Like iPhone games? Like free iPhone games more? Great - feast your eyes on these beauties, including the best puzzle games, racers, platform games, and more - none of which cost a penny.
The internet's collective wisdom suggests iPhone gaming is a realm of dodgy tat - doubly so when you venture into the free charts. Wrong and wrong. Some of the best mobile gaming experiences don't cost anything whatsoever.
This feature outlines the 40 free iPhone games we consider the very best. If you don't love freebie iPhone gaming after tackling these gems with your thumbs, seek help (or take a look at our list of the best iOS games).
A quick note on IAP: Many free games have IAPs - In-App Purchases. Our reviews provide an overview of key ones for each game and note whenever IAP hampers the title in question.
Lewis Painter also contributed to this article.
Best free iPhone games of 2018
1. The Battle of Polytopia
At the start of The Battle of Polytopia, 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 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. However you play, it's an astonishing achievement, huge fun, and the best freebie game on iPhone.
IAPs: Extra tribes cost between 99p and £2.99. The more you have, the more you can take on in any one game - and on larger maps, too.
When you imagine a racing game, turn-based play probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But Disc Drivin’ 2 mashes shove ha’penny into futuristic racing fare like Wipeout, somehow creating something that’s furiously compelling rather than ridiculous.
OK, it is a little bit ridiculous, but, most importantly, the game is huge fun. You select a track, kick off a race against a randomly selected online opponent, and flick your little disc onwards. Your aim is to hit speed-up pads and build boost, and to not end up hurling your disc into the abyss or getting it impaled.
Naturally, just as in traditional racing fare, a solid grasp of the tracks helps. Fortunately, you can spend as much time on them as you like in the speedrun mode, mastering every turn, and committing to memory jump and trap locations. But the actual racing bit is pleasingly unique, with its mix of snooker-like aiming, speed, and split-second decision making.
With 15 tracks, up to ten online races on the go at once, and a slew of unlockables to collect, Disc Drivin’ 2 should keep you flicking for months. Moreover, it cements itself as being the best freebie iPhone racer, despite omitting many of the conventions you’d expect from the genre.
IAPs: You can buy stacks of coins to speed up unlocking cards. IAPs vary from £1.99 for 100 coins to £38.99 for 3,600. A better bet is the one-off £4.99 ‘deluxe’ IAP that removes ads, ups your online race count to 25 (from 10), and gives you as many goes as you like on the daily challenge.
3. Data Wing
First impressions of Data Wing are essentially 'this is a quite nice top-down racer'. You guide a little triangular ship about a minimal track, battling inertia in a manner similar to controlling the spaceship in classic arcade blaster Asteroids. But, unusually, your ship doesn't explode when it hits something; instead, Data Wing encourages you to grind track edges for boost, which flings you along at sometimes irrational speeds.
If that was all you got, Data Wing would still impress, but this game is far more than a basic racer. Sure, there are time trials, races where you must hit checkpoints before the clock runs out, and skirmishes against opponents. But some levels flip the game on its side and have you battle gravity. In these adventure-oriented mini-quests, you explore caverns, find keys, and figure out how to use the environment to clamber towards a distant - and very high-up - exit.
While all this is going on, there's a narrative playing out on the level-select screen, involving your job as a 'data wing', working for Mother, the AI at the heart of a machine. This becomes almost as engaging as the arcade action, delving into hacking, and affording you glimpses of life beyond the screen.
On paper, it's a strange mash-up that probably shouldn't work, and yet it does. In short, Data Wing's an iOS classic that's not to be missed.
IAPs: Data Wing has no IAPs or ads - it's totally free. Bargain of the year? We think so.
The iPhone has seen radical reworkings of pinball, from Zen's highly animated tables through to puzzle-like precision flipper INKS. PinOut!, though, rethinks pinball as an endless runner of sorts. You face off against a single massive table, with the aim of getting as far as possible before the timer runs out.
This is a gorgeous game. The visuals are all glowing neon, like what we imagine the Tron bikers play during their downtime. Throughout, your ears are bathed in a fantastic synth-pop soundtrack. But this would all be for nothing if the game disappointed - but it's one of the best pinball titles on the iPhone.
Like the aforementioned INKS, PinOut! is best thought of as a precision shooter. Whereas a lot of classic pinball tables are all about combos and speed, PinOut! demands you figure out the most efficient route to the next miniature table, which usually involves hitting a specific ramp. If you can grab dots along the way, to replenish the clock, that's a bonus.
It sounds simple - reductive, even, compared to 'proper' pinball - but PinOut! proves a frequently exciting, tense game, not least when you're running low on time and your ball hits a wall at precisely the wrong angle, costing you precious seconds. However, eight varied themes and a small selection of mini-games keep you interested and boost replay value. And the varied tables and slightly simplified physics make PinOut! very suitable for iPhone - unlike traditional pinball titles, which feel fiddly on a smaller screen.
IAPs: PinOut! has a single £2.99 IAP that unlocks checkpoints. In the free version, you must start from the beginning every time.
5. Threes! Free
Every platform needs its perfect puzzle game, and on release Threes! made its claim to be the iPhone's. 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' card. 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: Threes! Free has no IAPs.
6. Power Hover: Cruise
If you liked the boss battles in the superb Power Hover, you're going to be overjoyed with Power Hover: Cruise, which expands those challenges into full-fledged endless stages.
Pyramid has you take on traps built into a colossal ancient tomb. You leap over ramps, weave through laser meshes, and squeeze through gaps in walls as the screen unhelpfully rotates.
Machine is all about belting along an underground tunnel, where concepts like 'floors', 'walls' and 'ceilings' cease to have meaning. In the distance, a crazed android hurls all manner of projectiles your way - and one hit spells death.
Dive sends you underwater, and Metro zigzagging through a city, avoiding countless spikes. But Air is our favourite, with you surfing atop a snake-like winding road in the clouds, taking on all manner of wildly spinning machinery.
Power Hover veterans will know what to expect in terms of aesthetics; and sure enough, Cruise is a gorgeous game, with a frantic, head-bobbing electronic soundtrack. It does, however, retain the original's inertia-heavy controls. We're fans of them, too, because they afford the game a unique feel that's rewarding when mastered; but we are aware some people find it tricky to get to grips with the way you arc across the screen rather than immediately dart left or right.
Given the ferocity of the stages, there's potential for frustration, but Power Hover: Cruise is worth persevering with, because it feels so good when it all clicks and you blaze along on a winning run.
IAPs: New bots/vehicles, each with unique attributes (including, in some cases, handy extra lives), are available via IAP. Prices vary from 49p to £2.99. Any one purchase removes ads from the game. All unlockables can alternatively be won by hitting pre-defined high-scores.
In multiplayer game Spaceteam, a star has inconveniently gone supernova near your ship, and you must outrun it to avoid being turned into space vapour. The tiny snag: whoever created the control panel for your craft was a sadist - and a slap-dash one at that.
Controls are unhelpfully spread across the screens of whoever's playing, and instructions are dished out at a rate of knots. Instead of being able to blithely order "warp factor four" to an underling, you instead find yourself yelling "will someone please turn on the Spectrobolt?", while frantically trying to deal with whatever orders are being barked nearby.
What starts out as controlled chaos rapidly turns into a total madhouse when the control panels start falling to bits, leaking green ooze, and replacing words with symbols. You'll ponder that spandex-clad TV spaceship captains never had it this tough - but also that they never seemed to be having this much fun flying their ships either.
IAPs: A single £4.99 IAP unlocks a range of upgrades, including more challenges, symbols-only games, and a ship's cat (for 'companionship').
8. 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 a maniac.
There's loads of absurdly fun racing larks to be had for nowt, even if you sometimes have to grind a bit in order to progress. Still, in a good racing game you'll want to replay tracks time and again anyway - and this is definitely a very good racing game.
IAPs: There's an IAP-sized bubble dome welded to this game's dayglo Bugatti Veyron, and some events are cynically locked by requiring specific, expensive cars. If you spend money, do so with caution.
9. Clash Royale
With developer Supercell known for some of the biggest-grossing (and, in IAP terms, grossest) games on the App Store, you might approach Clash Royale with suspicion. After all, it feeds off of a kind of collector mentality, and is stuffed full of IAP. But look past that 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. 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.
IAPs: Primarily, IAPs are to buy gems, which can be converted into gold with which to purchase/upgrade cards. A 'fistful' (80) costs 99p and is basically worthless, but 500 gems for £4.99 will give you a nice boost in the lower levels. Probably avoid the 'mountain of gems' at £99.99.
10. It's Full of Sparks
It's not easy being a firecracker. One minute, you're happily going about your business; the next, you explode in a shower of noise and pretty lights. Still, things are a lot worse when you're actually aware of all this, like the firecrackers in It's Full of Sparks.
Conscious of their impending doom, their aim is to sprint towards water and put out their sparks. But their world is one full of platforms and contraptions, intent on impeding their progress - even more so when the firecrackers don coloured shades that enable them to toggle the visibility of hazards and platforms alike.
Each of the 80 levels becomes a speed-run platform game with pathfinding puzzler overtones. You must figure out not only how to reach the blissful pool of live-preserving water, but also master the finger-dancing choreography required to get there in time.
Some levels stretch frustration too far. Mostly, this occurs when the slippy controls don't afford you the precision required to get through complex leapy bits. On the whole, though, this is an amusing fast-paced platform game, with clever level design and plenty of charm.
IAPs: The game replenishes firecrackers on a timer, but you can get 15 more at any time by watching an ad. A single £2.99 IAP removes this system and also all advertising.
11. Super Cat Tales
When you realise the original name for Super Cat Tales was Super Cat Bros, you might have an inkling of what's in store. Although this game isn't quite a riff on a platform game series starring a plumber clad in dungarees, it is resolutely old-school in terms of its breezy gameplay, sense of urgency and excitement, and bright, chunky visuals.
Where Super Cat Tales diverges from old-school platform games is with its controls. Instead of a virtual stick, you tap the left or right of your screen to run in that direction. A double-tap sets the cat up to leap from the next ledge it reaches. You can also clamber up walls (scrabbling down them in a 'terrified kitten' manner when trying to hold on for too long) and leap from wall to wall like a feline ninja.
At first, Super Cat Tales feels alien as you rewire your thumbs to its unique controls. But give it time, and the game soon beds in as a near-perfect iPhone platformer. The animation is full of character (not least when a cat is gleefully running through a field of dandelions). And the levels are short but packed full of nooks and crannies, with secrets to discover.
For a fiver, Super Cat Tales would come recommended. Given that you can play through the entire thing for free, it's one of the biggest bargains on the platform.
IAPs: There are IAPs for removing post-level ads (£1.99), the lives meter (£1.99), and world gates if you've not found enough hidden bells (99p each). IAP isn't required to complete the game, though. There's also an all-inclusive £4.99 premium option, which is good value.
12. Super Stickman Golf 3
This third entry in the Super Stickman Golf series finds a little golfer perched on larger-than-life courses, probably wondering why he or she is tasked with smacking balls about moon bases, giant trees and rollercoasters when so-called professionals only have to contend with nicely tended greens and the odd bit of sand. Still, Super Stickman Golf 3 is a lot more fun than conventional golf games.
Despite the weird locations, the game is easy to understand. You aim, set your shot's power and let rip. Added control comes by way of a spin command, which can nudge a duff chip to the green towards the hole, or ricochet a rocket shot off of the ceiling in a manner thoroughly impossible in real life.
As you progress, you win card packs containing extra skills and also game modes for multiplayer - turn-by-turn against Game Center friends, or frenetic four-player live races. In all, there's plenty of ball-thwacking fun to be had here.
IAPs: You can buy 'golf bux', used to purchase card packs or hasten levelling up. There's also a one-off £2.99 premium IAP, which unlocks extra courses and more turn-by-turn slots, turns off adverts, and gives you five card packs.
13. King Rabbit
You might expect a royal rabbit to sit on his royal behind all day, demanding to be fed carrots. But regal rodents soon amass enemies, and in this case they've kidnapped our crowned bunny's subjects. King Rabbit must free them all, by way of sliding things about in a grid-based puzzler.
Initially, the going is easy. The gold-hatted hero hops to it, exploring tiny islands, sliding about the odd box, finding keys, and finally freeing a caged rabbit (while doing an amusing victory jig that's quite unbecoming of royalty). Pretty soon, the game ups the challenge, showcasing that although King Rabbit's enemies are a bit too obsessed with setting carefully constructed clockwork traps, they certainly have an eye for design. So before long, you're figuring out how to dodge saw blades, avoid poisonous snakes, fling bombs about, and scoot through teleporter-like tunnels.
Really, there's not a lot here that you haven't seen before. But what King Rabbit gets so perfectly right is execution. The visuals are vibrant and clear, and the level design is clever and challenging, but has the kind of difficulty curve that sucks you in rather than slamming your face into a giant stone carrot.
IAPs: All IAPs are optional, and are for buying hints, time-slowing powers, infinite construction kit objects, and level packs.
14. Drop Wizard Tower
You're not going to find a more affectionate love letter to classic 1980s platform gaming than Drop Wizard Tower - but this game has modern mobile smarts, too.
It builds on its equally impressive predecessor, Drop Wizard, and again features a little auto-running wizard, whom you direct left or right. The wizard's sole form of attack, to fend off adversaries that roam the single-screen levels, is magic that blasts forth from his wand when he lands on a platform.
Successful hits daze enemies, who can then be booted across the screen, potentially causing cartwheeling 'avalanches' through scooping up other foes in their wake. They then - since this is an old-school platform game - turn into fruit.
Unlike the original Drop Wizard, this sequel is designed in portrait. This feels more authentic (in a classic-era coin-op sense), and makes it a better fit for iPhone, with big directional control buttons at the foot of the screen. It also has you tackle all 50 floors of the tower in one go, rather than unlocking individual chunks of the game - a sterner challenge, although you can use collected gems to buy continues.
We suspect the auto-running component might alienate some old hands, but it really shouldn't. Instead, it forces Bubble Bobble and Snow Bros veterans to rethink tactics for this kind of game, and its streamlined nature is more suited to iPhone than any attempt at virtual D-pads and jump/fire buttons. Plus, frankly, Drop Wizard Tower's just really good fun - so check it out for that reason alone.
IAPs: A £3.99 IAP removes the ads from Drop Wizard Tower, along with giving you a free continue.
15. Frisbee Forever 2
Flinging a plastic disc about may not seem like the ideal subject for a breezy arcade game, but Frisbee Forever 2 proves otherwise. Rather than aiming at a friend in a park, hurling the Frisbee here begins the first of many roller-coaster rides through colourful and varied landscapes.
The controls are dead simple - you use tilt or touch controls to nudge the Frisbee left or right. At first, the paths are slight and simple, with you grabbing stars and flying through the odd hoop. But before long you're swooping by pirate ships, scraping through tiny windmill windows, or plunging into a frozen canyon before zooming back towards the heavens.
Although this is a freemium title, the game rewards you for spending time with it. Even failing a level gets you virtual currency, which can be used to unlock new Frisbees (purely aesthetic in nature) or additional level sets.
The game's elegance, charm, excellent design and lovely visuals feel like a distilled Nintendo-style experience on your iPhone.
IAPs: You can buy coins to unlock new frisbees and locations without earning them in-game.
16. Pokémon GO
Rather than having you gawping at a glowing screen in a darkened room, Pokémon GO is a game that forces you to - horrors - venture outside. The premise is that you're a trainer of Pokémon - little monsters that can only be seen using your smartphone's camera. When you find one of these critters, you lob balls its way to catch it. You can then train your collection and use them to take control of Pokémon Gyms - local landmarks.
The type of Pokémon you discover varies by time and place - water Pokémon are usually found by rivers and the sea, for example, while grass Pokémon are often found in parks. Well over 100 different Pokémon are waiting to be found, some of which are insanely rare and only likely to be captured by a trainer willing to put in some serious legwork.
On release, Pokémon GO was a craze to the point local streets were flooded with people trying to spot tiny monsters on iPhone displays. Things have died down a little since, but the game remains a fun family-friendly activity that promotes exercise, and costs nothing to play. It should therefore stick around for some time - you might say it's a game that has legs.
IAPs: PokéCoins start at 79p for 100 and go all the way up to £99.99 for 14,500. They're effectively used as shortcuts for goals. If you don't want to pay, just walk a bit further.
There's a hint of Threes! about Imago, but this puzzler based on sliding tiles is more complex than its rival. Here, numbered pieces are dragged and merged in terms of size and score until they get too big. They then break apart into smaller pieces, with each retaining the score of the larger block.
The aim is to think long term, trying to position everything so that your score rapidly ramps up. Get this right, and you can end up soaring into the millions - or even billions - during the final few turns.
Imago is quite complex, but eases you in gently. There are four modes, which gradually introduce key concepts of the game. Get good enough and you unlock 'Imago', which won't break blocks apart unless they're a massive two-by-eight in size.
The only fly in the ointment is a vile IAP pitch when you complete a game, offering additional turns for cash. This wouldn't be so bad, but even if you've beaten your high score, the game oddly says you're 'so close' and urges a purchase. Ignore that niggle and you'll find one of the best puzzlers on iPhone to enjoy.
IAPs: You can remove ads for £2.99, and extra moves for 99p each. The former's a good buy; the latter is not.
It’s not like the App Store’s short of solitaire games, but we’ll make time for Flipflop Solitaire. And that’s because it cleverly subverts the rules, resulting in a fresh, modern spin on an old favourite.
What you get is a take on spider solitaire, which in its original incarnation enables you to move in-suit sequences of cards between stacks. Reveal aces and you can move cards to foundation piles, in order. If you’ve played a game of solitaire before, you know the drill.
Only here, you get just five visible stacks, making for a more claustrophobic experience. To counter this limitation, you can stack cards down, up, or even both ways. So in a single stack, you could have a sequence that goes 9, 8, 7, 8, 7, 6, 5, 6, 5, and so on – until you run out of vertical space on the screen.
This one change transforms Flipflop Solitaire into something akin to a puzzle game. According to its creator, almost every hand is solvable – but only if you figure out the correct moves sequence to do so. Fortunately, you get unlimited undos, enabling you to experiment and try new approaches. But you’re also on the clock, with your ‘best’ scores being those that came from suitably speedy attempts where you weren’t regularly stabbing the undo button in despair.
IAPs: Flipflop Solitaire’s sole £2.99 IAP removes ads, provides unlimited plays of Five Suit and Ex. Single Suit, and enables you to adjust background and card designs.
19. Cally's Caves 4
You'll 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 restart point further along in your journey.
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.
IAPs: If you fancy lobbing money at the developers, two £3.99 IAPs unlock new game modes, and there's a £1.99 costume pack. Or just grab everything for £8.99.
20. Grumpy Cat's Worst Game
Presumably, this one's branded the 'worst game ever', on the basis its decidedly bad-tempered host - the titular grumpy cat - can't be doing with all the minigames, and would rather you go and play something else instead. Unfortunately for this miffed moggie, Grumpy Cat's Worst Game Ever is a superb WarioWare-style game for iPhone.
If you've not played this kind of thing before, you hit start and are confronted with a mini-game featuring a timer. You must instantly figure out what to do and complete your task before the timer runs down. Succeed and the game unhelpfully speeds up. Mess up and you lose a life.
As you might expect, a number of the mini-games are based around the life of a tetchy cat, with you helping to capture a laser pen light, or fling the hapless feline at a floating box. Before long, though, things start getting weird, such as when you have to grapple with kitty karaoke, or your cat starts karate-chopping wood like a furry extra from a Bruce Lee flick.
Colourful, silly and compelling, Grumpy Cat's Worst Game Ever is an essential download. Play for long enough and you'll unlock loads of new games and modes to try - much to the cat's chagrin.
IAPs: You can buy coin packs to speed up unlocks, ranging from 99p for 1,000 coins to £3.99 for 10,000. You can also grab Messages stickers (99p) and remove the ads (£1.99). If you enjoy the game, by all means nuke the ads and buy the stickers, but the other IAPs aren't necessary unless you're really impatient.
21. Six Match
Ever since Bejeweled provided a template for match-three games, few titles have strayed from the basic concept of flipping a pair of gems to try and match three or more in a row. Six Match shows you don't need to upend the genre to create something fresh - a simple twist can be enough.
Here, said twist comes in the form of Mr Swap-With-Coins, an unimaginatively named square critter that mooches about, sporting a number on his bonce. The number's very important, because it denotes how many moves he can make before freezing to the spot. The only way to reset the counter is to make another match.
This extra bit of strategy transforms Six Match into a more thoughtful match game than most. And things become even more puzzle-like when the game starts adding new mechanics to the mix, including diamonds that can only be collected by dropping them out of the board, and coin cages that when nudged shove an entire row or column of coins away from you.
On top of this, there's also a poker mechanic, based on collected coins - better hands result in higher scores. Frankly, that's perhaps a bit much to keep track of for mere mortals, but it provides another thing to aim for when you've properly mastered the rest of the game.
IAPs: For £1.99, you can permanently remove the ads that appear periodically throughout the game. (Neatly, the game counts down to their appearance, so they're never a surprise.)
22. Beat Street
In the 1980s, arcades were full of machines tempting you to partake in a mission that involved beating quite a few people to a pulp. These street-smart scrolling brawlers went by exciting names like Double Dragon and Streets of Rage. On iPhone, such games have tended to punch their own faces off due to the awfulness of their virtual controls.
This is why Beat Street is such a nice surprise. Not only is it imbued with a knowing sense of gaming's history (larger-than-life foes; regular boss battles; the means to unsportingly smash someone's face in with a brick you found lying around), but it's been properly designed for touchscreen play.
In fact, everything is controlled by a single digit - an absurdly ambitious proposition that somehow works. You drag to move, tap to attack, and hold the screen to grab hold of an enemy who can then be chucked at his cohorts with a swipe. Should you want something that feels more traditional, switch your iPhone's orientation to landscape and use two thumbs instead; but portrait feels right for Beat Street, and also gives you more background graphics.
The only real downside to the game is a smattering of grind. Beat Street really wants you playing daily in short bursts, and repeating levels on different difficulty settings. That gripe aside, this is a modern, smart, savvy take on old-school brawlers.
IAPs: A £4.99 starter pack is briefly offered, providing gems and other goodies. Other than that, you can splash out anything from £1.99 to £99.99 on gems, used to unlock chests or buy coins for upgrades. Any purchase removes forced in-game ads.
23. Crazy Taxi
Yah! Yah! Yah! Yah! Yah! Oh, those halcyon days of early-2000s gaming: a Dreamcast plugged into the telly, The Offspring's All I Want belting out of the speakers, and a mad taxi zooming about a digital take on San Francisco.
Well over a decade later, and squeezed into your iPhone, Sega's modern classic still appeals - and it works, despite relying on virtual controls. (That they're so simple helps: accelerate; brake; left and right; double-tap to drift.)
The basics of the game involve getting fares to their destinations at speed. Pick someone up and a massive green arrow hovers above your taxi, indicating where you should head. Along the way, drive like a maniac to earn tips from your excited passenger - although get a bit too crazy (as in, smashy) and they'll hop out in a huff.
Like a real cabbie, learning the locale is the key to raking in more cash. Unlike a real cabbie, you spend half your time soaring through the air, landing on rooftops, and sometimes travelling underwater, in a manner that would give most car insurance salespeople heart palpitations.
The game might look crude compared to modern fare, but its breezy, bright, frenetic gameplay is timeless. And it's immeasurably superior to Sega's attempts to modernise the series - the on-rails and grind-oriented Crazy Taxi City Rush, and pointless clicker Crazy Taxi Gazillionaire.
IAPs: Crazy Taxi has a single £1.99 IAP, which removes all non-Sega adverts, and enables play without an internet connection. If you've previously paid for the game, you can restore that purchase to get the same benefits.
This one's an endless runner in a shoebox, fused with the kind of brutal twitch underpinnings that permeate the likes of Super Hexagon.
As you kick off a round of Infiniroom, your little runner scoots along, then runs up the walls, and then across the ceiling. As he goes around in circles (rectangles, really), he must leap over game-ending electrified boxes that periodically appear. And that's that - at least for the first ten seconds.
After that point, Infiniroom goes nuts. Warning signs flash up, whereupon chunks of the room suddenly vanish - with you inside them, if you're not careful; or new areas temporarily open up, providing a tiny sliver of breathing space. But any notion Infiniroom might become anything bordering on 'easy' is eradicated when the game starts lobbing saw blades your way, or having lasers zap their way across walls.
It can be maddening, not least when you get properly into the zone, only to have a potential best score obliterated in an instant. But Infiniroom is just on the right side of not wanting to hurl your iPhone at the wall - an intensely compelling game that manages to combine a certain amount of masochism with addictive, smart, intuitive gameplay.
IAPs: A single £2.99 'premium edition' IAP removes the ads, and also a ticket system that otherwise restricts access to unlocked characters.
25. Sage Solitaire
Many developers have played with the conventions of solitaire, mostly by hanging basic card-sorting games on free-to-play titles full of cartoon characters. Sage Solitaire is a more minimal affair, but one specifically designed for your iPhone in portrait orientation.
Developer Zach Gage asked why, when you have a phone that's not the size of a table, most traditional solitaire efforts ape typical Klondike and FreeCell layouts, using tiny cards (in order to fit them all on the screen) and overly familiar strategies. His answer: a three-by-three grid, quite a bit of poker, and a virtual trip to Vegas.
In the basic Sage Solitaire game, you score by removing poker hands. The better the hand, the more points you get. Strategy comes from 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 is set as a multiplier, bestowing double points when one or more of its cards is used in a hand, and two 'trashes' exist to remove individual cards; one is replenished after each successful hand.
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.
IAPs: The game's sole £2.99 IAP unlocks two further modes (Double Deck and Fifteens), removes the (unobtrusive) ads, provide stats tracking, and gives you achievements to aim for.
26. Mikey Jumps
The original Mikey game, Mikey Shorts, was like a stripped-back Super Mario Bros, where you had to belt to the finish line before the timer ran dry. In sequels Mikey Hooks and Mikey Boots, the protagonist gained the use of a grappling hook to swing through levels at speed, and some magic boots for flying. Mikey Jumps distils these things into a breakneck-paced platform game based around single-screen auto-run levels.
The lack of scrolling might initially feel like a loss, and auto-running may irk people fond of traditional platform games. But Mikey Jumps arguably works better than its predecessors, forcing a razor-sharp focus on learning each tiny level, and perfecting the timing required to complete it. After all, when it's just you and a single thumb against the game, there's less room for error, and you've scope for perfection.
Still, if you think you're going to swan through the many dozens of levels in a single sitting, you're in for a rude awakening. Mikey Jumps regularly shakes things up, wrong-footing you and lobbing new foes and dangers into the mix. And should you by some miracle master the main game, there's an endless mode that could in theory keep you playing forever.
IAPs: A £3.99 premium upgrade removes the ads, provides a coin doubler, and doubles your lives from three to six. Other IAPs exist for permanently unlocking sets of heads and accessories.
Another word game? Yes, but this one stars bears! Even better, it's 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, giant beasts result in huge scores and immense satisfaction.
There are drawbacks to the bear-oriented antics. The game requires a constant internet connection for online sync, and there are in-game currencies - one for 'energy' to enter new rounds and the other to skip ahead by 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, in the main this is a friendly, furry word game that's a lot of fun.
IAPs: Coin packs are available to buy, but aren't necessary for progress. The £4.99 Infinite Honey IAP is a good bet, though, if you can't wait for your next furry fix.
28. Up The Wall
We're in auto-running territory again with Up the Wall. The game begins with a claw machine, which grabs a prize. Tap the screen, and your object hurtles along a stylised vector landscape, with you tapping left and right to avoid obstacles, and keep it on the path to the finish line.
The game disorients at every turn. It snaps you through right-angles and up walls. Floors sometimes disappear or gain massive spikes. Frequently, you'll be hurled through teleporters, your eyes struggling to keep up.
Throughout, the game looks stunning, whether you're a burger speeding through a blocky restaurant, a taxi in a weirdly abstract take on the big city, or a rubber duck attempting to survive a bathroom full of more hazards than you'd usually find lurking down the average plug hole.
Notably, each challenge is fixed - rather than spewing out endless semi-randomised levels, Up the Wall challenges you to perfect your passage through each one, collecting three hard-to-reach diamonds along the way. And you've only limited time, too - on first starting a level, a countdown begins. If it finishes before you complete the level, you're sent back to the claw machine to try your hand at something new.
IAPs: Ads can be removed for the bargain price of 99p. Other than that, you can buy packs of slow-mo and shields - 99p for 10, or £3.99 for 45. Those are less of a bargain.
There are shades of Threes!, Soko-Ban, Tetris and even Pac-Man about this wonderfully distilled arcade puzzler. There’s no backstory to talk of, but a blocky protagonist appears to be living out some kind of organisational purgatory atop a minimalistic skyscraper, surrounded by endlessly falling blocks.
The bigger problem, though, are the blocks that appear on the five-by-five grid. These must be shuffled about, pushing them into place so that they form solid lines of five. Achieve this and the blocks vanish in a blaze of light, only to be replaced by little cube-like treats the hero can munch to increase his points tally. Manage to get stuck between several blocks, to the point you can’t move, and your game abruptly ends.
Fortunately, Pop & Push is turn-based, and so you get plenty of time to think about upcoming moves. There is, however, a random element that can scupper even the most fervent of planners, although you’re at least always warned what’s coming next too the grid – a treat, a block, or a glowing statue that cannot be moved, but that obliterates nearby blocks when you manage to include it in a complete line.
The game might look ordinary in stills, but in play Push & Pop proves hugely compelling.
IAPS: Push & Pop has a sole £1.99 IAP that when bought removes ads (which are otherwise permanently displayed at the bottom of the screen), and throws in a free ‘revive’.
30. Fairway Solitaire
This one combines golf, solitaire and an occasionally irate gopher. Each course comprises three screens of cards, removed by tapping out those one higher or lower than whatever you last drew from the pile. The aim is to leave the fewest possible cards face down, which are then converted to a golf score. Get under par for the course and you unlock the next.
Which all sounds a bit dull; and that should hardly come as a shock in a game combining a sedate sport where you thwack a small ball about with a card game designed to be played on your own. Yet Fairway Solitaire is surprisingly breezy fun. The visuals are bright and vibrant, and there's plenty of character in the game, not least in the commentary track, and also strange cutscenes where the aforementioned gopher makes contraptions to avenge a fallen ancestor.
With this being solitaire, there's naturally frustration in the randomness of the cards; and you do feel in later courses the game is making things intentionally tricky, nudging you towards IAP for extending a turn. Still, with mulligans and clubs to update your current card, there's plenty of strategy for those willing to focus rather than chip away at random.
IAPs: You can buy coin packs, ranging from £1.99 for 5,000 to £99.99 for 420,000. Clubs and power-ups are also on offer, but none are necessary - assuming you're happy to repeat a course several times if you get duff draws.
There's quite a lot of Risk in this word game, in that it has as much in common with the territory-grabbing board game as eking out long words from a selection of letters.
Games take place on a five-by-five grid, with each player taking it in turn to tap out a word. Once a word is submitted, its tiles take on your colour. However, if you manage to surround a tile with others you've won, it takes on a deeper hue. That second point is crucial to winning games, because darker tiles can't be 'flipped' by your opponent during their turn.
Victory at Letterpress therefore largely hinges on careful strategising, gradually growing your territory by cunning plays. Anyone showing off about the dictionary nestled in their head won't get far if the letters within their large words are sprinkled semi-randomly around the board.
If you don't fancy playing a friend, you can up your game against a range of computer 'bots'. Letterpress also includes statistics tracking and real-time definitions, for those people who perhaps get a bit too obsessed about how to improve their win rate in the future.
IAPs: The sole £4.99 IAP removes adverts from the game.
32. 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.
IAPs: For free, you can play the entire game. However, lose three lives during any one level, and an extra set for that attempt (something that becomes rather more necessary during trickier levels) requires watching an ad. You can bin the lives system entirely for £3.99.
33. Little Broken Robots
There are probably engineers staring at Little Broken Robots, complaining that repairing actual little broken robots is a tad more challenging than what's initially depicted in this game. In fact, Little Broken Robots's early levels are so sedate you worry it might lapse into unconsciousness. The aim is simple: fix malfunctioning cartoon robots by dragging wires of differing lengths around grid-based circuit boards, ensuring every gap is filled.
At first, the puzzling barely registers. Early boards are tiny and the wires are short. But the boards soon become larger, forcing you to think about how and where to snake lengthier wires when you're pretty sure the others are perfectly positioned. Eventually, you're faced with junctions that accept multiple wires, resulting in seriously savage puzzles for what initially appeared to be a throwaway freebie. At this point, even the aforementioned engineers might concede Little Broken Robots isn't a pushover.
Yet even when your brains are being smashed out by an uncooperative circuit board, this title's never less than charming. An agreeable tune noodles away in the background, and the visuals are superb. Droids that are initially grumpy and glitchy watch with interest as you sort out their innards, gradually cheering up as things go well. When you're done, the happy droid is boxed up and sent on its way.
IAPs: For free, you get plenty of puzzles. Should you run out of broken robots to fix, a £2.99 IAP unlocks endless randomised boards.
34. Rodeo Stampede
This endless runner finds you saddled up, riding a buffalo, and weaving your way through a stampede. This in itself might seem odd, but it's nothing compared with what follows. As you hold your thumb down, sliding left and right to dodge game-ending rocks, your steed eventually gets sick of you and starts bucking. Release your thumb and you'll briefly soar majestically through the air, the aim being to secure another ride rather than gracelessly faceplant in the dirt.
On riding new animals, cling on for long enough and you'll win their hearts. Once the stampede ends, you're whisked away to a zoo impractically housed on a massive hovership in the clouds. At this point, Rodeo Stampede's metagame comes into play, with you creating enclosures for your animals, upgrading their lodgings, and having patrons pay for a quick nose around. Once you've had enough zoo time, a cannon unceremoniously blasts you back to earth.
In mashing together bits of endless runners and the basics of asset management, Rodeo Stampede provides a unique mix of play styles. And while there's undoubtedly some grinding for upgrades unless you're willing to spend real cash on IAPs, this is the kind of game where a daily visit should provide a quick blast of entertainment while also keeping your sky zoo ticking over.
IAPs: You can buy coins - £2.99 for 3,000, or £9.99 for 15,000. Income doubler and unlimited missions IAPs are £5.99 each. The latter speeds up game progress and enables you to buy continues with coins rather than by watching ads.
We’re in sort-of endless runner territory with Hoppenhelm, which finds Sir Hoppenhelm lost in the dungeons beneath castle Dunkelburg. Given that this is his own castle, he should have been more careful about what was going on underground, because the horrors are such he’s not getting out alive.
The dungeon, for some reason, is full of rising lava, monsters, crumbling floors, swinging axes, fireballs, and massive spiked blocks. There are also gold coins littered about, which Hoppenhelm collects, although that logically means he’s stealing from himself. Perhaps he’s gone mad.
Anyway, what makes Hoppenhelm worth installing isn’t it’s vaguely weird scenario, but the manner in which it’s controlled. Usually, this sort of game has you prod the screen to leap, avoiding danger, until your thumb gets bored and decides to go numb in desperation at the lack of variety. But here, you get three buttons: shield, move, and sword.
The move button instantly shifts you one space forwards, while also temporarily lowering the bubbling lava a bit. The shield and sword buttons, respectively, protect the armoured hero, and has you stab a foe. This combination results in often exciting bouts of thumb juggling, with you having to rapidly clock which is the optimum next action to take – one that won’t leave our foolhardy knight impaled, eaten or burned to a crisp.
IAPs: There’s only one IAP in Hoppenhelm – £1.99 banishes the ads forever.
36. Circle Affinity
Paid-for title Circa Infinity is an innovative, chaotic and relentlessly engaging platformer. With you leaping into concentric circles patrolled by monsters, its dizzying and disorienting nature is strangely compelling and captivating. Circle Affinity offers a zero-outlay endless take on the original.
It's quite brilliant and very different from other leapy endless games. The aim is always to enter the pie-slice section of the current circle and then jump 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 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 incentive to get moving!
IAPs: You can remove the game's ads for £1.99, and unlock all of the game's modes and colour schemes for £2.99.
37. Super Senso
Super Senso is a colourful, lighthearted turn-based tactics game that's only slightly let down by the heavy emphasis on loot boxes and in-app purchases.
You play online against other players, each with the aim of destroying the other's HQ (here called a Senso Gate). You do that either by attacking it directly or by using special combo attacks, unlocked by killing your enemy's other units, encouraging tactics around not just who you kill, but when you do it too.
The initial units are pretty standard blocky military fare, but you can unlock some more interesting stuff as you go on. Outside of combat they're represented by cards, and so you pick a 'deck' of six units to take into battle with you, spawning them as you go with the Senso Gel you gain for destroying enemy units.
You earn more through treasure chests that you earn every time a battle, and duplicate cards can be used to upgrade units and make them more powerful. You can also buy cards directly using coins earned during play.
The biggest downside is the handling of those chests though - by default they take time to unlock, even after you've earned them - we've had some that take 3 hours, and suspect others are even longer. It feels very frustrating to have to wait three hours to unlock a reward you've already earned - especially when the game offers an IAP to speed it up. Beyond that though, the IAPs are mostly unobtrusive.
IAPs: You can buy in-game currency and lootboxes using real money, but there's really no need, and the core game is entirely free.
38. Crossy Road
Crossy Road is more or less Frogger with isometric graphics and a single level that goes on forever. That's perhaps not fun for the game's protagonist, who must hop across endless busy highways, train-lines, and rivers full of floating logs, before inevitably being squashed/drowning/ending up on the front of the 8:24 to Paddington. But it's great for you, because it's an endless, infinitely replayable challenge. And the controls - tap to jump forward or swipe to move in any direction - are pitch-perfect.
It looks gorgeous. The visuals are bright and cheery, to the point you won't be too annoyed when your critter gets splattered, or grabbed by a terrifying bird of prey when you dawdle a second too long.
Also, Crossy Road avoids being obnoxious regarding free-to-play, despite being packed full of collectables. Sure, you can pay IAP to get a new character (of which there are many), but alternatively, you can grab coins as you play, view an ad to swell your wallet, or even do nothing at all and grin as the game generously lobs a bunch of virtual cash in your general direction.
You can then try your luck on a one-armed bandit that will reward you with anything from a vampire that turns Crossy Road into a bleak landscape bathed in red, to 'Doge', whose antics are accompanied by lurid Comic Sans phrases. Much hop! Very car!
IAPs: Most IAPs are single 79p purchases for characters you can't wait to unlock. Beyond that, you can grab a coin doubler for £2.99 or an ice-sliding level for £1.99.
39. 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.
IAPs: A sole £2.99 IAP removes the ads and bestows on you a golden hat.
40. Sonic the Hedgehog
Veteran gamers tend to shudder when news arrives of yet another top title from yesteryear getting mobile treatment. Often, you end up with a half-baked emulator in your mitts, staring in disbelief as your iPhone bafflingly struggles to play a decades-old game. Fortunately, for Sega's crowning glory - the original Sonic the Hedgehog - there's none of that. And unlike many of Sega's other retro apps, this one's a perfect example of how old games should be remade.
For the uninitiated, Sonic the Hedgehog is a blazing fast platformer. Whereas long-time rival Mario's games are all about precision, Sonic's more interested in blazing along, hurtling into foes, grabbing coins, and looping loops in a manner that would make lesser Erinaceinae vomit.
The entire original game is here, fully remastered. It's now widescreen, and plays at a buttery smooth 60fps. There are save slots, new playable characters, and other updates that build on - rather than detract from - the original.
The only downside to Sonic - assuming you like your platform games fast and furious - is the controls. Developer Christian Whitehead has done the best job possible, enabling you to adjust the size and location of the virtual sticks and buttons. But Sonic is a twitchy game, designed for a gamepad, and prodding at a glass screen doesn't always cut it. Still, for free it's a decent blast from the past, and if you want a more authentic experience, you can always connect a gamepad to your iPhone.
IAPs: Sonic the Hedgehog's sole £1.99 IAP gets rid of adverts (bar Sega ones on launch).