Apple Arcade

Apple Arcade Daily #3 - Bleak Sword

The previous Apple Arcade reviews that I’ve written have been for games that, in my opinion, are best experienced on a larger screen1. In order to bring a little balance to the force I wanted to try a game that’s more at home on the iPhone.

To that end, today’s Apple Arcade Daily micro-review is for Bleak Sword from Devolver Digital.

The Apple Arcade listing for the game describes it as featuring Dark Fantasy Dioramas which is a perfect description of the graphical style used in the game. Bleak Sword sees you facing off against a myriad of increasingly dangerous and powerful beasts and monsters across some compact, yet beautifully designed diorama battlefields.

The controls are easy to pick up, yet difficult to master. With a simple tap, hold, and swipe you’re able to direct your avatar to roll, parry, attack, and counter-attack the various creatures that populate each small level. Controller support is also available, which is always welcome, though as mentioned before, is certainly not necessary. The Apple Arcade listing doesn’t actually indicate controller support is included, but the developer description does. With a little practise you’ll soon be rolling around the screen and slashing your sword around like a pro. Once you get the hang of it it’s very satisfying.

The aim of the game is simply to defeat each levels monsters, whilst taking as little damage as possible. Remaining health rolls over into the next level. Between levels you have a chance of finding various items that increase your stats, such as a sword that adds +1 attack power, or a bracelet that adds +1 health and +2 attack. You get the idea. If you should die along the way you will lose everything you’ve collected and all experienced points you’ve earned so far. You are given an opportunity to get it all back, instantly, by clearing the level out that you last died in. If you fail to do so it’s gone forever. This is essentially a mini Dark Souls and it’s great.

The art style is sparse, but strangely beautiful. The level design, whilst small, still looks oddly detailed, despite the 8-bit graphical style. The dioramas feature a quite hypnotic parallax effect which works really well in my opinion. Each battle is fairly quick paced, so you will often get little time to stop and appreciate just how cool looking each level is, which is a shame really.

A list of over 30 achievements to unlock and an Arena mode help add some further depth to the game as well.

Bleak Sword is great fun to play and works really well as a game to have a quick go on when you need to burn a few minutes2 in a queue or … when doing something else that rhymes with queue.3 Yet again, this Apple Arcade title is a winner, and well worth some of your time.


  1. Which, in my case, was the 12.9” iPad Pro. 
  2. Though longer sessions would work just as well. 
  3. It’s okay, we’ve all done it from time to time … 

Apple Arcade Daily #2 - Agent Intercept

Next up in our journey through the Apple Arcade catalogue is the excellent Agent Intercept by prolific development house PikPok.

Agent Intercept sees you take on the role of a James Bond come Austin Powers type secret agent tasked with completing various missions in order to stop the dastardly CLAW organisation. The missions all, conveniently, involve chasing, racing, destroying and otherwise generally bothering a plethora of bad guys in your souped-up secret agent vehicle from the start of the course to the end.

The graphics are quite pretty, especially on the iPad Pro where I’m doing most of my Apple Arcade gaming at the moment. The music is also suitably retro and ‘secret agenty’, which is a nice touch.

On the face of it, the game appears to be a fairly standard iOS game, but there are some features of this title that make it stand out amongst its non-Apple Arcade peers.

One of the major selling points of Apple Arcade is the fact that, in order to be included in the collection, the games have to be made fully available to the player. By this, I mean that In-App Purchases (IAPs) are not allowed. Agent Intercept is a perfect example of how a game that, without Apple Arcade, would have almost certainly been absolutely crippled by IAPs. As I mentioned on Twitter a few days ago, the lack of IAPs catapults Agent Intercept to a really enjoyable game that you can dip in and out of. If IAPs were allowed, it would almost certainly be something you’d play once or twice, until you hit the inevitable blocker or paywall, at which point you’d be hounded by requests to buy some agent bux or the like.

Games with IAPs always feel like they’re out to get you. They walk a fine line between making sure you’re enjoying yourself, whilst also working against you to prevent progress at every turn. Agent Intercept feels so much better for the fact that you’re left completely free to just enjoy the ride, whilst taking out some CLAW scum along the way.

While it’s not necessary (or possible) to monetise the game in the, now, standard way of IAPs, PikPok have come up with a smart way to keep you coming back to the game. I’m not sure what the monetisation model is for inclusion in Apple Arcade, but I can only assume that the more your game is played, the more you get paid. To this end, the game has a daily rotation of missions available to you. Are you finding todays mission too hard? No problem, just stop playing and come back again tomorrow for a new challenge. I think this is a really smart way to keep eyes on your game, whilst also giving players a genuine, none manipulative reason to keep coming back.

Another high point of the game for me is the fact the game includes controller support. While Hot Lava, which I looked at yesterday, was pretty unplayable without a controller, Agent Intercept works very well with touch controls. Controller support does, however, really take things up to 11.

I’ve been really impressed with the Apple Arcade line up so far, and Agent Intercept is another strong offering. While it doesn’t really offer anything all that unique, the lack of IAPs, allowing the game to be just that, a game, is a unique selling point unto itself. I think this game, along with its peers amongst the other Apple Arcade titles, is really going to change the App Store paradigm and I can’t wait.

Apple Arcade Daily #1 - Hot Lava

With the (early) launch of Apple Arcade to iOS / iPadOS beta testers, early adopters now have access to an impressive library of some really fun and interesting new games. While, right now at least, the list of available games is somewhat shy of the promised _‘over 100’_1, it’s still an ample launch catalogue.

Since it was first announced at this years WWDC I’ve been looking forward to trying Apple Arcade, so as soon as I spotted it had launched I jumped all over it. I’ve since downloaded all of the available games to my iPad Pro and am slowly working my way through.

I’ve been enjoying gaming on iOS more and more over recent months, so this has come at a perfect time for me. To celebrate the launch of this service I’m planning on writing a series of posts, one each day, looking at a different game in the catalogue each time. Some micro reviews as it were.

To this end, I’m going to start with the title that’s impressed me the most so far2, namely Hot Lava.

According to the Apple Arcade listing:

Hot Lava transports you back to your childhood imagination.

If any child has an imagination this extravagant then all the best to them!

The game is, essentially, a digital The Floor Is Lava game, on steroids. The aim of the game is simple, get to the end as fast as possible. As is often the case with any (good) game that appears simple, however, there’s more to it than that.

Firstly, each level you enter has a set of goals you can aim for in order to really master the level. These goals range from completing the level under a certain time, finding hidden golden poles, or avoiding certain platform types, which in turn forces you to find a more complicated or hidden path through the level. Earning stars unlocks various cosmetic items such as avatars, clothing and tags you can use to stand out from the crowd a little.

The world of Hot Lava can also include other players that are currently online at the same time, which adds a competitive element to the proceedings. You can compete with these strangers, or your friends, to get the best times or scores throughout each level.

One word of warning I would give before you jump into Hot Lava is that, personally, I think a gaming controller is a must to play this game properly. You can play without one, of course, but the gyro controls are very fiddly and tedious. I’d go so far as to say if you don’t have a controller available to use, give this game a pass. I’ve been playing it with an Xbox Controller which works perfectly. Once you get into a decent rhythm, and get an understanding of the map, you can really fly through each level.

I’ve found Hot Lava to be fun, yet challenging game, and one that I’ve found myself coming back to over and over again for a quick game. This is a perfect game for a service like Apple Arcade. It’s simple enough to pick up and play for short bursts when the mood takes you, but also deep enough to sink hours into while you try and perfect your time in a given level. If this first game is anything to go by, Apple Arcade is going to be a fun ride!


  1. There are about 51 games as of right now. 
  2. After some albeit it very limited time across the library. 
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