Best free iPad games: From 'Fast like a Fox' to 'Only One'
Best free iPad games: Fast like a Fox
One of the especially nice things about iOS is how it forced people to look again at how games are controlled. Without a D-pad and buttons, developers were from day one forced to innovate, leading to a plethora of exciting multitouch and motion-driven interfaces. Fast like a Fox showcases how games creators still aren't done thinking of new ways to control on-screen characters.
A tap system is used to make a little fox run. Essentially, you drum your fingers on the back of your device, and the faster you do so, the speedier the fox. Additionally, you can tap the screen to make the fox jump - a handy skill, given that it apparently lives in a land of steep hills and deadly ravines.
There's a story about the treasure of a fox tribe being pilfered by nefarious types, but all you really need to know is that this is tried-and-tested leapy gameplay mixed with some gorgeous low-poly artwork, and a control scheme that gives you a surprisingly close bond with your on-screen character. Clever level design means you'll need several runs on any given one to fully master it, and although the game's momentum and elegance are slightly knocked by fairly frequent adverts, they can be removed forever for a perfectly reasonable 79p. Craig Grannell
FREE | iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Fast like a Fox
Best free iPad games: Flappy Golf 2
The original Flappy Golf was literally conceived as a joke. Riffing off the then insanely popular Flappy Bird, it reimagined Super Stickman Golf 2: instead of smacking a ball about with a stick, the ball flew, flitting left or right depending on which button you pressed. Pretty soon, 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 an interesting and novel way to tackle familiar courses, which it turned out needed wildly different tactics when your ball happened to be 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 also 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.
Surprisingly, the game's bereft of IAP - we'd have happily paid to nuke the irritating ad banner. Still, this makes the iPad the ideal platform for flappy golfing, since said advert doesn't cover much of the screen. Craig Grannell
Best free iPad games: Final Freeway 2R Free
Perhaps the most cherished racing game from the 1980s is Sega's OutRun, in which a shiny red sports car belts along roads where traffic is rather oddly all zooming in the same direction. The game was at the time breezy, ludicrously fast, and also enabled you to pick your journey by way of a fork in the road at the end of each section.
Final Freeway 2R Free is, more or less, OutRun for iPad. Sure, the graphics are different and the handling's smarter, and the original cheesy tunes have been replaced by entirely different cheesy tunes; but this is much the same game that thrilled people in the 1980s, right down to the flipping car when you blunder into a roadside object at 100 mph. (Aficionados will also notice Final Freeway features a rivalry with an angry fellow driving what looks like a white Porsche. This is also a nod to OutRun, albeit the game's sequel, Turbo OutRun. Clearly, this game's creator is thorough when it comes to retro geekery!)
The game's simple nature makes it a good fit for mobile. There's enough variety to keep you coming back, trying your hand at new routes. But even a fully successful run takes only a matter of minutes. You will, however, probably wonder what everyone's in such a hurry to drive away from; perhaps it's a good thing the game doesn't give you a rear-view mirror… Craig Grannell
FREE | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Final Freeway 2R Free
Best free iPad games: Fold the World
With iPads being all about pawing at a glass surface, some games have made a concerted effort to reconnect gamers with something that feels a bit 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 underneath him, depending on how the paper puzzle is folded.
On playing the game, it will probably come as no surprise that Fold the World's puzzles were initially fashioned out of paper, before being digitised and fine-tuned inside the computer. Such attention to detail is evident, and it means you never feel cheated. Although some of the puzzles are proper head-scratchers, with you folding the paper this way and that, there's always seriously solid logic underpinning 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 good long while. Should you hanker for more papery goodness, two further sets of levels can be purchased for 79p each. (Note that the game also has a hints system, replenished using gems. Buying them isn't necessary, and you can get gems for free by watching video ads.) Craig Grannell
Best free iPad games: Forget-Me-Not
There are a few iPad games up there with the very best of their kind - and we reckon Forget-Me-Not is one of the finest arcade games ever created, on any platform. Part loving tribute to arcade classics, and part modern mobile creation, it has a kind of demented and frenetic energy that's hugely compelling.
The game has you explore semi-random mazes, eating flowers, and shooting anything that moves. Once all the flowers are gone, grab a key and you can head for the exit. Simple. Only Forget-Me-Not is full of so many little details that you'll spend many glorious hours spotting them all: the dot score multipliers; various game modes that require very different approaches; the way you can grind against walls to power up your little square and smash through enemies; the fact other inhabitants of the maze mostly seem as happy obliterating each other as gunning for you.
In early 2016, Forget-Me-Not brushed with oblivion as the developer's App Store account was about to lapse. He made the game free during its final days, before a kindly soul paid to keep the account alive. In thanks, Forget-Me-Not - already a bargain - is now free forever, and entirely without IAP. Now you've no excuse to not download one of the finest games to ever grace an iPad. Craig Grannell
FREE | iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Forget-Me-Not
Best free iPad games: Galaga Wars
The original Galaga was Namco's second crack at a Space Invaders-style game, where you blast aliens rather handily lurking in formation and who only occasionally take the odd pot shot in your general direction. In Namco's first game of this ilk, Galaxian, said outer-space critters also dive-bombed your ship. Galaga added 'Challenging stages' where strings of aliens zoomed about. This made it far more likely you'd be involved in a nasty collision.
Galaga Wars is well over the tenth attempt to update that ancient game - and it's a good one. Here, you're in one-hit-and-you're-dead territory, mostly fending off 'Challenging' oriented stages. Now and again, aliens swarm, or there's the odd massive enemy to blow up. The controls are straightforward - just drag to move your ship - and the cartoonish visuals are bright, varied and pleasing, even if the busy backgrounds sometimes distract.
The game's stages never change, which might make the game pall in the long run, but you can at least unlock 'warps' to later areas, paid for with capsules grabbed in-game or by watching an ad. So if a free shooter marrying classic gameplay and modern controls appeals, Galaga Wars is a skirmish you'll want be a part of. Craig Grannell
A £2.29 coin doubler increases how rapidly your coffers swell and also removes adverts. Individual ships based on those from other Namco classics (and each with their own capabilities) are each available for 79p. Neither IAP type is required, and both seem reasonably priced.
Best free iPad games: Halcyon
Before he made whatever passes for the 'big time' in iOS gaming with SpellTower, developer Zach Gage's creative approach arrived from a rather more arty direction; and never was he artier than with Halcyon. In theory, it's a match game, but it's also an instrument - your actions augment a generative soundtrack, making for unique compositions in every game.
The matching itself involves coloured currents - triangles that move along horizontal strings. You draw lines between the strings, so like-coloured currents meet, whereupon they plink and vanish. Everything ends the second two different currents meet, creating disharmony in Halcyon's ordered world.
There are 36 levels across four environments, along with two endless modes that dynamically adjust their difficulty, based on your skills. The only downside is that this is a fairly old iPad game that hasn't been updated since 2011. So you must skip past sign-up for a now-defunct gaming social network and also make peace with the lack of high-res graphics. But once you're immersed in the world of Halcyon, you'll be hypnotised for hours. Craig Grannell
FREE | For iPad only | Download Halcyon
Best free iPad games: 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, as per 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. In terms of IAP, you can get rid of the ads or buy extra gold for £1.49. But you'll find your coffers full enough for the essential power-ups (hint: get the radar as soon as you can), without having to spend a penny. Although you might find yourself suddenly having to spend a very different kind of penny on turning a corner and finding yourself scared witless by a giant murderous crow. Craig Grannell
FREE | iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Hammer Bomb
Best free iPad games: Hue Ball
There's a chilled-out, jolly air about Hue Ball. From the tinkly soundtrack to the pastel colours, this is a game wanting to make you feel relaxed. And initially, it's all rather breezy and throwaway fun. A little cannon at the foot of the screen tilts back and forth, emitting a ball when you tap. This briefly bounces about the confines of the small arena, obliterating those already lurking that it collides with.
However, the circle you really need to track is a very pale one that covers the entire display and quickly reduces in size until it vanishes at the screen's centre. On doing so, each lurking ball acquires an extra layer. When one has five, it transforms into a cartoon skull that sits frozen in place, impossible to remove no matter how many balls you lob at it.
This clever yet simple mechanic adds a sense of urgency to Hue Ball. Although you could sit there, watching your cannon wobble to and fro indefinitely, high scores only come by way of quickly clearing balls from the screen, where possible bouncing single shots into clusters, thereby smashing up a bunch of balls in an instant. This might seem familiar territory to players of Orbital (or, indeed, Gimme Friction Baby!, which inspired both titles); but Hue Ball's distinct vibe, skulls, and ping-pong shots make for a new experience that's well worth checking out. Craig Grannell
Best free iPad games: illi
One of the best things about the perceived limitations of game controls on touchscreens is that it has caused games creators to rethink. For the most part, traditional platformers have fared poorly, because you no longer have access to the kind of robust physical controls necessary for twitch-style gameplay. The solution in many cases has been to automate movement, only allowing the player to time jumps.
This approach has been surprisingly successful in many games, such as illi. Here, a fluffy slug-like creature travels around structures floating in space, and bounds into the air with a tap of the screen. This is handy for avoiding illi-killing spikes, but also for leaping to other platforms, in order to reach the level's goal.
To further complicate matters, illi provides set challenges for each level, turning each into a puzzle of sorts that can be solved in several different ways. You might quickly clock how to finish a level in 10 seconds, but then get stumped working out how to do so in only three leaps. This adds replay value, although speedy restarts can be scuppered by the hungry energy system, which needs regular refreshing by viewing adverts. (Alternatively, you can pay £1.49 to eradicate the energy system entirely.) Craig Grannell
FREE | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download illi
Best free iPad games: Impulse GP
We're of the opinion that bike racing seems fast and dangerous enough as it is. But in the future of Impulse GP, things have got markedly crazier. Bikes have lost their wheels and hover above roller-coaster tracks that thread and loop their way through gleaming cities. Furthermore, beyond the requirement to commit to memory every twist and turn, Impulse GP has you power up a boost system when travelling over green pads, and fling yourself forward at even faster speeds by utilising an 'ion thrust' system (which essentially means zooming over a blue pad and prodding a button to let rip).
This isn't an easy game. To get the chance to race, you must complete a qualification circuit within an allotted time; and in the actual race, you'll always start from the back of the grid. Even if you can rapidly make your way through the pack, you'll have a hard time catching the leaders, unless you make use of every scrap of boost. But with mastery comes a great sense of reward. Nick a win by a whisker and you feel like a boss.
Even the freemium trappings of Impulse GP don't irk - which is good, considering it started life as a premium title. There's a bit of grinding to acquire the funds to upgrade your bike and be able to tackle later tracks, but without enough experience on earlier circuits, you'd never have a hope with them anyway. Craig Grannell
FREE | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Impulse GP
Best free iPad games: Land Sliders
On touchscreen devices, the feel of a game is hugely important. If whatever occurs underneath your fingers doesn't come across as entirely natural, that can wreck your interaction with a virtual world. Land Sliders is just about 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 have plenty of variation, with twists and turns that work brilliantly with the fine-tuned controls. 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 some kind of wheelbarrow.
In effect, Land Sliders becomes akin to a kind of 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 'one hit and you're dead' nature of the game - we'd have happily plumped for a once-traditional three lives. Craig Grannell
FREE | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Land Sliders
Best free iPad games: Little Alchemy
Alchemy is perhaps best known for transmutation - the dream of turning base metals into gold. Frankly, that's a whole lot less whacky than what's going on in Little Alchemy. In this game, you start off 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 dead simple. Your 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 things left to find. As you might expect, this all works particularly well on the iPad's large touchscreen display.
Little Alchemy naturally plays fast and loose with the laws of the world. Some combinations have logic at their core - for example, drop 'energy' on a volcano and you end up with an eruption and ash. Others are more fanciful, such as an airplane being a bird combined with metal.
There are moments of frustration during play, not least when you've been sitting there for ages, unable to discover anything. But it's always a pleasant surprise when you find a new object, and Little Alchemy is ideal for dipping in and out of. Craig Grannell
Little Alchemy has no adverts and no IAP. There's an optional Google sign-in, which syncs progress across all versions of the game, including its browser incarnation.
Best free iPad games: Lonely One
It's just a bearded guy and his pants against an endless number of distinctly strange putting greens in this oddball golf 'em up. The aim is to get a hole-in-one with every shot. Fail three times and it's game over. Land a direct shot and you get a life back; for some reason, excitable gnomes also celebrate your amazingness.
It's a pleasantly noodly affair - a perfect lean-back side-on golfing experience. You drag a finger to draw an aiming arc, sliding to the edge of the screen if you need to cancel a shot. Occasionally, wind adds some complexity to proceedings, but it's the strange-shaped greens that cause the most trouble, not least ones resembling animals or the head of a knight.
As is seemingly law these days, Lonely One offers collectables. You get coins for successful putts, and 500 can be used to win a randomly selected character that may alter the game's visual appearance. You can also buy these outright if you wish, but there's really no need. The game's at its funniest with the beardy golfer in his pants anyway. Craig Grannell
Best free iPad games: Lost Tracks
Elsewhere in this list we talk about Lunar Flowers, a title that teeters on the edge of being both game and art project. If anything Lost Tracks is more overtly in the latter camp. The experience is short, feeling more like a creative experiment than a typical 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!) Craig Grannell
FREE | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Lost Tracks
Best free iPad games: Lunar Flowers
We feel like lobbing a paintbrush at people who tirelessly argue about whether games are art; however, there can't be any argument that some games are very artistic. Lunar Flowers is a case in point. Although it's technically a puzzle game, it's very slight; mostly, it's more like an interactive journey, with you following the adventures of a princess in a delicate and beautifully illustrated moonlit world.
Although the visuals and audio evoke wonder, Lunar Flowers truly shines through the sense of exploration it affords. Even though the journey is linear and every moment and reaction canned, you need to discover how to move onwards. Only rarely is there any hand-holding, and your brain sometimes gets quite a workout when the puzzles become rather more abstract.
Perhaps the only disappointment is the brevity of the journey - you'll reach the end within an hour or two. But along the way, you'll have ridden a dragon, drawn stars in the sky, and had a surprisingly intense battle against floating lanterns, while attempting to cross a river. Craig Grannell
Best free iPad games: 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. Craig Grannell
Adverts are optional, for boosting credits (15) or continuing if you mess up a combo. IAPs are optional, for buying new themes (mostly 99p each), or for doubling earned credits (£3.99).
Best free iPad games: Mekorama
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 games. 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 a more straightforward affair, based around simpler pathfinding, helping a robot find its way to level's end across a series of 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. (Although note that if you decide you want to toss the developer a few virtual coins by way of thanks, you can do so through 'pay what you want' IAPs.) Craig Grannell
FREE | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Mekorama
Best free iPad games: Middle Manager of Justice
Saturated with absurdist, playful humour, Middle Manager of Justice is a superhero-themed base-building game in which the stereotype-spouting heroes divide their time between punching thugs, watching TV and manning call centres.
You're their middle manager, working out where best to spend the squad's pitiful income while assigning heroes to dole out fist-based justice to assorted evil-doers. It's gently satirising FarmVille-style clickfests - your main interactions are spending resources to watch progress bars - but whether deliberately or accidentally it's also hugely compelling.
Utterly shallow, but the game is aware of that. Which is probably why it works so well. Alec Meer
See also: Best free iPhone games
Best free iPad games: Mr Dig
We're not sure what's going on in Mr Dig. The story has a kind of 1980s videogame logic, where the titular Mr. Dig has "dug too deep", unleashing monsters on the underworld; rather than ravaging humanity, said monsters are apparently kleptomaniacs and "took his stuff". You must therefore venture underground in single-screen levels to liberate Mr. Dig's fortune, which appears to mostly consist of giant gems and fruit.
Usually, you'd expect this kind of game to echo ancient arcade titles such as Boulder Dash or Dig Dug in terms of how it plays, but that's not the case here. Instead of the kind of frenetic arcade fare that's ill-suited to iPad, Mr Dig takes a turn-based approach. Yellow squares show where your digging hero can reach, and you tap to move. You must be careful to time movements to avoid roaming monsters, and also to leave a path back to the surface. The heroes here are apparently pretty good at leaping about, but they're not blessed with jet-packs!
The result is a charming, silly and surprisingly challenging puzzler that feels quite fresh, despite its chunky and clunky old-school visuals. Craig Grannell
Best free iPad games: Mucho Party
Strictly speaking, Mucho Party is more a demo than a full game, but what you get for nothing makes it worth downloading anyway. It's a collection of multiplayer minigames, which pit you against a friend (or one of three computer-controlled difficulty levels) across a range of game modes.
What sets Mucho Party apart from similar titles is that it's deranged. It first has you take a selection of selfies showing your happy, ecstatic and sad faces, and these are duly shoved inside crazed cartoonish avatars that then show up inside all of the games. The challenges are all dead simple to understand, but a lot of fun to play, whether you're tapping the screen like a mad person in order to win a hurdles contest, blasting asteroids in your opponent's direction, or matching coloured strips by hammering the right bell (despite the bells constantly switching places).
If you like the five freebies, you can unlock 37 extra minigames for an entirely reasonable £2.99. Craig Grannell
Best free iPad games: Only One
This is such fun.
Only One is a silly fighting game with simple, retro graphics, entirely set on top of a circular plateau. Villains continuously spawn and attack you, and it's your job to slash them to death with your sword or push them over the edge. We recommend the one-off in-app payment - Ultimate Power - that gives you a permanent power multiplier and unlocks all the abilities, but you can have a great laugh without spending anything. David Price
Best free iPad games: Orbit
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 the various 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.
This is an app that exudes a kind of effortless beauty throughout. The visual side of things has the orbiting planets 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. These can be blasted into space with a one-off 79p payment. Orbit also offers a sandbox option for £2.29, which gives you the means to create your own levels. 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. Craig Grannell
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.