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A deep dive into the Apple Arcade—Part Five

Today wraps up my deep dive into the Apple Arcade. As a refresher, here's what's in each part of the series:

  • Part One: This covers what I look for in games, some general observations on the games in the Arcade, and the lengthy list of games that didn't make my first cut.
  • Part Two: A slightly deeper look at the first half of the games I felt merited additional time for playing and testing.
  • Part Three: A slightly deeper look at the second half of the games I felt merited additional time for playing and testing.
  • Part Four: The first half of my set of definite keeper games.
  • Part Five: The part you're reading now; the second half of my set of definite keeper games, including my two favorites.
  • Part Six: Wrapping it all up.

And now, the rest of the keepers…

The Keepers - The Next Three

Mind Symphony

Like Ballistc Baseball, this is a game that I didn't think I'd like, but I do. It's a frenetic space-based arcade shooter set to a soundtrack of your choosing, and taking place in front of some wild backgrounds.

The game is really set up to work well with Apple Music—you can choose from a number of different music options. However, I don't have Apple Music, so I was limited to the built-in soundtrack, which isn't bad. There may be an overriding objective to the game, but really, it's just shoot, keep moving, and don't get shot. There's a ton of stuff happening onscreen, with bright colors and animations and explosions all over the place.

Skate City

This is a side-scrolling skateboard tricks game, which is a game category I don't think I've ever seen before. Tricks are performed with a combination of drags and sometimes taps on each half of the screen. As your skater glides along, there are obstacles to jump over, ledges to grind, and stairs to jump down.

Unlike Tony Hawk on Windows and consoles, there's no worries here about the complexity of controlling your skater in 3D space. Just nail the tricks and don't fall. It's very simple to pick up, but (for me, at least) tough enough to master without being impossible. The environments are well done, and there are many of them—each with a full set of challenges to get through.

Spyder

In this 3D puzzler, your character is Agent 8, a small robotic spider who's on a mission to save the world. The environments are huge—at least based on your character's scale—and the sound effects are nicely done.

I haven't progressed very far in this one yet, but I love the artwork and gameplay, and having a character that can navigate vertical as well as horizontal surfaces opens up all sorts of new gameplay scenarios.

The Keepers - The Top Two

After installing and testing 141 games, these are the two I keep coming back to. Both meet my requirements for a good iOS game: They're quick to get into, easy to learn, yet there's something about them that grabs me and keeps me coming back. Here then, in no particular order, are my two favorite Apple Arcade games.

tint.

This game is flat-out brilliant. It's conceptually simple: Drag a watercolored line from its origin to a matching color spot on the other side of the game board. And when you first start, you'll think that it's as easy as that. Then things begin to change, as you learn that, like true watercolors, you can make purple by dragging a red line across a blue line. And that you can use an onscreen item to temporarily create an eraser, which lets you make a path through paint. And that other onscreen objects will isntantly change the color of your watercolor.

But it's not just the gameplay that makes it brilliant, it's the total environment. The levels live within large painting sketchbooks, lying on a wooden table. The watercolours animate until they dry. The sounds are subtle but perfectly designed—the page turning sound is especially enjoyable, and the background music is pleasant and not annoying at all (but it's also easily switched off if you prefer).

Here's one of the puzzles from fifty-ish or so levels into the game…

There are (at least) 50 more levels beyond this, so I've got lots left to do. The game also offers a built-in hint system that's well thought out: Tap the hint button once, and you'll see part of the path you need to trace. Tap it again to see more, etc. This way, you can get just as much help as you want.

If that wasn't enough, there's an additional game mode—zen—available from the first screen. The background and music change, the shape of your target objects change, and there are no hints. Instead, if you get stuck, you can tap a single button to progress to the next puzzle. And the puzzles, when complete, each make an identifiable shape.

The entire experience just feels harmonius, and even though I'm working to solve puzzles, it's a very relaxing game.

Mini Motorways

Mini Motorways is kind of like if the city building aspects of SimCity were merged with the "draw a path" type of game (Flight Control, from the early days of the iOS App Store), but the city building part of it wasn't under your control.

The concept is simple: When you start the game, it will plop down a factory of a certain color, along with houses of that same color. Your job is to build the roads that connect homes to their color-matched factory. And in the beginning, it's simple. But then the game adds a different colored factory and homes, and things get trickier. Then some homes spring up across a river, so you need bridges. Or on the other side of a mountain, so you need a tunnel. Did I mention you're resource constrained? You only have so many road building tiles each week.

At the end of each simulated week in the game, you're given more road building tiles, and (usually) and option of either even more tiles or a bridge, tunnel, or traffic control signal. You then need to get through the week, building roads and bridges as needed, and re-routing existing roads to meet the ever-changing layout of the city. The game ends when your roads are no longer efficient enough to get cars to factories in a timely manner—and the game will end, so the objective is to maximize your points before that happens.

Here's how a complete game looks, though I've sped up some bits, and left out chunks of time, to get this down to about 30 seconds.

The video doesn't really do the game justice. It's one of those games that really sucks me in because it seems so simple, but there are so many possible strategies that the game has great replay value. Ideally, you'd never have your roads cross, but as you can see, that's essentially impossible. One thing I like is that there's no "cost" for removing a road or bridge, so it's easy to rework your layout as time goes and the city grows—well, except for the continual resource constraints.

This game has probably gotten most of my time since I started the trial—I keep playing it, thinking "I know I can route these roads better!" I find it addictively fun entertainment.

So is it—alone or with the other keepers—good enough to justify Apple Arcade's $5 per month cost? Read the wrap up to find out…

Note: All logos and game images used here are copyright by the original copyright holders; they are used here solely for the purpose of review and commentary.

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