Best free iPad games: From 'Smash Hit' to 'Whale Trail'
Best free iPad games: Smash Hit
This first-person shooter - which has more than a hint of the classic nerve-fraying endless runner about it - offers no enemies to shoot except the pleasingly destructible glass and stone obstacles in front of you, which you need to shatter before you run straight into them.
The graphics are a triumph, as is the satisfying gunplay: your bullets (more like oversized marbles) describe looping trajectories and make a lovely racket when they strike home. Simple and fun. David Price
Best free iPad games: Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed
Since Mario Kart arrived on the SNES, go-karters have injected both fun and surreal weaponry into the racing genre. When done well, they are properly videogame-y videogames, packed with cartoon characters, dazzling tracks and strange projectiles.
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed has a further quirk, which is the 'transformed' bit in the title. As you belt around, tracks mutate, forcing you to find alternate routes. Sometimes you're dunked into water or hurled into the air, and your kart helpfully transforms into a boat or plane to accommodate this. As ever with free games, the spectre of IAP looms large, but the game's generous with in-game currency and you can get free races forever for £7.99, or just kill the adverts for 79p.Craig Grannell
Best free iPad games: Sparkwave
This one very much hails from the Super Hexagon school of game design. It's a take-no-prisoners twitch game that twists and turns as you play, intentionally disorienting in a manner that makes you feel entirely inadequate as a gamer. Much like Super Hexagon, the basics are suitably simple. Here, a spark darts along and must not stray from a 'track' of hexagons for too long, or it'll fizzle and die. But the track keeps shifting, throwing up black blocks to avoid; often, it will suddenly jerk 60 degrees with no notice, and if your eyes and brain don't keep up, your spark's done for.
Sparkwave deviates slightly from the razor-sharp focus typically seen in twitch titles. There are crystals to collect (which can also be purchased using IAP) that are used to buy advantageous power-ups. We wish there was a fully stripped-back mode, but even when your spark has a temporary reprieve in being able to blast through the odd black block, Sparkwave proves to be a formidable (and yet entertaining) challenge. Craig Grannell
FREE | Download Sparkwave
Best free iPad games: Super Mario Run
A qualified recommendation, this one, because we do find the lack of an offline mode disappointing: it's a real buzzkill for commuters on the Underground, or going through a tunnel, or simply not equipped with a cellular iPad.
But if you can accept the always-online requirement, everything else about Super Mario Run is top-notch. The levels are as beautifully designed as you'd expect from a fully fledged Mario title and the one-button control system (Mario automatically runs to the right; you just control his jumps) makes perfect sense. In fact, we find traditionally controlled Mario a tiny bit pedestrian after spending so much time with SMR.
There's tonnes of collectibles and additional content to go after once you've completed the 24 levels, too - this is potentially a long-term obsession. Just one that will be confined to those moments in your life when you can connect to the internet. David Price
Best free iPad games: Temple Run 2
Like the ubiquitous first game, Temple Run 2 is a simple 'auto-runner' in which you're forced to make snap reactions as your fleeing Indiana Jones-alike is propelled ever onwards at increasing speed: striving to dodge walls, fatal drops, spikey boulders and an enormous pursuing monkey-monster. Death is inevitable, as is having 'just one more go.' Alec Meer
Best free iPad games: Threes! Free
Every platform needs its 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 involve 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 that 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 properly 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. Craig Grannell
Best free iPad games: 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 sometimes 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 entire world freezes. Drag and everything comes back to life, whether that's you blasting away at whatever ventures nearby, or your many foes marching across the screen, 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 might 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, and then frantic scrabbling to eradicate nearby enemies and move yourself onwards at speed.
Last long enough and colossal bosses will show up, making it very clear that this just isn't your day if survival was your aim. To counter this, green enemies drop credits you can spend on boosts during your next game, and blue foes ditch pick-ups that boost your critter's power, augmenting your arsenal - initially a rubbish pea shooter - with multi-directional shots, massive rockets, and more. Craig Grannell
Best free iPad games: TohTum
This endless survival game features two cuboid characters in pods connected by a tether. The two whirl through space, one around the other. Tap the screen and the outermost pod slides inwards and the other then begins to spin around it. Along with the calming soundtrack, it all feels quite elegant.
TohTum isn't, however, tranquil. As ever, the aim is to last as long as possible before your ham-fisted efforts end in failure - and games don't tend to last very long. Mostly, this is because of red squares that litter the inky void. Although your tether can pass over them, should either pod hit a square, it's game over. Now and again, blue dots float by; get 100 of them and you can unlock an alternate pod dweller. Stars also occasionally show up, which when collected briefly turn your pods/tether combination into a whirling vehicle of red-square death and destruction.
Although perhaps not a game with huge longevity, TohTum proves enjoyable in short bursts. Also, given the manner in which its little heroes whirl about, it has a little novelty that neatly differentiates it from countless games where you tap to make an auto-runner jump. Craig Grannell
TohTum features an ad strip across the bottom of the screen, and occasionally loads an ad after you finish a game. If you want shot of the ads entirely, you can pay 99p.
Best free iPad games: Train Conductor World: European Railway
Developer The Voxel Agents have been refining Train Conductor games for years now, and this latest entry in the series is by far the best yet. 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: we found 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. Craig Grannell
FREE | Download Train Conductor World: European Railway
Best free iPad games: Triple Town
Triple Town's premise is simple: you're building a town on a 6 x 6 grid filled with bushes and trees. You do this by grouping items into threes: three trees become a hut, three huts become a house and so on. Trap the game's 'enemies' - adorable bears - and they turn into grave stones, three of which make a church.
The whole thing is fresh, addictive and challenging: if you think you've seen everything Match 3 has to offer, you're in for a surprise. Alan Martin
Best free iPad games: Two Dots
Simple but addictive. Two Dots is all about tracing lines between adjacent dots of the same colour, thereby causing them to disappear and further dots to drop down from above. To pass a given level you need to eliminate a certain number of dots of each colour, along with additional elements such as anchors.
It's fun to play and beautiful to look at, but watch out for the clever catch: die five times and you'll have to wait for your lives to recharge... or pay to get more. That's where they'll get the money, and if you have weak self-control, you may find yourself coughing up. Amy Moore
Best free iPad games: Whale Trail
It might not have the deepest replay value, but since going free-to-play Whale Trail's charms have been harder to resist. It's a one-button game, with a mechanic that's close to Tiny Wings in reverse: tap the screen to fly upwards, release to swoop down. You need to avoid the clouds and collect fuel of some kind.
It looks delightful, the gamplay is well-crafted and there's a wicked soundtrack too. David Price