Apple Arcade hands-on with early access games [Video]

Today I was able to go hands-on with an early preview of Apple Arcade, which Apple announced back during its March services-oriented event. Apple Arcade is an upcoming $4.99 a month gaming service that will allow gamers to play over 100 new and exclusive titles across platforms like the iPhone and iPad, Apple TV, and Mac.

We were able to gain access to a special internal early access program aimed at Apple employees, which allowed us to go hands-on with Apple Arcade on a MacBook Pro running the latest macOS Catalina beta. As was noted by 9to5Mac’s Gui Rambo, Apple is charging a small subscription fee of $0.49/mo to test Apple Arcade until iOS 13 launches later in the fall.

Subscribe to 9to5Mac on YouTube, and watch our hands-on video walkthrough, as we take Apple Arcade for a brief spin to highlight the six games — Way of the Turtle, Down in Bermuda, Hot Lava, Kings of the Castle, Sneaky Sasquatch, and Frogger in Toy Town — available during the initial early access period.

Apple Arcade can be found within the Arcade tab of the Mac App Store for early access members.

Before downloading any games to my Mac, I needed to click the Try It Free button to subscribe. Doing so provides early access users with one month of free Apple Arcade, with a $0.49 charge a month until iOS 13 lands.

Subscribing worked just like signing up to any other subscription within the Mac App Store. I simply clicked the Try button, entered my Apple ID password, and I was good to do. Once the subscription was confirmed, the ‘Try’ buttons next to each game transitioned into the familiar ‘Get’ buttons, which allowed me to download all six games locally to my Mac.

Apple Arcade hands-on video

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The game sizes will obviously vary depending on the type of game, and the type of assets included within each title. Flagship games like Hot Lava, for instance, came in at 4.7 GB. Each game has its own dedicated page on the Mac App Store, with auto-playing video previews at the top of the page, along with screenshots and compatibility information about the title below.

Apple Arcade Mac App Store

Keep in mind that these games are early access, meaning they’re essentially running early in-development builds of the game, and don’t fully represent what gamers will see once Apple Arcade goes live later in the fall. That said, the program gives us a good idea of what to expect from these six titles once Apple Arcade launches.

Apple Arcade MAS Way of the Turtle

Way of the Turtle

The first game that I tried was Way of the Turtle, a simple platform game that follows the adventures of a newly-married turtle trying to find his lost wife. The game is a mix of walking, jumping, and solving puzzles.

Way of the Turtle Apple Arcade

Way of the Turtle’s control scheme mixes elements of an automatic runner together with a hint of puzzle-oriented gameplay. It’s compatible with controllers, but it doesn’t feel as connected to the controller as traditional platformers due to the runner-style gameplay. That said, the control style means that it will work well enough across different input methods such as keyboards, touch screens, and controllers.

Down in Bermuda

Down in Bermuda is from Yak & Co, developers of the popular Agent A – A Puzzle in Disguise adventure game. The point-and-click style adventure game stars the adventurous aviator Milton, who leaves his family behind to voyage across the Atlantic on the journey of a lifetime.

Down in Bermuda Apple Arcade

This appears to be a very early build of Down in Bermuda, but like Agent A, it features beautiful graphics with bold lines and colors. Once it’s complete it should translate well to all Apple Arcade platforms.

Sneaky Sasquatch

RAC7, the two-man team behind such titles as Dark Echo and Splitter Critters, are bringing Sneaky Sasquatch to Apple Arcade. The action/adventure escapade puts gamers in control of the titular character in search of food at a local campsite.

Sneaky Sasquatch Apple Arcade

During the action, which involves various amounts of stealth elements to avoid pesky park rangers, gamers can expect all sorts of crazy shenanigans involving various NPCs, humans, and animals alike. You’ll find the Sasquatch driving cars, shopping at stores, playing mini golf, and much more.

Sneaky Sasquatch Apple Arcade

It’s unfair to compare games at these varying stages of development, but Sneaky Sasquatch felt like the most complete game of the six that I tried. It features outstanding visual design, a wide variety of activities and control schemes, and humorous writing and NPC interactions. I’ll go out on a limb and say that Sneaky Sasquatch will be at the top of the list of games to try on Apple Arcade launch on day one.

Hot Lava

Klei Entertainment’s Hot Lava, which is available on Steam in beta, is a first-person action game that plays off the popular kids’ make-believe game where the floor is lava.

Apple Arcade Hot Lava

Hot Lava places gamers in such environments as schools, homes, and more. Players can run, jump, slide, hang on ropes, grab on edges, and employ a variety of other parkour mechanics to avoid the lava. For instance, once you get up to a certain speed you can “surf” along frictionless surfaces as you navigate treacherous terrain.

Apple Arcade Hot Lava

Although Hot Lava can be played with a mouse and keyboard, I think I’d much prefer using my Xbox controller. The game’s settings feature controller support but, in this particular build, it didn’t seem to be activated just yet.

When maxing out the visual settings, Hot Lava’s graphics hiccuped a bit on my base model 2019 MacBook Pro. Some of that could be due to unoptimized code in the early access beta. However, connecting my Blackmagic eGPU Pro made a world of difference in performance. If you plan on gaming on low-level Macs, it might be a good idea to look into an eGPU like the Razer Core X.

Apple Arcade Hot Lava

All of that said, there’s a reason why Apple’s showcased the Hot Lava trailer on stage at its streaming event earlier this spring. It’s ridiculously fun and features many hilarious throwback 80s-era elements. I have a feeling that this will be among the more popular Apple Arcade launch titles.

Kings of the Castle

Canadian-based Frosty Pop, creator of currently available iOS games like Kingpin Bowling, and High Dive, is no stranger to the iPhone and Apple TV as gaming platforms. The company’s first Apple Arcade game, entitled Kings of the Castle, adopts some of the same visual styling found in its previous titles.

Kings of the Castle is a multiplayer first-person action/adventure game but, in what is obviously a very early build of the title, gameplay is limited to single-player action on a single level.

Kings of the Castle game Mac

The game starts out with an eight-minute timer that counts down, while you traverse an island map in search of gemstones, and keys to unlock doors. Occasionally you’ll encounter enemies that require you react to certain on-screen prompts. It reminds me of a modified version of the Quick Time Events from Sega’s classic Shenmue.

Apple Arcade Kings of the Castle

Kings of the Castle is the most colorful game of the six previewed during the early access trial. It features basic platforming elements in 3D space that can be controlled by a hardware controller, but it’s too early to provide any real feedback about the experience.

Frogger in Toy Town

Developed and published by Konami specifically for Apple Arcade, Frogger in Toy Town is a take on the original Frogger game with 3D top-down elements. If you’ve ever played Frogger, which traditionally involves helping a frog cross a street and the various obstacles that come with it, then you’ll largely know what to expect.

Frogger in Toy Town Apple Arcade early access preview

In Frogger in Toy Town, each level is broken up into various sections. The Suburban Home level, for example, features three playable areas including the kitchen, living room, and front yard area. Each section features three separate objectives, such as completing a play-through without getting hit by a car, without drowning, without being burned by the stove, and rescuing froglets.

Like other games in the early access preview, Frogger in Toy Town is still in its early phase, and its gameplay and visual look is thus subject to change.

9to5Mac’s Take

Even in early access, it’s clear to me that Apple Arcade has a lot of potential. Now that we know that the monthly subscription price will be $4.99, I think it’ll be a no-brainer for anyone who enjoys playing games.

Remember, Apple Arcade will include access to 100+ games on demand for one low subscription fee. Even better is the fact that all games will be available across multiple Apple platforms like the Mac, Apple TV, and iOS devices.

Limited Internal Carry Test

Mac App Store Apple Arcade hands-on

What’s still unclear is how Apple will go about fully unifying the experience across individual games and across these platforms. As it stands now, each game feels like its own separate individual entity, with its own settings. It’ll be interesting to see if Apple will maintain the distribution method that they’re currently using in early access, or if it will take further steps to make the experience more cohesive and easy to use for casual gamers.

There’s also the matter of device support since the power of these devices can vary quite a bit. For example, my 2019 MacBook Pro, while adequate for most casual computing tasks, definitely struggled when running games like Hot Lava at high settings. I imagine that such games running on modern iPad or iPhone hardware would perform better on those platforms.

Apple Arcade Sneaky Sasquatch

Sneaky Sasquatch Apple Arcade hands-on

But what most impresses me about Apple Arcade is the quality of games like Hot Lava, and especially Sneaky Sasquatch, which seems to me like it’ll be a hit once it launches.

Even if only 25% of the games on Apple Arcade are as good as these titles, that’s still access to a whole lot of great games for a whole year for less than the price of a single AAA console title.

Do you plan on subscribing to Apple Arcade? What do you think about the early access games? Sound off down below in the comments with your thoughts and opinions.

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