From 'Smash Hit' to 'Whale Trail'

Smash Hit

This first-person shooter - which has more than a hint of the classic nerve-fraying endless runner about it - offers no enemies to shoot except the pleasingly destructible glass and stone obstacles in front of you, which you need to shatter before you run straight into them.

The graphics are a triumph, as is the satisfying gunplay: your bullets (more like oversized marbles) describe looping trajectories and make a lovely racket when they strike home. Simple and fun. David Price

FREE | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Read our full Smash Hit review | Download Smash Hit

Sparkwave

This one very much hails from the Super Hexagon school of game design. It's a take-no-prisoners twitch game that twists and turns as you play, intentionally disorienting in a manner that makes you feel entirely inadequate as a gamer. Much like Super Hexagon, the basics are suitably simple. Here, a spark darts along and must not stray from a 'track' of hexagons for too long, or it'll fizzle and die. But the track keeps shifting, throwing up black blocks to avoid; often, it will suddenly jerk 60 degrees with no notice, and if your eyes and brain don't keep up, your spark's done for.

Sparkwave deviates slightly from the razor-sharp focus typically seen in twitch titles. There are crystals to collect (which can also be purchased using IAP) that are used to buy advantageous power-ups. We wish there was a fully stripped-back mode, but even when your spark has a temporary reprieve in being able to blast through the odd black block, Sparkwave proves to be a formidable (and yet entertaining) challenge. Craig Grannell

FREE | Download Sparkwave

Best free iPad games: Sparkwave

Stranger Things: The Game

If you've a Netflix account, you might have delved into Stranger Things, a compelling horror/mystery show centred on a bunch of kids in Hawkins, Indiana. The show's set in 1984, and makes the most of its rural locations, creepy vibe, and plentiful pop-culture references. The idea of a free iPad game based on the show might give you chills, given the track record of such things, but it turns out to be a blast.

The game takes the form of a top-down action adventure. Although it's not quite as retro as the timeframe of the series, the pixel graphics evoke old-school gaming. The gameplay, though, mixes old and new. It echoes classic adventures, in you mostly spending time trudging around Hawkins, solving basic puzzles, and punching things (including a worryingly large number of crazed owls). But also, this game recognises it's on an iPad, as evidenced by friendly tap-to-move controls, and the concession to modern gaming that's the 'normal' mode. (This lets you continue when you die; 'classic' mode isn't nearly as forgiving.)

Occasionally, the game becomes too wrapped up in its old-school nature. Some set pieces are tricky to pull off, and become roadblocks to progression. For the most part, though, this game is a triumph; and if you're into arcade adventures, it's a must-download, whether or not you're a fan of the show. Craig Grannell

Strangely, there's no IAP whatsoever.

FREE | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Stranger Things: The Game

Best free iPad games: Stranger Things

Threes! Free

Every platform needs its perfect puzzle game, and on release Threes! made its claim to be that for iOS. As with all brilliant examples of the genre, Threes! has at its heart a simple mechanic, which in this case involve merging cards within a tiny four-by-four board. But it's the details that propel Threes! beyond the competition.

The idea is to match numbers. Slide a blue '1' into a red '2' and they combine to become a single '3'. Two 3s make a 6. Two 6s make a 12. And so on. The snag is that every move you make slides every non-blocked tile on the board as well. If you're fortunate or have planned ahead, this can result in several merges in one move; if not, you end up with a mess to clear up. And since after every turn a new card enters the board in a random spot on the edge you swiped from, planning is key.

It takes a few games for Threes! to properly click, but once it does, it never lets go. You'll be dying to see new cards (each is infused with a unique personality), and will soon spot how reaching higher-numbered cards boosts your score substantially. The free-to-play aspect is also generous: watch a video ad and you get three more games in the bank, which can be built up into a substantial reserve.

This gives the game a fighting chance against a raft of inferior Threes! clones (most of which have 1024 or 2048 in their names) that litter the App Store, and sucked life out of the paid version of Threes! Our advice: stick with the original; you've no excuse now you can play for free. Craig Grannell

FREE | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Threes! Free

Best free iPad games: Threes! Free

Time Locker

Vertical shooters tend to be frenetic affairs, marrying your ability to dance between showers of glowing bullets and blast everything in your path to smithereens. Often, death comes by way of momentary distraction, and you'll sometimes wish you could go all Matrix and temporarily slow everything to a crawl.

Time Locker suggests this wouldn't necessarily help. In its abstract minimal world, everything moves only as fast as you drag a finger. Stop and the entire world freezes. Drag and everything comes back to life, whether that's you blasting away at whatever ventures nearby, or your many foes marching across the screen, homing in on your position.

A further complication comes by way of a universe destroying darkness that pursues you from the moment you set off. Lift your finger and your enemies might halt, but the inky blackness won't, eventually ending your journey through this surreal world. Successful ventures therefore combine short breaks to figure out a next move, and then frantic scrabbling to eradicate nearby enemies and move yourself onwards at speed.

Last long enough and colossal bosses will show up, making it very clear that this just isn't your day if survival was your aim. To counter this, green enemies drop credits you can spend on boosts during your next game, and blue foes ditch pick-ups that boost your critter's power, augmenting your arsenal - initially a rubbish pea shooter - with multi-directional shots, massive rockets, and more. Craig Grannell

FREE | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Time Locker

Best free iPad games: Time Locker

TohTum

This endless survival game features two cuboid characters in pods connected by a tether. The two whirl through space, one around the other. Tap the screen and the outermost pod slides inwards and the other then begins to spin around it. Along with the calming soundtrack, it all feels quite elegant.

TohTum isn't, however, tranquil. As ever, the aim is to last as long as possible before your ham-fisted efforts end in failure - and games don't tend to last very long. Mostly, this is because of red squares that litter the inky void. Although your tether can pass over them, should either pod hit a square, it's game over. Now and again, blue dots float by; get 100 of them and you can unlock an alternate pod dweller. Stars also occasionally show up, which when collected briefly turn your pods/tether combination into a whirling vehicle of red-square death and destruction.

Although perhaps not a game with huge longevity, TohTum proves enjoyable in short bursts. Also, given the manner in which its little heroes whirl about, it has a little novelty that neatly differentiates it from countless games where you tap to make an auto-runner jump. Craig Grannell

TohTum features an ad strip across the bottom of the screen, and occasionally loads an ad after you finish a game. If you want shot of the ads entirely, you can pay 99p.

FREE | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download TohTum

Best free iPad games: TohTum

Train Conductor World: European Railway

Developer The Voxel Agents have been refining Train Conductor games for years now, and this latest entry in the series is by far the best yet. It's essentially all about routing trains to their destinations, and avoiding horrible crashes. Each single-screen level has a number of coloured entry and exit points, and as trains appear, you must draw temporary tracks to point them in the right direction. Trains can be tapped to stop them, but this costs you a bonus star and a crack at a perfect 100 per cent score. (Top tip: we found you can tap-hold a train to slow it down, which is sometimes enough in close shaves, and you don't lose a star that way!) Do well and you win bits of track you can lay to connect stations, thereby unlocking new locations and puzzles.

Train Conductor World is a gorgeous game, and the controls are tight. It has a wonderfully tactile feel, and never appears unfair; you always know how you could have avoided a crash, and resolve to do better next time. There is IAP, primarily for buying sections of track if you want to speed things along; but if you don't fancy dipping into your wallet, you'll merely have to replay certain locations a number of times, and the game's so much fun this isn't something you'll rail against. Craig Grannell

FREE | Download Train Conductor World: European Railway

Best free iPad games: Train Conductor World: European Railway

Transformers: Forged to Fight

Fighting games often don't translate well to iPad, robbed of a console's gamepads that are packed full of buttons and triggers. (Mind you, there are some decent iOS gaming controllers and gamepads out there.) Transformers: Forged to Fight, though, manages to be a decent brawler, through a sleek, intuitive battle system centred around gestural controls.

The backstory involves robots from several takes on the Transformers universe colliding in an arena-style competition devised by aliens with far too much time on their hands. As you pit classic Optimus Prime against a hideous Michael Bay atrocity, you tap and swipe to attack, and hold to block. Given that these giant robots have guns, you can also shoot from distance, and as a last resort transform into a car, tank, jet or massive rhino (depending on your character) and mow down your opponent. Which very much isn't cricket.

There's a confusing underlying meta-game, and far too many options for the game's own good, some of which try to funnel you down an IAP tunnel. But otherwise, this is a brash, entertaining brawler that feels right at home on iPad. Craig Grannell

As with most games of its ilk, Forged to Fight has a ludicrously complex currency system that bugs you to buy things via IAP. Eventually, you may succumb to avoid grinding for progress; early on, though, paying money's only worth it as a shortcut to getting a bigger squad.

FREE | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Transformers: Forged to Fight

Best iPad games: Transformers: Forged to Fight

Triple Town

Triple Town's premise is simple: you're building a town on a 6 x 6 grid filled with bushes and trees. You do this by grouping items into threes: three trees become a hut, three huts become a house and so on. Trap the game's 'enemies' - adorable bears - and they turn into grave stones, three of which make a church.

The whole thing is fresh, addictive and challenging: if you think you've seen everything Match 3 has to offer, you're in for a surprise. Alan Martin

FREE | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Read our full Triple Town review | Download Triple Town

Triple Town free iPad game review