Perhaps you've just bought an iPad, or just been given one for the first time. Or maybe you're thinking that your Apple tablet is old and boring and there's nothing fun left that it can do.
Well, friend, you're entirely wrong. Fortunately, the App Store offers loads of gaming greats for you, even if you've forked out your last bit of cash to buy the iPad itself.
Our lists cover the best free iPad puzzle games, racers, platform games, and more, split into categories (one on each page) for your perusing pleasure.
Plus, check back weekly for our free iPad app of the week, where you'll find that below as we look at new titles all the time.
Free iPad game of the week: Skullgirls
Skullgirls is an impressive tappy brawler – akin to Street Fighter II reimagined for touch, by someone very much against the concept of virtual joypads.
This means swipes and taps are the order of the day, swift finger movements being used to duff up opponents. Buttons merely exist to fire off special moves, or tag in a team-mate when you’ve been punched in the face one time too many. It all works very well for the game’s fast pace.
Visually, Skullgirls dazzles, too, recalling an amped-up take on classic 1940s cartoons and manga. Character design – bar questionably skimpy clothing choices here and there – is especially impressive: one fighter’s Lovecraftian hair has a life of its own; another is a humanoid brass instrument that transforms into a massive French horn that mows down foes. Parp!
Best free iPad arcade games
Our favorite iPad arcade games, including brawlers and fighting games, auto-runners, party games, pinball, and retro classics.
The controls remain the same – tap left or right to ‘flap’ in the relevant direction, moving in an arc as you do so. But multi-screen levels and a lower concentration of enemies makes for an experience that has space for exploration and unearthing secrets, rather than solely being an ongoing frantic dash for survival.
That’s not to say Super Fowlst is easy – far from it. The boss battles in particular are extremely tough, and it will take you some time before you can last a dozen levels. But this one feels like anyone has a crack at becoming ‘super’ rather than only gaming gurus.
Train Party is a multiplayer game for between two and twelve people. In cooperative mode, you all work as a team, trying to keep a train going for as long as possible. You lay tracks for it to chug along, move wildlife from its path, and deal with a renegade track bomber. In competitive mode, Train Party gets added bite, the winner being the last person to survive without wrecking the train.
In either mode, this is a fun game, and it works particularly well on iPad. The larger display means even the sausage-fingered can play with an excellent degree of accuracy. Also, an iPad is a much weightier device to whack a chum with should they get a bit cocky after their fifth Train Party win in a row…
Shadow Fight 3
Shadow Fight 3 is a side-on one-on-one brawler set in a world of shadows that stands on the edge of a great war. In gaming terms, though, it’s mostly an excuse to whip your sword out, slice up your opponent, and then give them a few kicks and punches for good measure.
The fighty action works especially well on the iPad. The large screen provides plenty of space for the lush visuals, and your thumbs don’t cover anything important up while they battle with the surprisingly responsive virtual controls.
Your ongoing mission is a bit grindy at times, with an underlying RPG-lite mechanic of upgrades, but the brawls are great, whether you’re mastering a new weapon, unleashing shadow powers, or figuring out how to get the odd punch in when you’ve lost your sword and an opponent is moving in for the kill.
Dancing Line is a rhythm action game controlled with a single finger. You help a wiggly line carve its way through isometric worlds. Its survival is down to you tapping the screen at opportune moments, to make the line change direction rather than smack into a wall.
If that was it, Dancing Line would be easy to dismiss, but beautiful design ensures it’s a winner. One level features a piano, with keys moving to the soundtrack’s notes; part-way through, you’re suddenly inside the instrument, hammers raining down all around you. Elsewhere, you blaze through gardens and a savannah at sunset.
The game can frustrate when you fail near the end of a minutes-long level, and its ad-heavy freemium trappings can grate, but if you’ve a sense of rhythm, and a penchant for great-looking games that marry immediacy and elegance, Dancing Line is well worth a download.
Slide the Shakes
Slide the Shakes recreates the bartender slide, where a beverage is sent to a patron at speed – only in Slide the Shakes, the bars have been built by a maniac. They’re full of humps and gaps, set on slopes, and often covered in sticky goo and slippy ice.
In each level, you’re tasked with sending a milkshake to several precise destinations. Fall short and the game generously gives you another shot (albeit at the expense of a perfect score); smash the glass and you must start that round again.
This is a bright, breezy, immediate game, with intuitive catapult controls. It also avoids the irritating randomness of an Angry Birds, because the pull-back mechanism affords you plenty of accuracy. Just as well when you’re confronted with bar-top designs akin to motocross tracks.
Beat Street is a love letter to classic scrolling brawlers, where a single, determined hero pummels gangs of evil-doers and saves the day. In Beat Street, giant vermin are terrorizing Toko City, and will only stop when you’ve repeatedly punched them in the face.
On iPhone, Beat Street is a surprisingly successful one-thumb effort, but on iPad you’re better off playing in landscape. With your left thumb, you can dance about, and then use your right to hammer the screen (and the opposition).
The iPad’s large display shows off the great pixel art, but the fighty gameplay’s the real star – from you taking on far too many opponents at once to gleefully beating one about the head with a baseball bat. It turns out they do make ’em like they used to after all.
Up the Wall
Up the Wall is an auto-runner with an edge. Or rather, lots of edges. Because instead of being played on a single plane, Up the Wall regularly has you abruptly turn 90-degree corners, some of which find you zooming up vertical walls.
The speed and snap twists make for a disorienting experience, but the game’s design is extremely smart where, most notably, each challenge is finite and predefined. Up the Wall isn’t about randomness and luck, but mastering layouts, and aiming for that perfect run.
It nails everything else, too. The game sounds great, and has sharp, vibrant visuals, with imaginative environments. It’s not often you’re frantically directing a burger in an abstract fever dream of milkshakes and ketchup bottles, nor a skull in a world of flames, lava, and guitars.
San Giorli is a strange arcade game set in a neon city that’s seemingly been deserted. Mostly, it involves you plugging things in (or unplugging them), which doesn’t sound terribly exciting – but trust us on this one.
The levels scroll horizontally, and at any given point bits of cabling are strategically positioned. You must connect cables to activate machines that clear the way forward for your ship – which often requires careful timing and plugging/unplugging in a specific order. Also, your character rotates around your ship, attached to it by a cable, rather than having free movement.
It’s the limitations and the game’s slightly unusual nature that make San Giorli work – and especially on iPad. It’s tense when you need to perform a bunch of actions in order, spinning this way and that, your little hero’s head missing nearby scenery by a whisker.
Stranger Things: The Game
Stranger Things: The Game is a rarity: a free tie-in videogame that’s not rubbish. In fact, it’s a really good old-school action-adventure that should delight old-timers and also click with people who follow the TV show.
The idea is to figure out what’s going on in Hawkins, Indiana, where things have gone deeply weird. You start off playing Officer Hopper, who scowls and punches his way about, but soon find kids to join your crew, including Lucas and his wrist rockets, and bat-swinging Nancy.
Occasionally, the game echoes old-school fare a little too well, with set-piece sections that are tough to crack (although you do get infinite attempts) – and the map is if anything too big; for the most part, though, Stranger Things: The Game is a clever, engaging, and compelling slice of mobile adventuring.
Silly Walks is a one-thumb arcade game, featuring wobbling foodstuffs braving the hell of nightmarish kitchens (and, later, gardens and gyms), in order to free fruity chums who’ve been cruelly caged.
The hero of the hour – initially a pineapple cocktail – rotates on one foot. Tapping the screen plants a foot, causing him to rotate on the other foot and changing the direction of rotation. Charitably, this could be called a step, and with practice, it’s possible to put together a reasonable dodder.
And you’ll need to. Although early levels only require you to not fall off of tables, pretty soon you’re dealing with meat pulverizers, hero-slicing knives, and psychotic kitchenware in hot pursuit.
It’s admittedly all a little one-level – Silly Walks reveals almost all in its initial levels – but smart design, superb visuals, and a unique control method make it well worth a download.
Transformers: Forged to Fight
We shouldn’t encourage them, really. Transformers: Forged to Fight is packed full of horrible free-to-play trappings: timers; gates; a baffling currency/resource system. And yet it’s a horribly compelling title. Much of this is down to how much fun it apparently is to watch giant robots punching each other in the face.
If you’re unfamiliar with Transformers, it’s based around robots that disguise themselves as cars and planes as a kind of camouflage – and then they forget about all that, transform into bipedal robots, and attempt to smash each other to bits.
This game has various Transformers universes colliding, which for fans only increases the fun – after all, old hands can watch with glee as old-school Optimus Prime hacks Michael Bay’s version to pieces with a massive axe. But for newcomers hankering for one-on-one Street Fighterish brawls on an iOS device, it’s still a freebie worth grabbing.
Silly Sausage: Doggy Dessert
The world’s stretchiest canine’s found himself in a world full of sticky desserts and a surprising number of saw blades. His aim: get to the other end of this deadly yet yummy horizontally scrolling world. The snag: the aforementioned blades, a smattering of puzzles, and the way this particular pooch moves.
In Silly Sausage: Doggy Dessert, the canine hero doesn’t pootle along on tiny legs – instead, you swipe to make his body stretch like an angular snake until he reaches another surface, whereupon his hind quarters catch up.
The result is an impressive side-scroller that’s more sedate puzzler than frantic platformer – aside from in adrenaline-fueled time-based challenge rooms, which even Silly Sausage veterans will be hard-pressed to master.
Magic Touch: Wizard for Hire
Touchscreens have opened up many new ways to play games, but scribbling with a finger is perhaps the most natural. And that's essentially all you do in Magic Touch, which sounds pretty reductive – right up until you start playing.
The premise is that you're a wizard, fending off invading nasties who all oddly use balloons to parachute towards their prize. Match the symbol on any balloon and it pops, potentially causing a hapless intruder to meet the ground rather more rapidly than intended.
Initially, this is all very simple, but when dozens of balloons fill your field of vision, you'll be scrawling like crazy, desperately fending off the invasion to keep the wizard gainfully employed.
Frisbee Forever 2
With almost limitless possibilities in videogames, it's amazing how many are drab grey and brown affairs. Frisbee Forever 2 (like its similarly impressive forerunner) is therefore a breath of fresh air with its almost eye-searing vibrance.
There's a kind of Nintendo vibe – a sense of fun that continues through to the gameplay, which is all about steering a frisbee left and right, collecting stars strewn along winding paths. And these are a world away from the parks you'd usually fling plastic discs about in – here, you're hurled along roller-coaster journeys through ancient ruins and gorgeous snowy hillsides.
Our favorite free iPad games where you sprint, jump, drive, hoverboard, dig, or pinball to victory – or your doom.
Ava Airborne is a one-thumb endless survival game. It features the titular protagonist hurling herself through a suspiciously hazardous sky, putting off for as long as possible the inevitable moment when she plummets back to Earth and face-plants into the dirt.
Holding the screen raises your altitude, and your aim is to burst balloons, zoom through hoops, and bounce off of trampolines – and definitely not to hit massive bombs or get horribly electrocuted by weird floating boxes.
Ava Airborne feels effortless, although you can see the care that went into it. This is especially apparent when you acquire and experiment with alternate transport, such as a giant yo-yo and a jet-fueled trombone. The beautifully rendered visuals also make it ideally suited to the iPad’s large display.
Into the Dead 2
Into the Dead 2 finds you in a race to save your family, in a world overrun by zombies. Unfortunately, because you’re a massive idiot, you crash your truck while heading their way, and must then travel on foot. Across 60 stages, you grab ammo, dodge the lumbering undead, and occasionally shoot them in the face. It’s a frequently exciting, nerve-racking experience.
Also, it’s an auto-runner. So instead of stealthily sneaking about or being able to hide, you’re always blundering onwards (apart from during odd moments where you find a massive gun to satisfyingly mow down dozens of zombies in seconds).
The controls feel a bit weird – you kind of ‘drift’ left and right; but these limitations the game imposes ramp up the tension when you’ve dozens of undead before you, and are down to your last bullet.
Twisty Board 2
Twisty Board 2 is an excellent example of how to make a sequel. The original was a throwaway effort, with you zig-zagging like a maniac on a hoverboard, to throw pursuing missiles off the scent. It got old fast.
But it turns out that was a training ground for the real fight. Twisty Board 2 dumps you in an alien war-zone, where – for some reason – the protagonists mostly jet about on hoverboards.
You’re still scything about, but now blast endless hordes of enemies, trying to carve a path to hostages. Once they’re all rescued, you set about blowing the living daylights out of a massive boss. It’s a tough, intense challenge, and you’ll need the skills of a dozen Marty McFlys to succeed.
Power Hover: Cruise
Power Hover: Cruise is an endless arcade treat loosely based on the boss levels from the superb Power Hover. Your little robot gets to tackle four distinct environments on his hovering board, weaving between hazards. The aim is to last as long as possible before being smashed into scrap metal when you inevitably mess up and fly head-on into an obstacle at insane speed.
The game is visually stunning on the iPad’s large display, whether descending into Dive’s hazardous underwater tunnel, or zooming along Air’s tubular road that winds snake-like through the clouds.
But controls make or break this kind of game, and Power Hover: Cruise is blessed with a simple left/right system with plenty of inertia. Initially, it feels unresponsive, but before long you’ll be scything through levels like nobody’s business, in one of the most beguiling endless games on iPad.
Flippy Knife finds you hurling dangerous knives, mostly at wooden objects. Which we admit doesn’t sound particularly thrilling – and you might also have had your fill of ‘Verby Noun’ games with colorful, chunky visuals, whatever the hook. But Flippy Knife does plenty to demand a space on your iPad.
The basic Combo mode has you drag upwards to hurl your pointy weapon into the air, Angry Birds style, aiming for it to flip and stick into a wooden platform on landing. It’s a good way to get a feel for your virtual knife.
Beyond that, there’s the thoughtful Arcade mode (lob a knife through an endless cabin), the frenetic Climb (a vertically scrolling pursuit of a thieving drone), and the archery-like Target. That is, if archery involved lobbing bloody great big knives at bullseyes strapped to trees – which we totally think it should.
This one’s from the Pac-Man 256 folks, but this time the classic titles being mined appear to be Dig-Dug and Mr. Driller. And, yes, that was a terrible pun, because Digby Forever is all about mining, your little hero drilling deep into the ground on a quest for bling, trying to avoid regular cave-ins and various underground ‘one touch equals death’ denizens.
Bar a baffling card power-up system, Digby Forever is a breezy arcade blast. Its little world feels very alive, with explosions blasting pixels across the screen, and various creatures going about their business. Intriguingly, it also deftly deals with that problem in endless games of starting from scratch – here, you always restart from where you were last defeated.
With Dashy Crashy, the iPad shows bigger (as in, the screen) really can be better. The basics involve swiping to avoid traffic while hurtling along a road. New vehicles are periodically won, each of which has a special skill (such as the UFO abducting traffic, and the taxi picking up fares); and there are also random events to respond to, such as huge dinosaurs barreling along.
On iPad, the gorgeous visuals are more dazzling than on the smaller iPhone, and in landscape or portrait, it’s easier to see what’s in front of you, potentially leading to higher scores.
Also, the game’s multi-touch aware, so you can multi-finger-swipe to change several lanes at once – fiddly on an iPhone but a cinch on a tablet, making for an addictive, just-one-more-go experience.
There’s a delightful and elegant simplicity at the heart of Mars: Mars. The game echoes iPad classic Desert Golfing, in providing a seemingly endless course to explore. But rather than smacking a ball, you’re blasting a little astronaut between landing pads.
The controls also hark back to another game – the ancient Lunar Lander. After blast-off, you tap the sides of the screen to emit little jets of air, attempting to nudge your astronaut in the right direction and break their fall before a collision breaks them.
Smartly, you can have endless tries without penalty, but the game also tots up streaks without death. Repeat play is further rewarded by unlocking characters (also available via IAP), many of which dramatically alter the environment you’re immersed in.
The BAFTA-winning INKS rethought pinball for mobile, breaking it down into bite-sized simple tables that were more like puzzles. Precision shots – and few of them – were the key to victory. PinOut! thinks similarly, while simultaneously transforming the genre into an against-the-clock endless runner.
The idea is to always move forwards, shooting the ball up ramps that send it to the next miniature table. Along the way, you grab dots to replenish the relentlessly ticking down timer, find and use power-ups, and play the odd mini-game, in a game that recalls basic but compelling fare once found on the LED displays of real-life tables.
PinOut! is gorgeous – all neon-infused tables and silky smooth synth-pop soundtrack. And while the seemingly simplified physics might nag pinball aficionados, it makes for an accessible and playable game for everyone else.
Rodeo Stampede – Sky Zoo Safari
It's hard to imagine a less efficient way of building and maintaining a zoo than what you see in Rodeo Stampede. Armed with a lasso, you foolishly venture into a stampede and leap from animal to animal, attempting to win their hearts by virtue of not being flung to the ground.
You then whisk beaten animals away to a zoo in a massive sky-based craft – the kind of place where you imagine the Avengers might hang out if they gave up crime-fighting and decided to start jailing animals rather than villains.
Despite overly familiar chunky visuals (Crossy Road has a lot to answer for), this fast-paced, breezy game is a lot of fun, with you dragging left and right to avoid blundering into rocks, and lifting your finger to soar into the air, aiming to catch another rampaging beast.
Disney Crossy Road
Tie-ins between indie game companies and major movie houses often end badly, but Disney Crossy Road bucks the trend. It starts off like the original Crossy Road — an endless take on Frogger. Only here, Mickey Mouse picks his way across motorways, train lines and rivers, trying to avoid death by drowning or being splattered across a windscreen.
But unlock new characters (you'll have several for free within a few games) and you open up further Disney worlds, each with unique visuals and challenges.
In Toy Story, Woody and Buzz dodge tumbling building blocks, whereas the inhabitants of Haunted Mansion are tasked with keeping the lights on and avoiding a decidedly violent suit of armour.
Elsewhere, Inside Out has you dart about collecting memories, which are sucked up for bonus points. And on the iPad, the gorgeous chunky visuals of these worlds really get a chance to shine.
At first glance, Looty Dungeon comes across like a Crossy Road wannabe. But you soon realise it's actually a very smartly designed endless dungeon crawler that just happens to pilfer Crossy Road's control method, chunky visual style, and sense of urgency.
You begin as a tiny stabby knight, scooting through algorithmically generated isometric rooms. You must avoid spikes and chopping axes, outrun a collapsing floor, and dispatch monsters. The action is fast-paced, lots of fun, and challenges your dexterity and ability to think on the move.
As is seemingly law in today's mobile gaming landscape, Looty Dungeon also nags at the collector in you, offering characters to unlock. But these aren't just decorative in nature — they have unique weapons, which alter how you play. For example, an archer has better range than the knight, but no defensive shield when up against an angry witch or ravenous zombie.
Cubed Rally Redline
Cubed Rally Redline is an endless on-rails racer that should be so easy, but very much isn’t. As you belt along in your blocky car, you can move left or right across clearly defined lanes, and you even get a ‘time brake’ for going all slow-motion, Matrix-style, to sneak through tricky gaps.
But this game is so relentless and full of bonkers surprises that you’ll end up regularly smashing into cows, dinosaurs, and ocean-going liners inconveniently parked in the middle of the track.
Perseverance reaps rewards, though: coins collected en route pay for new vehicles that change where – and sometimes even how – you race. Top stuff – apart from those stompy car-smashing dinosaurs, obviously.
Our favorite free iPad gem-swap, tile-match, and rhythm action games.
AuroraBound is a puzzle game that’s all about matching patterns. Each level provides you with a tiled board, onto which you place colorful pieces. The aim is to ensure that all the lines and colors join up.
This isn’t the kind of puzzler designed to smash your brains out – for the most part, it’s a rather relaxing experience. But as the boards increase in size, with patterns on each tile that are only very slightly different, you may eventually find your ego and complacency handed back to you.
Even so, AuroraBound never becomes frustrating. There are no time limits, and you can experiment by shifting pieces around at will. Neatly, the level select screen is a tiny puzzle to complete as you go, too.
Little Alchemy 2
Little Alchemy 2 is an exploratory logic game. You start off with a small number of items, which can be dragged to the central canvas. Items are then merged to create new ones.
At least that’s the theory. If you just set about randomly shoving items together, nothing happens. Instead, you must utilize rational thinking – or a little whimsy. For example, combine a couple of puddles and you’ll get a pond. Obvious, really. But also you can create a blender from a blade and ‘motion’, and a rocket from ‘metal’ and ‘atmosphere’.
In all, there are over 600 items to discover, and although Little Alchemy 2 can irk if you hit a brick wall, you can always pay for hints via IAP if you get stuck. Alternatively, tough it out and feel like a genius when you hit upon a suitably clever combination.
This one’s all about counting really quickly. That admittedly doesn’t sound like much – but stick with it, because Estiman is actually a lot of fun.
It begins by displaying a bunch of neon shapes. The aim is to prod a shape that belongs to the most numerous group, and work your way to the smallest. Do this rapidly and you build a combo that can seriously ramp up your score. Now and again shapes also house credits, which can be used to buy new themes.
On iPad, the game looks great, and although some themes (such as gloopy bubbles) make the game easier, that at least gives you a choice if the minimal original theme proves too tricky.
And despite Estiman’s overt simplicity, its odd contrasting mix of relaxation (chill-out audio; zero-stress timer) and urgency (if you want those combos) proves compelling.
Groove Coaster 2 Original Style
Like a simulation of having a massive migraine while on a stomach-churning roller-coaster, Groove Coaster 2 Original Style is a rhythm action game intent on blasting your optics out while simultaneously making your head spin.
It flings you through dizzying, blazing-fast tracks, asking you to tap or hold the screen to the beat of thumping techno and catchy J-Pop.
The game looks superb – all retro-futuristic vector graphics and explosions of color that are like being stuck inside a mirror ball while 1980s video games whirl around your head.
Mostly you'll stick around for the exhilarating tap-happy rhythm action, which marries immediacy with plenty of challenge, clever choreography tripping up the complacent on higher difficulty levels.
It never becomes a slog though – tracks are shortish and ideal for quick play; and for free, you can unlock plenty of them, but loads more are available via in-app purchase.
We have absolutely no idea what’s going on in Masky. What we do know is that this is a deeply weird but thoroughly compelling game.
According to the game’s blurb, Masky’s all about some kind of grand costume ball, with you dancing to mystic sounds and inviting other masked dancers to join you. What this means in practice is shuffling left and right, adding other dancers to your merry band, and ensuring the balance meter never goes beyond red. If it does, everyone falls over – masks everywhere.
Beyond the lovely graphics and audio, there’s a smart – if simple – game here. Some masks from newcomers added to your line shake things up, flipping the screen or temporarily removing the balance meter.
Inevitably, everything also speeds up as you play, making keeping balance increasingly tough. We don’t doubt the unique visuals count for a lot regarding Masky’s pull, but the strange premise and compelling gameplay keep you dancing for the long haul.
With its numbered sliding squares and soaring scores, there's more than a hint of Threes! about Imago. In truth, Threes! remains the better game, on the basis that it's more focussed, but Imago has plenty going for it. The idea is to merge pieces of the same size and colour, which when they get too big explode into smaller pieces that can be reused.
The clever bit is each of these smaller pieces retains the score of the larger block. This means that with smart thinking, you can amass colossal scores that head into the billions. The game also includes daily challenges with different success criteria, to keep you on your toes.
Having played Planet Quest, we imagine whoever was on naming duties didn't speak to the programmer. If they had, the game would be called Awesome Madcap Beam-Up One-Thumb Rhythm Action Insanity — or possibly something a bit shorter. Anyway, you're in a spaceship, prodding the screen to repeat beats you've just heard.
Doing so beams up dancers on the planet's surface; get your timing a bit wrong and you merely beam-up their outfits; miss by a lot and you lose a life. To say this one's offbeat would be a terrible pun, but entirely accurate; it'd also be true to say this is the most fun rhythm action game on iPad — and it doesn't cost a penny.
The best puzzle game on mobile, Threes! has you slide cards about a grid, merging pairs to create ever higher numbers. The catch is all cards slide as one, unless they cannot move; additionally, each turn leads to a new card in a random empty slot on the edge you swiped away from. It's all about careful management of a tiny space.
On launch, Threes! was mercilessly cloned, with dozens of alternatives flooding iTunes, but 2048 and its ilk lack the charm and fine details that made Threes! so great in the first place. And now there's Threes! Freeplay, where you watch ads to top up a 'free goes' bin, there's no excuse for going with inferior pretenders.
Triple Town is a match game where you merge cartoonish plant life and buildings. But don’t be fooled by the cute facade – this is a brilliantly designed brain-smashingly tough puzzler where you must think many moves ahead to succeed.
In this game, trios of things combine to make other things – for example, three bushes become a tree, and three trees become a hut. Such merges then give you space on the tiny board to evolve your town – especially when one particularly cunning move chains several merges together.
All the while, roaming bears and ninjas complicate matters, blocking squares on the board. At times surreal, Triple Town is also challenging and addictive. Note that free moves are on a replenishing timer, but if you can’t wait for another go, there’s an unlimited moves IAP.
Our favorite free iPad platform games, from classic side-on 2D games to ambitious console-style adventures.
Super Cat Tales 2
Super Cat Tales 2 is a platform game that requires just two of your thumbs. Tap and hold the left or right of your iPad’s display, and you can make your on-screen heroes – cats with unique super powers – walk, dash, leap, and wall-jump like kitty ninjas.
Naturally, there’s a point to all this activity: the cats are trying to save their world from an alien invasion. They must therefore scoot about, avoid enemies, find hidden secrets, and grab the bling that’s oddly left lying about in this kind of game. Also, for some reason, they can sporadically jump into huge yellow tanks to dish out serious destruction.
With a smartly written script, superb level design, and vibrant retro-infused visuals, Super Cat Tales 2 is one of the best platformers on iPad. That it’s free makes it a steal.
Soosiz is a fun platforming adventure which features a blobby protagonist, who in traditional platformer fashion runs left and right, leaps into the air, grabs gold coins, and jumps on enemies to dispatch them.
The twist? The world of Soosiz is based around tiny circular islands hanging in space, each of which has its own gravitational pull, adding an exciting new twist to a tried and tested format.
As you sprint from left to right, the screen spins and whirls, disorienting you as you figure out a route to the exit – and how not to leap from a floating island into oblivion. After a recent refresh, the game represents a great spin on an age-old concept.
It’s Full of Sparks
It’s Full of Sparks is a platform game in a world where firecrackers are cruelly aware they’re about to explode – and are desperate to find water to extinguish their sparks.
Each side-on level is an urgent sprint to the finish line. The first is literally just that, but – inevitably – you’re soon dealing with platforms and hazards, many being triggered by a trio of colored buttons that enter the equation.
This thumb choreography adds another level to It’s Full of Sparks. It’s not enough just to be fast and know your way to the exit – you’re also frantically tapping buttons on and off, all too aware that your firework is about to go out in a blaze of glory.
It’s frustrating when that happen moments before watery bliss, but short, smartly designed levels keep you running, jumping and splashing, even when you’re occasionally gnashing.
Runventure is a streamlined platform game that finds your little hero darting through trap-laden jungles, temples and castles. However, rather than use a traditional D-pad or have you auto-run and tap to jump, Runventure tries something new.
At the foot of the screen is the run-jumping bar. Drag across it and the hero runs, and the game previews the jump you’ll make on lifting your finger. With deft timing, you’ll leap on enemy heads, rope-swing across deadly ravines, and totally not die by falling into a spike-filled pit like an idiot.
That’s the theory. Initially, you’ll fail often as you get to grips with what seems like a needlessly awkward control system. But stick around, discover the nuance in the leapy action, and Runventure proves compelling. If nothing else, grab if if you’re tired of the same old thing.
Turn Undead: Monster Hunter
Turn Undead: Monster Hunter is a spooky run-and-gun platformer, in the same territory as arcade classic Ghosts ’n Goblins. Hordes of zombies, vampires and werewolves need offing by way of your trusty supply of stakes, before you make for an exit – and a few moments of feeling smug.
But Turn Undead has another trick up its sleeve: it’s turn-based. This means time only moves on when you do, which upends everything you thought you knew about this kind of game.
In theory, the stop-start action should make things easier, enabling you to plan when to kill each nasty, but the clockwork nature of Turn Undead often transforms proceedings into a brain-smashing puzzler. Just try to make sure the brains getting smashed are those of the undead – and not your own.
To The Castle
To The Castle finds tiny knight Sir Petrionius doddering about gloomy dungeons, attacking monsters, pilfering bling and making for the exit.
The twist in this platform game is the limited controls; the knight runs of his own accord, and you can only make him either jump or unleash a devastating thrust attack that propels him forward, killing anything in his way.
These restrictions, married with tight level design, make for a fast-paced path-finding-tinged arcade platformer. Timing and good reflexes are key as you leap into the air, and then thrust attack to obliterate enemies or leap over spike pits. And if you get particularly good at all that, blazing through the 60 built-in levels, you can make your own in the game’s editor.
Cally’s Caves 4
Cally’s Caves 4 is a free game that appears so generous that you wonder what the catch is. The Metroid-style run-and-gun shenanigans find you leaping about, shooting anyone in your path. However, the hero is a girl with pigtails and a surprising arsenal of deadly weapons, neatly subverting convention.
The plot’s a tad more mundane – something about finding a cure for a curse. But the game retains its oddball credentials with a gaggle of strange enemies – everything from footballers to cleaver-lobbing chefs.
The jumping, blasting, and exploring is compelling stuff, which is just as well, because this is a big game, with hundreds of sprawling levels, 11 bosses, and stints where you temporarily control a psychotic ninja bear. No, that last bit isn’t a typo; and, yes, those bits are particularly great.
Hoggy 2 is a platform puzzler, with a firm emphasis on the puzzling. It features some cartoon slime molds, who’ve got on the wrong side of the villainous Moon Men. These rogues have taken the heroes’ kids, and so parents Hoggy and Hogatha vow to get them back.
The Moon Men’s fortress is a huge maze peppered with jars. Within each jar is a room filled with platforms, enemies, hazards, and fruit. Eat all the fruit and you get a key. Get enough keys and you can venture further into the maze.
The snag is that getting at the fruit can be tricky. Hoggy 2’s levels are cunningly designed, often requiring you perform actions in a specific order and manner, making use of power-ups that transform the protagonists into trundling granite squares or screaming infernos.
Add in lush console-style visuals and a level editor, and you’ve got one of the biggest bargains on mobile.
With iPads lacking tactile controls, they should be rubbish for platform games. But savvy developers have stripped back the genre, creating hybrid one-thumb auto-runner/platformers. These are entirely reliant on careful timing, the key element of more traditional fare.
Mr. Crab further complicates matters by wrapping its levels around a pole. The titular crustacean ambles back and forth, scooping up baby crabs, and avoiding the many enemies lurking about the place. The end result is familiar and yet fresh. You get a selection of diverse levels for free, and additional packs are available via IAP.
Our favorite free iPad logic tests, path-finding challenges, bridge builders, and turn-based puzzlers.
Turn Undead 2: Monster Hunter
Turn Undead 2: Monster Hunter is an odd beast. Its framework echoes Ghosts ’n’ Goblins – run-and-gun platforming as you mow down zombies, skeletons, and vampires. But unlike that arcade classic, Turn Undead 2 is turn-based.
The end result is a curious mix of action and puzzling, where you make your move and the game responds. Like excellent premium title Lara Croft GO, Turn Undead 2 infuses a surprising amount of tension in its clockwork mechanics – not least when foes are in hot pursuit, and you know you can’t put a foot wrong.
It’s compelling stuff, but can be brain-smashingly tough too. So when failing often, take a breather to make sure the brains getting smashed are those of the undead – and not your own.
Slydris 2 subverts Tetris by rethinking and expanding on that basic framework, transforming the result into a tactical turn-based puzzler. Shapes still fall into a well, but several appear at once – and during each go, you can only move one of them (either a hanging shape, or one already in the well).
In order to keep the well from filling up, you must therefore ‘shatter’ larger pieces by using part of them to complete lines, whereupon cut off bits rain down and create chain reactions. Immovable shapes make progress tougher, but power-ups come to your aid, including a two-by-two block that smashes anything it lands on.
This is smart, cerebral, neon-infused endless puzzling magnificence – one of the best games of its kind on any platform.
Pivotol recalls well-based puzzle games like Tetris and Columns, but gives the sub-genre a massive injection of neon (and a super-cool electronic soundtrack), and then has you engage your brain. And that’s because rather than upping the panic with a relentless procession of shapes dropping into the well, Pivotol is a more strategic turn-based affair.
Here, it’s colored blocks that fall down, and they’re zapped from existence whenever you connect six or more. Every turn, you can choose to pivot four blocks about a central point, aiming to set up lucrative combos, and make use of special blocks that obliterate anything nearby.
It’s an interesting and compelling new spin (oho!) on such games – and also suitably tense when you’re trying desperately to clear some blocks, knowing you’re one turn from disaster.
Friday the 13th: Killer Puzzle
Friday the 13th: Killer Puzzle is a sliding puzzler with lashings of gore. That’s not a combination you hear too often, but Killer Puzzle is unique. Set broadly in the world of Friday the 13th, it features horror icon Jason Voorhees on a mission to chop up anyone in his immediate vicinity.
That might sound horrific, but Killer Puzzle is more South Park than splatter flick. The chunky visuals present everyone as colorful but gormless cartoon characters, and the more bloody (and ridiculous) cut scenes can be skipped entirely.
Really, it’s the puzzling bits that will make you stick around. Across the game’s many levels, your brains are given a beating as you figure out labyrinthine routes to get to your final targets. (Still, that’s a nicer ‘brain beating’ than the targets end up getting…)
A Way To Slay – Bloody Fight
A Way To Slay – Bloody Fight is a series of epic sword fights reimagined as turn-based strategy. You start each bout surrounded by weapon-wielding foes eager to take your head off. Double-tap one and you almost instantly appear before them, for a swift bit of ultra-violence. But then enemies get their turn. End up too near one of them and it’s curtains for you.
Assuming you can deal with liberal amounts of videogame blood being sprayed about, A Way To Slay is an excellent puzzler. Parked halfway between action and strategy, it feels fresh; and it’s enhanced further by the clever way you can adjust the zoom and panning of what you see before you, as if directing a very stabby movie.
Cubor is a puzzler that features trundling cubes. The aim is to get each cube to its corresponding target. Sometimes, cubes have only one colored side, which must be placed face-down over its intended home.
That probably doesn’t have you already stabbing an install button, but Cubor’s a game that quietly takes hold, gradually sucking you in as you become engrossed in its simple, smartly designed puzzles.
It’s got something for everyone, too. Casual players can tinker with levels until they’re complete – and that might be reward enough. But for more hardcore puzzle fans, each level offers bonus stars for meeting move limits – many of which are extremely tough to crack, not least when you’re juggling five cubes on a decidedly claustrophobic level layout.
Drop the Clock
Drop the Clock features a grinning timepiece that’s hurled into single-screen challenges, with the goal of reaching an exit as quickly as possible. The snag: this world is full of angry red hammers, teleportation pipes, and other hazards.
You can’t control the clock as such – its path is predetermined. Instead, you control time. Press the screen and the clock’s own movement slows down, Matrix-style (if The Matrix featured a moustachioed clock rather than leather-clad, shades-wearing protagonists). With deft fingerwork and a little luck, you’ll figure out how to avoid your enemies and reach your goal.
Given that Drop the Clock resembles pinball in how its hero pings about, you’ll fail often. But levels are so short, and the game’s so relentlessly jolly, that having another go is a no-brainer – after all, you’ll be having a great time.
Mekorama is a path-finding puzzle game where you help a little doddering robot reach its goal. There are 50 hand-crafted diorama-like levels in all, which you spin with a finger. You then tap to make the robot head to a particular spot.
The pace is slow, but the game is charming and relaxing rather than dull. Wisely, it always provides you with several levels to tackle in case you get stuck on one, and new hazards and ideas regularly appear, such as sections of buildings that move, and patrolling robots that may help or hinder.
It works particularly well on iPad, largely because the bigger screen makes it easier to see what’s going on when you’re peering into a complex structure’s nooks and crannies, but the real prize is a level designer. There’s huge scope for long-term play through the ability to download levels and create your own.
Tako Bubble has roots in classic arcade games, but at its heart is a cleverly designed turn-based puzzler that straddles the divide between casual and challenging play.
You play an octopus, popping bubbles and aiming to recover a collection of beetles. Grab all of the colored bubbles and you finish a level, but only by popping them all do you get the satisfaction of a job well done.
The snag is the turn-based bit. You move, and then the ferocious monsters dotted about get their go. Get your timing wrong and the octopus is ejected from the screen.
Success is therefore about pathfinding – learning how enemies react and move, and planning accordingly. There’s no timer and no time limit, so it’s just you against the game. And while it’s approachable enough for all, getting every bubble is a very tough test indeed.
Splashy Dots is a puzzle game that wants to unleash your inner artist. It takes place on canvases with a number of dots sprinkled about. Your task is to figure out a path from the start to the end point that takes in every dot.
This is a familiar concept – there are loads of similar games on the App Store, but the execution of Splashy Dots ensures it stands out. Every swipe you make smears paint across the screen; and these brushstrokes and splats fashion a little slice of geometric art as you play.
Over time, the canvases become increasingly complex, as you slowly build a gallery of abstract virtual paintings. A relaxing jazzy soundtrack and unlimited undos add to the relaxing vibe – only interrupted with a jolt when ads appear. But if those irk, you can silence them with a single $ 0.99/99p/AU$ 1.49 IAP.
Build a Bridge!
The clue’s in the title in this entertaining and arcade-oriented engineering test. In Build a Bridge!, you’re faced with a vehicle, a gap over which the vehicle would like to travel, and some materials to build your bridge. You lay down a structure on virtual graph paper, press play, and see what happens.
If your bridge falls to bits – as it invariably will on the first few attempts – you can go back, rebuild and try again. Should you want to properly test out your engineering skills, you must minimize the materials used to get a three-star award – tricky when you hit levels requiring outlandish solutions that incorporate jumps and hot-air balloons.
Some of the building can be a bit fiddly, but on an iPad Build a Bridge! proves a compelling test of your engineering skills.
There's not a lot of originality in King Rabbit, but it's one of those simple and endearing puzzle games that sucks you in and refuses to let go until you've worked your way through the entire thing.
The premise is hackneyed — bunnies have been kidnapped, and a sole hero must save them. And the gameplay is familiar too, where you leap about a grid-like landscape, manipulating objects, avoiding hazards, finding keys, unlocking doors, and reaching a goal.
But the execution is such that King Rabbit is immediately engaging, while new ideas keep coming as you work through the dozens of puzzles. Pleasingly, the game also increases the challenge so subtly that you barely notice — until you realise you've been figuring out a royal bunny's next moves into the wee small hours.
Does Not Commute
Time travel weirdness meets the morning rush hour in Does Not Commute. You get a short story about a character, and guide their car to the right road. Easy! Only the next character's car must be dealt with while avoiding the previous one. And the next. Before long, you're a dozen cars in and weaving about like a lunatic, desperately trying to avoid a pile-up.
For free, you get the entire game, but with the snag that you must always start from scratch, rather than being able to use checkpoints that appear after each zone. (You can unlock these for a one-off payment of $ 2.99/£2.99/AU$ 4.49.)
Our favorite free iPad on-rails, 3D and 2D racers, and trials games.
Pico Rally is a high-octane racer controlled with a single thumb. In short, hold down on the screen, and you get a burst of speed; raise your digit and you slow down a bit. Steering is taken care of, and so victory is about learning the twists and turns in each circuit, and not losing speed by smashing into barriers and other cars, or grinding across the dirt.
In essence it’s more or less slot racing, in terms of the basic nature of the controls, and the behavior of the cars. But the way Pico Rally keeps shaking things up with its varied track design, races, and pursuits, ensures it blazes through the checkered flag as one of the iPad’s premier racers, despite being a million miles away from traditional fare.
Data Wing is a speedy but elegant neon-clad top-down racer. It’s also an intriguing narrative based around an irrational artificial intelligence’s attempts to escape its lot.
The racing bit is superb as you pilot your tiny craft, scraping track edges for boosts of speed during time trials. New challenges are slowly unlocked, such as races, and levels that flip everything on it side, pitting you against gravity and forcing you to use boost pads to reach a high-up exit.
A simple two-thumb control system ensures the game works brilliantly on every size of iPad, and as game and story alike unfold there are plenty of surprises in store. But perhaps the biggest is that a production this polished is entirely free. Get it!
Asphalt 9: Legends
Asphalt 9: Legends is a brash arcade racer with such a scant regard for physics and reality it almost makes its bonkers predecessor look like a simulation.
You blaze along hyper-real road circuits, having pimped-up sports cars do things no manufacturer’s warranty had ever considered. 360-degree turns off of massive ramps to pinwheel through the air! Nitro-boosting through skyscraper windows! Playing chicken with massive trains! We’re not in conventional racing territory here…
Like all Asphalt games, this one scrapes a key along its pristine bodywork in the form of IAP and grind; also, some players may be irked by a default control scheme that has you swipe and tap to time actions rather than actually steer. But despite its shortcomings, Asphalt 9: Legends remains a glorious and compelling oddball arcade racer.
MMX Hill Dash 2
MMX Hill Dash 2 is a one-on-one monster truck racer, with tracks akin to roller coasters, full of unlikely peaks and crazy dips. Helpfully, then, the physics is so bouncy vehicles often feel like they’ll bound off of the screen, never to be seen again.
At first, this makes for an off-putting experience. It can feel like you’re fighting the physics with the two-button control system that deals both with braking and also rotation when a vehicle’s airborne. But grab vehicle upgrades and properly plan how to tackle a track, and you start making progress.
The game then becomes strangely absorbing – almost puzzle-like as you gradually figure out the choreography and upgrades required to crack a track. It is, however, best for players with a slightly masochistic streak, since you’re often hitting the same track time and again, until you get the kit and brainwave to defeat it.
Carmageddon is in theory a racing game, but is really more a demolition derby set in a grim dystopia where armored cars smash each other to bits and drivers gleefully mow down ambling pedestrians and cows.
It’s a game of questionable taste and a brains-free approach. You may not be surprised to hear it ended up banned in several countries when originally released on PC back in 1997. These days, though, its low-res over-the-top feel seems more cartoonish than gory – and the freeform driving is a lot of fun.
The maps are huge, the physics is bouncy, and your opponents are an odd mix of braindead and psychotic. There’s no nuance, but loads of laughs to be had – assuming you’re not the type to get offended when a game congratulates you for power-sliding a startled cow into a wall.
Vertigo Racing is a sort-of rally game. We say sort-of, because although you’re pelting along a twisty-turny track, it happens to be at the top of a wall so high its base is lost in the clouds below.
Also, you’re barreling along in old-school muscle cars, to a classic guitar rock soundtrack, and you can’t steer.
Instead, the game does the steering for you, leaving you merely able to prod the accelerator or slam on the brakes, to stop your car plunging into the abyss. This transforms the game into a decidedly oddball take on slot racing, reimagined as a roller-coaster. Or possibly the other way around.
Either way, it’s fun, even if handling and camera issues make progress in later tracks tough. Still, the upgrade path is smart (with a generous dishing out of virtual coins to upgrade your cars and buy new tracks), making for hours of grin-inducing arcade action.
Reckless Getaway 2
If you’ve ever played the last level of PC classic Driver, with its psychotic police vehicles, you’ll have an inkling what you’re in for in Reckless Getaway 2. You pick a car and barrel about a little wraparound city, driving around like a maniac, until your inevitable arrest.
Well, we say ‘arrest’, but these police are crazed. SWAT vans will hurl themselves at your vehicle, oblivious to the carnage around them. Eventually, airstrikes will be called in, at which point you might question if the law’s applying a bit too much zeal towards grand theft auto these days.
Over time, the game’s repetitive nature palls a bit, and the physics is a bit floaty; but otherwise it’s a great fun freebie for virtual joyriders armed with an iPad.
Brake or Break
One of the most ludicrous one-thumb games around, Brake or Break features a car hurtling along the road. You can hold the screen to brake, and if you don’t, the car speeds up. Sooner or later, it’ll be hurled into the air and start spinning, thereby awarding you with huge points – unless you land badly and smash your vehicle to pieces.
There’s a lot of risk-versus-reward and careful timing here, with gameplay that offers a smattering of Tiny Wings and a whole lot of weird.
Most of said oddness comes by way of the environment, which lobs all kinds of objects at your car, and regularly has it propelled into the air by a grinning tornado. Stick out the game long enough (or open your wallet) and you can unlock new worlds and cars to further shake things up.
Instead of blazing through larger-than-life takes on real-world cities, Asphalt Xtreme takes you off-road, zooming through dunes, drifting across muddy flats, and generally treating the great outdoors in a manner that will win you no favors with the local authorities.
As per other entries in the series, this is ballsy arcade racing, with bouncy physics, simple controls, an obsession with boosting, and tracks designed to make you regularly smash your car to bits.
It’s also, sadly, absolutely riddled with freemium cruft: timers; currencies; nags – the lot. But if you can look past that and dip in and out occasionally to allow the game to ‘recharge’, there’s a lot to like in this racer that’s decided roads and rules are so last season.
Our favorite free iPad scrolling blasters, FPS games, precision shooters, twin-stick blasters, and vertically scrolling shoot ’em ups.
Piffle is another entry in an expanding sub-genre of shooters. You blast a string of ricocheting bullets at bricks, until the numbers on said bricks run down, causing them to explode.
As you gather more ammunition and powers, things become entertainingly chaotic, your screen becoming a sea of ammo and explosions. Here, said ammo appears to be limbless, bouncy cats, which face off against encroaching walls of smiling blocks. Because levels are finite, you can approach each one in strategic fashion.
There is some grind, with later levels being very tough to complete without power-ups. Still, there’s a premium sheen here reminiscent of Holedown – only instead of cool minimalism, you get vibrant colorful visuals, no price-tag, and a pile of furry critters to stave off a ‘cat-astrophic’ game over.
Fortnite parachutes 100 players on to an island, with the simple task of being the last person standing. Okay, so it’s not that simple, given that everyone wants to kill you.
The road to survival initially involves realizing that your pickaxe isn’t going to cut it, and therefore locating weapons with which to dish out wanton violence. Over time, the area in which players can survive shrinks, at which point you might consider building a defensive fortress.
The mix of building, scavenging, exploration and action mixes perfectly to create unique scenarios within every game, and the game is kept fresh with regular content updates.
Fortnite’s origins on platforms with physical gamepads are somewhat betrayed by complex virtual controls, however this is a much more minor issue on iPad given that there’s more than enough space for your fingers not to cover the action.
Shadowgun Legends gives you a big, dumb, brash first-person shooter for your iPad. It looks superb, whether you’re mooching about the neon-bathed central hub world, or merrily blasting hordes of evil aliens.
From a gameplay perspective, it’s no Call of Duty or Doom, but that’s fine for touchscreen play. After all, when you don’t have a gamepad in your hands, you’ll be glad you only need two thumbs to control movement and gaze, your guns discharging automatically when a foe’s in your sights.
But just because Shadowgun Legends is streamlined for mobile, don’t mistake it for being simple. There’s tons to do, a slew of power-ups to get you kitted out for tougher later missions, and an entertaining emphasis on ‘fame’ over character and story that if nothing else seems like savvy commentary on a great deal of modern media.
Hue Ball is a strategic shooting game that features a little turret that oscillates back and forth at the foot of the screen. Tap and it fires a ball that bounces about. Other balls it hits disappear, and you must also ensure your ball doesn’t zip over the line of death, robbing you of a life.
There’s another ball, though – one you can’t hit. It fills the screen with color and shrinks towards the center. When it vanishes, every static ball gets another layer. When any end up with five, they become indestructible skulls.
This combination of clever mechanics makes for an entertaining experience, which works well on the iPad’s larger screen. And although the noodly chill-out audio seems at odds with Hue Ball’s take-no-prisoners claustrophobic end-game panic, it may calm you for long enough to make that perfect shot.
Drag’n’Boom is a breezy, fast-paced arcade game that marries Angry Birds, Tiny Birds, Sonic the Hedgehog, twin-stick shooters, dragons and The Matrix. No, really.
Each level finds your baby dragon zooming about hilly landscapes packed with castles and tunnels, roasting guards and grabbing coins. Movement and unleashing fiery breath alike happen by way of ‘drag and fling’ directional arrows, and everything slows down while you aim, Matrix-style.
This all makes for an interesting combination, enabling deliriously fast zooming about and violence across the tiny worlds, but precision when you need it. Over its 40 levels, Drag’n’Boom could perhaps do with more variety – there are scant few enemy types to defeat. But it’s an exhilarating thrill-ride while it lasts.
Rocklien Run is a hybrid endless runner/shooter, featuring a little UFO blazing along space lanes populated by hordes of deadly creatures who’d very much rather the UFO wasn’t there. You tap left and right to avoid being horribly killed, attempting to scoop up bonus coins and stars along the way.
The stars are the key to Rocklien Run. Pick up a green one and your little ship starts spewing bullets. Grab a yellow one and you zoom along, temporarily indestructible. Keep on shooting, dodging, and picking up stars, and Rocklien Run transforms from a frustrating staccato experience into an exhilarating high-octane arcade blast.
Just be aware that for every breezily crazy game where you’re belting along at insane speeds, you’ll probably have another where you’re killed in approximately three seconds.
You know a game’s not taking itself too seriously when it begins with the hero trudging through a blizzard, only to be faced by a giant heavily armed walrus guarding the fortress of a megalomaniacal genius.
But Evil Factory is just warming up, and subsequently revels in flinging all manner of mutated madness your way in its hard-nosed top-down arcade battles.
For each, you dart about using a virtual joystick, while two large on-screen buttons activate weapons. Unfortunately, your bosses are colossal idiots, and have armed you with the likes of dynamite and Molotov cocktails. Bouts often therefore involve dodging bullets to fling wares at a giant foe, before running away like a coward.
It’s silly, relentless arcade fun – or at least it would be relentless if the ‘fuel’ based freemium model didn’t butt up against one-hit-death and tough later levels. Still, if the stop-start nature of playing becomes irksome, fuel limitations can be removed with a $ 1.99/£1.99/AU$ 2.99 IAP.
With Darkside Lite, you rather generously get the entire arcade mode from superb blaster Darkside. What this means is a slew of fast-paced and eye-dazzling shooty action, where you blast everything around you to pieces, while trying very hard to stay in one piece yourself.
The twin-stick shenanigans echo the likes of Geometry Wars (or, if you’re really old, Robotron) in terms of controls, but the setup is more Asteroids, obliterating space rocks – and also the spaceships that periodically zoom in to do you damage.
The entire thing’s wrapped around planetoids floating in the void, making for a dizzying, thrilling ride as you attempt to locate the last bit of flying rock before some alien attacker swoops in and rips away the last of your shields.
In a marked departure from the impressive Phoenix HD and its procedurally generated bullet hell,Phoenix II shoves you through set-piece vertically scrolling shoot 'em up grinders. Every 24 hours, a new challenge appears, tasking you with surviving a number of waves comprising massive metal space invaders belching hundreds of deadly bullets your way.
A single hit to your craft's core (a small spot at its center) brings destruction, forcing you to memorize attack and bullet patterns and make use of shields and deflectors if you've any hope of survival. You do sometimes slam into a brick wall, convinced a later wave is impossible to beat.
To lessen the frustration, there's always the knowledge you'll get another crack at smashing new invaders the following day. Regardless, this is a compelling, dazzling and engaging shooter for iPad.
We imagine the creators of Smash Hit really hate glass. Look at it, sitting there with its stupid, smug transparency, letting people see what's on the other side of it. Bah! Smash it all! Preferably with ball-bearings while flying along corridors! And that's Smash Hit — fly along, flinging ball-bearings, don't hit any glass face-on, and survive for as long as possible.
There are 50 rooms in all, but cheapskates start from scratch each time; pay $ 1.99/£1.99/AU$ 2.99 for the premium unlock and you get checkpoints, stats, iCloud sync, and alternative game modes.
Our favorite free iPad soccer, golf, tennis, basketball and other sports games.
Rowdy Wrestling is a sports game on fast forward – one that’s performed a pile-driver on nuance and lobbed it out of the ring. It features chunky retro cartoonish fighters, whose arms whirl as they speed about. The buttons you stab afford you a degree of control, but initially bouts are like attempting to control chaos – akin to trying to steer an avalanche.
Over time, you figure out a modicum of tactics – combinations of moves that more often leave you victorious and your opponents unceremoniously hurled from the screen. Get particularly good and you can buy new wrestlers with currency earned in-game, and then have a crack at the career mode.
As ridiculous as real-world wrestling is, a career in that sport isn’t a patch on the madness at the heart of this game.
Golfing Around is a golf game with a rather old-fashioned approach. Instead of photo-realistic courses where you could feasibly knock a virtual caterpillar out of a virtual tree with your virtual three-iron, this one’s all vibrant, cartoonish fare, played from above.
The controls are simple: you rotate your golfer, and use a power meter to smack the ball. If it heads to the red, you get extra boost, but your aim starts swinging wildly about, risking your shot’s accuracy. There’s also a full-course map, which isn’t so much a nicety as a necessity for aiming, and for choosing the right club.
This all sets Golfing Around up for a solid par, but a built-in course builder snags it an eagle. It’s great fun to make your own courses to share, although do remember Pebble Beach never used its greens to spell out naughty words.
Kind of Soccer
Kind of Soccer is more a combination of relief and revenge than a digital take on actual soccer. There’s still a pitch and a ball to kick about, but no goals. Instead, you get points by booting the ball slingshot-style at the referee’s head.
That’s not especially sportsmanlike, but it is amusing, not least when you get power-ups like bombs and lasers to take on the hapless official. Fortunately for him (and giving the game extra challenge), your team’s not alone on the field.
Defenders will try to take the ball from you, and the ref lurks behind them when possible. Also, ping the ball out of bounds and you lose a point. Success therefore hinges on keeping calm and a careful aim – in other words, don’t lose your head before the ref loses his.
Battle Golf Online
Battle Golf Online is a golfing game that’s thrown out the rulebook. You still use a stick to smack a tiny ball into a distant hole, but there’s no mucking about with fairways and club selection. Instead, you and an opponent stand at different edges of a lake, from which holes periodically appear. The first to five wins.
Play is fast and furious – more a race than precision sport. And fortunately, the controls are easy to grasp, merely requiring two taps to set your shot’s direction and strength.
But it’s the ‘online’ component that really helps this one shine – knowing you’re facing off against a human rather than your iPad adds an edge that’ll have you frantically blasting shots at everything from sea monsters to submarines, and wondering whether real-life golf could do with a similar blast of high-octane weirdness.
Virtua Tennis Challenge
Virtua Tennis Challenge is an iPad reimagining of a classic Dreamcast tennis game. Although Sega claims it’s the most realistic game of its type on mobile, Virtual Tennis Challenge is in reality very much an arcade outing, with you darting about, attempting to defeat your opponent by way of lobs, top spins, and dramatic ‘super shots’.
The gestural controls leave a lot to be desired, resulting in tennis as if your player had downed a few too many drinks in the bar prior to their match.
But plump for the on-screen virtual D-pad and buttons (or use an external MFi gamepad) and you’ll find an entertaining take on repeatedly smacking a ball over a net, while the virtual crowd presumably gorges itself on virtual strawberries.
Although Solid Soccer has the visual appearance of Amiga classic Sensible Soccer, this is a much more sedate affair, with decidedly strange controls that have more in common with Angry Birds than footie games.
As your little players scoot about the pitch, you use drag and release gestures to tackle and shoot, or drag back and slide left and right to dribble.
This all feels a bit floaty, but a few games in everything clicks, and you’ll have fun kicking off against online opposition. There is a sense of shallowness, however – there’s no offline mode and none of the extensive depth found in the likes of Active Soccer 2. Still, as a freebie iPad kickabout, Solid Soccer manages a scrappy win.
Flappy Golf 2
The original Flappy Golf was a surprise hit, given that it was essentially a joke – a satire on Flappy Bird. While Flappy Golf 2 is a more polished and considered effort, it’s essentially more of the same, giving you courses from the most recent Super Stickman Golf, and adding wings to the balls.
Instead of smacking the ball with a stick, then, you flap it skywards, using left and right buttons to head in the right direction. If you’re a Super Stickman Golf 3 aficionado, Flappy Golf 2 forces you to try very different approaches to minimize flaps and get the scores needed to unlock further courses.
For newcomers, it’s an immediate, fun and silly take on golf, not least when you delve into the manic race mode. The permanent ad during play also makes this a far better bet on iPad than iPhone, where the ad can obscure the course. (Disappointingly, there’s no IAP to eradicate advertising.)
If you've experienced Colin Lane's deranged take on wrestling (the decidedly oddball Wrassling), you probably know what you're in for with Dunkers. In theory, this is side-on one-on-one basketball, but Dunkers is knowingly mad.
You only get two buttons, one of which dodders your player back towards their own basket, while the other lurches them into the air and in the opposite direction. All the while, their arms whirl like a hysterical clock.
You battle as best you can, grabbing the ball from your berserk opponent, fighting your way to the basket, and slam dunking victoriously. The entire thing is ridiculous, almost the antithesis of photo-realistic fare like NBA 2K; but we'd also argue that it's a lot more fun.
Super Stickman Golf 3
Much like previous entries in the series, Super Stickman Golf 3 finds a tiny golfer dumped in fantastical surroundings. So rather than thwacking a ball about carefully tended fairways and greens, there are castles full of teleporters and a moon base bereft of gravity. The Ryder Cup, this is not.
New to the series is a spin mechanic, for flipping impossible shots off of ceilings and nudging fluffed efforts holewards on the greens. You also get turn-by-turn battles against Game Centre chums and a frenetic multiplayer race mode.
The spendthrift release is limited, though, restricting how many two-player battles you have on the go, locking away downloadable courses beyond the 20 initially built-in, and peppering the game with ads. Even so, you get a lot for nothing, should you be after new side-on golfing larks but not want to pay for the privilege.
WGT: World Tour Golf
If you like the idea of golf, but not traipsing around greens in the drizzle, WGT: World Tour Golf is the closest you'll get to the real thing on your iPad. Courses have been meticulously rebuilt in virtual form, based on thousands of photographs, and WGT's control scheme is accessible yet also quite punishing.
There's no mucking about spinning balls in mid-air to alter your shot here – mess up and you'll know about it, with a score card massively over par. But this is a game that rewards mastery and perseverance, and you feel like a boss once you crack how to land near-perfect shots.
WGT is, mind, a touch ad-heavy at times, but this is countered by there being loads to do, including head-to-head online multiplayer and a range of tournaments to try your hand at.
This smashy endless arcade sports title has more than a hint of air hockey about it, but PKTBALL is also infused with the breakneck madness associated with Laser Dog's brutal iOS games.
It takes place on a tiny cartoon tennis court, with you swiping across the ball to send it back to your opponent. But this game is *really* fast, meaning that although you'll clock how to play PKTBALL almost immediately, mastering it takes time.
In solo mode, the computer AI offers plenty of challenge, but it's in multiplayer matches that PKTBALL serves an ace. Two to four people duke it out, swiping like lunatics (and hopefully not hurling the iPad away in a huff, like a modern-day McEnroe, when things go bad).
As ever, there are new characters to unlock, each of which boasts its own court and background music. Our current favourite: a little Game Boy, whose court has a certain famous blocky puzzle game playing in the background.
Our favorite free iPad RTS and turn-based strategy games, board games, and card games.
Sneak Ops gives you a whiff of a Metal Gear Solid stealth experience on iPad, distilled down to the basics. You tap to sneak about, avoiding traps, and occasionally knocking out guards. The chunky graphics look fab on the iPad, and the largish screen means you can make more accurate prods.
This is just as well, given that death comes swiftly if you’re caught in a torch beam, or linger too long in a room with unbreathable air. Die and you’re whisked back to the start – or any restart point you’ve bought using floppy disks collected along the way.
This is a great, tense, exciting game, as you battle to the escape chopper. And there’s a new mission every day, so you can keep your virtual sneaking skills in tip-top condition.
Look, Your Loot!
Look, Your Loot! is a free-roaming RPG reworked as a sliding puzzler. It’s an odd combination, but it works brilliantly, mixing Threes!-style tile-shifting, scraps with monsters, and accumulating bling and skills.
You play as a mouse in a dungeon, surrounded by murdery foes. Flick and you move to an adjacent tile. The tiles behind follow, and something new appears at the other end of the grid. Attack an enemy and you win if your energy level’s high enough. Otherwise: bye bye, mouse.
The game feels more premium than freebie, and as you get better at planning your routes, you’ll survive to see dangers that force new approaches. One boss, Jack (as in O’ Lantern), unhelpfully turns nearby tiles into death-dealing pumpkins. In short, then, top stuff for RPG fans of all stripes.
The Battle of Polytopia
The Battle of Polytopia is akin to turn-based strategy classic Civilization in fast-forward. You aim to rule over a tiny isometric world by exploring, discovering new technologies, and duffing up anyone who gets in your way.
The game is heavily optimized for mobile play. Technology stops evolving before anyone gets guns, you can only expand your empire via conquest rather than founding new cities, and there’s a 30-move limit that stops you dawdling. (For more bloodthirsty players, there’s a Domination mode, too, where you win by being the last tribe standing.)
You get the entire core game for free, but buy extra tribes and everything expands. You gain access to new maps, but also an online multiplayer mode, where you quickly discover whether you’re a powerful despot or one of history’s also-rans. However you play, Polytopia is one of the very best free games on mobile.
Flipflop Solitaire is another of designer Zach Gage’s attempts at subverting a classic game. This time, spider solitaire caught his eye, and has been revolutionized by way of a couple of tweaks.
Like the original table-based card game, Flipflop Solitaire still has you arrange columns of cards in descending order. But now you can send cards to foundation piles, and also stack them in either order. (So a 4 or a 6 can be placed below a 5.)
These may seem like small changes, but they prove transformative. Every hand is possible to complete, if you can find the right combination of moves. This turns Flipflop Solitaire into a fascinating and surprisingly fresh puzzler, with you utilizing endless undos to untangle your web of cards.
With a name that sounds like something an angry railway employee would yell before slapping you, Conduct THIS! actually starts out as a fairly sedate railway management game. Little trains amble along, picking up passengers you have to direct to stations that match their color.
The controls are extremely simple: tap a train and it halts until you tap it again; and switches can be triggered to send a train the most optimum way at a junction.
However, the layouts you face very quickly become anything but simple, with multiple trains to control and vehicles to avoid – both of which sometimes unhelpfully disappear into tunnels.
This is a smart, colorful mix of arcade smarts and puzzling – even if it does have the capacity to drive you loco(motive).
With its chunky graphics and silly demeanor, Westy West isn’t an entirely accurate recreation of the Wild West – but it is a lot of fun.
You hop about tiny towns, deserts, and mines, shooting bad guys and being rewarded for being the kind of sheriff who doesn’t also shoot innocents.
Although the controls mirror Crossy Road (albeit with a tap to shoot rather than leap forward), progression is more akin to Looty Dungeon, with you having to complete each miniature room (as in, shoot all the bad guys) before moving on.
The net result is a game that’s ultimately an entertaining arcade title, but that somehow also feels like you’re exploring a tiny universe – and one with character. It’s amusing when you’re facing a duel, and a pianist is rather conspicuously outside, furiously playing an ominous score.
We’re in broadly familiar territory with Bomb Hunters, which twins Crossy Roadwith bomb disposal. This means you get chunky graphics and a swipe-based take on Frogger, but must also quickly locate and deal with high-explosives that are soon to go off.
This twist transforms Bomb Hunters into a relentlessly frantic experience, and keeps you on your toes regarding the route you’re taking. Everything becomes markedly tougher when enemy snipers and grenadiers appear, and when some bombs only disarm when you complete a dexterity mini-game.
The swipe controls can be a touch iffy at times, but otherwise this is a smart take on an otherwise tired genre – and one that rewards repeat play through unlocks that boost your survival rate during subsequent games.
In Clash Royale, two players battle online, sending out troops to obliterate their opponent's three towers, while simultaneously protecting their own. It comes across a bit like animated chess, if chess pieces were armed to the teeth and ranged from a giant robot with a huge scythe to an army of skittering skeletons.
The troops you have available come by way of cards you collect, from which you select a deck of eight. In matches, elixir gradually tops up, which can be 'spent' deploying said troops, forcing you to manage resources and spot when your opponent might be dry.
Clash Royale is very much a freemium game. You can spend a ton of real-world cash on virtual coins to buy and upgrade cards. However, doing so isn't really necessary, and we've heard of people getting to the very highest levels in the game without spending a penny. But even if you find yourself scrapping in the lower leagues, Clash Royale is loads of fun.
One of the most innovative multiplayer titles we've ever played, Spaceteam has you and a bunch of friends in a room, each staring at a rickety and oddball spaceship control panel on your device's display.
Instructions appear, which need a fast response if your ship is to avoid being swallowed up by an exploding star. But what you see might not relate to your screen and controls.
Spaceteam therefore rapidly descends into a cacophony of barked demands and frantic searches across control panels (which helpfully start falling to bits), in a last-ditch attempt to 'set the Copernicus Crane to 6' or 'activate the Twinmill' and avoid fiery death.
Our favorite free iPad games all about crosswords, anagrams, and playing with letters.
Alphabear 2 has you tap out words on Scrabble-like tiles set into a grid-like board featuring bears. As tiles are used, bears grow to fill the gaps, often becoming comically tall or thin. Simultaneously, tiles have turn countdowns on them; those that reach zero become immovable stones, scuppering any gigant-o-bear schemes you had in mind.
This is very similar to the original Alphabear, only this time there’s smarter visuals, a story involving a time machine (everything’s gone wrong, but you can apparently fix history by spelling words), and a smattering of educational content through a built-in dictionary and modes based around morphemes.
An underlying meta-game with collectable bonus bears remains baffling and endearing in equal measure, but otherwise this one’s a furry good word game that’s definitely worth bear-ing in mind.
The Impossible Letter Game
The Impossible Letter Game is admittedly only tangentially related to word games, but it’s a good bet for boosting your concentration and powers of observation when it comes to letters.
The basics of the game don’t really change throughout its many rounds and modes: it’s essentially about finding mismatched letters within a sea of characters. For example, you might be faced with a grid of E’s, and somewhere in there will be a solitary F to tap.
As you work your way through, the letters get smaller, and it then starts trying to break your eyes and brain with all kinds of tricks, using movement and color. Entertaining, although probably not one to try if you’re suffering from eye strain!
Wordgraphy is essentially a set of crossword puzzles. The tiny snag is that the letters are all in the wrong places, and although they can be moved, they can only swap with certain letters elsewhere in the puzzle.
You’d think this restriction would make things easier, but it really doesn’t. You’ll sit there faced with a set-up that resembles an H on its side. The central column will have a completed word, but you’ll stare in baffled fashion at all the other letters, flipping them about to make various flavors of gibberish.
But when things click, you’ll feel like a genius – at least until the point you’re then confronted by a new and even tougher puzzle.
Bonza Word Puzzle
Bonza Word Puzzle rethinks classic crossword puzzles, mostly by taking a completed one, hacking it to bits, and then tasking you with putting the thing back together again.
The result is something like a marriage of tetrominos, jigsaws and Scrabble, and it’s initially rather pleasant as you drag a few pieces about your iPad’s display, and feel slightly smug as everything comes together in seconds.
Naturally, Bonza’s sting in the tail then emerges: puzzles with loads of pieces, sprayed about the screen in a manner that’ll make your eyes boggle. At that point, it becomes a stern test, even if a clue helpfully hints at the kinds of words you should be making.
Spellspire features a grumpy wizard trying to make his way up a tower. Given that this is a videogame, all manner of deadly foes stand in his way. To clear a path, the pointy-hatted hero must blast enemies with his wand – a wand powered by letters.
Yep – this one’s actually an anagrams game, despite the role-playing-lite shenanigans. You get ten letters per floor and use them to spell words that are transformed into magical blasts. The longer your word, the more powerful the magic.
There’s some grind if you want to make it to the top – bosses are initially very tough to beat. But every play adds to your coffers, giving you a fighting chance of reaching the top of the tower, where we can only hope the wizard finds a really big dictionary.
Letterpress is what happens when you mash Boggle into Risk with a fork. You get a small grid of letters, and tap out a word. Doing so turns its tiles your color. Your opponent then attempts to do the same, in a kind of lexicographer’s take on a tug ’o war.
The twist is that letters you surround are temporarily locked, meaning your opponent can’t flip them on their next go. Careful strategizing is therefore at least as important as showing off your long-word skills.
With a basic rule-set and minimal visuals, it’s interesting how gripping Letterpress proves to be. But when you’re deep into a match, you and an opponent figuring out how to grab those last few unclaimed letters, it’s like no other game of its kind.
Scrabble [non-US App Store link] should need no introduction. The much-imitated crossword game pits you against one or more opponents, as you lay down letter tiles on a board, attempting to make use of special score-boosting spots wherever possible.
This digital take on the classic boardgame enables you to brush up your skills against a computer player, play friends on your local network, or take on all-comers online. On iPad is the best way to play, providing you with a full-size board and stats, without any need to scroll.
If there’s any downside, the app does belt you with ads quite often, and you’ll probably at some point get irritated by the computer opponent’s penchant for deeply obscure words. Nonetheless, Scrabble on iPad betters its many clones.