It’s been over a year since Apple Arcade was first announced and more than eight months since the subscription video game service was released. One of its big pitches is the ability to play its not only on your iPhone, iPad or MacBook, but also on your couch at home with the . I last looked at Arcade for Apple TV in October, paying special attention to how it plays on the big screen. Now, with leaving everyone hungry for new home entertainment
, I decided to give it another spin to see how the platform has grown.
I played a host of Arcade titles over the last few weeks on an Apple TV 4K and a 65-inch Apple’s $5-per-month service has gotten a little better and is now at over 100 titles, but it still has a very long way to go to offer a real alternative to Xbox, PlayStation or ., primarily using the and controllers as well as the Apple TV remote. In short,
As it was before, I suspect that many if not all of Arcade’s titles are designed with the millions of potential iPhone and iPad players in mind and not the far smaller number of people who own an Apple TV. In my experience, these games generally play a lot better on mobile devices than on the big screen.
In some cases, these games work well on the TV, too. Ultimate Rivals: The Rink, which takes star athletes from several professional sports and puts them into an arcade three-on-three hockey game, is one example of a recent game that is fun to play on mobile and also translates well to Apple TV. Racing games like Sonic Racing and Super Impossible Road still looked good on TV, and pair well with an Xbox One or PlayStation 4 controller.
Pairing those controllers to the Apple TV is also pretty 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.
You can also use Apple’s own Apple TV remote for games, but the experience is worse. 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. Even a simpler game like Mini Motorways played better with a PlayStation 4 controller than the Apple TV’s touchpad.
Interestingly, and a sign of the platform’s maturity, an increasing number of games on the Apple TV require a third-party controller.
Arcade has other good points, too. Load times, for the most part, were also fairly quick, as were download times over my Altice One connection in New Jersey. Compared to other Apple Music, TV Plus, News Plus or iCloud can be shared with up to six members of your family through Apple’s Family Sharing feature., the $4.99 price is relatively cheap and like
What still needs work: Graphics and game selection
Although there’s plenty to like with Apple Arcade on Apple TV, those hoping it will turn the Apple TV into a miniature Xbox, PlayStation or Switch will be disappointed. Eight months after launch, the biggest problem is that there just aren’t a lot of great games that take advantage of the TV.
I’ll start with graphics because a big TV is much more revealing than a tiny phone screen. Nonetheless, some games like Sonic, fighter game HyperBrawl and Super Impossible Road translate really well to the big screen, with Sonic Racing still looking (and playing) like a Mario Kart knock-off (it actually plays more like traditional Mario Kart than the mobile game).
Other games, not so much. Playing Oceanhorn 2, Capcom’sand Beyond Blue, the graphics reminded me of an iPhone or Switch game blown up to a big-screen 4K TV. They lacked the crispness I saw on the small phone screen. Adventure game Oceanhorn 2 and ocean exploration game Beyond Blue were particularly disappointing.
I tried more than a dozen games and none had graphics that came close to the realistic images of a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One.
Many weren’t as smooth either. Playing The Rink, Shinsekai and HyperBrawl, for example, I experienced moments of lag and frame rate drops that would be tough to forgive in a major console.
Apple Arcade’s assortment of titles is still pretty narrow too. There are no video game staples like first-person shooters, few open-world role-playing games and even fewer that let multiple people play together offline, something I was hoping to do during quarantine while at home with my family. Two that I found, HyperBrawl and Super Impossible Road, didn’t play particularly well, with Super Impossible Road being especially difficult to play split-screen.
Arcade still lacks the big, iconic “AAA” titles the drive traditional consoles and has no “killer” game that makes the TV experience similar to what you’d get from a dedicated console.
On your phone, you could download some of these types of titles separately, outside of Arcade — Fortnite, NBA 2K, FIFA and Call of Duty are a few prominent examples of “AAA” games — but Arcade doesn’t offer those types of games yet. You can AirPlay them from an iPhone or iPad to an Apple TV 4K, but when I tried that with Fortnite and an iPhone 11 Pro Max the experience was filled with lag despite having a strong Wi-Fi connection.
There has been an increase in sports titles on Arcade since launch, but Sociable Soccer doesn’t hold a candle to the likes of EA Sports’ FIFA franchise.
Beyond graphics and game selection, I had a few other issues:
- 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.
- Game continuity has improved but still had some issues syncing from iPhone to Apple TV, particularly with having to restart tutorials despite having had played the game before on an iPhone or on a different Apple TV.
- And if you switch the controller back to an Xbox or PlayStation you will need to re-pair the controller back to the Apple TV each time you want to use it.
- Online multiplayer matches were hard to find in a host of Arcade games, including The Rink, Sonic Racing and Pac-Man, at various points throughout the day.
Even after a year it still feels like early days for Arcade on TV. It’s possible we’ll see advancement on Apple’s vision at WWDC next month particularly with rumors of a refreshed Apple TV with an improved processor in the works. Given the progress Apple has made with its silicon in recent years, an A12X or A13X Bionic chip inside an Apple TV could make a real difference and give developers a lot more power to work with.
But at this stage, Arcade is 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.
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