It’s worth keeping the same disclaimer in mind once again – in the interests of fairness to the mobile market, I’ve played each of these games using the touchpad without an external controller. Many Apple Arcade games include controller support, but if you’re like me you probably don’t carry a controller everywhere you go.
If you have an Apple Arcade account, you can play any of these without paying anything extra.
In a dark room somewhere in the USSR, a tiny man is being interrogated by an impossibly huge Khrushchev-era general, and instead of being like, you know, tortured, the tiny man just kinda tells a story and the general listens to his wonderful tale with impatient disbelief. This is how Little Orpheus, and the tale of Ivan Ivanovich, begins, and it’s absolutely brilliant. The offensive Russian accents, the calls to being “a good socialist who was educated by our glorious schools” when called an idiot, and all the other little quips lend this narrative platformer a wonderfully humorous atmosphere.
The story is about how Ivan got stranded below the earth after drilling down in a gigantic Soviet device powered by a nuclear bomb. The land under the Earth is not, as it actually is, a bunch of rock – instead it’s like Journey to the Centre of the Earth, with an entire civilisation, dense foliage, and dinosaurs of its own. It’s a place of adventure. And while journeying through this land, there’s persistent voice-over between Ivan and the general who refuses to believe the story you’re playing through.
The story is presented as a rather simple, linear platformer. There’s nothing to collect and no special trial runs. It’s just a straightforward story that involves some jumps, some exceedingly mild puzzles, and swinging on ropes and vines. It doesn’t do anything new in terms of gameplay, but its vibrant use of colour, its gorgeous vistas, its funny voice-over, and its superb sound design (that will often have Ivan Ivanovich shrieking in terror, exerting himself when he falls, and generally just being clumsy) contribute to one of the best games on Apple Arcade.
The game is presented as an episodic adventure, but not in the way you’d generally expect. There’s no waiting for the next episode, because every episode is already in the package (unlike many other episodic titles on the service). The reason for the episodic structure is so that, according to the developers, you can have eight “bite-size, commute-friendly episodes”. Each episode ends on a cliffhanger that the next episode picks up on, and each one has that classic fifties-era serial voice-over: “Will Ivan Ivanovic make it out of this?! Join us next time on Little Orpheus!”
The entire package will probably run you about four hours or so, and so it’s not exactly a replayable experience, but there aren’t many Cold War-era narratives that involve you hiding from a T-Rex, finding a lost civilisation, or getting swallowed by a whale.
BEYOND A STEEL SKY
Back in 1994 a video game was released called Beneath a Steel Sky, and that game became a classic point-and-click adventure game of the era. Then, for some reason, more than a quarter of century later, someone decided to make a sequel. It ditched the old-school art style, adapted the old-school mechanics, and called itself Beyond a Steel Sky.
This sequel, which also takes place years after the original’s conclusion, is set in that same world and follows original protagonist Foster, a post-apocalyptic engineer type who’s trying to find a child that’s been kidnapped from his village. His search across the apocalyptic Australian landscape (which is quite hospitable in comparison to Mad Max’s apocalyptic Australian landscape) leads him to a city where he will continue his search. Along the way, you’ll do the usual point-and-click thing, solve often strange environmental puzzles with backwards logic, and meet some charismatic people.
The game is presented from a third-person perspective but has all the main hallmarks of a point-and-click game. You have an inventory, you can chat to people (and there are various conversation options), you can examine things, and you can use items on things (and much of the time nothing will happen). It’s pretty much an old-school point-and-click adventure with better graphics. It also has a fun, quirky world that’s filled with the usual kind of dystopian stuff you’d expect – I mean, there’s a big city with a bunch of government ministries that are named like the government branches in Nineteen Eighty-Four.
So, if you want your typical wise-cracking protagonist in a cel-shaded reimagining of old-school point-and-click adventure games then this should be just the thing you’re looking for. If not, then at least the plethora of Australian voice actors should give you a sense of diversity. It isn’t like Australian accents are all that common in games anyway.
LULLABY OF LIFE
Want a truly adorable, chilled out puzzle game? Well Lullaby of Life has got you covered! In this game you’re a blob of some sort and you’re able to make musical tunes. At first, just one, but your range of tunes expands as the game goes on, and in that sense it’s somewhat akin to something like Portal in that you take a very basic concept and push it into varied directions that you’d never have thought of before.
To really explain how it works though, I’m gonna need to go a bit technical on it. I need to get into the nitty gritty because it doesn’t really function like most other games. Okay, so it’s a rhythm puzzle game, and the puzzles are solved by using the tunes you can play. Those tunes can unlock certain doors, but when you come to a door that you can’t open, you need to go and find a friendly blob who can make that door’s note. So, after a while you accumulate various little blob friends and each is able to do a specific note, and doors require increasingly complex layouts to open them. So, it’ll be something like this – there’s a door that requires six notes, but your main blob can only do one. So you do the one, and then click on one of your friends, who makes another note, but that triggers a nearby node that creates a new note, and then you need to click on another friend to trigger another friend to make a note. It sounds confusing in writing but makes complete sense when you’re playing.
This note-based puzzle system also goes in some interesting directions because certain notes can cause non-blobs to produce their own notes and those notes can cancel out other notes. This means you need to be careful with where you make your little sounds. In other areas you need to go through an area alone because the lock is behind a wall and only you can fit, and then you use your friends to work it from the other side. There are even strings you can make noise at and they’ll travel along them like the notes on a guitar string. The variety of puzzle combinations the devs were able to produce with something that has such a simple central mechanic is rather amazing.
But this game won’t be for those who want a challenging puzzle game. This is more for some relaxed times with a cute, cartoon blob with googly eyes. It’s adorable, it’s sweet, and it looks and sounds gorgeous. So, go grab it if you want some chill times with a musical blob.
GAME OF THRONES: TALE OF CROWS
Sometimes you want a game that just sits around and occasionally bugs you to do a small thirty second quest here or there. It’s nice. It helps with the concentration because you don’t get bored of the work you’re doing if you’re casually interrupted every now and then to fulfil some random duty, and this is what Game of Thrones: Tale of Crows does. It acts like your usual mobile game, with long waiting times between actions, but there’s no option to speed things up with real world cash. Instead, you just have to wait.
In the game, you take control of Castle Black along the Wall from Game of Thrones, and for those unfamiliar with those things, this game probably isn’t for you. You are the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch and you need to make decisions that will help build the Night’s Watch. A lot of the backstory isn’t really explained, so it’s for fans. The game itself takes place long before the narrative of the show/books though, and so you need a familiarity with the world but not with the final season (which really is a blessing more than anything else).
You, as the Lord Commander, have to send your men out on expeditions beyond the wall, and occasionally make choices for them, such as whether they should punish deserters, burn some bodies, return home safely or quickly, et cetera. Think of it as a visual novel with some nice sound effects, a pretty map, and a few illustrated locales. However, you don’t do any fighting or scouting or anything yourself. It’s a management game mixed with a visual novel.
But despite all that it’s a rather fun thing to have on in the background. It shouldn’t take up your whole attention, and the game even tells you to go away and come back later. It was designed to be this. So, if a perpetual experience that delivers some of the lore about the origins of the Night’s Watch is something you’re interested in, then check it out. It’s a fun ole time.
NEXT STOP NOWHERE
Wanna go on a space road trip? Who wouldn’t?! Well, Next Stop Nowhere allows you to do that. You take control of Beckett, a space courier who was just meant to make a long-haul routine delivery and instead wound up taking Serra, a former bounty hunter, to find her son who decided to rob some gangsters. Because that’s always a great idea.
In the game, you take control of Beckett on foot and in his ship. On foot, you’re essentially wandering around, chatting to people (and the dialogue is superbly written, but this is by the same people who made Oxenfree so dialogue is clearly a talent of theirs), doing some rudimentary puzzles and making decisions on where to go next, and what to say next (and these decisions will affect the game and change the course of what happens, obviously). So, there’s some replayability there. Be a nice guy this time and be a jerk the next.
But sometimes you get behind the… wheel (?) of the spaceship. Anyway, you take control of the ship itself and dodge debris in your path and the occasional gangster on your tail. It’s not a particularly in-depth system or anything, but it’s a good way of breaking up the more narrative focused aspects of the game. And those narrative aspects are definitely front and centre.
When you take a break from your missions, you get to wander around your ship without having to fly it around, and when in the ship you can chat with Serra and become closer, watch a movie, water your plants, chat to your ship’s AI, and play some guitar. It’s a lovely slow down where you just chill and don’t worry about things. It’s great. So, check it out if you want a fantastically written narrative experience with a delightful art style in a fun galaxy.