In this article we round up the best free iPhone games, from fighting and sports games to puzzles and RPGs - starting with our 12 favourite freebies of all:
- Asphalt 8: Airborne
- Beneath The Lighthouse
- Cally's Caves 4
- Circle Affinity
- Clash Royale
- Crossy Road
- Frisbee Forever 2
- King Rabbit
- Leap Day
- Super Stickman Golf 3
- Threes! Free
But there are many more - including reviews of the games above - in our main list.
When considering free iPhone games, you should watch out for annoying in-app payments and adverts, and other irritations. (We discuss these issues in Freemium is the worst thing in the history of gaming and Why apps need to be more expensive.) And if you have kids, make sure they know the dangers of in-app purchases - we'd recommend the use of parental controls to avoid an unpleasant bill.
Nevertheless, there are some excellent free iPhone games out there that earn their money fair and square: with unobtrusive adverts, or genuinely optional in-app payments that simply expand on the existing gameplay. Here are the best free iPhone games, listed in alphabetical order.
From '1010!' to 'Clash Royale'
When creating the original version of Tetris, designer Alexey Pajitnov was heavily influenced by a box of tetrominoes, wooden shapes that you'd tip out on to a table and then attempt to fit back into the box. 1010! takes that basic idea, but adds the line-vanishing mechanic from Tetris, making for a simple, engaging and theoretically endless puzzler.
During each round, you're given three shapes, the smallest of which are one-by-one squares, and the largest of which are three-by-three blocks or long blocks a single square wide but five long. These are then duly dragged to the ten-by-ten canvas. When all three shapes have been used, you get three more. Complete a solid line horizontally or vertically, and it vanishes. All the while, you're scoring points and probably feeling a bit smug.
But while 1010! seems like the sort of game you could feasibly play in the background while doing something else, planning is key. At any point, you can be left with a tricky combination of blocks that makes removing lines tough. Manage your canvas poorly and you'll soon be lumbered with a shape that's impossible to place. At that point, it's game over.
Ultimately, there's little in the way of innovation here, but 1010! is nonetheless a pleasingly old-school puzzler that looks good, is easy to get to grips with, and yet gives you ongoing food for thought when chasing a high score. Craig Grannell
Another word game? Yes, but this one stars bears! Even better, it's really, really good, and dead easy to get into. You start out with a board with some letters on. Tap out a word and the space the letters took up is immediately replaced by bears, which are instantly surrounded by more letters.
Added complications arrive in the form of countdown timers. Letters start out as green, and then if unused over subsequent goes turn yellow, orange and then red. Ignore red letters at your peril, because they transform into rocks, blocking bears from expanding.
You might wonder about the use of 'expanding' and 'bears' in that previous sentence, but we haven't erred - the bears in Alphabear really do stretch to fill available space. So you'll get tall and thin bears, weirdly wide and squat bears, and there's the holy grail of the 'filling the entire screen' bear if you clear all of the letters. At the end of a round, such giant beasts result in huge scores and immense satisfaction.
There are some minor drawbacks to the bear-oriented antics. The game requires a constant internet connection for online sync, and there are in-game currencies - one essentially for 'energy' to enter new rounds and the other to skip ahead by more rapidly accessing treasure events. It's there you discover especially rare bears with special powers that seriously boost your score in various ways when selected before a new round; but this mechanic serves more to over-complicate the game than improve it.
Still, for free, you can play a couple of really fun rounds per day, and there's always an 'infinite honey' IAP (£4.99) if you can't stand to wait for your next furry fix. Craig Grannell
Read next: Best board games
Asphalt 8: Airborne
Reality's taken a leave of absence in Asphalt 8. In fact, given how nitro-happy the game is, reality's likely been burned to a crisp and gleefully blasted into the wind, dispersed ashen fodder for sports cars that zoom past, mostly on the ground but often spinning, whirling and leaping through the air.
This game is the antithesis to the staid grind of Real Racing 3. It's joyful, colourful, smashy fun that doesn't take itself seriously and is all the better for it. Branched courses weave through hyper-real cities, occasionally coming to life by way of a shuttle launch or deadly avalanche. All the while, you're aiming to reach the chequered flag, ramming competition aside, and driving like an idiot.
Given that this is a Gameloft title, it of course has an IAP-sized bubble dome welded to its dayglo Bugatti Veyron, and some events are cynically locked by requiring specific (frequently expensive) cars. But there's plenty of absurdly fun racing larks to be had for nowt, and in a good racing game you'll want to replay tracks time and again anyway. And one thing's for sure: this is definitely a very good racing game. Craig Grannell
Battle Golf Online
Developer Colin Lane has cornered the market in ridiculous sports games. First, there was Golf is Hard, a side-on ball-thwacker that required you to hit a hole-in-one every time, because it's clearly wrong and evil to walk on the grass. Then came Wrassling, a demented wrestling (of sorts) game that looked like it had fallen out of a Commodore 64. Next, Lane returned to hitting tiny balls with sticks in Battle Golf.
Now, Battle Golf Online is here to improve upon its predecessor. Once again, it's all about holes-in-one, with putting greens emerging from an expanse of water. You tap twice (to set angle and then power) and hope for the best. Some holes are straightforward, but others are nestled within tiny towers, or on the back of a giant sea monster.
Although perfectly fine in single-player, where you take on an AI, Battle Golf Online really comes into its own when the 'online' bit is added. You face off against another human player, and frantically race to five points. As a bonus, you can cheekily temporarily knock out your rival by smacking them in the head with a ball, giving you a few precious seconds to win a point without them interfering. Craig Grannell
A sole £2.99 IAP removes the ads and gives you a golden hat.
The Battle of Polytopia
At the start of The Battle of Polytopia (formerly known as Super Tribes), you find yourself in a little town, surrounded by the unknown, with a single warrior unit under your command. The game gives you 30 turns to explore, locate and ally with or attack other miniature empires, research technologies, and advance your civilisation.
Much of the game is based around careful strategising, making the best use of limited resource allowances. Would it be beneficial this turn to research hunting and utilise nearby (and tasty) wildlife? Or would the smart move be getting the technology to forge huge swords, subsequently enabling you to gleefully conquer rival cities?
In essence, then, this is Civilization in microcosm - a brilliantly conceived mobile take on 4X gaming (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate) that betters actual Civ games that have appeared on iPhone. In limiting your turns and giving you a score at the end, the game also feels puzzlish, since you must figure out how to better your lot with very limited resources and time. (For more bloodthirsty players, there's also a 'domination' mode, where you play until only one tribe remains standing.)
The Battle of Polytopia could arguably do with a touch more hand-holding - you're often left to figure out the game's nuances; but perhaps that's apt, letting you discover it as your tiny citizens discover their little world. Craig Grannell
Beneath The Lighthouse
We've never been beneath a lighthouse. We'd always assumed it'd 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 fingerwork 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 onscreen 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
This fast-paced auto-runner hasn't got time to waste with storylines and subtlety. Instead, it dumps your grinning square into dozens of speedy horizontally scrolling miniature worlds, peppered with spikes, missiles, dangling spiders, and other horrors intent on your immediate destruction.
With weaponry in short supply for regular quadrilaterals, our hero's only chance of survival rests in its ability to leap and flip. To leap, you prod the right-hand side of the screen. Tap the left and the square zips beneath the landscape. Suddenly, every hill becomes a valley, as you belt along upside-down.
This is, of course, nothing new: flip auto-runners have been around for some time on iOS. However, Binary Dash makes this list because of some exceptional level design. As you progress, the game slowly turns up the heat, until the point you're cursing your thumbs for failing you on a particularly nasty piece of gaming choreography for the umpteenth time. It's brash, noisy, colourful fun. Craig Grannell
For free, Binary Dash gives you 48 levels: 24 normal and 24 hard. If you pay a one-off 99p IAP, you gain access to an additional 46 levels, and the ability to unlock 'skins' for your character by using keys earned during the game.
It's not the best of days. The world is occupied by hostile invaders, intent on hunting you down. Worse, you just zoomed away in a spaceship clearly designed by an idiot. It never runs out of fuel, but has the steering capabilities of a cow on an ice rink. And although it boasts a boost function - handy for keeping ahead of, say, ferocious aliens with massive laser cannons - it's charged by perilously having your badly steering craft 'graze' flat surfaces.
What this makes for, though, is an exhilarating videogame. You blast through gorgeous 3D environments, avoiding obstacles in the desolate landscape, carefully timing boosts whenever your alien pursuer ventures a bit too near. Phantoms of your best and previous runs are displayed, so you can potentially execute a brilliant manoeuvre a second time round while simultaneously avoiding that less-brilliant move where you slammed into a massive wall.
We'd prefer Breakneck if the craft was more manoeuvrable - there's no deft weaving and zig-zagging here. Instead, you drift in a manner akin to the developer's own endless horror runner, Into the Dead. Still, that adds strategy - the environment resets every day, and your craft's inadequacies force you to find shortcuts and quickly learn the best routes. And when you're approaching the end of a zone, boost tank empty, and your siren starts blaring about an imminent alien attack, this is one of the most exciting 3D avoid 'em ups around. Craig Grannell
Cally's Caves 4
You'll probably be some way into Cally's Caves 4 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. This one is all about the game - and the game is excellent.
The backstory involves Cally searching for the cure for a curse. (For once, her parents haven't been kidnapped - although do grab the equally impressive Cally's Caves 3 to help her through that predicament.) Mostly, this involves leaping about, blowing away all manner of adversaries using the kind of high-powered weaponry not usually associated with a young girl with pig-tails.
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 - you may find yourself replaying a set 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. Craig Grannell
If you fancy lobbing money at the developers, there are two £3.99 IAPs that unlock new game modes, and a £1.99 costume pack. You can grab everything for £8.99.
We do like a good word game, and Capitals is a very good word game. There are echoes here of Letterpress (mentioned further down in this alphabetically ordered feature), in the sense that Capitals combines Risk-style land-grabbing with the need to create words from a jumble of letters. However, while Letterpress for the most part benefits players able to fashion lengthy words, Capitals is more about where the letters you choose to use are located.
The game plays out on a hexagonal grid, either with two players using the same device or battling it out online thanks to a Game Center match-up. All letters on the board can be used to create a word, but only those attached to your territory flip to your colour on submitting a move. The important thing is to keep your capital surrounded by territory rather than letters. If you don't and your rival's move includes letters adjacent to your capital, it's captured. They then get a free turn, and since the objective of the game is total and utter annihilation, that extra move is often enough to gift victory.
For no money at all, Capitals is one of the best games around for word-game nuts, although we'll admit to being a smidgeon miffed about the ad model; in miserly fashion, it only gives up a solitary game for every advert watched. Still, since a game can often play out as a days-long tug o' war, the ads are hardly a huge drain on your time for what you get in return. Craig Grannell
Paid-for title Circa Infinity was an innovative, chaotic and relentlessly engaging platformer. With you essentially leaping into concentric circles patrolled by monsters, its dizzying and disorienting nature was strangely compelling and captivating. Circle Affinity is essentially a zero-outlay take on the original, offering an endless mode for free, and enabling you to get rid of the adverts for £1.49, or unlock the rest of the game's modes for £2.29.
For nowt, though, you get something that's quite brilliant and unique. The aim is always to enter the pie-slice section of the current circle and then leap into the smaller orb bobbing about within. But that's easier said than done when battling your brain's ability to track a little chap running here and there, flipping between the outside and inside of a disc, while also keeping an eye on various beasties roaming and flitting about.
Additionally, hang about too long and gigantic tooth-like spikes encroach from the screen edges, to the sound effect of some kind of malevolent alien predator growling that it's planning to chew your legs off. That's certainly an encouragement to get moving! Craig Grannell
With developer Supercell known for some of the biggest-grossing (and, in IAP terms, grossest) games on the App Store, you might approach its latest, Clash Royale, with suspicion. After all, it feeds off of a kind of collector mentality, and is stuffed full of IAP, which tops out at a mammoth $99.99/£79.99 for a 'mountain of gems'. But look past this and you'll find one of the most infuriatingly compulsive multiplayer titles around.
The basic set-up has you battling other players online, on tiny single-screen arenas. Each player has a King tower and two smaller flanking buildings. Units are placed on the battlefield by selecting cards from your deck (four being available at any one time) and each costs some 'elixir' (which slowly refills). Duels are all about figuring out how to best your opponent by countering their attacks and unleashing surprises of your own.
This could all have gone so wrong, but Clash Royale is a surprisingly fair game. Sure, if you want the best units and access to the top arena immediately, you're going to have to pay a small fortune. But if you're happy scrapping away in the lower leagues, you can play and slowly build a better deck without spending a penny. And even the timer system to unlock chests won in combat doesn't prove irksome, given that without it, you'd probably end up playing Clash Royale around the clock. Craig Grannell
Want more games? We've only just got started! Turn to the next page to read more recommendations of brilliant free iPhone games.