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)
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If you’re armed with a gamepad and want some proper 3D shooty larks on your Apple TV, Shadowgun Legends fits the bill. It’s stuffed full of gruff marines, alien foes, and missions; and it looks rather fab, too. Sure, it won’t trouble AAA blasters on proper consoles, but what are you wanting for no outlay whatsoever? Blood? Alien blood?
View Shadowgun Legends in iTunes Preview (£free, universal)
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 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)
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.
View Riptide GP2 in iTunes Preview (£1.99, universal)
Action adventures and RPGs
The best action adventure game for Apple TV: Transistor
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.
View Transistor in iTunes Preview (£4.99, 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.
View Oceanhorn in iTunes Preview (£7.99, universal)
After The End
There are echoes of Monument Valley in After The End – a sparse, ponderous adventure, peppered with puzzles, and where you regularly switch up your viewpoint to progress.
But instead of Escher-style shenanigans, you’re spinning and whirling the camera, to spot switches and gems that allow progress. Occasionally, the game goes a bit Doctor Who, too, hurling you through time, and dumping you in an alternate take on the place you just left.
There are frustrations: the pace is slow, and it’s often too easy to fall off a wall and be forced to backtrack. For the most part, though, this is a thoughtful, lean-back adventure ideally suited to Apple TV.
View After The End in iTunes Preview (£3.99, universal)
From the team behind the creepy LIMBO comes this even more terrifying puzzle-infused adventure. Again, you’re a lone, nameless boy on the run; but in switching the fantastical for a dark dystopia, the result is far more chilling.
The tale begins with you fleeing from gun-wielding soldiers and ferocious dogs. You sneak, sprint, leap, and plummet, desperate to keep one step ahead. But like in LIMBO, death is not the end – INSIDE simply rewinds, urging you to try again to make good your escape.
On Apple TV, Siri Remote users will find the protagonist occasionally not doing quite what they intended; but otherwise this is an excellent conversion of an indie console classic.
View INSIDE in iTunes Preview (£free + £6.99 IAP, 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.
View Dynamite Jack in iTunes Preview (£4.99, universal)
Reigns: Her Majesty
Flinging cards left and right, Tinder-style might not scream ‘RPG with depth’, but Reigns: Her Majesty has a lot going for it. You’re the titular queen, having to deal with your dolt of a husband, your adoring subjects, and quite a lot of sexism.
The aim is to survive for as long as possible, using your responses to demands and requests to balance the bank, church, people and army. If any one of them gets too angry or happy… well, let’s just say you won’t have any further use for that crown.
View Reigns: Her Majesty on iTunes Preview (£2.99, universal)
The best platform game for Apple TV: Icycle: On Thin Ice
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.
View Icycle: On Thin Ice in iTunes Preview (£2.99, universal)
Sonic The Hedgehog
Yes, this is the same Sonic The Hedgehog you once played on a Mega Drive. Sort of. Because this is what happens when you give an old game to a brilliant developer like Christian Whitehead. You get widescreen 60FPS loveliness, new player-controlled characters, and remastered audio. This is no cheap cash-grab emulator.
What you don’t get, sadly, is a sane control system. Playing with Siri Remote is plain odd – you hold it upright, tapping the edges of the swipe area, and stabbing Play to jump. Oddly, it in some ways works better than playing on a slippy touchscreen. But settle down with a Nimbus (or similar) gamepad, and it’s like 1991 all over again. Only you don’t have that stupid haircut.
View Sonic The Hedgehog on iTunes Preview (£free with ads or £1.99, 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 (£free, 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.
View Bean Dreams in iTunes Preview (£2.99, universal)
Beneath The Lighthouse TV
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.
View Beneath The Lighthouse TV in iTunes Preview (£2.99, Apple TV only)
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The Big Journey
Blob-like glutenous feline Mr. Whiskers is on a mission to find the creator of his favourite dumplings in this roly-poly lurching platformer that spins about the place seemingly in an effort to make you seasick on dry land.
Get your bearings and The Big Journey reveals itself to be an entertaining, colourful title that works well with the Siri Remote (tilt to rotate the screen, and tap to jump). It’s all a bit ‘stripped-back LocoRoco‘, admittedly, but the knowing humour and approachable journey ensures The Big Journey is well worth taking.
View The Big Journey in iTunes Preview (£1.99, 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.
View Mr. Crab in iTunes Preview (£free + IAP or £6.99 for all levels, universal)
Endless running/survival games
The best endless game for Apple TV: Alto’s Odyssey
On the iPhone, this game looks lovely, but it’s even more gorgeous on the big screen. As your little sandboarder zooms along, performing somersaults while leaping over dunes and ravines, weather and daylight slowly shift. But properly big scores require mastery – stringing together stunt combos, and figuring out how to outrun an enraged mongoose when you disturb its slumber.
If that all feels a bit much stress and effort for a lean-back Apple TV one-thumb effort, have a go at Zen Mode instead. That’s just you and the endless desert, without a high score, collectable bling, or chance of failure in sight.
View Alto’s Odyssey on iTunes Preview (£4.99, universal)
This one finds Sir Hammer auto-running about mazes, locating captured soldiers, and trying to not get his face torn off by floating eyeballs, giant crows, doddering zombies, and colossal bosses.
It’s a melting pot of retro fare – there are nods to the pioneering 3D Monster Maze, Wolfenstein 3D‘s angular environments, Ms. Pac-Man (in missions involving hunting down fleeing food), and even Gauntlet’s rasping speech.
It’s simple, effective stuff, works nicely with the Siri Remote, and rewards repeat play by having you level up Sir Hammer with new kit, such as a handy radar for detecting nearby enemies.
View Hammer Bomb in iTunes Preview (99p, Apple TV only)
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 (£2.99, universal)
In deep contrast to most endless games on Apple TV, Mars: Mars is a contemplative affair. Echoing iOS hit Desert Golfing and arcade classic Lunar Lander, the game has you leap across Mars, puffs of your jetpack carefully manoeuvring you towards the next landing spot in a manner that (hopefully) won’t make you explode on touchdown.
The two-button controls work within the Siri Remote’s limitations, the minimal visuals look great on the big screen, and you can earn extra characters that provide new locations with distinct challenges. Progress syncs across devices, too, so you can pick up from where you left off on your iPhone.
View Mars: Mars in iTunes Preview (£free, 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!
View Canabalt in iTunes Preview (£2.99, 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’.
View Crossy Road in iTunes Preview (£free, universal)
Glitch out: Pac-Man 256
Pac-Man 256 (£free, universal) borrows Crossy Road‘s viewpoint, and places the famous dot-muncher in an endless maze, grabbing power-ups, and trying to outrun the all-consuming infamous glitch.
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Puzzle and arcade games
The best puzzle or arcade game for Apple TV: Bring You Home
Echoing Framed, Bring You Home has you swap on-screen panels, aiming to crack the combination that will allow alien Polo to continue on a quest to rescue his pet-napped chum.
The pleasing tactility of the iPad version is gone, but the game nonetheless works nicely on the telly. The considered controls slow you down and make you think, but also it feels like you’re directing a classic cartoon.
Get a solution wrong and Polo comes a cropper in an amusingly slapstick manner. You’ll want to go back to levels you beat first time, just to see how Polo can fail. (Or perhaps that’s just Stuff’s evil side showing.)
View Bring You Home on iTunes Preview (£2.99, universal)
Belching worm-like birds live on levitating islands. They want fruit, to grow, and to get to a whirling rainbow exit. Gravity and labyrinthine paths have other ideas. With vivid visuals and simple controls, this one works great on the big screen. And because it’s not nearly as sadistic as its predecessor, there’s less likelihood of embedding the Siri Remote in your telly. Bonus!
View Snakebird Primer in iTunes Preview (£7.99, universal)
The developer’s own name – Chaotix Box – rather sums up Silverfish DX. Echoing arcade fare of old, it dumps you inside a claustrophobic single-screen arena, tasks you with survival, and then helpfully forgets to arm you. You must therefore dodge neon foes until your untimely demise.
Twitchy controls take a little getting used to (tip: be very subtle with the Siri Remote), but afford precision when mastered. You can then set about using power pods to turn the tables on your foes, greedily gobbling them up like Pac-Man ghosts. You’ll probably still only last 60 seconds, mind.
View Silverfish DX on iTunes Preview (£3.99, universal)
Pac-Man Championship Edition DX
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.
View Pac-Man Championship Edition DX in iTunes Preview (£4.99, 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.
View Edge Extended in iTunes Preview (£2.99, 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.
View Shadowmatic in iTunes Preview (£3.99, universal)
Does Not Commute TV
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.
View Does not Commute TV in iTunes Preview (£2.99, Apple TV only)
The follow-up to the deranged original pits all manner of flappy creatures against their own special kind of hell. The backgrounds might be gorgeous, but the foregrounds are packed full of spinning blades, lasers, magma, and other death-dealing objects.
With deft use of two thumbs, you flap left and right, making cunning use of special powers that explode your little flying creature into dozens, or turn it into a beast the size of a truck. Fun – but frustrating. Do ensure your Siri Remote doesn’t take a flight of its own and end up embedded in your telly.
View Badland 2 on iTunes Preview (79p, universal)
Flappy murd-er: Badland
Badland (99p, universal) features winged creatures in forests with as many saw-blades as trees. Intense and tough, although you can replay sections indefinitely. Just don’t end up in the zone for hours and abruptly realise your thumb’s seized up.
You wouldn’t expect something like Where’s Wally to work on the telly, but Hidden Folks is a gem on the Apple TV. Each level tasks you with finding various objects and folks lurking within interactive hand-drawn landscapes. Poke anything and it’ll likely respond with an amusing mouth-originated sound effect.
Oddly, the bigger the display, the more Hidden Folks takes hold. And with multiple zoom levels and tight control by way of the Siri Remote, it’s a great lean-back time-waster for Apple TV. Well, until you can’t find the last critter and spend hours with your nose pressed up against the screen.
View Hidden Folks in iTunes Preview (£3.99, universal)