Apple Arcade is a subscription service that lets users play 128 premium iPad, iPhone, Mac and Apple TV games as often as they like for a set monthly fee. But which ones are worth your time?
That's where we come in. We've played, reviewed and ranked every game on the service, and will add new ones to our rankings as they're released. This week's new game is The Lullaby of Life (86).
We test primarily on iPhone. We also strongly recommend that you get a hardware controller, given how many of the games benefit from one: we test with an Xbox controller and a Rotor Riot wired controller to see if this works and how well it suits the gameplay. Many games support Bluetooth controllers despite not mentioning this fact in their App Store description.
Before we jump into the rankings, note that we've written separate advice for fans of particular genres and styles of game. Which Apple Arcade game should I play? guides you through the best RPGs, puzzlers, platformers, strategy games and more.
1. What The Golf?
This bizarre and genuinely funny sports sim - "Golf for people who hate golf" - hits a hole in one for relentless ingenuity. The courses feature exploding barrels, cats and runaway cars, and half the time you find yourself playing with a cow or a carpet instead of a ball.
There are levels in both portrait and landscape orientation; there are huge variations in difficulty and graphical style and gameplay mechanics; there are even witty parodies of other games. As soon as you feel like the makers must have exhausted the possibilities of the format they surprise you yet again.
There's masses of golf to be played here, and all of it feels fresh.
SPORT • Age 9+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers (but this isn't recommended) • What The Golf? on the App Store
Here's Arcade's take on the Bejeweled/Candy Crush template, and as you'd expect it's both gorgeous and far more interesting than most of the clones in that space.
Trace a path across matching creatures - accounting for certain complications, such as treasure chests, boss monsters and magic stones that let you transition to a different colour - and then hit Go. Instead of a gentle tinkling of jewels, you'll be rewarded with a ridiculously gory (albeit cartoonish) animation.
Far easier to pick up than it is to put down, Grindstone also wins the prize for the most addictive Arcade game I've yet tried.
PUZZLE • Age 12+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers (awkwardly) • Grindstone on the App Store
3. Bleak Sword
Devolver's low-fi action RPG takes the style and atmosphere of Dark Souls and puts it through a super-cool 8bit filter. It looks like nothing else.
The difficulty ramps up crazily as you dodge, parry and slice your way through increasingly dangerous mobs of monsters and bad hombres: some levels are so demanding that you virtually have to plan them out, Hotline Miami style. You get as many continues as you like - the game's quite forgiving like that - but a single death results in the loss of all your equipment... unless you can beat the level that killed you on your very next try, which makes for some high-stakes tension.
Bleak Sword is fast, exciting and masses of fun. It's also occasionally infuriating, in a way you only get with very good games: something about the way it manages to make you care so intensely about your little stick man, and take it personally when he suffers. This is a roundabout way of admitting that this game made me swear.
RPG / FIGHTING • Age 12+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Bleak Sword on the App Store
Turn-based squad strategy game that strongly recalls the classic board game Space Hulk, only simpler and graphically cuter.
Controlling a handful of heroic space rangers, you're investigating an alien-riddled abandoned colony, shooting, kicking and grenading your way to various mission goals. Great fun.
STRATEGY • Age 12+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers (but touchscreen is easier) • Spaceland on the App Store
5. Shinsekai Into the Depths
Cast into a stunningly detailed, treacherous underwater world, you will be pursued not only by ice slowly setting in but a swathe of sea creatures ranging from cute to downright terrifying. Blast around with jet packs, mine minerals to convert into oxygen and uncover the secrets of the depths in this gorgeous, vibrant and unique underwater exploration game. Lewis Painter
ADVENTURE / EXPLORATION • Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Shinsekai Into the Depths on the App Store
Singularly lovely gardening-themed adventure game, in which the mutants and monsters you encounter play (mostly) second fiddle to a compassionate story about loss and the healing powers of community. Strongly recommended, but give it a chance: it takes a while to get going.
ADVENTURE • Age 12+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Mutazione on the App Store
7. Card of Darkness
Wonderful to look at (unsurprisingly, since the animator Pendleton Ward of Adventure Time fame was involved), Card of Darkness proves it's more than a pretty face with an elegant and compelling design with masses of depth.
PUZZLE • Age 9+ • Single player only • No controller support • Card of Darkness on the App Store
Look up the word charming in the dictionary and you ought to see a screenshot of this nostalgically animated adventure game, in which you solve a variety of problems such as slaying a dragon and capturing a priest's soul.
Unusually, it takes the form of a card game - each time you collect an item, or acquire a new character, this is added to your deck and played at opportune moments. But this is more an aesthetic than a gameplay decision: in practical terms playing a card works out largely the same as pressing a 'use X with Y' button.
No, this game is all about the character, which is simultaneously dark and adorable, the weird leaps of logic and the gorgeous look. It also has respectable replayability, since there are multiple solutions and multiple endings, and 45 achievement cards to collect.
ADVENTURE • Age 12+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers (sort of, and it's better on touchscreen anyway) • Pilgrims on the App Store
9. Tangle Tower
Detective adventure game based around a locked-room murder. So engrossing that I stayed up half the night trying to solve it.
I haven't played either of the previous Detective Grimoire titles, and perhaps this is why I felt a little overwhelmed at first: the game never really explains how to go about interrogations, for example. And the case is wilfully complicated, packed with twists, turns, red herrings and background flavour text.
But that sensation of just barely understanding what's going on is textbook golden-age murder mystery, and quite pleasurable if you go along with it. And the story, graphics, voice acting and humour are all of such exceptional quality that even crime-solving newbies will have a blast.
DETECTIVE / ADVENTURE • Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers (but touchscreen is easier) • Tangle Tower on the App Store
FTL reimagined as a road trip; the Walking Dead scripted by Cormac McCarthy; a turn-based version of Resident Evil. This survival game takes its inspiration from the best, and the result is melancholy and fiercely difficult.
Each level is both a puzzle and a fragment of isometric Americana: a few squares of tarmac, grass, picnic tables, abandoned cars and danger. As the monsters close in, you have to make decisions about what resources you need, and what (and who) you'll have to leave behind. It's a fascinating and thrilling game.
STRATEGY • Age 9+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Overland on the App Store
Blissful, combat-free town builder that I would love to play all the time.
The sense of atmosphere is wonderful, from the Untitled Goose Game sprites and changing light to the calming taps and clinks as your houses are built and your trees felled. And I applaud the way each level really feels like a level in its own right, with specific goals and (genuinely difficult) challenges - something that isn't always achieved by strategy games of this type.
I have very few complaints but must add that the swipe detection is sometimes a little overkeen, causing frequent overshooting when moving around the map. And the nighttime sections are rather dull, since your people all go to sleep - but luckily you can speed these up to 20x.
STRATEGY • Age 12+ • Single player only • No controller support • Outlanders on the App Store
12. PAC-MAN Party Royale
This stone-cold multiplayer classic pits four Pac-Men against one another in a fight to the death. If one of you is caught by the non-player ghost, or by a fellow Pac-Man goofing on a power pill, you turn ghostly yourself; when only one Pac-Man is left, that player wins.
A simple setup, then, but it's got more nice touches than a Swedish masseur. For a start, you retain control after being ghostified; if you then manage to catch one of the remaining Pac-Men you switch roles and you're back in the game. And the more dots you eat, the faster you move, which gives the game a thrilling natural acceleration.
The Quick Start option is a brilliantly easy way of starting a game with three AI opponents, but my only quibble is that it's a lot harder to set up a game with other humans: there's no online matchmaking function, with the onus on you to find fellow players on Twitter, in real life etc and swap party codes. Apple TV owners have complained, too, that there's no support for local 'couch' multiplayer on a single device.
ARCADE • Age 4+ • 1-4 players • Supports hardware controllers • PAC-MAN Party Royale on the App Store
Unsettling horror puzzle platformer with superb sound design and an evocative low-fi look.
Exploring a mysterious and danger-filled world you alternate, Lost Vikings-style, between three totally different characters: a defenceless child, a mostly defenceless man (who can at least run and jump) and a nigh-on indestructible knight. And these characters lend their respective sections a pleasing variety without spoiling the coherence of the whole, which is tied together by the spellbinding aesthetic.
PUZZLE / PLATFORMER • Age 12+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Inmost on the App Store
14. Cricket Through the Ages
This utterly ridiculous ragdoll cricket sim made me laugh constantly. Very silly, and very fun.
SPORT • Age 4+ • 1-2 players • Supports hardware controllers • Cricket Through the Ages on the App Store
15. Oceanhorn 2
Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm is hands-down one of the most beautifully crafted, console-like games available as part of Apple Arcade. Though the original wasn't to be sniffed at, Oceanhorn 2 takes the RPG experience to the next level with high-end 3D graphics, tactical combat and an engaging story that'll keep you hooked as you hack-and-slash your way across the huge open-world map.
There are meaningful gameplay improvements too, including a new caster weapon that can wipe out gangs of enemies with an explosive fireball or a blast of ice, and the ability to heal yourself mid-battle with a spell.
The touchscreen controls are good, incidentally, but for the full experience we'd recommend a hardware controller. Lewis Painter
RPG • Age 9+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Oceanhorn 2 on the App Store
16. No Way Home
Simple and exhilarating twin-stick shooter with excellent cartoon graphics and a characterful story. You're piloting and gradually upgrading a petite spaceship on a mission to find its way back to Earth, and blasting your way through the space pirates and other ne'er-do-wells that stand in your way.
That's your overarching mission, at any rate, but you'll be hired or persuaded to do lots of smaller jobs along the way. Most of these boil down to "go to a place, shoot some people, and come back", admittedly, but I never tired of the formula, and the makers added more missions - and a new 'defend' mission type - in the version 1.1 update.
The shoot-'em-up action works decently with the onscreen controls, although switching between your gun and grappling hook is a challenge, and your thumbs occasionally obscure the action; it works superbly with a controller.
SHOOTER • Age 9+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • No Way Home on the App Store
17. Takeshi and Hiroshi
Takeshi is a game designer; Hiroshi is his poorly younger brother and biggest fan. Your job is to cheer Hiroshi up with a game he can play in hospital... but it's not finished yet.
As Hiroshi progresses, you have to design the game on the fly, deciding which monsters will attack in which order and, later on, when a friendly wizard will decide to apply heal or buff spells. The idea - which presumably mirrors real game design - is to push the youngster as hard as you can without actually killing his character. It's a sort of maths puzzle, basically.
But that's to undersell the excitement of the concept, which rewards brinksmanship and punishes you for playing it safe. And there's a truly beautiful graphical sensibility, split between the slick 2D game screens and the cute Fireman Sam animation of the cut scenes.
RPG / STRATEGY • Age 12+ • Single player only • No controller support • Takeshi and Hiroshi on the App Store
Cute puzzler in which a robot spider (with only six legs, oddly) gets sent on espionage missions. You scuttle all over each level, pick things up, manipulate knobs and dials and generally get up to mischief.
Now, we need to talk about the camera before we go any further. When using onscreen controls the camera is almost game-breakingly unhelpful, wandering off at funny angles at the worst possible moments and preventing you from spotting the next objective. But using a hardware controller largely solves this issue, and in other respects this is a fabulous game.
The music is brilliantly atmospheric (the Donna Summer pastiche in the space mission is a particular highlight), your interactions with the physical environment are pleasingly tactile and I loved the overall feel of being a tiny unobserved creature with freedom to explore and tinker.
PUZZLE / ADVENTURE • Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Spyder on the App Store
19. Legend of the Skyfish 2
Vivid, charming action RPG evidently made by someone who loved Zelda but wished there was more hookshot.
Your weapon is a fishing rod, and you can use this surprisingly versatile instrument to grapple yourself across gaps, activate distant switches, yank enemies towards you (a process which briefly stuns them) or simply whack them. These powers, combined with a dodge/roll button, make combat hectic and fun, although it can occasionally be frustrating when a monster camps next to a grapple target and thwarts your strategy.
RPG fans really are spoiled for choice on Apple Arcade. If you want to relive the glory days of Zelda in 2D, however, this is the place to start.
RPG • Age 9+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers (recommended) • Legend of the Skyfish 2 on the App Store
Based on the look and the maker's reputation I expected this to be a point-and-click adventure, but it's pure puzzle action. On each level/scene, you have to clamber up and down ladders, manipulate lights and bully the various monsters into positions that allow you to continue onwards.
That's a simple premise, and there's a pleasing purity to the gameplay. But don't underestimate the thought and developmental pedigree that's gone into this. There are some real head-scratchers, and a terrific sense of satisfaction each time you work something out.
As puzzlers go Creaks has an unusually well-defined sense of narrative flavour, which forms an integral part of the experience rather than background fluff. The eccentric visuals and phenomenal music, the Limbo-style silhouette deaths and sinister collectibles: it all adds up to a game that draws you into its world and gives additional motivation to progress.
PUZZLE • Age 9+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Creaks on the App Store
This lovingly crafted mystery reminded me of early Resident Evil, and it's not just the colour-based puzzles; it's the whole atmosphere. There are no zombies but the dark windows and flickering TVs are somehow scarier.
The setting - an eerily empty 50s diner, like one of those "social distancing" parodies of Edward Hopper's Nighthawks - has been drained of colour, and solving the puzzles gradually restores them. This in turn makes certain objects appear, which may enable or impede further progress. There are some nice head-scratchers.
As with all first-person games, a joypad is recommended. The only downside is that turning is weirdly slow - something I assumed must be a deliberate choice to increase the paranoia factor ("Is there someone behind me?") until I found there was no such issue in touchscreen.
PUZZLE / ADVENTURE • Age 9+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Discolored on the App Store
22. Dread Nautical
Turn-based squad survival game with a pleasingly unusual look and atmosphere that reminded me of the mighty Grim Fandango.
Your job is to recruit a team of fellow survivors - who manage to present distinct and sympathetic characters despite their fingerless, almost lumpen appearance - and direct them around a cruise liner that's stuck in some kind of zombie-themed Bermuda Triangle. You'll need to kill baddies, collect food and healing items, and craft new equipment in your base between missions.
The loading screen delays are a mild irritation, but the mystery is intriguing and I enjoyed the combat and resource management elements.
STRATEGY • Age 12+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers (but is a little awkward - touchscreen is easier) • Dread Nautical on the App Store
23. Neo Cab
"Making small talk in a taxi" isn't perhaps the most appealing description a game could have, but Neo Cab is better than it sounds.
So yes, it's a taxi sim, but you don't need to worry about the actual driving. This is about deciding which fares to accept, and how to deal with them once they're in the back of your car: which line of conversation will uncover useful information, and which will annoy them so much that they tank your rating?
The world-building is terrific, with an uncomfortably plausible gig-economy dystopia fleshed out without resorting to exposition dumping. And the graphics are wonderfully precise - which is important, as the emotional cues you get from the sprites' faces give you hints about when to back off from a dodgy topic.
ADVENTURE • Age 12+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Neo Cab on the App Store
24. ATONE: Heart of the Elder Tree
Moody RPG with a beguiling look: cartoon scandi saga with a dash of neon. The story is great, the visuals and music fantastic, and the overall experience a lot of fun.
There's less combat than you might expect from a game with such a lot of death in it: exploration, dialogue and puzzles take up more of your time. But when it does happen, combat takes the form of a rhythm mini game in which shapes cascade down the screen, Guitar Hero-style, and you try to tap in time to the music.
RPG / ADVENTURE • Age 12+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • ATONE: Heart of the Elder Tree on the App Store
25. The Get Out Kids
A lovely and nostalgic "interactive adventure novel" that's affectionately written and packed with puzzles, jokes, vampires and 1980s pop culture references.
This is a classic tale of underdog kids investigating no-good grownups. It alternates between floating-head cartoon dialogue sequences, puzzles (which vary wildly in difficulty, from basic subtraction to Skyrim-style lock-picking) and intertitles alluding to a larger and darker back story.
All of this (along with the evocative audio and Frosty Pop's jauntily characterful house art style) creates an atmosphere that is both weird and wonderful: a blend of humour, whimsy, mild spookiness and gentle sadness. And while it's short, and goes a bit haywire at the end, this gets a strong recommendation.
ADVENTURE • Age 9+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • The Get Out Kids on the App Store
26. Little Orpheus
We waited on this one for a while: Little Orpheus's main character was the first thing we saw in the official Arcade preview video back in September, but it didn't launch until June 2020. Well, it was worth the wait.
It's a side-scrolling puzzle platformer, in the vein of Inside and, on Arcade, Stela. In fact it's something of a mirror image of the latter game; whereas Stela is dark and mystical, Orpheus is wonderfully silly. You're a Russian cosmonaut (with a distinctly dubious accent) who was sent on a mission to the centre of the earth and is currently trying to explain what went wrong.
The game looks superb, full of oversaturated colours, wild landscapes and crazy monsters, and the music and voice acting (accents aside) contribute hugely to the atmosphere. It's not the hardest of games, but you'll enjoy every moment you spend with it.
PUZZLE / PLATFORMER • Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Little Orpheus on the App Store
27. Sneaky Sasquatch
A cheeky stealth game with the merest hint of Surgeon Simulator, Sneaky Sasquatch is charming and masses of fun. You play as the titular hirsute cryptid and have to tiptoe (and occasionally sprint) around the bins, barbecues and caravans of an unnamed US national park, trying to avoid the prying eyes and ears of the tourists and park rangers who want to stop you getting your hands on their tasty pickernick baskets.
ADVENTURE • Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Sneaky Sasquatch on the App Store
Stranger Things-inflected survival horror board game that isn't great at explaining its rules and mechanisms - you could really do with a nerdy friend to talk you through it all - but is a lot of fun once you catch the drift.
You control two or more characters, each of which has three action points per turn that can be spent on moving, shooting and searching for items. The idea is to find and destroy a requisite number of 'spirit anchors' and then escape the level; a continuously spawning collection of Lovecraftian monsters (the equivalent of Genestealers in Space Hulk) do their best to prevent this.
First impressions were a little baffling: the stats and dice rolls and even view controls (it's a two-finger horizontal swipe to rotate, not the traditional twist gesture) were probably explained in the tutorial but there's too much to take in all at once. You'll need to learn by doing, but it's worth the effort: the action is tense and the atmosphere well realised through sound and visuals.
STRATEGY • Age 12+ • Single player only • No controller support • The_Otherside on the App Store
29. Towers of Everland
First-person, grid-based dungeon crawler in the style of Legend of Grimrock or Eye of the Beholder, but with a single character rather than a party. Highly enjoyable and compelling, despite a litany of small complaints.
The control system falls between two stools (joypad is better for manoeuvring, touchscreen for navigating menus); the Normal and Hard towers are fairly easy, but I reached level 40 without once seeing the item needed to unlock the next category; I don't entirely trust the autosave, which once lost a cool axe I'd recently picked up, yet you can't manually save; and it appears to be super-demanding on the processor, murdering my iPhone 11 Pro's battery and making it quite warm.
But there's so much to enjoy. The parry/block system is as solid as I've ever seen in a first-person RPG, there are masses of weapons and armour to buy, craft and upgrade, and I love the way it works in both landscape and portrait, in different but equally viable ways. I hope they massage some of the issues, but this is still a great iPhone RPG.
RPG • Age 9+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers (recommended, on balance) • Towers of Everland on the App Store
30. The Mosaic
Surreal narrative/adventure game about the loneliness of city life.
Playing as a downtrodden office drone, you have to get up each morning, read your texts, brush your teeth and go to work, where your job takes the form of a mini game faintly reminiscent of World of Goo. As you go through these repetitive motions, odd things start to happen...
The controls are a little sluggish and awkward (your character walks at a glacial pace, which may be a conscious decision but is still frustrating) and the starting concept of a commuter looking for meaning in life feels a little trite. But the Mosaic's visual imagination is so rich and unexpected, and its humour so acute, that it gets away with it.
ADVENTURE • Age 9+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • The Mosaic on the App Store
Cheerful, simplified take on the Magic: The Gathering concept, in which you construct a deck of 'Power Pets' cards and do battle with your rivals.
The card battles are brilliant, with surprising depth - you can even customise your cards with stat-boosting stickers and rename them in honour of your favourite cricketers etc - and joyously cartoonish artwork. What's especially nice, however, is that the framing RPG narrative that takes you from fight to fight (and allows you to earn and swap rare cards) manages to be so much more: it's a funny and intriguing story about trying to fit in at a new school where something weird is going on, and is crammed with missions and side missions.
Our only complaint would be that tapping cards to examine them more closely often adds them to a deck instead, and vice versa. The controls are occasionally a tiny bit clumsy, and feel like they might have been designed with bigger screens in mind than an iPhone.
CARD • Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Cardpocalypse on the App Store
32. Assemble with Care
This gentle puzzler from Ustwo Games, on a hot streak after producing the two Monument Valley games, is a delight. You play as Maria, an antiques restorer on a working holiday, and get to know the inhabitants of the town of Bellariva as you mend their most treasured objects. The story is occasionally a tiny bit heavy-handed, but it's also sweet and very beautiful.
Read more in our full Assemble with Care review.
PUZZLE • Age 4+ • Single player only • No controller support • Assemble with Care on the App Store
33. Butter Royale
The butter/battle pun doesn't quite work (has anyone done 'Cattle Royale' yet? All the combatants could be cows) but other than that Arcade's take on the Fortnite format has a lot to recommend it.
It's all perfectly family-friendly, with food taking the place of sniper rifles and shotguns: your default melee weapon is a baguette and you get 'creamed' rather than literally killed. But the structure remains the same, with 32 players gradually whittled down to a single winner while the map closes in.
The music is exciting, in a potentially annoying sort of way, and it's all very polished. With one exception: at one point, frustratingly, I made it down to the last two then both died simultaneously, causing the game to crash and costing me valuable XP. But it's been otherwise glitch-free and thoroughly enjoyable.
SHOOTER • Age 9+ • 1-32 players • Supports hardware controllers (and pretty much requires one) • Butter Royale on the App Store
34. The Enchanted World
All sweetness and light (and pleasantly atmospheric music) on the surface, this language-free puzzler conceals a murderously difficult mechanic, and I'm very much here for it.
It's a little like those old tile-moving games you used to get as a child, where you push squares around the board until they make a picture of a cat or you go mad. In this case you're trying to rearrange tiles until you can form a path for your little fairy character to get through, but nearly every level adds something new: gates that only open when you connect up machinery, time-limited spiderwebs, open/close lily pads and Venus flytraps that swallow you.
Thanks to this ever-deepening complexity and a sadistic approach to level design, it gets seriously, brain-taxingly difficult almost straight out of the tutorial level. In a world of hand-holding user-friendliness, that's a refreshing thing to be able to say.
PUZZLE • Age 4+ • Single player only • No controller support • The Enchanted World on the App Store
Quirky RPG set in a fantasy world with technology roughly equivalent to our own, and consequently riddled with text speak and selfies and 'battery power' instead of hit points. And despite all that it's not awful. Not even slightly.
Admittedly I found the setting and combat system (in which you simply have to survive, using various defensive strategies, until the monster gets tired and leaves) so weird at first that I struggled to engage, but it clicks around the time your second party member joins. And then you start to appreciate the oddness, the total absence of RPG cliche, as well as the intriguing story and funny dialogue.
Be warned that the save system, at least when I tested, was worryingly prone to create duplicates, and often needed advice on which to keep. (The developers are aware of this so it's likely to be dealt with in an update.) More significantly, it's frustrating how arbitrarily the game changes your characters' mood status, given how critical this is to the special abilities they are allowed to use. It might be more fun to roleplay in a free and easy way without having to worry about the gameplay consequences of one misjudged joke.
RPG • Age 12+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Guildlings on the App Store
36. Sayonara Wild Hearts
Static screenshots don't do justice to Sayonara's joyous combo of speed and music. This is all about overwhelming the senses - as well as a soundtrack so great that I've been listening to little else on Apple Music, it has a neon fantasy look all its own - and pushing your fast-twitch responses to the limit.
Why isn't it higher, then? The touchscreen controls aren't great. You can direct your motorbike/car/ghostly stag/whatever you're driving in the current level with swipes or by leaning a finger in either direction, but this is neither easy nor intuitive at high speed. It's immensely better with a hardware controller.
(Also, make sure you turn off the skip feature in the settings. It's a nice idea for the game to offer to bypass sections you've repeatedly failed, but in practice it's hugely demoralising.)
DRIVING / SHOOTER • Age 9+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Sayonara Wild Hearts on the App Store
Cool paper plane game with a tenuous 'journey of life' metaphor tacked on: the idea is that the landscape changes as you pass through sections themed around the angst of adolescence, the wisdom of age and so on. I'm not sure about that, but the actual game is great.
The music is lovely and the tight viewpoint makes the action exhilarating. You're rewarded for flying as low as possible (going high loses momentum) so you spend much of the time zooming six inches above the ground like a skeleton bobsleigher. Collectible gems buy you more time or speed boosts, or money to upgrade your plane.
It's better with a joypad, although you may have to tweak the settings: I normally like to invert the Y axis and did so when using touchscreen, but the effect was then reversed on a hardware controller.
ARCADE • Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers (recommended) • Lifeslide on the App Store
38. Yaga The Roleplaying Folktale
Weirdness, we can surely all agree, is a quality to be cherished, and this action RPG is a 10 on the weird chart. The setting is weird - mad Russian fairy tales about giant chickens and houses on legs, filtered through well-performed rhyming dialogue - and it looks and sounds delightfully weird too.
One problem, however, is that it feels like it was designed for a larger screen. Your small character feels lost in the default exploration view, object labels are small, and it's generally difficult to see what's going on (although it does zoom in when you tap to interact with someone). We test primarily on iPhone, and it doesn't feel optimal in that format.
The loading screens are rather slow, and the save system is harsh, taking you back to the start of a potentially quite large section if you leave the app and return. Finally, it's surprising how little explanation of the game's mechanics you get - such as the confusing relation between your two health bars, and the importance of bad luck. But I don't really mind this, since it contributes to that enjoyable sense of being lost in an unfamiliar world.
RPG • Age 9+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers (and this is recommended) • Yaga The Roleplaying Folktale on the App Store
39. The Bradwell Conspiracy
Crafted by the studio behind Surgeon Simulator and Worlds Adrift, The Bradwell Conspiracy is an enticing first-person puzzler that'll leave you scratching your head. Set in the recently damaged Stonehenge Museum, it's down to you to explore and escape the crumbling mess, but not everything is as it seems...
As the name suggests, conspiracies are rife in The Bradwell Conspiracy, and while the campaign is engaging and enjoyable, it's the lore of the world and the secrets that you stumble on that really make the game something special. Pair that with the unique relationship you have with the disembodied voice of another trapped (NPC) survivor and you've got a game you'll be thinking about long after you've completed it. Lewis Painter
PUZZLE / ADVENTURE • Age 9+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • The Bradwell Conspiracy on the App Store
This beautiful puzzle-platformer's debt to Inside and Limbo is so obvious that it's mentioned in every App Store review. You're trying to escape some big and at times genuinely scary monsters, and this entails running, sneaking, hiding and occasionally dropping massive weights on their heads.
The atmosphere is breathtaking - the music is incredible - but the aesthetic doesn't hang together quite as coherently as in those famous predecessors. It feels episodic: the beetle-infested cornfield, the spooky forest, the battlefield, the ghost castle, the cosmic dimension... all stunning, but not convincingly related, particularly when the horror elements disappear entirely in the second half.
Playing with onscreen controls can be frustrating, too; it's easy to accidentally jump (often to your death) when you meant to run, and we strongly recommend the use of a joypad. But quibbles aside, this is a work of art.
PUZZLE / PLATFORMER • Age 9+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers (recommended) • Stela on the App Store
41. Crossy Road Castle
Well-crafted and vividly colourful platformer which, for an unusual added bonus, functions in both landscape and portrait orientations.
It's the same cute blocky characters you get in the popular Crossy Road, but this time you're enjoying a spot of side-on platforming action. The learning curve is shallow, which I enjoyed but some may find unchallenging; you should be able to crack a few dozen levels on your first try, particularly if you use a hardware controller.
Some have questioned the unlockables side of things, and it does feel a little like the game was intended to be freemium and then switched to Arcade format at the last minute: drug-dealer style, your first new character is essentially free, but the next hit costs quite a lot (of in-game tokens; you can't spend real money). This hasn't bothered me too much, since the gameplay itself is strong, but may frustrate if you're a fan of collectibles.
PLATFORMER • Age 4+ • 1-4 players • Supports hardware controllers • Crossy Road Castle on the App Store
Asymmetric multiplayer, pitting one farmhand against three pigs. The farmhand has to keep the farm nice and clean, and the pigs have to make it all mucky.
It's not an easy game to master, particularly when playing as the human: it's hard to see the pigs dashing about against the bright background and you have to insta-react with two actions (dive to capture, or spray with water) rather than the one (shoot) you depend on in most multiplayers.
Playing as one of the pigs, though, is an absolute blast. Again there are multiple actions - dash, roll in mud, spray mud - but this is easier to cope with when you've got only one enemy to think about. And causing chaos is always going to be more fun than cleaning up.
SHOOTER • Age 9+ • 1-4 players • Supports hardware controllers (and needs one, really) • Hogwash on the App Store
43. Over the Alps
"Better with sound", this game proclaims at the start, and the audio department clearly have talent. It's a slight shame there isn't more music in normal gameplay, but what there is to be had is excellent.
This is a wartime adventure spy story in which your path is based on dialogue and map choices: there's no combat, or even any animation of your character. The things you decide to say or the routes you decide to take have consequences, in terms of the police tracking you down or events just unfolding differently.
Atmosphere-wise Over the Alps is top-notch, and the story is enjoyably twisty and confusing. It occasionally feels like you're being railroaded into making specific choices, but there's clearly a lot of content here: no matter what situation you get into, there will be multiple witty remarks for you to choose from.
ADVENTURE • Age 12+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Over the Alps on the App Store
Twin-stick bullet-hell dogfighter with cartoon graphics and lots of cat puns, which I could probably live without. The gameplay had me feline good, however.
The guns have a satisfying sound and feel; the sheer number of enemies makes the action wonderfully exhilarating; and the presence of a shop casts its usual spell, offering a continual parade of things to aim for and covet.
Explottens' difficulty level isn't excessive (and you get a chance to adjust this before each mission) but it does call for quite a high degree of precision; some of the boss fights took me a lot of attempts, and I continue to die pretty regularly. But the challenge generally feels fair, and it has proved to be a grower.
SHOOTER • Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers, which are strongly recommended • Explottens on the App Store
45. Sociable Soccer
First impressions weren't good - I found the player switching poor - but I've warmed considerably to this good-looking football game, which is tweaked and updated with commendable frequency.
For one thing, using the Sensible Soccer-esque top-down view (hit pause mid-game and change camera - it'll remember for subsequent matches) irons out many of the flaws: you can see where your teammates are so the passing game is far more considered, and you're better able to see attacks forming and manually switch to the correct defender. Sometimes you'll hit switch just as the game itself puts you in control of the correct player, unfortunately, but the experience is overall much better.
It feels slow after playing Charrua Soccer, admittedly, but it's also a much more technically accomplished footie sim. Your preference between the two, I suspect, will depend on whether you like your soccer silly or (relatively) serious.
SPORT • Age 4+ • 1-2 players • Supports hardware controllers (and is much better with one) • Sociable Soccer on the App Store
A cafe in a bad part of town welcomes patrons from the really wrong side of the tracks, and the conversation gets existential. That's the setting and pretty much the entire gameplay of Necrobarista, an interactive comic book with witty writing and a great look.
I say interactive, but you're required to do very little: most of the time you're just tapping to activate the next line of dialogue. Still, you may be surprised how compelling it all is, thanks to the mysterious premise and believable characters.
Perhaps we could quibble with the lack of an option to invert the Y axis, and note that the onscreen controls are a shade oversensitive, but these controls are used so little that it's not much of a hindrance. The real deciding factor is your capacity to sit back and listen to a fascinating story; if that sounds appealing, this is the game for you.
ADVENTURE • Age 12+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Necrobarista on the App Store
47. Fledgling Heroes
Single-button 2D platformer in the Flappy Bird vein, bolstered by varied level design and lots of collectibles.
There are six birds with disparate play styles - a parrot flies as you tap, a penguin swims, a partridge runs and jumps - and a surprising amount of depth, with dozens of levels split across three big worlds. An ingenious addition to this is a level editor, which allows you to create fiendish challenges of your own, and play those devised by others (which are frequently ludicrously difficult).
It says a lot about Fledgling Heroes that I found it frustrating to play, yet persisted far beyond the time necessary to write up a fair review: it's undeniably moreish. I haven't got every single achievement yet - some are extremely tricky - but just can't stop trying.
PLATFORMER • Age 9+ • 1-2 players • Supports hardware controllers • Fledgling Heroes on the App Store
48. Doomsday Vault
There's something very restful about this robotic eco-puzzler.
You wander around the wreckage of an ominously familiar fallen civilisation, Wall-E style (although you look more like his co-star Eve), collecting endangered plants and the nutrients required to sustain them. There are walls to climb, buttons to press, pressure pads to weigh down with boxes and obstacles that need to be blown or powered up by tools you acquire over the course of the game.
There's little jeopardy in all this, with no time pressure and comparatively little chance of failure (without the puzzles ever becoming boringly straightforward), and the whole thing, from the look and level design to the excellent music, is very lovely. My only quibble is Doomsday Vault's occasional tendency to boot you out of a session with the loss of recent progress: this seems most common when you go from off- to online play and vice versa, and adds an incongruously stressful element to an otherwise soul-soothing game.
PUZZLE / ADVENTURE • Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Doomsday Vault on the App Store
49. Charrua Soccer
The first thing you notice about Charrua is that it's fast: you zip around the field and the ball sticks to your feet. You can literally run rings around the defenders, until your player gets tired and you have to pass or get tackled.
And the way you pass and shoot is weird too: the longer you hold the button, the harder you kick it. Your guy literally pauses to charge up, which gives the other team a chance to get in there with a tackle. Oddly this mechanic hurts defenders most, because you rarely have time to wind up for the classic Tony Adams hoof upfield.
In objective terms this probably isn't a great game. An update seems to have ironed out the balance issues - the days of easy 7-1 victories appear to be gone - but issues remain with the AI, which is still prone to eccentric kick-offs, defensive howlers and similar. Nevertheless it's quirky and good-looking and masses of fun, so it's a recommendation.
SPORT • Age 4+ • 1-2- players • Supports hardware controllers (and is vastly improved with one) • Charrua Soccer on the App Store
50. Marble It Up: Mayhem!
Games tend to get more complicated as they go on. Marble It Up is a case in point: the first few levels just get you to zoom around a track as fast and as recklessly as possible, but it later adds power-ups, moving platforms, gems that need to be collected and an overall requirement that you slow things down and be a bit more patient.
It's all good fun, and I understand the need for variety, but the game is most compelling when it keeps things simple. There's something about that tight first-person view: you're right there with the marble, pelting along at top speed, following it down into the void every time you miss a jump. I love it.
Sadly, however, the onscreen controls are awkward and a hardware controller is virtually required, even though Marble It Up occasionally got confused about button labelling.
ARCADE • Age 4+ • 1-10 players • Supports hardware controllers • Marble It Up: Mayhem! on the App Store
51. Speed Demons
Simple-looking but kickass top-down racing game that's terrific at creating a sense of speed and danger. The music is exciting, there's a huge variety of missions - sometimes you're trying to make checkpoints, sometimes you're deliberately wrecking targets, sometimes you're running away from baddies - and weaving through a particularly mad traffic jam feels great.
One potential weak spot, however, concerns the controls. Acceleration is automatic, so you just need to handle the steering by swiping left or right; but the tight portrait layout and a natural tendency for your thumb to creep upwards means you often end up obscuring the vehicle. A hardware controller makes things easier.
DRIVING • Age 12+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Speed Demons on the App Store
52. Exit the Gungeon
Fiendishly difficult bullet-hell shooter with lo-fi graphics and a great sense of humour.
You're trying to escape from the 'Gungeon' by ascending through levels infested with gun- and pun-toting bad guys. Fortunately you have a gun of your own (which continually changes form, enabling you to shoot skulls, bubbles and musical notes as well as the more traditional bullets) and the ability to evade danger with dodge rolls.
Early runs will end in swift death, but stick with it; the game rewards perseverance. If you liked Super Crate Box - and who didn't? - then you'll love this.
SHOOTER • Age 12+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Exit the Gungeon on the App Store
Exhilarating shooter in which you drive around an arena, pick up weapons and try to kill your opponents quicker than they can kill you: Quake Arena in cars, pretty much.
The game proclaims controller support in its App Store description (which many compatible games don't bother to tell you), but then forces you to use a cursor in the menus. At several times I was annoyed to see onscreen controls, or references to onscreen controls, despite there being a hardware controller plugged in. It's not very compatible with hardware controllers - yet the game itself is much easier when you use one.
The cars handle like people, and can travel sideways and double-jump in the air for no explained reason (the jumping thing is expected since the advent of Rocket League, I appreciate). But despite these foibles the game is great fun; there's a cool range of weapons and the soundtrack has a tarnished 80s charm.
DRIVING / SHOOTER • Age 12+ • 1-12 players • Supports hardware controllers (and despite some quirks I strongly recommend that you use one) • ShockRods on the App Store
54. Mini Motorways
We've all been stuck in traffic and exclaimed to our passengers that we could devise a better road system than the local council. Mini Motorways lets you put that claim to the test, tasking you with developing an ever-growing road and motorway network for busy cities around the world with the aim of getting busy residents from point A to B.
It's a challenge at first, giving you a newfound appreciation for those much-maligned municipal planners, but as you learn the nuances your confidence - and the complexity of your road systems - will increase. Lewis Painter
STRATEGY • Age 4+ • Single player only • No controller support • Mini Motorways on the App Store
55. UFO on Tape: First Contact
Finding yourself fortuitously present at a series of alien encounters, your job is to capture photographic proof. This is a really interesting premise with bags of visual panache, but a few odd decisions make it feel like a missed opportunity.
Atmosphere-wise it starts out scary but this isn't at all sustained, and bizarrely in the later levels points are awarded for shooting tourist landmarks and random hidden objects rather than the UFOs themselves. The controls too are a mixed bag - touchscreen is clumsy and you can't invert the Y axis on a hardware controller, so we'd recommend the decent motion controls.
The whole thing is very brief, and I wish they could have made it more frightening: a bit more X-Files and a bit less Where's Wally. But it's not unenjoyable, and the second I hear that a sixth level has been added in an update, I'll be back in the app quicker than you can say "The truth is out there."
ADVENTURE / EXPLORATION • Age 9+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers (imperfectly) • UFO on Tape: First Contact on the App Store
56. Super Impossible Road
Created by the minds behind the original Impossible Road, Super Impossible Road takes the ball-rolling experience to a whole new level, adding a career mode and online multiplayer so you can showcase your death-defying leaps and beat your buddies at the same time.
You're trying to balance risk and reward, learning when to keep the ball on the road - which is difficult enough - and when to leap through space in search of a time-saving shortcut. This makes for a fast and thrilling challenge, although it feels a little mean (and against the spirit of the thing) that your jumps have an apparent time limit; plummet for too long and the screen will fade to black, even if you're headed for a nice safe patch of track.
It's not a game you'll spend hours on at a time, but it's a great time killer if you've got a spare five minutes. Oh - and I strongly recommend changing the view in the settings, since the default one makes it hard to see where you're going. Lewis Painter
ARCADE • Age 4+ • 1-8 players • No controller support • Super Impossible Road on the App Store
57. Beyond Blue
Achingly beautiful ocean explorer that is marred by a few technical difficulties.
You play as Mirai, a diver, marine biologist and passionate advocate for whale well-being (whale-being?). Your job is to investigate sound readings for animal or occasionally human activity, and completists will enjoy the wide array of creatures to be spotted, tagged and added to your catalogue.
The calm of the undersea world is matched by tranquil gameplay that lets you take things at your own pace and rarely threatens failure. But the save system seems wobbly (whole dives got lost more than once) and it's annoying how frequently you have to remind the game that you want the Y axis inverted.
ADVENTURE / EXPLORATION • Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Beyond Blue on the App Store
58. The Pinball Wizard
What if the song Pinball Wizard was about an actual... wizard? So, presumably, ran the thought processes of the developers responsible for this adorably silly number, in which you climb a tower whose floors take the form of increasingly difficult pinball tables and your little magic user acts as the projectile.
I love the idea that a game was created on the strength of a single flimsy pun, but Pinball Wizard is a decent offering in its own right: the RPG elements give it replay value and the whole thing is perfectly suited to bite-sized gaming sessions.
ARCADE • Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • The Pinball Wizard on the App Store
59. Agent Intercept
Zippy, good-looking racer in which you chase down a target boss in your muscle car (which can transform into a speedboat for water sections) while destroying and evading lesser baddies. At first it seems limited, since there's only one mission on the main menu, but look deeper and you'll find there's more than enough here to be going along with.
For a start, each Current Crisis mission is accompanied by separate challenges on the same track: five (of increasing difficulty) where you're aiming for a time, and five where you're chasing points by shooting targets. I actually preferred these, in fact, since they reward boldness; the main missions largely revolve around your ability to preserve health, which cannot be replenished, and therefore incentivise caution.
And at noon each day (UK time), the mission changes over and there's a new course and set of challenges to face. It's an unusual structure, but a fun one, since it encourages you to properly binge and master a mission before it disappears, and a teaser image creates a bit of anticipation over what's coming next - although I must add the caveat that the total number of missions currently in rotation is still quite low. Nevertheless, Agent Intercept is a simple, polished game that uses creative presentation to become more than the sum of its parts.
DRIVING • Age 12+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Agent Intercept on the App Store
60. Down in Bermuda
Someone's been playing Monument Valley. Which isn't a bad thing, necessarily; if you're going to imitate, imitate the best.
Like its inspiration, Down in Bermuda is an attractive, tactile puzzle game in which you manipulate levers, buttons and stone structures with taps and swipes. These puzzles are both tricky and satisfying to solve - but they are only half the challenge. You also have to find the little stars scattered across each level, and this has more than a hint of 'tap everywhere until you find the last one by accident'.
At launch I found the game weirdly short, with only two full islands of puzzles plus the tutorial. But a third and fourth island have since been added in updates, and these are welcome; they bring fresh puzzles (those on Shipwreck Island are probably the best of the lot), keys to unlock new stuff in the old islands, and further glimpses of the story.
PUZZLE • Age 9+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers (but is easier via touchscreen) • Down in Bermuda on the App Store
61. King's League II
Addictive strategy combat game with heavy RPG elements. You recruit, train and equip a team of up to five fighters, archers, wizards etc, and then supervise their performance in battle, occasionally pitching in to get someone to do a special attack but mostly just watching as they blunder from left to right.
I've made this sound simple but there's a surprising amount of strategy involved in balancing a team that has the right blend of ranged, melee, offensive magic and healing to beat a particular opponent. The game starts easy but the unexplained complexity, such as the effects of a stat on a character's effectiveness, quickly becomes a little overwhelming.
The art style is vibrant - I like the little chibi bobble-head versions of your characters that you see in fights - and the music enjoyably stirring. There's maybe a bit too much chat in story mode, however.
FIGHTING / STRATEGY • Age 9+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers (but you have to enable this in the settings) • King's League II on the App Store
62. BattleSky Brigade: Harpooner
Another for the list of games I like against my better judgement. It's basically Ridiculous Fishing with less charm and more grinding, but as uninspiring as that sounds, it's astonishingly addictive.
BattleSky is a vertically scrolling bullet-hell shooter, and you have to get as far as possible before taking too much damage or simply running out of rope - did I mention that your aircraft is attached to a line? At this point you get reeled back in, and have to gather up all the loot that was dropped by your slain foes.
What makes it so compulsive is that there's always something to aim for: another achievement, a gun upgrade, a longer rope or a bigger net. The result is that you keep telling yourself "just one more go" and suddenly it's midnight and you've got work in the morning.
SHOOTER • Age 9+ • Single player only • No controller support • BattleSky Brigade: Harpooner on the App Store
63. Redout: Space Assault
Fast and occasionally stressful spaceship shooter with a distinct Starfox vibe, down to the talkative wing(wo)man - not a frog in this case - and shoulder-button barrel rolls.
It's a little more free-roaming and far more spacey than its notoriously on-rails and ground-based predecessor, but each level has a definite structure; there's not much room for exploration. This leaves you free to concentrate on dodging rockets and picking off bogeys to your heart's content.
SHOOTER • Age 12+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Redout: Space Assault on the App Store
64. Dead End Job
Twin-stick shooter in which you clear out ghosts in the time-honoured manner (shoot with laser, then suck up with a vacuum cleaner).
The guns have a satisfying feel and the 90s cartoon graphics are pleasingly grotesque. My first choice from this genre would be No Way Home, but this is a very solid alternative.
SHOOTER • Age 9+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers (and pretty much requires one) • Dead End Job on the App Store
65. Where Cards Fall
Odd how wrong first impressions can be. Based on its appearance at the Apple Arcade announcement I assumed WCF was a narrative game - perhaps an arty, semi-realistic RPG. But it's a puzzle game, with the cute story bits confined to between-levels cut scenes.
The puzzle mechanism is simple. Little houses can be disassembled into stacks of cards, moved around, and turned back into houses in new places; the amount of space available in any given location dictates the size of the house. By clambering over the houses you must get from point A to point B.
It's a neat if somewhat limited mechanism, and the whole thing would be rather forgettable if it wasn't for the quality of the non-puzzle elements: those touching cut scenes, mainly, as well as the lovely music and characterful look. Maybe it's a narrative game after all.
PUZZLE • Age 12+ • Single player only • No controller support • Where Cards Fall on the App Store
66. Manifold Garden
Brain-melting first-person gravity puzzler with something of Portal's ingenuity - although that game's witty backstory is replaced here by quiet abstraction.
Approach a wall and you'll see a circle in a matching colour; tap this to make that wall 'ground', and everything else rotate to match. It takes a while to grasp the navigational possibilities this opens up, but the game's breathtaking sense of scale hits the second you step outside the first building.
One quibble: you can invert the Y axis, but for some reason this option didn't carry across to my hardware controller, which is more than a little annoying.
PUZZLE • Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Manifold Garden on the App Store
67. Winding Worlds
Short, simple and sweet puzzle game with attractive visuals, nice dialogue and a winning sense of humour.
Each level revolves around a small circular planetoid on which you will find a person in distress. By swiping left/right and up/down you can walk around the planet, manipulate tools, and ultimately work out - and fix - what's bothering them.
The message, if that's not too simplistic a term, is an unusual mixture of kindness and darkness, and there's a pleasing subversion of the game's own mechanics in the last level. But it's all a bit too easy for serious puzzle-heads, and you'll be done with it in not much more than an hour.
PUZZLE • Age 9+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Winding Worlds on the App Store
68. Rayman Mini
Even by the standards of 90s platform protagonists, Rayman always struck me as half-assed; and his 'cool dude' looks and woohoo sound effects remain unlovable in this latest iteration. Fortunately, the game itself is far more impressive.
It's an auto-run platformer in the vein of Super Mario Run, and while it can't quite match that title's peerless level design it also avoids its greatest flaw: Rayman Mini works perfectly offline. And the music is excellent, adding to the sense of headlong jeopardy that is so essential to games of this type.
PLATFORMER • Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers (and the use of one is heavily recommended) • Rayman Mini on the App Store
69. Jenny LeClue - Detectivu
Likeable, player-friendly adventure game about a crime-solving prodigy who loves tackling cases, whether they involve gruesome murders or lost glasses.
Spotting the clues is rarely an enormous challenge (there are giveaway graphic effects when you need to employ your magnifying glass, for example), but the story is funny and whimsical and the whole thing thoroughly enjoyable.
DETECTIVE / ADVENTURE • Age 12+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Jenny LeClue - Detectivu on the App Store
70. Beyond a Steel Sky
Quite a coup, this: Apple managed to get the long-awaited sequel to the 1994 classic Beneath A Steel Sky to launch first on Arcade, with the Steam release delayed until the following month. This too is a point-and-click adventure game set in near-future Australia, with a mix of dystopian seriousness and humour, and there's much to like. The distinctive cartoonish graphics are vividly lovely and the voice acting is excellent, the puzzles are tricky but highly rewarding when you crack them, and the game has real substance to it.
Unfortunately I'm not sure I can recommend it quite yet, because there are lots of small issues. There's a sloppiness to the dialogue trees, which sometimes refer to information you haven't got yet; text (on default settings, on an iPhone 11 Pro) appears slightly too large for the screen, with the last line often half-hidden; there's no option to invert Y axis; and, most seriously, there are some serious glitches that can make progress impossible. They're clearly quite rare, and can generally be solved by reloading from a save game, but if you encounter one it will undermine your trust in the entire game: there's little worse than slogging to find a solution and then discovering it wasn't there at all.
The good news is that the makers are all over this stuff, and I'm confident that most of the glitches will be ironed out before long. When this happens, I'll be happy to recommend that you plunge in.
ADVENTURE • Age 12+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Beyond a Steel Sky on the App Store
71. Painty Mob
The idea behind Painty Mob is a simple one. You take on the role of weird, blob-like characters (of which there are many to unlock) as you splash vibrant paint across your dreary world and score points in the process. There's a catch, though: the residents aren't happy being covered in paint and respond by forming a mob, chasing you around to stop your paint-flinging escapades.
As you cover your environment and its residents in paint you'll start chaining together colourful combos, speeding up gameplay and upping the ante - it only takes one wrong step to fall prey to the angry mob chasing you. You progress through a variety of themed levels, with some even featuring old-school boss fights, but you'll start from the beginning once you've been caught (and presumably turfed out of the group!).
It's essentially an endless runner with themed levels, but that's no bad thing; as long as you're content with progression in the form of new characters and environments, you'll find a lot to love about Painty Mob. Lewis Painter
SHOOTER • Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers (and is far better with one) • Painty Mob on the App Store
72. Fallen Knight
Pleasingly hectic Metroidvania-type 2D beat 'em up, in which you leap about the place slashing bad guys to pieces with your sword.
The combat is great fun and feels harder than it is, in a good way. Less happily the game commits the cardinal sin of forcing you to sit through the tiresome introductory bit every time you restart a boss fight, and these actually are difficult; I must have watched the first guy flex and threaten to kill me 30 times.
Finally, note that it's much easier to handle the speedy combat when using a hardware controller, but this appears to be imperfectly implemented; on some menus I couldn't find a button for 'confirm' and had to resort to a tap. Indeed, the tutorial assumed I was using onscreen controls, which makes me wonder if this is officially supported.
FIGHTING • Age 9+ • Single player only • Mostly supports hardware controllers - and benefits from them - but occasionally you have to tap onscreen • Fallen Knight on the App Store
73. ChuChu Rocket! Universe
Like all the best puzzle games, ChuChu starts with a simple concept - the placing of arrow markers to redirect scurrying mice, Lemmings-style, away from hazards and towards a target - but then ramps up the difficulty with an array of complications. The graphics have a pleasing old-school cheesiness, and the central mechanic is so compelling that it enters your dreams.
The standard mode involves careful planning and execution but multiplayer games (and occasional challenge levels in single-player) are completely different, requiring you to place arrows on the fly and under huge pressure. This is a lot of fun too, although I had trouble persuading the servers to set up a multiplayer contest with real people and contented myself with being thrashed by an AI.
PUZZLE • Age 4+ • 1-4 players • Supports hardware controllers • ChuChu Rocket! Universe on the App Store
74. Nightmare Farm
Animal Crossing for Tim Burton fans. Could also be called 'The Waiting Game'.
Get through the wordless intro videos and tutorials (which create rather than dispel confusion) and you'll find yourself in charge of a small farm with space for eight plants and seven miscellaneous items. Plant an apple and you'll grow two; put down a plate of biscuits and a dog will reward you with some pieces of wood; go to the shop and you can barter lower-level items for more interesting stuff that you can then plant or give to your animal/monster friends.
Things start off quick (it takes just a minute to grow an apple) but before long you're waiting 10 minutes for a mushroom, 40 for a clam and so on. And at this point it becomes the mobile cliche: a game that you compulsively check into from time to time but then ignore while all the timers run down.
CASUAL • Age 9+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers (but I don't recommend it) • Nightmare Farm on the App Store
It feels like Neversong was probably rushed out, because it had lots of issues at launch: crashes, malfunctioning double subtitles, a pause button that didn't work properly and then disappeared so you had to restart. It's annoying that paying customers were treated like beta testers, but the problems have at least been fixed now.
And the game - once you get past the unpromising intro - is solid. It's a puzzle platformer, very much in the Limbo vein; as well as general mechanics it shares that game's gloomy visual sensibility, old-school fairytale cruelty and, fortunately, sense of humour. The puzzles and boss fights are fun, and the voice acting is excellent.
PUZZLE / PLATFORMER • Age 9+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Neversong on the App Store
Continuing the noble tradition of games from other genres pretending to be fantasy RPGs, Roundguard is a Peggle-style pachinko game with a tenuous theme about exploring a dungeon.
As in all pachinko games you're aiming a ball into a set of pegs and hoping to hit as many as possible before it drops off the bottom. But the ball is really an unusually spherical fantasy hero, and the pegs are monsters to slay, gold to loot and potions to quaff.
It's pleasant enough - not least because pachinko games on iOS tend to have intrusive freemium elements, obviously not present here - and the between-level banter is quite witty. I recommend the rogue character, whose double jump skill gives you a bit more sense of agency.
ARCADE • Age 9+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Roundguard on the App Store
77. Cat Quest II
Those who can handle the paw/woof/meow puns will get a lot out of this two-player RPG. (It can also be played solo, in which case you'll be able to alternate between controlling the cat and dog main characters.)
There are tons of missions and all the usual reptile-brain pleasures of collecting spells, weapons and armour, and levelling up your character - even if levelling up is not massively exciting here because it happens automatically, with no 'skill points' to distribute or similar.
Ultimately this is probably aimed at a slightly younger/more whimsical audience than us, and I found the relentless parade of cute cartoon cats and dogs a little wearing after a while. But there's a good-quality mobile RPG here, under the fur and whiskers.
RPG • Age 9+ • 1-2 players • No controller support • Cat Quest II on the App Store
78. Things That Go Bump
Peculiar multiplayer fighting game in which ghosts possess inanimate objects and use them to build fighting machines. In the kitchen level, for instance, your roaming spirit could grab a cheese grater for a body, wheels, googly eyes and a carving knife - then swap these for alternatives when the fancy (or another spirit) strikes you.
This description possibly oversells the degree of customisability in the game as it currently stands, and it unsurprisingly doesn't seem to make any non-aesthetic difference whether your core object is a toaster or an iron. Your choice of weapon is more significant: most of these are quite slow, so you'll want to grab the speedy spatula as soon as possible.
It's all pretty fun, on the whole, but a little limited, particularly in single player. And use a controller if you can; the onscreen controls are hard to hit accurately and quickly under pressure.
FIGHTING • Age 4+ • 1-4 players • Supports hardware controllers • Things That Go Bump on the App Store
79. Stranded Sails
Spoiler alert: you get shipwrecked about five minutes into this nautical RPG, and from then on your duties are more to do with building shacks and growing crops than sailing the seven seas. It's more Don't Starve than Oceanhorn.
The graphics aren't great: water effects look basic and your sprite lopes around like a puppet. Text occasionally feels like it's been translated by someone unfamiliar with English. And the controls are mixed, with the touchscreen 'joypad' hard to use but a marked lack of assistance finding the right button if you resort (as you should) to a hardware controller.
All this against it, but dammit, Stranded Sails is fun! The game has the knack of offering constant and essentially unchallenging progress (although there's some gentle 'push your luck' jeopardy when trying not to run out of food when exploring) and frankly I couldn't get enough of it. A begrudging recommendation, perhaps, but a recommendation nonetheless.
RPG • Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers (and is much better with one, despite occasional difficulties locating the correct button) • Stranded Sails on the App Store
80. HyperBrawl Tournament
Messy but likeable sport fighter: a sort of futuristic Mad Max handball. It's two on two, and you have to throw the ball into your opponents' goal while enjoying a bit of the old ultra-violence.
When not in possession I tended to hammer the punch button, forgetting the subtleties of energy and weapons; when I got the ball I shot at the first opportunity. The whole thing is rather frantic.
The neon, Fortnitey graphics are charming (inevitably, there are dozens of skins to unlock for your character). The grating and repetitive commentary is somewhat less so.
SPORT / FIGHTING • Age 9+ • 1-4 players • Supports hardware controllers (recommended) • HyperBrawl Tournament on the App Store
81. Red Reign
Slower turn-based titles do all right (as amply demonstrated by Civilization VI) but it's hard to imagine real-time strategy making sense on iOS devices or Apple TV: all that fast, fiddly micromanagement cries out for a mouse and keyboard hotkeys.
Red Reign gets around this by drastically simplifying unit control to the extent that you can tell them to do precisely two things: charge off down one of the lanes leading to the enemy base (each lane has its own chunky button) or stay put and guard yours. They're pretty self-reliant, so you can then concentrate on upgrading your base, producing more units or holding your finger down on trees or your gold mine so you generate resources more quickly.
A weirdly simple take on the RTS genre, then, but one that's perfectly suited to smaller screens. And the visuals are lovely, seemingly blended from equal parts Kingdom Rush and old-school Warcraft.
STRATEGY • Age 9+ • 1-2 players • Supports hardware controllers • Red Reign on the App Store
82. Kings of the Castle
Jolly but slight first-person platformer, in which you (a princess) have to dash around an island collecting gems to ransom a prince. This gender-switch premise is a nice touch, albeit a superficial one, since you never see either the prince or the princess in normal single-player gameplay.
The action itself is a lot of energetic fun, propelled by a marvellously boisterous soundtrack. The makers are evidently fond of the old 'spikey monster knocks you into the water' routine, and failure can be frustrating, but this makes the successes feel more valuable.
Following an update (which also added the option to invert the Y axis - hooray!) we're now up to three courses, each of which plays host to a handful of time trial challenges as well as the main 'quest'. There's still not a huge amount of variety, however, and this game is probably best suited to brief trysts rather than long-term commitment.
PLATFORMER • Age 4+ • 1-4 players • Supports hardware controllers • Kings of the Castle on the App Store
83. Star Fetched
Utterly gorgeous 2D platformer with hints of tower defence at times, and a bunch of fun weapons and equipment to craft and collect.
Platformers are all about the jump mechanism, however, and I found this a little awkward. Metroidvania-style, you get double jumps as standard and the ability to slide down and/or spring upwards off vertical surfaces, but it's one of the trickier examples of the genre I've tried.
Overall it's pretty fun, although the writing is occasionally a touch slapdash and a controller is very much recommended - go into the settings and select the directional arrows option, which makes the onscreen buttons disappear.
PLATFORMER • Age 9+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Star Fetched on the App Store
The mechanical concept here evokes the mighty Ridiculous Fishing, in that you spend the game controlling the descending business end of a fishing rod as it seeks out prey in the watery depths. This similarity is only skin-deep, however, and your control of the rod is so unrestricted that it is essentially just a free-roaming underwater action game.
As such things go the gameplay is pretty solid, however: each level involves combat, puzzle elements, hidden coins and a concluding boss fight. The 'fish' you seek are really electronic devices capable of making a specific musical sound, and the sounds thus gathered can be used to compose tunes in a compositional subgame.
Graphically Monomals is hugely winning, with the primary-colour exuberance of classic SEGA titles, and overall this is a thoroughly cheerful effort.
SPORT / PLATFORMER • Age 9+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Monomals on the App Store
85. Lifelike: Chapter One
You're a ball of light, right - stay with me here - surrounded by particles. There's some kind of bioluminescent shape moving towards you. It's like you're watching and interacting with microscopic organisms in the ocean... but not quite.
Lifelike looks and sounds incredible, and induces a sense of genuine childlike wonder for the first few levels. But in sheer gameplay terms there's not a huge amount going on: what you're trying to do, most of the time, is persuade an object that you don't control to move the screen towards an unknown goal. There are clues, but there's also a lot of trial and error.
It's flawed and somewhat limited as a game, then. But go with the flow and you'll enjoy it for the strange, calming, trippy experience that it is.
PUZZLE • Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers, although it's easier to make small movements via touchscreen • Lifelike: Chapter One on the App Store
86. The Lullaby of Life
Cheerful if limited music-themed puzzler. The protagonist, who can only be described as a blob, activates triggers and opens barriers by playing the correct sequence of sounds when prompted.
There's more to that premise than you might think, given that the blob, as well as playing his own notes, can recruit new sounds and drag them along for the ride; obstacles limit the places to which he can transport these handy sidekicks, and sometimes you have to make use of long strings and time-delayed loudspeakers to get a sound wave to its required destination. But you're unlikely to get stuck on a puzzle for long.
PUZZLE • Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers (and works well) • The Lullaby of Life on the App Store
This takes me back. It's a side-scrolling beat 'em up!
You control a robot dustbin man, and your job is to collect rubbish and chuck it in a truck that follows you round. Your rivals don't take kindly to you entering their turf, but you have a solution: kill them and dump their bodies in the truck.
Combat feels a bit button-bashy and I've yet to find much subtlety to it: there are combos - sort of - but these are generally to be avoided because the third attack is slower and can leave you vulnerable. I suspect it will work best as a multiplayer but it was unable to match me with any human teammates and there's no option to fight alongside AI players.
FIGHTING • Age 9+ • 1-4 players • Supports hardware controllers • Scrappers on the App Store
88. Stellar Commanders
Good-looking sci-fi strategy game set on an adorably tiny planetoid that's about to blow up. It's territory-based, and the idea is to conquer or destroy as many as possible using a mixture of ground troops, aircraft and long-range missiles.
A curious and disappointing omission is a single-player campaign with a difficulty curve and progression. Instead, as soon as you get through the brief tutorial (which, unusually for a mobile game, veers on the side of under- rather than overeducating you) you're plunged into two-player duels against real people or AIs.
STRATEGY • Age 12+ • 1-2 players • No controller support • Stellar Commanders on the App Store
Dragons have conquered the planet, and everyone is welcoming our new reptile overlords... except the bloodthirsty main characters in EarthNight, an auto-runner with a slight resemblance to the great Tiny Wings.
Taking things one immense dragon at a time, you're running, sliding, jumping and dash-gliding along the creature's back, dodging smaller monsters and collecting loose treasure (why hasn't it fallen off?), before reaching the head and stabbing it, Shadow of the Colossus-style. Then you jump off the slain beast and freefall to the next.
The game looks terrific and the variety of dragons is pleasingly challenging. But the Tiny Wings comparison is instructive: with far more movement options this cannot match that game's elegant simplicity and accessibility, and it never really explains how to kill the dragons - although some players will like the fact that you have to work things out for yourself.
PLATFORMER • Age 9+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • EarthNight on the App Store
90. Loud House: Outta Control
Readers of a certain vintage will have fond memories of Flight Control, a bestselling iOS game that came out in 2009 and disappeared from the App Store in 2015. Players took the role of air traffic controller at a busy airport; each time a plane arrived, it was your job to trace a path on screen that led it to a runway of the correct colour, without hitting any other planes.
Outta Control is the same concept, except it's squabbling children instead of aircraft. Which immediately makes less sense; children don't explode if they bump into each other, nor do they disappear conveniently after reaching their destination. But fine.
The game works because this is such a brilliant and enduring mechanic - as is obvious from the wealth of Flight Control copycats available to this day - and it's undeniably addictive. But Outta Control has nothing special or novel to recommend it, unless you're a fan of the Nickelodeon TV series it's based on.
ARCADE • Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers (but it's much more difficult with one) • Loud House: Outta Control on the App Store
91. Tales of Memo
Neat but limited puzzler based on those old number-matching memory games. Open two chests with the same number inside and you can make an 'attack' of that power; keep matching chests and you can add more numbers, multipliers etc, but you run the risk of a counterattack which damages you and closes all the chests you've got on the go.
It's pretty fun and looks quite nice, and later levels have the added difficulty of timers, and shields that protect your enemy unless you get above or below a specified number. Still, it never feels like you progress tactically: there's not a lot of depth.
PUZZLE • Age 9+ • Single player only • No controller support • Tales of Memo on the App Store
Frazzled commuters will enjoy this soothing puzzler, which brings the pleasures of a Bank Holiday jigsaw to your mobile screen - in both landscape and portrait mode, which is an unusual bonus.
Each level begins life as a silent black-and-white sketch, but as you place the right pieces on to the board the colours gradually reappear and music plays. It's all rather lovely, and the back-to-front difficulty curve - tricky at first but easier as the pieces build up - is generally satisfying.
I will add, however, that the level-specific difficulty is wildly inconsistent, and there's no apparent way to request an easy or advanced puzzle. It all depends on how repetitive the pattern is, and to what extent this repetition happens to map to the grid: on Kawaii Cookout I kept getting pieces that fitted perfectly in four different places, which turned it into unsatisfying trial and error.
PUZZLE • Age 4+ • Single player only • No controller support • Patterned on the App Store
93. Shantae and the Seven Sirens
Polished but largely conventional action-platformer in which a half-naked half-genie leaps about the screen killing baddies with her hair and, later, magic. Fans of the series won't be disappointed, although I found the onscreen controls super-frustrating, frequently hitting jump instead of attack (or vice-versa) at critical moments - it's much better when played with a hardware controller.
PLATFORMER • Age 12+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Shantae and the Seven Sirens on the App Store
94. SpongeBob: Patty Pursuit
Who lives in a barnacle under the sea? SpongeBob SquarePants, who has arrived on Apple Arcade in this tie-in auto-runner platform game.
We say auto-runner, but it's an unusually easy-going example of the genre: you can go back to grab things you missed and there's no time pressure. It's also not as tightly designed as such games tend to be, with unresponsive tap controls (a joypad makes things better) and enemies that can be hard to spot.
Still, it looks great, and features voice work by the original cast. Variety is provided by secondary characters who give you specific abilities, and funny transformations.
PLATFORMER • Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • SpongeBob: Patty Pursuit on the App Store
95. Lego Brawls
Online multiplayer fighter based on the popular brick-based construction toy. The action is simple but fun: running around one of several 2D arenas and battering one another with guns and handheld weaponry. The more you play, the more minifigure parts are unlocked for you to customise your character, which is cosmetic but charming.
The game itself is enjoyable, then, but it seems to be either excessively dependent on a good network connection, or underpopulated, or both; I have yet to successfully set up a Party game, and on multiple occasions (even when connected to what I believed to be reasonably decent Wi-Fi) my Brawl games have been plagued by lag. This is a little annoying, given Apple Arcade's promises of offline play. The only offline part of the game is an uninspiring Training mode.
FIGHTING / SHOOTER • Age 9+ • 1-10 players • Supports hardware controllers (and virtually requires one) • Lego Brawls on the App Store
96. Don't Bug Me!
Tower defence game which sometimes pretends to be a first-person shooter. You're a Martian explorer trying to hold out against the alien hordes surrounding your tiny base; sometimes you're building defensive structures (automated lasers, exploding barriers etc), and sometimes you're switching view and gunning them down personally.
It's all about multitasking, then: simultaneously keeping an eye on the radar, the condition of your towers, the available solar power for building new towers and your personal ammo supply. It's a little stressful, for this reason, and somewhat limited in scope, but pretty fun nonetheless.
STRATEGY / SHOOTER • Age 9+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers (but touchscreen is fine, and probably easier) • Don't Bug Me on the App Store
97. Dodo Peak
Retro arcade number in which you (a bird) hop down the steps of a mountain to retrieve/hatch your eggs and then hop back up again as quickly as possible, while evading bad guys and obstacles.
It's a pleasantly simple and elegant concept, cosmetically reminiscent of the 1980s classic Q*bert, but rather let down by the controls. On touchscreen you're swiping, which doesn't work terribly well for accuracy or speed; using a hardware controller improves matters a little but it's still very prone to overshooting. This is obviously frustrating in a game where time is short.
ARCADE • Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Dodo Peak on the App Store
98. Towaga: Among Shadows
Towaga calls itself a twin-stick game, but that's hardly accurate: it's a single-stick really, because on most levels your character is locked to one place and your job is simply to shoot the baddies coming at you from all angles. From time to time you ascend to the stars and get the chance to move and shoot, and it's a cruel reminder of how fun twin-sticks can be if they're allowed.
The look and narrative flavour are both pleasingly odd, although it's shame that the English text contains so many errors. I didn't feel like there was a lot of progression in the level design, and found the stationary levels quite stressful.
SHOOTER • Age 12+ • 1-4 players • Supports hardware controllers • Towaga: Among Shadows on the App Store
Sharing numerous beats with Assemble With Care, Possessions also weaves an understated story around a series of simple puzzles. And if that's your jam you should undoubtedly try both.
In this case the puzzles are so easy and the entire thing so brief (you'll finish in 45 minutes) that in pure gaming terms it has to be ranked lower. The 'moral of the story' is also rather simple (and probably guessable from the title), but I love the game's wordless delivery of that message: it first encourages you to explore and revel in beautiful spaces, and then makes you question what those spaces are really worth.
PUZZLE • Age 9+ • Single player only • No controller support • Possessions on the App Store
I've been having some good times with this turn-based tactical RPG, which is deep, tense and blessed with excellent artwork. But here's my reservation: the card-playing elements feel like an afterthought.
Deck building is a fashionable (and very rewarding) genre but blending it into an RPG framework is not easy. Spelldrifter waits a fair while, perhaps tellingly, before letting you have any control over your cards, and even then you're constructing your deck between fights rather than in-game - in other words, it's more Magic: The Gathering than Ascension. The cards themselves look great but they're mostly just attacks, heals and buffs; you don't get a lot of the interesting combos and synergies that you get in Dream Quest, for instance.
Also, parents of small children may find that the cock-rock soundtrack reminds them of Blaze and the Monster Machines, which rather undercuts the atmosphere.
CARD / RPG • Age 12+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers (but touchscreen is easier) • Spelldrifter on the App Store
This gorgeous, gentle puzzler puts you in the role of a back-garden watercolorist. On each level a few blobs of paint are dripped on to your canvas, along with one or more 'targets' which you have to reach with a specific colour by applying swiped brushstrokes and, frequently, mixing two colours together.
This simple concept is quickly complicated by mazes of pre-painted lines and colour-cancelling water droplets, and the 50 levels provided at launch (the end credits say more are on the way) get reasonably mind-bending by the end, while remaining pleasingly relaxing at the same time.
But there's a messiness to the puzzles that's unsatisfying - sometimes you're not sure if you're doing the wrong thing, or doing the right thing clumsily (this isn't helped by the puzzle being partially hidden under your finger). And often the solution turns out to be "go round the back of that blob that doesn't look there's enough room behind it".
PUZZLE • Age 4+ • Single player only • No controller support • tint. on the App Store
Tasteful but slightly antiseptic puzzle game in which you manipulate perspective (hence, presumably, the name) to guide a ball around line-drawn objects. Undeniably cleverly designed, Spek shares Monument Valley's sense of optical mischief - and relatively gentle difficulty curve - but not its heart.
Bonus points, however, for the interesting AR mode, where the puzzles are projected on to the surfaces of your home, office etc and you reach a solution by physically walking around.
PUZZLE • Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers (but touchscreen is easier) • Spek on the App Store
103. Mind Symphony
This therapeutically themed game's first mode, Release Stress, is all about catharsis through frenzied destruction: it's a comparatively traditional bullet-hell shooter except that enemy movements, weapon fire etc are synced to the music. It's hard to tell the difference between power-ups and enemies but this part mostly works - provided you have a joypad, since the onscreen controls aren't anywhere near quick enough.
Calm mode, meanwhile, is intended to be more restful, and doesn't require you to do any steering, dodging or aiming; you just have to tap when two circles overlap. Again it's not totally clear what you're supposed to be doing and the exactitude required to get a good score - and, some might say, the fact that you're being scored at all - makes it not actually very calming.
Mind Symphony is a curate's egg of a package: essentially two unrelated games that are sometimes original and sometimes good but very rarely both at once. And the number of small issues - such as persuading it (unsuccessfully) to connect with Apple Music, and then persuading it to stop trying without restarting the app - makes me extremely dubious about its positive impact on the player's state of mind.
SHOOTER • Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers (strongly recommended for Release Stress) • Mind Symphony on the App Store
If you like simplicity, look elsewhere; this sci-fi number blends elements of twin-stick shooters, tower defence and real-time squad strategy into an intimidating whole.
The core of the game is bots: at the start of each level you decide which bots you'll be employing and where they'll start, customise their load-out and give them simple orders. Then hit the start button and watch them tackle the enemy and try to meet victory conditions.
But it's not completely hands-off. Your pilot is there too, and can wander around joining in with a gun (unwise) or clambering into a vehicle or mech (better). Some will undoubtedly enjoy this, but I found the difficulty curve cliff-like and struggled to get into the game.
STRATEGY / SHOOTER • Age 12+ • 1-2 players • Supports hardware controllers • Decoherence on the App Store
105. Operator 41
Stealth puzzler in which a spy tries to negotiate a series of levels without getting spotted. The key is observing the routines of the guards and slipping past when the moment is right (with the occasional assistance of throwable decoy objects) and in this sense it reminded me a little of Hitman Go, only real-time instead of turn-based.
The problem is that tap accuracy/responsiveness sometimes lets you down when rushing, and using a joypad isn't much better because it controls a cursor, not your character. It can be hard to see what's going on, too, because you have no control over the camera.
The security-footage visuals are nice, with orange details (such as guard sight lines when you're spotted) popping against the grainy mono background. But there's not much substance here, since there are only 15 levels at time of writing and all but the last 3 or 4 are straightforward to solve - failures are far more likely to be a tap not registering than a puzzle being too fiendish, and that's a shame.
PUZZLE • Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Operator 41 on the App Store
106. Secret Oops!
In the world of board games, critics sometimes talk about a 'pasted-on theme', when an abstract concept is livened up with a surface narrative that doesn't really link to the way the game actually plays. Which brings us to the likeable timing-based puzzler Secret Oops!, which is supposedly about protecting a clumsy spy, but is really about pressing coloured buttons at the right moment, much like the 80s toy Simon.
Special Agent Charles, a gentleman of limited intellect, will blunder into lasers, security cameras and booby traps unless you disable them at the correct moment by... tapping them on your iPhone. Which doesn't make a lot of sense. But this doesn't stop it being fun, and the animation and (non-verbal) voice acting when the spy gets caught is undeniably entertaining.
The controls are fiddly and the doors in particular feel slightly unresponsive. It's also tough to get a clear view of what you're doing, whether you're scurrying around in the real world using the (very cool) AR mode, or squinting at the non-AR mode in portrait orientation and discovering that you can't rotate the level while zoomed in. Then again, awkwardness may be the point: like in Surgeon Simulator or Spaceteam, a lot of the fun comes from desperately trying, and frequently failing, to accomplish simple tasks under pressure.
PUZZLE • Age 4+ • 1-4 players • Supports hardware controllers, but it’s awkward and not at all recommended • Secret Oops! on the App Store
107. Ultimate Rivals: The Rink
It's three-on-three ice hockey, but here's the catch: the players are drawn from five different sports, so your team could be made up of a baseball pitcher, an NFL quarter-back and a football centre-forward. It's a bit like that old TV show where Kevin Keegan fell off a bicycle, only vastly more US-centric. I wish they could have found room for Ben Stokes or Ronnie O'Sullivan.
Sadly it's never explained why all American sports have been folded into ice hockey, nor why some of the participants actually are hockey players - surely they would win every game with ease? Presumably the overwhelming info dump of a tutorial at the start of the game left no room for plot exposition.
The game itself is fun but surprisingly complicated, with all kinds of manoeuvres and special moves to memorise. It's not easy to hit the right touchscreen button at speed, and playing on a hardware controller (which is recommended) leaves you without much guidance.
SPORT • Age 4+ • 1-2 players • Supports hardware controllers • Ultimate Rivals: The Rink on the App Store
108. Rosie's Reality
Cute puzzle game in which you arrange function blocks (change direction, jump, speed up etc) in the correct formation to get a robot from point A to point B. This is all pleasant enough except for a curious 'hurry up and wait' aspect.
Your performance in each level is partially rated according to the time it takes you, and the average player will obviously take this (and the big "3-2-1-Build!" countdown) as a cue to rush. This runs counter to the thoughtful spirit of most puzzle games, and the fact that you can't stop and think about a level - there are two different pause options, but one keeps the clock running and the other hides the blocks - makes it a little stressful.
Working against this, the game itself is annoyingly slow at reassembling itself each time you start or restart a level: the robots sprout wheels and drive to their starting points, the blocks drop leisurely into place, and none of this is skippable. Fast restarts are vital for non-annoying puzzle games, and the game ends up being rather frustrating.
PUZZLE • Age 4+ • 1-4 players • Supports hardware controllers • Rosie's Reality on the App Store
109. Super Mega Mini Party
No self-respecting games collection is complete without a few mini games; Arcade has this, and Big Time Sports.
SMMP offers ten things to do, all of them both simple and strange, running the gamut from pogo-sticking on lava to dynamite juggling. This simplicity is both a strength and a weakness, since you get the hang of each thing almost immediately but then (when played on solo) tire of it quite quickly too.
It would undoubtedly have more sustained interest when played with mates, but I was sadly unable, despite trying several times, to find a party to join. It's nice that you have the option to join a random group (something Pac-Man Party Royale sorely misses) as well as linking up with friends via code, but right now there doesn't seem to be a big enough player base to make this a realistic option.
110. Jumper Jon
Platformers tend to fall into two categories: seat-of-the-pants thrill rides, and ones where you need a map. This is the second type.
So no, it's not exactly one for adrenaline junkies. Even the jump mechanism - the sine qua non of the genre, you might think - is curiously sluggish and floaty, rather than the zippy bounce you get in something like Rayman Mini. This is frustrating when a boss keeps tagging you mid-jump.
Ironically enough, the game's central gimmick does incentivise speed: an ever-present 30-second timer will kill you if you can't reset it by hitting the next checkpoint in time. But given that syrupy jump button, not to mention the requirement for explorative thought, it's an incongruous (if fun) inclusion.
PLATFORMER • Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Jumper Jon on the App Store
111. A Fold Apart
This puzzler's premise is fine: you have to get a character from point A to point B on a piece of paper by a neat combination of folding, rotating and turning. It's all the other stuff that doesn't work.
The touch controls are frequently unresponsive (I recommend a joypad), while character movement, presumably for dramatic effect, is ponderous. And while I'm sure the sentiments of the game are sincerely meant - its story concerns the difficulties of a long-distance relationship - they are delivered in a way that is mawkish and dreary.
Most annoyingly, the game showed a tendency from time to time (and repeatedly, at one specific point near the end of chapter 6) to glitch back to the main menu. The problem isn't that you lose a lot of puzzle progress, but that you have to sit through the unskippable intro bit again - and if you found the story engaging once (which I didn't, but you may), you certainly won't find it so on the third or fourth delivery.
PUZZLE • Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • A Fold Apart on the App Store
112. Various Daylife
When the adventuring starts, Various Daylife turns out to be a relatively conventional turn-based party RPG, albeit with a confusing combat system. But adventuring is a very small part of this game.
Most of your time is spent back in town, taking on (sometimes hilariously banal) jobs for stat boosts and money. Note that you don't have to actually do the job, or even see it happen; you just choose it from the menu screen, then wait for the message announcing if you were successful or not.
The game's graphics and sound are unsurprisingly of a very high quality, and I like how experimental and strange it all feels as a concept. But there's no getting away from the fact that this is basically quite a dull way to spend your time.
113. Lego Builder’s Journey
The look and sound of this tasteful puzzler are superb, but it has too many issues for a straight recommendation. Which is a great shame, because the idea of a Lego-based puzzle game is hugely appealing.
For one thing, the controls and camera are awkward; I played the game from start to finish and at no point felt truly accustomed to them. It's hard to see what exactly you're doing, and where exactly the piece you're currently holding is going to be placed, and while you can rotate the view a little, it will then revert to the default view at an inconvenient moment. There's no zoom.
Beyond this, there's a kind of dishonesty to quite a lot of the puzzles - even if it's of a sort that is relatively common in games of this type. I feel strongly that it should be possible to divine the solution to a puzzle working entirely from the visible clues and components (and the game's internal logic), but quite often you're instead trying to guess what arbitrary action will provoke the level into giving you the extra bricks needed for the solution.
PUZZLE • Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers (which make the controls a little easier) • Lego Builder's Journey on the App Store
114. Unleash The Light
Colourful but slightly forgettable turn-based RPG set in the Steven Universe, er, universe. It's divided into levels, unusually, and your job is to fight the baddies (controlling a team of four characters), solve the puzzles and find the secrets.
The aforementioned puzzles are quite nice: they're all about moving mirrored stones to reflect beams of light on to colour-coded pyramids. But combat is pretty samey, because you get a set number of action points each turn regardless of how many characters are still alive and the temptation (and seemingly best tactic) is to spam the best attacks and ignore the weaker characters. There are plenty of attacks and items but I was unable to find any interesting combos or synergies; if there's gameplay depth here it isn't quick to announce itself.
And as for the storyline, I found it somewhere between nonsensical and non-existent. Perhaps those who are familiar with the TV show will get more out of it.
RPG • Age 9+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Unleash The Light on the App Store
115. Punch Planet
One-on-one beat 'em up of a kind rarely seen on iOS. So Punch Planet has novelty if nothing else.
The cyberpunk cartoon graphics are great and I love the atmosphere. But there's not a lot of variety: there are only six characters and I've seen just four arenas, of which one is a near-featureless training ground. Possibly more will be unlocked later in the game, or added in a future update.
There aren't that many special moves either, and I found some aspects of the gameplay a little odd. The 'jump over their head and do a flying kick from behind' tactic that I've (over)used in every fighting game I've ever played doesn't work, for instance, with the sprites seemingly unable to change direction in midair. But it feels pretty fast and slick, and is a pleasant enough distraction.
FIGHTING • Age 12+ • 1-2 players • Supports hardware controllers (and using one is pretty much essential) • Punch Planet on the App Store
116. Way of the Turtle
Amiable and attractive platformer that suffers from a (thematically understandable) lack of speediness and occasionally woolly collision detection.
Actually becomes easier when played on a hardware controller, since you no longer have to swipe to change direction. Be aware that the 'confirm' action may be mapped to the Menu or similar button, rather than the expected X or A.
PLATFORMER • Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Way of the Turtle on the App Store
117. Projection: First Light
This stunning-looking platformer is distinctly reminiscent of Limbo, which is no bad thing; but whereas that game used shadows to conjure an atmosphere of dread, Projection feels more magical.
It's set in a world of shadow puppets: the key is manipulating the light source to create and transform shadows for moving around the levels. It's a clever gimmick but it takes a while to get going and the control method - as on Limbo, to be fair - is a little frustrating, and the shadows occasionally glitchy.
PUZZLE / PLATFORMER • Age 9+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Projection: First Light on the App Store
118. Skate City
Attractive and popular skateboard sim from the makers of, and similar to, Alto's Adventure. Muted, chilled-out visuals and music generate bags of atmosphere and there are lots of special tricks and character customisations to unlock.
I would add, however, that a 2D skating game loses the exploratory aspect of a Tony Hawk-style offering: stairs, ramps, rails etc are brought to you in automatic sequence rather than having to be discovered. And squares like me may find that all skateboard moves look pretty much the same when rendered as realistically as they are here.
SPORT • Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Skate City on the App Store
119. Sonic Racing
Sonic the Hedgehog refuses to go quietly into the long night; not only is the lightning-fast hedgehog featuring in a new film due out next year, but there's a never-ending stream of Sonic-themed games available for mobile devices and tablets too. The latest is Sonic Racing, a cartoony racer that draws a number of parallels with what many consider to be the OG game of its kind: Mario Kart.
You can race with 15 characters from the Sonic franchise on 15 maps and unlock 15 wisps to give you the edge in races, whether access to enhanced boost pads or the ability to suck in nearby coins. What's different from Mario Kart is the availability of teams; in Sonic Racing, you race in teams of three with each character offering unique buffs to lend a helping hand when needed.
It's good fun, but with coin collection a requirement for upgrades, it's easy to see that it has been designed with IAPs in mind - even if they're not available while on Apple Arcade. With Mario Kart now officially available for iOS, is there a place for clones? Some may say yes, but we're going with no. Lewis Painter
DRIVING • Age 4+ • 1-4 players • Supports hardware controllers • Sonic Racing on the App Store
120. Hot Lava
If you ever played 'the floor is lava' as a child - which is maybe more of a US than British thing - then this game will press all sorts of jolly nostalgia buttons in your brain. In this case, of course, there's no need to use the wonderful power of a child's imagination because the floor is literally lava, and it's up to you to navigate around the rooms and levels via furniture, hanging brackets and pipes and so on.
It's a great idea (and the Saturday morning cartoon aesthetic is lovely), but the first-person 3D perspective makes it difficult to jump accurately. A controller helps, though.
PLATFORMER • Age 4+ • 1-4 players • Supports hardware controllers • Hot Lava on the App Store
121. Ballistic Baseball
Workmanlike sports sim with some good qualities (cheerful graphics, accessible gameplay) but a couple of serious annoyances.
Pitching is rewarding because there are so many variations (batting is an altogether simpler affair), but it's spoiled by the bizarre inability of a pitching team to last a default 3-innings match without running out of subs/collapsing from exhaustion. Adding insult to injury, conceding a home run triggers an unskippable gloating animation which I could really have lived without seeing five times per game.
SPORT • Age 4+ • 1-2 players • Supports hardware controllers • Ballistic Baseball on the App Store
122. Dear Reader
Word game in which you work your way through literary classics, rearranging jumbled sentences and tapping on spelling mistakes.
Cosmetically lovely, and I so wanted to like this - but while the idea seems to be that you gain a new-found love of literature by playing with its component parts, my experience was that I skipped across the surface instead. And it's ultimately a tiny bit dull.
WORD • Age 12+ • Single player only • No controller support • Dear Reader on the App Store
123. Word Laces
Relaxing but extremely unambitious commuter-friendly word puzzle. Each level presents you with around 6-8 letters or letter groups, and your job is to thread a shoelace between them to form a word linked to the accompanying picture.
I found it slightly frustrating that you'll sometimes find a word that fits the letters and picture but isn't the 'right' answer, and the post-level inspirational messages can be cloying. But it's not unpleasant by any means.
WORD • Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers, but it's really weird • Word Laces on the App Store
I do my best to give every one of these games a fair crack of the whip, but this infuriating action platformer was so unwelcoming that I couldn't get through the first level, despite numerous attempts.
The premise is nice enough - a sketchy corporation is cross-breeding spiders and dinosaurs, with predictably perilous results - but the intro exposition (while superbly voice-acted) is far too long. Be sure to locate the skip all button.
And the game itself, while harking back to golden-age platformers like Contra and Mega Man, is deeply frustrating: the controls are weird and clumsy (whether onscreen or hardware), and it has a tendency to do cruel and/or glitchy things like spawning you on a lower ledge which is no longer visible. Spidersaurs is hard, which is fine, but feels unfair, which isn't, and I'm not interested in bashing my head against this particular brick wall any longer.
SHOOTER • Age 12+ • 1-2 players • Supports hardware controllers • Spidersaurs on the App Store
125. Murder Mystery Machine
This ultra-serious detective mystery takes its name from a McGuffiny computer which tells the police where to go next. Is this supposed to indicate an element of science fiction? Honestly, who knows, but the half-hearted, hand-waving explanation of the thing the entire game is named after feels emblematic of its overall problems.
Each time you arrive at a new scene you're required to interview witnesses, explore the area, tap objects and (in a neat mind-map screen) trace connections between clues. All of these actions can open up new dialogue options and, eventually, enough evidence for you to make an accusation.
The scenes themselves look nice, but the character animation is shonky and infuriatingly slow: tap somewhere and it will take the detective an age to get there, frequently taking a scenic route around an object that looks passable and/or stopping along the way to start a conversation with someone because you tapped vaguely close to them. Many interesting-looking objects, conversely, are not tappable - there's what looks like a makeshift grave at the second crime scene, but apparently that's not significant - and the dialogue is clunky and repetitive. Tangle Tower and Jenny LeClue are both far better executed detective games on Arcade, and they're a whole lot more fun.
DETECTIVE / ADVENTURE • Age 12+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers (it's a little awkward but it does make the zoom/rotate actions easier) • Murder Mystery Machine on the App Store
This high-speed puzzler looks ugly, but more troublingly it is rife with freemium-esque behaviour. Whenever you die, the game reminds you that you can spend coins to restart from a checkpoint; do almost anything for the first time and the game rewards you with a 'skin' for your hexagon sprite, which it then nags you to use.
It's not possible to spend real-world money on coins and skins in Hexaflip, or in any Apple Arcade game; but it's pretty obvious that this was originally designed with money grubbing in mind. And that manifests itself in ways more fundamental to the gameplay than cosmetic add-ons - such as the overhelpful tutorial and too-shallow difficulty curve, both presumably intended to keep punters in the game (and potentially spending money) as long as possible.
This is a shame because Hexaflip's central mechanic - tapping left or right to flip a hexagon through an obstacle course as fast as possible - is fun and, once it gets going, genuinely challenging. I just wish a less mercenary (or mercenary-seeming) game could have been built around it.
ARCADE • Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Hexaflip on the App Store
127. Big Time Sports
The oversized sprites are a visual delight, but in gameplay terms this one feels like a filler, largely following the Daley Thompson's Decathlon tradition of tapping buttons to match timers, or simply as fast as you can. A few events, such as football and golf, are a lot of fun, but most are pretty boring.
SPORT • Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Big Time Sports on the App Store
128. Frogger in Toy Town
Frogger in Toy Town is the least fun Arcade game I've tried so far. How strange that Apple chose it as the showpiece for the service.
Yep, it's Frogger, only with modern graphics and a few concessions to modern gameplay conventions. It's not terrible, by any means - I suspect Apple won't allow any stinkers on to Arcade - and certainly looks nice. But it's not exactly thrilling.
Most importantly the swipe/tap controls are not responsive enough to induce the sense of 'jeopardy narrowly escaped' which was so fundamental to the original's charm. (Using a hardware controller improves things a little.) And I was getting mildly bored before I got to the end of the first level.
ARCADE • Age 4+ • Single player only • Supports hardware controllers • Frogger in Toy Town on the App Store
Want to read more about iOS gaming? We've got separate roundups of the best free iPhone games, and the best free iPad games. And on the accessories side, read our guide to the best iOS games controllers.