Like iPhone games? Like free things? Great! As you'll see in our roundup of the finest zero-cost driving games, sports sims, puzzles and shooters, 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 dig out your wallet and take a look at our list of the best iOS games).
New in our list this month: Super Cat Tales 2, Alphabear 2, Candies 'n Curses, Bacon - The Game
A quick note on IAP: Many free games make their money through the use of IAPs (in-app purchases). Sometimes these unlock cosmetic changes; sometimes it's almost impossible to play without them. Needless to say our 40 picks are all good citizens in this regard, but our reviews provide more detail.
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.
2. Disc Drivin' 2
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.
4. Shadowgun Legends
In this first-person shooter, stone-cold killers are treated like rockstars. There's a confidence and swagger here that's rare for this genre on mobile; but this isn't misplaced, because with its dazzling visuals, accessibility and depth, Shadowgun Legends is a first-rate mobile title.
It controls well, with your left and right thumbs, respectively, moving and aiming. Autofire takes care of any aliens dumb enough to get in front of your sights. Buttons then trigger special kit you're lucky enough to own, such as sentry guns.
The fast-paced missions are linear in nature, but have a sense of pace and rhythm that's invigorating and compelling. And because progression happens rapidly, it feels like the game rewards you for your time, even when you only dip into it for a few minutes.
There are downsides. The storyline is forgettable, and you'll eventually need to splash out on at least one IAP to unlock enough inventory slots for upgrades, without you otherwise having to be mired in busywork after missions. But other than those niggles, Shadowgun Legends has all you need from a solid mobile FPS: loads of shooty action; visuals to coo at; smartly conceived multiplayer; and adoring fans clamouring to build a massive statue of you in the game's central hub. (OK, so that last one's a bit odd, but do you really want to say no to them?)
IAPs: This one's stuffed full of IAP with heroic-sounding names, like Alien Hunter Pile (£4.99) and Legendary Treasure (with a legendary £99.99 price-tag). Once you're heavily into the game, you'll need to splash out on at least the cheapest IAP, to unlock dozens of extra inventory slots. Ongoing payments aren't necessary, though.
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.
6. Asphalt 9: Legends
If you’ve played a reasonably recent Asphalt game, you’ll know the series left reality behind some time ago. What you get instead is unhinged arcade racing, where cars are hungry for nitro, drift for miles around corners, and regularly soar into the air, cartwheeling and spinning like a baton thrown by a particularly furious parade leader.
But Asphalt 9 breaks from traditional racers in another way: there’s a system called TouchDrive, which means you don’t have to steer. That nugget of information probably sent shivers down the spines of traditionalists – and now has them ranting about how mobile doesn’t have proper games. The thing is, it really works.
While your car rockets along, you swipe to target obstacles (boost; ramps; entrances to skyscrapers you totally shouldn’t drive through), and tap to nitro, drift, and perform crazy stunts. This doesn’t remove the thrill of racing – instead, it’s honed down to its purest essence. The game becomes the racing equivalent of those fab one-thumb platformers that taught gamers you don’t need directional controls if the rest of the game is pitch-perfect.
That said, you *can* revert to standard controls if you wish. Either way, Asphalt 9’s an exhilarating ride, whether you’re in a smashy high-octane race against similarly nutcase drivers, or fleeing from the fuzz in exciting escape scenarios.
IAPs: It’s an Asphalt game, so has a boat-load of IAP. In short, you’re paying to avoid grind, and some (entirely optional) car packs are ludicrously expensive. However, the £1.99 starter pack – some cash and a Porsche – isn’t a bad buy.
For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Asphalt 9: Legends
7. Super Cat Tales 2
The original Super Cat Tales felt like someone had shoved a classic old-school platform game inside your iPhone. Only instead of a dungaree-clad plumber doddering about, it starred a rag-tag bunch of moggies. In this sequel, the cats are back, to thwart the invasion plans of a mysterious tin soldier army.
Super Cat Tales 2’s pacy, breezy platforming action, packed with secrets, urgency and excitement, ensures it grabs hold from the off. A nicely written slice of backstory draws you in, and before you know it your cat is leaping about, grabbing the suspiciously large number of levitating gold coins that appear in this kind of game, and hopping into the occasional massive yellow tank for robot-smashing action.
Although the bright, chunky visuals might feel like a throwback to the SNES, the controls in Super Cat Tales 2 are thoroughly modern. One thumb at each side of the screen is enough to let you run, dash, clamber up walls (and scrabble down them like a terrified kitten when holding on a second too long), and wall-jump like a feline ninja.
At first, it all feels alien as you rewire your thumbs; but the game soon beds in as a near-perfect iPhone platformer. Frankly, we’d be recommending this one for a tenner; for free – or five quid if you go premium – it’s a bargain.
IAPs: The £4.99 premium mode removes the ads. You can also pay to unlock levels if you haven’t found the objects you need to progress.
For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Super Cat Tales 2
8. Look, Your Loot!
If you've played Arnold Rauers's superb Card Thief, you'll know a 'living' grid of cards and a smattering of role-playing elements makes for a tense and exciting gaming experience. But if you're emptier of wallet than the bling-hunting heroes in that kind of title, Look, Your Loot! represents an excellent alternative.
The hero this time is a mouse keener on gold than cheese, and armed with spear and shield alongside disarmingly cute whiskers. The game takes place on a grid, most slots of which are filled with something dangerous and violent. The remainder then contain the odd power-up, or barrels you hack to bits, in order to see what's inside.
You slide your tile to move, and the mouse's life force depletes on attacking foes, but can be replenished with elixirs, or defended with shields. As you duff up monsters, new cards enter the grid. You must force an optimum path to stay alive. Best the boss that appears after a set number of turns and you get to choose a permanent skill before continuing your quest.
It's simple stuff, but captivating - and nerve-racking when you know everything can go wrong on a careless swipe. Varied modes will further cement the game to your Home screen, ensuring the rodent hero can get all stabby for many months to come.
IAPs: Three £1.99 IAPs exist - one removes the ads (and gives you a free booster per game), and is well worth grabbing. The others are a bling starter kit (100,000 gold and 60 gems) and a 50 per cent price cut for boosters. Either's fine for big fans but not necessary for enjoyment.
9. 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.
10. 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').
12. 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.
13. 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.
14. 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.
15. Will Hero
Will Hero is a bouncing square, living in a world of other bouncing squares. They all lurk atop levitating islands floating above an abyss, awaiting the chance to do some violence. The hero's excuse is that he's in rescue mode, trying to free a princess. As for the bad guys - well, they're bad guys in a videogame.
This is a one-thumb effort. Tap the screen and Will darts forwards. You must get your timing right, so you don't end up underneath a bouncing foe, or get walloped by a weapon. The landscape's also full of unexpectedly deadly windmills, with blades that slice you in two.
Fortunately, there are plenty of weapons chests lying around. Crack one open and you'll be armed with something suitably dangerous that's triggered every time you tap to move. Depending on the helm you're wearing (helms being available via IAP or through unlocking treasure chests), you might get spears, a massive axe, or - slightly moving away from the medieval theme - heat-seeking missiles.
It's frustrating when you get some way into a mission and are cut short by a fractionally mistimed prod of the screen. But otherwise Will Hero is a lot of fun, with its amusingly cartoonish gore, dungeon missions, and varied means of giving nasty evil-doers a serious kicking.
IAPs: You can buy crowns (for skipping quests) to convert into coins (for opening chests) - 80 for 99p, 500 for £4.99, or 1200 for £9.99. None of that's really necessary to play. If you fancy some specific helms, though, you can grab them for 99p each.
16. 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.
17. 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.
18. 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.
The tiny snag with most pool games is they aim for realism, with fancy 3D graphics, but pit you against a computer. And, as it turns out, computers are very good at the maths required to pot every ball with only a tiny fraction of their processing power. Pocket Run Pool has no truck with that, and reimagines pool as a strategy-oriented risk-happy single-player affair.
Like Zach Gage's other games, there's a conventional foundation. You still get a table, balls and a cue. But again he's added an ingredient to shake everything up. Here, it's multipliers on the pockets. Points you score comprise the number on the ball multiplied by the score on the pocket you sink it in. And those multipliers move every turn, meaning you must plan ahead.
Some may grumble at the game's simplistic nature beyond this feature. The visuals are minimal, and the controls are basic - drag to aim and swipe to shoot. There's little nuance, and you even get an aiming arrow. But such complaints miss the point - this one's about strategy, immediacy, and having a slice of one-thumb pool on a commute home, in a manner that won't have you fuming at being beaten yet again by a pool god.
IAPs: A £3.99 IAP removes ads and buy-ins for the insta-tournament (online high-score) mode, unlocks 'break of the week' mode, and gives you custom backgrounds. A 'high stakes' mode has IAP for rebuys - 99p for five, and £19.99(!) for an infinite number. The £3.99 IAP is good value if you like the main mode.
20. Touchgrind BMX 2
Most BMX games display the action from the side. Even those in 3D usually show the rider. Not Touchgrind BMX 2. Here, you use two fingers to control a riderless bike, one for the handlebars and another for the seat. Hold that position and the bike zooms forwards. Move the handlebars left and right to steer. Easy!
Well, it's easy until you hit a ramp, are thrown into the air, and then partake in a bit of show-off airborne stunt larks. By flicking and swiping, your tiny temporarily flying vehicle spins and twists like it's caught in a gale, hopefully landing on two wheels when it reaches the ground.
The experience is tactile, demanding and exciting. Initially, you'll fall a lot, but then you'll chain together a series of improbable moves, beam at your 8x score multiplier, and then crash into a large rock like an idiot. But mastery reaps rewards, which in this case means unlocking new tracks and bits of bike.
For free, it's worth noting you only get three tracks, though. And that's the sole reason why this game doesn't rank higher in this list. But even that trio of courses will provide hours of madcap virtual BMX fun.
IAPs: Extra tracks cost £1.99, apart from Vertigo (£2.99). They can also be bought in packs, or you can get the entire collection for £7.99. That last option's good value, but the game's still loads of fun for free.
21. 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.
For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Imago
23. Alphabear 2
You might think you’ve already played enough word games for one lifetime – but spare a few moments to check out the fuzzy charms of Alphabear 2.
Each game kicks off with a board sprinkled with letter tiles. Use them to create and submit a word, and the gaps are replaced by bears, which are subsequently surrounded by more letter tiles.
As you pick away at the board, bears comically expand to fill empty spaces, resulting in tall and spindly bears, or those that look like they’ve had an unfortunate incident with an Acme Corporation anvil on day release from a Road Runner cartoon.
Don’t get distracted by the weirdo mammals, though, because the tiles have countdown timers. When one hits zero, the tile turns to stone, stopping bears from expanding further in that direction. And, as everyone knows (or at least they do now), massive bears equals massive points.
Like the original Alphabear, this sequel shakes things up with timed rounds, offers giggles in the form of post-game cut scenes, and attempts to immerse you in a baffling bear collection sub-game. (Bears you choose prior to a round unlock bonuses.) It also has a smattering of educational content and additional modes to unlock.
On the whole, then, this is a friendly, furry word game that’s a lot of fun.
IAPs: There are coin packs and IAP for making ‘honey’ (in-game currency) regenerate faster. The £4.99 one for removing ads is the best bet, though.
For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Alphabear 2
24. Sneak Ops
The backstory’s slim in this retro-infused stealth ’em up: you’ve been parachuted deep behind enemy lines, and must get to the chopper. But a massive enemy compound full of heavily armed goons is smack bang in your way. You must sneak through it and not get killed.
Fortunately, the guards are all massive idiots. They can’t see you unless you blunder directly into their line of sight, or set off a security alert on getting caught by a roaming camera or laser grid. The game, therefore, becomes about recognising movement patterns, planning your moment, and sprinting from hiding place to hiding place.
Controls are tap-based. You prod the tile you want to head to and your little spy finds his way. You can also unsportingly sneak up behind a guard and biff them over the head, giving you a few seconds to scarper to the next checkpoint.
Said checkpoints are often the key to victory. Don’t make use of them and you go back to the start of the day’s mission on being spotted (and shot). But you can buy checkpoints with 20 floppy disks (picked up *en route*) or by watching an ad. Cheating death like that doesn’t exactly feel very Mission Impossible or James Bond, but it does give you a fighting chance of making it home in this fresh, fun game that’s good for your stealth.
IAPs: For £2.99, you can remove the ads that show after every few failures. Individual characters can be unlocked for 99p each, although periodic unlocks happen as you play.
For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Sneak Ops
25. Flipflop Solitaire
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.
The name Soosiz might ring a bell with long-time iPhone gamers. In fact, the game made its debut way back in 2009. Nine years later, it finally hit 2.0, during which the developers added iPhone X support and made it free. You might, though, wonder whether such an ancient iOS game still has what it takes in a world of more modern titles.
In short, it’s still delightful. The basic mechanics are very firmly rooted in traditional platform-gaming territory: run left and right; bound on enemies to knock them out; grab bling; make for an exit. But Soosiz quite literally put a new spin on the genre by having you explore floating islands in space, each of which has its own centre of gravity.
This means down often becomes up, the screen spinning as you run, in a manner similar to a 2D Super Mario Galaxy. It’s disorienting and challenging in equal measure, not least when you lob in a requirement to collect younglings along the way – presumably, they got lost and needed a sit down after getting terribly dizzy in their oddball world.
There’s loads here to keep you going – over 60 levels spread across seven worlds. And although it may not have the visual clout of more modern iPhone fare, Soosiz makes up for that by being hugely enjoyable and a little bit different.
IAPs: You can remove the adverts for a one-off £1.99 payment. Note that if you bought the game in the past, Soosiz remains ad-free.
For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Soosiz
27. Built for Speed
This cute racer harks back to the 1990s with its colourful pixelated designs, but feels perfectly suited to mobile with stripped-back two thumb controls. Taking on the ghosts of other players, you tootle around blocky tracks, prodding left or right to steer your car accordingly.
Success mostly depends on finding the racing line, and not smacking into obstacles someone's unhelpfully abandoned in the middle of the road. However, there is a smattering of progression built into the game, with you buying and upgrading new cars.
Given that this is a freebie with IAP coin mountains on offer, grind is perhaps a concern. But we've happily played for hours, spending wisely to get a couple of cars for all course types, and upgrading them until they dodder along slightly faster than their default specs allow.
Despite the intentionally slowish pace, the competition side of things does make for tense racing. And if you get sick of the courses you face, a track designer enables you to make your own. Probably don't leave too much rubbish in the middle of the road, though, because, as we've noted, that is really annoying.
IAPs: This one's packed full of IAP, from a fairly awful ad booster to a frankly absurd £49.99 stack of 1.2 million gold coins. Fortunately, you don't need to spend to enjoy the game, nor to take the chequered flag, if you're careful with what you earn through normal play.
28. 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.
29. 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.
30. 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.)
31. 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.
32. 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.
33. Candies 'n Curses
The single-screen platform game is enjoying something of a renaissance on mobile – and it’s easy to see why. The iPhone’s portrait screen is an ideal format for some speedy platforming, not least if the controls are simple enough that you don’t end up covering up the action with your thumbs.
Candies ’n Curses is all about Molli Pop. She unwisely heads to a haunted house, only to find out those ghost stories weren’t stories after all. In fact, the house is packed with deadly spectral critters, and Molli therefore decides to take on the role of a solo ghostbuster.
Like Drop Wizard Tower, featured elsewhere in this round-up, Candies ’n Curses is an auto-runner of sorts. Molli belts along, and you swipe to change direction, or change platform. Timing is key: blast a ghost with your torch or another weapon and it’s obliterated; but blunder into a spook and your life-force takes a hit.
There are only six regions, and the game is very tough to beat – not least when you go up against crazed bosses. But although Candies ’n Curses is a bit grindy and repetitive, it’s also a slick, entertaining, and enjoyable modern take on classic single-screen platformers.
IAPs: For £4.99, you can go ad-free. The other IAPs involve splurging on souls (the in-game currency), and aren’t really worth bothering with, unless you’re desperate to upgrade Molli Pop’s tools, and don’t feel like working for it.
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.
For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Infiniroom
35. Golfing Around
Colin Lane’s best known for demented takes on sports that feature players with whirling arms, and the kind of absurdly bouncy physics that makes a box of hyperactive fleas seem like the epitome of calm. It’s a surprise, then, to find Golfing Around is rather sedate; fortunately, it’s also a smartly designed slice of ball-smacking, with one especially clever feature that makes it stand out.
The basics are well taken care of. The game’s played from above, and you use buttons to aim towards the hole. When you’re done, you hold the power meter and let go when you’re happy with your shot strength. You can get extra oomph by setting power all the way to maximum, although that makes the directional indicator wobble about, increasing the likelihood of a nasty slice.
Initially, the game might appear borderline impossible, but then you discover the map isn’t just a course overview. Instead, it should be considered a place to select clubs and aim in broadly the right direction, with the zoomed-in view being for fine-tuning.
And that especially clever bit we mentioned earlier? Golfing Around isn’t exactly imbued with a ton of courses (there were just three at launch), but it does provide a friendly course editor. At the time of writing, loads of custom courses have been shared online – and it’s dead easy to make your own.
IAPs: There’s a one-off IAP that removes the ads for £2.99. Ads are reasonably infrequent, but the payment’s a good bet if you don’t want your golfing larks interrupted.
For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Golfing Around
36. 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.
37. 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.
38. Push & Pop
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'.
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.
40. Bacon - The Game
This arcade game is about food hacks – or, more specifically, *a* food hack: the claim everything is improved with a slice of bacon.
Tap the screen, and your frying pan is raised, ready for a slice of meaty goodness to land on it and sizzle away. Your aim is to flip the bacon on to a cheeseburger. Succeed and you get some congratulatory operatic music, and a chance to save your culinary skills for future posterity, in the form of a photo.
Next, you’re lobbing bacon at some pancakes, and then a cocktail. After that point, things go decidedly strange (as if chucking some bacon in a drink wasn’t already odd enough). You find yourself dropping bacon on to an inspirational quote, an iOS permissions dialogue box, ‘an honest review’, and – in an inspired moment – Francis Bacon.
The entire thing is ridiculous, and yet it’s also compelling. It helps that the bacon and pan physics is really good, with enough flexibility to allow for subtle movements and aiming. Naturally, this isn’t a game you’ll return to once you’ve barrelled through to the end; but if you hunger for one-thumb arcade action that doesn’t take itself too seriously, Bacon is a tasty treat.
IAPs: The game’s ad-supported, with banners or interstitials. Buying the creator’s supertype (£1.99 – and great) removes them.
For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Bacon – The Game