10 games that defined Apple systems

Person gaming on Apple iPad
(Image credit: Future)

Apple games? Yep, while you may not immediately associate the Apple name with gaming, the tech giant's history is closely intertwined with that of the video games industry. Engineer Steve 'Woz' Wozniak, the brains behind the Apple II computer, was inspired by his work on arcade games and wanted to create a computer that was faster, more colourful and noisier than anything else. 

Woz tinkered with his computer, adding colour, BASIC commands, paddle controllers, and sound. Building primarily for himself, he was also kick-starting a computing revolution – the Apple II captured the imagination of wannabe home programmers, and the machine’s initial success bankrolled Apple for years. If you've used one of today's best MacBooks, you can thank the success of the Apple II for the fact that the company was able to stick around long enough to design it.

In later years, Apple would cede a lot of gaming ground to PCs, but there were still a fair few landmark titles released for its Macintosh platform – including revolutionary first-person puzzler Myst. However, Apple would go on to make a mark for itself in another gaming space, as the iPhone revolutionised how people interacted with their digital devices, and a software gold rush ensued.

We're counting off the ten most important games in Apple's history from back in the 1980s right up to the present day. And if it gives you the urge to do a little gaming of your own, check out our guide to the best iPads for gaming and the best gaming headsets.

01. Castle Wolfenstein

Screenshot of Castle Wolfenstein for Apple II

Castle Wolfenstein was one of the first games to employ stealth mechanics.  (Image credit: Muse Software)
  • System: Apple II
  • Release year: 1981

Silas Warner’s stealth-based arcade game finds you deep inside a castle full of armed enemies during World War II, trying to find war plans. Its combination of tense moments, strategy and arcade smarts won it plenty of fans.

02. Ultima

Screenshot of Ultima for Apple II

The concept of an "open-world" game was codified by the first Ultima. (Image credit: California Pacific Computer Company)
  • System: Apple II
  • Release year: 1981

Following up on debut title Akalabeth, Richard Garriott used his Apple II to fashion the first step in the Ultima series. One of the earliest open-world, roleplaying games, Ultima has influenced countless games throughout the years.

03. Choplifter

Screenshot of Choplifter for the Apple II

Choplifter was still being ported and released more than 20 years after its debut. (Image credit: Broderbund)
  • System: Apple II
  • Release year: 1982

Initially an experiment in creating a controllable helicopter on an Apple II, Choplifter soon integrated Defender-style rescues. The game’s seemingly political nature was coincidental, but spotted by the masses.

04. Dark Castle

Screenshot of Dark Castle for Macintosh

Dark Castle is possibly the first game to use WASD and mouse controls. (Image credit: Silicon Beach Software)
  • System: Mac
  • Release year: 1986

This game took advantage of Mac hardware, utilising both keyboard and mouse, the latter used to launch projectiles, and the former for movement. This Apple game shows how the Mac’s graphical limitations can still reap rewards.

05. Prince of Persia

Screenshot of Prince of Persia for the Apple II

The long-running Prince of Persia series was famously rebooted by Ubisoft in 2003.  (Image credit: Broderbund)
  • System: Apple II
  • Release year: 1989

Karateka’s take on side-on fighters wowed on the Apple II, but with Prince Of Persia Jordan Mechner went one better, your hero carefully working his way through dungeons to save a princess. Realistic animation and challenging gameplay cemented the game’s classic status.

06. Myst

Screenshot of Myst for Macintosh

An unorthodox puzzle adventure, Myst went on to be hugely influential. (Image credit: Broderbund)
  • System: Mac
  • Release year: 1993

This adventure puzzler is perhaps best-known for being a PC game, but it started life on the Mac. The original was built in HyperCard, and Apple’s release of QuickTime part-way through development enabled an extra degree of immersion through the integration of video.

07. Marathon

Screenshot of Marathon for Macintosh

Marathon was an FPS with an engrossing plot, an unusual thing for 1994. (Image credit: Bungie)
  • System: Mac
  • Release year: 1994

With the Mac still mostly known for serious work in the Nineties, most games were static and staid. Marathon bucked the trend, bringing cutting-edge FPS action to the platform, marrying blasting with a detailed plot. Bungie would, of course, go on to create Halo.

08. Escape Velocity

Screenshot of Escape Velocity for Macintosh

Escape Velocity let players explore an enormous galaxy, and side with different factions. (Image credit: Ambrosia Software)
  • System: Mac
  • Release year: 1996

With Mac games being few in number as Apple hit its nadir, space opened up for enterprising indies. One of the best examples is Escape Velocity, a space trading game that resembles Elite, albeit with a third-person view during the outer-space travel sections and battles.

09. Angry Birds

Hands playing Angry Birds on iPhone

Angry Birds became the poster child for mobile gaming. (Image credit: Future)
  • System: iOS
  • Release year: 2009

Obviously inspired by online flash game Crush The Castle and in-house Rovio designer Jaakko Iisalo’s designs of limbless avians, Angry Birds exploded as an iPhone game. Its bite-sized slingshot gameplay was perfect for brief mobile sessions and touchscreen control, quickly catapulting the game towards iconic status.

10. Lifeline

Lifeline game for Apple Watch

A glimpse into the future of gaming? Lifeline can be played entirely on the Apple Watch. (Image credit: 3 Minute Games, Inc.)
  • System: Apple Watch
  • Release year: 2015

The first of a new generation, Lifeline… is a game that works better on Apple Watch than a smartphone. A Choose Your Own Adventure with you assisting a stranded astronaut, the narrative is compelling and has emotional clout. Playing on a watch feels futuristic yet natural.

This content originally appeared in MacFormat magazine. Subscribe to MacFormat at Magazines Direct.

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Craig Grannell

Craig is an editor, writer and designer. He writes about design and tech, specialising in Mac, iPhone and iPad, and has written for Creative Bloq, Stuff, TechRadar, MacFormat, The Guardian, Retro Gamer and more. You can view more of his writing on his blog, Revert to Saved

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