The biggest problem facing games on the App Store has always been one of discovery. If a game doesn’t make it to the Featured section, or if it isn’t a massive hit, you’re probably not going to find it just by casually browsing.
This story originally appeared on Ars Technica, a trusted source for technology news, tech policy analysis, reviews, and more. Ars is owned by WIRED’s parent company, Condé Nast.
Apple Arcade, with its smaller, more carefully curated library, helps remedy that problem a bit. But with dozens of games included in an Apple Arcade subscription, it’s still hard to find the hidden gems languishing behind those few hyped in the spotlight. In between the Sayonara Wild Hearts (which is beautiful) and Grindstone (oh, is it 2 am already?) are games that you absolutely should be playing, if only you knew to take the time.
Well, friend, I’m here for you with my own tasting menu of hidden Apple Arcade delights. Here’s a sampler of some of the best entries on offer, chosen for their quality, inventiveness, and suitability for playing on a phone. (Though, if you have an Apple TV, I definitely recommend using it for more than Netflix).
Detective Grimoire and Sally are called to Tangle Tower, a structure as strange as the people who live there, to investigate a locked-room murder. Isolated from the rest of humanity on its own private island, Tangle Tower is home to an extended family whose members don’t necessarily hate each other but don’t particularly love each other, either.
The excellent animation, sharp writing, and exceptional voice acting make interrogating suspects and finding the killer a pure pleasure. The puzzles are a healthy mix of logic (can you use clues to figure out which paintbrush goes where) and observation (lining up magnifying glasses of varying strengths). Some you’ll solve in seconds and others will make you question your life choices, but all feel fresh and blend in well with the game’s surroundings. Best of all, Tangle Tower is adapted perfectly to play on a phone, with simple controls allowing for easy navigation, inventory management, and puzzle solving.
Take a brush and drag it through some colors to mix them. That’s literally all you need to know in order to enjoy Tint, a pleasantly challenging puzzle game with a gorgeous watercolor aesthetic. In Tint, you simple connect blobs of paint with targets of a specific color by dragging your finger from one to the other, mixing tones along the way to get the proper shade. To activate a green flower, for example, you’ll have to drag blue through yellow, or vice versa.
The puzzles grow steadily more complex as you work your way through the sketchbook, adding multiple colors and obstacles to each page. If you make a mistake, a quick double-tap gives you a fresh page so you can try again, and hints are there to provide a nudge when you need one. Tint is the kind of gentle brainteaser you crave on a quiet Sunday morning as you sip a cup of tea.
Over the Alps
I’ve always wanted to be a spy. Not a real spy, of course, but the movie kind of spy, fighting with fists one moment and bons mots the next. Over the Alps provides that kind of spy experience, set against a backdrop of World War II intrigue and told engagingly though postcards sent to your confidant. You play as a British agent accidentally sucked into a web of intrigue when a case of mistaken identity sends you off-mission. There’s a beautiful German agent hounding your steps, a set of secret blueprints that could turn the tide of war, and plenty of crosses and double-crosses.
As the story plays out via the text of the postcards, you simply choose how you want to respond by selecting a style of stamp. Will you be charming, tough, amusing, snarky? Your choices will impact those around you: start an argument in the village square and you’ll leave a “footprint,” making it easier for the authorities to track you down, for instance. But if you use your wiles to slip away, the “distraction” might send them on a fool’s errand. England is counting on you, Agent Smith. Do whatever it takes.
Cat Quest II
Can cats and dogs ever truly live together in peace? That is the question you endeavor to answer in Cat Quest II, an action/RPG adventure where you (and a friend, if you like) bring together these classic foes to unite the kingdom. It’s your basic “rescue the kingdom” kind of situation, except everyone is a cat or a dog.
And there are puns. So many puns. Cat Quest II is silly and adorable, but it also offers enough challenge to keep you playing. It’s ideal to play with a pal, but switching between characters works perfectly if you’re more lone wolf than pack animal. There are secrets to uncover, dungeons to conquer, armor to find, spells to master, and weapons to unlock (including a fabled sword called … wait for it … Excalipurr).
One small caveat is that Cat Quest II requires a controller, but any Bluetooth-capable gamepad will do; for an even better experience, play through your Apple TV.
You’ll know if Cardpocalypse is for you the moment you hear its guitar-riffy theme song pulled straight from a ’90s cartoon. Jessica is doing what every smart young student does on their first day at a new school: making friends by playing the uber-popular collectible card game based on the ultracool show “Mega Mutant Power Pets.” It’s all going swimmingly until the characters start to show up in real life, and, even worse, the grown-ups ban the game! (OK, maybe the monsters in the hallways are the bigger problem.)
If you’ve never played Magic:The Gathering, Hearthstone, or any other card-based battle games, Cardpocalypse is a great introduction to the mechanics. Here, though, it comes with a decidedly grade-school twist. Once you’ve got the basics down, you can begin to change the rules and the cards by applying stickers, or even ripping cards up. If you have ever once thought of a Serra Angel with a nostalgic smile, or had a Yu-Gi-Oh battle on the school bus, Cardpocalypse will feel like a piece of your childhood.
Take a cruise, they said. It’ll be relaxing, they said. What they didn’t say was that you’d get caught in some kind of a time loop and have to fight your way through monsters over and over (that must not have fit on the brochure).
In Dread Nautical, you’re a survivor of whatever calamity befell the cruise ship, exploring the ship for resources, other survivors and, most important, answers. Whenever you blow the foghorn on the bridge, the day resets and you wake up back where you started, in the midship lobby. You keep whatever resources you managed to scrounge on your last trip out, so every time you leave the lobby, you’re better armed and better informed. In addition to weapons, health items, and protective gear, you’ll find runes to help you translate a mysterious tome that hopefully holds the answers to whatever’s going on.
It’s very satisfying to lay waste to a room full of thralls to gain a tiny bit of insight into Dread Nautical’s mystery. The turn-based combat works very well on a phone, removing the frustration of getting walloped because the touch controls didn’t respond quite the way you thought they would. Plan your load-outs, recruit survivors, decode the runes, and (just maybe) you’ll make it home in one piece.
This story originally appeared on Ars Technica.
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