Touchscreen Gaming: Our Top Ten Games On Apple Arcade

by John Rogers

Still: Alba: A Wildlife Adventure (ustwogames; 2020)

The arrival of Apple Arcade is an intriguing avenue for mobile gaming. Based on the “Netflix for games” subscription model pioneered by Xbox’s GamePass, a monthly membership allows you to browse an extensive menu of around 150 games in the Arcade panel of the Apple App Store.


What’s on offer is surprisingly diverse. Whether you want to kill a few minutes at a bus stop or explore a substantial virtual world, there’s a wide array of titles to choose from. Some titles are purpose-designed for touch screen, and best experienced phone in hand; others are only truly playable with a controller, usually paired via Bluetooth. The handy cross-save feature means if you’re running a combination of iPhone, iPad, Apple TV or MacBook, you can pick up where you left off across your devices.


With all that in mind, here’s a rundown of the top ten Apple Arcade games we recommend trying out. (It’s worth noting that Apple Arcade offers a free month-long trial, so you could theoretically play through this selection and then skip out on the ongoing membership, if you just wanna play some free games.)


1. The Pathless

What it is: A pocket-sized open world adventure with slick movement and deep lore

How to play: Best with a controller

Still: 'The Pathless' (Giant Squid / Annapurna Interactive; 2020)

Why you should try it: The Pathless is an entire open world in your pocket. This is a full-fat video game that pushes the capabilities of all but the highest spec Apple devices. The fact that it’s a PS5 launch title tells us it’s a minor miracle that it’s featured here at all, albeit in an optimised (and sometimes chugging) form.


As a masked archer known only as The Hunter, you’ll investigate the five steppes of a mysterious forested island, piecing together the fate of a collapsed civilisation, and curing giant animal gods of a strange polluting madness.


The gameplay brings to mind Breath of the Wild and Shadow of the Colossus, varying between exploration, puzzling and thrilling, climatic boss fights. The jaw-dropping soundtrack, by video game maestro Austin Wintory, is the cherry on the cake.


2. Sayonara Wild Hearts

What it is: An aesthetically pleasing vapourwave arcade game

How to play: Best with a controller

Still: 'Sayonara Wild Hearts' (Simogo; 2019)

Why you should try: The neon dreamworld of Sayonara Wild Hearts is part gamified pop album and part high-speed arcade game. The eye-popping visuals incorporate everything from masque balls and Nordic pop aesthetics to biker girl gangs, tarot cards, retro-futurism and classic racing games.


With a voiceover by Queen Latifah, a flawless soundtrack, and a surprisingly emotional story payoff, Sayonara Wild Hearts is a truly stellar game and flagship title for Apple Arcade. Touch-screen controls don’t do this one justice, so pair up a controller, play on as big a screen as possible, and be sure to blast up the music. Wild hearts never die!


3. Manifold Garden

What it is: First-person psychedelic architecture & puzzles

How to play: Best with a controller

Still: 'Manifold Garden' (William Chyr Studio; 2019)

Why you should try: Fans of Portal, The Witness, Superliminal and Myst will feel immediately at home in Manifold Garden, a striking new addition to the cerebral first-person-puzzler genre.


The hook here is that as you explore this sterile world, you can rotate everything around you by shifting gravity as you go, meaning floors become ceilings and ceilings become floors.


Combine this with stunning modernist architecture, looping fractal environments, ingenious gravity puzzles, a prismic colour palette, and an impressive Vangelis-like soundtrack and you have one of the most memorable exploration/puzzle games of recent years.


4. Bleak Sword

What it is: A hard-as-nails 1-bit Souls-lite

How to play: Best on iPhone

Still: 'Bleak Sword' (More8Bit, 2019)

Why you should try: With an ingeniously simple set of controls (swipe to dodge-roll, tap-swipe to slash, hold-swipe for a charged strike) Bleak Sword offers a pocket-sized Dark Souls for the mobile gamer.


Best played on an iPhone, the adrenalised crowd-control combat arenas, slick swordplay, tough bosses and retro art style offer a compelling ride. Maybe the best one-handed phone game we’ve played. It can be quite tough – this one isn’t for the faint of heart.


5. Mutazione

What it is: A surreal island adventure, with plants, and friendly mutants

How to play: Great on touchscreen or controller

Still: 'Mutazione' (Die Gute Fabrik; 2019)

Why you should try: Travel to a tropical island populated by friendly mutants in this gentle adventure game. The island of Mutazione is dripping with atmosphere, from the rich cast of characters to the dazzling art style and the sleepy surf-psych soundtrack.


The gameplay includes collecting seeds to grow plants in various gardens, singing to said plants, exploring the island, talking to people (and mutants), having visions and dream encounters, flirting with a catwoman, piecing together the past, and helping your elderly grandpa carry out his final wishes. A keeper.


6. Alba: A Nature Adventure

What it is: A charming exploration-based eco-game

How to play: Great on touchscreen or controller

Still: Alba: A Wildlife Adventure (ustwogames; 2020)

Why you should try: Played at little kid height and little kid speed, Alba is an intensely charming exploration game. After bidding farewell to your grandparents each morning, you’ll skip around a lovingly created Meditteranian island generally being an adorkable goody-two-shoes.


Activities include picking up trash, repairing bird boxes, folding laundry, and – most importantly – photographing the many birds that nest on the island. The fact that such a simple idea was developed into such a deeply enjoyable game is a testament to things done right: the sensitive design, colourful art style, detailed world, light dialogue and immersive soundscape of waves, tweets, rustles and chirps all make Alba a joy to play.


7. What The Golf?

What it is: A bizarre laugh-a-minute mobile game that has little to do with golf

How to play: Best on touchscreen

Still: 'What The Golf?' (Triband; 2019)

Why you should try: What The Golf? starts innocuously enough, with a simple drive onto the green – but this is a game that can barely contain its own mischief. By the time the tutorial ends, you’ll have chased a giggling flag as it dodges your shots, flung the golfer himself down the fairway, and putted the hole itself towards the ball. And that’s just the beginning.


Every level is an event, and you’ll chuckle like Beavis as you catapult giraffes into swimming pools, explode innocent cats, blast the ball into space, or shoot trees off the course entirely on your way through this crazed, creative, hilarious anti-golf experience. Play it on your phone, in short bursts.


8. Neo Cab

What it is: A sci-fi visual novel about the last human taxi driver

How to play: Best on touchscreen

Still: 'Neo Cab' (Chance Agency; 2019)

Why you should try: If you’re looking for something to play with a dimmed screen before bed, Neo Cab is the ideal candidate. It’s an interactive narrative journey in which your main job is to top up the gas, pick up clients, chart a route to their destination, and then talk to them en route to their destination.


These conversations slowly unveil a memorable sci-fi dystopia, with bite-sized encounters that lend themselves to short play sessions. A top-notch visual novel with an involving story and an overt anticapitalist agenda.


9. Necrobarista

What it is: A stylish visual novel about a café for ghosts

How to play: Great on touchscreen or controller

Still: 'Necrobarista' (Route 59; 2020)

Why you should try: A gameplay-light sci-fi story in which you’re a barista in a café that also acts as a waiting room for the ghosts of the recently deceased. It’s beautiful to look at, with a cinematic feel; as you tap through the sharp dialogue, the shot changes, giving the impression of directorial interactivity.


Occasional 3D sections allow you wander a little (with oddly oversensitive controls, alas) and read news about the world you’re inhabiting. It’s a pure visual novel, so expect a lack of choice and agency, but an engaging story and an enjoyably aesthetic experience.


10. Nuts

What it is: A surveillance game in which you uncover the secrets of... squirrels

How to play: Best with a controller

Still: 'NUTS' (Noodlecake; 2020)

Why you should try: One of the most recent arrivals on Arcade is one of the most intriguing. As a scientist heading into the woods to carry out a nocturnal wildlife surveillance project, you’ll set your cameras up by day, starting at a squirrel’s nest; you’ll then look at the resulting footage to see where it goes, move the cameras around to see the next steps, and repeat.


With a stark art style, ambient music, and a Firewatch 2.0 vibe, we enjoyed the opening hour of this one. And while it’s not yet clear what our furry friends are up to, we can already tell that ‘the squirrels are not what they seem’...

Have you played any of these games, or something else on Apple Arcade that we’ve missed out? Tweet at @radartreview, and video games editor @gaminginthewild, to let us know. And look out for our weekly video games podcast, Gaming In The Wild, on which we review games like these in more detail.

John Rogers is an Iceland-based journalist. He is the Gaming Editor of the Radical Art Review and the host of Gaming In The Wild

The Radical Art Review is a print and digital magazine where art and culture meet activism. We tackle the politics of popular culture and provide a platform to emerging, marginalised, and disenfranchised artists.

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