My apologies to anyone getting sick of the above photo.
Soon after Apple Arcade’s launch, I discovered that when connected to your Apple TV, a PS4 controller’s light bar would go the signature colour of Apple’s gaming subscription service. Straight away I shot a quick happy snap on my iPhone, and have been using it whenever a story warrants it.
For me, the image has become superfluous with Apple TV gaming in 2019 – the Year of Apple Arcade.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this week leading up to today’s Best of list, during which I’ve celebrated the last three years of Apple TV gaming since starting this site in December 2016.
For those who missed out, here’s some links to this week’s coverage:
Prior to The Apple TV Gaming Blog, I was posting occasional stories about Apple TV gaming over at Grab It Magazine, and eventually decided to start a site dedicated to the platform, given that I couldn’t find one to follow myself. And here we are.
If Apple TV gaming ever grows to a stage where someone is driven to write its history, March 25 2019 will go down as the day the platform was saved from the brink.
Between January 1 and March 24 2019, nothing much happened, and I’d even considered letting this site wind down and die a natural death.
There were two posts on this site during that time. The first was January 26 (Australia Day) when I wrote about studio Four Fats, posting a video the team had released detailing its history. Worth a watch, considering Four Fats has a bunch of games available on Apple TV.
The day after, January 27, Cornfox & Bros. revealed Hero, Trin, and Gen, the main characters to star in Oceanhorn 2. This was before Apple Arcade was even revealed to the public.
And then nothing until March 25, and bang, we were back in business.
But then the long wait began until more news. We knew the basics: subscription-based, downloadable games (as opposed to streaming), and no ads or in-app-purchases. It was a pretty exciting package. But what about the games?
That too was pretty exciting, as you’ll see from the long list in that story.
As I mentioned earlier this week in the recap of 2018, the Steam Link app arrived and went straight to number one on the App Store, and I haven’t really heard much news of it since. I don’t know how many actually use it to stream their Steam library to their Apple TV, but the option exists, for better or worse.
The story continued to unfold at WWDC 2019, during which Apple CEO Tim Cook announced to the world that along with the arrival of Apple Arcade, compatibility for PS4 and Xbox One controllers would be along for the ride. Big news that opened up the service to many more, given that as long as players were equipped with an Apple TV, their existing console controller of choice would give them access to Apple’s upcoming world of gaming.
Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap, Rush Rally 3 and Horizon Chase: World Tour kept us entertained while we waited for AA to drop in ‘The Fall.’ Quality games too, all three.
Hovercraft: Getaway managed to sneak through the door just before AA’s release, and then boom, Apple hit the big red Go button on Apple TV’s launch of Apple Arcade a week early. It was announced as coming to Apple TV September 30 but arrived September 24, and all of a sudden I was frozen by indecision. Where do I start? No doubt I was not alone, as Apple TV gamers around the world who pulled the trigger on their month long free trial were wondering which game to try first?
In case you’re wondering, here are the first four Apple Arcade games I played on Apple TV.
Batches of freshly baked games were delivered golden brown straight to our TVs in successive weeks following AA’s launch, and today as I write, the count sits at 104.
Just this morning, the 104th game – LEGO Builder’s Journey – came to the service, and the trailer looks like it promises some real LEGO fan service mixed with a poetic narrative. Can’t wait to check it out.
Apple Arcade is not perfect. Fans of first-person-shooters have no offerings for example, but apart from that little hiccup, ATVG is absolutely gobsmacked at the consistently high bar of quality that AA titles keep holding up. That, combined with the modest price of entry, the fact that there’s no IAPs or ads, games can be played offline, and there’s universal play across iPhone, iPad, Mac and Apple TV makes it a must-have for anyone sporting an Apple ecosystem of devices.
Will Apple Arcade’s success bring non-Apple Arcade games to the Apple TV platform? That remains to be seen, but ATVG suspects the answer will be yes, although at a slow burn. While 2019 will go down as a formative year in the history of Apple TV gaming, 2020 will be a fascinating followup to watch unfold.
The success of Apple TV+, which no doubt will drive some Apple TV sales might also lead to some more adopters of Apple TV gaming. I’ve long suspected that many lapsed adult gamers are finding their way back to their hobby after having bought an Apple TV box ostensibly for streaming media, only to discover that coupled with a controller, it also games rather well. And there’s 104 high quality games they can pull the trigger on instantly. Are you one of them?
Just after Apple Arcade’s launch, Dead Cells – a non-AA title – launched on Apple TV and made trying out all those AA titles even more challenging, given that I couldn’t tear myself away from Dead Cells. Check the Best of list below to find out if Motion Twin’s offering found its way in.
In other non-AA news, Formula 1 racing came to Real Racing 3 six-and-a-half years after launch. That game just keeps on giving.
Shadowgun Legends – ATVG’s Best Apple TV Game of 2018 – was brought back to life on Apple TV via the 1.0.2 update from Madfinger, and it now has more content than ever, with a current Christmas event going on as I write. If Apple TV gamers are starved for a quality FPS, there is always Shoadowgun, and it does not do things by halves.
All that’s left is for you to scroll on down and check out ATVG’s Best Apple TV Games of 2019, which at the very bottom is revealed the absolute Best Apple TV Game of the Year.
How has your year been Apple TV gamers? Mileage varied? Hit up the social feeds (see the banner up top) and chime in with your thoughts. Where do you see the platform heading? I look forward to hearing from you.
Okay? Okay. Did I miss anything? Probably.
Not to worry. That’s what the update button is for.
Best Puzzle Game of 2019
Manifold Garden (Apple Arcade) – William Chyr
Apple Arcade is chock full of puzzle games, and excellent ones at that. Discoloured, Lifelike, Where Cards Fall, Possessions, and many more. The quality and care massaged into even just that tiny sampling by truly talented studios is astounding, and they all deserve your attention. Have a look through AA’s curated Puzzle category to discover a treasure trove that will exercise corners of your brain you didn’t know existed.
Manifold Garden however, is not only a gymnasium for your mind, but on a big screen with a controller, Chyr’s creation shines, opening up a playground of gravitational psychedelia.
“Prior to Manifold Garden’s release, based purely on the trailer (which you can view below), I described Chyr’s creation as a mash-up between Christopher Nolan’s film Inception, and Valve’s iconic game Portal, with a twist of Jonathon Blow’s The Witness. Now that I’ve gone hands-on with Manifold Garden, those comparisons feel even more spot-on,” I wrote back in October, after going hands-on following its release.
Best Adventure Game of 2019
Shinsekai: Into The Depths (Apple Arcade) – CAPCOM
Fans of narrative experiences told through thoughtful interactive gameplay had a good time on the Apple TV platform in 2019. Well, since September anyway.
The Mosaic, The Bradwell Conspiracy, INMOST, Jenny LeClue, NeoCab, ATONE: Heart of the Elder Tree. There are more, and it’s hard to know when to stop. As with the above Puzzle category, just the few I’ve mentioned are all so unique and different from each other, offering stories players can get truly invested in, while exploring so many different narrative techniques that players will be sure to find something that speaks to them. Or perhaps players will enjoy the sheer variety of those techniques and get lost in the multitude of worlds.
I’m far from finished with Shinsekai as yet, but CAPCOM’s underwater world spoke to me straight away.
Lonely yet hopeful, my avatar set off on an exploration of graphical and aural beauty, with a story being revealed as we went. It’s a joy not having everything spelled out for you from the start, and not knowing where this will end up.
Bring on the holidays so I can finish this amazing adventure.
Best Multiplayer Game of 2019
ShockRods (Apple Arcade) – Stainless Games
It’s hard not to compare ShockRods to Rocket League, and while the comparison is a lazy one for a writer to grab onto, ShockRods holds its own in the head-to-head.
While Stainless Games recommends a mouse and keyboard as the best input method (grab it on your Mac via Apple Arcade), a controller and a big screen in the lounge room via Apple TV has given me plenty of Summer afternoon craziness so far. It’s a great beer and nuts kind of game.
Plenty of game modes, weapons, and ways to dress up your ShockRod to make it your own.
Also: Punch Planet (Apple Arcade) – Sector-K
I can’t go past 2019 Apple TV multiplayer games without mentioning Punch Planet. So I guess it’s a tie.
The Apple TV as a gaming platform has been begging for a solid 2D fighting game (think Tekken and Street Fighter) since launch in 2015, and Punch Planet is about as solid as they come.
For those after a fighting game in which skill trumps button-mashing almost every time, Punch Planet is for you (although the button-mashers among us will have a blast also, and probably some wins). Sector-K has put together the real deal here, with exacting timing, tonnes of super impressive combos to learn and master, varying game modes, and even local 2-player against the enemy at the other end of the couch. Talk about beer and nuts. Wine and cheese even.
While I’m hoping for some more fighters to be added to the roster in future updates, what we have at launch is more than enough to try and get our heads and fingers around for now.
Best Racing Game of 2019
Table Top Racing: World Tour – Nitro Edition – Playrise Digital
TTRWTNE (for short?) is the first game in 2019’s list to represent the non-Apple Arcade offerings.
When Playrise Digital’s marketing team reached out to let me know it was coming to Apple TV, I was fortunate enough to sneak in some action prior to release and was very impressed. Now that I’ve had even more time with the game post world-wide release, as with Shinsekai, I’m wanting to settle in over the holidays and go hard.
“There is a whole lot to like about Table Top Racing: World Tour – Nitro Edition, and this sequel to the much easier to type Table Top Racing is definitely worth the extra keystrokes. It’s bright, buttery smooth, packed with features, and once you have it, it’s all yours – no subscription, no loot boxes, no IAPs, no ads. Done,” you can read about my early impressions here.
Best Sports Game of 2019
Sociable Soccer (Apple Arcade) – Tower Studios (published by Rogue Games)
It’ll always be Football to me, or even just The Beautiful Game. Because you use your feet, and it’s beautiful.
A good football match has a constant flow and fluidity, with equal parts strategy and opportunistic flare, and Sociable Soccer boils down Football’s essence into quick-paced pick-up-and-play matches, while managing to retain the strategic elements and layers of skill you may not notice in your first couple of games.
It would be nice to see the availability of longer matches, but other than that there’s not much to complain about here. This is a great representation of the sport, and it’s a joy to have this hole filled in Apple TV’s catalogue.
The Best Action/Arcade Game of 2019
Dead End Job (Apple Arcade) – Ant Workshop
I can’t get enough of Ant Workshop’s twin-stick shooter, and said as much in my Halloween wrap-up.
“The story is depicted in a Ren and Stimpy-esque visual style, and has your cleaner Hector saving up his hard-earned in order to save his mentor’s soul, lest she become destined to haunt eternally. A Saturday morning vibe hits right up front in Dead End Job, as the intro plays a song that gives all the exposition you’ll need, and if for no reason other than shits and giggles, I highly recommend listening to the song in full.
With Halloween coming up, I can think of no better recommendation than Dead End Job. Lovingly crafted, it will fill ooze from your Apple TV to your flatscreen with slimy Ghostbusters goodness.” – Read ATVG’s full story.
Best Strategy Game of 2019
Spelldrifter (Apple Arcade) – Free Range Games
I could probably say this with a handful of genres, but with the launch of Apple Arcade, 2019 instantly became a gold rush of quality strategy titles for Apple TV gamers.
This was a really hard pick and I’m still agonising over it.
Spaceland, Dread Nautical, Decoherence, Overland, Stellar Commanders – where do you start investing your valuable time?
With a hero drawn straight from the Witcher series, and a map that had me at hello, Spelldrifter instantly drew me into its adventure.
Free Range Games have combined strategic RPG elements and card battling to craft a fine, deep title to sink your boots and blade into. There’s a tonne of tactical goodness and number crunching to enjoy here, while all being so beautifully and stylishly depicted.
Spelldrifter is one of Apple Arcade’s unsung heroes, as I haven’t seen much written about it as yet, which is a pity.
The Best RPG of 2019
Oceanhorn 2 (Apple Arcade) – Cornfox & Bros.
You can start right here and wind your way back through ATVG’s coverage to get up to speed if you’re new to the site, as Oceanhorn 2 has featured prominently leading up to release, and even after.
We already know there is more to come for Cornfox’s big Zelda-like, as the studio laid out recently in its roadmap for 2020, teasing a big content update.
The wait was long, but Oceanhorn 2 has not disappointed. There’s side-quests (have you earned the Astroblade?) and mini games to discover, cooperation as you blend the attributes of your party to solve puzzles, and typically large bosses to overcome, befitting the JRPG style.
Cornfox is even fleshing out the series’ lore with an upcoming manga, which ATVG will write more about once all the holiday madness settles down.
Other worthy contenders for Best RPG of 2019 are Yaga, Cat Quest II, and Steven Universe: Unleash the Light, and if you’ve got access to Oceanhorn 2, that means you’ve got access to all of those, and they are very worthy of any available RPG hours you’ve got left in the tank.
The Best 2D Action-Platform Game of 2019
The Best Apple TV Game of 2019
Dead Cells – Motion Twin (published by Playdigious)
Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap, Spidersaurs, Shantae and the Seven Sirens, Exit the Gungeon, Way of the Turtle, Projection: First Light – 2019 saw a bumper crop of excellent 2D action-platformers.
But for this category, I have to say my choice was easy.
It’s hard to think of any unused superlatives for Dead Cells after summing up how I felt in this recent appreciation.
So much so that as well as Best Action-Platformer, I’m also awarding Motion Twin’s title the Best Apple TV Game of 2019. How do you like them apples?
“It’s so easy to rely on well-worn descriptors such as rogue-like, and to namecheck obvious influences like Castlevania when it comes to writing about Dead Cells. But those things feel lazy when compared to actual hands-on experience with this release from Motion Twin, with the end result far transcending a simple listing of comparisons and genres.” – Read ATVG’s appreciation.
Congratulations to developer Motion Twin for pouring so much careful craft into Dead Cells, and to publisher Playdigious for bringing this gem into the Apple TV catalogue.