So. You got a new Apple device and a bunch of free three-month subscriptions, or perhaps a family member or friend has generously added you to their Apple family plan and granted you access to Apple Arcade. Congrats! You now have access to more than 200 ad-free games. But which ones are worth your precious storage space?
I love the handheld nature of the Switch and have been wanting to get more into mobile games, and upgrading my phone (and doubling my storage) has given me the perfect excuse to do so. Since I’ve started playing them, video games have helped me manage my stress and anxiety in a more productive way than doomscrolling social media, but as I’ve gotten older and busier I’ve relied more on games that can be played in small snatches of time, like Picross or inbento. Now that I have access to Apple Arcade, I figured I might as well take advantage of it and have been looking for games that scratch that “chill puzzle game” itch.
It can be difficult to see the full scope of available games because of the way the Apple Arcade page is organized within the App Store, but after spending some time plumbing the depths, I’ve curated a neat little collection of games that I find ideal for a moment of downtime or to unwind with at the end of the day.
One more note before we begin: while a couple of these games are Apple Arcade exclusives, others are available through both Apple Arcade and the App Store. To tell the difference on the App Store, look for a plus symbol at the end of each title—the plus denotes the Apple Arcade version. I’ve also noted where each is available in the descriptions below.
If you have recently found yourself swept up in the Wordle trend (or are already over it), you may enjoy SpellTower+. Unlike Wordle, the letters are already on the board in SpellTower+, and players earn points by connecting letters to form words. It’s like a word search, but the letters don’t have to be (and likely won’t be) arranged in a straight line—you can connect letters forward, backward, and diagonally to form a word.
SpellTower has actually been around since 2011, but SpellTower+ adds new tiles and five new modes of play: Search, Daily Search, Double Puzzle, Bubble Puzzle, and Blitz. Daily Search and Daily Tower modes allow you to compete with other players, but there are also solo Search, Tower, and Puzzle modes. My favorite mode is “Zen” mode, which removes length requirement tiles and allows me to play more or less indefinitely, or at least as long as I can keep finding words.
If you enjoy sudoku puzzles, SpellTower developers Zach Gage and Jack Schlesinger are also the team behind Good Sudoku + (which you’ll also find on Apple Arcade) and you’ll probably notice some similarities in the simple but elegant app design if you download both. Good Sudoku also helps you learn better sudoku solving strategies, which you can put to the test as the puzzles get more difficult throughout the week. Good Sudoku is so enjoyable that it almost makes me miss zoning out and solving sudoku puzzles on a twenty minute subway commute.
I am fully obsessed with Sp!ng, to the point that when I recently tried to read through a mobile visual novel I kept thinking, “I could be playing Sp!ng right now,” and then closing out of the game to play Sp!ng. The app page describes Sp!ng as “a joyful game of flow,” and developer SMG has also called the game “a stress ball for your brain.” Personally, I’ve found both to be true, as the levels require precision and focus, but in a way that’s more meditative than stressful.
In each level, players collect crystals by using gravity and momentum to navigate a little star around. A finger tap is the sole control, which allows players to connect to and swing between grappling points. Sp!ng of course becomes more difficult as levels progress, but it doesn’t punish you for failing a level; there are no lives to lose and the levels are short enough that it doesn’t feel burdensome to start one over.
There are a few different modes to play (including my absolute nemesis, a time-based “Rush Mode”) and different backgrounds and star designs to collect, but aside from these features there isn’t much more to Sp!ng. Ultimately this is something I appreciate about the game, because it makes for an overall calming experience.
Sp!ng is an Apple Arcade exclusive.
If you’re looking to sink your full focus and attention into a single game, allow me to recommend Mini Motorways. This game is for people who have ever driven somewhere with an incomprehensible road layout and thought, “I could do better.” In Mini Motorways, you lay down roads, roundabouts, highways, and traffic lights in maps based on real cities to connect destinations and optimize the flow of traffic.
Keeping traffic moving is harder than it sounds, especially because you only have a certain amount of resources to use per in-game “week,” but being able to delete and move road tiles and other features ensures engaging gameplay. If too many people want to reach a destination, a timer will appear; if the traffic jam isn’t solved when the timer runs out the game will end. The time element makes Mini Motorways a little less chill than the other games on this list, but worth your time nonetheless. (And if you absolutely love Mini Motorways, developer Dinosaur Polo Club’s first game, Mini Metro, is also available on Apple Arcade.)
Mini Motorways is currently available through Apple Arcade and Steam. A Nintendo Switch version has been announced, but not yet released. Mini Metro can also be purchased on the App Store.
Look, okay, I know Monument Valley is on every “mobile games you have to play” list ever, but it’s on those lists for a good reason, and the reason is that it’s a very good game. Monument Valley has been out since 2014, so I also wanted to include it for newer gamers who might not have heard of it… but if you have heard of it and haven’t played it yet, this is your sign. The game consists of ten levels, and each level features one or more isometric rooms with Escher-esque architecture that moves in surprising ways. By manipulating the architecture, the player creates a path for the main character, a little girl named Ida, to reach the end of the level.
Altogether I think I spent about an hour exploring Monument Valley‘s surreal, candy-colored landscapes before completing the game, and while I could have easily spent several more hours guiding Ida around, I really enjoyed the time I had. The puzzles’ geometric designs and soft palettes are soothing to look at, and the ambient soundtrack makes Monument Valley an even dreamier experience. If you enjoy the game, Ustwo also released a sequel, Monument Valley 2, though it’s available through the App Store, not Apple Arcade.
Monument Valley is available to purchase from the App Store.
If you enjoy jigsaw puzzles but can’t sacrifice the space or money for physical puzzles, you might like Patterned, which is the closest any of these games get to a traditional jigsaw puzzle. Once you choose a pattern, the game shows you a black and white sketch version of the pattern and blocky, Tetris-esque puzzle pieces that show a colored version. To complete the puzzle, drag the pieces to their corresponding place in the pattern. Depending on the complexity of the pattern, this can be quite difficult!
Though the pieces fit within a square, the patterns seamlessly repeat across my phone’s screen, and it’s really satisfying to watch the whole pattern come alive with color as I place each piece. Patterned offers hundreds of puzzles with art from dozens of artists around the world, and the game is regularly updated with new and seasonal patterns. There’s no shortage of gorgeous art or puzzles to solve.
Patterned is an Apple Arcade exclusive.
Several years ago I spent a summer getting completely addicted to Candy Crush, and Candy Crush Soda Saga, and Candy Crush Jelly Saga, which is obviously the pro strat, because if you run out of lives in one you can just—right. Anyway, similar to Candy Crush, the goal of Two Dots is to clear a certain number of dots in each level, which players do by drawing lines to connect same-colored dots. Though the premise is simple, solving the levels requires some careful strategizing, and later levels introduce extra mechanics that further complicate the puzzles. Failing a level will cost you a life, so I’ve found that it’s better to take my time and really think about each move I’m making so I don’t waste lives.
Additionally, Two Dots includes hidden object levels that I enjoyed almost as much as the main puzzles (plus, they don’t cost a life to play). The hidden object levels each feature dense, brightly colored illustrations, and finding one set of objects will unlock more of the illustration to explore. I’d like to note that this is the one game on this list that isn’t actually an Apple Arcade game (which essentially only means it includes ads) but overall I found it a chill, fun time that’s infinitely preferable to scrolling Twitter before bed.
Two Dots is free on the App Store.
Madison Butler is Sidequest’s self-proclaimed jock editor. She co-founded the blog Critsumption and once got really into powerlifting via Fitness Boxing for the Nintendo Switch. She tweets at @_maddilo.