25. Bleak Sword
An Apple Arcade exclusive from Devolver Digital and More8Bit, Bleak Sword will have you wishing you never subscribed to the service in the first place, albeit in a good way. For those of you among us that are fans of being pushed to the limit by challenge, in fact, Bleak Sword will be a dream come true. An isometric adventure through a world that feels intent on breaking you, this dark-fantasy action game requires pixel-perfect precision to strike enemies down and come out of scrapes alive. Bleak Sword won't be for everybody, but it's well worth a try, just to see how well these types of games can work on mobile devices. Oh, and it's scored by famed composer Jim Guthrie – come for the soundtrack, stay for challenging chaos Bleak Sword revels in unleashing.
24. Dead End Job
With a mix of crude humor, a physically warped world, and over-the-top characters, Dead End Job has the feel of a ‘90s cartoon. That comparison seems to be intended by Ant Workshop Ltd, who even opens the game with a theme song and intro video right out of the bygone golden age of Nicktoons. The colorful twin-stick shooter sees Hector Plasm chasing down ghosts, saving townsfolk, and vacuuming up the specters like a larger and more inappropriate Luigi. With many mobile games, subpar touch controls can get in the way and hinder the experience, but Dead End Job controls reliably, letting you keep your focus on the colorful romps room to room as you frantically cast out the ghosts in this meta-humorous cartoon come to life. The jokes may fall flat for anyone who has outgrown stuff like Ren & Stimpy or Rocko’s Modern Life, but the art style is one retro aspect that withstands the test of time.
If you enjoyed Limbo and Inside from Playdead, Stela is a can’t-miss copycat built on strong atmosphere of alternating quiet unease and high tension. Sure, it’s not as memorable or as unnerving as those dark platformers regularly are, but it’s well worth its brief run time thanks to its own foreboding soundtrack and interesting world. Stela is written to let you figure out what’s going on, just like those Playdead classics too, and you won’t easily discern those plot points, but you’ll remember its imagery vividly after the credits roll. With more environmental variety than its inspirators, Stela always looks great and regularly dazzles with its dreamlike setpieces.
22. Mini Motorways
Mini Motorways is intrinsically perfect. The same could be said of its predecessor Mini Metro, the game that showcased developer Dinosaur Polo Club as the masters of rendering time inert. The premise of Mini Motorways is about as simple as its mechanical execution. It's a game about drawing roads that can help drive the expansion of a growing city. You start by establishing a small network of roads, which will quickly blossoms into a bustling metropolis built of stress and flashing icons. That's the genius of Mini Motorways; it's a game that's pretty zen to play – easy to lose yourself too, to be soothed by – but it quickly becomes a complex web of meeting the changing demands of its vehicle-bound populous. If my boss didn't make me write this list, I'd be playing Mini Motorways right now – join me, won't you?
The video game embodiment of Thursday’s “For The Workforce, Drowning,” Mosaic is the gloomiest game on this list. In it, you play a man stuck in the doldrums of work-week monotony, eager to break free. In between adventure genre segments of his morning routine and commuting among other anti-social paycheck-chasers, the game has you play out a host of puzzles meant to represent the objectively soul-crushing on-the-clock hours of his meager life, only to get home in time to sleep a bit and do it all again tomorrow. Mosaic is not the colorful, upbeat kind of game that fleshes out so much of the Apple Arcade lineup. For that reason, it stands out among its dozens of subscription-mates, but if it all sounds too depressing, understand that the game does have a story arc and it certainly wants you to defeat the early and oppressive gloom.
20. Sneaky Sasquatch
Following the most depressing game on the list with the cutest game on the list is sure to give readers whiplash, but bear with us. Speaking of bears, that’s no grizzly. It’s Bigfoot. As Sasquatch, you’ll infiltrate campgrounds and eat people’s picnics, hopefully without interruption. Sneaky Sasquatch has both a similar color palette and main objective as the viral sensation Untitled Goose Game -- screw with the humans around you -- only in the former’s case, you’ve done it best when they have no idea the cryptid was ever even there. You’ll need to contend with park rangers and other wildlife to meet your goals of a full belly, but with several ways to meet that end, Sneaky Sasquatch is a sneakily well designed stealth game.
19. Murder Mystery Machine
If you enjoy the evidence-collecting, narrative-forming mechanics of things like Ace Attorney, you’ll enjoy Murder Mystery Machine, which packs a hint of Variable State’s Virginia into this seedy detective sim. Unlike in Ace Attorney, where you’ll expose lies on the stand in court, in Murder Mystery Machine you’ll be first on the scene, collecting evidence and piecing together what happened at every crime scene right before your eyes. Some of the controls take some getting used to, particularly within the evidence linking screen, but it’s worth the hurdle thanks to impressive depth. There are several cases and they offer a rewarding sense of progression both narratively and mechanically in a way that once seemed foreign to mobile games.
18. Frogger in Toy Town
This Frogger revival project is one of the best examples of what Apple Arcade offers exclusively. While the famed arcade game has spent the last decade getting overshadowed by ad-heavy, microtransaction copycats like Crossy Road, Frogger has re-emerged in Toy Town dramatically reinvented, while still adhering to its namesake and player expectations. Toy Town adds an awesome physics-based puzzle-platforming element to Frogger. You’re no longer trying to just cross streams and roads safely, now you’re on rescue missions for baby frogs, and they’ll take you over wooden block castles, past obstructive babies and battery-operated toys, and even causing some wild pile-ups in the streets. It’s the kind of reinvention afforded to the studio thanks to Apple Arcade, where abstaining from microtransactions is a mandate, and your subscription money is in hand, meaning you can just focus on making a great game.
Possessions is a puzzle game that feels like a Michel Gondry daydream. Its quieted environments and forced-perspective conundrums make for a great setting with new colors and settings in every puzzle, and the difficulty ramp is precisely where you’d want it to be for those morning commutes or time spent in the break room. It’s the kind of puzzle game where people will watch over your shoulder and want to help you figure it out, maybe even hoping you’ll hand over your phone, sure they can figure it out. It often looks easier than it is, but that’s half the fun. It’s called “zen” by its creators, and we can hardly argue. It takes its pacing cues from its players, never rushing you or offering more than a simple premise stretched out to puzzle perfection.
16. Word Laces
Word Laces is another great example of how Apple Arcade has immediately improved mobile gaming. As a puzzle game where players unscramble letters to form words based on images used for clues, Word Laces would be the prototypical microtransaction-heavy game. Letting you run out of hints or fail too many times would normally result in one of those dastardly “Buy More” screens, but on Apple Arcade, where microtransactions are allegedly forbidden, Word Laces thrives as a relaxing, untainted word puzzle game that it’s hard not to enjoy. One of the best one-handed games on the platform, there’s beauty in its uncorrupted simplicity.
15. Assemble with Care
Assemble With Care is a simplistic, poetic puzzle game from Ustwo, the studio that brought you Monument Valley, with a story exploring the notion that the only way to truly put something back together is to first strip it apart. Through the restoration of 12 objects, Assemble With Care reveals itself to be a tactile and touching experience, using light puzzles as a way to draw you into a wider rumination on repairing fractures in the fault-lines of family relationships. Ustwo's painterly artwork is gorgeous, the soundtrack and voice acting soothing, and the presentation – blurring the lines between audiobook and interactive entertainment – is wonderful, and perfectly placed for mobile.
14. Where Cards Fall
Alto's Odyssey developer Snowman makes a strong introduction on Apple Arcade with its most ambitious title to date. Where Cards Fall is a beautiful exploration of adolescence, all told through an array of spatial puzzles and serene flashbacks to a life half lived. Where Cards Fall has you building pathways through dreamlike environments with stacks of cards; it's intuitive and imaginative, a game that tests your capacity for strategic thought as much as it does your ability to flow with dynamic puzzles. It's relaxing and challenging in equal measure, the type of game built for those times where you just want to get headphones on and shut yourself out from the noise of the world for a little.
13. Rayman Mini
Maybe Super Mario Run didn’t do it for you, or made you loved it so much that you want more games like it. In either case, you should download Rayman Mini. It’s Ubisoft’s take on the auto-runner genre and it shines thanks to its way of continuing the Ray-naissance that began with Rayman Legends on consoles half a decade ago. Rayman Mini brings back the same UbiArt design (even if the publisher stopped using the name) and packs in a ton of mechanics into what you would think needs to be pretty simple. Dashing, gliding, and somping through levels is seamless, and each level has such a brief runtime, it’s got a ton of time-killer potential for whenever you need to lose a few minutes to gaming.
12. Cricket Through the Ages
One of the most overtly obscure games to land on Apple Arcade so far, Cricket Through the Ages is a history lesson told through the medium of the titular sport, because why wouldn't it be? Best enjoyed with a friend fighting with you over a single screen, Cricket Through the Ages has you swinging bats and throwing balls to make it through the intertwined history of humankind. It's a one-button game that finds the fun in exploiting an off-kilter physics system, a game that delights in thrusting you through an increasingly-bizarre array of situations and scenarios. Cricket Through the Ages will have you laughing whether you play it on your own or with a friendly foe, revelling in its own simple absurdity.
11. Dear Reader
We think there’s room for two word puzzle games in this top 25, so long as they’re both noteworthy, and that’s why Dear Reader has cracked the list as well. It’s a more intricate take on wordplay, too, if Word Laces is too simplistic in its approach. Dear Reader gives you pages of famous books like Moby Dick and Pride & Prejudice and moves words to the wrong places, then asks you to clean up the errors like a trusted editor. There’s a lot of sneaky enjoyment to be had in reading these often older texts and trying to decode them, knowing fully well that the prose can often sound confusing at times. It’s not the same as reading the books themselves, of course, as they jump around a lot, but you’d be surprised how much you get out of working through each story’s scrambled plot.
Turn to page three for our top 10 best Apple Arcade games...