Welcome back! So this is Christmas, and what have you done? I did a lot of slacking off, as you can tell. It’s always so hard to stick to plans during the holidays. Everything just slips through your fingers. But I have finally returned to wrap up this mighty 2019! You may recall in November I hinted at a new surprise coming to this series. While I’ll save one until the very end, I will let one slip now: In 2020, every month will include four cool free apps like I’ve always done, but the fifth app will be an Apple Arcade exclusive! That’s right, I took a chance and dove into the Apple Arcade end of the pool, just to see what the hub-bub was all about, and to be honest, it’s pretty rad!

I’ll continue to make this column mainly about free apps so as not to alienate my Android fans, but for those with iPhones and iPads, prepare for some new fun. So that’s what this month is all about! Surprise! I got a free month trial and I thought, “what if I tried out five Apple Arcade exclusives that look interesting to me?” Just a little sneak peek at what’s coming. All of these games are exclusive to the $5/month App Store subscription service, and I must say before we go on, these are console-worthy experiences. Some of them are even on PC already! It’s a brave new world, mobile gaming, so let’s peel back the curtain and take a look at this bright future!

Hot Lava

Hot Lava is a gem I’d heard about quite some time ago, when James discovered it on Funhaus and had the boys play it on PC in early access. I remember thinking its first-person parkour gameplay was incredible, and it reminded me of Mirror’s Edge, but through the eyes of a child. The game is essentially an open-world rendition of “The Floor is Lava,” a popular schoolyard game you’ve probably played at some point with your friends or siblings. Okay then, your kids have played it. I don’t know how old you are, but I love you just the same. Anyway, Hot Lava puts players in control of an action figure who has lost his crime-fighting team and must traverse various environments to get back home. The tutorial takes place in a living room, while later levels take place across a school gymnasium and a playground, to name a few. While the idea of the game may sound fun in itself, it’s the control scheme that could make or break Hot Lava for the player. The game requires simultaneous use of onscreen tapping to move forward and jump, while also moving the device (iPhone or iPad) around to turn the camera. This could make for some ridiculous looks if playing on public transportation or in the break room. Furthermore, it can make for some wonky gameplay, especially in more complicated scenarios. But once it’s mastered, getting around a level is fluid and extremely fun. Swinging from pole to pole or jumping on a series of increasingly smaller platforms can be risky and entertaining. All the while, don’t forget, the floor is lava. This is certainly a must-try, whether on mobile or PC.

Dear Reader

Dear Reader is one of the most fun games I’ve yet to try on Apple Arcade, and it’s the only one out of these five that I’ve kept on my device for constant future use. Have you ever wanted to learn more about classic literature without all the hassle of reading a massive book? What if we made a game out of it? Well that’s exactly what Dear Reader is all about, turning classic books into fast-paced word games that’ll give you terrible anxiety in the most fun way possible. From the start, I was given Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, and I was quite upset with this offering. Fortunately, Dear Reader makes reading fun by turning each chapter into an average of 7 sections, each with their own exciting word game. For example, one such chapter misspelled random words, and tasked me with skimming through to correct any grammatical errors. Another chapter had me swapping lines in each paragraph that were out of place, thus making the story sound as it should. As the game progresses, you’re given the option to play under a time restraint, which I chose in hopes of making the action even more exciting. This did not disappoint, as it allows you to turn any remaining time (referred to as ink) into in-game currency which can be used to purchase new books. Dear Reader rewards players for reading, as well as being grammar experts. It’s the perfect game for any aspiring editor, author, or English teacher, and I’d highly recommend it to any fan of literature, as the game is always adding more books to its collection.

Exit the Gungeon

Fans of the indie darling Enter the Gungeon will be happy to find a thrilling sequel among the Apple Arcade library. I had no idea this was even a thing, and being a minor fan of the original, I decided to give it a shot. Fortunately, the game is just as hard as its predecessor, and fortunate still, it makes the frantic action work incredibly well on a mobile device. Gameplay is a bit different in Exit the Gungeon, trading in its roguelike dungeon-crawler roots for a new single-screen shoot-em-up format. Players are tasked with exiting the titular Gungeon via a series of elevators, each with their own enemies, boss fights, and hidden secrets. The shopkeep returns – amongst other notable characters who I won’t spoil – allowing for purchases to be made at certain intervals, like health increases and power-ups such as bombs and blanks. What makes Exit the Gungeon stand out from its predecessor, however, is its weapon system. Players are rewarded for their use of dodge rolls and moving about the screen gracefully, and doing so will “bless” their weapon, changing it into something bigger and better as more tricks are pulled. This focus on finesse amidst a sea of bullets makes for not only a beautiful mess onscreen, but also a terrific challenge for anyone new to this series. Exit the Gungeon is not for the faint of heart, or the hard of mobile gaming, as this game will test your ability to swipe, tap, and shoot unlike any game before it.

Frogger in Toy Town

When I see there’s a new Frogger game out, I don’t ever let that baby slip by me. I knew I had to try Frogger in Toy Town from the moment I laid eyes on it. Thankfully, this game does not disappoint, as it blends the charming simplicity of the original with a modern-day physics engine, and boy does that make for a wildly strange mobile game. Frogger in Toy Town tasks the titular amphibian with saving hundreds of “froglets” across a series of odd locales, from some kind of playroom cluttered with blocks and balls to a literal haunted house full of frog-eating venus fly traps. Like I said, wildly strange. Apart from this game being my worst nightmare – frogs hopping all around the world, trying to save their young – it’s genuinely entertaining to play. For some reason this game has zero regard for physics, and allows Frogger to hop on anything and everything, from sticking to baseballs and rolling around the room to climbing completely vertical structures. It may not be how frogs work, but its absolutely hilarious. Also surprising is the inclusion of standard Frogger sequences where he must cross roads or logs a la Crossy Road, which is enjoyable as always, especially when all the trucks crash into each other because a giant springy bird jumps into the road, and Frogger can hop on top of every truck to get across. It has to be seen to be believed, but Frogger in Toy Town is a cluttered mess of colorful fun, and it can even be played in portrait mode, which I felt was a nice little touch. Whether looking for a time-waster on the bus (you know how much I love those), or handing your baby the iPad, this one has a little something for everybody.

Sayonara Wild Hearts

At the start of this article, I mentioned how Apple Arcade delivers console-worthy experiences. Enter: Sayonara Wild Hearts, a game you can literally go play on a Nintendo Switch right now, or why not an iPhone? I remember when this game was first announced, and I remember when it was nominated for a couple Game Awards this past year. Being that influential has to be worth something, yeah? As expected, I was absolutely blown away by everything this game has to offer. From the music to the bright anime-inspired visuals, the wonderful mayhem this game throws at you from the start had me completely forgetting I was actually playing a game. Even my mom, at one point, yelled in disbelief from the next room, “Wow, is that sound coming from your phone?!” At the end of every level you’re given a rank, and I didn’t even realize this until I was a few levels in, due to the fast-paced, chaotic nature of Sayonara. On the surface, its a wonderfully gorgeous game about a girl who’s tasked with saving her world from certain doom. She gains the ability to fly and drive a motorcycle through a vibrant, crumbling world, collecting… pieces scattered around the level. Gameplay is mainly on rails, with the player attempting to control the girl’s movements at lightning speed, collecting anything and everything they can in a short amount of time. Truly, the game is a radiant blur, with most of the action whizzing past you, and the addition of quick time button prompts in later levels makes for some of the most disorienting and sometimes excruciating experiences offered in a video game today. Sayonara Wild Hearts is a beautiful disaster that is certainly worth a try for anyone with a Switch or a mobile device.

Just like that, another year over, a new one just begun. December is always a rough time in terms of doing things one would like to do. Like writing a monthly column they’re two months behind on. But hey, I did it! I finally finished a full year of this baby, and boy was it fun. I hope you’ve found a lot of cool apps this year, as I have. My goal with App Recap was to leave new mobile gamers with a phone full of fun; to take an empty device and fill it with the essentials. It’s crazy to look back and see just how much mobile goodness (and trash) comes out in the course of one little year. I’ve had an absolute blast, and I’m so looking forward to a fresh new decade of mobile gaming.

Oh, that reminds me! The final surprise!

From this point on, with this new website and everything, App Recap is being RE-branded with a whole new name: recAPP! As I said before, it’ll be four of the fan-favorite freebies, and one special pick from the Apple Arcade library. As you may have noticed, though, I’m not just picking Apple Arcade games I love. I’m going to do these in more of a review style, picking one randomly from the list and giving it whatever opinion I deem worthy. If I hate it, I have no problem letting you know. They can’t all be great games, right? That’s the beauty of mobile games: there will always be some trash hidden away somewhere. But that’s why you’ve got me. That’s why you’ve got recAPP. I’ll see you soon!

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