After downloading the necessary iOS software (an hour for me), I downloaded each game (about five minutes each). I budgeted 10 minutes to spend on each game and rank them in the order of which titles I most wanted to return to after the time expired. The truth is though, I often went over my 10 minutes for some titles because, well, they were enjoyable. For those in the top ten, I returned to play an hour or more.
Here are my impressions after 300 (plus) minutes in the Apple Arcade.
1. Sayonara Wild Hearts (Annapurna/Simogo)
When you find something extraordinary, you just want to tell everyone. “Sayonara Wild Hearts” hooked me immediately. The pure Japanese pop, the vivid, carefully-created art style, the fast-paced, panicked speeding on a motorcycle, the touching story — all these combine for a game you never want to put down. That’s because it takes place in lands you wish were real.
2. Grindstone (CapyGames)
There’s a heavy touch of “Candy Crush” here, but Grindstone lacks the despicable micropayments. As a Conan-like brute, you chain monsters together for kills. While directions come and go too quickly on the field of play, I feel Grindstone could really hook me.
3. Rayman Mini (Ubisoft Montpellier/Pastagames)
This Ubisoft jewel seems to scream the word “delightful!” “Rayman Mini” begins in a lush setting with streams and waterfalls. The adorable, eponymous character is about the size of a puffy dandelion seed head. The variety of peppy music with on-helium vocals makes almost every part of Rayman a joy to play. One thing that’s hard to do: turn the character and go back. Other than that, bravo.
4. Neo Cab (Fellow Traveller/Chance Agency)
It’s dialog-heavy science fiction of the person-versus-technology variety. You play Lina, a driver who picks up her fares and begins to unravel the evils of a mega corporation. There’s an earnest depth in the relationships here from the get go, partially due to the facial expressions that remind me of the interviewing portions in Rockstar Games’ L.A. Noire, except on a less detailed level.
5. The Pinball Wizard (Frosty Pop)
In “The Pinball Wizard,” you whack around a childlike wizard/ball. He spews babyish non-words as he hits targets and banks around a playfield to progress to more challenging tables. The flipper controls can sometimes get stuck in the up position in this dungeon crawler/pinball mash-up. Nastily, it doesn’t save your games early on. Power up-filled, it’s a newish riff on the old game, and I’ll play a lot more (already have).
6. Assemble With Care (ustwo Games)
Bolstered by a sincere-sounding voice actor, “Assemble With Care” is a small, prose-heavy game featuring a young woman traveling in Italy. She fixes phones and cameras, and observes the vagaries of human nature. While the humans she encounters are not unique enough, the story of her empowerment is one I want to hear more of. Is there a twist or something deeper here?
7. ChuChu Rocket! Universe (Sega Hardlight)
An update for a beloved Sega Dreamcast game, this showcases mice blasted into space via rockets. You get them back to their rockets via devious grids the rodents must navigate. “ChuChu Rocket” can be brainbusting and synapse splitting. But it’s a must play as well.
8. Jenny LeClue – Detectivu (Mografi)
It’s a murder story within a writer’s process story within a visual novel. You first meet Jenny LeClue in the Twins Peaks-like town of Arthurton. The glasses-wearing redhead is flossing her teeth and missing one, and that immediately endeared me. The pace here is quick enough and the dialogue often winning. This game is made for young adults, but I’ll be back to solve any crime that includes Jenny, “the world’s greatest detective.”
9. Cricket Through The Ages (Devolver Digital)
This wacky look at cricket history includes characters who are hard to control, almost as if they have no muscles. You start in the age of cave man and move through world war, all with cricket themes. “Cricket Through the Ages” is a Monty Python-esque send up that includes the Queen as a guest star. I came back and played for over an hour. I thought it would get old, but it hasn’t yet.
A simple, relaxing game of geometry, Spek is about moving a black dot over a movable line to find a square, sometimes in an Escher-like space. I can see playing this slow offering on a plane or before bed. When I return, I hope the ambient music will be more varied.
11. Sonic Racing (Sega/Hardlight)
It’s a boisterous cacophony! Moments in, someone yells “Sonic Racing!!!” Percussion slams through the speakers. Playing online as Sonic or one of his pals against opponents (who thankfully can’t talk to me) makes my iPhone 10 heat up and occasionally freeze. But I continued to race. Hot hands or not, I’m ready for crazed speed.
12. Atone: Heart of the Elder Tree (Wildboy Studios)
It’s the art style that hooked me. In this tale of Norse mythologies which sees the people and animals die around you while you’re asleep, you gaze in absolute wonder at the woodcut-inspired art that’s both magical and abstract. As you piece together clues to what happened, you’ll find yourself at dead ends. Navigating these haunted forests is not easy!
13. The Get Out Kids (Frosty Pop)
Somewhat creepy, this narrative-rich game is about kids dealing with a house that has seen mysterious deaths over the years. The kids have setbacks, too, as one packs an epi before leaving her room. And then, animals begin to disappear. I admire the design of an interactive adventure novel broken up into chapters, and I’ll be back for more.
14. Cat Quest II (Gentlebros Games)
It’s a game of medieval might and power, and winter is coming — with cats. I could live without cat puns like “purrsecution.” But since it features some of the tightest controls of all the Arcade games, I’ll be back to this semi-Purrfect game.
15. Projection: First Light (Blowfish Studios Games)
The use of shadow puppets for the characters in “Projection” is savvy, but the story of a girl who runs away from home after stealing and being chided by her parents is thin. Here, you control light and create shadows as platforms to move forward to move around. It was fine until I got stuck in a crevasse and the shadow mechanic didn’t work.
16. Frogger in Toy Town (Konami)
“Frogger in Toy Town,” the latest in a series of classics from 50-year-old Konami, has more unique challenges, powerups and obstacles than I remember in the old games. But the controls aren’t as tight as they could be. As you rescue baby frogs in a suburban home, you feel a bit like you’re in a “Toy Story” film. And (shivers) some toys are out to get you.
17. Cardapocalypse (Gambrinous)
This won me over immediately due to its 90s metal theme song. Combine that with the rebellious, Peppermint Patty-like Jess character and this card game rocks even before you complete its tutorial. To be honest, I don’t even like card games. But I like this one. In story mode, the acting’s not perfect, but the dashes of humor make up for it.
18. Hot Lava (Klei Entertainment)
How brilliantly this begins! You’re treated to an old school Saturday morning cartoon about your protagonist heroes, the Global Action Team, complete with video commercials for action toys. The game features a floor made of fear-inspiring lava. You have to run and hop on staircases and chairs to avoid the burning. I feel good here, like I’m in a new style of game. But I’ll use a controller when I return for more accurate movement.
19. Shinsekai Into The Depths (Capcom)
Shinsekai, which means “new world” in Japanese, takes you deep into the green ocean depths. In this platformer, I worry about oxygen running out and ice crushing my bones. In the varied underwater environment, there’s an ambient loneliness to your workmanlike character who seems tired but ardent. There were control issues as I moved by character up seabottom burms, but I’d come back for more. I like to be alone.
20. Dead End Job (Ant Workshop)
In a nod to “Ghostbusters,” you shoot, then vacuum ghosts room by room until they can’t take it anymore. There are also nods to “The Ren and Stimpy Show” in the art style. There are a lot of inspirations here. Even if you realize that, Dead End Job is still a hoot to play.
21. Oceanhorn 2 Knights of the Lost Realm (Cornfox & Brothers)
During the introduction, phrases like “The sands of time have run many times” and “It was a dark and stormy night” struck me as awfully cliche writing and not intended to be ironic. But the graphics here are richly detailed in a likable “Breath of the Wild” way. Here’s another game that makes the mistake of not offering a complete tutorial early on. I’ll be back to learn more to see if the challenges aren’t as tired as the early narrative writing.
22. Where Cards Fall (Snowman/The Game Band)
This platformer with ambient music has one cool new thing: a deck of faceless cards you spread out to move forward over water features and canyons. I got no hint of story in the first 10 minutes. But spreading the deck of cards is satisfying, so I’ll return.
23. Lego Brawls (The Lego Group/RED Games)
The problem with this riff on “Super Smash Bros.” lies in the controls and in the lack of parity online. You’re thrown in with top notch players from moment one. That doesn’t inspire me to want to level up to compete. It makes me feel like a failure. Still, the variety of humorous power-ups like pie guns is more than okay.
24. The Enchanted World (AI Interactive/Noodlecake Studios)
As you begin, you’re introduced to a wandering witchlike fairy, engaging ambient music and sliding block puzzles that allow her to continue her forest path toward a variety of worlds. Her best friend has turned into a red bird, and there’s some brown nefarious monstrous thing underground. It’s kind of cute and sweet, but the sliding block puzzles are the appeal here.
25. EarthNight (Cleaversoft)
Want to be the mother of dragons? “EarthNight” is a unique runner on the backs of the highflying beasts. Yet it’s not as compelling as I originally thought at E3. That’s because you don’t immediately see much personality in the old man and young girl characters. I’ll return to run on these scaly backs, but with lower expectations.
26. Bleak Sword (Devolver Digital/More8Bit)
What “Bleak Sword” does with bit art and a black, white and red palette is enviable. But the game can be unforgiving from early on. The laughing skull you see each time you die can feel hauntingly mocking. I lost the sense of joy but will come back around Halloween for some scares.
27. Sneaky Sasquatch (RAC7 Games)
The idea of a famished sasquatch who uses stealth to survive and make mayhem at a camping site is a good one. So is the simple, cartoony art and early “Legend of Zelda”-inspired design. Yet even with the addition of a sly fox who sends me on short missions, I’m not that compelled to return.
28. Murder Mystery Machine (Blazing Griffin)
If you like TV procedurals like “SVU,” you might like this. But as someone who needs tight, witty dialogue to move forward, this falls flat from the get-go. If you’ve seen any TV procedural, you know what’s going on here. I don’t have the patience to collect clues and solve mysteries if there are no new twists to the story.
29. What the Golf (Triband)
This idea of using anything nearby – including houses – as a something to hit to the green and into the hole is, at first, hilarious. But the visual puns wore on me and the joke dissipated quickly. I might come back when I’m in a mood for something mildly absurd.
This game looks like another post-apocalyptic misery in which you flee town due to the infected zombies. It’s a road trip to hell, and I like that idea. But I don’t know what to do in this turn-based strategy game. Where’s the tutorial? The controls seem clunky. I can’t even leave the first screen. I feel like Clark Griswold stuck in a London roundabout.
Harold Goldberg is a freelance writer who has written for the New York Times, Playboy, Vanity Fair and elsewhere. He’s the founder of the New York Video Game Critics Circle and New York Game Awards. Follow him on Twitter @haroldgoldberg.