When I had an Apple Arcade subscription, I played endless amounts of What the Golf? on my phone. It was such a chaotic, joyful puzzle game that it actually annoyed me that Nathan Grayson robbed me of the opportunity to write about it. So I was excited to demo studio Triband’s next game: A racing game where the “car” has legs. Just like its predecessor is barely a sports game, What the Car? is only a racing game in the absolute loosest sense of the word.
When I spoke to game director Tim Garbos, he kept insisting to me that What the Car? is a racing game, but one that breaks every rule a racing game is supposed to have. There are no opponents on any of the tracks, there’s no visible timer, and there’s no penalty for running over bears in your haste to cross the finish line. On one level, my car had massive legs that jumped higher than what was practical or desirable. In another, my car had small human-sized legs that made me question why I was even driving a debilitating car in the first place.
Maybe that was the point. Since the studio is based in Denmark, I assumed that this was a reflection of the #carfree agenda common throughout the country. Garbos told me that he rides a bicycle, and similar to golfing (the focus of his last game), he doesn’t really get car culture. He doesn’t have anything against people who enjoy golfing or driving cars, but he personally can’t relate to such lifestyles. So his team designed nearly a hundred unique comedic experiences that seek to deconstruct our idea of what a car can be, for example, by turning your car into a sailboat, or having it chop vegetables as a chef. Bouncing around on floppy legs was sheer delight, and I was eager to see how else studio Triband would challenge my concept of a car. This is a game for people who are proud to not know the difference between an all-wheel drive and a four-wheel drive. (Sorry, Jalopnik.)
What the Car? is currently an exclusive for the Apple Arcade subscription service, which brings an assortment of games to your phone for five bucks a month. I asked Garbos why he decided to publish the game on phones first. Did he have an easier time finding an audience on mobile (which, as Apple’s spokesperson made a point of reminding me, is a larger ecosystem than both PC and console combined)? Garbos told me that he didn’t want to make mobile games laden with microtransactions, and that Apple’s subscription service allowed him to create an experience like What the Car? without having to resort to microtransaction models.
Apple Arcade is trying to sign dozens of games onto its modestly successful subscription service, but it’s trying to get developers to create exclusive experiences for its devices too. The company has partnered with former AAA developers to create TMNT Splintered Fate, a roguelike that can be played in co-op mode. I was also charmed by the whimsical art style of Disney SpellStruck, a word game that allows you to collect characters by spelling words. Apple Arcade doesn’t currently house any must-have games that would compel you to go out and buy an iPhone, but it’s slowly growing a reasonable library that might be worth exploring. All of these titles are playable now as part of 20 games that Apple released on the service this week. Unlike some other major publishers in the space, Apple isn’t promising gamers the sky. It’s focused on games that its partners can actually deliver.