Although Arcade worked well in my hands-on with PlayStation and Xbox controllers, most of the initial games are better suited for iPhones.
One of Apple’s big pitches for Apple Arcade is the ability to let you play games wherever you are. One $4.99 (£4.99, AU$7.99)-a-month subscription opens up a library of games you can play on your iPhone on the train, on your iPad in bed, your MacBook at the coffee shop or on your couch at home with the Apple TV.
The pitch is reminiscent of the original (non-Lite) Nintendo Switch, which also lets you play the same games at home or on the go. While the Switch uses the same hardware for both, Arcade games play on mobile (iPhone and iPad) and home (Apple TV) devices, with the ability to start on one screen and continue on another.
After messing around with the mobile versions of the games, I was curious to see how they translated to the big screen. I recently spent a few days trying a variety of Arcade titles on an Apple TV 4K and a 55-inch 4K TV, primarily using the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One controllers. In short, while there’s plenty of promise, Apple Arcade doesn’t yet work as well in the living room as it does on the go.
I suspect that many if not all of Arcade’s initial titles are designed first for the millions of potential iPhone and iPad players, not the far smaller number of people who own an Apple TV. In my experience, they generally play great on mobile devices.
In some cases, these games also work well on the TV, too. Racing games like Sonic Racing and Super Impossible Road, in particular, looked great on the Apple TV 4K, and I enjoyed playing them with an Xbox One or PlayStation 4 controller.
Pairing those controllers to the Apple TV is also incredibly easy. Go to Settings and then Bluetooth. There is a quick “how to” available for guiding you on how to pair each type of controller. For the Xbox One that means holding down the main Xbox button and the “connect” button at the top, or the “share” and PlayStation button on the PS4 remote. You can also pair other controllers that are MFi — aka “made for iPhone”– certified.
Apple’s software will automatically map the proper joysticks and buttons for each game, with the in-game controls similarly changing to adapt to your device. You can even use the Xbox or PS4 controllers to navigate the regular Apple TV interface. And you can also connect Xbox or PS4 controllers to an iPhone or iPad.
Of course, you can also use Apple’s own Apple TV remote for games, but that experience wasn’t great in the games I played. In Super Impossible Road, for example, it was much harder to control the ball with the Apple TV remote than with an Xbox One controller. Likewise for Sonic Racing.
Load times, for the most part, were also fairly quick, as were download times.
Although there’s plenty to like with Apple Arcade on Apple TV, those hoping the new update will turn the Apple TV into a miniature Xbox, PlayStation or Switch will be disappointed.
During my few days of testing I ran into a host of odd issues. While profiles are a nice new TVOS feature, the Apple TV had issues recognizing that my profile — a “guardian” but not the “organizer” of a Family Membership I have — had access to Apple Arcade.
Using an iPhone XS Max and iPhone XR had no such issues. With the Apple TV, I needed to log in with the organizer account to gain access, with the system requiring me to purchase another Apple Arcade subscription directly from my guardian account in order to play, even though both accounts are part of the same Family Sharing.
I also had issues getting game continuity to work, which could be tied into the odd account problems I was experiencing.
Downloading games themselves, while quick on my Spectrum connection, also occasionally seemed to slow down the Apple TV 4K, at times to the point of it being unusable while the game was downloading and installing.
And while the PS4 controller shut down right away when the Apple TV went to sleep, the Xbox One remote switched back to “searching” mode which sometimes required me to have to go back and re-pair it with the Apple TV.
It’s unclear what caused these issues. Apple did not respond to a request for comment.
Still needs work: Games
The above can probably be chalked up to early-platform jitters — relatively minor issues that will should be ironed out. The bigger problem with Arcade and TVOS is that there just aren’t a lot of great games that take advantage of the TV.
Graphics in some games like Sonic Racing and Super Impossible Road translate really well to the big screen, with Sonic Racing looking (and playing) like an online Mario Kart knock-off (it actually plays more like traditional Mario Kart than the new Mario Kart Tour mobile game). Sayonara Wild Hearts looks just as visually impressive at 55 inches as it does on an iPhone.
On other games such as Mini Motorways, Oceanhorn 2 or Capcom’s Shinsekai Into the Depths, the graphics reminded me of an iPhone or Switch game blown up to a 55-inch 4K TV. They lacked the crispness I saw on the small phone screen.
Signs of mobile-first design are also present in some game interfaces. Mini Motorways and Sonic Racing, for example, have cursors that replicate your finger, either when playing the game or in the menu screens.
Apple Arcade, which is still in its growing stages, also lacks a wide assortment of titles. There are no video game staples like first-person shooters or sports titles, few open-world roleplaying games and few that let multiple people play together offline.
On your phone, you could download some of these type of titles separately, outside of Arcade — Fortnite, NBA 2K and Call of Duty are some prominent examples — but Arcade doesn’t offer those types of games yet. There’s no “killer” game that makes the TV experience similar to what you’d get from a dedicated console.
Again, it’s early days for Apple TV and Arcade, but at this stage, it’s better suited to phone and tablet gaming. Gamers looking for a big-screen experience will be better served by a Nintendo Switch or traditional PlayStation or Xbox console.