What are the best free iPad games? I don't fancy spending a fortune on games. Then again, I don't want to get ripped off by freemium games with loads of in-app purchases either.
Looking for the best free iPad games? This regularly updated selection offers a huge choice, from fast-paced arcade thrills to sedate adventuring - all without you spending a penny. And every one of them has been tested by a real human, to ensure they're worth your time.
We're also keen to omit exploitative freemium games from our list. (This business model often irks, as we outline in 'Freemium is the worst thing in the history of gaming: a rant'.) Only games that are good citizens in this regard make the cut.
Even so, if apps hassle the player with in-app payments, we'll mention that. And if they offer reasonable unlocks for a small outlay, we'll mention that too, because devs have to eat. But if you've got kids lurking, do explore parental controls so your little darlings don't accidentally buy piles of virtual coins with your real money when your back's turned.
Other than that, delve right in. There are dozens of fabulous free games that are perfect for iPad gamers on a budget, many of which take full advantage of the extra screen space you have over an iPhone.
Best free iPad games: From '99 Rockets' to 'Dumb Ways To Die'
Best free iPad games: 99 Rockets
99 rockets. 99 targets. It all sounds so simple. In this sparse shooter, each screen has little darts meander along skinny tracks; all you need to do is tap the screen when the solid dart is pointing at a target. Easy!
Only before long the tracks start looping, and the darts start spinning. Once you get your head around those issues, darts appear with two or three tips, which fire simultaneously. Miss once and it's game over. That the darts can take multiple passes is scant consolation for those times you miss your final target by a whisker, a dozen levels in.
Fortunately, you can save your progress, rather than having to start from scratch every time - although doing so fires up an ad. (This sometimes also occurs after a level, rather obliterating the otherwise tense atmosphere; a 79p IAP banishes the ads forever.) But the ultimate challenge is apparently to make it through the entire game without using any saves at all. To say the least, that requires a steely nerve, a steady hand, and an impeccable aim! Craig Grannell
Best free iPad games: Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer
To the casual player Ascension seems not dissimilar to Magic: The Gathering - you build and play from a deck of cards, each of which depicts a warrior, magician or relic of some kind, and use these to slay monsters and acquire both points and further cards. What makes it a 'deck builder' (like the classic card game Dominion, or the more recent Star Realms - which is also free and also worth a try) rather than a collectible card game like Magic is the fact that all players start with an identical, very simple deck. You build your deck within the game itself, rather than in spare hours long before it begins.
It's all weirdly addictive, once you play a few times, and you needn't pay a penny if you don't want to: various single-time payments unlock new sets of cards and suchlike, but the free offering is perfectly decent. And while some reviewers have criticised the mostly rough-seeming art style, we find it all rather beautiful. David Price
Best free iPad games: Asphalt 8: Airborne
Whereas some driving games have one foot planted in reality, 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 your 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? Craig Grannell
Best free iPad games: Battle Golf
Developer Colin Lane appears to be attempting to corner the market in ridiculous sports games. First, there was Golf is Hard, a side-on ball-thwacker that required you to hit a hole-in-one every time, because it's clearly wrong and evil to walk on the grass. Then came Wrassling, a demented wrestling (of sorts) game that looked like it had fallen out of a Commodore 64. Now, Lane's returned to hitting tiny balls with sticks in Battle Golf.
Again, this one's all about holes-in-one, but putting greens now emerge from a huge expanse of water. You tap twice (to set angle and then power) and hope for the best. Hazards include hole-blocking seagulls and occasionally having to carefully aim for the top of a giant octopus.
Although perfectly fine in its single-player time-attack incarnation, Battle Golf comes into its own when the 'battle' bit is added via the same-device two-player mode. Players face off at opposite edges of the water and frantically race to five points. As a bonus, you can temporarily knock out your rival by smacking them in the head with a ball, gaining you precious seconds to win a point without interference.
There's only one IAP: £1.49/$1.99 gets rid of the ads, although these are unobtrusive and don't interrupt your games. Only flinging your (ex) friend's iPad out of the window when they get a last-gasp fluky shot to win 5-4 can do that. Craig Grannell
Read next: Best free iPhone apps
Best free iPad games: Bejeweled Classic HD
There are so many gem-swapping games on the App Store that it's easy to overlook the one that popularised the genre. And that's a pity, given that PopCap's Bejeweled Classic HD remains one of the best games of its kind. And on iPad, you get 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.
The most recent modes are Lightning and Poker. The latter requires IAP to unlock, although you get a few free goes with the initial download. Lightning, though, is interesting in providing a breakneck speed-run take on Bejeweled that should satisfy fans of the once-excellent Bejeweled Blitz, which sadly long ago became mired in freemium hell, encouraging players to buy their way to high-scores. Our advice: stick with the original and best. Craig Grannell
FREE | Download Bejeweled Classic HD
Best free iPad games: Big Bang Racing
Given that Big Bang Racing litters its display with typically irksome freemium trappings - gems, locked chests, timers - it's a very 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 along the way. 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 very usable editor, although what obstacles you can actually plonk down in any given course is somewhat 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. Still, even with lurking IAP whiffing the place up a bit, 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. Craig Grannell
Best free iPad games: Bullet Hell Monday
It's a stretch to say Bullet Hell Monday makes one of the more niche genres - bullet-hell shooters - accessible in a mainstream sense, but it has a good shot. Lots of shots, actually, given that, as you might expect if you're remotely familiar with the genre, you spend much of your time blasting alien scum and weaving your ship between dazzling geometric patterns of projectiles, all the while scooping up bling.
What makes Bullet Hell Monday smarter than the average shooter for relative newcomers is the bite-sized levels. The game eases you in relatively gently, introducing you to its basic concepts and initially holding back any overwhelming confrontations where you dance between seemingly endless sprays of bullets, constantly escaping death by a whisker.
They come later, when Bullet Hell Monday eventually mires you in actual bullet hell, but even on reaching sterner challenges, you feel you've a fighting chance. In part, this is because of the aforementioned brevity of the levels; but also further levels unlock on the basis of achievements. Essentially, do pretty well on any given level and you'll get enough points to continue. Fail miserably and you should take that as a hint you need to improve a bit first.
Bullet Hell Monday therefore rewards repeat play as you figure out a path to victory, the best enemies to attack (and those to avoid), and when to use devastating bombs. It also rewards you with cash for ship upgrades, which, surprisingly, can't be bought via IAP. Success is for once entirely down to your skills, not your wallet. Craig Grannell
Best free iPad games: caRRage
If games took human form, caRRage would wear a grizzled expression, halfway between Judge Dredd and Mad Max. It's a no-nonsense top-down car-racer that takes no prisoners. It would rather 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 each other when they should be scouring a ravaged landscape for food and water, 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.
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. Craig Grannell
Best free iPad games: Crossy Road
You've probably already installed smash hit Crossy Road. If not, do so immediately; and while you're waiting, here's why it's one of the finest freebies on mobile.
First, it's dead simple and entirely intuitive. Imagine Frogger with isometric graphics and a single level that goes on forever. That's perhaps not fun for the game's protagonist, who must hop across endless busy highways, train-lines and rivers full of floating logs before inevitably being squashed/drowning/ending up on the front of the 8:24 to Paddington. But it's great for you, because it's an endless, infinitely replayable challenge. And the controls - tap to jump forward or swipe to move in any direction - are pitch-perfect.
Secondly, it looks gorgeous. The visuals are bright and cheery, to the point you won't be too annoyed when your critter gets splattered (or grabbed by a bird of prey when you dawdle too long).
Finally, Crossy Road is the least obnoxious free-to-play title around, despite being packed full of collectables. Sure, you can pay IAP to get a new character (of which there are many), but alternatively you can grab coins as you play, view an ad to swell your wallet, or even just do nothing at all and grin as the game generously lobs virtual cash in your general direction anyway.
You can then try your luck on a one-armed bandit that will reward you with anything from a vampire that turns Crossy Road into a bleak landscape bathed in red, to 'Doge', whose antics are accompanied by lurid Comic Sans phrases. Much hop! Very car! Craig Grannell
Best free iPad games: Cubed Rally World
Not so much a rally title as a one-hit survival game, Cubed Rally World finds little vehicles bombing along a five-lane road, where a single collision results in a fiery ball of death. There are, however, twists on the usual formula.
First, points aren't dependant on how long you survive, but are instead collected as blue discs. Naturally, these often show up in places that might subsequently lead you to smash into an inconveniently placed wall. Beyond that, you must keep an eye on your fuel (collect red cans you spot to replenish it) and grab coins that can later be used to buy new vehicles.
These vehicles (some of which are, oddly, animals) shake up how the game looks and the obstacles you face. So you may end up controlling a construction vehicle majestically soaring over scrap metal, or a pig frantically trying to outrun angry cows. More importantly, each game's road is procedurally generated but finite per vehicle. If you've only got one, reaching the chequered flag is easy, but your score won't amount to much. With ten, there's potential for massive points, but getting to the end is tough.
On iPad, Cubed Rally World works well because you don't risk covering up obstacles, and you're less likely to barrel into something when on-screen objects are large. The only downside is the visuals aren't a patch on the pixel-art stylings of predecessor Cubed Rally Redline; otherwise, this sequel is a big step forwards and a no-brainer download given the lack of a price tag. Craig Grannell
You can buy coin packs in game, but there’s no obvious need, unless you must desperately have all the vehicles immediately. Still, if you like the game, grab some coins to reward the dev.
Best free iPad games: Darkside
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 is how stunning the game 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 the pulsating arcade mode entirely for free. For the reasonable sum of £1.49/$1.99, you can unlock Survival (one life) and Missions (100 varied objectives) modes; as an added incentive, this also unlocks smart bombs for your ship - ideal for when things get hairy. Craig Grannell
Best free iPad games: 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 far 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 really sets Dashy Crashy apart in its revamped 'Turbo' form is the sheer 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.
Beyond this, 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 - most of its contemporaries; it's also a lot more fun to play. Craig Grannell
You can buy a specific vehicle rather than hoping to win it at some point - they’re priced from 99p to £3.99 each. Want to test-drive one for five plays? Just watch an ad.
FREE | Download Dashy Crashy
Best free iPad games: Disney Crossy Road
You might narrow your eyes on seeing the word 'Disney' plonked in front of Crossy Road, but this is far more than yet another cash-in. In fact, it's far more than Crossy Road. Because although the original title's modern endless update on Frogger remains broadly intact, Disney Crossy Road is a very different beast.
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 some 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 merrily 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 all kinds of additional 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 surprisingly magical and fresh. It's superior to Crossy Road and has so much scope for expansion, not least when you consider Disney owns rights to Marvel and Star Wars! Craig Grannell
FREE | iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Disney Crossy Road
Best free iPad games: Dominocity
Although dominoes is an ancient and strategic tile-based game, we imagine most people have as much fun lining dominoes up on a table and knocking them down. Entire ranges of kids toys have dispensed with the numbered dots entirely, supplying luridly coloured plastic dominoes to set up in elaborate patterns. Dominocity, with its classy visuals and piano bar soundtrack, comes across as a grown-up, arty arcade-oriented take on such shenanigans.
Each stage comprises a platform - initially a basic shape, but latter stages are more elaborate, such as the cross-section of a key or skull. But the way in which dominoes are added is the interesting bit. You tap the screen to begin, the first domino having already been placed. The next oscillates backwards and forwards and you hold the screen to drop it. A slide to the left or right then changes its angle.
The aim is to make a successful path to the goal, but also use the fewest possible dominoes, and collect emblems along the way. You must decide whether to just one-star a level by being cautious, or go for bigger gaps and riskier angles. The controls can be fiddly at first, but stick with Dominocity and it's a pleasant outing - and there's the added bonus of not having to pick up any dominoes after you knock them down. Craig Grannell
Domincocity has precisely one IAP - £1.49 gets rid of the ads (which are fairly frequent, but don't pop-up in-game).
Best free iPad games: Dumb Ways To Die
We always encourage players of free iPad games to consider the question: "How are the developers making money out of this?" If you're not paying directly, is their play to sell you in-app purchases, show you adverts, or harvest your data? Or are they just trying to grab a big user base before 'monetising' later?
Some games, however, are created by non-profit, publicly funded or charitable organisations, and can be given away for free without any strings attached (except well-intentioned ideological ones, probably). Dumb Ways To Die was commissioned by Metro Trains Melbourne in order to raise awareness of railway safety, and a proportion of its macabre puzzles involve helping the characters avoid being sliced in half by trains. But the makers didn't feel the need to stick too closely to the brief, and the theme meanders off all over the place. It's brilliant.
It's fun, and funny, and fast - each puzzle lasts just a few seconds, before you're whisked off to the next. There's not enormous depth, but it's definitely worth a go. David Price
Still looking for more games? We've got lots more brilliant freebies for your delectation. Turn to the next page for more great free iPad games.