It’s been about three weeks since Apple found a new way into the video game market with the debut of Apple Arcade. For a small monthly fee of about $5, iPhone and iPad subscribers receive access to a collection of curated mobile games from well-known studios both inside and outside the industry. There are almost 100 games available for Apple Arcade, and it can feel like a bit of a slog to wade through all of the options. A lot of good games fall by the wayside or end up largely ignored.
Enter Quarters Down, a new monthly column highlighting the fantastic games that are available to play on the Apple Arcade right now. These games may fall into that overlooked category, or they may just be games I felt the need to write about. At any rate, it’s my hope with this column that I can shine a light on some truly special games that deserve it!
So, let’s start with ChuChu Rocket Universe.
I chose this game for a couple of reasons. For starters, after its release as a launch title for the arcade, ChuChu Rocket Universe largely went unnoticed next to other, more anticipated titles like Sayonara: Wild Hearts. Additionally, it’s the first true sequel to one of my favorite puzzle games from my late teenage years, and one that holds some very special memories of my first apartment.
I moved in with my best friend when I was 18 years old. We grew up together, so getting an apartment after we graduated high school seemed like a good fit. He was also a pretty heavy gamer, so along with my Nintendo 64 and Dreamcast, we had his PC and Playstation 2. There was a wall of video games set up, all running through a switch and into a giant CRT TV. Even today, the apartment might impress many a video game fans, and it was awesome.
It was into this apartment that I brought ChuChu Rocket, a quirky little puzzle game for the Sega Dreamcast. The game featured two primary modes of play, the first of which was a fast-paced multiplayer game with mice running around a checkerboard in a straight line, only turning right when they hit a wall. Up to four players would place arrows within the line to divert the mice into a specific direction. Placed around the board were four rocket ships, one for each player, and the ultimate goal was to divert more mice into your rocket ship than your opponents can divert into theirs.
What set ChuChu Rocket apart from other console puzzle games, though, was that you could play online. Using the Dreamcast’s modem, players could hop into games and test their mettle against players from around the world. While there was some lag, it was ultimately okay, because we all knew that everyone was experiencing the same lag, and that was just fine. The experience of playing against others was worth it.
My friends and I dropped hours into this game, even though most of the time, there were enough of us to play a full offline game. There was something special about playing online through a console, which I can’t quite explain. We had played games online on our PCs before, but that was usually a solitary experience. This had the feeling of playing our games on the couch with our friends, but the challenge of playing someone on the other side of the screen.
There was a single-player puzzle mode in the game as well, which is worthy of note. This mode presents a checkerboard in the same way as the multi-player, but the mice are frozen in place and a single rocket is placed somewhere on the board. You are then given a specific number of directional arrows, which you can set at any spot on the board. When you press start, the mice start running in a straight line, only turning if they hit a wall or an arrow you’ve placed. Your goal is to get the mice to the rocket. Later puzzles introduce cats, which also run in a straight line until they hit a wall or arrow but end the game if they run into either the mice or the rocket. What this creates is a simple puzzle game requiring you to plot out movements, press the start button, and see what happens.
ChuChu Rocket Universe includes both of these modes, but the focus is definitely on the single-player experience. The single-player mode features a ton of puzzles, each one presenting plenty of challenge, and each one rating you on how few arrows you use to get the mice to their destination safely. The game actually plays really well on the phone touchscreen, and the quick puzzles fit the mobile game style very well. I don’t ride public transportation at the moment, but I have in the past, and this is the type of game I would play on such a commute. It’s such a simple puzzle game, and the game loop is short and easily accessible; it’s perfect for short bursts of playtime.
I haven’t had as much luck with the multiplayer, which is a little disappointing. The few times I have tried to get a game going, no one else was playing, and the game dropped me into matches against bots. While this does present the fast-paced gameplay of the original — with mice running everywhere, and everyone frantically placing arrows — it’s just not the same when you know you’re playing against a computer. I hope as more people discover the game, I might be able to get into a few actual matches. While I know it won’t be the same as the games I used to play with my friends as my memories are probably colored a bit by nostalgia, ChuChu Rocket Universe is still a really fun game, and I know that each match would be a blast.
Overall, I think ChuChu Rocket Universe serves as a great example of what Apple Arcade can offer. It’s the type of game that in any other model would probably offer a free version in which major parts of the game would be locked behind a paywall, or later puzzles would be impossible without laying down some real cash for Chu-Chu Bucks, or whatever they would be called. Instead, you get a complete puzzle experience, built on a system that we already know works great, and the access is included with a simple monthly fee. If that’s not a great system, I don’t know what is.