Apple Arcade: Pilgrims is a spry treat
One of the things I'm already learning about Apple Arcade is that it's quite hard to stay on top of it. The service launched with enough stuff to make it a bit of a challenge to pick through everything, and as of last week - maybe this week? - there's now 100 games available.
This means that it's easy to miss something special - and when that something is a new game by Amanita Design, that's a bit of a tragedy.
Amanita Design is the team behind Samorost and Machinarium. Pilgrims is the studio's latest offering, and it's out now on Apple Arcade and PC. It's an adventure game that's built around trading. You explore a bucolic map, moving from point to point, meeting people and bartering for the stuff they need with the stuff you've picked up. A bandit in the woods won't let you pass before you've found some potatoes and cooked them for him. A demon thing living in a hole wants some rope - but for what?! Everything leads to something else, and while the story is pretty short, it's wonderfully compact and stuffed with promise.
There are two things that make this super cool, I think. The first is that it's all so simplified. Inventory - and the gang of fellow travellers you collect along the way - are all handled as cards, which means you just drop a card into a situation to see what it does. Someone wants money? Give them the card with the coin on it. But what happens if you give them the card with the acorn on it instead?
This is the second thing. Pilgrims may be short but it's designed around replayability. Most objectives have multiple solutions, and then there are the little bits of playful animation that are waiting to be found by doing the wrong thing at the right time. It's less a linear path to the end and more a web of possibilities and things to see.
As such, it seems to be one of those games that really understands its genre. Adventure games were always the games about seeing what was possible - what the developer had foreseen the player doing for no real reason and reacting to that. This was the genre of putting the hamster in the microwave. Decades after that storied occasion, that kind of thinking is still alive and well. Pilgrims is a delight.