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, and Apple eventually relaxed its rules, allowing games to require third-party controllers.
Our list includes 40 cracking titles, from lean-back efforts designed for immediacy to console-like fare offering more depth. And, by the way, we’ve 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: Galaxy on Fire — Manticore Rising
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.
View Galaxy on Fire - Manticore Rising in iTunes Preview (£5.99, Apple TV only)
With its cool characters in silhouette and constant slo-mo, Spitkiss oddly put us in mind of The Matrix. Well, a bit. Because instead of dodging bullets, this game’s characters lob spit at each other.
That might sound grim, but this is in fact a love story, where Spitkissers share bodily fluids and emoji, by you hurling the former about, Angry Birds-style. When spit hits a wall, it slowly slides down, giving you another shot. Shooty games are rarely this gloopy.
View Spitkiss on iTunes Preview (£1.99, universal)
There’s a lot of shooting in ATOMIK: RunGunJumpGun – probably a bit too much. For some reason, the hero stays aloft by blasting the floor with a massive gun, while being propelled forwards at insane speeds by an unknown force. But in order to clear obstacles from his path, he must shoot ahead for a bit.
You’ve probably noticed the tiny snag. Only shoot downwards and you’ll soon smash into a wall. Shoot ahead for too long and you crash into the ground. And we haven’t even mentioned the snake-like paths you need to take through corridors peppered with spikes, guns, and very angry aliens. It’s fast, furious, and fairly likely to end with you embedding the Siri Remote in a wall. In other words, it’s great.
View ATOMIK: RunGunJumpGun on iTunes Preview (£2.99, 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 (£free, 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.
View Chillaxian in iTunes Preview (£1.99, universal)
Sky Force Anniversary
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.
View Sky Force Anniversary in iTunes Preview (£4.99, Apple TV only)
The best racing game for Apple TV: Impulse GP
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.
View Impulse GP in iTunes Preview (£free demo/£2.99 for full game, 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.
View AG Drive in iTunes Preview (£2.99, universal)
Tiny Wings TV
The little bird in Tiny Wings dreams of flying, but has stubby wings. Still, she’s figured out how to temporarily soar heavenwards by bombing down slopes and having momentum fling her from the next hill’s peak. Her aim: get as far as possible before a sleep-inducing sundown.
All of which might make you think Tiny Wings crashed into a window on the way to the endless runner category and plopped unceremoniously into the racing section. But its other two modes are about speeding to a finish line: Flight School has four chicks racing home to mum, to win the biggest fish; and Hill Party is a split-screen mode, where two players battle it out using a single Siri Remote.
However you play, Tiny Wings is a charming, compelling game that’s loads of simple fun.
View Tiny Wings TV on iTunes Preview (£2.99, Apple TV only)
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.
View Asphalt 8 in iTunes Preview (£free + IAP, 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).
View Pico Rally in iTunes Preview (£free with ads or £3.99, universal)