to try:

  • Cut the Rope Remastered is a 3D version of the classic with the same name.
  • Spyder is a 3D adventure game featuring a robot spider, what could possibly go wrong?
  • LEGO Brawls is mini-figs duking it out in a typical online platform brawler, for the slightly older kids.

⁉️ Is Apple Arcade worth it for a family? That would depend on the family, I’m painting broad strokes here, but assuming there are some screen-loving kids in the lower ages, then yes, then it’s a safe space with tons of content. The fact that there’s no risk of kids being tricked into making in-app purchases for thousands of dollars in these games could be worth it alone.

Casual gamers

Apple Arcade was a pretty good choice for casual gamers to begin with, but with the addition of App Store Greats and Timeless Classics, it became something of a no-brainer. There are plenty of games for the casual gamer to while away the time while waiting for the bus, roast, or lunch break to be over. If you find yourself looking for something to kill the time, while not wanting to invest a lot of effort into, Arcade is a great option for you. Granted, the App Store is full of games targeting casual gamers, but most of them are free to play, meaning they’ll try to trick you into buying gems and whatnot through in-app purchases. It’s not a great feeling, knowing you’re paying to win or progress, and since there’s absolutely none of that on Apple Arcade, I’d say it’s a tantalizing option.

Three games to try:

  • Roundguard is a shoot the wizard ball through levels kind of game.
  • What the Golf? is a silly golf game where you (usually) shoot the players towards the pin, and not the other way around.
  • Threes!+ is the Arcade version of the classic puzzle game Threes!, and it’s utterly brilliant.

⁉️ Is Apple Arcade worth it for casual gamers? For sure, just getting rid of those pesky pay to win titles, and spending time with games with an honest attitude, makes it worthwhile. Getting App Store Greats and Timeless Classics is just gravy, as they say.

Hardcore gamers

Ah, we’re getting to the heart of it now. Look, if you care about the latest and greatest graphics, this isn’t for you. Even if you’ve got an iPad Pro, the games on Arcade or the App Store won’t measure up to a gaming PC, a somewhat modern PlayStation or Xbox. They’re more in line with the Switch, or an Xbox 360. On the other hand, Nintendo’s Switch is the best-selling gaming console, so maybe that doesn’t matter to you?

Apple Arcade is a touch sell to hardcore gamers. While a growing number of games have more than adequate controller support, and you can use great controllers such Xbox One and PlayStation ones, it’s still not universally great. What’s worse, the actual game offering is lacking because there are no Call of DutyCivilization, or Legend of Zelda. That’s not to say there aren’t games that hold up for the typical hardcore gamer, they’re just in a minority on the platform. A part of this is because Apple is keeping things PG13, but it’s just not the whole story.

Three games to try:

  • World of Demons from PlatinumGames features a beautiful graphics style, and a lot of slashing.
  • NBA 2K21 Arcade Edition lets you hit the courts on your own, or with a friend.
  • Fantasian is a JRPG from Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, and it’s absolutely beautiful. First part is out now, second to come later.

⁉️ Is Apple Arcade worth it for hardcore gamers? Well, no, I don’t think so, not if we’re using the same criteria as we do for the other types of gamers mentioned. But let’s put it this way: There are games on Arcade that could pique your interest, and $5/month is $60/year. Can you find 3-4 games you really want to dig into? Yeah, I bet you could, which makes those games pretty cheap on the whole. It’s not as clean-cut as for other types of gamers though, maybe that’s why Apple Arcade becomes a better bargain as part of the One and Family subscriptions.

I’ve been subscribing to Apple Arcade from the start, and while the initial offer was a bit thin, albeit growing, you can’t say the same today. There are so many games I haven’t had time to play yet, they’re just sitting there on a screen on my iPad waiting for attention. Over 180 titles for $5/month is a great deal objectively, but it has to add value as well. Apple has a long way to go with Arcade, and for many it just might not make sense on its own. That’s why they’re bundling it with its other services, and that’s why it’s an obvious add-on for most families.

I hope we’ll get more hardcore games though, and that Apple continues to woo the indies. Card of Darkness alone makes Apple Arcade a good deal for fans of Adventure Time and/or card battlers. Games like that can thrive on a platform like this.

Do you think Apple Arcade is worth it? Tell me, either by hitting reply if you’re reading this in your inbox, or by tweeting to @tdh.

Until next time, happy gaming!

— Thord D. Hedengren