Yup, Apple Arcade is still worth five bucks a month

Says the guy who just binged on 'Spire Blast' and 'Survival Z.'

Spire Blast on Apple Arcade (Orbital Knight)

When Apple Arcade first launched in the fall of 2019, we said it was “too cheap to quit” — the combo of the low $5 monthly subscription and the strong quality of the games made for a great deal. I’ve been on board since day one, but, as with all things, my interest in Apple Arcade has waxed and waned over time. I put a lot of time into a bunch of games when the service launched, but for months I mostly fixated on a few specific titles. I probably sampled two dozen games in the first few months, but didn’t delve into the majority. I also hoarded a bunch of games that I’d try “sometime,” but never really gave them a shot.

But when winter hit, I went back to Apple Arcade in earnest and found a few new titles that have held my interest for months, across a variety of genres. It’s been a good reminder of what you can get for that $5 monthly fee.

Two very different games drew me back in: Spire Blast and Survival Z. The former is a classic matching puzzle game that asks you to shoot colored balls at a giant tower to slowly whittle it down to nothing. As with many games in this genre, you get more points for better combos, and you’re rated on a three-star scale for how well you did clearing the level. Naturally, there are more challenges that pop up throughout the journey to make things fresh and challenging. There are currently 140 levels total, with more planned. It’s cute and charming with an addictive gameplay mechanic, the sort of game to pick up and play for a few minutes on your phone that you might accidentally lose yourself in for hours.

But my favorite thing about Spire Blast is that it’s the kind of game that would ordinarily get loaded up with ads, in-app purchases and other unpleasantries that would make it not worth dealing with. But in this case, it’s a polished, fun puzzler that I’ve been playing for months without any obnoxious tactics to suck more money from my wallet.

Survival Z, meanwhile, is a game that benefits from being played on an iPad or Mac’s larger screen, because there’s a lot to manipulate on a relatively small phone screen. It’s a mashup of rogue-like survival and light tower defense mechanics. You’re a survivor in a zombie apocalypse trying to rescue survivors and find a cure to the plague. Unsurprisingly, each level pits you against a horde of zombies. Every stage you clear increases your abilities, and you can find better armor and weapons as you explore five different maps.

The formula isn’t the most original, but the cute art style and variety of different ways you can power up your survivors makes for an engrossing experience. The challenge ramps up nicely as well; it took me a good while to get powerful enough to tackle some of the tougher stages. It’s not the most varied in its gameplay — expect to do a lot of strafing around zombies as you whittle away their health — but the different traps you can set and the various boosts you get after completing a level help keep things fresh. My only complaint is that the game’s light story elements just end when you finish the last map without any resolution. I get the sense that the game’s developer, Ember Entertainment, will add more words eventually, but I wish the team was clear about whether or not the adventure would continue.

Just as I was close to maxing out those two games, SP!NG arrived. Once again, it was just what I needed. It’s another puzzler game with short levels to get through, but the gameplay mechanics are far from the common color-match found in Spire Blast. In SP!NG, your tiny abstract avatar can attach to various hooks throughout a stage and spins around in a circle as long as you’re attached. The goal is to fling your avatar around the level and collect as many stars as you can before you hit the exit. It’s another game that’s simple for starters, but the game gets devilishly challenging in the latter stages. The retrowave graphics and music coupled with the zen tranquility of flinging your avatar skillfully around a level is a great rush, though. And SP!NG is another game that works just as well for on-the-go spurts as it does for longer sessions.

This little Arcade binge I’m on has me diving into a few other games that I’ve saved for a while, including Necrobarista, The Pathless, The Last Campfire and Sayonara Wild Hearts, just to name a few. For $5 a month, I still feel I’m getting my money’s worth.

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