For Hipster Whale, having the game’s development funded by Apple freed them up to focus on crafting a fun experience, without having to bolt in ways to make money.
“To not have to worry about a business model at all, it’s been really great,” says Hall. “We really designed the game for Apple Arcade, to take advantage of all its features. We don’t have plans to bring it to any other platform.”
As a local multiplayer game, Castle supports up to four players on any combination of Apple devices. For example you could have four iPhones, or one Apple TV with four controllers (Arcade supports Xbox One and PlayStation 4 controllers, as well as those designed for Apple devices). Or you could mix and match with people on iPads or Macs.
Since Apple Arcade includes access for up to six family members, Hall says the game is designed for families to play together.
I played the game alongside Hall, and though it’s not finished the multiplayer aspect worked seamlessly, with the two iPhones finding each other and connecting in a second.
Castle takes place in a series of small rooms which make up a massive tower. Rooms are chosen on the fly from a large pool, with some having you solve simple puzzles and others having you avoid deadly obstacles, and the exact contents are tweaked procedurally so playing through the tower should feel a bit different each time. Regardless, the tower is designed to get more difficult as you climb.
Since this is an Arcade game you won’t be watching ads to unlock characters; coins are liberally spread throughout the rooms for you to grab. We played as a horse and the iconic Crossy Road chicken. Hall says in addition to characters you can also unlock hats to wear.
As the team creates new towers (there’s currently only one), they’ll be added to the game at no extra cost. Hall says Hipster Whale will add new content throughout 2020, and then “for as long as we feel like making them”.
The game has the same fun chunky look and goofy instant deaths as the original, but the co-operative nature means dying feels less punishing. As long as someone survives they can still get everyone to the next room, and if you all die you have a few lives to try again.
Hall and I made it all the way past room 30, at which point we tried and failed to take on an egg-spewing boss based on the infamous eagle from Crossy Road.
Apple Arcade includes access to more than 100 games, but it hasn’t quite reached that level yet. At present there are more than 70 other games on the service, including six others from Australian developers.
Tim is the editor of The Age and Sydney Morning Herald technology sections.