Apple Arcade one year later: Still delivering for casual gamers

Commentary: Apple's subscription gaming service is not a console competitor, but it's not supposed to be.

Shelby Brown Editor II
Shelby Brown (she/her/hers) is an editor for CNET's services team. She covers tips and tricks for apps, operating systems and devices, as well as mobile gaming and Apple Arcade news. Shelby also oversees Tech Tips coverage. Before joining CNET, she covered app news for Download.com and served as a freelancer for Louisville.com.
  • She received the Renau Writing Scholarship in 2016 from the University of Louisville's communication department.
Shelby Brown
4 min read

Apple Arcade has a game for almost everyone. 

Shelby Brown/CNET

Apple Arcade burst onto the mobile gaming scene in 2019 and made such an impression on me -- a committed Android user -- that I snagged a third-gen iPad Air on sale and subscribed. 

Since the service's release, it has amassed a catalog of over 130 new and exclusive games, and with the release of iOS 14, you can see a teaser of games coming soon. For $4.99 (£4.99, AU$7.99) a month, Apple 's service lets you download and play ad-free games across the iPhone, iPad, Mac, iPod Touch and Apple TV

So, how does Apple Arcade stack up after its first year? 

It's still providing subscribers with a brand-new game just about every week, along with updates to games that are already available, adding new levels and challenges. It is frustrating, however, that we're still waiting on some of the big titles that were announced last year at launch, including The Pathless, Fantasian and Proxi. 


The Pathless is also coming out on PS5 this holiday season.

Giant Squid/Screenshot by Shelby Brown/CNET

While it's definitely a novelty to get a new game each week, some of them also come out on different platforms simultaneously or shortly after releasing on Apple Arcade -- so it's not exactly an exclusive experience. But at least for me, getting four new games a month for $4.99 a month on top of all the others is still well worth it. And with the release of Apple's subscription bundle Apple One this fall, you'll be able to access Arcade alongside Apple's growing group of services for a discounted price.

While Google Play Store users frequently complain about its disorganized gaming page, Apple Arcade's tab in the App Store is neatly laid out. It's always easy to find something to play, whether it's by name, by category, by required hardware or by recently updated. It's also worth noting that unlike other platforms, Apple Arcade is family-friendly: To date, I'd rate the vast majority of the games G or PG.


A reimagining of Frogger is available to play on Apple Arcade and it's super cute. 

Apple Arcade

The service has been criticized for falling short as a console competitor when you play on Apple TV with controllers, the closest you can get with Arcade to the experience of an Xbox or PlayStation. This is a fair assessment, but I don't think that Apple Arcade was designed to be, or to evolve into, a console competitor. The games typically lend themselves to being played on iPhones , iPads or Macs. This is because Arcade was designed with casual, mobile gamers in mind, not console gamers. And that's fine: You've got Google Stadia, EA Access, Xbox Game Pass or a bunch of other console gaming subscription services to explore if that's what you're looking for.

I don't use a console that often, but I'm generally in close proximity to my laptop, phone or iPad, making it way easier for me to pick up these games. 


The iPad works best for me to play Apple Arcade games.

Shelby Brown/CNET

Apple Arcade games are easy to come home to after a long day at work, play for a few minutes on your lunch break or a few hours on a weekend. Many offer the soothing nature of Animal Crossing mixed with innovative art and design, and lots more puzzles and mysteries. It's easy to spend an afternoon unraveling a mystery game like The Bradwell Conspiracy or knock out a level in Grindstone during a TV commercial break. Some games, such as the award-winning motorcycle racing game Sayonara Wild Hearts, lend themselves to the Mac, where keystrokes can help you move faster. Others, like Assemble with Care, Where Cards Fall and Tint, are more tactile in design, so I prefer using the iPad.  

Perhaps one of my favorite parts of Apple Arcade is the passion that many of the developers have for honest storytelling, and creating and championing diversity. The story in Where Cards Fall, for example, plays out over 10 years through an unnamed, androgynous main character. No matter where you're from, the game has no language barrier, opting instead to create a new language similar to what you hear in The Sims


Sayonara Wild Hearts was a clear favorite on the gaming service from launch day. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Alongside Where Cards Fall, two of Apple Arcade's debut titles included a character in a wheelchair (Cardpocalypse) and a character who was a practicing Muslim (The Get Out Kids). Through creating Neversong, a recent game from Serenity Forge, developer Zhenghua Yang was able to process a near-death experience and express a message of love, redemption and hope. 

So far, some of my favorites titles on the platform include games like Jenny LeClue, Possessions, Patterned, Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm, The Mosaic, Mini Motorways, Inmost and Assemble with Care. 

Apple Arcade has room to improve -- especially in delivering long-promised marquee titles -- but its first year has shown plenty of promise. Any platform that gives a voice to indie developers and beautiful games that let you explore stories, solve puzzles and just relax is a worthy addition to any casual gamer's repertoire.