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Thursday, April 8, 2021

Apple Arcade mini-reviews: Wonderbox, SongPop Party, Sudoku Simple+


Reviews by Matt S.

Just before Easter, Apple dropped a big pile of new games on the Apple Arcade. Almost enough to count it as a "re-launch," at it came at just the right time. I had been planning on ending the subscription, as I hadn't really found a reason to play anything from the service for some months now. However, this drop includes three games that are absolutely brilliant, two of which are genuine game of the year contenders, and one of those two is very genuinely one of my favourite games of all time (potentially). So I'll be hanging on to that subscription for some time to come. Well played, Apple.

This week you can look forward to a series of daily mini-reviews that will cover off a fair chunk of these Apple Arcade titles. I'm not going to do full reviews, as they're effectively free-to-play, but I might write separate pieces on those few really elite games I mention above if time allows. Either way, I wanted to get down something on some of these titles as a statement of record, as I do think that this most recent drop has turned the Apple TV, when paired up with a Dualshock 4 controller (or whatever your preference is) into one heck of secondary console.

Today's the last day that we'll be running these wraps - there are other games that have been released during this drop, but most of them are ports of titles that have been talked about to death, like Threes! or Monument Valley.

Wonderbox: The Adventure Maker

Think about Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. Now imagine a creator mode for that. That's approximately what Wonderbox offers, and it's a wonderful little thing for anyone who likes games that are driven by community participation. Wonderbox offers the same "diorama" level structure as Toadie's little adventure, while allowing players to create small levels... and even link them together to create "stories". It also gives players a few more tools than Captain Toad had access to - jump buttons and weapons for combat, for example - because the game's more about little adventures than out-and-out puzzling. But the same basic idea is there and if Nintendo does ever create another Captain Toad game, they should consider looking at the top creators here for level design tips. There are already some excellent ones available for download and play.


In under a week, there are already some 2,000 player-created levels to wade through. Naturally, a lot of those are terrible, but there is also a lot of good stuff there too, making Wonderbox an experience that is already expansive in scope. The ability to write little bits of narrative also helps to distinguish Wonderbox from many other "creator" games, and give people the ability to flex their creative muscles with context. Not that you'll be writing anything of the standard of Shakespeare here, of course, but it's going to be fun to see what stories people come up with.

The art's a little "generic cute", which might hurt Wonderbox in the long run - most of the successful "creators" have aesthetics that inspire, such as Mario Maker's nostalgic retro or LittleBigPlanet's charming hand-crafted look. Wonderbox doesn't come anywhere near that kind of distinctive visual design, so it's that much harder to want to make levels. Still, this is a good find for the Apple Arcade. It's effectively offering a world of limitless adventure and the kind of game that can become a hobby in its own right to fans. It's the kind of game that can be played over extended periods of time, and all by itself it's going to encourage people to keep their Arcade subscriptions going, especially if they have a younger one in the house who won't want to lose all these levels and opportunities for play. It might not be as flashy as some of the other games released in the last week, but it might be the one that has the longest future ahead of it.



SongPop Party

Every gaming platform needs trivia games. There are times when the party is raging on, and you want to play a game. But not everyone is necessarily good at video games. Everyone thinks they're awesome when it comes to trivia, however, and SongPop Party is one of the better trivia games that we've seen over the years. It's a game that's focused entirely on short rounds of 10 questions, with people earning points for guessing the song being played in the background the quickest. That's all there is to SongPop Party, and yet it's almost impossible to put down once you start. 


Part of the value is in the expansive range of categories, from hits of the 60's right through to soundtracks and rap. I'm really bad at the latter. The samples are of high quality (with the added benefit of being able to pull the track up after the round is finished if you like it and haven't yet added it to your playlists or whatever). Once a round is finished, it's a simple matter of selecting a new category and continuing the party on. As you play you'll earn "keys" that can unlock further categories and avatars, but those come on thick and fast so it's not going to be a challenge to keep the new categories and music playlists up. 

The Apple Arcade version also includes online play with random match-ups, and these are great fun if you can't get a group of friends together but still want to test your music knowledge. SongPop Party might be a no-frills trivia game, but then that's all it needs to be, too. This is all about the music, and there's so much of that that it's not going to outstay its welcome any time soon.



Sudoku Simple+

This is going to be a short review because it is, basically, Sudoku, and just about everyone knows how these games work by now. Sudoku is excellent for the brain, however, and it's well worth having at least one Sudoku app available for when you do want to test the little grey cells. Sudoku Simple+ is actually one of the nicer examples I've come across. 


What makes it nice is that each of the numbers, from 1-9, are colour-coded, which makes it easier to distinguish them on the playfield at a glance, and that reduces the risk of making silly errors by missing a number in a box or row and, ultimately, ruining your puzzle. (don't worry, you can turn this off too if you want to be hardcore about it).

There are plenty of puzzles to work through of varying degrees of difficulty, and then there are daily puzzles to encourage you to log in each day. As with every mobile puzzle game, you earn experience points and "titles" as you play, which don't have any impact on the game whatsoever, but it's fun to see numbers going up. The real problem with Sudoku Simple+ is just how efficient it really is. Minimalistic elegance is fine, but this game doesn't even have a title screen, and the menu is just a block of text. Perhaps it's not a big issue for Sudoku, but there is a point where "no-frills" step into the realm of being just plain cheap.



And that's a wrap of our Apple Arcade coverage for now! At least, it will be until Apple pulls another stunt like this and throws out six months worth of sublime gaming in one day - if you haven't subscribed yet and have an Apple device do so, because I promise you, this gaming platform is going from strength to strength.

- Matt S. 
Editor-in-Chief
Find me on Twitter: @mattsainsb


Apple Arcade mini-reviews: Wonderbox, SongPop Party, Sudoku Simple+
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