Games! That was what got us excited when we heard the new Apple TV would have third-party apps. It’d be like a console, only tiny, and with an Apple logo stamped on top. Hurrah!
Only when we reviewed the thing, we discovered the Siri Remote was sub-optimal for such activities. Fortunately, the best devs wrestled it into submission, resulting in a selection of superb games.
Our list combines titles designed for immediacy and fun with those offering a bit more depth. And, by the way, we’ve actually sat and tested all of these (and a whole bunch of others that didn’t make the grade), so you can be confident each one you buy will be money well spent.
Note: Universal titles can be bought on another device or in iTunes, and they’ll end up in your Purchased tab in the Apple TV App Store app. But ‘Apple TV only’ games must be purchased in said app. If you don’t see one we've listed right away, use the search.
The best shooting game for Apple TV: Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions Evolved (£7.99, universal)
With the Siri Remote only having one directional controller, Geometry Wars transforms from twin-stick shooter to avoid ’em up, with the game handling targeting and shooting. We thought it would be rubbish, but it isn’t — it’s just different, requiring new tactics in order to blast your way through hordes of neon foes.
Galaxy on Fire — Manticore Rising (£4.49, Apple TV only)
You’re in at the deep end in Manticore Rising, which initially finds you floating through the debris of an obliterated space fleet. Aliens are inbound and your side’s accountants have written you off as a lost cause. So you must dogfight for your life across gorgeously rendered stages.
This is also a game where piloting your ship using the Siri Remote feels more natural and fluid than using a gamepad. Yeah, we’re as surprised as you are.
Phoenix HD (£free, universal)
There’s something oddly meditative as you glide about the screen in this shiny, projectile-laden bullet-hell shooter. As you might expect, Phoenix HD is about SHOOTING ALL THE THINGS, and trying very hard not to get shot yourself, mostly by weaving deftly between patterns of bullets hurled your way. But Phoenix HD’s procedural generation makes every game different, and there are some great touches, such as colour fading from the screen when you’re about to die and could do with scooping up some ship-repairing space dust.
View Phoenix HD in iTunes Preview
Chillaxian (£1.49, universal)
There are loads of classic arcade knock-offs on Apple TV, so ignore them and instead grab this loving tribute. As its name suggests, it’s a slow burner — more hypnotic than frenetic at first, as you swipe left and right to blast away waves of dive-bombing aliens. But survive enough waves, and those aliens start learning new tricks, punishing any complacency.
Sky Force Anniversary (£3,99, Apple TV only)
Ten years after Sky Force first flew, it’s soared on to Apple TV. Like on mobile, it’s a visually stunning overhead shooter, marrying old-school sensibilities, a smidgeon of bullet-hell, and an upgrade and achievements system that rewards repeat play. Unlike on mobile, all the freemium silliness is gone (replaced by a single payment), and you get two-player co-op to make use of your widescreen display.
The best racing game for Apple TV: Impulse GP (£free, universal)
Vrrrrrm! We played a bunch of more traditional racers on Apple TV, and they were mostly rubbish. But Impulse GP propels you to the future, in a manner not entirely dissimilar to F-Zero. You burn along space-age tracks, lapping up boost and trying not to smack into a wall. It’s tough, too, or perhaps we got seasick from all the dizzying loops and that’s why we just finished last.
AG Drive (£2.99, universal)
There’s a whiff of F-Zero about this screamingly fast and brilliant racer. Tracks comprise ribbons of steel looping their way through gleaming futuristic cities, your craft lurching about the place as its pilot tries very hard to keep their lunch down.
A range of events enables you to hurl yourself into the action but also benefit from repeat play as you gradually soup up your craft. And like Nintendo’s title, this premium game’s all about skill – there’s no skipping ahead using IAP. Do be mindful of a dose of thumb cramp, though, when using the Siri Remote for longish sessions, since the developers apparently hate you and omitted an auto-accelerate option, instead forcing you to hold Play/Pause to zoom along.
Asphalt 8: Airborne
Rather than keeping tyres firmly on the tarmac, Asphalt 8 is equally happy flinging cars into the air whenever possible. And when cars spend any time on the ground, they’re mostly drifting absurd distances and blasting through hyper-real locations with the aid of ludicrous lashings of nitro.
This is fast, jovial, breezy racing, albeit with a side order of grinding due to the freemium model. Still, belting through an Icelandic volcano or skidding about quaint European cities is loads of fun whether it’s your first or tenth outing on any particular track.
Pico Rally (£free, universal)
If you can’t get to grips with proper racing games when using Siri Remote, Pico Rally’s your best bet. It refines the entire racing experience to a single button, pressed to step on the gas.
The experience ends up akin to slot-racing, carefully timing when to accelerate and brake so to most efficiently utilise turns and improve lap times. But since cars have the freedom of the entire track here, races are more frenetic than any Scalextric set, and before long you’re also battling skiddy surfaces as much as opponents (who are often rather unsportingly given a sizeable head-start).
Riptide GP2 (£1.49, universal)
Much like Impulse GP, Riptide GP2 imagines a future in which huge snaking tracks thread their way through gleaming metal cities. Only in Riptide’s world, roads are apparently passé; here, racing comprises maniacs on massive jet-skis trying not to drown as they bounce around watery tracks, occasionally hurling themselves into the air to perform blowhard stunts.
In terms of visuals and controls, there’s something pleasingly arcade-oriented about Riptide, which harks back to classic coin-ops that were all about speed and skill rather than faffing about with tuning and power-ups. Just don’t get seasick playing the game with your nose pressed up to a giant screen.
Action adventures and RPGs
The best action adventure game for Apple TV: Transistor (£7.99, universal)
This one starts with protagonist Red suddenly finding herself in a world of deranged mechanoids, with only a massive talking sword for company. She’s had better days. As you battle through a futuristic city — using both real-time and turn-based attacks — a story gradually unfolds.
What makes this action-RPG a must-have, though, is its palpable sense of atmosphere and smart world-building. Your in-game route might be linear, but you want to explore the city’s every nook and cranny.
Oceanhorn (£6.99, universal)
This one whiffs of The Legend Of Zelda. It’s not quite the real deal, but Oceanhorn’s nonetheless a smart slice of adventuring for Apple TV. You explore sun-drenched islands, brave dank dungeons, solve puzzles, and occasionally swear at losing health when Siri Remote points you precisely the wrong way, like some kind of idiot, when trying to hack an enemy to bits.
Skylanders SuperChargers (£free, Universal)
Like Infinity, Activision’s Skylanders SuperChargers pairs plastic and polygons, with a wireless portal in the £55 starter kit that pulls an array of fantastical heroes — and vehicles — into the game. The fighting/shooting/driving action is simple, but amusing and kid-friendly, and you can play on iOS as well. Note that the toys are optional: you can pay for the full game and buy digital heroes instead.
Dynamite Jack (£3.99, universal)
It might look like an indie title from the 16-bit era, but Dynamite Jack is a whole lot of fun. Mixing Bomberman-style blowing things up with stealth and exploration, you must escape the Anathema Mines. Get seen by a guard and they’ll shoot first and probably not even bother to ask questions later, the meanies.
The Phantom PI Mission Apparition (£2.29, universal)
This sweet-natured point-and-click adventure features a moustached ghostbuster attempting to restore peace to a recently deceased rock star’s afterlife. (Essentially, a Slimer wannabe with wings nicked his spectral guitar, the cad.) It’s not terribly challenging, but there’s loads of heart, personality and imagination, which makes it a great fit for the telly.
The best platform game for Apple TV: Icycle: On Thin Ice (£2.29, universal)
Platform games rarely come odder than this tale of naked cyclist Dennis, peddling his way through a deadly post-apocalyptic wonderland. Like something out of an animator’s fever dream, the hero finds himself traversing collapsing cities, exploding wedding cakes, and a skyline of legs.
The controls are simple and effective: you slide left and right to nudge the squeaky cycle onwards, and press Play/Pause to hold aloft a brolly and break Dennis’s fall (lest he become broken on thudding into the ground or, equally unfortunately, be impaled on one of the game’s many spikes).
Visually stunning, brimming with confidence and imagination, and with various challenges to reward repeat play, this is a first-rate platformer for Apple TV that’s not to be missed.
Mikey Jumps (£free, universal)
In Mikey Jumps, a single digit tapping or holding the Siri Remote’s touchpad is all you get to control the auto-running protagonist. But rather than being reductive, this proves transformative. It works brilliantly on Apple TV, but more importantly each single-screen challenge becomes a tiny platforming puzzle. Success requires deft timing and reactions so you don’t burn through lives – and that’s the case whether leaping, swinging using the grappling hook, or flying through the air using jet boots that oddly make Mikey appear to be powered by gigantic bubble ‘emissions’.
View Mikey Jumps in iTunes Preview
Beneath The Lighthouse TV (£2.99, Apple TV only)
Nitrome’s arcade puzzler features a lighthouse with spinny rooms of spiked death. Your aim: get a rotund chap from entrance to exit, without being impaled. This requires making circular motions on the touchpad to spin the room, the protagonist tumbling accordingly, and it feels like one of the few titles that hasn’t tried to weld a joypad to the tiny Siri Remote.
Bean Dreams (£2.29, universal)
This smart, distilled platformer features a jumping bean who never stops bouncing. You move it left and right, using careful timing to squash monsters and make it to the exit using the fewest leaps. Extra replay value comes from further challenges where you grab all of the fruit and locate pet axolotls.
Edge Extended (£2.29, universal)
This early App Store classic gets a new lease of life on Apple TV. Edge Extended (and its predecessor, Edge) find a cube trundling about, locating small glowing cubes, and attempting to reach each stage’s exit as quickly as possible. Controlled using swipes and holding the touchpad for ‘edge time’, it still feels fresh.
Mr. Crab (£free + IAP, universal)
Like Bean Dreams, Mr. Crab distills the essence of platform games, resulting in a one-thumb experience that’s all about careful planning and timing. The titular Mr. Crab makes his way up spiral levels, collecting youngsters, grabbing fruit, and jumping on the heads of enemies. It’s frequently disorienting but enjoyable. You can buy sets of levels with IAP, or unlock everything for £4.99.
Endless running/survival games
The best endless game for Apple TV: Alto’s Adventure (£2.99, universal)
On an iPhone, this one looked lovely, but it’s gorgeous on the big screen. As your little snowboarder zooms along, performing tricks and leaping over ravines, weather and daylight subtly shift. But big scores require mastery — stunt combos and the ability to outrun angry elders when you blast past their camp grounds.
Duet Game (£2.29, universal)
We’re cheating a bit here, because although Duet Game has an endless mode, it’s best experienced after the sizeable and compelling narrative chapters. The game involves red and blue vessels in a tight orbit around nothingness, and they smash on contact with anything whatsoever. You must tap left or right to reverse your orbit and avoid incoming walls. Which probably sounds dull and derivative, but Duet Game instead proves mesmerising through smart level design, gorgeous aesthetics and a set-up that works better on Apple TV than on a smartphone (where the game was already really good). Yeah, we were pretty surprised about that too.
View Duet Game in iTunes Preview
Canabalt (£2.29, universal)
Arguably the game that kickstarted the one-thumb leapy sub-genre on mobile, Canabalt still impresses today. Some people moan it’s too simple, but they miss the point — this game about leaping across rooftops is all about the thrill of hurtling along at speed. It needs only taps rather than clicks on the Siri Remote, which is a relief during marathon sessions!
Pac-Man 256 (£free, universal)
If you were thinking that Pac-Man 256 is an iOS game that’d work rather well on Apple TV, you’re right. The dot-muncher roams about an endless maze, chomping everything in sight, dealing with ghosts (including with new power-ups, such as a spectre-surprising laser-belch), and keeping ahead of the relentless all-devouring glitch.
Crossy Road (£free, universal)
You know the drill: hop about; don’t get run-over or drown; and don’t dawdle, or a massive eagle swoops in and takes you to a very bad place presumably involving talons and shrieking. But on Apple TV, there’s sort-of co-op multiplayer. If you both die, it’s game over, but mischievous sorts can nonetheless belt their opponent and push them into traffic — hence the ‘sort of’.
Puzzle and arcade games
The best puzzle or arcade game for Apple TV: Guitar Hero Live (£free, Universal)
Guitar Hero Live brings the full console experience to Apple TV (and iOS devices), as you shred the new six-button guitar controller — £80, required on Apple TV — while notes scroll down the screen. There’s a new look — video crowds cheer (or boo) while you play in the Live mode — plus streaming music channels provide hundreds more music video-backed tracks to play along with.
Pac-Man Championship Edition DX (£3.99, universal)
Dot-munching in fast-forward and bathed in neon, Pac-Man Championship Edition DX has you dart back and forth between two halves of widescreen mazes, a string of ghouls in hot pursuit. Every time you clear one half of the maze, a bonus appears on the other; munch that and the original half is refilled with a new configuration. Brush past dozing ghosts and they join your spectral trail, transforming CE DX into a blazing fast mash-up of Pac-Man and Snake.
Loads of bite-sized levels, cross-device iCloud sync, and a single purchase price add further shine to the best Pac-Man to date. Although we would like to slap whoever assigned the bomb command (for temporarily nuking ghosts) to the directional pad ’button’ on Apple TV.
Shadowmatic (£2.29, universal)
The most serene game in this round-up is also the most beautiful. Abstract shapes hang in the air, and you brush across the touchpad to spin them, aiming to turn the cast shadow into something recognisable. A beautiful and tactile mobile title on touchscreens, Shadowmatic effortlessly transforms into a relaxing lean-back telly experience.
Does Not Commute TV (£2.29, Apple TV only)
Within tiny little towns, people go about their business in tiny little cars. The not-so-tiny snag: their routes overlap. With a few vehicles, avoiding a crash is easy enough. With a dozen cars already erratically driving about the place, not so much, especially when you’ve a strict time limit to get everyone where they need to be.
Badland (£2.49, universal)
The strange little winged creatures in Badland appear to live in some kind of fairy tale hell, with forests boasting as many spinning saw-blades as trees. It’s a frequently intense battle, even though you can play sections over and over, and so beware of ending up in the zone for hours and abruptly realising your thumb’s seized up.