Apple Arcade Offers Educators Options | Tech Review

The relatively low-priced subscription service offers an opportunity to try out a large selection of newly released titles.

Apple Arcade—an all-you-can-play subscription service with a curated selection of new games with no ads, ad tracking, or additional purchases—launched in September with 71 titles. The library of games has since grown to more than 100 titles. Each is playable on multiple iOS platforms (iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, and Mac) as well as translated into 14 different languages.

For educators, it represents an opportunity to try out a large selection of newly released titles, potentially on a device they already own, at a relatively low barrier to entry ($4.99 per month after a free one-month trial).

What makes Apple Arcade unique is that all of its games are exclusive to the iOS App Store in terms of mobile platforms and subscription services. For example, Finji’s Overland launched on Apple Arcade the same day as it did for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, but is not available for Android devices or through subscriptions.

While it remains to be seen if this Netflix-like model is the future of game distribution, the novelty of sampling an ever-evolving library of games is intriguing. This approach also seems to have sparked a creativity in mobile game design that had been overshadowed by a glut of free-to-play games with in-app purchases in recent years.

Here are four recommended titles.

Assemble with Care (UsTwo, 2019) is made by the creators of Monument Valley. However, in this game, rather than manipulating three-dimensional landscapes with strange geometry, players rotate and manipulate the parts of virtual objects in order to repair them. An early puzzle consists of changing the batteries of a tape recorder and winding a cassette tape to enable it to play again. A later puzzle asks players to completely disassemble and rewire a record player to bring it back to working order.

Before and after each of the 13 chapters, players scroll through a fully voice-acted story revolving around Maria, a traveling restorer who arrives in the town of Bellariva and immediately finds work repairing the cherished objects and relationships between the mayor and his daughter, as well as a restaurant owner and her estranged sister. VERDICT Younger students will thrill at the opportunity to take things apart and put them back together using elegant, intuitive tools. Older students may appreciate the somewhat predictable but emotionally charged narrative that touches on loss and reconnection.

Dear Reader (Local No. 12, 2019) is a brilliant, literary word game that transforms classic works from the public domain, such as Pride and Prejudice and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, into puzzles. The mechanics are ever changing, with 24 variations in all, but each requires players to carefully read and interpret an excerpt from a given text. To start, players are asked to rearrange phrases into the correct order to match Jane Austen’s original 1813 novel. Later, players might be asked to fill in blanks on the page by selecting words, choosing lines that don’t belong in the original text, or even finding spelling errors in poems by Emily Dickinson. Solving puzzles quickly and with few mistakes earns players ink, a currency that can be spent to unlock 50 included books. For players looking for a more relaxing experience, the timer can be turned off. VERDICT Dear Reader offers high school educators a unique, interactive way of engaging students with classical literature that meaningfully reinforces the source material and highlights the importance of the public domain.

Manifold Garden (William Chyr Studio, 2019) is the debut game from designer William Chyr, who took six years to develop the title. It is a game of M.C. Escher-inspired impossible geometry in which players solve puzzles by manipulating gravity from a first-person perspective. To give an example: When players see a switch to open a door on the ceiling, they must first press a button to walk along the wall and then press it again to walk along the ceiling and gain access to the button, which is now right side up. The title also features mind-blowing concepts such as recursive space—if players fall off of a ledge, they will continue to pass the same platform over and over again, infinitely.

Chyr’s background lies in installation art and sculpture, and students and educators will immediately notice how visually striking the game is as well as its use of color-coding to signify paths and possible solutions. VERDICT Manifold Garden is a creative exploration of physics, puzzles, and design that looks and plays unlike anything else on Apple Arcade.

Mini Motorways (Dinosaur Polo Club, 2019) is the follow-up to the New Zealand–based studio’s Mini Metro. While both invite players to try their hand at an engaging, simplified version of urban planning, the new title switches out train systems for cars. Players begin by selecting from several different city scenarios (including Los Angeles, Beijing, Tokyo, and Munich) and then start each level by drawing a road to connect the first house and building of the same color. Soon, tiny cars are zooming from house to building and back again, but as the clock in the corner progresses, new houses and buildings dynamically spring up and must be connected to the existing roads. The object of the game is for cars to collect “pins” that appear on buildings and bring them back to a house.

In addition to trying to earn a high score, players must also balance the increasing traffic, since a building accumulating too many uncollected pins will result in game over.

Initially, the game offers a set number of road tiles, but as each virtual week passes, it offers the option to unlock additional tools such as bridges, traffic lights, and motorways that can arc over and bypass existing roads. VERDICT Similar to Sim City, Mini Motorways can spark student interest in urban design, and provides an excellent simulation to explore concepts such as urban sprawl and the challenges of modern transportation.


Thomas Knowlton is school outreach librarian for MyLibraryNYC at the New York Public Library, and the creator of NYPLarcade @NYPLarcade. Follow him @thomasknowlton.

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