The 24 best Mac App Store apps and games for your new MacBook

Photo editors, music apps, tools for writing, and games for playing. This is what to install first on your new Mac

Your brand new Mac has booted up and is sitting there, expecting something to happen. What next?

You could do something boring, like setting up email (yawn) or delving into Office-like iWork (bleh). Instead, have some fun, with Stuff’s pick of the Mac App Store’s best creative apps for photos, videos, music and writing, along with a selection of superb games.

Pixelmator

Imagine a simplified Photoshop with some cool black threads and that’s Pixelmator in a nutshell. It’s easy to use, but feature-rich, with a great combination of drawing tools, editing options, and stunning visual effects.

Buy Pixelmator (£22.99)

Affinity Designer

One for arty types, Affinity Designer is a buttery smooth app for getting your vectors on, whether you’re smashing out a logo or working hard on some cutting-edge illustration. It feels like what Illustrator could be without the flab, and is an unmissable bargain at 30 quid.

Buy Affinity Designer (£29.99)

Affinity Photo

If Pixelmator doesn’t quite float your boat, yet you still hanker for something Photoshopish on your new Mac, Designer’s sibling is a superb choice. Affinity Photo is packed full of high-end tools and features for creating, processing and retouching images, all housed within a sleek and usable interface. 

Buy Affinity Photo (£29.99)

Flare 2

Flare 2’s sneaky. Load a photo and it feels like a one-click iPhone filter app, albeit one with pretty amazing filters. But access the edit section and suddenly there are loads of sliders - you can fine-tune everything, creating every kind of custom photo effect imaginable.

Buy Flare 2 (£7.99)

Comic Life 3

ZOK! KAPOW! and BIF! your way to something a million times better than a Facebook album, by transforming pictures of family and friends into comic strips. Get your words straight in the script editor, before adding photos, comic filters, speech balloons and sound effects. VOOOOOM!

Buy Comic Life 3 (£22.99)

Final Cut Pro

iMovie? Pfft. A mere abacus next to the supercomputer that is Final Cut Pro. Fast and powerful, this is the app you want to be using to edit your home movies, even if it’s probably overkill in the same way you don’t really need that iPhone 7 Plus for playing Pokémon GO.

Buy Final Cut Pro (£229.99)

DM1

UNCH! UNCH! UNCH! UNCH! Over 100 drum kits lurk within DM1, ready to assault your ears. But this is more than a mere noise-maker; with the step-sequencer and song composer, you can craft songs for export or just make a noise that happens to be a bit more coherent. UNCH! UNCH! UNCH! UNCH!

Buy DM1 (£7.99)

DJay Pro

Yes, it would all be lovely if everyone was still surrounded by piles of vinyl, but they’re not. But don’t despair, budding DJ, because with this app you can beat-match, cross-fade and add irritating phasing effects to your heart’s content.

Buy DJay Pro (£39.99)

Logic Pro X

If you fancy yourself as a chart-troubler, this is the app to get you there. Logic Pro X gives you all the tools to make beautiful music (or a horrible dirge): virtual drummers; loads of digital instruments; amps; effects; loops; samples; even auto-tune. (Just go easy on the auto-tune, OK?)

Buy Logic Pro X (£149.99)

Sound Studio

Although it’s had a bit of a wallop from an ugly stick, Sound Studio’s long been a popular Mac audio app – and for good reason. For relatively little outlay, you get a whole host of tools for digitising and editing audio, tweaking fades, effects and levels to perfection.

Buy Sound Studio (£22.99)

Capo 3

Capo enables you to slow down any song without affecting its pitch, and loop bits so you can nail tricky guitar riffs. You can also isolate specific instruments, draw on a spectrogram to build the notes you’re hearing, and have the app guess the chords being played. To be more helpful, this app would have to play the guitar for you. 

Buy Capo 3 (£22.99)

VOX

iTunes is bloated, clunky and treats certain audio formats like something smelly you might step on in the street. VOX plays FLAC, can pull files from NAS devices, integrates with SoundCloud, and has the kind of drag-and-drop support loved by old-schoolers angry at iTunes’s continual meddling. Not bad for a freebie!

Download VOX (£free)

Scrivener

They say everyone has a book in them. Scrivener can help you get it out. It’s a hugely powerful writing tool, for hammering out drafts, rearranging text, stashing notes and research, and then exporting the entire lot to PDF, EPUB or plain old text. The app will also sync with the excellent iOS version.

Buy Scrivener (£34.99)

iA Writer

Something snapped in the Mac universe at some point - maybe one too many buttons got added to Word. But either you went Scrivener or totally minimal; IA Writer is the best of the latter kind of writing app - great for quick posts and articles, and with iCloud storaage smarts and a brilliantly designed two-up Markdown preview mode.

Buy iA Writer (£7.99)

Ulysses

Sort of half-way between Scrivener and Byword, Ulysses wants to be a repository for all your writing. There’s a minimal full-screen mode, but slide open the sidebars and you gain access to a library of everything you’ve ever written in the app, which can be arranged, compiled and exported. Ulysses also handily (and seamlessly) syncs with its iOS sibling.

Buy Ulysses (£34.99)

MindNode

Flowcharts and mind-maps might seem like something dull people do in boardrooms, but they’re a great way to organise thoughts, whatever you’re working on. MindNode is a superb app for visually representing ideas, connecting thoughts, and outputting your genius in a format to share with others.

Buy MindNode (£22.99)

Xcode

This one’s about writing code rather than words. If you’re not overly thrilled with the apps you’re using, make one of your own in Apple’s free IDE, packed full of professional tools for designing, building and testing the next Mac App Store classic.

Download Xcode (£free)

Soulver

Yes, we’ve added a calculator to this list, but bear with us, because Soulver is brilliant and more like writing with numbers. You jot down sums, with numbers in context, and they’re totted up. Answers can be re-used as live tokens, leaving you with a live, reusable calculation. Geeky? A bit. Essential and hugely useful? Definitely.

Download Soulver (£8.99)

XCOM 2

It’s forty quid and thirty GB, but XCOM 2’s one of the best gaming experiences you can get on the Mac. Aliens rule Earth, and you must lead the fightback. Turn-based missions, weapons research and deployment, gorgeous visuals and palpable tension combine to make a modern-day classic.

Download XCOM 2 (£39.99)

Civilization: Beyond Earth

The absurdly addictive Civilization series goes a bit sci-fi with Beyond Earth. You and your rivals attempt to write the next chapter for humanity by colonising an alien world and, naturally, beating the tar out of each other until only one colony remains. (Or you could try diplomacy… Nah.)

Buy Civilization: Beyond Earth (£29.99)

Tomb Raider

These days, Lara Croft no longer looks like she’s been chiseled from the same rocks she often climbs, and her world is more refined and nuanced too. Here, she’s shipwrecked and fighting for her life, progressing from archeologist to become a seasoned adventurer. Fantastic visuals are matched by an excellent score, a compelling story and first-rate gameplay.

Buy Tomb Raider (£6.99)

Rayman Origins

Finally, something a bit less gritty: Rayman adds more than a dash of colour to a game collection on your new Mac. Harking back to the good ol’ days of 2D platforming, this wonderfully animated effort finds Rayman and his oddly detached limbs facing off against a veritable menagerie of weirdo oddballs.

Buy Rayman Origins (£10.99)

 

Never Alone

A bit like Limbo on ice, Never Alone charts the story of Nuna and an arctic fox, out to find the source of an eternal blizzard threatening Nuna’s people. In solo or co-op modes, the puzzles and platforming are rewarding; but this visually stunning game is also respectful, educating the player about the richness of Alaskan Native culture and art.

Buy Never Alone (£10.99)

80 Days

It might have started life on mobile, but 80 Days has as cinematic feel and gleeful, breezy pace that makes it just as essential on Mac. In this interactive-fiction adventure, you must safeguard Phileas Fogg on his round-the-world jaunt. But this 1872 is very different from the one in history books, full of strange steampunk vehicles and deadly automatons.

Buy 80 Days (£7.99)