In case you missed the memo, Apple Arcade is out. It's free for the first month, so it's well worth checking out for the great games it has on display. As far as the features of the service itself, it's sleek, shiny, and offers a lot for those curious about what's on display, but it is also lacking some features and functionality that could really make it stand out as a games platform.
The service - which I've said before could end up changing the face of mobile gaming as we know it - comes with the latest iOS13 update, though you'd be forgiven for not realizing that after updating. The information about the update didn't even mention it as a new feature. The iPhone's new Dark Mode and photo editing features were apparently more important to mention.
Clearly, Apple wouldn't want its non-gaming users to think that their phones have suddenly been relegated to the status of toys, but you'd hope there'd be a little more pomp and circumstance to such a major move in the mobile games industry. Apple Arcade's continued success relies on its ability to gain a loyal following of users, and while loyal followings are Apple's forte, the experience of using Apple Arcade is such a breath of fresh air that it deserves every chance it can get to become a breakout success.
After the update, Apple Arcade still doesn't get much fanfare. It's not a separate app, as might be expected, but is rather a small tab in the app store that's mentioned in a one-time notice the first time you open it up after the iOS 13 update. While that's certainly something, it's not exactly a flashy notification, and those who have grown numb to all the pop-ups, EULAs, and ads out there might not even give it a second glance as they click the "Continue" button at the bottom.
But Apple Arcade is there, and once you make your way to its tab will find that there was a lot of love put into the service, even if iOS as a whole seems to be treating it as an afterthought. You'll see showcased apps, hand-picked lists, showy auto-playing gameplay videos, and categories of games that just beg players to see everything it has on display. The full list of games is ordered by release month, which means right now it's not ordered in any way whatsoever.
Exploring everything can be a bit overwhelming - much like looking at your Steam library and realizing there's no way you can play it all. But at the same time, it impresses. This is all yours to try out, and none of it will ask you for more money as you progress. You can play games from beginning to end without worrying about energy, or locked content, or hitting a paywall partway through. It's freeing in a way that you can't even find on the console-based subscription services, which still have games with microtransactions to ruin your day.
When you select a game, you're treated with an auto-playing video that shows off what you can expect in the game. Just below that is a list of age rating, category, number of players, developer, language and game size. Some of these can be tapped for more information, while others can't, and there's no real way to find out other than tapping to see if anything happens.
While the discovery options are great, the experience doesn't do as much as it could to help players who have found games that they love. You can't mark games as favorites, and you can't view a list of all the games that you've played. The games you install will all be listed on your home screen, of course, but if you want to hunt down a game you liked but uninstalled, you'll have to search for it.
This is a strange omission, since Apple Arcade has plenty of features that seem like they're meant to keep players coming back to their favorite games. Cloud saving lets you easily pick back up where you dropped off after reinstalling, and the apps' integration with GameCenter and its ability to track and compare scores and achievements gives the opportunity to have plenty of reasons to come back to old games.
GameCenter integration also allows for some online multiplayer modes, which seem to work fine in games where you can find competing players. For some reason, however, not all the games with multiplayer modes are listed in the "Multiplayer" category. One notable omission from the Multiplayer category is ChuChu Rocket Universe, which has a multiplayer mode similar to the iconic online mode from the original Dreamcast game. Perhaps because of this, it's almost impossible to find online opponents in multiplayer matches, resulting in games full of nothing but bots.
You can, of course, always play against friends, and the ability to add "family members" to your Apple Arcade subscription will make it easier for you to find willing opponents. But much like Apple Arcade itself, that capability is not made explicitly clear within iOS, meaning that those who don't keep up-to-date with everything Apple announces may not realize the feature is there.
There's plenty that could be added or improved, especially if Apple Arcade wants to be taken seriously as a game platform as it releases to iPads and Apple TV. There seems to be a team dedicated to making the service worthwhile to its customers, and has put a lot of love into making it worth players' time. If that love continues, the platform could certainly move on to much future success.
4 Out Of 5 Stars
The one month free trial of Apple Arcade was used for this review. Apple Arcade is now available now for iOS, iPadOS, and tvOS.