Entering its third year as a distraction for our thumbs, Apple Arcade in 2022 matured into a vibrant destination for gamers of all ages and interests. Courting high-profile exclusives and bringing long-loved classics to the $5-a-month subscription service, Arcade delivered a steady flow of top-notch gaming action to Apple’s iPhones, iPads, Apple TV 4K set-top boxes, and Mac as the months rolled on.
There was a confidence, even a swagger, to the games and names it was able to pepper the service with, from Hollywood heroes to game development legends and storied franchises and unique indie experiments alike. It was a great year for gaming-oriented Apple hardware too, while the rumor mill continued to spin up the suggestion of expansion into an all-new space: virtual reality.
It was quite the year: join us for a trip through the highlights of Apple Arcade in 2022 — and a glimpse of the things potentially to come in 2023…
A hidden highlight
It was a slow start to 2022 for Apple Arcade. If Christmas hadn’t made you sick of parlour games, Apple Arcade’s January re-releases of Spades: Card Game+ and Hearts: Card Game + would have, as card games continued to inflate Arcade’s numbers.
But things picked up with the release of Crashlands+, the zany sci-fi survival RPG that’s part Double Fine humor, part Don’t Starve, and part Saturday morning cartoon. It’d been knocking around on PC, consoles and mobile stores for a while, but dropping it into Arcade kept the service ticking over in January while we awaited better things.
And that wait wasn’t a long one. By the end of the month, the wonderful Hidden Folks+ hit Apple Arcade. A hand-drawn black and white game of “Where’s Waldo / Wally?” for your digital devices, it had us scouring maps for hidden…folk, laughing all along the way thanks to its excellent visual gags and hilarious audio. Arcade was now racing out of the blocks for 2022.
A blooming spring
As the weather warmed, so too did the additions for Apple Arcade.
February brought Wylde Flowers to the service – the first notable exclusive of the year. A cozy life-sim, it mixed the core gameplay loop of games like Harvest Moon and Stardew Valley with some magical elements. Strong voice acting, smooth presentation, and polished mechanics made it a hit — not least of all with Apple’s marketing teams, who deservedly awarded it the title of Apple Arcade Game of the Year.
It was joined by the beautiful Gibbon: Beyond the Trees, a gorgeous hand-drawn platformer that would have Sir David Attenborough himself picking up a pad. Playing as a titular gibbon, you swing your way through jungles and cities, spending time with your primate pals and avoiding nasty poachers. Not only fun, it had an important message about the importance of conservation in our increasingly industrialized world.
Spring wrapped up with the launch of the impressive Gear.Club Stradale. Apple Arcade’s answer to the Forza franchise, it offered excellent racing action around a beautifully rendered Tuscany. It can’t quite match the depth of Microsoft’s racer but offered just the right amount of detail for a quick spin on an iPhone 14.
Shovels, shooters and summer
But it was into the summer when things really picked up for Apple Arcade. It brought some huge names to the platform — not just gaming royalty, but Hollywood heavyweights too.
A real highlight of the year was the release of Air Twister, created by legendary SEGA alumni Yu Suzuki. The driving force behind classic titles like Shenmue and Out Run, Air Twister saw the master game designer revisiting the on-rails shooter concept he revolutionized with Space Harrier. Air Twister acts as a spiritual successor to that coin-op great — a flashy sci-fi shooter with amazing visuals that pushed Apple’s mobile hardware to its limits.
Indebted to Space Harrier in its own way is the Jetpack Joyride franchise — a mainstay of the mobile gaming charts since the early days of iPhone. The endless runner side-scroller rocketed back onto our phones with Jetpack Joyride 2, a coup for Apple as it nabbed exclusivity to the title, keeping it out of the clutches of the Android masses.
Back to major star power, and the release of Hanx101 Trivia brought a real legend to the platform: Tom “Forrest-Woody-Gump” Hanks. The film star has a love of trivia and quizzes and delivered a really polished game show for your living room — though there’s definitely a skew toward US culture in the questions.
Shovel Knight Dig brought new life to the retro-revival platform franchise, adding rougelite elements to the series. It’s a huge pivot for what is usually a tough-as-nails linear platforming line, but it worked marvelously for Dig. It’s one that no one should miss, whether they’re fans of the Shovel Knight games or not.
The much-lauded Gris+ hit Arcade in September too, having wowed previously on mobile and consoles alike. With a stunning art style and a gripping, heartfelt storyline, it was a wonderful game to show off the crisp displays of Apple’s mobile hardware, and an engrossing adventure in its own right, playing like a side-scrolling version of the PlayStation classic, Journey.
A hardware high
What’s the good of all these games if you’ve got nothing decent to play them on, though? The last quarter of the year is always a bonanza for Apple hardware, and 2022 didn’t disappoint, from the iPhone 14 Pro to the iPad Pro with M2.
But it was the Apple TV 4K revision for 2022 that would have piqued the interest of Apple Arcade gamers the most. Finally, Apple had put a processor worthy of its games into its TV box, a version of the A15 Bionic, backed up with enough storage space (128GB) to keep dozens of games loaded up at once. Even the most demanding games now run on Apple’s living room hardware without a stutter, making it as close to an Apple games console we’ve had since the ill-fated Pippin of 1996.
There was third-party fun to be had, too. The Gamevice Flex proved to be the best iPhone controller ever made, thanks not only to its comfortable controls but its smart insert system that meant you could comfortably use its telescoping extender system on any iPhone of any size — even if you had a protective case on your phone.
Back to the software, and the year ended on a high. The Gardens Between+, another multi-platform port, and another gorgeous puzzler for Arcade, tasks you with manipulating time in order to discover the secrets of multiple garden islands. It was a multi-award winner long before joining the Arcade ranks and is another must-play for subscribers. Old Man’s Journey+ told a similarly heartwarming story as you followed an old gent on one last adventure across picture-book-like locations.
But perhaps the biggest signing of the year was Football Manager 2023 Touch. The super-addictive football/soccer/delete-as-appropriate management game returned to Apple’s touch devices after a couple of years absence. Accompanied by a high-profile launch at the set of the Ted Lasso Apple TV Plus series, it streamlines the stat-heavy simulation for dozens of hours of on-the-go team building and match tactics. It works surprisingly well across control schemes from mouse and keyboard, to touch and gamepad too, for a franchise that has traditionally been a desk-bound PC one.
Rounding out the year was the surprise addition of Dead Cells+ to Apple Arcade. An indie-darling, it’s a wonderful blend of die-and-die-again roguelike mechanics with Dark Souls levels of combat difficulty, but on a side-scrolling plain with explorative elements to match the best of the Metroid series. It’d previously been a game of the year contender on console platforms, and having it as part of a $5-a-month subscription service almost felt like theft.
And while we’ve not had the chance to play much of them yet, December also sees the launch of JellyCar Worlds and My Little Pony: Mane Merge, two arcade exclusives: the former a reboot of an early App Store puzzle-racing classic, the latter a block-matching puzzler wrapped up in syrup-sweet equestrian magic.
Au revoir, Arcade
A jam-packed year then — so something inevitably had to give. 2022 finally saw Apple cycle some games off the Arcade service, in a similar fashion as Microsoft does with its Xbox Game Pass service. In August 2022, 15 early launches from the Arcade archives were removed from subscribers’ libraries.
While inevitable, it was disappointing — not least of all because Apple hasn’t managed to put into place a consistent succession system for when games leave the service. If you’ve put hours into an Arcade game, you can feasibly lose all your progress when an Arcade title is retired. Frustratingly, Apple leaves it up to developers to decide whether or not to relist their games as regular App Store titles, and equally frustratingly does not require an Arcade save file to transfer over to a non-Arcade version of the game, should it ever be released.
It’s a real thorn in the subscription’s side at the moment — particularly as there are an increasing number of games like Crashlands+ and Wylde Flowers that could feasible see you sinking many dozens of hours into. Until Apple finds a way to fix this problem, players will be deterred from diving into games that encourage a long investment of playtime.
2023: VR and beyond
So what’s to come for Apple Arcade in 2023? It feels like the sky’s the limit for Apple’s service. Having quietly built a considerable user base during its first three years, the potential for expansion of Arcade is huge, from courting new developers to hitting new hardware types.
Some of our hopes are blue-sky thinking. Apple TV 4K for 2022 got a huge processing boost, but it’s not quite as radical a redesign as the rumored Homepod-meets-Apple-TV-box design that’s said to be in testing at the Cupertino labs. A one-two punch of great power and immersive audio from a soundbar-like device would make the most ambitious Arcade games sing.
Could Apple leverage the power of Metal 3 to bring high-end games to Mac? Apple made a big deal of the new graphics tech at WWDC 2022, but didn’t capitalize on it with really any games as the year went on. Now, Metal 3 games would be exclusive to M-chip devices, which would undermine the current Apple Arcade mantra of all games being available across not only Mac and iPad, but also Apple TV and iPhone, too. But that leads us to our next point…
Will Apple Arcade come to Apple’s rumored VR headset? It seems like a perfect fit, wrapping Apple’s gaming platform up with VR. Virtual reality is perhaps the most exciting medium for new gaming experiences given the way it lets you step inside a title. It’s the area where the market-leading Meta Quest headsets have seen their greatest success, and perhaps the easiest way to illustrate the transformational power of the technology. But Arcade on VR would necessitate moving away from all games on all devices — VR hardware experiences just can’t be replicated on phones, tablets, and laptops without a head-mounted display.
And where’s the next game from Will Wright, the creator of SimCity? Proxi is set to be an Apple Arcade exclusive, using AI simulation to help players ‘uncover the hidden you – your subconscious, your inner ID, and bring it to the surface, bring it to life so you can interact with it.’ Wright’s not made a game in ten years, and expectations are understandably soaring for his return.
There’s a few other things we’d like to see the Apple Arcade team mix up in the new year when it comes to the catalog, too. While the App Store Greats are great, we’d much rather see all-new originals make up the Arcade list — of the 53 games hitting Arcade this year, 28 were “+” versions of games already on the App Store. Genuine classics like Dead Cells and Gris are welcome in the collection, but we’d like to see the balance weigh more heavily towards exclusives again next year.
Oh, and if I never see another solitaire or card game again in my lifetime, it won’t be for want of trying on Apple Arcade’s part. No more card games, for the love of my thumbs!
Every Apple Arcade Game released in 2023
In total, 53 new games joined Apple Arcade in 2023. Here’s a link to each of them, broken down by the month they were released in. Happy gaming! Don’t forget to check out the best Apple Arcade games as well, where we’ve collated all our favorite games into one big list.