Do you like iPad games? How about free iPad games? Great, because our list includes 40 top-notch gaming experiences for iPad - none of which cost a penny.
We've taken care to play every game to death, so you know it's definitely worth a download; moreover, our selection is geared towards titles optimised for (or that just play better on) Apple's tablet, and so there's little crossover with our free iPhone games selection. So fire up your thumbs and get playing!
New this month: OCO, XOB, Microbian & Race the Sun
A quick note on IAP: Most free games feature IAPs, or in-app purchases. Our reviews outline key ones for each game and note whenever IAP hampers the title in question.
1. Super Cat Tales 2
Platform games on the iPad are something of a mixed bag, mostly because they tend to be so difficult to control. Given the difference in size between an iPad mini and the largest iPad Pro, on-screen controls only tend to work on all iPads if they’re fully configurable (rare) or you have banana fingers (hopefully more rare). Super Cat Tales 2 sidesteps all this by streamlining the entire control system to two buttons.
As you belt through the game’s vibrant world, you grip your iPad with two hands. Hold the left or right side of the screen to head in that direction. Double-tap to start running, and automatically leap on reaching a platform’s edge. Two thumbs are also all you need to clamber up vertical surfaces, wall jump, and obliterate enemies using giant yellow tanks they’ve carelessly left lying about the place.
The system is tricky to grasp at first, and you might initially hanker for a jump button. But Super Cat Tales 2 revels in its perceived limitations, offering levels that require clever choreography to crack. Combine that with a slew of secrets, plenty of variety (underwater sections; a level set on a speeding train), and you’ve one of the finest mobile platforms you’re ever likely to see.
IAPs: The £4.99 premium option removes ads that occasionally appear. You can also pay to unlock sections of the game if you’ve not yet found all the collectables required to proceed.
For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Super Cat Tales 2
2. Asphalt 9: Legends
The Asphalt series long ago left behind any indication that it was particularly concerned with reality. Instead, you know you’re going to be served with high-octane larger-than-life races, where your car’s regularly catapulted through the air, in a manner that would make the average mechanic shriek in terror.
Asphalt 9, though, heads towards the bizarre in a decidedly different manner, with a ‘TouchDrive’ control scheme that streamlines careening around a race course, largely by letting the game itself deal with steering. Although there is a ‘manual’ alternate system buried in the settings, you by default tap and swipe to switch lanes, perform stunts, drift and boost.
For long-time racing-game fans, this probably sounds horrendous. Surprisingly, though, it turns out to be a slice of genius. Sure, what you get is somewhat removed from a ‘proper’ racing game; but the end result manages to marry speed and adrenaline with a kind of puzzling, as you work out the moves required to grab the chequered flag. And when it clicks, there’s a ton of content to work through, and some of the most eye-poppingly dazzling visuals to grace an iPad racer.
IAPs: It’s an Asphalt game, which means a boatload of IAPs. However, if you’re prepared to grind a bit, no payment is really necessary. That said, the £1.99 one with the Porsche is a good buy to ease your progress early on.
For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Asphalt 9: Legends
3. Dashy Crashy
You might initially consider Dashy Crashy yet another lane-based survival game, where you swipe to avoid traffic, getting as many points as possible before your inevitable smashy demise. But this game's smarter than the average endless runner. It looks and sounds superb. There's a breezy soundtrack and chirpy voiceover (apparently an excitable sat-nav), and dazzling visuals. The crisp cars look great, as does the day/night cycle as you belt along a suspiciously long and straight road.
But what sets Dashy Crashy apart is the variety within what's ultimately a quite basic game. As you play, new cars are randomly dished out as prizes, but these aren't just new skins - they bestow bonus powers. Drive a school bus and you get extra points for completing sums. A cement mixer surreally has a fruit machine lurking within. And a 'Dinotaur' jeep pursues green giants stomping along the highway.
Further treats await discovery: multitouch support enables you to quickly move across multiple lanes; you can boost for extra speed; and special events force you to quickly react to anything from a pile-up to a TARDIS knocking everything out of its path. All these twists make Dashy Crashy strategically superior to - and deeper than - its contemporaries; it's also a lot more fun to play.
IAPs: You can buy a specific vehicle rather than hoping to win it at some point - they're priced from 99p to £2.99 each. Want to test-drive one for a bit? Watch an ad.
For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Dashy Crashy
4. Power Hover: Cruise
Much of the magic and mystery of the original Power Hover sits within its brilliantly choreographed set piece levels, which find you scything across futuristic deserts and oceans, trying not to turn your powerboarding robot into a heap of scrap metal by directing it into a rock. But that game also finishes each section with an exhilarating boss battle, which pits you against psychotic androids in cartwheeling tunnels of death.
Power Hover: Cruise takes those endless survival bits and transforms them into an entire game. Presumably the hero android is now a masochist, given that instead of a mission, it's 'continue until you get horribly blown up'. Still, for you, the player, Power Hover: Cruise is a dizzying, exciting ride.
The variety within is particularly impressive, given that you're basically just moving left and right to avoid obstacles. Each stage feels distinct, whether you're deep inside a laser-infested pyramid, atop a gigantic pipe snaking through the clouds, or zigzagging through blocky obstacles and spiked contraptions in the oddly named Metro (in the sense it has pretty weird design for even the grubbiest, least welcoming city imaginable).
With levels being randomly generated but based around pattern recognition, there's plenty of scope for long-term play. Do particularly well and you unlock robots with better manoeuvrability and multiple lives, to further boost your high scores.
IAPs: You can remove ads for 79p, and buy characters for 99p and up if you don't fancy winning them through high scores. A one-off £8.99 IAP unlocks everything at once.
For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Power Hover: Cruise
5. Shadowgun Legends
First-person shooters aren't a genre anyone tends to associate with touchscreens, unless it's in a sentence like "first-person shooters are generally rubbish on touchscreens". And that's fair enough - a slippy pane of glass can't compete with the precision afforded by a gamepad or keyboard, when you're stomping about shooting things. However, Shadowgun Legends manages the improbable, bringing a high-octane FPS to your iPad in fine style.
Mostly, this game succeeds because it realises the limitations of the device. Controls are streamlined to a two-thumb system for moving and aiming. Autofire blasts projectiles at enemies daft enough to get in your firing line. Buttons are then used to trigger actions like punching door controls, or setting up special kit like sentry guns.
Everything else feels streamlined, too. Missions are linear, enemies are identikit angry aliens, and what passes for a storyline is instantly forgettable. But, my, is this game a blast, as you run around, blowing up everything in sight, or dabble in multiplayer shooty larks during your character's supposed 'downtime'.
You will, unfortunately, hit a fairly brazen IAP wall at some point, and have to decide whether to splurge on inventory slots. But otherwise Shadowgun Legends is the best game of its type on iPad, which is all the more impressive when you remember that it's free.
IAPs: Loads of IAPs here, including one with a ridiculous £99.99 price-tag. Just grab the cheapest IAP to unlock extra inventory slots, and then save your pennies.
For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Shadowgun Legends
6. Slydris 2
Tetris proved mobile gaming worked. Packaged with the original Game Boy, it became a worldwide phenomenon, far outstripping plaudits and recognition it received on home computers. Unfortunately, Tetris on iOS devices has been uniformly awful. Fortunately, Slydris 2 is there to scratch that particular itch.
The game shares a basic framework with Tetris. It features a well into which shapes fall. You use them to create solid horizontal lines that disappear, freeing up space for more shapes to enter. Rinse and repeat until the top of the well is reached, at which point your game’s over.
Aside from its Tron-like neon garb and head-bobbing chill-out soundtrack, Slydris 2 differentiates itself in key ways. For a start, it’s turn-based. This means there are no issues with touch controls, and ensures Slydris 2 is more about strategy than fast reactions.
During each turn, you see what will next fall into the well, and can only move a single piece. You must think several steps in advance, set up chain reactions, deal with immovable blocks, and make use of bonuses that explode larger pieces into squares that handily fit into any gap.
There’s familiarity in Slydris 2, then, but it also has ideas of its own. Most importantly, it even manages to match – or better – those games that inspired it.
IAPs: There’s just one IAP – £2.99 for ‘Ultimate Mode’. This removes the ads (which otherwise appear every five minutes), and also gives you extra background colours and music._
For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Slydris 2
With games like Oddmar, the iPad shows it can stand shoulder to shoulder with ‘proper’ games consoles when it comes to platformers. And elsewhere on this list, Super Cat Tales 2 offers an alternate slant, where platform gaming is stripped back for a heavily touch-screen-oriented approach. OCO, apparently, doesn’t think that goes far enough, and provides a minimalist experience that’d make even Jony Ive do a double-take.
Each circular level in this sleek world spins about its centre, with your auto-running block only able to leap when you tap the screen. Timing is everything, in your mission to scoop up every gold ‘bit’. Do so fast enough, or using few enough jumps, and you’re rewarded at level’s end.
It doesn’t sound like much, but OCO’s sense of style and precision is a winning combination. Sure, you can brute-force your way through much of the game, but reward here comes in matching OCO’s elegance – in figuring out how a level in which you just jumped a dozen times can in fact be completed in a mere two leaps.
Beyond the game’s 135 levels, there’s potentially endless fun on offer, too, through the built-in editor. Use it to create your own OCO delights – or delve into the many thousands created by the online community.
IAPs: OCO’s minimalist approach doesn’t exactly gel with ads that pop up now and again between levels. Remove them for £1.99. You can also buy gold bits for various sums, although doing so is unnecessary if you’re happy to progress through the game by actually playing it.
For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download OCO
8. Williams Pinball
There are two sides to Williams Pinball – the authentic and the fantastical. This app seeks to recreate classic pinball tables, offering realistic lighting and physics. As you bat a metal ball about, it flies along ramps at dizzying speed, and you must figure out the table’s rules and secrets, in order to crack the high score table. (Or you _could_ read the instructions, but who does that these days?)
But also, this app is by Zen Studios – and if you’ve played any of that developer’s tables, you’ll know they’re animatronic treats. Here, you can optionally add such effects to famous Williams fare, resulting in an optimistic army guy taking pot-shots at UFOs in the sublime Attack From Mars, or a grumpy dragon belching fire in Medieval Madness.
At least, eventually. To get to that stage, you must play a _lot_ of pinball, due to the unlock mechanism. This is XP- and currency-based, with you levelling up and winning coins on completing daily challenges on unlocked tables. The balance is arguably a bit off – it takes an _astonishingly_ long time to get tables to the fully animated level four. By the same token, you’re grinding by playing classic pinball, which is pretty great; and the challenges are often score-attacks with unlimited balls, helping you learn a table’s secrets.
Just make sure you pick wisely for the initial solitary unlocked table: Attack From Mars, The Getaway, and Medieval Madness are good bets.
IAPs: Coins cost 99p for 25, up to 5,000 for £99.99. Fully unlocking a table costs 250 coins, which is expensive compared to other systems, but two stars is enough for unlimited (albeit online) play. Zen also offers a £19.99 limited all-tables purchase to newcomers. If you don’t see it, contact Zen through the app and they may activate it for you.
For iPad & iPhone (Universal) |Download Williams Pinball
9. 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 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 world freezes. Drag and everything comes back to life, whether that's you blasting away, or your many foes 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 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, followed by frantic scrabbling to eradicate nearby enemies and move yourself onwards at speed.
Last long enough and colossal bosses appear, making it clear this isn't your day if survival was your goal. To counter this, green enemies drop credits you can spend on boosts during your next game, and blue foes ditch pick-ups that augment your critter's arsenal - initially a rubbish pea shooter - with multi-directional shots, massive rockets, and more.
IAPs: You can by characters for 99p each, and ramp up your boost credits for £2.99.
For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Time Locker
10. Pico Rally
A perceived problem with gaming on mobile is the lack of tactile controls. Although some developers have got around this with clever use of tilting, swiping and virtual D-pads, others reduce everything down to players prodding the screen. Such one-thumb controls might seem reductive, but in the hands of canny creators, this system has breathed new life into tired genres.
One-thumb racing games, though, are rare, and yet Pico Rally shows how a single digit provides plenty of commands as you belt along. Your car automatically steers, and you press the screen to slam your foot down on the accelerator. You must time this carefully, so as to navigate the track efficiently, zoom ahead of rivals and take the chequered flag.
The overall effect is like classic slot-car racing, except your car isn't restricted to a single lane. Instead, cars in Pico Rally jostle for the lead, not least when you're careening along being pursued by cops more interested in beating you to the finish line than pulling you over for speeding.
The 60 tracks are diverse in terms of hazards and course design, and the physics feel suitably solid, yet keeps you on your toes as new surfaces arrive. The two-player mode is disappointing (no split screen, meaning you often find cars vanish off-screen), but there's loads to keep the solo racer engrossed.
IAPs: You can remove the ads for a one-off £3.99 payment.
For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Pico Rally
Although also available for iPhone, XOB makes most sense on iPad, whereupon it converts your device into a kind of bizarre retro-television experience you physically manhandle to impact the in-game world. In fact, with its lashings of CRT fuzz and visual glitches, you suspect XOB would be happiest beaming forth from an old-school telly; it’ll have to make do with an Apple-branded slab of metal and glass.
The game itself is essentially a path-finding puzzle-platformer. You tilt the screen, and your square block trundles. Tap and it hurtles towards the ceiling, whereupon the world flips 180 degrees. If the square falls on to its side, the screen lurches a quarter turn. Throughout, you must figure out how to get to the exit, first collecting the targets that unlock said doorway.
You might argue there’s style over substance here; and it’s true that in lesser hands, XOB may not have been anything special. This style of puzzler has been done before on iOS, after all. But a great game is a fusion of all its parts. XOB nails the puzzling, with smart design; but it cements its claim to a place on your iPad by way of a psychedelic aesthetic that’s excitingly fresh.
IAPs: Ads show up now and again, but max out at just 24 in total, and you can burn through those in the settings. Alternatively, support the creator for offering such a user-friendly approach by way of a one-off £2.99 IAP.
For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download XOB
12. Little Alchemy 2
Alchemy is best known for transmutation: the dream of turning base metals into gold. That's a whole lot less wacky than what's going on in Little Alchemy 2. Here, you start with four classical elements - air, earth, fire and water - and set about combining them to fashion anything from cities to spaceships.
The means of doing this are simple. Discoveries sit at the right-hand side of the screen, and you drag them to the canvas. If nothing happens when you drag one on top of another, try a different combination. If something new appears, momentarily feel smug before realising you've many dozens of items left to find. As you might expect, this works particularly well on the iPad's large touchscreen display.
Little Alchemy 2 plays fast and loose with the laws of the world. Some combinations have logic at their core - for example, drop 'pressure' on a volcano and you end up with an eruption. Others are more fanciful, such as an airplane being a bird combined with metal.
There are moments of frustration, not least when you've been sitting there for ages, unable to unearth a new discovery. But it's always a pleasant surprise when you find a new object, and Little Alchemy 2 is ideal for dipping in and out of.
IAPs: You can buy research points to purchase hints. These start at 99p for two. Video ads provide a free alternative when you're stuck.
For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Little Alchemy 2
13. A Way To Slay - Bloody Fight
This game’s subtitle – ‘bloody fight’ – is on the mark. Your lone hero begins each challenge surrounded by enemies looking to turn his innards into a bloody Pollock on the minimalist terrain. Your only hope of survival: slice them up before they can get to you.
That probably sounds like you’re in for a fast-paced fighting game, but A Way To Slay is, in fact, a turn-based strategy puzzler. For each move, you can spin and tilt the landscape to get a better look at your surroundings. Double-tap an enemy and you zip towards them and get all stabby – at which point all your other foes make their move.
Success depends on figuring out the order in which to dispatch everyone – no mean feat when you’re facing a dozen or so heavily armed knights, samurai, orcs or assassins. If that's not challenging enough, A Way To Slay pits you against the clock as well – so once you’ve cracked a solution, you must try to pull it off in a handful of seconds.
Assuming you can stand the blood spatter, A Way To Slay is an excellent freebie, and one that cleverly subverts existing genres.
IAPs: £2.99 gets rid of the adverts and completes all levels without delay. For £5.99, you can remove ads and unlock all levels, characters and weapons. The first of those is a good bet if the fairly regular ads impact your enjoyment of this frantic and engaging game.
For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download A Way To Slay
14. Hoggy 2
The original Hoggy 2 was an indie darling at the dawn of the App Store. This sequel is more of the same - only better. You're a pink blob, figuring out how to munch all of the fruit within smallish levels that take place inside TARDIS-like jars (they're bigger on the inside). Get all the fruit and you're awarded a key; collect enough keys and you unlock new portions of a substantial map, in order to reach more jars.
Hoggy 2 impresses on a number of levels. Beyond its bright visuals and jaunty audio, it has an imagination and thoughtfulness about its level design. Although this sometimes results in dexterity-oriented arcade tests (often making use of the game's 'jump' mechanic that flips you between ceiling and floor rather than having the hero briefly leap upwards a bit), most levels have puzzles at their core.
Jars are therefore peppered with hazards, switches, enemies and blocks that temporarily bestow special powers, and you must figure out how and when to make use of each, in order to progress. Add in customisable controls and a level editor, and you have one of the best freebies on the platform.
IAPs: Hoggy 2 has a single £4.99 IAP to disable non-intrusive adverts that sometimes appear when you restart a jar.
For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Hoggy 2
15. Darkside Lite
Outer-space mining colonies have it tough. They're surrounded by orbiting chunks of rock and under constant attack from evil aliens. Naturally, you'd think The Company would send in a fleet of crack pilots to deal with such problems. Nope - it's just muggins again, taking on all and sundry single-handed.
The first thing that will strike you about Darkside Lite is how stunning it looks. As you fly over an asteroid's surface, it effortlessly rolls beneath you, structures and rocks rotating away into space. The second thing you'll notice - very quickly - is that space is really dangerous. Every rock you blast splits in two, Asteroids-style; enemy craft flit about, daring you to shoot them. Occasionally, you'll collect a power-up, but you'll more frequently find your ship becoming one with the universe after having been atomised.
Rather generously, you get a pulsating arcade mode entirely for free. Should you want more modes and some smart bombs - ideal when things get hairy - you'll need to buy Darkside (£1.99).
IAPs: This game has no IAP.
For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Darkside Lite
16. Friday the 13th: Killer Puzzle
There are no happy campers in this sliding puzzler, which features horror flick antagonist Jason Voorhees hacking his way through a campsite and beyond. Each grid finds you swiping Jason around, who slides until he smacks into a wall, comes a cropper due to a hazard, or reaches a victim. In the last case, said unlucky person is dispatched in a flurry of cartoon gore.
For the faint of heart, there's an off switch for all the red, although all the bloody violence is more South Park than 18-certificate film. After all, this is a game where the decapitated head of the lead's mother provides helpful advice from the corner of the screen, urging her murdery son onwards.
As the player, your brains also tend to get bashed in, albeit in a rather different manner. As Killer Puzzle progresses, the challenges become extremely tricky. You must figure out labyrinthine routes to targets, in order to avoid drowning in a lake or getting captured by guards.
The mechanics still aren't really anything you've not seen before, but the puzzle design is good to the point that this alone would make the game worth a recommendation. But the absurdist cartoon horror trappings, black humour, and polish make this a killer game in more ways than one.
IAPs: Eight of the 12 level packs are entirely free to play. Four require IAP, ranging from £1.99 to £2.99. Unlocking a level pack prior to completing previous ones also costs £1.99. Alternatively, a one-off £9.99 IAP instantly unlocks everything. Any purchase removes ads from the game.
For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Friday the 13th: Killer Puzzle
17. Threes! Free
Every platform needs a 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 involves 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 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 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.
IAPs: This game has no IAP.
For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Threes! Free
Much like you wonder what the little boy has done to deserve his fate in the hellish Limbo, you might ask why a spider has found itself in such hostile surroundings in this game of silhouette nightmares. But, well, nature. Here, though, we’re in auto-runner territory, rather than puzzle platforming, in an experience that echoes Canabalt and VVVVVV.
Your sole aim within the game is survival. Unfortunately, the sole aim of the game is to cruelly kill you. So as your spider scampers along, it meets all manner of terrifying beasties, traps, and set pieces that at first will flummox, but that you’ll eventually commit to memory, in order to progress.
Controls are down to a single thumb, which flips you to the ceiling, VVVVVV-style. A second tap while in mid-air flips you back. At first, such manoeuvres are just showing off; but as you head deeper into the game, such tricks are vital for dodging whatever’s thrown at you.
Visually, this game is stunning – an arresting mix of scratchy illustration that’s equally beguiling and hypnotic. It’s simple stuff, but wonderfully realised – and only by you learning and recognising the patterns and being steely of thumb can the spider have any hope of completing its journey.
IAPs: An ad will mostly – although not always – play when you come a cropper, rather wrecking the atmosphere of this bleak, spellbinding title. Get rid of the ads for £1.99.
For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Microbian
19. Race The Sun Challenge Edition
What we have here is an endless flyer, featuring a pilot who likes to live dangerously – but in a manner that’s relatively green. Their craft zips about landscapes populated with solid structures – some of which inconveniently move as you head towards them. Said craft happens to be solar-powered. This poses a tiny snag, given that the protagonist has decided to go for a fly at sunset.
Your reactions keep you alive; but your race is ultimately against darkness. By grabbing glowing speed boost beacons, you can temporarily reverse the path of the sun, gaining a few precious extra seconds. Staying out of the shadows is also a smart move – albeit one that becomes tougher as you head deeper into the game, which increasingly becomes packed with towering structures.
Like the original Race The Sun, this freemium take is a visual delight, which looks superb on the iPad’s large screen. But its best feature remains how it plays – the controls feel solid, and the game is relentlessly exhilarating, if also frustrating when you lose concentration for a split-second during a record-breaking run, and watch aghast as your craft is rather permanently ‘sunsetted’ on hitting a wall.
IAPs: There’s a lives timer here: die five times, and you’ll have to wait for a bit unless you watch some ads. £4.99 gives you unlimited lives, and some ‘tris’, used to upgrade/change your ship. Tris can also be bought, but isn’t really necessary.
For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Race The Sun Challenge Edition
Games that play with light are nothing new to the App Store. The classic Helsing’s Fire had a dynamic approach to experimenting with puzzles and shadows, as does modern effort Where Shadows Slumber. But Ilu is markedly more minimal in outlook.
Somewhat reminiscent of ustwo’s Blip Blup, Ilu has you place lanterns on a grid. On setting one down, its light shines horizontally and vertically (but *not* diagonally) until it reaches a wall. Your aim is to illuminate all of the darkness.
The twist is Ilu’s nodes. These have markers that denote how many lanterns must be placed next to them. Also, two lanterns cannot shine light into each other. Doing so rapidly depletes your energy bar, and if it empties entirely all of the lights go out, forcing you to start again.
The result is a strategic, organic puzzler, where you gradually and methodically work your way towards a solution – and there’s only a single, unique one for each level. On iPad, Ilu works especially well, the screen acres not only presenting the game’s visuals in the best possible light (pun very much intended), but also affording you more accuracy in deciding where the next lantern should go.
IAPs: You can buy 100 ad-free puzzles for 99p. £7.99 permanently removes adverts from the game. Avoid the ship/suit upgrades, though, which seem to be purely aesthetic in nature.
For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Ilu
In the grand tradition of Civilization, and various other games where you rampage about, giving anyone you meet a serious kicking, Hexonia offers you an entertaining, visually dazzling slice of turn-based strategy. As ever, you start with a lone unit surrounded by the unknown. It’s then down to you to decide what happens next.
You can explore, find villages to conquer, and build a miniature empire. Technologies can be researched, providing access to buildings that boost your coffers or arsenal. If you’re feeling a bit violent, amass a small army, march about until you meet another tribe, and then get into an almighty scrap.
On playing Hexonia, you can’t help but notice a whiff of Polytopia, which sits at the top of this list. Structurally, the games are similar, sometimes to the point you might narrow your eyes in suspicion. But there are key differences. Hexonia is a faster game, and more suited to newcomers. It looks nicer, and super units created when cities expand to a certain size are unique for each tribe. One has a stompy laser-spewing steampunk robot, while another gets a terrifying giant tiger; each provides scope for different tactics.
Polytopia remains the better title, but Hexonia nonetheless deserves a place on your iPad if you’re into turn-based strategy that prizes immediacy, fluidity, and plain looking fantastic.
IAPs: Extra tribes cost £1.99 or £2.99 each, and open up larger maps. Each has a distinctive unit and visual appearance. They are, however, optional.
For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Hexonia
It's tempting to look at Mekorama and think you're getting a free take on Monument Valley, but although there are similarities, the pair are very different. Mekorama does have an isometric viewpoint, along with levels and components that can be manipulated and rotated with a finger, but it has no truck with Escher-style impossible objects. Instead, Mekorama is more straightforward, based around simpler pathfinding, helping a robot find its way to level's end across 50 dioramas.
It's a touch finicky at times, and it can be infuriating when an errant digit sends the robot flying from the diorama when you're a couple of minutes in. However, any grimaces soon fade, largely due to the thoroughly charming nature of the game. From the robot's goofy design to the gorgeously rendered surroundings, Mekorama begs to be interacted with. It's also generous to a fault, offering a free level designer in addition to its many challenges.
IAPs: All IAPs are optional 'tips' for the game's creator, ranging from 99p up to £30.99.
For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Mekorama
This simple, elegant puzzle game dumps you in a minimal, isometric landscape, with a distant goal. Your means of getting there are trundling 3D shapes that look like Tetris rejects.
The catch is every time a shape's surface hits the floor, it disappears. You, therefore, have a maximum of six moves per shape. (Hit a dead end, with no more possible moves, and subsequent goes are forfeit.) This forces you to think carefully about the order in which shapes are used, and the directions you take.
This could have proved onerous, but Outfolded's design smartly tends towards the relaxing and meditative. The ambient soundtrack is soothing, and you're provided with an unlimited number of undos, so you can freely experiment and fix bad moves.
None of this means you'll blaze through the game - later levels are tough, and you might be tempted to start using in-game hints when you fall tantalisingly short time and again. Either way, Outfolded is an engaging, deceptively clever puzzler that works brilliantly on the iPad's large display.
IAPs: You start with ten free hints. If you want more, you can get six by watching an ad, 100 for 99p, or an unlimited number for £2.99.
For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Outfolded
24. Silly Walks
The evil Blender has kidnapped your friends. And he's a literal blender - and your friends are fruit, who are terrified, caged, and don't fancy being juiced. The tiny snag is the heroes in Silly Walks are also edible - and have a very silly walk.
Figuring out a path to your friends - across kitchen tables and patio furniture; past angry tenderising mallets and psychotic knives - is the easy bit. Moving is the hard part. Tap and your character (a pineapple drink by default, although others can be unlocked) rotates on one foot. Tap the screen and the other foot is planted, at which point the semi-sentient foodstuff starts rotating in the other direction.
With practice, you can get up a reasonable dodder - just as well, given that some levels come with severe time constraints. In one case, you must reach a stopcock before a kitchen floods; in another, you're being pursued by a deranged appliance.
As you might have gleaned, Silly Walks is very odd. But it's also a combination of platforming, one-thumb survival, and cartoon visuals that proves to be rather tasty - and very silly.
IAPs: For 99p, you can buy unlimited dashes, making some levels easier. IAPs also exist for buying sugar, to more rapidly unlock later stages.
For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Silly Walks
25. Train Conductor World
Developer The Voxel Agents have been refining Train Conductor games for years, and this latest entry in the series is by far the best. 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: 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.
IAPs: As noted, you can buy containers and track pieces. A better bet is the £4.99 IAP for removing ads and giving you a free undo per round.
For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Train Conductor World
26. Sky Chasers
We've no idea where you get the kind of cardboard box Sky Chaser protagonist Max owns, but we want one - it has thrusters and can fly! We are, mind, less jealous of the predicament Max finds himself in: lost in a massive jungle full of dead ends, deadly creatures and locked passageways.
Visually, Sky Chasers is a treat. There's an old-school pixel art charm, but this isn't a game of sharp edges threatening to poke your eyes out. Instead, backgrounds, characters and environments have been precisely crafted, and they look gorgeous on the iPad's screen.
The controls, too, are spot-on. You hold your device and tap on the left or right of the display to activate the related thruster. You do, however, have limited fuel, and so cannot blast about the place willy-nilly. This is even more apparent when you eventually find yourself faced with corridors of twisted branches packed with huge thorns and rotating wheels with giant spikes nailed to them.
Fortunately, you refuel by collecting hovering bling, and there are regular checkpoints where you can rest up and also restart if you later blunder into a death-trap. Unlocking checkpoints does cost coins you've collected, but you can alternatively activate one by watching a video advert. As freemium goes, that's one of the least obnoxious approaches we've seen - another reason this is a game you should chase down immediately.
IAPs: New characters are available for 99p each. A £2.99 IAP unlocks free checkpoints forever, rather than you watching videos or using collected in-game coins.
For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Sky Chasers
27. Silly Sausage: Doggy Dessert
This strange arcade treat finds the titular stretchy hound picking his way through landscapes of sugary treats that also happen to be packed full of deadly hazards. A mash-up of several superheroes in canine form, Silly Sausage can cling to any surface, and then as you swipe stretches indefinitely until reaching another edge. At that point his bottom pings back into place, ready for you to head somewhere else.
This oddball mechanic fuses dexterity, timing, and pathfinding, as you figure out the best way to grab gems en route as your elastic dog snakes its way around deadly acid drops, whirling saw blades, and giant rolling pins. Now and again, you can enter challenge rooms - intense time-based tests that make the main game seem like a walk in the park by comparison.
The game stretches across 50 varied sections, and a kennel restart point's situated at the beginning of each. If you're feeling particularly hardcore, you can try taking on the entire game at once; mere mortals, however, will want to use collected gems to buy restart points, to avoid starting from scratch after every death. Either way, on iPad the game works particularly well, the larger display affording greater accuracy as you work your way through increasingly devious tests.
IAPs: Rid yourself of adverts that appear when your dog snuffs it for £3.99. You can also buy gems (50 for 99p; 400 for £2.99) if you run out and don't fancy watching ads to unlock restart kennels.
For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Silly Sausage: Doggy Dessert
28. Flappy Golf 2
The original Flappy Golf was conceived as a joke. Riffing off the then insanely popular Flappy Bird, it reimagined Super Stickman Golf 2: instead of smacking a ball with a stick, the ball flew, flitting left or right depending on which button you pressed. But a daft joke became a phenomenon when it became obvious Flappy Golf was hugely entertaining. For newcomers, it was immediate and intuitive, but also original and silly. For Super Stickman Golf veterans, it was a novel way to tackle familiar courses, which it turned out needed wildly different tactics when your ball was armed with wings.
All of which brings us to Flappy Golf 2. This time, the game wasn't intended to be a joke, but a follow-up to a surprise hit. In essence, though, it's more of the same - but this time, you flap about courses from Super Stickman Golf 3. Throughout, you aim to win stars by reaching the hole in the fewest flaps, thereby unlocking further courses. Along the way, you can collect eggs with which to buy custom balls and trails. Beyond this standard single player game, there's an unhinged local or online race mode, with up to four flapping golf balls battling their way to the green. In either mode, it's frantic fun.
IAPs: You can buy extra eggs, but a better option is removing the ads, which costs £1.99.
For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Flappy Golf 2
29. Bejeweled Classic HD
There are so many gem-swapping games that it's easy to overlook the one that popularised the genre. That's a pity, given that Bejeweled Classic HD is an excellent game, which on iPad offers a range of modes, each of which has a distinct approach to matching and smashing gems.
The classic offering remains present and correct. You flip two gems on a grid, aiming to match three or more in a row or column, which then explode. New gems then fall from the top of the well into empty space. Rinse and repeat until no moves remain. If that's a bit stressful, Zen Mode makes subtle changes to ensure you can never lose.
Butterfly and Diamond Mine are tougher prospects. The former has you fashion combos to keep butterflies from reaching the top of the well, otherwise they're devoured by a vicious spider. And Diamond Mine is all about using gem explosions to dig deep into the earth, against the clock.
Other modes include Ice Storm, where matches obliterate growing columns of ice, and Lightning, a breakneck speed-run take on Bejeweled. The latter is a good bet for fans of the once-excellent Bejeweled Blitz, which long ago became mired in freemium hell, encouraging players to buy their way to high-scores. Our advice: stick with the original.
IAPs: Loads of boost IAPs exist. Ignore those, but consider the £2.99 IAPs for removing ads and the Poker game mode (assuming you like it)
For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Bejeweled Classic HD
30. Fly THIS
If you’ve been around the iOS gaming block a few times, you may fondly recall Flight Control. In that early and compelling line-drawing title, you drew flight paths for planes, so they could safely land. Fly THIS! comes across like a spiritual successor – although it in some ways feels very different from the game that may have inspired it.
The broad basics here find you ferrying blocky passengers between airports of varying colour. Once a plane is full, you draw a line to its destination. Rinse and repeat. Easy. Well, until you start having to deal with multiple planes – often more than you have landing slots for – massive mountains you can smash aircraft into, and weather that annoyingly impacts on your visibility.
Unlike Flight Control, this isn’t an endless title, and is instead framed as a series of missions. This makes it suitable for slotting into odd moments, as opposed to Flight Control’s lengthier sessions (at least when you got good). And although it may look friendly with its chunky planes and cartoonish worlds, don’t mistake Fly THIS! for a pushover: there are plenty of panic-inducing moments when you’re juggling chunky planes that very rapidly highlight how claustrophobic the single-screen maps are. What idiot builds so many airports right next to each other anyway?
IAPs: There’s a 99p starter pack of coins, but keen players will be more interested in the £4.99 ad-removal IAP. There are also £9.99 IAPs to unlock all levels or planes, and future releases thereof.
For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Fly THIS!
If Drag'n'Boom is anything to go by, it's not much fun being a soldier in a medieval world populated by a tearaway teenage dragon. Luckily, you don't get to play one of the little pikemen or archers being burned to a crisp while hopelessly trying to protect their bling - you get to be the dragon.
The little orange ball of fury is a force to be reckoned with. He pings about by you dragging a directional arrow, while a second arrow is used to aim. If you need precision, everything slows down before you shoot, Matrix-style (if there were dragons in The Matrix, which there really should have been), but you can also just blast away like a maniac.
The undulating landscapes are fun for zipping around. You regularly soar into the air, before returning to a castle and blowing everything up. The entire thing comes across like Tiny Wings, Angry Birds and a twin-stick shooter all fancied getting together while cosplaying Game of Thrones.
There's even a manic Sonic-style bit at the end of each level, where the dragon scoots through tunnels before coming face to face with a chest full of gold. Quite what he's going to spend it on, we've no idea. Perhaps a self-help guide on how to stop being a deranged murdery pyromaniac.
IAPs: You can be rid of ads (which show up after every level) with a single £1.99 IAP.
For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Drag'n'Boom
32. Stranger Things
If you've got 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 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 spending time trudging around Hawkins, solving basic puzzles, and punching things (including a worryingly large number of crazed owls). But 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 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.
IAPs: Strangely, there's no IAP whatsoever.
For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Stranger Things
33. Disney Crossy Road
You might narrow your eyes on seeing the word 'Disney' plonked in front of Crossy Road, but this isn't a cash-in. In fact, this game surpasses the original, cleverly evolving that title's modern endless update on Frogger.
At first, it seems little has changed. Instead of a chicken trying to cross roads, rivers and train lines, before inevitably finding itself splattered or drowned, the world's most famous mouse partakes in a spot of jaywalking. Beyond scenery bobbing about to a background tune and black outlines on all the graphics, it could be the same game.
But as with the original Crossy Road, this Disneyfied take regularly belches virtual coins, enabling you to try your luck at a prize machine and win new characters. In Crossy Road, many characters update the game's visuals, but here new worlds are unlocked that provide new challenges. Inside Out and Wreck-It Ralph have objects to collect (respectively, dream cubes and candy), which boost your score but force you to take risks. Toy Story and Tangled feature tumbling boxes to avoid. And Haunted Mansion has you light candelabras to fend off inky gloom, while avoiding suits of armour with a tendency to get a bit stabby.
What could have been a cynical release is therefore magical and fresh. There's also so much scope for expansion, not least when you consider Disney owns rights to Marvel and Star Wars!
IAPs: Loads of IAP here, mostly for buying new figurines (from 49p to £4.99 each). You're mostly better off just playing the game.
For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Disney Crossy Road
34. Ava Airborne
The titular heroine here believes she can fly, and wants to defy gravity - with style. She launches herself from a cliff, to partake in a journey across a beautiful skyline peppered with a suspiciously large number of objects. Prod the screen and her hang-glider gains altitude. Your aim is to deftly avoid deadly black balloons, and swoop through hoops for bonus points.
The game positions itself as an airborne take on the Alto's series, but the pace is very different. Although there's serenity in swooping about the skies, the game very frequently ramps up the tension, such as having you face tiny gaps in banks of hazards, or deal with cannons that blast you backwards, threatening your high score.
Unusually for a one-thumb endless game, Ava Airborne offers a recovery option. When Ava plummets towards the ground, you tap the screen like a maniac to get her flying again. Those moments where you avoid a massive face-plant by the skin of you teeth can be exhilarating.
In the long term, the magic may pall, but Ava Airborne's elegance and simplicity makes it a fun game to return to. And should you get properly engrossed, you're rewarded with power-ups and alternate vehicles to try, such as a giant yo-yo and a jet-fuelled trombone.
IAPs: The game's currency is sweets, which can be spent on boosters and vehicles you'd otherwise more slowly earn in-game. Prices range from £1.99 to a ludicrous £49.99. You can also buy a sweet doubler for £2.99.
For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Ava Airborne
35. Evil Factory
As an evil crazed scientist threatens to take over the world, the good guys are again daft enough to send a single hero to investigate. Yep: your job is to defeat the evil Kraken - entirely by yourself.
On trudging through a snowstorm to the Kraken HQ, you suddenly find yourself facing a heavily armed giant walrus. And things snowball from there. Every room of Evil Factory is like a demented boss battle, with you running around, avoiding the tendrils of a mutant 'octobear' bursting through the floor, or the attacks of the high-voltage 'Musk-X' - a mash-up of colossal bison and diabolical technology.
Because your skinflint superiors haven't seen fit to equip you appropriately for such a test, most attacks rely on you dropping bombs and scarpering; although you do have limited range-based projectiles too. Fortunately, the virtual controls work well (and you really need the iPad's screen to not cover up the action - the game's markedly less fun on iPhone); less fortunately, a 'refuel' system robs the game of momentum as you hit difficulty walls and end up dying more frequently.
Still, if you're willing to play in short bursts or stump up for some IAP, Evil Factory should satisfy any craving for a big, dumb, great-looking iPad shooter: a popcorn movie to control with your thumbs.
IAPs: There are coin packs (99p and up) you can use to buy weapons and more rapidly progress through the game. A better bet is the £1.99 unlimited fuel option, to remove the game's timer.
For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Evil Factory
36. Vertigo Racing
Vertigo Racing doesn't strip controls back as far as Pico Rally, but only because you have an accelerator and a brake pedal. And that's just as well, because this game takes place atop snake-like tracks high up in the sky - and should you take a turn a bit too fast, you'll find yourself tumbling into the abyss.
Each track is hand-made, rather than algorithmically generated, and so they can be committed to memory. This is useful, because the heap you start off with burns through fuel like nobody's business, and gets damaged with the slightest collision. You can replenish fuel levels by reaching checkpoints - but doing so often requires driving in a manner that's not conducive to your car's long-term survival.
Fortunately, do well and you can upgrade your car, to get further along a track, and then unlock new places to race. This aspect of Vertigo Racing can get grindy, but the game nonetheless remains compelling; moreover, its surreal and slightly dreamlike nature also ensures it feels fresh and new rather than more of the same.
IAPs: You can buy coins to speed along unlocking, but progress is pretty rapid without them.
For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Vertigo Racing
37. Transformers: Forged To Fight
Fighting games mostly don't translate well to iPad, robbed of a console's gamepads that are packed full of buttons and triggers. 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.
IAPs: 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.
For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Transformers: Forged To Fight
38. Planet Quest
At some point, a legion of plastic guitars and boring rock stars sucked all the imagination out of rhythm action games, but it never used to be this way. Planet Quest harks back to the genre's quirkier and more colourful days, with an eye-searing, head-bobbing tap-based experience that involves quite a lot of alien abduction, along with people grooving to the music while wearing animal costumes.
It turns out you are the alien, tapping the screen to match beats you've just heard. Get this right and you beam up the dancers; get this almost right and you beam up their costumes; get it wrong or accidentally beam up a flower and you lose a life. Fortunately, Planet Quest is generous, rewarding you with a replacement life for every successful abduction, and half a life when you merely snag some clothes.
With the colourful graphics, a manic camera that zooms in and out, and an hour of music, Planet Quest is a must-have for any rhythm-action or arcade fan. It's a lot of fun and you always feel the game really wants to be played; it also gives skinflints something to strive for - top the leaderboards and you unlock the ad-free version!
IAPs: If you don't like ads, get rid of them for 99p.
For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Planet Quest
39. Mars: Mars
This physics-based effort comes across like the offspring of ancient arcade classic Lunar Lander and endless iOS golf 'em up Desert Golf. It begins with a little space explorer, atop a platform on Mars. Tap the screen and they blast upwards from the Martian landscape; you then tap left or right to carefully manoeuvre them to the next platform before very limited fuel runs dry.
But it's what happens after failure that's particularly clever. Smack into the planet's surface or a landing pad at speed and your astronaut explodes. Rather than sending you back to the beginning of the game, you just get another go to complete your current jump - in fact, as many as you need to progress. However, if you're a hardcore gamer at heart, you'll want to string together landing combos, which are rewarded with coins.
Over time, Mars: Mars shakes things up in terms of landscape complexity and new themes (from underwater to a terrifying Yoko Ono satire). But mostly this is a game that benefits from its repetitive nature. It's meditative, thoughtful, and strangely hypnotic, whether you just fancy a few leaps now and again, or settling in for the long haul.
IAPs: Adverts are optional, for boosting credits (15) or continuing if you mess up a combo. IAPs are also optional, for buying new themes (mostly 99p each), or for doubling earned credits (£3.99).
For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Mars: Mars
40. Fold the World
With iPads being all about pawing at a glass surface, some games make a concerted effort to reconnect gamers with something that feels more tangible and tactile. In Fold the World, you're exploring the Paper Kingdom, leading strange bouncing critter Yolo along pathways that shift and change beneath him, depending on how the paper puzzle is folded.
On playing the game, it will come as no surprise that Fold the World's puzzles were initially fashioned out of paper, before being digitised and fine-tuned inside a computer. Such attention to detail is evident, and it means you never feel cheated. Although some puzzles are proper head-scratchers, solid logic underpins everything. (That each level is only as big as your screen makes it all the more impressive that the pathways Yolo can take become so deviously and deliciously complicated.)
For free, you get 20 levels of adventuring, which should keep puzzle fans happy for a long while. Should you hanker for more papery goodness, further sets of levels can be purchased.
IAPs: You can buy new tales for 99p each, or unlock everything for £2.99. You can also buy gems, for unlocking hints.
For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Fold the World