It’s been nearly a month since the official September 19 launch of Apple Arcade. With my free 30-day trial of the subscription gaming service on the verge of expiring, I ask myself if I’m getting enough out of it to give Apple five of my hard-earned dollars to keep playing. Having barely made a dent in the 71 launch games, let alone the nine that have been added since, I’d say I still have plenty of playing to do.
Stephen Totilo and I called Apple Arcade “mobile gaming without all the bullshit” in our initial impressions of the service, and that assessment holds true. Having instant access to a massive, curated selection of quality games with no annoying microtransactions, energy meters, life timers, or other annoyances of free-to-play mobile gaming has changed how I play games on my iPhone and iPad. Instead of immediately heading to the iTunes app store’s game section to check out “New Games We Love,” I go straight to the Arcade page to see if anything new has popped up.
The service has spoiled me for traditional free-to-play games, like the recently-released Mario Kart Tour. I don’t mind the microtransaction model as much as some, but I’ve started minding it more since Arcade went live. Why spend money on chances at winning random Mario karts and racers when there’s a full-featured Sonic Racing game with all the trimmings on Arcade?
Apple Arcade hasn’t reached the 100-game mark yet. Between the launch games and two subsequent mini-waves of releases (which included some surprises), the service has 80 titles to choose from. I’ve downloaded every single one to my iPad Pro. Now when I pick up my tablet, I spend a good minute perusing the menu, trying to figure out what sort of game I’m in the mood to play. The soothing picture puzzles of Patterns? The random multiplayer madness of Lego Brawls? The unique future racing of Super Impossible Road? The Zelda-riffic Oceanhorn 2? A “Play Random Apple Arcade Game” button would not be unwelcome at this point.
Is Apple Arcade’s approach the future of gaming? I don’t know, but I do know it’s my next five dollars’ worth of gaming. We’ll see how I feel next month.
It doesn’t take a lot to win a fight in Digimon: ReArise, the latest digital monster game for iOS and Android devices. As long as your party is properly leveled up, the auto-battle function breezes through the turn-based team battles. The real challenge in Digimon: ReArise is collecting, raising, and training an ever-expanding horde of colorful creatures, evolving them from cute little balls into humanoid figures with rocket launchers mounted on their shoulders.
Digimon: ReArise, out now in North America on iTunes and Google Play, begins when the player’s virtual pet, the hedgehog-like Herrissmon, manifests in the real world. The pair encounter “spirals,” aggressive echoes of normally friendly Digimon, and engage them in simplistic turn-based battles. They meet other trainers and begin to investigate the mystery of the spirals and the reason why the digital and human worlds are randomly mashing together.
Ignore this video thumb.
The story, unfolding in a series of alternating battles against repetitive groups of enemies and visual-novel-style cutscenes, is a fine reason for players to collect and raise Digimon, which is the main point of the game. Whether summoned through the game’s gacha mechanic using in-game currency or hatched from eggs, Digimon require a lot of maintenance.
Feeding, training, leveling, and eventually digivolving into more powerful forms requires materials earned through battle or other in-game events. Hatching eggs takes time, which can be sped up using a strictly in-game currency called Bits, which are also used to raise Digimon levels.
Bonding with Digimon takes food, and each digital monster has their food preference. Enhancing Digimon, which raises their level cap and enables evolution, requires special training items won through story missions. Check out the video below for a look at how it all comes together.
This is far from my favorite way to play with Digimon, but I do enjoy, you know, the Digimon, even if they are a bit low-rez and jaggy. If anything, Digimon: ReArise will give me something to do until I dive back into Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth when the complete edition releases next week on Switch and PC. I digitake what I can digiget.
I love old-school adventure games so damn much, but sometimes I just can’t manage to finish them. I get stuck on puzzles but I’m often too stubborn to consult a guide, or I lose patience with their pacing, or sometimes I’m just tired of looking at my laptop screen (most of the adventure games I want to play are on my work laptop). I feel bad about this, because at their best, adventure games are playgrounds of absurd logic, fun characters, and gorgeous art. A mobile game called Pilgrims has finally got me jazzed to play an adventure game again.
Part of this is due to the game’s presence on Apple Arcade—although it’s also available on PC—but another reason is the neat way it foregrounds the trial-and-error method for solving puzzles, a method that adventure games devolve into anyway. Here, it’s what you’re actually supposed to do.
As you’ll recall, getting stuck on a puzzle had been part of my problem with adventure games in the past, and often led to me disengaging entirely with the game. Usually, I’d get stumped because the logic of the game had become impossible for me to parse, so I’d just start trying things with no rhyme or reason, mindlessly matching items with interactable objects and seeing what would happen. That’s not very fun, so after a while, I’d quit.
Pilgrims, however, is a game that strips everything back and makes being “wrong” part of the fun. It’s a game about a pilgrim-looking dude on a journey; it’s not very clear where to, there’s no text in the game and every character speaks in amusing gibberish. Mostly, this is a game about trying stuff and seeing what happens. Every item and character who joins you is available to play as a card. Play a card in a scene, and even if it doesn’t give you progress, something amusing might happen. A man in a tavern might pour your character beer and get them drunk. A bear might eat your stew and punch you out. A demon might twirl a lasso like a rodeo character. None of these things have advanced me in the game, but I’ve loved seeing all of them.
That’s why I think I’m going to finish Pilgrims. Because, like a pilgrim, I’m off to see what I can see.
After being in rigorous beta testing across multiple countries since July, Activision and Tencent’s Call of Duty: Mobile is go for iOS and Android devices everywhere but mainland China, Vietnam, and Belgium. Battle across recognizable maps, fight as iconic heroes like Ghost and Soap, and participate in a battle royale the likes of which you’ve probably seen before.
It’s free to play; it’s mobile; it’s what a console Call of Duty might look like if people weren’t so down on microtransactions and loot boxes. They really should have subtitled it “Mobile Warfare.” Beneath the icon in the iTunes search results it says “Visceral Multiplayer!” which sounds like a thing Call of Duty players are keen on.
The game runs in landscape mode instead of portrait (wide instead of tall), which was a great decision, Mario Kart Tour. The gameplay isn’t too shabby. It looks nice on my iPhone XR. It’s all aiming and auto-firing, but it works well on a small touchscreen
The focus is on progression, with new gear unlocked as players climb the ranks and access new loadout slots. Weapons have experience levels as well, with better mods and attachments unlocked at higher levels. There’s a store filled with cosmetic stuff to purchase and play with, daily login bonuses, special events—basically plenty of things to clutter up its nice-looking home screen.
Players can purchase in-game currency with real cash to help them make their soldier and weapons look all pretty. There’s a “Cash Back” event going on right now that involves getting bonuses for purchasing currency and makes me feel like I am trying to finance a car every time I load up the game. This is Activision and Tencent, so expect plenty of ridiculous things to buy and ways to buy them.
As for the Battle Royale, it supports up to 100 players, pulls together map locations from across many different Call of Duty games, and isn’t unlocked until level 7, which might take me a while. You’ll probably get there first. Let me know how it is.
Styled after Nintendo’s new Switch Lite, the 8BitDo Lite is a controller so ultra-portable that it’s got two directional pads instead of analog sticks to keep it as thin as possible.
The 8BitDo Lite features all the functionality of a full-sized Nintendo Switch controller, only instead of analog sticks, it has D-pads. That means these should take the place of analog sticks, perfect for games that don’t actually have analog control anyway (and probably not the best for those that do). Unlike the Switch Lite itself, the D-pad isn’t replacing the four-button array on the left side, which is still there. It’s a weird-looking controller for sure.
Though obviously designed to match the more colorful variations of the Switch Lite, the $25 controllers, available for preorder now and shipping October 30, also work with PC, MacOS, Android, and more, with a switch on top that swaps between Switch and Xbox-compatible functionality They connect via USB-C cable or Bluetooth, and they feature a programmable turbo function, in case one needs a button to be pressed repeatedly in rapid fashion.
It looks weird, but also pretty damn cool. I can’t look at pictures of these for too long without the overwhelming urge to bite into them. I’m thinking the turquoise tastes like spearmint.
And the yellow one probably tastes like lemon meltaway candy.
Another possible outcome is they both probably taste like plastic. Even so, I am curious to test the accessibility of those R2 and L2 buttons, situated as they are along the top of the controller instead of behind the triggers or on the back.
Consider me intrigued. I own a couple of 8BitDo controllers for my Analogue retro Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo consoles, and they have yet to let me down. Looking forward to getting my large hands on these odd-yet-pretty things later this year.
Pinball Wizard, a new pinball game for Apple Arcade starring an actual wizard, has all the elements of a great subway game: It’s easy to learn, challenging as you keep going, and it doesn’t always need all of your attention.
Pinball Wizard is basically pinball, but with spells. Your wizard is the ball, and you tab the bottom corners of the screen to activate the bumpers and send them flying. By hitting enemies, you damage them, and you can also hit barrels that will give you more health, or coins, which you use to upgrade your skills, or energy, which you need to use your skills. There’s a bunch of passive skills, like ones that reduce the amount of damage you take when you fall off a level. There’s also two offensive skills—a dash attack that allows you to change the direction of your wizard mid-flight, and another than summons an extra ball.
The greatest boon to Pinball Wizard is that the levels go quickly, and there’s only so much you can do to control the wizard careening around them. A lot of the game is hovering your thumbs over the bumpers, waiting for the wizard to come around again. This is punctuated by using your skills, but they deplete your energy. You can’t just spam the dash attack until everything’s dead, and the glidey physics of the game make the ball harder to accurately control. Sometimes when I think I’m aiming my wizard dead at an enemy or an item I need, it’ll hit the wall right next to it and then shoot off in a random direction.
The ultimate lack of control makes this perfect for the subway. I can still have an ear out for when I’m hitting my stop because I don’t need to be fully engaged all the time. Still, when I pull off a tricky move or bump into some torches and trigger a secret in the level, the game has my full attention. It’s a pleasant ebb and flow for my admittedly short attention span.
What I especially like about Pinball Wizard is what the game does when I lock my phone. When I do reach my stop on the subway, getting off the train before the doors close on me really should have my full attention. Often I only have enough time to lock my phone and shove it in my pocket before disembarking. When I reopen Pinball Wizard, the game is already paused, with my wizard frozen in place until I need to kill another 20 minutes underground.
Mario Kart Tour is a fine racing game. The graphics are lovely. The simple touch controls are fine once you get used to them. It’s overflowing with colorful Nintendo brand polish. Mario Kart Tour is also a free-to-play game with a microtransaction-fueled gacha collection mechanic and game options and rewards locked behind a paid monthly subscription. If that second part doesn’t bother you, you might have a good time with Nintendo’s latest mobile game.
“Nintendo games still don’t feel right on mobile,” wrote Gita Jackson in late 2017, commenting on the strange dissonance felt while playing games like Fire Emblem Heroes, Super Mario Run, and Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp after years playing the deeper console games in those series. Two years later, after Dr. Mario World and now Mario Kart Tour, and that dissonance remains. Games we’ve spent years playing on Nintendo consoles feel weird on phones and tablets. Especially when a game like Mario Kart gets turned on its side.
In part, I mean that literally. What an odd choice, taking a game we’re used to playing in landscape mode and making it portrait. The narrow screen makes it more difficult to see competitors coming up alongside your racer. It’s not a great view on my iPad. It’s even worse on my skinnier iPhone. Having played the game for a couple of hours now, I still feel the urge to turn the whole thing around in my hands.
I’m used to holding down the accelerator button as I race through Mario Kart tracks. That’s not what happens in Mario Kart Tour. Karts move forward automatically. All I have to do is tap left or right to steer (there’s a gyroscope steering option but it’s rubbish). It takes a while to get a feel for how and when to start drifting, and different kart models have their own handling profiles, but after four or five races it’s not bad.
As alien as Mario Kart Tour can feel at first, it’s not really the gameplay or screen orientation that makes it feel like the awkward cousin of a proper Mario Kart game. It’s the structure. It’s collecting stars awarded for achieving high scores in races to unlock new circuits. It’s tracks where certain racers have distinct advantages over others. Musician Mario, one of the special racers available during the game’s New York City-themed opening event, has a special power that grants him two Bob-ombs instead of one when he collects that power-up. Looking at his racer page, we can see which courses grant him three items per power-up box.
Certain racers having a distinct advantage over others in certain situations isn’t great. The game’s gacha feature, in which players can spend in-game currency for a chance to unlock rare racers, means that players who pay more have a better chance at having the right racer, kart, and glider combo to get maximum bonus points on any course they play. That’s verging on pay-to-win, even though there’s no real-time multiplayer in the game—currently, players race against computer-controlled ghosts with real players’ names attached to them.
Mario Kart Tour isn’t quite as greedy as it was during beta. The test version of the game Ethan Gach played earlier this year had a stamina/energy meter, one of the most obnoxious free-to-play mechanics, as well as premium currency called green gems that offered players better rewards the more they purchased. The launch version of the game lets you play all you want. The green gems are now rubies, and doesn’t seem to reward you for buying more of them. Instead, there’s a $4.99 monthly Gold Pass subscription that grants players better rewards for completing races (including extra rubies), exclusive vehicles and equipment, and access to more challenging 200cc races.
Is an optional monthly subscription better than earning rewards for buying currency? Not really. Especially when Mario Kart Tour launched just days after Apple Arcade, a subscription service with more than 70 high-quality, microtransaction-free games for the same $4.99 price. Apple Arcade is mobile gaming without all the bullshit. Mario Kart Tour is a Nintendo game with a big extra helping of bullshit.
According to app data website Apptopia, Mario Kart Tour shattered launch-day records yesterday, with more than 10.1 million installs across iOS and Android devices. The idea of a free Nintendo mobile game is an attractive prospect for many, many people. I wonder how long that will last.
Nintendo’s latest free-to-play mobile game, Mario Kart Tour, launches tomorrow on iOS and Android. Every two weeks the nickley, dimey racer will test players in tours, special races inspired by real-world locations. The first destination is New York, New York, where players can earn Musician Mario and Super Mario Odyssey Pauline as playable racers.
New York City, huh? Kind of the obvious place to kick off a world tour, but the course looks nice and the racers even nicer. Mario is decked out in a jazzy sort of suit.
While Pauline should probably be wearing a helmet or something.
The New York announcement comes courtesy of the first installment of the official Mario Kart Tour News. It’s hosted by Lakitu. You know, the jerk who drops stuff on your head in proper Mario games. This Lakitu is particularly charming, but he doesn’t fool me.
Gram Games’ Merge Dragons is a very popular free-to-pay mobile game about combining three things into better things and spending money on dragon gems. Merge Magic, out today on iOS and Android, is a new game about combining three new things into better new things and spending money on magic gems.
It has new art, new challenges, a fancy garden to decorate, and the possibility of running into evil witches, all wrapped around the same incredibly compelling merge mechanic that makes my wife stare at her phone for hours on end and kept our editor-in-chief occupied for a couple of weeks before he snapped out of it. Combining plants and statues and eggs into better plants and statues and eggs is oddly exciting. It’s what made Zynga buy Gram Games last year. Remember Zynga?
I’ve fiddled about with Merge Magic for about an hour this morning, turning plants into other plants and lifting the curse that keeps my garden from looking as pretty as it possibly could. I’m concerned about my cursed garden and ready to match more things to make it less cursed. You should probably run. Fast. No, faster than that.
While the $5-a-month Apple Arcade subscription doesn’t officially launch until Thursday, iOS 13 beta testers can sign up right now and dive into new games from some of the best indie studios on the planet. With nearly 60 games on the service so far, it’s an overwhelming amount of entertainment, all at once.
Last week Apple dropped a short list of games coming to Apple Arcade for iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, and Macs. It contained 15 or so games, including new games in classic franchises like Rayman and Pac-Man, an RPG from the makers of Bravely Default, and a bunch of other cool-looking stuff. It was an impressive list, but it’s nothing compared to the tidal wave of titles washing over early Apple Arcade players right now.
I spent much of yesterday afternoon excitedly typing game names into our work Slack. Oceanhorn 2! The first part of the new Shantae game! Square Enix’s Various Daylife! Mini Motorways, a new game from the makers of Mini Metro! Assemble With Care, a new narrative puzzle adventure from UsTwo, makers of Monument Valley! Klei’s Hot Lava, an action game I’ve been waiting for since 2016! Earthnight, that cool dragon-running game from the Nintendo Switch indie direct! Many, many exclamation points were used.
When I loaded the iOS 13 beta yesterday afternoon, there were 53 games available to download and play. As of this writing, there are 59. Apple plans on having more than 100 available in the coming weeks. Thank goodness for my 512 GB iPad Pro. I have so many good things to play right now I don’t know where to start. I’m just going to play everything and see if I can’t come up with some sort of guide to help folks navigate the already crowded service once it launches wide later this week.