Crossy Road Castle reimagines Super Mario Bros. as a multiplayer extravaganza on Apple Arcade

The popular series has a new game with a riotous party mode for questing with your friends.

Jason Hiner VP & Editor in Chief of ZDNET
Jason Hiner is Vice President and Editor in Chief of ZDNET. He was formerly Senior Editorial Director of CNET Advice and Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic.
Jason Hiner
4 min read
Crossy Road Castle
Hipster Whale

One of the most popular mobile games of all time has launched a sequel that combines retro video game nostalgia with some innovative new takes on a Mario-style "infinite runner." Crossy Road Castle launched worldwide on Thursday on Apple Arcade. If you already subscribe to Apple Arcade then you and everyone in the family group of your Apple account can download Crossy Road Castle to give it a try -- and play together. If you don't already own Apple Arcade, it costs $4.99 (£4.99, AU$7.99) a month to access a catalog of about 100 games. In December, CNET named Arcade an Editors' Choice, one of the first subscription services to get that designation.

You've probably already heard about the Crossy Road series. The original game was released in 2014 as a Frogger-like adventure where you play as various animals trying to cross increasingly complex roads. It's since been downloaded hundreds of millions of times, launched a special version with Disney characters in 2016 and has become one of the most popular and highly rated mobile games of all time on both iOS and Android. 

Watch this: Apple Arcade is changing video games for $5 a month

With the new Crossy Road Castle -- which was first announced last fall -- it's joined the party on Apple Arcade by launching the first game featuring the original characters since Crossy Road first came out six years ago.

"We've always focused on bright and funny games ... games that bring people together," says Clara Reeves, CEO of Hipster Whale, the Melbourne, Australia-based company behind the Crossy Road series.

On the day Crossy Road Castle launched, I got the chance to sit down and play the game with Reeves in the signature multiplayer mode as we talked about how and why Hipster Whale took the series in a new direction.

"This game is about the potential for social interaction -- like real human-to-human interaction," says Reeves. "Games have this stigma that they are antisocial or that games aren't social things. But really, if you're playing a game with people you already know like your friends and family, it doesn't get much more positively social than that." 

Today's console and PC games can connect people to play together online -- often with and against strangers, as in Fortnite. Crossy Road Castle is more about playing together with family and friends in your own living room. That makes it a much more Nintendo-like experience, so it makes sense that Hipster Whale chose to put it on Apple Arcade, which is curated for family-friendly gaming and allows up to six people in one family group to share a single subscription.

With old-school Super Mario Bros., you could play in two-player mode but one player would play and then the next player would play and you'd compare scores. In Crossy Road Castle, you do a mix of running to the right, like in Mario, and climbing upward, like Donkey Kong. But in Crossy Road Castle's multiplayer mode you can put up to four players on the screen at the same time and you all run and progress together. If three players die but one makes it to the end of the level, you all progress to the next level. And, since the levels are more like rooms and are all pretty short, that keeps the game moving quickly. No one's left sitting on the sidelines for long if they die.

Crossy Road Castle screenshot

Crossy Road Castle's best feature is its unique multiplayer mode.

Hipster Whale

The gameplay itself is straightforward and easy to pick up. The multiplayer mode is by far the game's best feature, and that's a welcome addition to Apple Arcade since inconsistent and sometimes frustrating multiplayer modes have been one of its only disappointments. Crossy Road Castle lets you connect multiple controllers to an Apple TV or an iPad , for example, and all play on the same device. Or, you can gather a party with multiple devices on the same Wi-Fi network. It's not as sophisticated as the multiplayer modes on other Apple Arcade games, such as Butter Royale, but it fits the Crossy Road Castle vibe.

Read moreAll the hardware you need to play Apple Arcade games

"A lot of us at Hipster Whale have these really strong memories that inform the games we make and they're from really old arcade games where you huddle around an arcade machine and you're talking to each other," Reeves says, "and that banter is just as important as beating this boss or getting through that level."

Crossy Road Castle adopts the throwback graphic style of the original hit with its 8-bit voxel-style animals that look a lot like Lego or Minecraft creations. But every once in a while it surprises you with some modern effects like a 3D spin of the screen. Crossy Road Castle also takes a page from modern hits like Alto's Odyssey by making every run a little different as the game automatically varies the levels each time. That, along with the fact that Hipster Whale promises new levels and new content in future updates, should make it fun to keep coming back and playing, even though the game itself isn't too difficult. It's meant to be super approachable. The fun will likely be playing with different combinations of people over time.

"Because I'm a mom and a gamer, having something that has a really strong core game at the center," Reeves says, "but my 4-year-old, my 8-year-old, myself and my dad are able to play the game across generations and play as a family is really fun."

Apple Arcade: 50 of our favorite games so far

See all photos