With iOS games reviews, gameplay videos and links to the games on the App Store, this roundup lists the 172 best games ever released for the iPad & iPhone. From strategy and action games to puzzles and roleplaying games, these are the finest iOS gaming apps available to humanity. Read next: Best free iPhone games
However, if you're really pressed for time you may only want to read about the very best of the best. In the video above, and listed below with links to the App Store, you will find the 10 best iPhone and iPad games of all time.
- 1. FTL
- 2. Don't Starve
- 3. Monument Valley
- 4. Legend of Grimrock
- 5. Threes!
- 6. Dream Quest
- 7. Carcassonne
- 8. Super Hexagon
- 9. Limbo
- 10. You Must Build A Boat
But now on with the list. Here are the best iPad & iPhone games, divided into 16 genres or themes. Read next: Best free iPad games
Adventure, point-and-click and story games
Banner Saga, and Banner Saga 2
Like many of our favourite games, the Banner Saga blends ingredients from multiple genres: adventure-style text-based decision making (although the potential unpleasantness of the consequences makes it more Telltale than Lucasarts), and the turn-based grid combat of tactical RPGs. It's a combination that works well, with both aspects of the game working in service to the overall themes of danger and sacrifice.
In any given skirmish you command a squad of up to six fighters, selected from a larger caravan of personnel that ebbs and flows in response to your decisions and performance; the characters can be upgraded and lightly customised over time. The grid-based battles play out like Final Fantasy Tactics or games of that ilk, with each turn providing the ability to move a hero a certain number of squares and then perform an action, whether it's a melee or weapon attack or perhaps a magic/support interaction.
And outside combat things are just as dangerous. You make decisions about almost everything, and you'll pay for your slip-ups. Even dialogue selections feed into how the storyline twists and turns on the road ahead.
The world-building is breathtaking, drawing inspiration and more than a little of the bleak outlook from Scandinavian mythology and Viking storytelling, to create a set of characters that are totally unlike anything else in gaming yet surprisingly easy to care about. And it looks and sounds quite beautiful.
The Banner Saga 2 doesn't make many dramatic changes to the formula of the acclaimed original, but the small enhancements to the sharp tactical strategy formula are meaningful. There's also a new race of characters - centaurs, sort of - and two story lines based on two main point-of-view characters.
They're not cheap, by the mega-cheap standards of mobile gaming, but these long-lasting and solidly replayable RPG adventures provide more than enough richness and value to justify the entry fee. But one warning: even though the second game may look like a better-value offer - a newer game with additional features for the same price - the continuity between the two stories is so strong that you really must play the first game first. David Price
Banner Saga 1: £4.99 | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Banner Saga on the App Store
Banner Saga 2: £4.99 | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Banner Saga 2 on the App Store
Read our full Banner Saga review
Opinions differ on this nostalgic ode to the point-and-click adventure games of yore, created by one of that genre's most revered luminaries.
Hardcore adventure gamers - many of whom backed the project on Kickstarter - were disappointed by how much it seems to pander to the mainstream market. The puzzles are mostly easy (although trickier fare is promised in the second act) and you can play through in a few hours. There's also no 'look at' command or indeed anything beyond an all-purpose 'interact with': the interface is far simpler than those in Monkey Island and its 90s ilk. The suspicion was raised in PC gaming circles that these decisions had been made with touchscreens and mobile gamers in mind.
But I, and others, adore its heart-stopping visual loveliness, its gentle but subtle story (which allows you to switch at will between two parallel coming-of-age tales), its humour - including a gloriously immature raft of jokes about the word 'stool' - its high-calibre voice acting and music... and the fact that you probably won't have to resort to online walkthroughs in order to solve any of the puzzles. David Price
£4.99 | For iPad and iPhone (Universal) | Broken Age on the App Store
A head-scratcher par excellence, this one. While some have complained that it's a brief experience - and brainiacs will no doubt buzz through in a couple of hours - we've only just finished the second of Device 6's five chapters, and can confirm that the puzzles in this primarily text-based adventure are hard if you're not keenly observant and willing to note down everything you see. Use of a pen and paper comes highly recommended.
The look is unique: antiquarian and weirdly restrained, with judicious use of black-and-white photos and illustrations to supplement the words. The audio is richly atmospheric (not to mention key to solving the puzzles). And clever use of touchscreen controls and unconventional layouts - the sentences snaking round the screen - helps make this an experience like no other. David Price
£3.99 | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Device 6 on the App Store
Grim Fandango Remastered
I'm one of those poor souls (forgive the pun) who never played the original Grim Fandango on PC, but I was always intrigued by the premise. After playing the remastered version for iPad, I'm happy to report that the game's hype is fully deserved.
Grim Fandango is a neo-noir mystery set in the Land of the Dead. Fans of classic black-and-white films will appreciate the witty dialogue, art deco style and slithering jazz soundtrack, but it's also a love letter to Mexican folklore: the characters' design, including protagonist Manny Calavera, are heavily influenced by calaca figures.
It's a point-and-click adventure that involves talking, thinking and problem solving; this isn't a game that features a lot of gunplay or action sequences. But the cut-scenes and puzzles help move along the plot, which centres around Manny uncovering corruption in the Department of Death, and then starting a journey through the underworld that is both bizarre and hilarious.
The four-chapter story takes hours to explore and the artistic aesthetic is as central to the game as the writing (which is continually amusing). Immerse yourself in this strange, funny and exceptionally enthralling world, and pray that Tim Schafer makes another. Chris Holt
In Her Story, an interactive narrative mystery game, you play as an anonymous user looking through old interview tapes from a murder case in 1994.
Your job is to sift through hundreds of unorganised video clips; fortunately these have been transcribed so you can search for words using a free-input search box. When you start the game, the first search term has already been typed in for you: MURDER. There are few other instructions, which means solving this mystery is entirely up to your detective skills.
The script is well-written, unsettlingly realistic, and dark. And no two people will have the same experience playing Her Story: the experience depends on how you search, in what order you watch the tapes, how many tapes you watch, and what conclusions you want to draw. Sarah Jacobsson Purewal
This classic robotic point-and-click adventure offers a unique experience with more heart than the average tin man. Each room has a puzzle for you to solve, moving you forward as you try to find your ladyfriend and thwart a dastardly plot by some robo-bullies. You'll scan environments for items to interact with, combine objects in your inventory and solve a variety of brain-teasers.
Machinarium manages to feel both electronic and organic. The hand-painted visuals feel both cartoony and believable, and the soundtrack blends ambient electronica, jazz and dubstep. Rarely has a game felt so thematically and aesthetically unified. Jason Tocci
Milkmaid of the Milky Way
Poor Ruth has a tough existence. She might live in an idyllic Norwegian fjord, but making ends meet requires producing dairy products to be sold in the nearest town, which is more than three hours away. And a nasty storm has scattered Ruth's tools, meaning she must innovate to make her butter and cheese today. And a massive golden spaceship has just stolen all her cows.
If you're thinking one of those things isn't quite like the others, congratulations. But that's how this one goes - no sooner have you masterfully made some cheese in this old-school point-and-click adventure than you find yourself leaping aboard an alien craft. Only then does Ruth's destiny become clear. Which we won't spoil here, but we will say that across its short length of a few hours, Milkmaid of the Milky Way is an entertaining adventure, with cleverly designed puzzles and (milk) buckets of charm. Craig Grannell
£3.99 | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Milkmaid of the Milky Way on the App Store
Who's in the mood for fun?! Let's get the party started with a game about oppressive bureaucracy.
You're a border guard in a fictional state, vetting the people trying to get into the country. You do this by asking questions, combing through their paperwork and looking for inconsistencies, but ultimately the decision to allow them in or not is up to you. Big red stamp or big green stamp? Approve or deny?
Be warned, however, that choice is an illusion: every decision you make is double-checked. Wave through someone with a hooky passport because their story moved you, and the little printer in your booth will curl out an official reprimand and (for repeat offences) a fine. A fine which may mean you can't afford to heat your home, or give a member of your family the medicine they need.
You get paid (very badly) based on the number of applicants processed in the time allowed, and the increasingly complex immigration rules (which change, capriciously, every day) are a huge source of anxiety. Before long, obvious discrepancies become a relief: this bloke's passport's expired, brilliant, red stamp, get out of here, where's the next one. The human stories start off as a factor in your verdicts, then become a distraction, then are tuned out entirely.
For a game about petty inhumanity, Papers, Please is surprisingly enjoyable - and it's also wonderfully subtle and insightful. If you want to know what games are capable of as a medium, you need to give this a try. David Price
£7.99 | iPad only | Papers, Please on the App Store
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies is a text-adventure game that Capcom originally published for the Nintendo 3DS, but has now made its way to iOS devices. Its brilliantly animated and totally ridiculous world provides an uncommon iOS experience.
You play as lawyers Athena Cykes and Phoenix Wright as they seek to defend Juniper Woods, a shy sunflower-hat-wearing girl who has been accused of bombing a courtroom. But bear in mind that the Ace Attorney games have as much to do with actual lawyering as the WWE has to do with actual wrestling. Rather, you get a mixture of text-heavy exposition (dominating the early stages of the game, but thankfully reduced later on) and a series of mini-puzzles. In order to approximate things like cross examining witnesses and forming arguments, Dual Destinies lets you present evidence (through careful interpretation of the witness's statements) to prove that they're lying.
It's cool to think how Ace Attorney has translated some of the finer points of courtroom lawyering - interrogations, pointing out inconsistencies, making it known when someone has perjured themselves - and made them fun. The game offers hours upon hours of cases to solve, with plenty of weird twists and challenging puzzles. Chris Holt
The Silent Age
The Silent Age is a point-and-tap adventure game that takes place in two different eras: your character's present-day 1972, and a forty-year leap to the eerie, post-apocalyptic 2012. You play as an unassuming janitor at a large corporation who stumbles upon a time-traveller from the future; the time-traveller asks you to warn him about this meeting... and then dies, leaving you with a pocket-sized time-travel machine and a mystery to solve.
While many point-and-tap adventure games can feel overly relaxed, The Silent Age expertly weaves an intriguing storyline around its puzzles - room-escape-type puzzles, quite often, which you solve using a combination of your time machine and various objects you find in the environment - to give you a sense of urgency. It's also visually gorgeous. The bright, vibrant colours of the game's 1972 contrast perfectly with the dystopian, muted greys and greens of 2012.
Finally, the writing is excellent, from the witty comments made by the main character to the rapport with the characters you meet. The writers do a great job of keeping you interested and on your toes throughout the entire storyline. Sarah Jacobsson Purewal
Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP
iOS games are supposed to be time-wasters: digital trinkets to distract and amuse for a few commutes. Not Sword & Sworcery EP, an ambitious, gorgeous and sonically impressive action title.
The game feels like 1990s-era Zelda re-imagined as a point-and-click adventure, but it's so much more. The cryptic, foreboding dialogue and the fact that the game world is affected by the real world's lunar phases make the puzzles a real challenge, but tight social networking integration allows you to offer and receive guidance; and every step forward feels like a genuine accomplishment. An utterly unique experience. David Wolinsky
£3.99 | For iPad & iPhone (Universal), plus there is also a £2.99 Micro version for iPhone & iPod touch only | Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP on the App Store | Read our full Sword & Sworcery EP review
This ambitious roleplaying game is essentially an algorithmically generated text adventure - think classic space trading game Elite crossed with a Choose Your Own Adventure book. The premise is that humanity has scattered across distant galaxies, and you're armed with a ship kitted out with alien tech. This enables you to belt along faster than the speed of light... but only to the centre of the galaxy.
The game largely involves hopping from planet to planet, trading goods, learning a little more about the history of the mysterious technology you're using, and figuring out how to swell your coffers by way of exploration, investigation, and not getting blown to pieces by pirates.
The algorithmic nature of Voyageur means you're often confronted with similar scenarios and descriptions; and the interface is never more than a few buttons to prod. But even when glossing over the text and simply continuing on your journey into the unknown, Voyageur proves compelling - not least when you do start chipping away at the underlying story. Craig Grannell
£3.99 | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Voyageur on the App Store
Walking Dead: The Game
Telltale's point-and-click adventure series, based as much on the original Kirkman comic as on the AMC TV show, pretty much single-handedly brought the genre back to the mainstream. Multiple short episodes mean that it won't take four hours to play through one sitting, and the 'moral choice' gameplay mechanic lets characters remember the actions you took in previous episodes, and treat you accordingly.
It also features one of the greatest child characters in the history of, well, anything. Clementine is brave, resourceful, and heartbreakingly sweet, and is about as far away from the whiny, matricidal Carl as it's possible to be. Both seasons are available on the App Store, and any fan of good storytelling should seek them out. Adam Shepherd
FREE (includes episode 1; episodes 2-5 available for £4.99 each as in-app purchases) | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | The Walking Dead on the App Store
A 'Euro' design from its head to its toes, Agricola is light on conflict (although not entirely devoid of it) and heavy on strategy. It's a board game about farming. Wake up at the back.
In fact, despite that unthrilling description, Agricola is a bulletproof modern classic: a finely tuned killer of a game that will drag you in and never let go.
It's a worker placement: each member of your family gets to perform one action each turn, whether that is collecting a resource (wood, stone, livestock), building or renovating a room, putting up fences, ploughing or sowing the fields or (look away, grandma) 'family growth'. But the various actions can each be performed only once per turn - hence the worry that an opponent will jump in ahead of you and grab whatever you need.
You can't die, but you'll be amazed by how much it hurts if you fail to collect enough food for your family on one of the designated feeding phases (knowing when you can afford to expand the family is key to success) and shamefacedly pick up one or more point-docking begging cards. And getting your farm running smoothly, with the crops ripening and animated baby animals appearing at the proper time, is hugely satisfying.
I always feel that the games end too soon: just one more turn, I think, I'm starting to get the hang of this. But that's probably a good sign. David Price
Simultaneously accessible enough for beginners (it's consistently rated as a 'gateway game' for inducting newbies into the hobby) and deep enough that it's still being played competitively 15 years after its release, Carcassonne has perhaps the broadest appeal of any board game available today. If every copy of Monopoly on the planet could be magically replaced by Carcassonne, the world would be a happier place.
The game is all about using tiles to build a map. Each turn, a player draws a tile - which will be illustrated with parts of a city, abbeys, sections of road and green fields - and places it next to a compatible tile on the board. A city edge has to line up next to another city piece, and so on.
You've each also got seven meeples, which are game pieces you can use to 'claim' one geographical feature that your tile forms a part of, and which hasn't been claimed by any other player; you'll then amass victory points based on how big that feature becomes. Say you put one of your meeples on a road, and other players add tiles to the road until it's seven tiles long and closed off at both ends - at that point you'd collect seven points and get your meeple back.
All of this probably sounds quite pedestrian, and it can certainly be played in a spirit of gentle co-operation. But it's much more fun with a bit of backstabbing. Rather than focusing on your own point acquisition strategy, for example, it's often more productive to spend a turn or two deliberately arranging awkward configurations of tiles around your opponent's features. And everybody loves the tactic known in my household as 'horning in': claiming a tiny city next to someone else's big city, sneakily joining them up, and grabbing a load of points that someone else earned.
With such a wonderful game to work with, you'd imagine that the devs had an easy job making this iOS adaptation a must-download (which it absolutely is, by the way). It does all the simple things well: the graphics are clear and richly colourful, the multiplayer modes are user-friendly and the AI computer players are decent and cover a nice range of difficulty levels. And while £7.99 is on the high side for an iOS board game, the expansions are a snip - we'd recommend Traders & Builders first, but Inns & Cathedrals is a strong second choice. David Price
£9.99 (expansions available as in-app purchases) | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Carcassonne on the App Store
Graphically, this is a faithful rendition of Klaus Teuber's superb and deservedly idolised tile-based island conquest game. Having the iPad handle those tiresome banking duties and victory point calculations makes things far more fast-paced than the board game, and you can view statistical tables at the end of the bout.
The computer players can be absolute swines - they'll merrily gang up on you in a way that most human players would consider beyond the pale - but hardcore gamers may even consider this a plus. And the original game is such a work of genius that this couldn't help being great fun, even if it's not the perfect iOS port. David Price
D&D Lords of Waterdeep
Some gamers (this one included) may be tempted into this digital board game adaptation because it carries the Dungeons & Dragons name. But the truth is that the cosmetic trappings of high fantasy conceal a relatively dry 'worker placement' game that rewards careful play and long-term strategy rather than derring-do. It's a terrific game, but don't expect fast-moving action.
You're a lord: precisely which lord is determined by random chance, and kept secret from the other players. (The different lords get bonus points for fulfilling different objectives.) And you're a lord who doesn't do anything he can get someone else to do for him.
What you'll be doing is recruiting adventurers - fighters, wizards, clerics and thieves, just like the characters in a game of D&D - and sending them on quests. But within the game, these recruits are just coloured cubes, and their adventures appear as static images on cards. This isn't about the glory of adventures so much as the logistics of organising them. "Why yes, I would love to clear out the temple of the spider queen. I just need one more white cube - I mean cleric - and two more gold coins."
But it's still gripping, because you're all competing to send your agents to a limited number of buildings where recruits can be found, and desperately trying to get your hands on the resources you need. At the start there's one building that spits out fighters, one that spits out wizards and so on, and once a building has a player's agent inside, it can't be used by anyone else for the rest of the turn: so every move counts. (You can also buy new buildings of your own, expanding the range of options. If someone else uses your building, you get a sweet fee.)
Lords of Waterdeep is a fine, mentally taxing, intensely competitive game. It's just that, for all its D&D branding, at times it can feel a bit abstract. And if you're okay with that, you'll love it. David Price
£6.99 | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | D&D Lords of Waterdeep on the App Store
One of those physical board games that many people thought were undigitisable. But they've done it - and it works great.
Galaxy Trucker is divided into two phases. In the first, the players compete - with one another and with a timer - to snatch cards (which when flipped reveal guns, storage tanks, engines and other spacecraft components) from a central pile and add them to the growing, ramshackle vessel in front of them. It's a bit like Carcassonne with a gun to your head.
There are optimal positions for the various types of card and you need to make their connectors line up as neatly as possible (because bare connectors make your vehicle more prone to damage). But the limited pool of cards - and the shortage of time as your opponents constantly take the items you need - force you into compromises. Generally everyone ends up with a massive bodge job.
In the second phase, which is much more sedate, all the players put their spaceships to the test. You line up on a stylised progress track and turn over further cards that trigger various 'adventures' (usually being attacked by space pirates or meteors, but occasionally getting the chance to collect valuable cargo) and trying to get to the finish line without disintegrating completely. The winner is determined by points, allocated for finishing position, attractiveness of spaceship, cargo collected and so on.
The contrast between frantic tile-grabbing and turn-based relaxation is fun, as is the moment when you all finish your ships and look around to see exactly how badly the first phase went for everyone else. (Although one amusing element has been lost, according to fans of the cardboard version: in that game, sections of your ship that in the heat of the moment had been attached by the wrong type of connector would simply drop off and float away, whereas the digital game won't let you form illegal connections.)
But it's a beautifully designed game throughout: a simple concept executed perfectly. The dialogue options in the campaign mode are genuinely funny; the look is cartoonish but lovely; and this most characterful and physical of board games has made the transition to the iPad with its soul intact. David Price
Le Havre (The Harbor)
If you're anything like us, you'll need three or four games of Le Havre before it clicks, and that's a long learning curve for a board game. But if conflict-light, strategy-heavy resource management games are your thing, it's well worth the effort.
Le Havre is another Euro game, like Agricola, and is if anything even drier and more analytical. It's based around the economic activities at a bustling harbour; each turn you can collect one resource from the docks (fish, iron, grain or whatever), build a mill, brickworks or other facility, or use one of the buildings (paying a fee, if the building belongs to one of your opponents) to process one resource into another or perform some other function. If you can do all that while feeding your workers and amassing enough wealth to win the game, you're doing alright.
It's a good 'un, this, with tremendous depth and highly rewarding gameplay once you get the hang of it, but make no mistake: it's hard. And as we said, it's quite dry - the conflict with other players is all done indirectly, and there are no militaristic options. David Price
£4.99 | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Le Havre on the App Store
New World Colony
Most well-designed board games take pains to avoid the death-by-a-thousand-cuts feeling of impending, inevitable defeat that hangs over the final 16 hours of the average game of Risk. In Catan, above, losing players almost always have something to aim for even if victory is unlikely, and Small World (below) invigoratingly flushes out the board every turn or two, giving it a feeling of constant possibility. New World Colony is not like that - but it's still a great game, somehow.
Like Catan, it takes place across the hexagonal tiles of a newly discovered landscape, with rival settlers competing to establish a thriving base. But unlike Catan, it's quite happy to pitch player against player in bloody head-to-head battles - you can invade and dismantle any of your rivals' tiles if you have sufficient resources. This makes for a thrilling and almost chess-like middle game, but once you establish a substantial advantage, things tend to revert to a process of mopping up. For this reason we recommend NWC as a solo game: computer players don't mind being slowly crushed, but your real-life friends might. David Price
Pandemic: The Board Game
My goodness, this is intense.
Pandemic is a vastly popular co-operative board game in which up to four friends work together to defeat four diseases sweeping the globe. Each turn you'll travel from city to city, treat the sick and research cures, hoping that the random new infections don't strike in that worst possible place and snowball into multiple outbreaks (spoiler: they always do). It's unbelievably tense, and winning feels amazing. And everyone is involved, since you're each allocated a role with special powers that will prove crucial in particular situations.
The iPad version works far better as a solo experience, but it still induces a massive (but pleasurable) panic at its key moments. And presumably the euphoria of victory is also sweet. But it also seems, oddly, to be much harder than the cardboard version; on the easy difficulty level my own group wins more often than not, but I've yet to do so on iOS. Perhaps this is a clue that I'm not the brains of my gaming group. David Price
£6.99 | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Pandemic: The Board Game on the App Store
Puerto Rico HD
Probably the most middle-class game ever created, Puerto Rico invites up to five players (human or computer-controlled) to compete in an entirely non-violent way to establish the most thriving plantation colony. You have to pick one of the iconic figures from Puerto Rico's history to play as - one of whom is a female playwright - and grow corn and coffee, build universities and haciendas, and gain in prestige by shipping resources back to Spain.
All of which makes it sound like the Bible board game that Ned Flanders makes his kids play, but it's actually brilliant. One gimmick we've not seen elsewhere, for instance, is a mechanism whereby the various phases of the game (building, trading etc) only happen if someone picks the related 'role'. Picking the role that will benefit you and offer little to your foes is one of the ways you can twist the knife - pacifism be damned. David Price
Really Bad Chess
Chess is amazing (shut up, 1990s school bullies), but one of its most widely identified problems is over-study. So many people have been obsessing over the game so much for so long that most of the openings have been exhaustively memorised; and if you're a newcomer it can be incredibly intimidating to play someone who knows in advance exactly what to do in response to all of your early moves. It makes chess, at least until the middle game, feel like a test of chess knowledge rather than pure brainpower.
One (centuries-old) solution to this is to randomise the starting position of the main (non-pawn) pieces, and in the 1990s Bobby Fischer systematised this practice into a form of chess known these days as Chess960, after its 960 possible starting positions. But this is only random in a limited way: Chess960 is carefully balanced to ensure the game is spontaneous but fair. What if you randomised the starting pieces so much that it was hopelessly unfair? That would be really bad, right?
Really Bad Chess doesn't even pretend to provide fair games of chess. You get 16 pieces, and they start on the first two ranks of the board, but other than that it's totally random. Your pawns might all be on the back row, or stacked behind one another. You could have four bishops, all on black. You might start with six queens and the other guy has none.
All of which is lots of fun, and in a strange way much more immediately mentally demanding than traditional chess. You lose the security blanket of E2 to E4, D2 to D4, knight to F3, wake me up when something interesting happens. Everything is new - and potentially dangerous - from the very beginning.
We said that no attempt is made to ensure balance but that isn't quite true. There's a ranking system: as you win games your ranking goes up, and the random setups favour you less and less (so not entirely random, then!). Start to lose and things get easier again. It's a clever idea, a lot of fun, and free. David Price
FREE (in-app purchases to remove ads, unlock game modes etc) | For iPad & iPhone (Universal app) | Really Bad Chess on the App Store
Small World 2
The mechanic at the heart of Small World involves two decks of cards: one featuring races of fantastical, Tolkienesque creatures (trolls, elves, ogres and so on) and the other featuring adjectives (heroic, peace-loving, wealthy). In each game these two decks are matched up at random, and on your first turn, and whenever you elect to dump your current lot and try something new, you get to pick a combination. The two cards you get will dictate the special rules that apply to your armies.
Beyond that, Small World is basically fantasy Risk with jokes: you conquer territories with armies and get points for the area you control (and a few other things, depending on your race and attribute). It's fun, and surprisingly deep (particularly if you buy one of the expansions - Grand Dames is great). But the best thing is the way that every game is different, thanks to the random card-matching. David Price
£6.99 | iPad only | Small World 2 on the App Store
Space Hulk is a decent digital recreation of a wonderfully tense board game beloved of spotty teenage boys in the early 1990s.
You control a squad or two of genetically modified super-soldiers in immense suits of armour, and trudge around an abandoned space ship stuffed to the gills with evil aliens. (The AI player always plays as aliens, but in the two-player mode you can take a turn as the baddie.) It's turn-based, keeping the slow-burn fear of the original, but with added kill animations and atmospheric first-person camera views.
It's not perfect, and we'd recommend playing the cardboard game itself if you can find a second-hand copy, but this is still a good effort and a lot of fun. David Price
Ticket To Ride
One for the trainspotters, you might think, although experience suggests that this simple but engrossing game will appeal to everyone.
You collect coloured cards (seen on the right and along the bottom in the screenshot below), which you then use to build railway infrastructure across the map, attempting to connect up the cities named in your (randomly allocated) objectives. Tactically we believe it's relatively straightforward, but the competition for critical stretches can get fierce. And in the end there's not much in life more satisfying than building a railway.
The default map covers the US, and there are European expansions available as in-app purchases. David Price
Ascension: Deckbuilding Game
A deck-building card game in the vein of the more famous Magic: The Gathering (pictured above, and discussed below), Ascension differs principally in that you build your deck while playing the game itself, rather than in your spare time beforehand - thus making the game far more immediately accessible, while perhaps compromising a little on strategic depth.
You and your opponent(s) start with 10 cards, each of which give you a single white 'rune' point (to spend on buying new cards) or red 'power' point (to spend on killing monsters). Each turn you are dealt five of these, and you play them, then spend the points acquiring or killing the various cards that sit in the middle of the board.
There are tons of special cards, all of which demonstrate the unusual (but we think rather wonderful) art style this game offers. And best of all, Ascension is free - although if you love the game as much as we do, you may find yourself coughing up £5 to unlock (almost) all the expansion and promo cards too. David Price
FREE | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Ascension: Deckbuilding Game on the App Store
This game is what happens when solitaire collides with stealth. Nine cards are dealt on the table as a three-by-three grid, and your aim is to draw a path through them that maximises the loot you snag, but minimises stealth point losses. Said losses can quickly rack up, too, if you attempt to tackle too many guards or monsters, or blunder about extinguishing torches.
As you get further into the game, new subtleties are unearthed. There are chests to ransack, and barrels to hide in that replenish your stealth points. Some enemies steal your gold, and others move around the board, as if the cards they're housed in are alive. Collect enough swag and you can spend it on power-ups, giving you a fighting chance of higher scores during subsequent games.
With plenty of depth and superb visuals, even its slightly repetitive nature can't take the edge off Card Thief. Start playing and it's guaranteed to steal plenty of your time. Craig Grannell
£1.99 | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Card Thief on the App Store
I've put a lot (a lot) of hours into this game, one of 2014's most critically acclaimed, and finally feel able to give it a strong recommendation. But there are a couple of reservations which I will get out of the way first.
Graphics-wise, this game… well, just watch the video below. The graphics are frankly terrible, a mixture of The Saint-esque stick figures and hand-drawn garish cartoons. If this is a deal breaker, look elsewhere (at least for now - the maker has said that a total graphical overhaul could be in the works in a future update, after a fan offered to do artwork at mate's rates).
The difficulty is pretty off-putting, too: I finished Dream Quest once with the thief character fairly early on, but then died more than 100 times before I could repeat the trick with the monk. (You can offset this to an extent by playing on the easy difficulty level, but that doesn't unlock achievements or new characters and therefore feels a little pointless.) If you get discouraged by repeated failure, seeming unfairness and Death By Random Event, you may find Dream Quest painful.
But there is so much to love here. In terms of gameplay mechanics it's right at the cutting edge of current trends: a hybrid deck-building card game and roguelike RPG. The dungeons you explore on each brief, 30-minute go are randomly generated and filled with monsters (which you fight in card-based combat), shops and unique events that offer the opportunity to add cards to your deck or remove ones that aren't pulling their weight. Levelling up gives you more hit points and mana for casting spells, but more importantly gives you access to better cards.
Card play seems basic at first but has surprising depth. Cards are split into colour-coded types (red for attack, purple for spell and so on) and clever deck-builders can construct powerful synergies: chains of cards that each let you draw more cards, multiplication buffs that lead to insane amounts of damage, fight-duration effects that stack and stack until you are causing more damage than your opponent on his own turn. (Buy Fire Shape if you see it, and thank me later.)
By the end, if things have gone right, you should be wielding a thrilling, streamlined killer of a deck, and you'll still probably die because the last-level bosses are brutal.
I do recommend this game, then, if you can get past the graphics. It's definitely a strong pick for fans of deck-builders, and the roguelike setting adds a powerful sense of theme to that often-dry genre. Just don't come running to me when the Lich plays Dark Mending and you smash your iPhone into a fine powder. David Price
£2.99 | For iPad and iPhone (Universal) | Dream Quest on the App Store
Originally a real-life card game that was the most-backed ever (in terms of backer numbers) on Kickstarter, Exploding Kittens subsequently blasted its way on to mobile. The game is more or less Russian Roulette with cats. You play with two to four other people, drawing cards. If someone gets an exploding kitten, they're out of the game - unless they can defuse it. Other cards enable a modicum of tactics: you can skip turns, peek at the top of the deck, shuffle and steal cards, and slap opponents so they take a turn.
The iOS version offers online play against random opponents or friends in private matches, secured with codes. Everything's also been cleverly tweaked for screen, such as with the addition of a 'chance of kitten' meter that starts going nuts when an exploding kitten is likely, and madcap audio and energetic animation that aligns nicely with co-creator Matthew Inman's surreal oddball imagery. Craig Grannell
£1.99 | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Exploding Kittens on the App Store
Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
Basically Magic: The Gathering with Warcraft characters, Hearthstone is a card battle game. Build decks and strategies, summon minions and cast spells. The different classes and their specific cards and abilities add a nice level of variety, and the single-player 'Curse of Naxxramas' update means you don't have to take your game online unless you want to.
As with all trading card games, Hearthstone hinges to some degree on microtransactions for new card packs, but the quest rewards for fulfilling various criteria (such as number of monsters summoned or points healed) minimise the necessity of paying for anything.
The turn-based setup makes it a perfect game to play while waiting for the kettle to boil, and seeing a long-term strategy pay off is surprisingly satisfying. Now they just need to add some decent character taunts… Adam Shepherd
A time sink, a mental workout, an addiction and at its best a sheer unadulterated joy: the Magic: The Gathering collectible card game is a cultural phenomenon with vast influence over the various branches of the gaming industry. This digital adaptation isn't perfect, but it's slick and attractive enough to do what it needs to - which is get out of the way and let the card game soar.
Before the start of a duel you spend a little time (okay, a lot of time) building and honing a deck of cards from your collection. These are made up of spells (which summon creatures or create magical effects, and which cost mana) and lands (which generate mana, and can under normal circumstances only be played at the rate of one per turn). As the duel progresses, each of you will get more and more land cards out, and therefore gain access to more and more mana, and to more and more powerful spells; which leads to a pleasing built-in escalation in the way the game plays out.
But it's much more subtle than just collecting fantasy monsters and playing them. There are professional Magic players; there are leagues around the world and millions of people who devote their time to fine-tuning Magic strategy. And all of this is because the balance and interplay of the cards has been tweaked and honed, tweaked and honed to create a game that some say rivals chess in its strategic depth.
So why are we playing Magic on the iPad instead of in the flesh? Two reasons. Firstly, while this app is pretty affordable, the secondary market that's grown up around the rarer (real-world) cards can be financially crippling. And let's face it, having boxes of Magic cards around the house doesn't go down well with wives. In both respects the iOS adaptation wins out, although there are down sides; one of which is the loss of the human, social element (the multiplayer mode is decent, but it can't rival face-to-face competition).
We said this is affordable: in fact, the app itself is free, but be warned that this provides only the bare minimum of functionality - for multiplayer games, the single-player campaign after the first world and most deck-building options you'll need to pay for IAPs. David Price
FREE (but requires in-app purchases to unlock most features - see above) | iPad only | Magic 2015 on the App Store
Mobile solitaire often ends up using tiny cards in order to fit them all on the screen. Sage Solitaire has a different solution: a three-by-three grid, quite a bit of poker, and a virtual trip to Vegas.
In the basic Sage Solitaire, you score by removing poker hands; the better the hand, the more points you get. Strategy comes by way of a rule that states you must use cards from multiple rows for each hand. With the stacks at the top of the screen being taller than those at the bottom, the latter's cards are best used sparingly. In addition, a randomly allocated suit acts as a multiplier, bestowing double points when used in a hand, and two 'trashes' exist to remove individual cards.
The Vegas mode, unlocked on clearing the entire board three times, gives you a virtual bank account, awards cash prizes only when using the multiplier hand, and ups your overall payout multiplier on clearing piles from the top two rows. Subtly different strategies are required for success, hence the initial lockdown - it's very easy to otherwise burn through your limited funds. But once you crack Vegas and hit $800, you can try your hand at True Grit. There, once your in-game money's gone, it's gone for good.
Note that there's no horrible IAP to refill your virtual coffers. The game's sole IAP (£2.99/$2.99) exists purely to unlock two further modes (Double Deck and Fifteens), remove the (unobtrusive) ads, provide stats tracking, and give you achievements to aim for. Craig Grannell
Like Lords of Waterdeep, you could argue that this calming little number has what is disparagingly known as a 'pasted-on theme': a forgettable story about precious jewels and aristocratic favour that sits awkwardly on top of, rather than having any true connection to, the game's underlying mechanics. But those mechanics, theme or no theme, are elegantly conceived, and taken as a simple, near-abstract set-collection game, Splendor has a great deal to recommend it.
Each turn you can either pick up some coloured tokens (representing various colours of precious stone) or spend these tokens to buy cards from the common supply. Cards have costs printed on them - you'll need to have enough of the right colours, or the wild-card gold tokens, which can act as any colour - but once you own them, they reduce the cost of future purchases.
A little like Dominion, say, Splendor revolves around 'building an engine': buying cheap cards that in turn make you more and more efficient at buying better and more expensive cards. And again like Dominion, a key part of the strategy revolves around knowing at what point to stop worrying about the efficiency of your engine and just focus on buying cards that give you lots of victory points. Once someone passes 15 points you complete the round and then count up.
I've made it sound reasonably simple, I think, and it's possible to play with moderate success (and a certain quiet satisfaction) by just sensibly adding to your portfolio of diamond mines or whatever the cards are supposed to represent. But it moves to the next level when you focus instead on what your opponents are doing, and on making them have a bad time: snaffling the card they've been building towards, or making an early dash to the finish line if they seem to be dawdling.
We do grieve for the lack of an online multiplayer, since the AI players seem perhaps slightly too easy to beat, but pass-and-play remains a good option. And you've always got challenge mode (a set of scripted, specific tasks within the framework of the game's rules) if you get bored. David Price
£6.99 | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Splendor on the App Store
Like Ascension (and like the glorious originator of the deck-building genre, Dominion, which sadly remains unavailable as an app), Star Realms gives each player an identical starting deck - in this case made up of eight Scout cards worth a yellow trading point, and two Vipers worth a red combat point - and tells them to get on with it. Each turn you deal out five cards from your deck, and then use them to either attack your opponent or buy more cards from the central repository, gradually evolving from tuppenny-ha'penny fleabites in the first few turns to titanic flagship assaults in the thrilling endgame. First person to have their 'Authority' points reduced to zero loses.
While you miss out on the painstaking preparation and strategy of Magic: The Gathering, you make up for this in immediacy: the start conditions are a wonderful leveller, and anyone can jump in and compete. As you play you'll master synergies between cards, get the hang of 'building an engine' and learn general strategies (grasping the strengths of the four factions is important, for instance), but it's entirely possible to just read the descriptions on the cards each turn and proceed, reasonably successfully, on that basis.
Ascension and Star Realms are both free, with in-app purchases to unlock certain modes (in this game) and card sets (in Ascension, which is probably a little more generous with its free offering), so there's no reason not to try both and see which you prefer. But we suspect that, since the two games' mechanics are so similar, most people will be swayed by their preference for sci-fi or weird fantasy. David Price
FREE (includes first chapter of campaign mode and easy AI only; in-app purchases to unlock remainder) | iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Star Realms on the App Store
So moreish that they might as well plug it directly into your addiction centre, Bejeweled Blitz takes the 'match three' mechanic of a billion App Store puzzles and squashes it into minute-long blasts of dazzling colours and crazy point tallies.
You have to swap coloured jewels within a grid (swiping intuitively with a finger) so that three or more line up; the matched jewels will disappear and more will drop down to replace them. But the tense gameplay, constant drip-feed of rewards (rare gems, boosts, coins and level-ups) and competitiveness-provoking Facebook integration combine to make a game that will expand to fill any period of free time. David Price
Don't Starve: Pocket Edition
It was while explaining to a colleague that my Don't Starve character hadn't made it through his first winter, and getting quite upset about the whole thing, that I realised my obsession with this game was getting out of hand.
It's an odd game, really, in the sense that victory is non-existent and death both inevitable and frequent: it has much in common with Minecraft (you're dumped in a hostile wilderness and expected to get on with it) but it's far more interested in killing you than in exploring your creativity. It departs from its spiritual predecessor in visual approach, too; in contrast to Minecraft's era-defining giant pixels, Don't Starve's world is endearingly hand-drawn, whimsical, faintly steampunk and Tim Burton-esque.
You must survive, then, against all possible odds and the continually encroaching hazards of (in usual order of priority) darkness, hunger, insanity, man-eating animals and bad weather. At first you're scrabbling together berries and fungi from the undergrowth, then building tools, felling trees and mining metals from the earth, building a shelter, tilling the soil and keeping livestock.
These challenges are perpetual. But in smaller ways every game is different, with a different map to explore, different resources in short supply, different random weather conditions, even different creatures wandering bloodthirstily into your path. (You can actually tailor the conditions of each game if you'd like more hounds and wetter weather, for example, but the defaults seem well balanced.) And there are many, many different deaths - deaths that are permanent, of course, because things weren't cruel enough already.
Don't Starve is a beautiful game, in looks and in elegance of design, and makes almost perfect sense on iPad. (I say almost, because the touchscreen interface is occasionally clumsy at selecting the pine cone you want to pick up rather than the entirely useless tree stump overlapping it.) It can be a painful and time-consuming obsession, it is true, but nevertheless one I wholeheartedly recommend. David Price
£4.99 | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Don't Starve: Pocket Edition on the App Store
Feeling a little too calm? Then why not amp up your stress levels with this slice of frantic puzzle action.
Harnessing the iPad and iPhone's multitouch screens brilliantly, each level of Eliss Infinity challenges you to organise and destroy a series of planetoids, rendered in jarring retro colours. You can push them around the screen to keep out of trouble, push two of the same colour together to create a single larger body, or split planets by unpinching. The key thing is to keep different colours apart, because when they touch they drain your energy.
Before long you're juggling multiple sets, the iPad is complaining that it can only handle five fingers at once, and your brain is melting. Glorious!
Eufloria pairs simple strategy with mood and style, offsetting tense gameplay with calming visuals and an ambient soundtrack.
Your job is to conquer a pastel-hued pocket of space by directing armies of 'seedlings' from colony to colony, wiping out any enemies that lurk there and establishing your own trees to generate new seedlings. You'll face tough decisions about how many seedlings you need to defend your own holdings and how many should be sent out to battle.
The push 'n' pull strategy is compelling enough, but it's the hand-drawn graphics and pretty soundtrack that really make Eufloria stand out as something special. Alec Meer
This funny, quick game combines two ideal qualities: it's easy to learn and fun to master.
Fruit (and the occasional bomb) appears on the screen, and you're tasked with slicing and slashing it up, ninja-style. If you let three pieces of fruit escape unscathed, or hit one of the bombs, your game is over. You slice by swiping your fingers across the falling fruit, and the game supports slashing with up to eight fingers at a time. Adding to the fun are great visuals, including lots of fruit juice flying with every slice, and a great, Eastern-infused soundtrack. The iPad version adds local multiplayer, which is hectic fun and highly replayable. Lex Friedman
Endless action games are a perfect fit for mobile devices, offering short sessions but a strong urge to keep playing until you dominate your friends on the leaderboards.
Helix follows in the footsteps of classics of this genre such as Super Hexagon (below, and reviewed here), with strange low-fi graphics and a simple yet quickly punishing approach to score-chasing design.You build a tally of enemy kills not by firing a weapon but by simply encircling them on the screen by moving your character in a 360-degree arc. The resulting experience is tense and challenging, not to mention unpredictable.
Helix may not look like much at a glance, but by putting the onus on fluid, constant movement rather than attacks and direct interactions, this lo-fi wonder manages to feel wholly unique. It grabs your attention and never lets go: each session may only last a minute or two, but good luck resisting the urge to play for hours. Andrew Hayward
Minecraft: Pocket Edition
Minecraft is probably one of the most popular games included in our list, as it's available for a myriad of platforms, from PC to Mac to iOS and Android and even the likes of Xbox One and PS4, and provides you with the opportunity to create whatever you desire. Set in a blocky world, users must learn to not only survive the ever-changing environment but to thrive and build weapons, armour, castles and more to impress your fellow Minecrafters.
Minecraft: Pocket Edition is a bit thin on features when compared to the Windows 10 variant, but provides the core game that users can play on the go. The default controls are a little fiddly at first but after some tweaking in the Settings menu, we're sure you'll find your ideal play style - if touchscreen isn't the way forward, it also boasts full MFi controller support. As well as featuring a robust number of features, the game also supports multiplayer as long as you have an active internet connection and an Xbox Live account that you can log in with.
The only downside is also an upside in some ways. While Minecraft won't automatically sync your created worlds between your iOS devices, dedicated Minecraft fans can pay for Minecraft Portals, which syncs your progress between not only iOS devices but every platform that Minecraft is available on, and also allows friends to access your worlds when you're offline. It's great for worlds where groups of people are active, as it doesn't require the host to be online 24/7.
It's a barrel of laughs and with a bit of help from online Minecraft tutorials, we're completely sold on the blocky sandbox game. Lewis Painter
£6.99 | For iPhone & iPad (Universal) | Minecraft: Pocket Edition on the App Store
And here's an appealing free offering. Only One is a clifftop brawler in which you fight off waves of enemies armed with only your sword, an increasingly powerful range of special abilities and the glorious power of gravity.
The look is charmingly retro and the combat simple but faintly tactical (among other considerations, shepherding enemies away from the edge makes for harder kills but better loot). It's also rather funny. David Price
Osmos was originally a highly regarded 'ambient gaming' PC title, but the touchscreen suits it perfectly. It's a tranquilising experience, with trippy visuals and music.
You play a pulsating ball of light. The aim is to work your way up the food chain by moving around and absorbing smaller balls of light (making you expand) and avoiding bigger ones. Yet this simple concept produces an engaging experience like no other. Despite remaining utterly serene, some levels can get fiendishly complicated, with different balls of light acting in dramatically different ways. A classic that deserves a place in every iOS gamer's collection. Lou Hattersley
At first glance, Peggle looks like a pretty straightforward combination of pinball and Puzzle Bobble. But while the object is simple - clear the stage of orange pegs - the methods require clever strategies, knowledge of geometry and some lucky bounces.
You launch a pinball at the screen below using a rotating cannon; the ball will clear any block or peg it bounces against. Green pegs unlock potent powers, purple pegs increase your score, ball catchers can award you additional balls to use, while obstacles constantly stand in your way. Peggle is an instant classic and one of the most addictive puzzle games to come out in the past decade. Chris Holt
This one is simplicity itself. The eponymous Super Hexagon is always at the centre of the screen, and other geometric wireframe shapes are constantly being sucked into it. You play a tiny arrow on the edge of the hexagon, and it's your role to rotate around the centre to ensure that you're never crushed by the incoming shapes. It sounds easy, and perhaps a little thin when I point out that you only need to stay alive for a minute to unlock the 3 extra levels. That's misleading - the twitchy gameplay is so difficult that staying alive for those 60 seconds becomes your own personal Everest.
You'll simultaneously love and hate the game, but it's brilliant: streamlined, simple and fiendishly moreish. Alan Martin
Those with a strong stomach and a cruel sense of humour will get a lot out of this clumsy medical sim, which tasks you with a (fairly short) series of life-or-death operations and then deliberately makes the controls as difficult as possible, just so you make lots of amusing mistakes.
Tools end up lost inside ribcages, intestines are wrapped around the patient's neck like a scarf, teeth go everywhere, and the surgeon frequently injects himself with anaesthetic by accident. It's a catalogue of errors: Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em set in an ER. Lots of fun, and great for showing off to friends - but as our video below illustrates, it's not for the squeamish.
Driving & racing games
Compared to some of the other racing games we look at below, AG Drive takes a relatively traditional view of futuristic racing: all zooming spaceships and massive metal tracks akin to giant looping roller-coasters that leave your heart in your mouth. It's a dazzling game, with animated environments and gorgeous lighting effects that make everything feel alive.
But mostly you'll stay for the racing. When immersed in the game, you can try your luck in one-off time-trials and single races, or work your way through a career, gradually upgrading your craft as you go. Just try not to gawp at a Mars sunrise as you speed on to yet another loop, or you'll soon find rivals blazing past. Craig Grannell
Asphalt 8: Airborne
Whereas Ridge Racer (below) has 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. You zoom your way around hyper-real tracks, occasionally animated with a launching shuttle or a massive ferry to leap over and totally not crash into. Crashy moments should instead be saved for rival cars, ramming them while nitroing; this, naturally, rewards you with more nitro. Asphalt just can't get enough of nitro.
The only dent in this bonkers driving game's otherwise fine frame is its business model. Gameloft and freemium equates to IAP and ads. 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
This one first came out in 2000 on the Sega Dreamcast - and it shows. Crazy Taxi is like a time machine for your iOS device, assaulting your eyes with graphics that looked pretty hot 15 years ago but are now muddy and littered with pop-up. So why are we recommending the game? Because Crazy Taxi was, is, and will always be, superb.
You choose your driver, pick up passengers, and barrel about city streets, leaping over cars, weaving in and out of traffic, hurtling from the top of car parks, and doing whatever it takes to shave a few seconds off of your fare's journey. It's exhilarating, hugely replayable, and absurdly fun. Craig Grannell
Speaking of retro, Drift'n'Drive doesn't look so much like it crawled out of a Dreamcast as the 1980s. But this cruelly overlooked overhead racer is one of the most compelling we've played on iOS. Dinky cars barge their way along vertically scrolling tracks, getting all smashy in an attempt to reach their goal.
At first, your car is underpowered and fragile, but as you improve your position, you can buy upgrades (only with earned in-game currency - there's no IAP here). Eventually, you'll be kicking bottom racking up wins, at which point you can take on the next championship level. There's also a split-screen multiplayer mode, if you think you've got what it takes to beat your friends. Craig Grannell
Does Not Commute
What a brilliant concept this is.
Does Not Commute starts you off with a simple driving challenge: get a car from point A to point B before the time runs out. (The car runs automatically: you just tap the left or right side of the screen to steer.) But as soon as you achieve this, the game rewinds time and asks you to repeat the trick with a second vehicle on the same course. Only this time you need to contend with another driver on the road: yourself, screaming recklessly across the map in the first car. This repeats until the screen is chocka with high-speed illustrations of your own inability to drive.
There are so many neat touches: the funny little snapshots of each commuter's life and why they're in a hurry; the dangerous ramps, jumps and shortcuts that you're encouraged to use in order to avoid traffic, but which nearly always end in disaster; the desperate rush to beat the clock and pick up the extra-time power-ups; and, best of all, the challenge of adapting to a vehicle that handles completely differently within a space of seconds.
It's free, too, but on the same terms as Smash Hit: in other words, you can play for free but you can't save at any of the checkpoints until you upgrade to the Premium version, which costs £2.99. We think it's worth it, but have a try and see for yourself. David Price
Hill Climb Racing
Hill Climb Racing is an excellent time filler which you can pick up and put down at a moment's notice.
The basic game is free and involves driving your 4x4 up hills, across bridges, down hills and then up more hills. Along the way you collect coins and fuel. Drive too slowly and you'll run out of petrol; drive too quick and you'll inevitably flip the Jeep over and snap the poor hillbilly's neck.
Using your coins (plus bonus cash from jumps and flips) you can upgrade your engine, tyres, suspension and 4x4 system. There are also 14 vehicles, 13 of which must be unlocked. You can earn a fair amount of coins by playing the game, but you'll quickly realise that to unlock most of the levels and vehicles you'll have to use the in-app purchases to buy coins.
It's perfectly possible to play Hill Climb Racing without spending money, though. The real joy comes in mastering the controls since, once you do, you can get up the steep hills that you previously thought impossible and cover ground quickly enough (without crashing) to collect fuel cans. There's just a brake and accelerator, and you must carefully use both to avoid forward or backward rolls. Jim Martin
Horizon Chase - World Tour
A love letter to classic arcade fare, Horizon Chase brings the likes of the Amiga's Lotus Turbo Esprit Challenge and SNES racer Top Gear kicking and screaming into the present. This one's all about insane speed, vibrant graphics, and fighting your way from the back of the pack - every time.
But just because Horizon Chase has one foot in 1992, that doesn't mean it's entirely retro. The controls are perfect for touchscreens, the career mode is finely tuned for mobile play, and the visuals boast a gorgeous low-poly aesthetic that's unique and modern, and yet evokes the feel of old-school racers - all without stabbing your eyes with chunky pixels. Craig Grannell
Like AG Drive, Impulse GP envisions a future of looping tracks and insane speed, but rather than encase racers inside metal spaceships, it instead plonks them on hoverbikes. Health & Safety must be taking a decades-long break.
As for the game itself, Impulse GP can't match its most beautiful rivals when it comes to visuals, but it gets things right where it matters: speed, track design, and feeling like you're hanging on by your fingernails. The courses are full of corkscrews, hills, twists and tunnels, and boost pads give you a stomach-lurching blast when you time it right. Just avoid the red pads (which slow you to a crawl) and rivals (who'll knock you into a spin, given the chance) if you want to win. Craig Grannell
Joe Danger Touch
Joe Danger was originally a downloadable indie gem for Playstation 3, but this iOS port is anything but a lazy conversion. A lot of thought has been put into making the transition to the small screen on the move as smooth as possible, with stunts, wheelies, ducking, lane changes, hops and everything else handled by simple swipes of the screen. All of which leads to a game that possibly surpasses the original, while managing to maintain the impressive colourful 3D cartoon style on a tiny screen. Moreish, and a genuine labour of love.
If you like it, also check out the sequel, Joe Danger Infinity, which shrinks the motorcycling hero down to pit his skills against rooms full of toys, and snooker tables with Joe-crushing balls. Alan Martin
Reckless Racing 3
Putting our political correctness hat aside for a moment, the original game in this series was perhaps best described as 'Redneck Racing'. Beaten up vehicles jostled around courses comprising a grimy mall car park and a wrecking yard. The sequel stripped away the character, but this third entry again gets the balance right.
If anything, Reckless Racing 3 is even more oddball than its grandparent, with a decidedly surreal edge. You smash and drift your way through airports, abandoned nuclear plants, and genteel Mediterranean hilltop cafes. And along with straightforward racing events, there's a Gymkhana mode, to test your skills at coaxing a rickety car around precision courses. The physics is a bit floaty, but get used to that and you'll spend many hours enjoying the best top-down racer on iOS. Craig Grannell
Ridge Racer Slipstream
To some extent, the Ridge Racer series has long performed doughnuts on the concept of realism and doubled down on arcade thrills. But unlike some of the other arcade racers in this list, Ridge Racer makes you work for glory, slowly filling a nitro tank when you drift, and forcing you to get the hang of slipstreaming, in order to overtake rival cars. It's not a simulation, but it feels more like proper driving than the likes of Asphalt 8.
On iOS, it's a gorgeous game, too, with 20 stunning tracks. The whiff of IAP lurks, but you can leave that on the starting grid if you're prepared to put in time and effort to hone your skills, rather than buy your way to the chequered flag. Craig Grannell
If you prefer racers to make a splash, Riptide GP2 dumps you in a future that has decided cars are old hat. Instead, rocket-powered hydro jets are the way forward, lurching their way along undulating watery tracks. This future also likes massive show-offs, and so at opportune moments, you must perform spectacular stunts to acquire boost.
This is easier said than done. Some courses have handy yellow ramps, but others merely offer huge waves where you take your chances. One wrong move and you'll find splashy disaster, hitting the water just before your rocket-powered hydro jet hits your head. Still, there's great satisfaction in mastering stunts, and Riptide GP2 as a whole is a gloriously fun arcade racing experience. Craig Grannell
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed
Since Mario Kart arrived on the SNES, go-kart racers have infused a sense of fun, delight and surreal weaponry into the racing genre. When done well, they are properly videogame-y videogames, packed full of cartoon characters, dazzling tracks, and strange projectiles to unsportingly blast opponents with, just as they're about to win.
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed has a further quirk, which is the 'transformed' bit found 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, IAP lurks, but the game's generous with in-game currency, and you can eradicate ads for 99p, or get free races forever for £9.99. Craig Grannell
FREE + IAP | For iPad and iPhone (Universal) | Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed on the App Store
Five Nights at Freddy's
An indie title that has been taking the horror game world by storm, this started out scaring the pants off the PC community before moving to iOS. You play a night watchman in a Chuck-E Cheese-style kids' restaurant with animatronic characters. Except at night, these characters tend to get a little bit… murdery.
Stuck in your little office, the only thing you can do is use the various cameras throughout the restaurant to keep an eye on your furry friends, and activate your office's security doors if they get too close. Watch your power levels, though - run out of juice and you're toast.
The tense, claustrophobic atmosphere and plentiful jump-scares make FNAF a nerve-shredding recipe for PTSD. Don't play this on the bus unless you enjoy your fellow commuters hearing your girlish screams. Adam Shepherd
£2.99 | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Five Nights at Freddy's on the App Store
One of our favourite point-and-click room escape games ever, Forever Lost is set in a series of spooky, deserted buildings including hospitals, asylums and manor houses. You'll need find items and solve puzzles to escape. Scour every corner, look under every object and open every drawer and door to find the tools you need to unlock and solve new, challenging puzzles.
There are three episodes of Forever Lost, each in the form of its own game in the iOS App Store, and each offering hours of gameplay. Together they tell the mysterious story of Alice and Jason that had me completely intrigued.
Forever Lost: Episode 3 was released on 9 July after a long, agonising wait. Never before have I found myself anticipating a new game as much as I have with each episode of Forever Lost.
If you enjoyed The Room, you will love this game. It's scary, offers great graphics and is utterly mind-boggling in the best way. Each episode is better than the last - I've already spend a few hours exploring and puzzling over the huge Episode 3 and I've still not finished it yet.
What are you waiting for? Download Forever Lost: Episode 1 for £3.99 and you won't look back. You'll find Forever Lost: Episode 2 here, and Forever Lost: Episode 3 here. There is also a Lite version of episode one for you to try for free, as well as a free spin-off called Cabin Escape: Alice's Story. Or you can download the Forever Lost Complete bundle for £11.99.
Lost Within probably isn't going to wow you with its novel take on horror. It's what you'd expect: a point-and-tap survival horror game set in an appropriately terrifying insane asylum. (You play as Deputy Pearson, tasked with checking the abandoned Weatherby Asylum for junkies and random kids before the place gets demolished.) But despite Lost Within's conventional setting and storyline, it will scare the pants off you.
The interior of the building is creepy in all the right ways - there are old gurneys and wheelchairs strewn about, eerie graffiti lines the walls, and everything is stained and rusted - and the attention to detail is excellent. You can read the graffiti, see the screws on the wheelchairs, and tell the difference between rust, dirt, and bloodstains on the floor. You can go up to anything and examine it, opening drawers and cabinets and crawling under desks and into sturdy old lockers.
As you progress through the asylum, you'll start to interact with objects that give you flashbacks to the time when the asylum was in use. What's cool about these flashbacks is that they're also detailed; so detailed, in fact, that you can move through them while you're in the flashback.
Gameplay is an excellent mix of storytelling and skill. You'll feel challenged, but not frustrated, as you hide from monsters and try to escape the asylum. Highly recommended. Sarah Jacobsson Purewal
Year Walk is a difficult game to describe, because much of its power comes from its twisting, sinister narrative and it's arguably more about the experience than the puzzles: this is a multimedia experiment in the form of a game, but it's effective and affecting rather than arch.
Essentially all you need to do is control the movement of an unseen character through a wintry, papercraft-styled forest, chaining together particular sequences to further progress. Some of this is perfectly intuitive, some of it requires throwing conventional logic to the winds to some degree, but the overall intent of the game is to make you feel lost and confused. Alec Meer
Horror fans may also like...
If you're still looking for scares, why not give Limbo a look? It's a brilliant puzzle-platform game but the atmosphere is distinctly unsettling, and it has without a doubt the most frightening spider yet seen in a video game. That's in the platform games section.
The Walking Dead (below) is a more traditional take on cinematic-style horror (it's zombie-themed, if you're not familiar with the TV show or comic); that one is listed among our favourite adventure and story games games.
Multiplayer & social games
Bloop - Tabletop Finger Frenzy
One of the simplest multiplayer titles around, Bloop has between two and four players pick a colour and then try to tap the most tiles. After each short round, the size of the tiles decreases, leading to increasingly frantic tapping frenzies and plenty of hand collisions over your iOS device of choice. Once the final round's over, Bloop tots up the score - and that's it.
With its lurid colours, pleasingly retro sound effects, and straightforward challenge, Bloop is a friendly, accessible game that anyone can immediately understand. It's also fun, whether playing on the larger display of an iPad or pecking away at the smaller screen of an iPhone. Just make sure you all agree on any additional rules beforehand: shoving; how many hands to use; that it's totally not OK to abscond with the iPad while yelling BLOOP at an irritatingly loud volume. Craig Grannell
£4.99 | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Bloop on the App Store
Draw Something might be flawed, but for a while this Pictionary-style social puzzler threatened to take over the world. After setting up a game with a friend or stranger (you can have several on the go at once), you are presented with three objects. You pick one, and then draw it. Later, your friend will see your drawing process as a video, and try to guess what it is. They'll then draw a picture, and you try to keep the game going as long as possible: it's collaborative, not competitive.
The drawing interface can be a bit clumsy (we advise using a stylus), but the basic idea is economy-threateningly fun. Lex Friedman
King of Opera
We can safely say that King of Opera is the most fun you can have with four people and an iPad.
Like all great party games, it has an amazingly simple concept: there are four opera tenors, and only one spotlight to hog. When someone else has the spotlight, everyone else tries to shove them off the stage to take it for themselves. (Just like in real life.) For its admittedly short lifespan this is a purely joyful experience that anyone can pick up and play. Alan Martin
Pokemon GO has taken the entire world by storm. It first appeared in New Zealand, Australia and the US before it was rolled out to the UK and the rest of Europe, and since then it has been Pokemon GO GO GO. The idea of the game is simple: you're a Pokemon trainer and armed with your smartphone, you must go out into the world to catch Pokemon and battle rival gangs at Pokemon gyms. The difference between Pokemon GO and other games? You have to physically go outside and walk around to find Pokemon, gyms and Pokestops, which are usually points of interest that'll give you a few Pokeballs, maybe a potion or even an egg to hatch.
The type of Pokemon depends on the time of day and the area it's in - you're more likely to find water Pokemon by rivers and the seaside, while grass Pokemon are usually found in grassy areas like Parks. Once you find a Pokemon, the next step is to catch it - and this is where the app gets fun. The app uses Augmented Reality and your smartphone camera to superimpose the Pokemon in front of you in real life, wherever you are. From there, you need to throw Pokeballs to catch it and add it to your growing collection, with 150 Pokemon available to find.
There are gyms that rival teams can battle in for ownership, with the owner of the gym receiving Poke-coins for their achievements. These can be used to purchase bag upgrades, extra items, etc.
Essentially it's a game that promotes exercise, and plays hugely on nostalgia of Pokemon in the 1990s. It's free to download, too, so why wouldn't you give it a go? Lewis Painter
FREE | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Pokemon GO on the App Store
Spaceteam is perhaps the ultimate iOS party game. It's certainly the best iOS game if you enjoy shouting nonsensical phrases at your friends.
Each player's screen shows a spaceship's dashboard, peppered with absurd dials and controls, and shows the ship itself at the top. The monitor periodically demands that you adjust one of the controls or dials to a specified setting, and the speed with which you respond dictates how successfully the ship escapes the fiery explosion on its tail.
Except that quite often, the setting you're supposed to adjust isn't on your screen at all - it's on one of your friends'. Which means you have tell them to 'set bat and ball to three' or something like that. While the other players are trying to be heard with their own commands.
All of which adds up to an utterly stupid and totally wonderful experience.
Vainglory is staggeringly well presented, with some of the best visuals seen on the App Store: colourful and lushly detailed environments and well-animated fantasy characters. But this isn't a case of form over function.
The game spotlights three-on-three team-based action with (and against) fellow online players, and each squad must destroy the crystal at their opponents' base. It's not just a matter of overpowering your foes in head-to-head battle - instead, you must work together to take down enemy turrets, use minion creatures as living shields and generally make smart decisions in every phase of the game.
The free-to-play design thankfully puts no limits on gameplay: you can play as much as you want, but only with the certain free characters offered at any given time. If you want to use a non-free warrior, you'll have to pay a one-time fee with in-game currency.
Vainglory has the heart of a full-bodied multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) experience. And like the top PC genre entries, it's a remarkably fair and fun free game that doesn't penalise players who opt not to shell out. Andrew Hayward
Multiplayer & social gamers may also like...
Clearly there are lots more multiplayer games than this, and most of the sections in this roundup contain at least one game that suits more than one player.
But social gamers should particularly focus on the board games section, which is almost entirely multiplayer games; the card & deck-building games section, which includes the mighty Magic: The Gathering and Ascension, both of which are excellent two-player games; and the word games category, where you'll find that most addictive of social games, Words With Friends, among other possibilities.
This Mexican jumping bean is on a mission. (You can tell it's Mexican because of the sombrero, obviously.) Going where no bean has gone before, this springy hatted legume boings through 70 stages, aiming to snarf all of the fruit, find hidden axolotls, and get to the goal using the fewest possible bounds.
The tiny snag is that these things aren't possible simultaneously, which is good for players, since it leads to tackling each of the stages with cunning new tactics. The other tiny snag is you can only guide the bean left and right.
Cue: loads of teeth-gnashing as you mess up by a fraction of a bean length, overshooting your bounce target by one and missing the gold. Then a big grin as you realise this colourful, breezy platformer is superb and replaying a stage is actually a pleasure. Craig Grannell
£2.99 | For iPad and iPhone (Universal) | Bean Dreams on the App Store
Beneath The Lighthouse
We've never been beneath a lighthouse. We'd always assumed it would mostly be rocks. How wrong we were. It turns out that underneath a lighthouse - or at least this particular one - you find almost certain death, in the form of spinning rooms that have spikes all over the place. If you're a rotund boy trying to find his lost Grandpa and get the lighthouse's light shining again, that's a problem.
What you get here, then, is an action puzzler, where through a combination of deft finger-work and a bit of brainpower you make your way safely into the depths of the lighthouse. The clever bit is the controls. You drag the on-screen wheel to shift the circular rooms, and gravity gets your little chap rolling (or, as is often the case, hurtling) about. The other clever bit is the level design, which starts off very slightly challenging, and becomes increasingly murderous as the game goes on.
For free, you get access to everything, but there's a lives system in play. Get killed three times during any level, and an extra set for that attempt only becomes available on watching an ad. That seems eminently fair, although those lives soon vanish - especially if you want to speedrun through the game like a maniac, in order to win yourself shiny rewards. Craig Grannell
Cally's Caves 3
You'll probably be some way into Cally's Caves 3 when you start to wonder what the catch is. "Surely," you'll say, "the developers haven't given me an expansive and beautifully designed - if frequently frustrating and challenging in an old-school kind of way - platform game with oodles of blasting." At least that's what we said, cursing our thumbs whenever we died, and wondering at what point the game would lock up and start demanding money.
As it turns out, the developers are hardcore gamers and have no truck with terrible monetisation. Therefore, you get unobtrusive ads on static screens, and are otherwise left to your own devices. And the game is excellent.
The backstory involves Cally's parents being kidnapped for a third time by an evil scientist. She therefore resolves to rescue them, primarily by leaping about the place and blowing away all manner of adversaries using the kind of high-powered weaponry not usually associated with a young girl with pigtails. Level layouts are varied, and weapon power-ups are cleverly designed, based around how much you use each item. The one niggle is the map, which is checkpoint-based - it's a bit too easy to find yourself replaying a trio of levels again and again to get to a place further along in your journey where you can restart.
Still, that merely forces you to take a little more care, rather than blundering about the place, and to breathe in the delicately designed pixellated landscapes. And should you decide you want to throw money at the developers, there are optional IAPs that unlock new game modes, or a load of coins if you want to splurge in the in-game store without working for your money. Craig Grannell
Doodle Jump offers addictive, simple, addictive, mindless, addictive fun. And did we mention 'addictive'?
You control a hand-drawn creature whose only goal is to get higher. As you tilt your iPhone or iPad from side to side, the creature jumps towards various bouncy platforms. Most of these are stationary, but you'll also encounter brown platforms that break if you land on them, blue ones that move and springs that provide a boost. As you get higher you'll encounter monsters, UFOs and black holes that you can shoot (by tapping) or just avoid. This is the perfect micro-game: insanely addictive and deliciously replayable. Lex Friedman
I recall once laughing at a games reviewer's observation that an RPG with a jump button is "rarer than a badger in a Ferrari". Well, this is that even rarer thing: a platform game without one.
In Drop Wizard you can't jump; all you can do is move left or right (it's one or the other - you can't stand still) and fall off things. Fortunately the hole at the bottom of each level, unlike those in most platform games, leads not to death but to the top of the screen again.
Dropping is thus centrally important, as the name of the game suggests: as well as your primary way of navigating each level, it's also your only way of attacking, as each time the wizard drops on to a new platform he shoots a little star that can stun enemies and allow you to walk into them for the coup de grâce.
The graphics are sweet and cheerful, the levels are escalatingly fiendish, and the gameplay is beautifully polished. Drop Wizard is a simple game, but one that comes highly recommended. David Price
Gunbrick is a hybrid platformer/puzzler that tasks you with "shooting and rolling your way to victory," to paraphrase developer Nitrome's description. This challenging title features stylised pixellated art, unlockable adventures, boss fights, and of course, a gunbrick.
One side of the brick is a shield; on the other, a gun. You can use the gun to move around (you can only go up by shooting the ground, for example) or just roll around. These two techniques - shooting and rolling - provide the backbone of the puzzles.
Understanding how to calibrate your gunbrick in the world around you is essential to progression, and the initial levels do a great job of holding your hand before the puzzles get more elaborate. You go from navigating the world and destroying enemies to attempting to solve complex tile and movement puzzles.
Nitrome also boasts that Gunbrick doesn't have any in-app purchases, and is safe for kids. While I feel like a lot of the subtle satire and difficulty may be better suited for adults, it's not a bad game for precocious youngsters. Just be prepared to answer questions about the game's nonsensical plot and why the big-nosed duck-like pilot is fighting the police. I have the same ones myself. Chris Holt
I Am Level
This one looks like it's fallen through a wormhole in time, and now sits bewildered in your iOS device, wondering where its pals Jet Set Willy and Monty on the Run have gone. But although I Am Level has the visual appearance of a retina-singeing Spectrum game from 1984, this is merely retro veneer on a smart, modern platform game.
There's no wandering about and tapping to jump here. Instead, the grinning yellow protagonist rolls as you tilt your device. Tapping activates pinball-like triggers - plungers, gates, flippers - on the screen. Clever design transforms each individual room into a tiny action puzzle, with you blatting the ball about to grab glowing stars, all the while avoiding oddball patrolling enemies. It's charming, playable and unique - a credit to indie developers everywhere. Craig Grannell
£1.99 | iPad & iPhone (Universal) | I Am Level on the App Store
Icycle: On Thin Ice
From the off, it's pretty clear Icycle is like no other platform game, as the worried-looking Dennis cycles about naked across a precariously disintegrating landscape. By equal measure beautiful and deeply weird, Dennis's surroundings are a post-apocalyptic nightmare as envisaged by a top-quality graphic designer. Half the time, as you battle to bounce his bike up a slope, or use a handy umbrella to break a fall, you can't help but coo as the hero is impaled by a particularly stunning piece of extremely sharp scenery.
The 80 short missions pelt so much imagination your way that it's difficult to take in at first. And although each of the scenes is very much choreographed, this doesn't hamper repeat play. In fact, you'll happily drag Dennis through his madcap ordeal several times, to revel again in the crazy brilliance of it all, and also to ensure you grab all of the ice, so you can grab Dennis some much-needed clobber in the in-game shop. Craig Grannell
£2.99 | iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Icycle: On Thin Ice on the App Store
Developer Nitrome has a habit of capturing the essence of popular genres, stripping them to the core, and cleverly reworking them for mobile. Leap Day is, ostensibly, a platform game. The only snag is the hero of the hour - a little yellow blob that looks like a kind of retro Muppet - automatically runs. All you can do to control it is tap the screen to jump, and then a second time to double-jump.
Limitations are also imposed on the game's environments. In Leap Day, each level is one screen wide but dozens high. Your aim is to climb to the top, avoiding death through being spiked or clobbered by one of the many beasties ambling about. Along the way, you grab fruit, which can be spent at opportune checkpoints that mean when you die (and you will die - frequently) you don't have to start from the beginning.
As with any platform game, Leap Day is primarily about timing. And as with any good platform game, it has excellent level design. You'll sit swearing at your screen about an impossible section, only to crack it and feel like a boss. Interestingly, a new level appears daily, giving an excuse to regularly check in. Craig Grannell
A visually dazzling, fast-paced and Apple Design Award-winning platform game that's frequently a treat - if sometimes a bit too tough for its own good - Leo's Fortune involves manipulating scenery to solve puzzles, zooming along dizzying loops, and repeatedly getting killed in tight, unforgiving circumstances. Detailed, lush and rather charming. Craig Grannell
Sad, cruel and beautiful (this is starting to sound like the lyrics to a Roxy Music track), Limbo is a puzzle-platform game set in a grim and homicidal afterlife.
You play as a small boy trying to retrieve his lost sister, solving moving-crate brain-teasers while various hazards - ranging from circular saws and rising flood water to brain worms and the scariest spider you've ever seen - try to destroy you. It's an experience you won't forget quickly. David Price
There's an air of the conventional about Mikey Hooks, which initially feels very much 'platform game by the numbers', draped in fairly uninspiring visuals. Mikey leaps over spiked pits and adversaries, slides through small gaps, grabs coins, reaches the end goal, and then gets to have a go at a new stage.
Pretty quickly, though, the game becomes infectious. In part, the swing mechanic is a genius addition, allowing Mikey to go a bit Tarzan from the many hooks that appear throughout each stage. It's a concept we've seen elsewhere, but Mikey Hooks totally nails the idea. Coupled with finely tuned stage design, there's a fluidity and grace to the game that's hugely compelling, encouraging you to repeat stages until you best the speedrun goal. It's a great example of how ordinary-looking games can sometimes turn out to be the best around. Craig Grannell
£1.99 | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Mikey Hooks on the App Store
Miles & Kilo
It's not been a great day for Miles and his faithful hound Kilo. Having crash-landed on a deserted island, bits of their plane have been stolen by decidedly unfriendly locals. If they want to escape, they'll need to get every part back.
Across 36 colourful levels, you auto-run, tapping the left of the screen to jump and the right to perform in-context actions. Mostly, this involves lobbing collected fruit at adversaries, but sometimes finds Milo wall-jumping like a ninja, and rope-swinging across perilous drops.
This might all sound like Nintendo's Super Mario Run, and there's certainly some retro love here in terms of the blocky visuals. But Miles & Kilo's a far more vicious beast than Nintendo's game, with a take-no-prisoners approach to difficulty.
For our money, though, it's also the better game. Its fast pace is thrilling, and the short levels are meticulously designed, forcing you to learn every step if you're to succeed. Best of all, the game never tires of switching things up, whether zipping along in a mine cart or on a surfboard, or clinging on to Kilo's lead as he belts after an end-of-level boss. Craig Grannell
£2.99 | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Miles & Kilo on the App Store
Dogs are hilarious when they dream, with their muffled barks and twitching legs. Little did we know they are superheroes when they sleep - at least if Mimpi's dreams are to be believed. When snoozing, this particular pooch plays out the part of pirate, scientist and princess rescuer, dealing with all manner of hazards, from giant dragons to wonky boats.
Mimpi Dreams is a visual treat, with a cartoonish but sleek art style that offers plenty of character. Interactions are plentiful, the game encouraging you to fiddle about with the environment to complete the various puzzles that let the pooch progress. Challenges are slight, though - this is a game designed to be a joyful experience anyone can work through, rather than an arduous test of arcade skills. On that basis, it's an immense success. Craig Grannell
99p | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Mimpi Dreams on the App Store
iOS has seen its fair share of super hard games, usually of the "endless platformer" variety - think Flappy Bird and Robot Unicorn Attack. But Mr. Jump isn't endless. Victory is possible, just very unlikely.
Each of the twelve levels (more are on their way) features pits, pixel-wide platforms to land on and other obstacles, and each level introduces a new game mechanic or obstacle to watch out for. Your only goal is to get to the end of the level. Mr. Jump moves for you, and all you have control over is when and how high he jumps, determined by how firmly you tap the screen.
While levels will take you less than a minute to run through in one successful go, some took me near an hour to beat. I felt tense and scared, hopping from platform to platform. When I finally make it past a spot where I always die, I hold my breath.
Flappy Bird fans, platform game lovers and masochists alike will enjoy Mr. Jump. Go and see what all of the fuss is about. Chris Holt
Platform Panic certainly has a lot of platforms in it, but you'll be doing the panicking. The premise is something something heroes abducted something, which ultimately results in you taking on some kind of quest that involves inevitable death after valiantly navigating your way through a number of dangerous rooms.
Movement is swipe-based - your little hero auto-runs and you swipe left or right to head that way or up to jump. For the most part, timing is crucial, because if you collide with a single hazard, it's game over.
What makes Platform Panic a cut above, though, is the huge number of rooms and hazards, their smart design, and how they're fired your way. Each room on your journey acts as a miniature puzzle to be bested and committed to memory. On encountering something new - pipes that suck you in and blow you out elsewhere; hero-frying lasers; huge spiked wheels - you'll likely be horribly killed. But the next time you face the room, you'll be ready for it and add a point to your tally - well, unless it's flipped the other way round, in which case you'll probably die again.
With rooms being presented broadly randomly, Platform Panic is endlessly replayable. It's also mobile-friendly, given that games are typically over inside a minute or so (unless you're a platform-game genius, in which case two minutes).
IAPs are lurking, but they're of the non-hateful variety. £1.99/$1.99 nukes the ads, and you can also buy coins, which can be spent on continues or characters. Three quid nets you 5,000, which is enough to buy every single character and still have change for a handful of continues. Alternatively, you can collect coins as you play, since each room has at least one. Craig Grannell
On traditional handheld consoles, platform games are reliant on precise controls, but twitch efforts on iOS only have a touchscreen to work with - and mashing a glass screen is no substitute for buttons and D-pads. This is why the best iOS platformers strip back the genre, simplifying everything to its core.
In Raider Rush, you're apparently solving the mysteries of two temple towers, in order to restore world peace. Only the towers are quickly filling with lava, and happen to be full of saw-blades and spikes. All you can do is leap about - jumping left or right, depending on which side of the screen you tap.
This is all played out at insane speeds, to the point it evokes Super Meat Boy. Restarts are frequent, but once you get into 'the zone', you'll relish moments where you wall-jump up a narrow passageway and make it to the exit, having avoided something sharp and deadly by a single pixel.
For free, you get the first tower and an endless mode; a £1.99 IAP gets you the rest and removes the adverts. Craig Grannell
Rayman Fiesta Run
One of console gaming's most famous platform game stars, Rayman isn't the kind of title you'd expect to work on iOS. Historically reliant on twitch controls, you'd have expected the big-nosed hero to fall flat on his face. However, developer Ubisoft pared down the gaming experience, transforming Fiesta Run into a kind of giddy and thrilling roller-coaster auto-runner, where you blaze through each stage only tapping a couple of virtual buttons.
This might sound reductive, but Rayman Fiesta Run distills classic platform gaming to its essence: timing, memory and reflexes. To collect all of the golden Lums and max-out rewards and power-ups, it's vital to map out each stage and perfect your journey through it. And on getting 100 per cent on any of them, you'll feel like a boss. Craig Grannell
£2.99 | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Rayman Fiesta Run on the App Store
Sometimes You Die
This enormously clever game is short on duration but long on wit and sparkling ideas. Sometimes You Die's premise is that each time you die (usually by falling on spikes), your stricken corpse is left behind, allowing your future self to use it as a handy prop. Dying therefore becomes a legitimate strategy. This is all summed up by the amusing instruction/motto "1) DIE 2) PROFIT".
Quite aside from this innovative gameplay element, SYD is enlivened by a punishingly vigorous soundtrack and the stream of threats, abuse and quasi-philosophical musings written across the screen and read out by a Stephen Hawking-esque narrator. More of this sort of thing, please. David Price
£1.99 | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Sometimes You Die on the App Store
We've filed it under platform games, but Stealth Inc also bleeds into the realms of puzzles and stealth action. You control a series of disposable clones, tasked with creeping around traps, cameras and robot sentries and trying to stay alive long enough to hack into various inconveniently located computer terminals.
You need to think hard about the best route through each level, but once you plunge in the game is all about fast-twitch hand-eye co-ordination - not just in order to get a good time, but to make it through the lethal level furniture, which churns and buzzes around you. Timing and brains alike are needed.
The look is perfect, too, and Stealth Inc has a lovely sense of humour. Highly recommended. David Price
Super Crate Box
SCB looks like an old 8-bit platform game, but each level is a single-screen affair from the top of which enemies large and small constantly tumble, then stomp their way towards a fiery pit at the bottom of the level. With very limited room to manoeuvre, you'll forever be in the way of these monsters' suicidal march, and should they touch you, you die. Your job, meanwhile, is to collect the crates which randomly spawn across the level. You start with a pistol, which is near useless, but every time you grab a crate you'll be given a new weapon at random.
The controls get in the way of the action rather than helping, unfortunately, but because death is so regular in Super Crate Box anyway they don't wind up being quite the problem they first appear to be. This is a frighteningly compulsive game of jumping and shooting: who'd have thought collecting plain brown crates would be so tense and thrilling? Alec Meer
Super Crate Box lacks widescreen support, so looks better on the iPad than the iPhone. As it's styled as in an old 8-bit platform game, this may just become part of its charm.
Super Dangerous Dungeons
You know, we'd think twice before venturing into a dungeon, let alone a dangerous dungeon. But the hero of this platform game is made of sterner stuff, making their way through a super dangerous dungeon.
At first, though, it seems more like a moderately perilous dungeon. Sure, your little character is always surrounded by various kinds of death, but early levels offer a gentle introduction as you leap about, find a key, and bolt for the exit. By the time you hit the second set of levels, everything changes. Massive maces whirl, and tides periodically flood the dungeons, drowning any adventurer daft enough to be caught short.
In the end, the game makes good on the promise of its title, testing your fingers, reactions and memory to the limits - not least during boss battles, where you're fleeing from something big and dangerous through horizontally scrolling caverns with awkwardly placed ladders and spikes. However, while Super Dangerous Dungeons is frequently frustrating, it's friendly enough that you'll pause after angrily quitting the game, and then go back for another try. Craig Grannell
Thomas Was Alone
Your enjoyment of this one may depend on your opinion of two things: high-concept indie gaming, and the comedian Danny Wallace, who narrates the game.
Thomas Was Alone is a fine piece of work with a lot of heart. It's been built from the simplest of ingredients (a set of coloured shapes that can each jump and in some cases use special powers), and the gameplay is straightforward too: each level is a puzzle that demands the clever use of the shapes' skills to get all to the exit. But it ends up being mentally taxing - if in truth never quite as hard as we'd like it to have been - and quite sweet. The shapes all have names and back stories, related in a jaunty voice-over that won Wallace a Bafta, and the music shoulders a lot of the emotional heavy lifting too. You end up caring about Thomas, and he's a red rectangle, and you can't say fairer than that. David Price
This game has a sadistic streak a mile long, but you'd not expect anything less from the creator of Super Hexagon. VVVVVV isn't quite as punishing as that twitch survival classic, but it's no simple task to guide your little grinning man through VVVVVV's map, seeking out stranded and lost crew members, all the while trying very hard to not die.
VVVVVV also complicates matters with its control scheme. You move left and right as expected, but flip instead of jumping. This results in plenty of disorienting stages and cunningly designed challenges, your little chap whizzing towards the heavens, weaving between deadly spikes, before briefly landing on a ceiling, and then flipping to begin another journey.
There is a slight slippiness to the controls, which betray the game's origins on non-touchscreen platforms. Still, death merely has you restart from one of the many checkpoints dotted about, lessening the frustration and leading you to believe you might have a chance of beating the game - or at least retaining your sanity. Craig Grannell
£2.99 | iPad and iPhone (Universal) | VVVVVV on the App Store
We've included this in the platform section, but this is a game with significant puzzle elements and just a touch of action. Waking Mars puts you in the boots of a jetpacking astronaut/scientist exploring the Red Planet for signs of ancient life. It's your job to find and plant seeds that spread vegetation around the caves, which in turn opens up new areas.
You have to evade carnivorous plants and acid pits, and occasionally you'll need to kill off a plant to make room for another. But this is a game about creation rather than destruction. It's thoughtful and at times intense, not to mention incredibly pretty: your character a tiny spec against dramatic sweeps of red rock and vast open skies. Alec Meer
10000000 and You Must Build A Boat
As your little pixel-dude wanders through a retro dungeon, he'll encounter assorted obstacles - monsters of varying challenge, locked chests and traps - and you have to arrange matching blocks in the bottom half of the screen to defeat them. Matching three (or more) swords or staves damages the enemies; keys unlock the chests; shields increase your defensive powers; and so on.
You need to keep matching blocks - any blocks - to keep the board moving and open up new opportunities, but you must also keep an eye on the state of play in the mini-RPG at the top of the screen, and factor this into the matches you make. If you fail to provide a demanded match for long enough, you'll be forced off the lefthand side of the screen and your session will end.
10000000 offers this (devastatingly addictive) setup and not a whole lot more - you can level up some of your gear and skills, but to a degree that pales in comparison with the boat-building action that the sequel's title promises. Your vessel begins as barely a dinghy but has grown to a sprawling galleon by the end of the game, complete with hordes of recruited monsters, each providing a small stat boost, and shopkeepers waiting patiently to upgrade your character. And since both games are currently the same price, it would make sense, until and unless the original hits a sale price, to plump for the later game. But both are wonderful. David Price
Cut The Rope series
There's a sweet (or a few pieces of a sweet, or even a pair of sweets) dangling or floating somewhere in each level of these hugely popular physics-based puzzlers, and you have to feed it to a monster called Om Nom. And if you can grab the three stars while you're at it, that'd be great.
Early levels begin with simple ropes and bubbles, and all you need to do is slice the rope with your finger or tap to pop the bubbles. But things get far more complicated later: some ropes only appear when the sweet is near them, and you have to deal with hazards like spikes or hungry spiders.
The Cut The Rope games have a neat concept and cute artwork, but the games' massive success is down to their level design, which is superb. Physics effects are intuitive, from basic but perfectly executed gravity and floating objects to bungee-action ropes, and the difficulty curve is expertly judged.
After the bestselling original game (above), Cut The Rope: Time Travel adds historical settings and a second Om Nom (in period costume) on each level. Cut The Rope 2 (below) chucks in helper creatures with special abilities such as helicopter wings or stick-out tongues, and medals for completing levels in specified ways.
Of the three, we'd probably go for Time Travel first, since CTR2's in-app purchases are a bit annoying. But they're all solid games. James Savage
App Store links: Cut The Rope 2 on the App Store (£1.99) | Cut The Rope: Time Travel on the App Store (iPhone) (49p) | Cut The Rope: Time Travel on the App Store (iPad) (49p)
Maze-based puzzle adventure Ending is seemingly effortless proof that great game mechanics can achieve far more than even the most striking graphics ever could. Rendered all in stark, monochrome symbols and lacking even a soundtrack, this is absolute minimalism - which frees you up to focus entirely on the challenge at hand: steering an @ symbol through a series of arenas filled with roaming glyphs that will kill you instantly on touch. This devious puzzler will either make you feel very smart or very stupid. Alec Meer
The basic aim is to wipe out your enemies before heading to an exit. The tiny snag is that each enemy behaves differently - some guarding the space in front of them, and others unhelpfully moving about of their own accord. Getting into position to off them with your spear can be tough.
Even early levels offer a challenge for anyone wanting to crack the minimum moves count. But before long, just getting to the exit is enough, when you're confronted by optical illusions, multi-cube constructions that shift in weird ways, and boss battles where your enemy takes control of the cubes.
The entire thing's dressed up in a gorgeous minimal visual aesthetic that echoes mobile hit Monument Valley. But although Euclidean Lands perhaps wears its inspirations on its sleeve, it still feels fresh and essential, ensuring the game's place among the very best puzzlers on the platform. Craig Grannell
£3.99 | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Euclidean Lands on the App Store
We've seen loads of games based on comic books, but Framed tries a different approach: it builds mechanics from the placement of the panels themselves, which is incredibly clever.
This noir-soaked tale sees you alternately guiding a shadowy man and woman away from police and an unknown pursuer. You'll never directly control the characters; all you'll do is reposition or manipulate the colourful panels that appear on the screen, in the hopes of creating a safe path from top to bottom.
It's sort of mesmerising to see it in action, because it's incredibly simple - so much so that there isn't a spoken or written word throughout, even in the tutorial moments - but also supremely effective as a puzzle mechanic.
Short but super sweet, Framed really is a premium experience deserving of your money. Beyond being a seriously smart concept, the noir art style is swell, the animation is dazzling, and the jazz score is just the cherry on top. David Price
The concept of Hundreds - so simple, yet open to so many permutations - is this: you make the total number reach 100. This is done by tapping on bubbles, which grows the number inside. If one of the bubbles collides with anything else while you're touching it, it's game over. This grows from the intuitive simplicity of a couple of bubbles bouncing lazily around to fiendish contraptions, swarms of 'enemy' bubbles and, oh, all sorts. You'll succeed often, you'll fail often, you'll try again every single time, but what you'll never do is predict what the next level will be like.
Starkly beautiful, oozing cleverness without being smug about it and continually surprising, Hundreds was one of the best games of 2013, and remains well worth your time. Alec Meer
And now for something a little gentler.
Each level of this iPhone and iPad puzzle game presents a grid of triangles, diamonds and squares, along with a few octagonal junction boxes. By tracing your finger across the screen you must draw a line connecting all of the yellow triangles, another connecting all the red squares, and so on. You can use each connecting line only once and touch each shape only once.
The experience of Lyne is almost transcendentally calming - partly the result of the timeless, thoughtful mechanics, partly the restful colour scheme, visual design and typography, but mostly the result of the new-age, panpipe-sprinkled soundtrack.
A true wonder: a game so minimalistically elegant that it can get away with panpipes. David Price
Monument Valley is an elegant puzzle game where you guide a young princess, Ida, through a maze of ruined monuments. You manipulate the landscape to let Ida get from place to place, using optical illusions to your advantage. Because in Monument Valley, when walkways appear to line up, Ida can walk along them - even when you know that they really don't.
Some reviewers have got the hump with Monument Valley as it takes a relatively short time to complete and it's not difficult - but neither of those matter. It's like a film, not a TV show, and while you're there you're completely engrossed. Each level is an artwork in itself, and the beauty of the puzzles is such that you're always delighted when everything clicks into place.
Monument Valley is the antithesis of high-velocity, low-reward freemium games like Candy Crush. It's an experience to be savoured - and a must-have. Neil Bennett
£3.99 | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Monument Valley on the App Store
This game of precise, beautiful gardening combines tricky puzzles with the aesthetics of Japanese bonsai. Each level starts with a tree trunk sprouting from the ground. From there, you need to slice branches and guide the sapling's growth towards the light: the higher up you go, the brighter the light becomes. The goal of each level is to have your constantly growing tree bloom, and to bloom, it needs to reach sunlight.
The lighting and soundtrack - minimalist, tranquil music is augmented by a series of clever, context-appropriate sound effects - combine to create a haunting experience. But Prune isn't just atmosphere. It's simple to play, but hard to master: to navigate the dangers and obstacles, you're going to need some precise finger-shear action.
Prune is one of the most artistically pleasing and memorable games we've played on the iPhone. Chris Holt
The Room series
Blending the old-fashioned narrative technique of a locked box concealing a secret with modern touchscreen technology and beautiful graphics, Fireproof's Room games are a quiet (if gently sinister) delight.
The Room 1 (above) is a thoughtful, attractive puzzle game entirely set on and within one intricate safe, whose surfaces are adorned by strange mechanisms and logic puzzles behind which smaller, more challenging boxes lurk. Great for 'Eureka' moments, and the tactile nature of the whole affair works terrifically well on the iPad format: spinning the screen to rotate the boxes, sliding to remove letters from envelopes or carefully rotating delicate mechanisms.
The Room 2 takes the first game's formula and broadens its scope, spreading its puzzles across various boxes (and other locked constructions) in multiple rooms. The understated richness of The Room's visuals are replaced with something more flamboyant, as the player is dragged from jungle temple to Victorian drawing room, and the first game's hint of scariness is amplified to provide plenty of atmosphere.
The Room 3 (below) is the latest and probably our favourite in the series - the atmosphere is top-notch, and it adds multiple endings - but also the most expensive, so we'd probably recommend starting with the earlier instalments. David Price
If you liked the Room games, by the way, here are 10 similar games.
You'll quickly get the hang of Shadowmatic. In each level, one to three objects are suspended in the air and illuminated by a light source, projecting a shadow onto the wall behind. You're asked to flip, rotate, twist, and move the objects around until you can create a recognisable shadow, which could be anything from animals and fish to tools and athletes in different poses.
Each level is gorgeous and well-made, themed and full of detail. The objects are all rendered in 3D with lots of texture, and the textures change to suit the themes (in the fishing-themed levels, the objects look like they're made of rusty metal and coral, for instance). There's also a cool parallax effect: when you move your device around, the background moves to give you a more three-dimensional feel.
It's gorgeous, innovative, and cleverly designed; if you enjoy perspective puzzles, such as Monument Valley, Shadowmatic is right up your alley. Sarah Jacobsson Purewal
There's a hint of Lemmings about Splitter Critters, which features little aliens toddling about platform-based levels, trying to reach their spaceship. However, their only means of help is your finger, which can slice through scenery, and drag separate sections of the screen about.
Early on, your impromptu landscaping mostly involves aligning platforms, but Splitter Critters keeps adding new ideas to the mix. Gruff and deadly brown critters with spiked teeth show up, as do little red aliens who karate kick the aforementioned foes in the face. Rocky areas have platforms that topple. Watery sections flood or fling our ambling heroes towards deadly anemones. And that's before you get to the bits with lasers.
The end result comes across like Telepaint crossed with Fruit Ninja, only lacking the insanely tough challenge of the former and the freneticism of the latter. Instead, Splitter Critters is a gentler puzzler, which you'll likely work through in a few hours - but every step of the short journey is a joy. Craig Grannell
£2.99 | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Splitter Critters on the App Store
Sunburn's hook is its charming, grim premise. You play a spaceship captain whose cruiser was just smashed to bits and who, despite having no means of communication or way of surviving a long stretch in space, decides to ensure that no member of the crew will die alone.
Which means gathering everyone up and plunging straight into the nearest sun.
It's such a comically dire concept, yet quite beautiful considering the circumstances. And Sunburn sells it perfectly with a colourful, retro-inspired aesthetic and plenty of humour. The tricky platform challenges feel unique, and require careful timing and navigation: your task is to jetpack around and collect each subordinate, attaching them all to one great big tether behind you.
Trying to float around fireballs with half a dozen humans and pets linked behind you is tricky, and it can be frustrating at moments. But Sunburn's wit and charm go a long way. And there's really nothing out there quite like it. Andrew Hayward
A beautifully simple - and indeed plain beautiful - puzzle game that seems likely to live on iPhone home screens for years to come, Threes has all the hallmarks of greatness. It looks terrific, the gameplay mechanics are easy to grasp (manoeuvre numbered tiles around the board to match them, thereby creating new, higher-numbered tiles) yet deep enough that lengthy threads have appeared discussing strategy, it has lovely personality.
This was one of the stand-out iOS games of 2014. David Price
World of Goo HD
At time of launch probably the finest puzzle game in the App Store, and still a compelling classic. World of Goo presents you with a pile of small goo balls (usually sitting dormant at the bottom of the screen) and an open pipe (generally up high) and asks you to introduce them to each other. Using your finger, you have to stack the balls up to reach the pipe: once you get your goo structure to reach the pipe, it will suck up all the balls not used to build the structure.
Each level is a challenge and takes a great deal of thought (and structural consideration) to complete. There's a lot of strategy involved, and graphically, the game soars, its levels littered with canyons, water fountains and volcanoes. Few games are as fun, interesting and enjoyably complicated. Sam Felsing
Puzzle fans may also like...
That's all the pure puzzle games we'd recommend for iPad and iPhone owners, but there are lots of games elsewhere in this roundup that have puzzle elements. The most obvious is probably Desktop Dungeons, pictured, below, which is essentially a series of randomly generated puzzles dressed up as a roleplaying game. Indeed, many of the RPGs we look at have puzzle sections you are likely to enjoy.
Desert Golfing has much of the physics puzzler about it too, despite being theoretically a sports game. And of course be sure to visit our best iOS word games page, which has much to offer if puzzles are your thing.
Like Canabalt, this turn-based dungeon crawler takes sadistic pleasure in the inevitability of death. And, since it's part of the hardcore genre known as 'roguelike', that death is permanent: there are no precautionary saves. (You can leave a game and return later, though.) But don't let that put you off a fun and entertaining adventure.
Playing as a knight, wizard, robot, skeleton or 'dinoman', you head off on a quest to defeat Satan and his minions. The game has strategic depth, and you'll be amazed how much it draws you into its odd little world - before kicking you out again when you make the smallest error. Lovably brutal. David Price
Baldur's Gate series
The Baldur's Gate remakes are serious RPGs for serious RPG fans. Recreating the 90s PC classics - seemingly in their entirety - for the iPad is a logistical triumph, and we'd argue that the price tags (which are high for iOS games) are more than justified, considering the wealth of story and gameplay you're getting for your cash.
That's not to say they're perfect; the controls aren't easy to master, often reminding you that they were conceived with keyboards and mice in mind. But for quality, in-depth roleplaying action, these wonderfully rich games are tough to beat. David Price
- Classic iPad games: 6 iOS games you need to have played
- Best free iPhone games
- Best free iPad games
- Best Mac games
- How to save and restore iPhone and iPad game progress data
- How to use Game Centre
The Bard's Tale
This iOS port of a classic and much-beloved PS2-era RPG is memorable not so much for its sparkling graphics or revolutionary gameplay (though both are perfectly serviceable, and even sort of charming) as for its absolutely fantastic writing.
Imagine a mix between The Princess Bride and Robin Hood: Men In Tights; this game sets out to skewer just about every fantasy and RPG trope it can get its hands on. The Princess Bride comparison is helped by the fact that the titular scoundrel is voiced by none other than the inimitable Cary Elwes, who bickers constantly with the snarky, fourth-wall-breaking narrator (points if you can spot which classic Disney villain he voiced).
The gameplay is fairly standard real-time RPG hack-and-slash fare, based primarily on summoning various support characters to provide buffs and aid in combat. However, focusing on gameplay in a title like this would be… inconceivable. Adam Shepherd
Casual description does this painterly action-roleplaying game few favours - games about beating up beasties in exchange for experience points are a dime a dozen on the App Store, after all. Where Bastion differs is in its storytelling. A near-omniscient narrator commentates your progress as you play, picking up on your decisions and mistakes as well as furthering a sombre, opaque tale with a voice that redefines the very concept of gravel. It adds a huge amount of character, as well as lending Bastion the eerie sense that it's watching you.
A beautiful game both visually and in atmosphere, Bastion is fortunately not so bogged down on its own grandeur that it forgets to be a reliably compulsive stream of action too. Alec Meer
Crashlands is the game that keeps on giving, and for £4.99 (at time of writing), the value for money is incredible. While other RPGs can require lots of time and skilful thinking, Crashlands is designed for the casual player - and this is evident from the game mechanics. First of all, there's an unlimited inventory, allowing you to scavenge where and when you want without worry of filling your inventory. This is particularly good for casual players as they may not need to scavenge the map for berries, as they'd already came across a large patch some weeks before and harvested them all. In a normal RPG, the player may have been tempted to throw the berries away long ago to make space for something more valuable, but that's not the case with Crashlands.
The unlimited inventory improves the game in other areas too. It's Minecraft-esque in ways, offering a build mode that lets you build your personalised base from the ground up with various benches for crafting weapons, armour, elixirs and more. While in some games your base cannot be moved, thanks to Crashlands unlimited inventory, if you wanted to move your base to an area with more resources, you need only pick up all the pieces to your base and put it in your bag. Simple.
The tap-to-interact element of the game did take a little bit of getting used to, especially when battling the many monsters you'll come across on the alien planet, but once I'd got my head around the mechanic I thought it was quite effective. It offers a toolbar for quick access to equipment like potions or weapons, with varying cooldowns for each (it can't be too easy, or it'd be boring!) and quick access to the world map, with quick-travel between telepads possible at no extra cost. This makes exploring the massive open world a lot easier, as you can nip back to your base to recover/build new equipment on the fly without having to worry about wasting time.
Everything, from the cartoon-y style to the mechanics and even the storyline itself has been designed with casual iOS gamers in mind, and for that reason, it'll always be a personal favourite of mine. (And it's even better with an MFi controller, by the way.) Lewis Painter
£4.99 | iPhone & iPad, with progress syncing | Crashlands on the App Store
Death Road to Canada
Road trip! Only the roads on the way to the safety of Canada (from your native Florida) are packed with the undead. Eek! Your aim is to not get eaten, which isn't easy. It turns out Death Road to Canada is aptly named.
The game is a mix of arcade fare and multiple-choice decision-making akin to a Choose Your Own Adventure book. The top-down arcade parts involve your little gang looting buildings and fending off the undead with whatever comes to hand, or timed 'sieges' - claustrophobic affairs that prove tense and terrifying, despite the blocky, cartoonish graphics. The more adventure-oriented bits mix snippets of story with multiple-choice decision-making, both of which can hugely affect your ongoing quest.
There's a lot of randomness - sudden deaths are commonplace - but also plenty of knockabout humour. This is more oddball 1980s videogame than The Walking Dead: a place where zombies co-exist with dogs that can talk and make Molotov cocktails, and where you should never trust a supposedly injured moose. Buy it. Play it. (It's improved by an MFi controller.) But don't imagine you'll be seeing Canada any time soon. Craig Grannell
£8.99 | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Death Road to Canada on the App Store
This idiosyncratic turn-based roguelike is lots of fun.
You're the administrator of a little hamlet which is beset on all sides by evil creatures, and resolve to send various fantasy archetypes (wizards, thieves, barbarian warriors and so on) into the villain-riddled swamps, forests and mountains nearby to sort things out. Each time one of your disposable heroes goes on a quest, a dungeon is randomly generated (within certain parameters and themes defined by the quest or general area you've selected), and it's up to you to work out the best way of coping.
I say that the game is turn-based, but really it's completely static; monsters only hurt your character in response to your own attacks and the game offers a statistical prediction of how your and their health bar will look if you choose to engage in another round of blows. Magic, on the other hand, leaves you completely unscathed, but chips away at your mana bar. And both health and mana can be recharged only by exploring new areas of the map, going up in level or burning through your limited supply of potions.
All of which means that Desktop Dungeons is almost chess-like, and more of a puzzle than an RPG in a lot of respects - the trick is to work out which monsters to attack in which order, so as to gain enough experience, collect enough equipment and conserve enough health and mana to be able to take on the boss at the end. There is indeed an actual - and brutally difficult - puzzle mode, in which a range of pre-prepared scenarios must be navigated in precisely the right way.
As threats are neutralised and loot piles up, you'll be able to build or upgrade new facilities and thereby unlock new character types, equipment and monsters, all of which has an appeal of its own; and the writing is consistently witty. But it's the slow-paced, deceptively brain-bruising dungeon crawling which gives Desktop Dungeons its unique charm. David Price
£9.99 | iPad only | Desktop Dungeons on the App Store
Infinity Blade series
They adopt the trappings of the fantasy RPG, but the Infinity Blade games aren't free-roaming and there's very little exploration. Yet that isn't a criticism. The genius of the series is that it captures and distills the essence of roleplaying games into something almost existential: an infinite loop of death and rebirth, fighting, learning, looting and starting all over again. All three Infinity Blade games offer breathtaking graphics - the backdrops are works of art - but Infinity Blade 3 is unsurprisingly the best of the bunch, and given how little previous games have dropped in price, it's definitely the one to start with.
The Infinity Blade games are essentially a series of epic swashbuckling one-on-one battles with giant monsters, carefully packaged to suit gaming on the go. You tap to attack, swipe to parry, gesture to cast magic spells and so on. In the end you'll die, but that's okay: there's always another go. David Price
Knights of Pen & Paper
Opting to recreate the entire Dungeons & Dragons fantasy roleplaying experience rather than just the glamorous bits, KoP&P pulls the camera back to reveal the dork squad sitting there with their 12-sided dice and cans of Vimto, directing the heroic actions playing out on the imaginary stage in front of them. So you control the mages, assassins and barbarians accomplishing heroic feats, but also the pizza delivery boys, school bullies and little sisters playing as them.
It's a brilliant concept beautifully realised: charmingly retro in look, funny and compulsive. David Price
Legend of Grimrock
Ah, the sweet taste of old-school RPG action.
Legend of Grimrock, a sort of modern remake of Eye Of The Beholder (or, going further back, a game I'm not familiar with called Dungeon Master), is a fantasy dungeon crawler, meaning that it takes place amongst the neatly right-angular grid of an underground catacomb.
As in EOTB, the action takes place in the first person: you see through the eyes of your four-character party (made up of wizards, fighters and thieves, with the nicely weird option of having them be giant insects or minotaurs as well as humans), and tap big chunky buttons to make them walk forward or back one tile at a time, turn, swing swords and axes, shoot bows and cast spells.
The graphics are quite lovely (although true again to EOTB in the walls of each section of dungeon being crafted from three or four identikit tiles, adding to the sense of exploratory confusion - particularly if you select the harder mode in which no automap is created) and the movement and combat are fast, smooth and frantic. It's pretty tough, too, with some truly mind-bending puzzles and plenty of monsters who can wipe you out in a few swipes, and more than long enough to justify the price tag. David Price
£4.99 | For iPad and iPhone (Universal) | Legend of Grimrock on the App Store
Secret of Mana
The second-best SNES action RPG from the golden age of SNES action RPGs (behind Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past, of course, which isn't available on iOS), Secret of Mana has an enormous amount to recommend it: depth, humour, a great soundtrack, a lightly engrossing story, lovely old-school graphics and cute characters you'll fall in love with.
In many respects, in fact, Mana surpassed its Zelda rival, offering far more of everything: more weapons (64!), more spells (41!), more enemies, more dungeons to explore, even more characters: you alternate at will between direct control of three, with the (customisable but often ropey) AI dictating what the others get up to in the meantime. It could be argued that today's sprawling RPGs owe more of a debt to Mana's poignancy and messiness than to the unmatchable elegance of Zelda.
SoM was released in 1993, however, so don't expect the luxuries of modern RPGs: there's no character customisation, for instance, and the interface is occasionally a bit clunky. But this is par for the course for retro gamers. No, the only real problem is the iOS port's use of a touchscreen joypad and buttons, which we always find a trial; so we would recommend hooking up an MFi controller and increasing the transparency on those onscreen elements so they don't spoil the view. David Price
£7.99 | For iPhone (although it works pretty well on iPad with the resolution doubled) | Secret of Mana on the App Store
An old-school RPG very much in the vein of Eye Of The Beholder, Undercroft harks back to a simpler time when men were men and roleplaying games were turn-based. Hasn't been updated in a couple of years - how we'd love the excuse to dig out our old party - but its low-fi charms remain undiminished. David Price
FREE | iPhone only | Undercroft on the App Store
RPG fans may also like...
We've listed the pure roleplaying games above, but RPG fans may also be interested in the brilliant Dream Quest, a hybrid card game and roguelike RPG. That's covered in our card & deck-building games section. You Must Build A Boat is a fine and highly addictive match-three puzzle game that's also partly a dungeon-running roleplaying game - that's in the puzzle games section.
Finally, roleplayers should try the beautiful Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP (pictured below), a sort of Zelda remake re-imagined as a point-and-click adventure, which is in our adventure, point-and-click and story games section.
Arkanoid vs Space Invaders
It's in some ways a stretch to call this mash-up of two arcade classics a shooter. This mix of Breakout follow-up Arkanoid and seminal single-screen shoot 'em up Space Invaders has plenty of projectiles, but most are initially sent your way from chunky pixellated alien craft. Rather than arm you with a weapon of your own, your planet's high command has seen fit to have you pilot a massive bat, the Vaus, used to bounce bullets back at those who sent them. Perhaps it cuts down on the bills.
Early on, the game's sedate - even dull - with you deflecting bullets, aiming to blow up the odd alien or brick. But a couple of dozen levels in, Arkanoid vs Space Invaders properly clicks. Tight time limits combined with level targets (offing a certain number of invaders) make for an increasingly tense and tough challenge. New strategies need to be formed, and power-ups (which arrive by way of cameos from much-loved Taito games) must be carefully considered. The end result's a gloriously high-octane arcade thrill - at least if you stick with it past those duff early levels. Craig Grannell
£3.99 | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Arkanoid vs Space Invaders on the App Store
The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth
This twin-stick roguelike shooter is very expensive by App Store standards, and really requires an MFi controller for the optimum gaming experience, but with those caveats aside it is utterly fantastic.
The storyline is confusing and upsetting in equal parts, but essentially you are controlling a small child roaming through a series of bleak (and randomly generated) dungeons and caves, fighting hideously mutated versions of himself while becoming hideous and mutated in his own right. (Power-ups are signified by wounds, pustules, safety pins through your head etc.) The left joystick controls movement; the right one controls the direction of your attacks; and if you die then that's it, because there's no saving.
It's very difficult, and there are tons of unlockable characters and items to discover, so despite each playthrough being brief, the game has a good amount of longevity. But it's the quality of the gameplay and the uniqueness of the atmosphere that makes this such a must-play. David Price
£14.99 | For iPad & iPhone | The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth on App Store
Read next: Best iPhone & iPad games for MFi controllers
Deus Ex: The Fall
Stealth, gunplay, silent death moves and some roleplaying elements. Deus Ex: The Fall is the iOS port of a deep, ambitious and critically acclaimed PC game, and loses little in translation, offering thrills and spills in a beautifully realised sci-fi setting.
The story's all about cybernetic enhancements and post-human ethical conundrums, but it never gets in the way of the important stuff: hacking your way through a computerised security door, crawling down a tunnel and shooting a man in the head. Lots of fun, if comparatively expensive for an iOS game (and quite brief, too). David Price
Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions Evolved
Controller-based games don't always translate well to touch devices, and Geometry Wars seems like it ought to be a prime example of that: the series is built around the dual analog sticks of console gamepads, letting you easily steer your ship with one stick and fire with the other, and precision is vital. But the touch controls in Dimensions feel extremely precise, with subtle thumb movements corresponding near-perfectly in the game.
Geometry Wars 3 is fantastic fun throughout, delivering tense shootouts against an array of enemies, along with plenty of variety - there's even a mode without guns, and for my money, it's the most entertaining of the bunch. But Dimensions doesn't just maintain the popular content from before: as the subtitle suggests, it also adds 3D stages alongside the typical flat ones, offering new gameplay twists and some nice visual pop along the way.
Geometry Wars drops your little ship into a grid and then begins loading the space with enemies. Early foes might be simple creatures that slowly pursue, but before long you've got cubes that explode into smaller ones, glowing snakes that slither about, lengthy formations of arrows that bounce from wall to wall, and perhaps even a wormhole that'll suck you in if you get near. Needless to say, the series thrives on chaos, and staying alive amidst that madness is a real test.
But that's where the fun comes in. Dimensions is a "one more time" favourite, as the quick play sessions and tough-but-fair design compel you to return time and again to increase your score. A lot of the fun comes from the extra gameplay layer beyond killing or being killed: each downed enemy drops little green bits that boost your score multiplier. As such, finding serious success - and taking down your friends on the online leaderboards - means nimbly moving through the madness and collecting while blasting. It amps up the tension to incredible levels at times.
If you're used to playing Geometry Wars with a controller, you might grumble about the change in approach - but Dimensions is amazing fun. Andrew Hayward
Typically, shooty space games of the overhead variety are about deftly weaving between bullets sprayed about the place, or trying hard not to die when belting along at insane speeds. By contrast, Glitchskier is more about infusing proceedings with a sense of atmosphere.
Although there's no storyline, the game's conceit appears to be that everything's happening inside an ancient PC. You start games by double-clicking icons on a desktop. During play, your little craft blows away fragments of messed-up code and deadly flying letterforms.
The sparse graphics, retro interface elements and pumping soundtrack afford Glitchskier a great sense of place. And the shooty bits are also nicely done. The main mission is short - just four levels - but every section is cleverly choreographed, to stop you becoming complacent. Be victorious on blasting away the fourth boss, and you can then pit your skills against a tougher endless mode. Craig Grannell
£1.99 | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Glitchskier on the App Store
Grand Theft Auto series
Apple fans haven't had much luck with the Grand Theft Auto games, one of the most successful series of our times. The Mac hasn't even got GTA 4 yet, even as Mac fans clamour for news on whether they will ever see Grand Theft Auto 5 (above).
But if you're willing to go back a generation or two, there are some terrific GTA games on the App Store for iPad and iPhone owners to enjoy. Fortunately Rockstar have been making terrific games for years, and even their older stuff is great.
GTA 3, for instance (below), is a violent, darkly humorous ode to mafia films that first sparked controversy (and accolades) in 2001 and burst on to iOS 10 years later. Aiming and firing can be tricky, but the touchscreen controls are otherwise surprisingly capable. Controversial subject matter aside, the game is stunning in its scale and brilliance.
More recent instalments for iOS include Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, and you should also consider Chinatown Wars.
View Grand Theft Auto 3 on the App Store (£4.99) | View Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars on the App Store (£4.99): iPad/iPhone | View Grand Theft Auto: Vice City on the App Store (£4.99) | View Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas on the App Store (£6.99)
No Stick Shooter
There's more than a hint of arcade classics Missile Command and Parachute in No Stick Shooter. You're armed with a turret at the foot of the screen, and must protect your base from the advances of kamikaze enemies intent on your destruction. But unlike most games of this ilk, No Stick Shooter dispenses with virtual trackpads or joysticks - instead, you tap the screen like a lunatic, to hurl fiery death at your opponents in a frenzied battle for survival.
And it is frenzied. Like the games that inspired it, No Stick Shooter takes no prisoners. Even early levels, which have you hurl explosives at doddering asteroids, are no picnic. A few levels in, you're attempting to juggle various weapon types (including crackling electricity and atomising laser beams), aliens that unsportingly dodge your shots, and vicious bosses that seemingly don't want to die, no matter how much you shoot at them.
For the casual gamer, it's perhaps a bit much. But for anyone wanting the best in high-octane neon blasting with a brain, No Stick Shooter's one of the best games on iOS. Craig Grannell
£1.99 | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | No Stick Shooter on the App Store
A cunning mixture of first-person shooter and endless runner, Smash Hit pushes you ever onwards while you try to shoot obstacles with giant marbles.
The graphics and sound are lovely - the obstacles are satisfying destructible, subsiding noisily into translucent shards - and a clever mechanic means that your ammo count is also your life. Run out of marbles (don't worry, you can restock them periodically by shooting designated targets) and you'll perish.
Great fun, not to mention free. David Price
From the cockpit of a heavily armed aircraft, circling above a bunker in which the last remnants of humanity have taken refuge from a zombie apocalypse, your job is to gun down zombies and save human survivors. Zombie Gunship some tactics involved in all this - your guns can overheat or be upgraded - but it doesn't get in the way of the blasting fun.
The grainy, surveillance-camera-style graphics help create an intense atmosphere, and the sound effects are top-notch. The strategy, the graphics and sound, and the undeniable thrill of sending the undead back to the grave they crawled out of make for a compelling iOS game. Philip Michaels
Shooting game fans may also like...
...the 10 brilliant games in our slideshow: The 10 best shooting games for iPad and iPhone.
ALONE... is what some would refer to as a cave flyer: you zip along a procedurally generated landscape at ever-increasing speed, trying your best to avoid the obstacles in your path and using the bare minimum of controls (just up and down) to preserve your little spaceship.
It's an incredibly simple, stripped-back game, but things like this live and die by their speed; or rather by the sensation of speed that they are able to produce. And ALONE... is brilliant at this. The hectic soundtrack, the speed lines and space detritus flying past you, the barely controllable speed boost you get whenever you're winged by a small piece of debris and the gradual acceleration as the game progresses - all of this contributes to a tightly focused thrill ride of a game.
This isn't to say that the devs haven't given any thought to the cosmetics of the thing: there's some great mysterious background imagery (reminiscent of Canabalt) and the shifting colour schemes are undeniably lovely. You just might not get much of a chance to appreciate them. David Price
£1.99 | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | ALONE... on the App Store
Alto's Adventure feels totally Zen. It hones in on a sense of serenity that the vast majority of endless runner-style games completely avoid, and when your time comes and you end up with a face full of powder (or worse, boulder), the conclusion doesn't feel so devastating. Just get back on the board, man.
Most of the credit for this unique tone goes to the visual design, which eschews realism in favour of building big personality via dazzling animations, a stunning day-night cycle (plus weather) that really changes the play experience, and a rousing bit of music.
It doesn't have an array of absurd tricks to pull off, but while Alto's simplicity could rub some the wrong way, it's worth sticking around and digging deeper. You'll always have up to three objectives to complete, and while the early ones are easy, the later tasks - a triple backflip, really? - require risking your run on a single move.
Alto's Adventure might not have the gameplay depth of your average snowboarding game, but spend a few minutes soaking in these slopes and you'll appreciate its low-key approach to a typically "extreme" sport. Andrew Hayward
Run, bleak monochrome future man, run!
There's something nightmarish about this sparsely elegant one-button platformer: you can't win, you can't escape, and eventually you'll miss a jump and die. The aim is simply to get as far across that endless crumbling rooftop as possible. (It's not even clear what catastrophe you're fleeing, although the giant figures stalking the landscape behind are probably a clue.) The automatic acceleration and hyperactive soundtrack ratchet up the energy levels beautifully, the super-retro graphics are gloriously evocative, and it's hard to imagine a more accessible or mobile-friendly game. David Price
Jetpack Joyride is a delightful and addictive cave flyer that keeps us coming back for more. You play the role of Barry Steakfries, a disgruntled individual who breaks into a top-secret research lab, steals a machine-gun-powered jetpack, and takes flight through the lab's never-ending string of long, tunnel-like rooms. As you jet or run along, ever forward, you try to avoid electrified barriers, lasers and missiles while collecting coins.
The mix of responsiveness and acceleration is just about perfect, the comical graphics raise it above most offerings in the genre, and the extras - including a superb array of vehicles - make Jetpack Joyride a true standout. Dan Frakes
This brutally tough side-scroller is the unholy union of Jetpack Joyride and the pace of ALONE. As in the former game, the protagonist keeps aloft by shooting a seemingly unlimited amount of bullets at the floor. It's not the most efficient means of flight, but it's certainly effective. However, our hero's also belting his way through hazard-strewn tunnels on alien worlds. To avoid being horribly killed by a massive gun, sawn in half by a vicious saw blade, or flying into a wall, he can temporarily switch his gun's direction of fire to blast pesky objects from his path.
You've probably spotted the tiny flaw in this otherwise cunning plan. If you're shooting forwards, you plummet. But if you're shooting downwards, you can't clear your way. Each of RunGunJumpGun's 120 levels therefore becomes a stern test of learning the layout, figuring out precisely where and when to shoot in a specific direction, and hoping your thumbs don't fail you.
The game's relentless cruelty can be trying, but it's exhilarating when you beat a new level. RunGunJumpGun's also sensible enough to ensure its challenges are bite-sized in nature - merely seconds long if you get everything right. Only you'll likely die several times trying, zipping back to the start time and again due to blundering into one of the game's countless death traps. And that's before you even consider trying to grab all the (appropriately named) 'masochistic collectables' dotted about. Craig Grannell
£2.99 | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | RunGunJumpGun on the App Store
An avalanche is coming, and it's up to you to keep skiing mountain dweller Sven one step ahead of icy doom, while navigating hills, dips and other alpine obstacles.
Tapping makes Sven jump, while tapping and holding causes him to flip - you get bonuses for successfully completing a backflip (or two). The app takes a page out of the Tiny Wings handbook by adding mini-challenges that you complete to boost yourself to a new level. Ski Safari lacks the sort of graphic embellishments you'll find in other iOS games, but then again, it really doesn't need them; this is an App Store offering that flourishes thanks to its outstanding gameplay. Philip Michaels
For those who haven't played it before, Tiny Wings is a side-scrolling game based on a single control. Touch the screen and your cute little bird furls her stunted wings and speeds downwards at a rapid lick. Raise your finger, and she flaps them and soars briefly, if you've gained sufficient momentum. Racing against the sun (when it sets your bird goes to sleep and the game is over) you have to press and release at the right moments to navigate a series of hilly, undulating islands as quickly as possible, achieving 'flight' as much as you can.
The basic gameplay mechanics are simple but exquisitely crafted, and the game is an aesthetic delight, from the crayony backdrops to the charming music and effects. But it was the recent update that catapulted an already fine game to the top of our hit parade. Aside from now being available optimised for iPad, the best new feature is a mode called Hill Party: a split-screen, knee-to-knee local multiplayer mode that's quite, quite brilliant (but only for iPad).
Brought to iPad with a bang, and now featuring the finest party multiplayer we've seen on the device, Tiny Wings is wonderful, charming, inventive, simple, beautiful, fun. Pick an adjective. David Price
Active Soccer 2
This one harks back to the classic era of 1990s footie games, such as Sensible Soccer and Kick Off. It's a fast-paced affair that finds the ball pinging about the place in a manner akin to pinball. At first, it's unnerving and tricky to get to grips with. But persevere, and Active Soccer 2 becomes all-engrossing.
First up, this is a surprisingly deep game, with the option of full seasons and cups; but you can alternatively just have a one-off match between two teams of your choosing. Secondly, there are loads of settings to tinker with, from how the controls behave to the viewpoint used. But mostly, Active Soccer 2 excels because it's a clear labour of love from a sole indie developer. It might lack the polish of FIFA, but during play it's a lot more fun - like a kickabout with your mates rather than watching rich sports stars on TV. Craig Grannell
This one is killing productivity in the Macworld office right now. Which says a lot for its quality (and perhaps for the flimsiness of our work ethic).
On each hole, naturally, you start with the ball on the tee and the pin a short distance away; as one would expect, your objective is to get the former to the latter by using as few strokes as possible. Where it differs from golf as it is commonly understood (and commonly represented in computer games), however, is that the round never ends. There is no reset button, and each one of the potentially thousands of holes, once played, is logged in your scorecard forever. This is strangely freeing. The past cannot be changed, so you might as well focus on the future.
Desert Golfing is Angry Birds-like in its control method: you tap and drag (anywhere on the screen, not just on the ball) to set how hard you want to swing, and in what direction. The level difficulty is all over the shop, but consciously so, since they were procedurally generated. The maker admits that there is a level somewhere in the high 2000s that he at first believed to be impossible, although some hardcore players have since conquered it.
The game's retro look is as barebones as you could imagine, but pleasingly so. And it's hopelessly, dangerously addictive: you will soon feel the urge to get your hole average below a certain point, and then another, and then another. Get out now while you have the chance. David Price
£1.99 | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Desert Golfing on the App Store
Football Manager Touch 2016
Previous cracks at football management on iPad felt like cut-down takes on PC titles, but Football Manager Touch 2016 is the real deal. It's a hugely comprehensive and involved game where you take control of your favourite team, watch matches, and headbutt the desk when your defenders inexplicably forget how to play football in the 89th minute.
Beyond a full career mode, there are scenarios to try your luck at, such as escaping from deep in the relegation zone when the season's halfway done. But be warned: Football Manager Touch 2016 is a game that will make huge demands on your time, and must be mastered before you have a hope of emerging victorious. Craig Grannell
£19.99 | iPad only | The 2016 edition has been removed from the App Store, but you can now download Football Manager Touch 2017
Different sports games take varied approaches to realism. Some try to be as authentic as possible while others instead concern themselves with recreating the 'feel' of a game. This ice hockey title sometimes pits Santa Claus against an angry bear with a hockey stick, so you can probably guess it's not firmly in the photorealism camp.
Weird players aside, Ice Rage totally nails the frenetic and frequently physical nature of ice hockey. As you speed about the tiny rink, battering your opponent and shooting for the goal, it feels like you're in the middle of a cup-final tussle. And for the hardcore, there's Rage-Off mode: a three-tie deathmatch with the emphasis very much on the 'death' bit. Craig Grannell
£1.99 | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Ice Rage on the App Store
Given the insane complexity of motor racing, it's astonishing how intuitive and immediate Motorsport Manager is. This title hones down every aspect of managing a team and its racers, enabling you with a few taps to hire and fire, invest in technology, and make the tough decisions on race day, such as whether to pit as the weather changes, or how hard to push a driver whose tyres are wearing thin.
The races themselves are visually simple - essentially, little coloured dots moving around a nicely rendered track. But you'll nonetheless have butterflies in your gut as your lead driver enters that final straight, fighting for a place on the podium. Craig Grannell
99p | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Motorsport Manager on the App Store
This basketball title has its origins in a 1993 arcade hit, and it's fair to say that the iOS update isn't entirely fussed about sportingly playing by the rules. In NBA Jam's two-on-two matches, you're positively encouraged to shove opponents to the ground, leg it to the other end of the court, and net an impressive three-pointer.
Visually, the game is also distinct, with goofy virtual takes on real-life stars; these can be made even more comical via a 'big head' mode. The controls are a minor blemish - fiddly on a smaller iPhone (especially given that some moves require sliding your finger between buttons) - but NBA Jam's sense of fun and satisfying action make up for any shortcomings. Craig Grannell
New Star Soccer
You're a striker starting out in non-league football and aiming for the big time. On the pitch, this means setting up chances and scoring wonder goals. Off the pitch, it means training, dressing for success and decking your house in so much tat that MTV Cribs would stage a tackiness intervention. Pull back on the ball to set power and direction, then tap at the right angle to set the curve, deftly placing the ball where you want.
It's a testament to the brilliant gameplay that even football haters will get something out of this. While others strive for realism, New Star Soccer aims for the perfect mobile experience, and hits the back of the net. Alan Martin
It is ridiculous. It is indeed about fishing. Ridiculous Fishing is also one of the finest games on the App Store, ever.
Fishing because you play as a guy sitting on a boat with a fishing rod, ridiculous because said rod can drop its line about a kilometre deep and return to the surface with dozens of fish attached. At which point they're thrown into the air, and you catch them by firing a pistol, shotgun, machine gun, minigun or worse at them.
A small, simple idea realised with remarkable aplomb and high humour, Ridiculous Fishing is a wonderfully compulsive game. Alec Meer
Super Stickman Golf 2
We've always rather liked golf video games - they're a great way to unwind. Sadly, traditional fare currently on iOS is subpar rather than under par (the latter being a good thing in golf, sports fans). Fortunately, Super Stickman Golf 2's oddball side-on take on the sport is there to fill the void.
This cartoonish title has you thwack balls across and through all manner of madcap courses, from space stations to ancient castles full of portals. But despite its zany nature, Super Stickman Golf 2 - like any good golf game - rewards anyone willing to learn the courses to shave the odd shot off of their score. Online modes (live races and turn-based two-player games) add to the fun. Craig Grannell
FREE | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Super Stickman Golf 2 on the App Store
Table Tennis Touch
If you think tennis is better played indoors and on a tiny table, Table Tennis Touch is an essential download. It brilliantly recreates the fast-and-furious nature of ping-pong, having you work your way through a bunch of mini-game challenges and a tough career mode.
Once you're among the greats, there is a sense most matches are won by smashing the fastest shots diagonally across the table, but it's always exhilarating when you snatch that winning point and move on to the next stage. Craig Grannell
£2.99 | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Table Tennis Touch on the App Store
Touchgrind Skate 2
People talk about realism in videogames, but few sports titles are a truly accurate reflection of real life. Oddly, Touchgrind Skate 2 kind of is, and we say 'oddly' on the basis that two of your fingers become legs that drive a dinky skateboard about a virtual park.
This might feel like a gimmick, but Touchgrind Skate 2 works remarkably well, especially on an iPad. Little movements and flicks are enough to trigger all kinds of tricks. Do well and you'll unlock new gear and skateparks. Just be aware that skating like a pro isn't something that comes instantly nor particularly naturally - the tutorials in this game aren't so much to be breezed through as fully committed to memory unless you want to wipe out over and over. Craig Grannell
£4.99 | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Touchgrind Skate 2 on the App Store
Virtua Tennis Challenge
Back in the days of the Sega Dreamcast, Virtua Tennis was the tennis game - a heady mix of licensed players, arcade smarts, and ongoing career mode. In its transition to iOS, the licences have vanished, as has some of the polish and smoothness. Even on a powerful device, Virtua Tennis feels a bit juddery, and the touchscreen gestural controls are terrible. But go old-school with virtual buttons and allow yourself the time to master the game's physics and feel, and you'll find there's a lot of fun to be had - even if Mr. Generic Tennis Bloke is no substitute for a virtual Roger Federer. Craig Grannell
£4.99 | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Virtua Tennis Challenge on the App Store
Sports fans may also like...
There are two brilliant (but quite similar) winter sport games elsewhere in this roundup: Alto's Adventure (below), which involves snowboarding, and Ski Safari. They're both in the side-scrolling games section, and well worth a look.
And don't forget, if your sporting interests include motorsports, to check out our driving games section.