Let’s Play TV Games

This past Friday I got the new Apple TV, and the day after the Nimbus controller that wirelessly syncs with it (over Bluetooth). I’m having a blast.

I’ll start by saying that I’m a longtime and very strong user of Apple TV. It’s now turned into a pretty successful product for Apple, but I was an early adopter, and it quickly became indispensable for me. The killer feature for me has always been AirPlay, and on top of streaming lots of video content to it, it’s also been my main “stereo” in my home (first by streaming music from iTunes, then Spotify, and these days Apple Music).

But I’ve always been waiting for the moment when they would finally add a proper App Store to it, so that we’d start getting proper apps that were made for use on a TV screen.

And that of course means, TV games.

The best thing about plugging it in and logging into my accounts (as a citizen of the world, I have Canadian, US, and Japan accounts) was that I already had access to a bunch of games courtesy of the few Universal apps out there that have already jumped on the TV front. Early faves so far include Canabalt, Badland, Edge/Edge Ex, Phoenix HD, Jetpack Joyride, and a game that I’m finally having fun playing for the first time (because I’m playing it with the Nimbus controller), Asphalt 8.

(And to be fair, even though it’s not a game I particularly like playing, Crossy Road does look great on the big screen.)

The game I’m playing the most though is Rayman Adventures, a free-to-play game that plays exactly like a regular Rayman console game when you’re playing with the Nimbus – it’s not like the (albeit excellent) auto-runners that have already come out on iOS. There’s also another free-to-play game that I’ve been enjoying, a hover ship “runner” called Breakneck, although it was crashing for me consistently when I was reaching a certain level today.

As I mentioned at the top, I quickly bought that Nimbus controller – which is a very solid piece of hardware, by the way – because for most of these games, I wasn’t really enjoying playing them with the Siri Remote. But one very big exception, and the only game I’ve bought so far, is Galaxy on Fire: Manticore Rising, which was specifically designed to play with the Siri Remote, and in fact does not support play with a controller. I found myself really enjoying playing that game with the remote, and as someone who was not a fan of playing games with the Wiimote (along with the nunchuck controller), I think what makes it better here is that the Siri Remote is so much smaller and lighter, and so it’s not as tiring to be holding it up. Add some gorgeous HD visuals, and you’ve got a legit great space shooter.

The App Store is a bit strange though. Right now you can only find games through a featured page, through a page of things you’ve bought (and so any Universal apps that you’ve previously purchased on other iOS devices show up there), and through a search page. It’s not surprising that there’s no charts yet, since the store just opened, but I would have liked to see some category pages – I have a few friends who I know have created Apple TV versions of their iOS games (Shaun Inman’s The Last Rocket, Eric Koizol’s Rainblocks) that you can only find if you specifically search for them. I also find it strange that you can’t buy Apple TV apps through App Stores on other devices (or on your computer).

So what’s the verdict?

I think it’s pretty clear that I’m already quite excited for this device, in terms of games, and I think this will finally be the micro console that sticks. Just like what happened with the iPhone, tons of people are going to buy Apple TVs to watch video content (which I of course do as well) and as they start discovering the high-quality games you can play there, it’s going to make it that much more attractive for creators to develop Apple TV versions of their iOS games, or even better, games that may be created specifically with the TV in mind. Also, the fact Apple is strongly promoting the sales of controllers like the Nimbus means that I’m sure more and more games that play better with such controllers will be coming out on the device.

To me, this feels like a new console launch, and a good one at that.

Update: I just realized that I forgot to emphasize another thing that is a huge sell for me – although I alluded to it when I mentioned Asphalt 8 – and that’s the ability to finally play games that use virtual controls on iOS devices with a real physical controller. I absolutely hate playing games that way (with virtual on-screen controls), and there are tons of quality games that I’m sure would be a million times better if I could finally play them with a proper controller – a recent example is Downwell, a game I did still enjoy, but that I still found to be a bit awkward because of the controls. Yes, you’ve long been able to use wireless Bluetooth controllers with iOS devices, but that’s not a practical thing to do. There’s nothing more natural though than using one when you’re playing TV games.

Published by Jean Snow

Senior Esports Manager at Ubisoft. Before that, half a life spent in Tokyo.