December 2021, and gaming media outlets have entered the season of Best Of lists, awards and State of Play roundups across the major gaming platforms. The Apple TV Gaming Blog (which is, by the way, the best Apple TV gaming blog in the world) has essentially been dormant since May this year, having crawled under a rock while other hobbies were pursued.
But I wanted to post something for the end of the year, even if it was just a gibberish-laden screed with a very loose eye on the Apple TV gaming year that was, and to make sure any readers who still diligently check for new posts (anyone still out there?), see this new post, and then continue to diligently check for new posts.
Apart from the post you’re reading right now, I’ll also crank out a game of the year post. It’ll be tough, a lot of quality games were released for Apple TV in 2021. You’ll need an Apple Arcade subscription to enjoy most of them, but if you’ve checked that box, and you’re not interested in triple A games, then you’ve got access to some of the best gaming releases of the year on any platform. Let’s call them triple indie.
Last year’s choice was Butter Royale, which you can read all about right here. What will it be for 2021? A story for another time.
For now, let’s gather ’round the fire (or air conditioner if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere), pour ourselves a late-night brandy, and reminisce on 2021. Not just in general, but on Apple TV gaming.
Mash the Continue button below for more.
The story of Apple TV gaming in 2021, as told by Apple Arcade
To kill the suspense up front regarding the question posted in the headline – yes.
This writer’s PS4 died in 2020 following a well-lived life of gaming. In Christmas 2020 my wife asked me if I wanted to replace it with a PS5 and the answer I didn’t even have to pause to consider was no. Even before my PS4’s demise Apple TV had become the dominant console in my living room for some time. Triple A games stopped floating my boat years ago, and the overwhelming quality and quantity of games delivered to Apple TV via Apple Arcade meant zero time leftover for other consoles.
Without Apple Arcade however, Apple TV gaming is still in a very precarious place. But let’s start with a look at the notable Apple Arcade releases relevant to Apple TV for 2021.
Before the floodwaters of April arrived, January, February and March saw some fantastic additions to the Apple TV catalogue. Oceanhorn: Chronos Dungeon lead the charge on January 8, with the third title in the Oceanhorn series heading in a top-down, pixel art, co-op dungeon crawling direction. Chronos Dungeon has been updated since release with an excellent skill tree to climb and other touches, with more on the way from developer Cornfox & Bros.
Survival Z released in February, an excellent isometric shooter with a Walking Dead vibe, and the wonderful Cozy Grove landed in March, providing gamers with an ever-changing island to explore and build on, with countless quests and activities, populated with characters you just want to hug.
Then came April.
Around the same time that the Easter Bunny was dispensing a content drop, Apple Arcade did the same, leaving many on April 2 thinking that Santa had gotten very, very drunk.
Apple announced a bit of a shakeup to Arcade on April 2, with the service to start delivering titles in categories of Originals, Classics and Greats. Along with the announcement, came a surprise mega-drop of games, many of which were console-quality titles perfect for a big screen and controller – i.e. Apple TV. World of Demons, Wonderbox, Fantasian (recently announced by Apple as Apple Arcade game of the year), The Oregon Trail, Star Trek: Legends, NBA 2K21 and Clap Hanz Golf are all brilliant releases and are no doubt still keeping Apple TV gamers happy today in December. April 2, I salute you.
April also saw the announcement of a second generation Apple TV 4K on which to play all these great new Apple TV games. Four months in and 2021 was shaping up to be a big year for Apple TV gaming (via Apple Arcade at least).
Following April’s mega-drop, Apple decided that was enough for now and May brought no new Arcade titles, while June saw the release of Legends of Kingdom Rush – a more RPG-like take on the iconic tower defence series, and Leo’s Fortune +, a re-release of one of the greatest 2D platform games to grace the Apple TV. You can read ATVG’s glowing review of the original release right here. There was little to no mention of Apple TV gaming in the WWDC keynote in June, but with April’s bombshells it seems Apple’s Apple TV gaming-related news had been exhausted for the time being.
God game Doodle God Universe joined another Arcade re-release in July – Alto’s Odyssey: The Lost City, with the end of July bringing Detonation Racing. Detonation Racing’s over-the-top blend of explosives, old-school arcade racing and puns is a very more-ish blast.
August’s Super Leap Day sees players enjoying a brand new 2D platform level to beat every single day, and the title’s exacting, one-more-go gameplay is a must-try (at least once a day) with a controller and big screen. Another arcade racer also dropped in August – this one being a “+” version of the fantastic Asphalt 8: Airborne. Thanks to Apple Arcade’s policy of no in-app-purchases or ads, these formerly free-to-play games get a whole lot better when the additional currencies, IAPs and ads are removed, with the “+ ” versions breathing new life into some older titles.
Apple Arcade’s RPG catalogue is becoming quite formidable, and how the very small team behind Baldo has managed such a jaw-droppingly beautiful release is anyone’s guess. Hard work I guess? I really haven’t scratched beyond the surface of this gem yet, but once Fantasian’s end credits are in my rear view mirror, Baldo is next on my RPG hit list. Thanks for coming August.
Two of September’s notable Apple TV releases work better on a handheld device, but they are still definitely worth checking out on the big screen, as your mileage may vary. The Zen Pinball series has long been the epitome of pinball on iOS and Zen Pinball Party brings a truckload of tables to play, and even more have been added since release. LEGO Star Wars Battles adds to the growing list of Apple Arcade LEGO titles, and the more the merrier. Once you get sucked into the two and a half minute gameplay loop, good luck extricating yourself. See you in three hours.
September’s third big Apple TV release was Castlevania: Grimoire of Souls, and it has had this writer hooked from day one. I’m a sucker for 2D platforming games of any variety, but hacking, slashing and/or shooting while running from left to right, all in an effort to collect and upgrade a myriad of very shiny gear, skills and spells, all ticks a lot of boxes for me, and I’m sure I’m not alone. I’ll admit up front that this is actually the very first Castlevania game I’ve ever played, the series has somehow alluded me all these years. I’ve been aware of it, but just haven’t gone hands-on until now. Do I earn any bonus street-cred for having read the book? (I love you Bram Stoker).
November saw two titles on the Apple Arcade Apple TV radar – NBA 2K22 and yet another LEGO release, also with Star Wars in the title (not complaining) – LEGO Star Wars: Castaways.
Since Castaways’s release day, I’ve been diligently completing daily, weekly and story missions, upgrading my Trooper, Force, Agent and Support class abilities, racing, shaking trees, buying outfits for my LEGO minifigs, and generally revelling in Gameloft’s recent masterpiece. Castaways is Apple Arcade’s first game that fits within the MMO variety, and with the potential for seasonal updates, storyline additions and new content in general, I could easily envision immersing myself in Castaways’s world for years, as you do with any good MMO. Along with Fantasian and Castlevania: Grimoire of Souls, Castaways is definitely a contender for Apple TV game of the year. The ability to access and continue my progress across my range of Apple devices is superb (a requirement for Apple Arcade games), and it simply looks and sounds stunning. The cut scenes alone are worth a month’s subscription.
December has arrived, bringing with it two more “+” titles – Dandara: Trials of Fear, and Oddmar – both are high quality 2D platform games. Clear your weekend schedule.
On the Coming Soon horizon is Disney Melee Mania from Mighty Bear Games, the studio behind Butter Royale, the top-down shooter which took out ATVG’s 2020 game of the year. Disney Melee Mania looks very much to be a Disney-themed version of Butter Royale, which sounds like a perfect match.
No doubt there’ll be some more surprises on the way for Apple TV via Apple Arcade before the year closes out, and the not knowing is half the fun.
What if you don’t have an Apple Arcade subscription?
There were some excellent games released for Apple TV in 2021 outside of the cozy Apple Arcade garden, but it’s hard to argue a case that there were enough of them to warrant your Apple TV being your primary gaming console without an Arcade subscription.
Having said that, do yourself a favour and check these out:
Quest Hunter (fantastic top-down co-op RPG), Shaolin vs Wutang (2D fighting), Rush Rally Origins (amazing top-down rally racing made by one human!), Huntdown (retro run ‘n gun), My Diggy Dog 2, Summer Catchers, Bike Barron 2 (made by the Oceanhorn developers, think Trials), Ammo Pigs 3: Cocked and Loaded (more retro run ‘n gun goodness) and Moon Raider (2D action-platforming).
Space Marshals 3 and Beach Buggy Racing 2: Island Adventure, both released early in 2021, deserve to come preloaded on Apple TVs. Get them now.
Top-down twin-stick shooting with stealth elements is the bread and butter of the Space Marshals series, and when people write “more of the same” this can often be misinterpreted as a negative. The third game in the series definitely offers more of the same, but that is definitely a good thing. Have a read of my early impressions right here. I probably undersold it in my piece, and it deserves every ounce of the award Apple just granted it this week as the Apple TV game of the year. Chapter 2 has since been added as well, and is available as DLC.
Beach Buggy Racing 2: Island Adventure is hands down the best kart racing you’ll find on Apple TV, and stands shoulder to shoulder against kart racers on any platform. Read my appreciation.
Okay, let’s bring this home. This is definitely not a piece for the TLDR crowd, and I haven’t even really done any rambling tangents. A missed opportunity. I must be out of practice.
In a nutshell, in 2021, with an Apple Arcade subscription your Apple TV can absolutely serve as your primary/only console if you’re not interested in triple A games. Without a subscription, it’s a great piece of hardware for delivering media to your lounge room, and in that capacity, it has the bonus secondary function of providing you with some amazing titles to play.
Even with a subscription, I’d strongly urge gamers to explore what’s available outside Apple Arcade. If you’re not wanting to spend any money, then read this article right here. For the price of nothing, you’ll have access to a huge amount of quality gaming across a bunch of genres.
For those interested, here’s a link to the full list of Apple award winners announced overnight.
If you’re new to The Apple TV Gaming Blog (ATVG), or just new to Apple TV gaming in general, or both, then the best place to get acquainted is our Best Apple TV Games of 2020 article. You’ll find a great collection of games to play, and a bunch of useful links to our previous site content. Welcome aboard. Enjoy the ride.