Best free iPad games 2018
We’ve taken care to play every game to death, so you know it’s definitely worth a download; moreover, our selection is geared towards titles optimised for (or that just play better on) Apple’s tablet, and so there’s little crossover with our free iPhone games selection. So fire up your thumbs and get playing!
New this month: Shadowgun Legends, Friday the 13th: Killer Puzzle, Ava Airborne and Kind of Soccer 2018.
A quick note on IAP: Most free games feature IAPs, or in-app purchases. Our reviews outline key ones for each game and note whenever IAP hampers the title in question.
1. Dashy Crashy
You might initially consider Dashy Crashy yet another lane-based survival game, where you swipe to avoid traffic, getting as many points as possible before your inevitable smashy demise. But this game’s smarter than the average endless runner. It looks and sounds superb. There’s a breezy soundtrack and chirpy voiceover (apparently an excitable sat-nav), and dazzling visuals. The crisp cars look great, as does the day/night cycle as you belt along a suspiciously long and straight road.
But what sets Dashy Crashy apart is the variety within what’s ultimately a quite basic game. As you play, new cars are randomly dished out as prizes, but these aren’t just new skins – they bestow bonus powers. Drive a school bus and you get extra points for completing sums. A cement mixer surreally has a fruit machine lurking within. And a ‘Dinotaur’ jeep pursues green giants stomping along the highway.
Further treats await discovery: multitouch support enables you to quickly move across multiple lanes; you can boost for extra speed; and special events force you to quickly react to anything from a pile-up to a TARDIS knocking everything out of its path. All these twists make Dashy Crashy strategically superior to – and deeper than – its contemporaries; it’s also a lot more fun to play.
IAPs: You can buy a specific vehicle rather than hoping to win it at some point – they’re priced from 99p to £2.99 each. Want to test-drive one for a bit? Watch an ad.
2. Power Hover: Cruise
Much of the magic and mystery of the original Power Hover sits within its brilliantly choreographed set piece levels, which find you scything across futuristic deserts and oceans, trying not to turn your powerboarding robot into a heap of scrap metal by directing it into a rock. But that game also finishes each section with an exhilarating boss battle, which pits you against psychotic androids in cartwheeling tunnels of death.
Power Hover: Cruise takes those endless survival bits and transforms them into an entire game. Presumably the hero android is now a masochist, given that instead of a mission, it’s ‘continue until you get horribly blown up’. Still, for you, the player, Power Hover: Cruise is a dizzying, exciting ride.
The variety within is particularly impressive, given that you’re basically just moving left and right to avoid obstacles. Each stage feels distinct, whether you’re deep inside a laser-infested pyramid, atop a gigantic pipe snaking through the clouds, or zigzagging through blocky obstacles and spiked contraptions in the oddly named Metro (in the sense it has pretty weird design for even the grubbiest, least welcoming city imaginable).
With levels being randomly generated but based around pattern recognition, there’s plenty of scope for long-term play. Do particularly well and you unlock robots with better manoeuvrability and multiple lives, to further boost your high scores.
IAPs: You can remove ads for 79p, and buy characters for 99p and up if you don’t fancy winning them through high scores. A one-off £8.99 IAP unlocks everything at once.
3. Shadowgun Legends
First-person shooters aren’t a genre anyone tends to associate with touchscreens, unless it’s in a sentence like “first-person shooters are generally rubbish on touchscreens”. And that’s fair enough – a slippy pane of glass can’t compete with the precision afforded by a gamepad or keyboard, when you’re stomping about shooting things. However, Shadowgun Legends manages the improbable, bringing a high-octane FPS to your iPad in fine style.
Mostly, this game succeeds because it realises the limitations of the device. Controls are streamlined to a two-thumb system for moving and aiming. Autofire blasts projectiles at enemies daft enough to get in your firing line. Buttons are then used to trigger actions like punching door controls, or setting up special kit like sentry guns.
Everything else feels streamlined, too. Missions are linear, enemies are identikit angry aliens, and what passes for a storyline is instantly forgettable. But, my, is this game a blast, as you run around, blowing up everything in sight, or dabble in multiplayer shooty larks during your character’s supposed ‘downtime’.
You will, unfortunately, hit a fairly brazen IAP wall at some point, and have to decide whether to splurge on inventory slots. But otherwise Shadowgun Legends is the best game of its type on iPad, which is all the more impressive when you remember that it’s free.
IAPs: Loads of IAPs here, including one with a ridiculous £99.99 price-tag. Just grab the cheapest IAP to unlock extra inventory slots, and then save your pennies.
4. Time Locker
Vertical shooters tend to be frenetic affairs, marrying your ability to dance between showers of glowing bullets and blast everything in your path to smithereens. Often, death comes by way of momentary distraction, and you’ll wish you could go all Matrix and temporarily slow everything to a crawl.
Time Locker suggests this wouldn’t necessarily help. In its abstract minimal world, everything moves only as fast as you drag a finger. Stop and the world freezes. Drag and everything comes back to life, whether that’s you blasting away, or your many foes homing in on your position.
A further complication comes by way of a universe destroying darkness that pursues you from the moment you set off. Lift your finger and your enemies halt, but the inky blackness won’t, eventually ending your journey through this surreal world. Successful ventures therefore combine short breaks to figure out a next move, followed by frantic scrabbling to eradicate nearby enemies and move yourself onwards at speed.
Last long enough and colossal bosses appear, making it clear this isn’t your day if survival was your goal. To counter this, green enemies drop credits you can spend on boosts during your next game, and blue foes ditch pick-ups that augment your critter’s arsenal – initially a rubbish pea shooter – with multi-directional shots, massive rockets, and more.
IAPs: You can by characters for 99p each, and ramp up your boost credits for £2.99.
5. Asphalt 8: Airborne
Most driving games have one foot planted in reality, but Asphalt 8 throws caution to the wind, flinging cars into the air with merry abandon and burning nitro like it’s going out of fashion. The hyper-real tracks you zoom around are occasionally animated with a launching shuttle or a massive ferry to leap over and totally not crash into. Crashes should instead be saved for rivals: ramming other cars while nitroing is half the fun and, naturally, rewarded with more nitro. Asphalt just can’t get enough of nitro.
The only dent in this game’s otherwise fine chassis is its business model. Gameloft and freemium equates to IAP and adverts. But the latter are infrequent and the former can be avoided if you’re happy grinding a bit – and given the madcap, glorious courses on offer, who wouldn’t want to play them again and again?
IAPs: As noted, there’s a ton of IAP here – for credits, token packs, and car packs. You don’t need to pay to enjoy the game, although may need to grind a bit when you hit a wall.
6. Pico Rally
A perceived problem with gaming on mobile is the lack of tactile controls. Although some developers have got around this with clever use of tilting, swiping and virtual D-pads, others reduce everything down to players prodding the screen. Such one-thumb controls might seem reductive, but in the hands of canny creators, this system has breathed new life into tired genres.
One-thumb racing games, though, are rare, and yet Pico Rally shows how a single digit provides plenty of commands as you belt along. Your car automatically steers, and you press the screen to slam your foot down on the accelerator. You must time this carefully, so as to navigate the track efficiently, zoom ahead of rivals and take the chequered flag.
The overall effect is like classic slot-car racing, except your car isn’t restricted to a single lane. Instead, cars in Pico Rally jostle for the lead, not least when you’re careening along being pursued by cops more interested in beating you to the finish line than pulling you over for speeding.
The 60 tracks are diverse in terms of hazards and course design, and the physics feel suitably solid, yet keeps you on your toes as new surfaces arrive. The two-player mode is disappointing (no split screen, meaning you often find cars vanish off-screen), but there’s loads to keep the solo racer engrossed.
IAPs: You can remove the ads for a one-off £3.99 payment.
7. Little Alchemy 2
Alchemy is best known for transmutation: the dream of turning base metals into gold. That’s a whole lot less wacky than what’s going on in Little Alchemy 2. Here, you start with four classical elements – air, earth, fire and water – and set about combining them to fashion anything from cities to spaceships.
The means of doing this are simple. Discoveries sit at the right-hand side of the screen, and you drag them to the canvas. If nothing happens when you drag one on top of another, try a different combination. If something new appears, momentarily feel smug before realising you’ve many dozens of items left to find. As you might expect, this works particularly well on the iPad’s large touchscreen display.
Little Alchemy 2 plays fast and loose with the laws of the world. Some combinations have logic at their core – for example, drop ‘pressure’ on a volcano and you end up with an eruption. Others are more fanciful, such as an airplane being a bird combined with metal.
There are moments of frustration, not least when you’ve been sitting there for ages, unable to unearth a new discovery. But it’s always a pleasant surprise when you find a new object, and Little Alchemy 2 is ideal for dipping in and out of.
IAPs: You can buy research points to purchase hints. These start at 99p for two. Video ads provide a free alternative when you’re stuck.
8. Hoggy 2
The original Hoggy 2 was an indie darling at the dawn of the App Store. This sequel is more of the same – only better. You’re a pink blob, figuring out how to munch all of the fruit within smallish levels that take place inside TARDIS-like jars (they’re bigger on the inside). Get all the fruit and you’re awarded a key; collect enough keys and you unlock new portions of a substantial map, in order to reach more jars.
Hoggy 2 impresses on a number of levels. Beyond its bright visuals and jaunty audio, it has an imagination and thoughtfulness about its level design. Although this sometimes results in dexterity-oriented arcade tests (often making use of the game’s ‘jump’ mechanic that flips you between ceiling and floor rather than having the hero briefly leap upwards a bit), most levels have puzzles at their core.
Jars are therefore peppered with hazards, switches, enemies and blocks that temporarily bestow special powers, and you must figure out how and when to make use of each, in order to progress. Add in customisable controls and a level editor, and you have one of the best freebies on the platform.
IAPs: Hoggy 2 has a single £4.99 IAP to disable non-intrusive adverts that sometimes appear when you restart a jar.
9. Darkside Lite
Outer-space mining colonies have it tough. They’re surrounded by orbiting chunks of rock and under constant attack from evil aliens. Naturally, you’d think The Company would send in a fleet of crack pilots to deal with such problems. Nope – it’s just muggins again, taking on all and sundry single-handed.
The first thing that will strike you about Darkside Lite is how stunning it looks. As you fly over an asteroid’s surface, it effortlessly rolls beneath you, structures and rocks rotating away into space. The second thing you’ll notice – very quickly – is that space is really dangerous. Every rock you blast splits in two, Asteroids-style; enemy craft flit about, daring you to shoot them. Occasionally, you’ll collect a power-up, but you’ll more frequently find your ship becoming one with the universe after having been atomised.
Rather generously, you get a pulsating arcade mode entirely for free. Should you want more modes and some smart bombs – ideal when things get hairy – you’ll need to buy Darkside (£1.99).
IAPs: This game has no IAP.
10. Friday the 13th: Killer Puzzle
There are no happy campers in this sliding puzzler, which features horror flick antagonist Jason Voorhees hacking his way through a campsite and beyond. Each grid finds you swiping Jason around, who slides until he smacks into a wall, comes a cropper due to a hazard, or reaches a victim. In the last case, said unlucky person is dispatched in a flurry of cartoon gore.
For the faint of heart, there’s an off switch for all the red, although all the bloody violence is more South Park than 18-certificate film. After all, this is a game where the decapitated head of the lead’s mother provides helpful advice from the corner of the screen, urging her murdery son onwards.
As the player, your brains also tend to get bashed in, albeit in a rather different manner. As Killer Puzzle progresses, the challenges become extremely tricky. You must figure out labyrinthine routes to targets, in order to avoid drowning in a lake or getting captured by guards.
The mechanics still aren’t really anything you’ve not seen before, but the puzzle design is good to the point that this alone would make the game worth a recommendation. But the absurdist cartoon horror trappings, black humour, and polish make this a killer game in more ways than one.
IAPs: Eight of the 12 level packs are entirely free to play. Four require IAP, ranging from £1.99 to £2.99. Unlocking a level pack prior to completing previous ones also costs £1.99. Alternatively, a one-off £9.99 IAP instantly unlocks everything. Any purchase removes ads from the game.
11. Threes! Free
Every platform needs a perfect puzzle game, and on release Threes! made its claim to be that for iOS. As with all brilliant examples of the genre, Threes! has at its heart a simple mechanic, which in this case involves merging cards within a tiny four-by-four board. But it’s the details that propel Threes! beyond the competition.
The idea is to match numbers. Slide a blue ‘1’ into a red ‘2’ and they combine to become a single ‘3’. Two 3s make a 6. Two 6s make a 12. And so on. The snag is every move you make slides every non-blocked tile on the board as well. If you’re fortunate or have planned ahead, this can result in several merges in one move; if not, you end up with a mess to clear up. And since after every turn a new card enters the board in a random spot on the edge you swiped from, planning is key.
It takes a few games for Threes! to click, but once it does, it never lets go. You’ll be dying to see new cards (each is infused with a unique personality), and will soon spot how reaching higher-numbered cards boosts your score substantially. The free-to-play aspect is also generous: watch a video ad and you get three more games in the bank, which can be built up into a substantial reserve.
This gives the game a fighting chance against a raft of inferior Threes! clones (most of which have 1024 or 2048 in their names) that litter the App Store, and sucked life out of the paid version of Threes! Our advice: stick with the original; you’ve no excuse now you can play for free.
IAPs: This game has no IAP.
It’s tempting to look at Mekorama and think you’re getting a free take on Monument Valley, but although there are similarities, the pair are very different. Mekorama does have an isometric viewpoint, along with levels and components that can be manipulated and rotated with a finger, but it has no truck with Escher-style impossible objects. Instead, Mekorama is more straightforward, based around simpler pathfinding, helping a robot find its way to level’s end across 50 dioramas.
It’s a touch finicky at times, and it can be infuriating when an errant digit sends the robot flying from the diorama when you’re a couple of minutes in. However, any grimaces soon fade, largely due to the thoroughly charming nature of the game. From the robot’s goofy design to the gorgeously rendered surroundings, Mekorama begs to be interacted with. It’s also generous to a fault, offering a free level designer in addition to its many challenges.
IAPs: All IAPs are optional ‘tips’ for the game’s creator, ranging from 99p up to £30.99.
This simple, elegant puzzle game dumps you in a minimal, isometric landscape, with a distant goal. Your means of getting there are trundling 3D shapes that look like Tetris rejects.
The catch is every time a shape’s surface hits the floor, it disappears. You, therefore, have a maximum of six moves per shape. (Hit a dead end, with no more possible moves, and subsequent goes are forfeit.) This forces you to think carefully about the order in which shapes are used, and the directions you take.
This could have proved onerous, but Outfolded’s design smartly tends towards the relaxing and meditative. The ambient soundtrack is soothing, and you’re provided with an unlimited number of undos, so you can freely experiment and fix bad moves.
None of this means you’ll blaze through the game – later levels are tough, and you might be tempted to start using in-game hints when you fall tantalisingly short time and again. Either way, Outfolded is an engaging, deceptively clever puzzler that works brilliantly on the iPad’s large display.
IAPs: You start with ten free hints. If you want more, you can get six by watching an ad, 100 for 99p, or an unlimited number for £2.99.
As much a gravity simulation sandbox as a puzzle game, Orbit is all about flicking tiny planets into being and watching how they interact with each other and black holes positioned on the screen. Over time, new mechanics are added, such as multiple black holes, repulsers, and having to make moons that orbit your planets, or clusters of planets that whirl and orbit as one.
The game exudes an effortless beauty. Orbiting planets sit atop a light grey canvas, and each celestial object leaves a trail of colour as it moves. In the background, a gentle piano score accompanies your game. And even if your ham-fisted attempts at completing a level result in tiny planets scything across the screen and heading into the void beyond, Orbit is never less than engaging and compelling.
In the free game, you get 45 levels to experiment with, and the only downside is the atmosphere being periodically wrecked by noisy adverts barging in. Orbit also offers a level creator, but that costs money. Perhaps think of the free game, then, as the entry point into a unique and gorgeous iOS-based universe. And if it captivates you the same way it did us, it won’t be long before you’ll be busily fashioning your own tiny solar systems.
IAPs: You can remove the ads for 99p, and unlock the sandbox mode level creator for £2.99.
15. Silly Walks
The evil Blender has kidnapped your friends. And he’s a literal blender – and your friends are fruit, who are terrified, caged, and don’t fancy being juiced. The tiny snag is the heroes in Silly Walks are also edible – and have a very silly walk.
Figuring out a path to your friends – across kitchen tables and patio furniture; past angry tenderising mallets and psychotic knives – is the easy bit. Moving is the hard part. Tap and your character (a pineapple drink by default, although others can be unlocked) rotates on one foot. Tap the screen and the other foot is planted, at which point the semi-sentient foodstuff starts rotating in the other direction.
With practice, you can get up a reasonable dodder – just as well, given that some levels come with severe time constraints. In one case, you must reach a stopcock before a kitchen floods; in another, you’re being pursued by a deranged appliance.
As you might have gleaned, Silly Walks is very odd. But it’s also a combination of platforming, one-thumb survival, and cartoon visuals that proves to be rather tasty – and very silly.
IAPs: For 99p, you can buy unlimited dashes, making some levels easier. IAPs also exist for buying sugar, to more rapidly unlock later stages.
16. Train Conductor World
Developer The Voxel Agents have been refining Train Conductor games for years, and this latest entry in the series is by far the best. It’s essentially all about routing trains to their destinations, and avoiding horrible crashes. Each single-screen level has a number of coloured entry and exit points, and as trains appear, you must draw temporary tracks to point them in the right direction.
Trains can be tapped to stop them, but this costs you a bonus star and a crack at a perfect 100 per cent score. (Top tip: you can tap-hold a train to slow it down, which is sometimes enough in close shaves, and you don’t lose a star that way!) Do well and you win bits of track you can lay to connect stations, thereby unlocking new locations and puzzles.
Train Conductor World is a gorgeous game, and the controls are tight. It has a wonderfully tactile feel, and never appears unfair; you always know how you could have avoided a crash, and resolve to do better next time. There is IAP, primarily for buying sections of track if you want to speed things along; but if you don’t fancy dipping into your wallet, you’ll merely have to replay certain locations a number of times, and the game’s so much fun this isn’t something you’ll rail against.
IAPs: As noted, you can buy containers and track pieces. A better bet is the £4.99 IAP for removing ads and giving you a free undo per round.
17. Sky Chasers
We’ve no idea where you get the kind of cardboard box Sky Chaser protagonist Max owns, but we want one – it has thrusters and can fly! We are, mind, less jealous of the predicament Max finds himself in: lost in a massive jungle full of dead ends, deadly creatures and locked passageways.
Visually, Sky Chasers is a treat. There’s an old-school pixel art charm, but this isn’t a game of sharp edges threatening to poke your eyes out. Instead, backgrounds, characters and environments have been precisely crafted, and they look gorgeous on the iPad’s screen.
The controls, too, are spot-on. You hold your device and tap on the left or right of the display to activate the related thruster. You do, however, have limited fuel, and so cannot blast about the place willy-nilly. This is even more apparent when you eventually find yourself faced with corridors of twisted branches packed with huge thorns and rotating wheels with giant spikes nailed to them.
Fortunately, you refuel by collecting hovering bling, and there are regular checkpoints where you can rest up and also restart if you later blunder into a death-trap. Unlocking checkpoints does cost coins you’ve collected, but you can alternatively activate one by watching a video advert. As freemium goes, that’s one of the least obnoxious approaches we’ve seen – another reason this is a game you should chase down immediately.
IAPs: New characters are available for 99p each. A £2.99 IAP unlocks free checkpoints forever, rather than you watching videos or using collected in-game coins.
18. Silly Sausage: Doggy Dessert
This strange arcade treat finds the titular stretchy hound picking his way through landscapes of sugary treats that also happen to be packed full of deadly hazards. A mash-up of several superheroes in canine form, Silly Sausage can cling to any surface, and then as you swipe stretches indefinitely until reaching another edge. At that point his bottom pings back into place, ready for you to head somewhere else.
This oddball mechanic fuses dexterity, timing, and pathfinding, as you figure out the best way to grab gems en route as your elastic dog snakes its way around deadly acid drops, whirling saw blades, and giant rolling pins. Now and again, you can enter challenge rooms – intense time-based tests that make the main game seem like a walk in the park by comparison.
The game stretches across 50 varied sections, and a kennel restart point’s situated at the beginning of each. If you’re feeling particularly hardcore, you can try taking on the entire game at once; mere mortals, however, will want to use collected gems to buy restart points, to avoid starting from scratch after every death. Either way, on iPad the game works particularly well, the larger display affording greater accuracy as you work your way through increasingly devious tests.
IAPs: Rid yourself of adverts that appear when your dog snuffs it for £3.99. You can also buy gems (50 for 99p; 400 for £2.99) if you run out and don’t fancy watching ads to unlock restart kennels.
19. Flappy Golf 2
The original Flappy Golf was conceived as a joke. Riffing off the then insanely popular Flappy Bird, it reimagined Super Stickman Golf 2: instead of smacking a ball with a stick, the ball flew, flitting left or right depending on which button you pressed. But a daft joke became a phenomenon when it became obvious Flappy Golf was hugely entertaining. For newcomers, it was immediate and intuitive, but also original and silly. For Super Stickman Golf veterans, it was a novel way to tackle familiar courses, which it turned out needed wildly different tactics when your ball was armed with wings.
All of which brings us to Flappy Golf 2. This time, the game wasn’t intended to be a joke, but a follow-up to a surprise hit. In essence, though, it’s more of the same – but this time, you flap about courses from Super Stickman Golf 3. Throughout, you aim to win stars by reaching the hole in the fewest flaps, thereby unlocking further courses. Along the way, you can collect eggs with which to buy custom balls and trails. Beyond this standard single player game, there’s an unhinged local or online race mode, with up to four flapping golf balls battling their way to the green. In either mode, it’s frantic fun.
IAPs: You can buy extra eggs, but a better option is removing the ads, which costs £1.99.
20. Bejeweled Classic HD
There are so many gem-swapping games that it’s easy to overlook the one that popularised the genre. That’s a pity, given that Bejeweled Classic HD is an excellent game, which on iPad offers a range of modes, each of which has a distinct approach to matching and smashing gems.
The classic offering remains present and correct. You flip two gems on a grid, aiming to match three or more in a row or column, which then explode. New gems then fall from the top of the well into empty space. Rinse and repeat until no moves remain. If that’s a bit stressful, Zen Mode makes subtle changes to ensure you can never lose.
Butterfly and Diamond Mine are tougher prospects. The former has you fashion combos to keep butterflies from reaching the top of the well, otherwise they’re devoured by a vicious spider. And Diamond Mine is all about using gem explosions to dig deep into the earth, against the clock.
Other modes include Ice Storm, where matches obliterate growing columns of ice, and Lightning, a breakneck speed-run take on Bejeweled. The latter is a good bet for fans of the once-excellent Bejeweled Blitz, which long ago became mired in freemium hell, encouraging players to buy their way to high-scores. Our advice: stick with the original.
IAPs: Loads of boost IAPs exist. Ignore those, but consider the £2.99 IAPs for removing ads and the Poker game mode (assuming you like it)
If Drag’n’Boom is anything to go by, it’s not much fun being a soldier in a medieval world populated by a tearaway teenage dragon. Luckily, you don’t get to play one of the little pikemen or archers being burned to a crisp while hopelessly trying to protect their bling – you get to be the dragon.
The little orange ball of fury is a force to be reckoned with. He pings about by you dragging a directional arrow, while a second arrow is used to aim. If you need precision, everything slows down before you shoot, Matrix-style (if there were dragons in The Matrix, which there really should have been), but you can also just blast away like a maniac.
The undulating landscapes are fun for zipping around. You regularly soar into the air, before returning to a castle and blowing everything up. The entire thing comes across like Tiny Wings, Angry Birds and a twin-stick shooter all fancied getting together while cosplaying Game of Thrones.
There’s even a manic Sonic-style bit at the end of each level, where the dragon scoots through tunnels before coming face to face with a chest full of gold. Quite what he’s going to spend it on, we’ve no idea. Perhaps a self-help guide on how to stop being a deranged murdery pyromaniac.
IAPs: You can be rid of ads (which show up after every level) with a single £1.99 IAP.
22. Stranger Things
If you’ve a Netflix account, you might have delved into Stranger Things, a compelling horror/mystery show centred on a bunch of kids in Hawkins, Indiana. The show’s set in 1984, and makes the most of its rural locations, creepy vibe, and plentiful pop-culture references. The idea of a free iPad game based on the show might give you chills, given the track record of such things, but it turns out to be a blast.
The game takes the form of a top-down action adventure. Although it’s not as retro as the timeframe of the series, the pixel graphics evoke old-school gaming. The gameplay, though, mixes old and new. It echoes classic adventures, in you spending time trudging around Hawkins, solving basic puzzles, and punching things (including a worryingly large number of crazed owls). But this game recognises it’s on an iPad, as evidenced by friendly tap-to-move controls, and the concession to modern gaming that’s the ‘normal’ mode. (This lets you continue when you die; ‘classic’ mode isn’t as forgiving.)
Occasionally, the game becomes too wrapped up in its old-school nature. Some set pieces are tricky to pull off, and become roadblocks to progression. For the most part, though, this game is a triumph; and if you’re into arcade adventures, it’s a must-download, whether or not you’re a fan of the show.
IAPs: Strangely, there’s no IAP whatsoever.
23. Disney Crossy Road
You might narrow your eyes on seeing the word ‘Disney’ plonked in front of Crossy Road, but this isn’t a cash-in. In fact, this game surpasses the original, cleverly evolving that title’s modern endless update on Frogger.
At first, it seems little has changed. Instead of a chicken trying to cross roads, rivers and train lines, before inevitably finding itself splattered or drowned, the world’s most famous mouse partakes in a spot of jaywalking. Beyond scenery bobbing about to a background tune and black outlines on all the graphics, it could be the same game.
But as with the original Crossy Road, this Disneyfied take regularly belches virtual coins, enabling you to try your luck at a prize machine and win new characters. In Crossy Road, many characters update the game’s visuals, but here new worlds are unlocked that provide new challenges. Inside Out and Wreck-It Ralph have objects to collect (respectively, dream cubes and candy), which boost your score but force you to take risks. Toy Story and Tangled feature tumbling boxes to avoid. And Haunted Mansion has you light candelabras to fend off inky gloom, while avoiding suits of armour with a tendency to get a bit stabby.
What could have been a cynical release is therefore magical and fresh. There’s also so much scope for expansion, not least when you consider Disney owns rights to Marvel and Star Wars!
IAPs: Loads of IAP here, mostly for buying new figurines (from 49p to £4.99 each). You’re mostly better off just playing the game.
24. Ava Airborne
The titular heroine here believes she can fly, and wants to defy gravity – with style. She launches herself from a cliff, to partake in a journey across a beautiful skyline peppered with a suspiciously large number of objects. Prod the screen and her hang-glider gains altitude. Your aim is to deftly avoid deadly black balloons, and swoop through hoops for bonus points.
The game positions itself as an airborne take on the Alto’s series, but the pace is very different. Although there’s serenity in swooping about the skies, the game very frequently ramps up the tension, such as having you face tiny gaps in banks of hazards, or deal with cannons that blast you backwards, threatening your high score.
Unusually for a one-thumb endless game, Ava Airborne offers a recovery option. When Ava plummets towards the ground, you tap the screen like a maniac to get her flying again. Those moments where you avoid a massive face-plant by the skin of you teeth can be exhilarating.
In the long term, the magic may pall, but Ava Airborne’s elegance and simplicity makes it a fun game to return to. And should you get properly engrossed, you’re rewarded with power-ups and alternate vehicles to try, such as a giant yo-yo and a jet-fuelled trombone.
IAPs: The game’s currency is sweets, which can be spent on boosters and vehicles you’d otherwise more slowly earn in-game. Prices range from £1.99 to a ludicrous £49.99. You can also buy a sweet doubler for £2.99.
25. Evil Factory
As an evil crazed scientist threatens to take over the world, the good guys are again daft enough to send a single hero to investigate. Yep: your job is to defeat the evil Kraken – entirely by yourself.
On trudging through a snowstorm to the Kraken HQ, you suddenly find yourself facing a heavily armed giant walrus. And things snowball from there. Every room of Evil Factory is like a demented boss battle, with you running around, avoiding the tendrils of a mutant ‘octobear’ bursting through the floor, or the attacks of the high-voltage ‘Musk-X’ – a mash-up of colossal bison and diabolical technology.
Because your skinflint superiors haven’t seen fit to equip you appropriately for such a test, most attacks rely on you dropping bombs and scarpering; although you do have limited range-based projectiles too. Fortunately, the virtual controls work well (and you really need the iPad’s screen to not cover up the action – the game’s markedly less fun on iPhone); less fortunately, a ‘refuel’ system robs the game of momentum as you hit difficulty walls and end up dying more frequently.
Still, if you’re willing to play in short bursts or stump up for some IAP, Evil Factory should satisfy any craving for a big, dumb, great-looking iPad shooter: a popcorn movie to control with your thumbs.
IAPs: There are coin packs (99p and up) you can use to buy weapons and more rapidly progress through the game. A better bet is the £1.99 unlimited fuel option, to remove the game’s timer.
26. Vertigo Racing
Vertigo Racing doesn’t strip controls back as far as Pico Rally, but only because you have an accelerator and a brake pedal. And that’s just as well, because this game takes place atop snake-like tracks high up in the sky – and should you take a turn a bit too fast, you’ll find yourself tumbling into the abyss.
Each track is hand-made, rather than algorithmically generated, and so they can be committed to memory. This is useful, because the heap you start off with burns through fuel like nobody’s business, and gets damaged with the slightest collision. You can replenish fuel levels by reaching checkpoints – but doing so often requires driving in a manner that’s not conducive to your car’s long-term survival.
Fortunately, do well and you can upgrade your car, to get further along a track, and then unlock new places to race. This aspect of Vertigo Racing can get grindy, but the game nonetheless remains compelling; moreover, its surreal and slightly dreamlike nature also ensures it feels fresh and new rather than more of the same.
IAPs: You can buy coins to speed along unlocking, but progress is pretty rapid without them.
27. Transformers: Forged To Fight
Fighting games mostly don’t translate well to iPad, robbed of a console’s gamepads that are packed full of buttons and triggers. Transformers: Forged to Fight, though, manages to be a decent brawler, through a sleek, intuitive battle system centred around gestural controls.
The backstory involves robots from several takes on the Transformers universe colliding in an arena-style competition devised by aliens with far too much time on their hands. As you pit classic Optimus Prime against a hideous Michael Bay atrocity, you tap and swipe to attack, and hold to block. Given that these giant robots have guns, you can also shoot from distance, and as a last resort transform into a car, tank, jet or massive rhino (depending on your character) and mow down your opponent. Which very much isn’t cricket.
There’s a confusing underlying meta-game, and far too many options for the game’s own good, some of which try to funnel you down an IAP tunnel. But otherwise, this is a brash, entertaining brawler that feels right at home on iPad.
IAPs: Forged to Fight has a ludicrously complex currency system that bugs you to buy things via IAP. Eventually, you may succumb to avoid grinding for progress; early on, though, paying money’s only worth it as a shortcut to getting a bigger squad.
28. Planet Quest
At some point, a legion of plastic guitars and boring rock stars sucked all the imagination out of rhythm action games, but it never used to be this way. Planet Quest harks back to the genre’s quirkier and more colourful days, with an eye-searing, head-bobbing tap-based experience that involves quite a lot of alien abduction, along with people grooving to the music while wearing animal costumes.
It turns out you are the alien, tapping the screen to match beats you’ve just heard. Get this right and you beam up the dancers; get this almost right and you beam up their costumes; get it wrong or accidentally beam up a flower and you lose a life. Fortunately, Planet Quest is generous, rewarding you with a replacement life for every successful abduction, and half a life when you merely snag some clothes.
With the colourful graphics, a manic camera that zooms in and out, and an hour of music, Planet Quest is a must-have for any rhythm-action or arcade fan. It’s a lot of fun and you always feel the game really wants to be played; it also gives skinflints something to strive for – top the leaderboards and you unlock the ad-free version!
IAPs: If you don’t like ads, get rid of them for 99p.
29. Mars: Mars
This physics-based effort comes across like the offspring of ancient arcade classic Lunar Lander and endless iOS golf ’em up Desert Golf. It begins with a little space explorer, atop a platform on Mars. Tap the screen and they blast upwards from the Martian landscape; you then tap left or right to carefully manoeuvre them to the next platform before very limited fuel runs dry.
But it’s what happens after failure that’s particularly clever. Smack into the planet’s surface or a landing pad at speed and your astronaut explodes. Rather than sending you back to the beginning of the game, you just get another go to complete your current jump – in fact, as many as you need to progress. However, if you’re a hardcore gamer at heart, you’ll want to string together landing combos, which are rewarded with coins.
Over time, Mars: Mars shakes things up in terms of landscape complexity and new themes (from underwater to a terrifying Yoko Ono satire). But mostly this is a game that benefits from its repetitive nature. It’s meditative, thoughtful, and strangely hypnotic, whether you just fancy a few leaps now and again, or settling in for the long haul.
IAPs: Adverts are optional, for boosting credits (15) or continuing if you mess up a combo. IAPs are also optional, for buying new themes (mostly 99p each), or for doubling earned credits (£3.99).
30. Fold the World
With iPads being all about pawing at a glass surface, some games make a concerted effort to reconnect gamers with something that feels more tangible and tactile. In Fold the World, you’re exploring the Paper Kingdom, leading strange bouncing critter Yolo along pathways that shift and change beneath him, depending on how the paper puzzle is folded.
On playing the game, it will come as no surprise that Fold the World’s puzzles were initially fashioned out of paper, before being digitised and fine-tuned inside a computer. Such attention to detail is evident, and it means you never feel cheated. Although some puzzles are proper head-scratchers, solid logic underpins everything. (That each level is only as big as your screen makes it all the more impressive that the pathways Yolo can take become so deviously and deliciously complicated.)
For free, you get 20 levels of adventuring, which should keep puzzle fans happy for a long while. Should you hanker for more papery goodness, further sets of levels can be purchased.
IAPs: You can buy new tales for 99p each, or unlock everything for £2.99. You can also buy gems, for unlocking hints.
31. Turn Undead: Monster Hunter
Platform games are usually about fast reactions and committing level layouts to memory. But twitchy fingers won’t help you in Turn Undead: Monster Hunter, because everything that happens around these spooky platforms is turn-based.
This means that when you take a step, so do all your foes. Shoot a stake at a vampire and it hangs in the air, until everyone moves, whereupon it zips along precisely one space. It’s like someone took an old-school platform game like Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins, and decided to make it clockwork for a lark.
The thing is, it works really well. You must think ahead in order to beat the undead. Each level becomes a puzzle to be solved, rather than a test of your dextrous digits. This does also mean that frustration occasionally abounds, however – die some way into a complex level and you have to work your way back before you can have another crack and find an alternate route.
Still, given that you’ve all the time you need, there’s little excuse for blundering into traps, and Turn Undead makes for a pleasingly fresh diversion for fans of puzzling and platforming alike.
IAPs: Remove the ads for £3.99.
32. Smash Hit
Smash Hit plays out like a fever dream nestled in the mind of someone who gets catharsis from smashing glass. And it’s not windows nor greenhouses that are the subject of the nameless protagonist’s ire. Instead, you float through a mysterious abstract world, lobbing ballbearings at prism-like crystals and glass panes that hang menacingly from the ceiling.
It’s all deeply weird, but also smashy fun as you obliterate everything around you – at which point you quickly run out of balls, face-plant into the nearest obstacle, and find yourself back at the start.
Suitably chastised, you realise Smash Hit is more strategic than it first appears. Precision aiming will get you further through the landscape, as will careful use of rare power-ups you chance across. Amusingly, the music is pleasant ambient electronica, perhaps to calm you down and allow you to think rather than hyping you up so you’re yelling SMASH SMASH SMASH at your iPad.
The game’s longevity is a touch questionable – stages always come in the same order, and a one-off IAP’s required to unlock checkpoints. Still, Smash Hit’s always good to return to when you’ve a hankering to make some noise and break something.
IAPs: £1.99 unlocks checkpoints forever.
33. Hammer Bomb
If Pac-Man, Wolfenstein 3D and Rogue had a baby, you’d get Hammer Bomb. The game plonks you in a claustrophobic 3D maze, and you sprint along while not entirely suitable (but nonetheless very catchy) thumping electronic music blasts your ears, urging you onwards. Like in Pac-Man, you automatically move, but the mazes are algorithmically generated and therefore semi-randomised, like in Rogue. And your aim isn’t so much to eat all the dots (gold coins in this case), but to get to an exit as quickly as possible.
Visually, the chunky graphics are reminiscent of classic shooter Wolfenstein 3D, but you won’t find Nazis in these dungeons. Instead, Hammer Bomb’s corridors are full of terrifying giant bats, roaming zombies and floating eyeballs. Mostly, your best bet is to flee when one heads your way; but find a chest and it’ll present a weapon (with very limited ammo) for when you find yourself in a tight spot.
Hammer Bomb adds further twists with boss battles against massive spiders, dragons and slime beasts, power-up perks to buy with your pilfered coins, and screwball quests that involve hunting down fleeing foodstuffs (in a nod to Ms. Pac-Man’s roaming fruit). It’s all very strange, loads of fun, and hugely replayable. There’s IAP, but you’ll usually find your coffers full enough for essential power-ups (hint: get the radar as soon as you can), without having to spend a penny. Although you might find yourself having to spend a very different kind of penny on turning a corner and finding yourself scared witless by a giant murderous crow.
IAPs: Remove the ads for £1.99. You can also buy coins to speed up progress for £1.99
If games took human form, caRRage would wear the grizzled expression of Judge Dredd or Mad Max. This no-nonsense top-down car-racer takes no prisoners, and would sooner scowl and repeatedly blow up your vehicle than ease you in gently – which suits its dusty and broken post-apocalyptic setting.
Quite how car enthusiasts find time to race when they should be scouring a ravaged landscape for food, we don’t know. However, this isn’t exactly Formula 1. In caRRage, vehicles are laden with armour and spikes, drop mines and fire missiles. Dirty tactics aren’t so much encouraged as mandatory, unless you want to limp home in last place. Now and again, racing is ditched entirely for bizarre supply run mini-games, where you fend off crazed attackers by ramming them with a massive articulated lorry. We suppose the petrol for racing has to come from somewhere.
IAPs: Being a free game, IAP lurks menacingly, mostly to swell your coffers and speed along upgrades you’ll need for tackling later levels. But if you’re prepared to grind a bit, caRRage needn’t cost you a penny – merely a chunk of your humanity as you allow a toothy grin at having blown another rival to oblivion.
35. Rust Bucket
Nitrome has a habit of fiddling around with a genre’s core mechanics and coming up with something special. With Rust Bucket, you’re dumped in a dungeon for turn-based roguelike larks; but really, this is an endless – and tough – puzzler, where survival is determined by your ability to think ahead and respond to threats appropriately.
Visually, the game’s a delight, Nitrome’s pixel-art style and penchant for colour making the dungeons a vibrant treat rather than a journey into drabness. The dungeon’s inhabitants, from your wandering helmet to skulls, pigs and ghouls, are full of character, making it slightly less irritating when you make a wrong move and get horribly killed.
And you will get killed – and often, at least at first. Rust Bucket can be punishing, with you only a few steps from death at all times. But put your best chess hat on, consider every move and how enemies are likely to respond, and you’ll find a cracking mobile take on turn-based strategy; there’s enough depth here to engage, but games are brief enough that you can fit a session of dungeon crawling into an odd spare moment.
IAPs: Remove the ads for £3.99. You can also grab coins for 99p and up.
36. Big Bang Racing
Given that Big Bang Racing litters its display with typically irksome freemium trappings – gems, locked chests, timers – it’s an easy game to grumble at and delete. Doing so would be a grave error, though, because Big Bang Racing is a lot of fun.
It’s really two games in one – part trials outing and part multiplayer racer. The trials side of things finds your strange little driver carefully navigating puzzle-like courses, collecting map parts, and trying very hard to not get electrocuted. Races pit your skills against other players’ ghosts, in a hectic battle to the finish line. Both takes on Big Bang Racing shine, not least due to the fab graphics and responsive, simple controls (virtual buttons for moving forwards and backwards, and for spinning clockwise and anti-clockwise).
You’ll also notice as you play that each level is credited. This isn’t just for show, and is indicative of Big Bang Racing’s other smart idea: the means to create and share levels. This is done by way of a usable editor, although what obstacles you can plonk down is reliant on whatever you’ve previously unlocked from chests – unless you’re happy to dig into your virtual or real-world coffers, to buy ramps and the like with coins. But even with lurking IAP whiffing up the place, Big Bang Racing’s well worth a download, whether you fancy picking your way through cleverly crafted traps and structures or leaving random internet racers in the dust.
IAPs: Gems and parts can be bought using IAP. You might need to pay if you’re serious about making lots of levels. Otherwise, just play for free.
37. Land Sliders
On touchscreen devices, the feel of a game is important. If whatever occurs underneath your fingers doesn’t come across as natural, that can wreck your interaction with a virtual world. Land Sliders is perfect in this regard. Drag or swipe and the entire landscape slides beneath your digits; a tap then stops any inertial movement stone dead. This combination of grace and precision is intoxicating as you usher a cartoon character about, exploring your surroundings, grabbing collectables, avoiding deadly critters, and locating each level’s exit.
This would be enough to grab your attention for a while, but Land Sliders aims for the long term by carefully considering every element of the game. You can swap land sliding for a more conventional ‘swipe to move’ if you consider the former disorienting. The procedurally generated worlds are diverse, with plenty of twists and turns. And the quirky enemies have unique behaviours to learn and take advantage of: for example, coaxing an over-zealous pogoing T-Rex into a sentient cactus mooching about in a wheelbarrow.
In effect, Land Sliders resembles an advanced, free-range, multi-screen take on Pac-Man, with tiny worlds ripe for exploration and never outstaying their welcome. Quests add further longevity, new characters can be unlocked, and the breezy gameplay never palls. The only niggle is the game’s ‘one hit and you’re dead’ nature – we’d have happily plumped for a once-traditional three lives.
IAPs: As ever, characters and gold are there for purchase if you want them, with prices starting at 79p.
38. Kind of Soccer 2018
This one’s appropriately named, in the sense that it kind of resembles the beautiful game. You’re still booting a ball about a pitch, and you must avoid giving the ball away to the opposition. Only, there are no goals, and – initially – scant few players other than your own.
So how do you win without goals? By smacking the referee in the head with the ball. Yep, this is a game of soccer catharsis. If you’ve ever felt a result unfairly went against your team, play this game to take out your ire on officials everywhere, scoring points for every time the scarpering ref is beaned.
It starts off easy, with you dinking the ball about Angry Birds-style, although you must take care to not kick it out of bounds or get tackled, or a point is awarded against you. Over time, the opposition becomes more numerous and speedy, but you also unlock new skills by accruing XP.
There are laser sights, bombs, and even a handy power-up called forest that quite literally turns opposing players into trees. Not terribly sportsmanlike, but then this is ‘kind of’ soccer, and not remotely attempting to be the real thing!
IAPs: There’s just one IAP here – £1.99 removes the ads that appear after a game ends.
39. Battle Golf Online
The original Battle Golf was a fun, fast-paced one-on-one golf ’em up. In the game, two players stand at either side of a lake, aiming to score holes-in-one on tiny greens that periodically emerge from the drink. Battle Golf Online is much the same – except everything happens online.
Well, almost everything. There is a local AI to play against, and it’s possible for two players to fight it out on a single iPad. But the game’s at its best when you’re battling to win a first-to-five match against a total stranger online.
Actually, saying the online bit is the only change sells Battle Golf Online short. This revamp also includes smarter cartoon visuals, replacing the rough pixel art of the original. Additionally, many holes are cleverly designed, to try and stop players hitting and hoping to steal a march on their opponents.
Beyond that, you can collect hats, learn to bean opponents by smacking them in the head with a golf ball, and quietly contemplate how much more fun real-life golf would be if you were thwacking balls at holes atop submarines and on the backs of sea monsters.
IAPs: For £2.99, you can buy a golden hat, which also removes all ads and gets you double coins during matches.
40. Lost Tracks
The App Store and iOS has enabled creative types to be a bit more experimental than on traditional consoles where expectations are often tied to a few key genres. Lost Tracks is a case in point – it’s a short experience that feels as much a creative experiment as a videogame. But it has heart and a kind of offbeat youthful perspective that’s all too rare in gaming.
It starts on a train, where a woman catches the protagonist’s eye, but this propels him into self doubt. Torn in two, he becomes lost in a surreal inner world you must traverse, confronting and defeating fears and inner demons. Mostly, this involves tilting and prodding your device to explore surroundings, figuring out the nature of puzzles and mechanisms that have been laid out before you.
The minimal art style and sparse nature of Lost Tracks affords it a palpable sense of atmosphere that will keep you glued to the screen until its conclusion. (Oh, and a quick hint if you get stuck at one point: remember how to whistle!)
IAPs: This game has no IAP.