Looking for the best games for iPad, iPhone and iPod touch? You’ve come to the right place. With iOS games reviews, gameplay videos and links to the games on the App Store, this roundup lists the 100 very best games ever released for the iPad & iPhone, from strategy and action to puzzlers and RPGs.
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New in our list this month: Oddmar, G30, Touchgrind BMX 2 and Hitman GO.
A quick note on IAP: Many games have IAPs - In-App Purchases. Be wary of overspending on consumable IAPs. Our reviews note when IAPs impact on any particular game.
Adventure, point-and-click, and story games
From old-school point-and-click to thoroughly modern touchscreen adventures, these interactive stories will keep you engrossed for days.
Banner Saga blends ingredients from adventure-style text-based decision-making and turn-based grid combat. In any given skirmish, you command a squad of up to six fighters, selected from a larger caravan of personnel that ebbs and flows in response to your decisions and performance. The battles play out like Final Fantasy Tactics or games of that ilk, with each turn providing the ability to move a hero a certain number of squares and then perform an action, whether it’s a melee or weapon attack or a magic/support interaction.
Outside of combat, things are just as dangerous. You make decisions about almost everything, and you’ll pay for slip-ups. Even dialogue selections feed into how the storyline twists and turns on the road ahead.
The world-building is breathtaking, drawing inspiration and more than a little of the bleak outlook from Scandinavian mythology and Viking storytelling, to create a set of characters that are totally unlike anything else in gaming – yet surprisingly easy to care about. And once you’ve replayed the game to death, you’ll be delighted to know an equally impressive sequel exists. David Price
It’s safe to say that Device 6 is unlike any other adventure game you’ll play on your iPhone or iPad. The introductory sequence has all the swagger and verve of the sassiest spy movie, but then it dumps you in a mystery, not knowing who you are or how you got there.
The really clever bit, though, is how the game is constructed. The narrative becomes the paths and corridors along which you walk, sentences darting around corners, or taking on the appearance of stairs and ladders. Dotted about are clues and brain-bending puzzles. Arm yourself with a pencil and paper – you’re going to need it.
The notion of a text-oriented game might not appeal, but Device 6 is not to be missed. This isn’t your parent’s (or grandparent’s) adventure – Device 6 is as far from Zork as GTA is from Pac-Man. It’s an essential, unconventional gaming experience like no other, which simply wouldn’t make any sense on a more traditional gaming system. In short, buy it. Craig Grannell
Don’t Starve: Pocket Edition
This is an odd game, in that victory is non-existent and death both inevitable and frequent. You’re dumped in a hostile wilderness and expected to get on with it. All the while, the game’s more interested in killing you than exploring your creativity. At least everything looks great while this is happening – all endearingly whimsical, faintly steampunk, Tim Burton-esque hand-drawn scribbles.
You must survive, then, against all possible odds and the continually encroaching hazards of (in usual order of priority) darkness, hunger, insanity, man-eating animals and bad weather. At first, you scrabble together berries and fungi from the undergrowth, and then build tools, fell trees and mine metals from the earth, build a shelter, till the soil and keep livestock.
Every game offers a different map, resources, weather, and creatures that wander bloodthirstily into your path. And there are many different deaths - which are permanent, of course, because things weren’t cruel enough already.
Don’t Starve can be a painful and time-consuming obsession, but it’s one that can’t come highly enough recommended. David Price
In Her Story, an interactive narrative mystery game, you play as an anonymous user looking through old interview tapes from a murder case in 1994.
Your job is to sift through hundreds of unorganised video clips; fortunately, these have been transcribed so you can search for words using a free-input search box. When you start the game, the first search term has already been typed in for you: MURDER. There are few other instructions, which means solving this mystery is entirely up to your detective skills.
The script is well-written, unsettlingly realistic, and dark. And no two people will have the same experience playing Her Story: the experience depends on how you search, in what order you watch the tapes, how many tapes you watch, and what conclusions you want to draw. Sarah Jacobsson Purewal
This classic robotic point-and-click adventure offers a unique experience with more heart than the average tin man. Each room has a puzzle for you to solve, moving you forwards as you try to find your lady-friend and thwart a dastardly plot by some robo-bullies. You scan environments for items to interact with, combine objects in your inventory and solve a variety of brain-teasers.
Machinarium manages to feel both electronic and organic. The hand-painted visuals feel both cartoony and believable, and the soundtrack blends ambient electronica, jazz and dubstep. Rarely has a game felt so thematically and aesthetically unified. Jason Tocci
Minecraft is a hugely popular, widely available game, which provides you with the opportunity to create whatever you desire. Set in a blocky world, users must learn to survive the ever-changing environment, and to thrive and build weapons, armour, castles and more.
The default controls are a little fiddly at first, but after some tweaking, you’ll find your ideal play style; and if touchscreen isn’t the way forward, the game supports MFi controllers.
Part of the joy of Minecraft is multiplayer, and the iOS edition enables you to create, explore and survive alongside friends using mobile devices or Windows 10. Splash out for a monthly Minecraft Realms subscription, and you can also create your own always-on Minecraft world. This is great for worlds where groups of people are active, as it doesn’t require the host to be online all the time.
It’s a barrel of laughs and with a bit of help from online Minecraft tutorials, you’ll be sold on this blocky sandbox game. Lewis Painter
The Silent Age
The Silent Age is a point-and-click adventure game that takes place in two eras: your character’s present-day 1972, and a forty-year leap to an eerie, post-apocalyptic 2012. You play as an unassuming janitor at a large corporation who stumbles upon a time-traveller from the future; the time-traveller asks you to warn him about this meeting… and then dies, leaving you with a pocket-sized time-travel machine and a mystery to solve.
While many adventures feel overly relaxed, The Silent Age expertly weaves an intriguing storyline around its puzzles - room-escape-type puzzles, quite often, which you solve using a combination of your time machine and objects you find - to give you a sense of urgency. It’s also visually gorgeous. The bright, vibrant colours of the game’s 1972 contrast perfectly with the dystopian, muted greys and greens of 2012.
Finally, the writing is excellent, from witty comments made by the main character to the rapport with the characters you meet. The writers do a great job of keeping you interested and on your toes throughout. Sarah Jacobsson Purewal
This point-and-click adventure feels like it’s stumbled on to your device after two decades in the wilderness. But that was the intention. Co-creators Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick said they wanted it to feel like “opening a dusty old desk drawer and finding an undiscovered LucasArts adventure game you’ve never played”.
For fans of Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island, this will be heaven. But even for newcomers, Thimbleweed Park is a treat. The interaction system – comprising tap-to-move, verb-based instructions, and an inventory – works well on iPad and iPhone alike. Being on mobile is ideal for this kind of game, too, when you’ve struggled with a puzzle for days, and suddenly crack it when in a supermarket queue.
And some puzzles really do take days to solve. Like adventures of old, Thimbleweed Park can be willfully obtuse. Still, there’s an in-game helpline when you get stuck, and tricky challenges are balanced by amusing writing and absurdist situations. After all, not every game features plumbers who moonlight as paranormal investigators – while dressed as pigeons. Craig Grannell
This ambitious roleplaying game is an algorithmically generated text adventure - think classic space trading game Elite crossed with a Choose Your Own Adventure book. The premise is humanity has scattered across distant galaxies, and you’re armed with a ship kitted out with alien tech. This enables you to belt along faster than the speed of light… but only to the centre of the galaxy.
The game involves hopping from planet to planet, trading goods, learning a little more about the history of the mysterious technology you’re using, and figuring out how to swell your coffers by way of exploration, investigation, and not getting blown to pieces by pirates.
The algorithmic nature of Voyageur means you’re often confronted with similar scenarios and descriptions, and the interface is never more than a few buttons to prod. But even when glossing over the text and simply continuing on your journey into the unknown, Voyageur proves compelling - not least when you start chipping away at the underlying story. Craig Grannell
Walking Dead: The Game
Telltale’s point-and-click adventure series, based as much on the original comic book as on the TV show, pretty much single-handedly brought the genre back to the mainstream. Multiple short episodes mean it doesn’t take four hours to play through one sitting, and a ‘moral choice’ gameplay mechanic lets characters remember the actions you took in previous episodes – and treat you accordingly. (Tread carefully, basically, unless you want your arrogance to come back and bite you later on.)
It also features one of the greatest child characters in the history of gaming. Clementine is brave, resourceful, and heartbreakingly sweet, and is about as far away from the whiny, matricidal Carl as it’s possible to be. Two seasons and a couple of spin-offs are available on the App Store; any fan of good storytelling should seek them out. Adam Shepherd
Arcade and action games
A grab bag of gems, from fighting games to strange journeys through gorgeous digital worlds.
Beat Sneak Bandit
Now and again, developers gleefully mash genres together, resulting in some of the more interesting games on the App Store. On that basis, you’d expect Beat Sneak Bandit to be very interesting indeed, given that it combines rhythm action, platforming, stealth, and pathfinding. That it manages to do so with one-thumb controls and bucketfuls of humour should be considered nothing short of astonishing.
The backstory is that evil Duke Clockface has stolen all the clocks and the world is in chaos - no-one knows when to brush their teeth, or what time Doctor Who’s on! So a friendly thief, the Beat Sneak Bandit, resolves to heroically scoot about the Duke’s fortress, scoop up all the clocks, and save the day.
Each level is a single screen, and everything moves to the beat: guards bob and turn; searchlights flick on and off; doors open and close; and you’d swear even the clocks are nodding along to the soundtrack. The trick is to always tap on the beat to move (rebounding off walls as necessary), while figuring out how to get at all the clocks and avoid being spotted.
It’s not easy, but it is artful and delightful - a true App Store original. Craig Grannell
Does Not Commute
Does Not Commute starts you off with a simple challenge: get a car from point A to point B before the time runs out. (The car runs automatically: you just tap the left or right side of the screen to steer.) Once you achieve this, the game rewinds time and asks you to repeat the trick with a second vehicle on the same course. Only now you must contend with another driver on the road: yourself, screaming recklessly across the map in the first car. This repeats until the screen is chock full of high-speed illustrations of your own inability to drive.
There are so many neat touches: funny snapshots of each commuter’s life and why they’re in a hurry; dangerous ramps, jumps and shortcuts that you’re encouraged to use in order to avoid traffic, but which nearly always end in disaster; the desperate rush to beat the clock and grab extra-time power-ups; and, best of all, the challenge of adapting to a vehicle that handles completely differently within a space of seconds.
It’s free, too, although you can only use checkpoints when you upgrade to the premium version, which costs £2.99. We think it’s worth it, but have a try and see for yourself. David Price
The original Eliss was one of the first iPhone games that really nailed the potential of a multitouch device. Each level featured coloured planets, which had to be torn apart or fused together to fit inside matching wormholes. Easy at first, but not so much when the things started popping up everywhere, draining your energy when planets of different colours collided.
Eliss Infinity remasters the game for modern devices, and then throws a new Infinity mode at you. Rather than the considered and broadly choreographed levels of the original, this mode provides a deranged panic-inducing finger-Twister, of the kind likely to give more nervous players a minor breakdown. But when Eliss Infinity clicks and you’re totally in the zone, there are few better gaming experiences, especially on the iPad. Craig Grannell
The polar opposite of stereotypical videogame heroes (you know the type: gruff muscle-bound hulks, armed to the teeth), the protagonist in Flower is a petal. You tilt your device and press the screen to control the wind, propelling the petal about tiny worlds. As it passes other flowers, they bloom into life, bestowing a petal of their own to join what becomes a flying snake-like conga of colour, bringing vibrancy to initially dull, grey worlds.
There’s an immediacy here and an artsy feel that suggests Flower could be a crossover game that appeals to those who usually avoid the App Store’s Games tab. But even for gaming veterans, Flower is a breath of fresh air - a stress-free, visually lush, exploratory affair that’s beautiful, simple and finite.
Originally blooming into life on Sony consoles, Flower is nonetheless one of those titles that only really seems like a properly good fit for iPhone. Our only complaint - despite the game’s brevity - is it doesn’t tend to save progress very well, notably if you exit halfway through a level. Still, it’s little hardship to repeat part of a journey through such a gorgeous virtual world. Craig Grannell
With its tiny miners digging into the dirt, and levels that rely on precise timing and pathfinding, Micro Miners feels like a stripped-back Lemmings combined with Dig Dug. Your job is to drag a finger through the dirt, guiding miners to underground deposits and buried treasures.
From the off, it’s a surprisingly tense game. The screen auto-scrolls, and you must ensure you grab enough of each deposit, or you’re given a strike. Get three and you fail the level.
As you move through the game, added complications make success a tougher prospect. Miners of different colours appear, which die the second they touch the wrong deposits. Explosive goop, lava, and giant tunnelling worms all lurk, waiting to rapidly deplete your employee count.
Because you spend your time dragging paths and tapping the odd button, Micro Miners is perfectly suited to the touchscreen. Despite its chunky retro graphics, it feels like a properly modern take on old-school digging games. And with plenty of variety and traps across its 40 levels, it proves a stiff challenge if you fancy digging your way to the very end. Craig Grannell
Osmos was originally a highly regarded ‘ambient gaming’ PC title, but the touchscreen suits it perfectly. It’s a tranquil experience, with trippy visuals and music.
You play a pulsating ball of light. The aim is to work your way up the food chain by moving around and absorbing smaller balls of light (making you expand) and avoiding bigger ones. Yet this simple concept produces an engaging experience like no other.
Despite remaining utterly serene, some levels can get fiendishly complicated, with different balls of light acting in dramatically different ways. Some echo a kind of gloopy Petri dish, whereas others have you battle physics as you orbit a central ‘planet’ at insane speed. It’s a classic that deserves a place in every iOS gamer’s collection. Lou Hattersley
Whatever catastrophe happened in the world of Power Hover, it’s left only scattered tribes of robots in a desolate world – along with quite a few contraptions all too eager to smash said robots to pieces. And that’s a problem for the game’s hero, pursuing a dastardly criminal who’s pilfered his village’s batteries.
Strapped to a hoverboard, he scythes across stunning, minimal landscapes, following a trail of dropped batteries, in an effort to capture his quarry. The scenery varies from crystal clear seas peppered with tiny islands to giant stompy drilling machines that march across a barren desert. All of it is gorgeous.
Levels are heavily choreographed, which may seem limiting – but this turns out to be a good thing. There are routes to figure out and master, and perfection to shoot for. But even if you merely want to work your way through the journey, there’s lots to love here, from the elegant, inertia-heavy controls to a head-bobbing soundtrack that urges you on at every moment. Craig Grannell
Spaceteam is perhaps the ultimate iOS party game. It’s certainly the best iOS game if you enjoy shouting nonsensical phrases at your friends.
Each player’s screen shows a spaceship’s dashboard, peppered with absurd dials and controls, and shows the ship itself at the top. The monitor periodically demands that you adjust one of the controls or dials to a specified setting, and the speed with which you respond dictates how successfully the ship escapes the fiery explosion on its tail.
Except that quite often, the setting you’re supposed to adjust isn’t on your screen at all - it’s on one of your friends’. Which means you end up yelling nonsense like “turn on the dangling shunter” and “won’t someone please turn the spectrobolt to three?” All this while the other players are trying to be heard with their own commands. It’s an utterly stupid and totally wonderful experience. David Price
Don’t risk the dog getting excited and knocking plastic pieces on the floor - play these amazing boardgames inside your iOS device instead.
Agricola is light on conflict (although not devoid of it) and heavy on strategy. It’s a board game about farming. Wake up at the back, because - despite that unthrilling description - Agricola is a bulletproof modern classic: a finely tuned killer of a game that will drag you in and never let go.
It’s a worker placement: each member of your family gets to perform one action each turn, whether that is collecting a resource (wood, stone, livestock), building or renovating a room, putting up fences, ploughing or sowing the fields or (look away, grandma) ‘family growth’. But the various actions can each be performed only once per turn - hence the worry that an opponent will jump in ahead of you and grab whatever you need.
You can’t die, but you’ll be amazed by how much it hurts if you fail to collect enough food for your family on one of the designated feeding phases, and shamefacedly pick up one or more point-docking begging cards. And getting your farm running smoothly, with the crops ripening and animated baby animals appearing at the proper time, is hugely satisfying.
It often feels like games end too soon: just one more turn, you think, because you’re starting to get the hang of everything. That’s probably a good sign. David Price
Simultaneously accessible enough for beginners and deep enough that it’s still being played competitively 15 years after its release, Carcassonne has perhaps the broadest appeal of any board game available today.
The game involves using tiles to build a map. Each turn, a player draws a tile - which is illustrated with parts of a city, abbeys, sections of road and green fields - and places it next to a compatible tile.
Each player has seven meeples, which are game pieces you can use to ‘claim’ a geographical feature that your tile forms a part of, and which hasn’t been claimed by any other player; you’ll then amass victory points based on how big that feature becomes.
This might sound pedestrian (although it really isn’t), but the game can be even more fun with some backstabbing. Rather than focusing on your own point acquisition strategy, it can be productive to deliberately arrange awkward configurations of tiles around your opponent’s features.
Fortunately, the iOS take is great, with clear graphics, user-friendly multiplayer, and some decent AI that covers a range of difficulty levels for solo players. David Price
Graphically, this is a faithful rendition of Klaus Teuber’s superb and deservedly idolised tile-based island conquest game. Having the iPad handle those tiresome banking duties and victory point calculations makes things far more fast-paced than the board game, and you can view statistical tables at the end of the bout.
The computer players can be absolute swines - they’ll merrily gang up on you in a way that most human players would consider beyond the pale - but hardcore gamers may even consider this a plus. And the original game is such a work of genius that this couldn’t help being great fun, even if it’s not the perfect iOS port. David Price
Pandemic: The Board Game
Pandemic is a vastly popular co-operative board game in which up to four friends work together to defeat four diseases sweeping the globe. Each turn you’ll travel from city to city, treat the sick and research cures, hoping that the random new infections don’t strike in that worst possible place and snowball into multiple outbreaks (spoiler: they always do). It’s unbelievably tense, and winning feels amazing. And everyone is involved, since you’re each allocated a role with special powers that will prove crucial in particular situations.
The iOS version works far better as a solo experience, but it still induces a massive (but pleasurable) panic at its key moments. And the euphoria of victory is also sweet. That said, take heed - even on the easy difficulty level, this virtual take seems tougher than the cardboard version. David Price
Really Bad Chess
Chess is amazing but can intimidate newcomers and be analysed to death by veterans. You can get around this by randomising the starting position of non-pawn pieces, but Really Bad Chess goes much further, in randomising pretty much everything, bar the king. Pawns might start on the back row, or you might luck out and get seven queens while your opponent looks on in horror, armed with a single rook.
It’s curious and immediate, but also more mentally demanding than traditional chess. You lose the security blanket of E2 to E4, D2 to D4, knight to F3, wake me up when something interesting happens. Everything is new - and potentially dangerous - from the very start.
That said, there is an attempt at balance - albeit a strange one. Initially, you have a distinct advantage, but win often and the set-ups favour you less and less. The AI never gets smarter - it just gets a better starting point. It’s a clever idea, and makes for a chess game that’s a lot of fun. David Price
Ticket To Ride
One for the trainspotters, you might think, although experience suggests that this simple but engrossing game will appeal to everyone.
You collect coloured cards, which you then use to build railway infrastructure across the map, attempting to connect up the cities named in your (randomly allocated) objectives. Tactically we believe it’s relatively straightforward, but the competition for critical stretches can get fierce. And in the end there’s not much in life more satisfying than building a railway.
The default map covers the US, and there are European - and other - expansions available as IAP. David Price
The days have long gone when card games on a computer meant a boring bout of Solitaire.
Ascension: Deckbuilding Game
A deck-building card game in the vein of Magic: The Gathering, Ascension differs in that you build your deck while playing the game, rather than in your spare time beforehand - thus making the game more immediately accessible, while perhaps compromising a little on strategic depth.
You and your opponent(s) start with 10 cards, each of which give you a single white ‘rune’ point (to spend on buying new cards) or red ‘power’ point (to spend on killing monsters). Each turn you are dealt five of these, and you play them, then spend the points acquiring or killing the various cards that sit in the middle of the board.
There are tons of special cards, all of which demonstrate the unusual (but we think rather wonderful) art style this game offers. And best of all, Ascension is free - although if you love the game as much as we do, you may find yourself coughing up for IAPs to unlock expansion and promo cards. David Price
This game is what happens when solitaire collides with stealth. Nine cards are dealt as a three-by-three grid, and your aim is to draw a path through them that maximises the loot you snag, but minimises stealth point losses. Said losses can quickly rack up, if you attempt to tackle too many guards or monsters, or blunder about extinguishing torches.
As you get further into the game, new subtleties are unearthed. There are chests to ransack, and barrels to hide in that replenish your stealth points. Some enemies steal your gold, and others move around, as if the cards they’re housed in are alive. Collect enough swag and you can spend it on power-ups, giving you a fighting chance of higher scores during subsequent games.
With plenty of depth and superb visuals, even its slightly repetitive nature can’t take the edge off Card Thief. Start playing and it’s guaranteed to steal plenty of your time. Craig Grannell
Originally a real-life card game that was the most-backed ever (in terms of backer numbers) on Kickstarter, Exploding Kittens subsequently blasted its way on to mobile. The game is more or less Russian Roulette with cats. You play with two to four other people, drawing cards. If someone gets an exploding kitten, they’re out of the game - unless they can defuse it. Other cards enable a modicum of tactics: you can skip turns, peek at the top of the deck, shuffle and steal cards, and slap opponents so they take a turn.
The iOS version offers online play against random opponents or friends in private matches, secured with codes. Everything’s been cleverly tweaked for screen, such as with the addition of a ‘chance of kitten’ meter that starts going nuts when an exploding kitten is likely, and madcap audio and energetic animation that aligns nicely with co-creator Matthew Inman’s surreal oddball imagery. Craig Grannell
Basically Magic: The Gathering with Warcraft characters, Hearthstone is a card battle game. Build decks and strategies, summon minions and cast spells. The different classes and their specific cards and abilities add a nice level of variety, and a single-player mode means you don’t have to take your game online unless you want to.
As with all trading card games, Hearthstone hinges to some degree on IAP for new card packs, but the quest rewards for fulfilling various criteria (such as number of monsters summoned or points healed) minimise the necessity of paying for anything.
The turn-based set-up makes it a perfect game to play during odd moments, and seeing a long-term strategy pay off is very satisfying. Adam Shepherd
Touchscreen devices have really helped games creators to approach well-worn genres in a new way. Meteorfall is a great example – it’s essentially an algorithmically generated role-playing game – a modern-day take on the likes of Apple II classic Ultima. But you interact with it by swiping, Tinder-style, to choose/reject actions, based on drawn cards.
That might sound reductive, but it really isn’t. Instead, Meteorfall provides an inviting, immediate take on adventuring in a mythical world of monsters, spells and swords. Anyone can grasp the basics, but to have any chance of seeing through a quest, you need to put in serious time to understand the game’s idiosyncrasies.
Getting started, though, is straightforward enough. You pick a hero, select a battleground, and swipe left or right to make decisions. This may be attacking an enemy (wins give you experience points) or fleeing (to boost your reserves), or selecting from a pair of spell cards.
Over time, you build and customise your deck of actions and skills, strategically using them to carve your way through evil monsters – right up until a ghoulish boss inevitably kills you. At which point, you dust yourself off and have another go, safe in the knowledge no two games of Meteorfall are ever alike. Craig Grannell
Mobile solitaire ends up using tiny cards to fit them all on the screen. Sage Solitaire’s solution: a three-by-three grid, quite a bit of poker, and a virtual trip to Vegas.
In the basic mode, you score by removing poker hands; the better the hand, the more points you get. Strategy comes from a limitation that forces you to 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 acts as a multiplier, bestowing double points when used in a hand, and two ‘trashes’ exist to remove individual cards.
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.
Crack Vegas and hit $800, and you can try your hand at True Grit. There, once your in-game money’s gone, it’s gone for good – there’s no IAP to refill your virtual coffers. In fact, the game’s sole £2.99 IAP exists purely to unlock two further modes (Double Deck and Fifteens), remove the ads, and give you achievements to aim for. Craig Grannell
Endless runner and survival games
Think you’re made of strong stuff? Check out these games, where death can come in the blink of an eye.
ALONE… has you zip along a procedurally generated landscape at ever-increasing speed, trying your best to avoid the obstacles in your path and using the bare minimum of controls (just up and down) to preserve your little spaceship.
It’s an incredibly simple, stripped-back game, but this style of game lives and dies by its speed; or rather by the sensation of speed that it’s able to produce. And ALONE… is brilliant at this. The hectic soundtrack, the speed lines and space detritus flying past you, the barely controllable boost you get whenever you’re winged by a small piece of debris, and the gradual acceleration as the game progresses - all of this contributes to a tightly focused thrill-ride of a game.
This isn’t to say the creators have ignored the game’s cosmetics: there’s some great mysterious background imagery (reminiscent of Canabalt) and the shifting colour schemes are undeniably lovely. You just might not get much of a chance to appreciate them. David Price
In iOS gaming’s early days, Canabalt stripped platform gaming right back. The leaping protagonist flung himself into the air whenever you prodded the screen, the aim being to survive for as long as possible before he inevitably plummeted to his doom. Alto’s Odyssey showcases how such simple mechanics can be used to create a surprisingly complex, deep experience – even though your interaction remains limited to using a single digit.
The game features Alto (and – when unlocked – friends) exploring a vast desert. Setting off on his surfboard, Alto scoots across gigantic dunes, regularly soaring into the air to perform fancy tricks that provide a handy speed boost when completed.
This isn’t a game for the impatient. Alto’s Odyssey slowly but surely reveals its hand, as you discover new environments, hazards and moves, such as bouncing on balloons and wall-riding cliffs. The achievements system can at times be a bit frustrating – some requirements are very specific and tricky to pull off. But mostly, this is a meditative, hypnotic game – not least when you fire up the zero-risk Zen mode and let your eyes take in the gorgeous day/night cycle while your ears are serenaded by serene audio. Craig Grannell
This endless runner kickstarted the entire genre on mobile. And at a glance, it today might seem wanting - overly simple, and lacking in depth. But that misses the point, because Canabalt was only really ever about one thing: speed.
Your little runner leaps through a window before belting along rooftops, making impossible jumps into the air while some kind of horrible armageddon plays out in the background. Occasionally, machinery drops from the sky, which must be leapt over. As ever, mistime a single leap and the runner falls to their doom.
Before long, you’re sucked in. The leapy gameplay might be simpler than what you find in Canabalt’s contemporaries, but the breakneck pace and sense of exhilaration when you’re going at top speed remains intoxicating. Craig Grannell
This one is simplicity itself. The eponymous Super Hexagon is always at the centre of the screen, and other geometric wireframe shapes are constantly being sucked into it. You play a tiny arrow on the edge of the hexagon, and it’s your role to rotate around the centre to ensure that you’re never crushed by the incoming shapes.
It sounds easy, and perhaps a little thin when you realise you only need to stay alive for a single minute to unlock extra levels. But this is misleading - the twitchy gameplay is so difficult that staying alive for even a handful of seconds becomes your own personal Everest.
You’ll simultaneously love and hate the game, but it’s brilliant: streamlined, simple and fiendishly moreish. Alan Martin
In this side-scrolling game, you hold the screen and a little bird furls her stunted wings and speeds downwards at a rapid lick. Raise your finger, and she flaps them and soars briefly – if she’s gained sufficient momentum to rocket off of the hill she’s just slid up. All the while, you’re racing against the sun (when it sets your bird goes to sleep and the game is over).
The basic gameplay mechanics are simple but exquisitely crafted, and the game is an aesthetic delight, from the crayony backdrops to the charming music and effects. Alongside this endless mode, the game provides some extra goodies, too – two-player same-device multiplayer, and a race game of sorts, featuring the bird’s chicks, desperate to get back to mum to snag the biggest worm.
In all, this is a wonderful, charming, inventive, simple, beautiful, fun game. David Price
From retro-oriented jumping fare to games designed specifically with a touchscreen in mind, these are our picks for best iOS platformer.
This Mexican jumping bean is on a mission. (You can tell it’s Mexican because of the sombrero, obviously.) Going where no bean has gone before, this springy hatted legume boings through 70 stages, aiming to snarf all of the fruit, find hidden axolotls, and get to the goal using the fewest possible bounds.
The tiny snag is that these things aren’t possible simultaneously, which is good for players, since it leads to tackling each of the stages with cunning new tactics. The other tiny snag is you can only guide the bean left and right.
Cue: loads of teeth-gnashing as you mess up by a fraction of a bean length, overshooting your bounce target by one and missing the gold. Then a big grin as you realise this colourful, breezy platformer is superb and replaying a stage is actually a pleasure. Craig Grannell
We recall once laughing at a games reviewer’s observation that an RPG with a jump button is “rarer than a badger in a Ferrari”. Well, this is that even rarer thing: a platform game without one.
In Drop Wizard you can’t jump; all you can do is move left or right (it’s one or the other - you can’t stand still) and fall off things. Fortunately the hole at the bottom of each level, unlike those in most platform games, leads not to death but to the top of the screen again.
Dropping is thus centrally important, as the name of the game suggests: as well as your primary way of navigating each level, it’s also your only way of attacking, as each time the wizard drops on to a new platform he shoots a little star that can stun enemies and allow you to walk into them for the coup de grâce.
The graphics are sweet and cheerful, the levels are fiendish, and the gameplay is beautifully polished. Drop Wizard is a simple game, but one that comes highly recommended. David Price
Icycle: On Thin Ice
From the off, it’s pretty clear Icycle is like no other platform game, as the worried-looking Dennis cycles about naked across a precariously disintegrating landscape. By equal measure beautiful and deeply weird, Dennis’s surroundings are a post-apocalyptic nightmare as envisaged by a top-quality graphic designer. Half the time, as you battle to bounce his bike up a slope, or use a handy umbrella to break a fall, you can’t help but coo as the hero is impaled by a particularly stunning piece of extremely sharp scenery.
The 80 short missions pelt so much imagination your way that it’s difficult to take in at first. And although each of the scenes is very much choreographed, this doesn’t hamper repeat play. In fact, you’ll happily drag Dennis through his madcap ordeal several times, to revel again in the crazy brilliance of it all, and also to ensure you grab all of the ice, so you can grab Dennis some much-needed clobber in the in-game shop. Craig Grannell
Leo’s fortune has been liberally scattered about linear pathways in a manner that only seems to occur in platform games. This forces the gruff, moustached hairball to partake in a journey to recover his coins, working his way through suspiciously spike-filled forests, deserts of crumbling ruins, and cog-filled factories spewing molten metal.
It’s a familiar set-up, as are the game’s mechanics, which borrow evenly from Limbo, Sonic and 1980s 8-bit platform games. You’ll find yourself manipulating scenery to solve puzzles, zooming along dizzying loops, and repeatedly getting killed in tight, unforgiving circumstances, which a bit too often involve leaps into the unknown.
But there’s a charm about Leo’s Fortune that makes perseverance worthwhile. The environments are detailed and lush, and Leo has plenty of character, expressing delight on surviving a series of traps unscathed. Smartly, the game’s also ideal for any level of player - immediate respawning on death enables anyone to eventually reach the end, but only through mastery will you complete all the objectives and dive headlong into (frankly masochistic) speedruns. Craig Grannell
Something terrible’s happened in the world of Mushroom 11. The scarred landscape – peppered with pools of toxic liquids – provides only glimpses of what once was, in a few twisted scraps of metal and damaged structures. Life barely clings on – although not necessarily in the forms you’d expect.
One such survivor is a green blob, which comes under your control. It has a thirst to explore its ravaged world, gobbling up bugs, flowers, and surprisingly psychotic plants. And the way in which it does so showcases the wonderfully tactile, intuitive nature of the best iOS games.
Although this is a platform/puzzler, you at no point press left, right or jump. Instead, you use a finger to ‘erase’ chunks of the blob, which then grow back. Sometimes, you blaze through tunnels, Sonic-style. Elsewhere, you carefully mould your creature into a pole to activate a set of buttons, or split it in half, so one part can trigger a switch while the other sneaks through a door.
Whether you tackle the adventure by slowly picking your way along or treating it as a manic speedrun, Mushroom 11 is a unique, engaging experience that only really makes sense on the touchscreen. Craig Grannell
Oddmar has the horned helmet of a cartoon Viking, but in every other way he’s not cut out for the job, being lazy, oafish, selfish, and totally against burning down a nearby forest after an ultimatum from his clan. Fortunately (for the forest and Oddmar – if not the other Vikings), his tribe is mysteriously zapped away, shortly after the titular protagonist is bestowed with special powers after snarfing magic mushrooms.
You might wonder whether ingesting such dodgy substances accounts for the strange nature of Oddmar’s quest as he strives to find his tribe. He bounds around on giant mushrooms like a bearded flea, grabs levitating bling, and frequently finds himself in ethereal auto-scrolling lands after having purple dust blown in his face (uh-oh).
That said, it’s not like cartoonish adventures are rare in the world of platform games. What is rare – especially on iOS – is a platform game this good. Oddmar looks superb – akin to an animated cartoon, with distinctive characters and painterly backgrounds. Most importantly, it plays brilliantly.
The touchscreen controls are tight, and the levels are superbly designed. There’s thought in the placement of every obstacle, and the manner in which the game’s pace ebbs and flows. Only occasionally does it stumble, with the odd section where you smack into a wall of awkward. Mostly, though, Oddmar is a gem – a magical, console-like experience that’s a joy, whether tearing through the forest to escape a giant troll, or picking your way through a level to find its many hidden secrets. Craig Grannell
Rayman Fiesta Run
One of console gaming’s most famous platform game stars, Rayman isn’t the kind of title you’d expect to work on iOS. Historically reliant on twitch controls, you’d have expected the big-nosed hero to fall flat on his face. However, developer Ubisoft pared down the gaming experience, transforming Fiesta Run into a kind of giddy and thrilling roller-coaster auto-runner, where you blaze through each stage only tapping a couple of virtual buttons.
This might sound reductive, but Rayman Fiesta Run distills classic platform gaming to its essence: timing, memory and reflexes. To collect all of the golden Lums and max-out rewards and power-ups, it’s vital to map out each stage and perfect your journey through it. And on getting 100 per cent on any of them, you’ll feel like a boss. Craig Grannell
Thomas Was Alone
Your enjoyment of this one may depend on your opinion of two things: high-concept indie gaming, and the comedian Danny Wallace, who narrates the game.
Thomas Was Alone is a fine piece of work with a lot of heart. It’s been built from the simplest of ingredients (a set of coloured shapes that can each jump and in some cases use special powers), and the gameplay is straightforward too: each level is a puzzle that demands the clever use of the shapes’ skills to get all to the exit. But it ends up being mentally taxing - if in truth never quite as hard as we’d like it to have been - and quite sweet.
The shapes all have names and back stories, related in a jaunty voice-over that won Wallace a Bafta, and the music shoulders a lot of the emotional heavy lifting too. You end up caring about Thomas, despite him being a red rectangle. You can’t say fairer than that. David Price
When your brain needs a bit of a workout, have steam shoot from your ears while taking on these devious, challenging puzzle games.
Bring You Home
For the most part, Bring You Home is a game about failure – bonkers, surreal, hilarious failure. This is because each of the single-screen tests involves sliding bits of screen about, so that protagonist Polo can continue on his quest to rescue a pet-napped alien critter. Get things wrong, and Polo tends to die horribly, mostly by being eaten.
The game’s a visual delight, and relentlessly imaginative. Scenarios involve everything from dealing with figuring out how to sate two graveyard horrors to finding a path through artwork that temporarily turns you into a tiny Picasso or Mondrian.
There is a touch of trial and error about proceedings, but mostly to figure out how everything before you reacts. Crack a level’s sometimes oddball logic and you can continue - and if you succeed first time you’ll be back later to check out the funny failure animations (much to Polo’s displeasure). Craig Grannell
If nothing else, Campfire Cooking is an excellent example of why gaming should never try to emulate reality too closely. In the real world, people sit around campfires, with marshmallows on sticks, and poke them into the fire for a bit. That would make for a very dull (yet mercifully quick) game. But Campfire Cooking reimagines this experience as an amusingly brain-bending puzzler.
Each level is based around a grid, which houses one or more fires. Your marshmallows need to be toasted once on both sides, and helpfully rotate whenever they move sideways. The problem is you can’t lift them up, and the grids are small and packed full of obstacles.
Although the first few puzzles are simple, Campfire Cooking soon has you dealing with multiple fires and sticks, and pots of food that need heating. At one point, it all goes very weird as marshmallows are replaced by magnets, used for dragging pots around, despite them sporting perfectly serviceable handles.
A bright, colourful puzzler, then – and one that’s especially satisfying on the larger screen of an iPad. Craig Grannell
Dissembler is a match game with a difference. Instead of being presented with a well of gems, each level begins as a tiny slice of abstract art. And although the mechanics are familiar – swap two tiles to connect a series of three or more, whereupon they disappear – Dissembler is a much more strategic affair.
In part, this is because there’s no gravity, and no new pieces fill the void left by those you’ve already removed. Each slice of artwork is therefore a finite, intricately designed puzzle. Your aim is to figure out the precise sequence of moves required to eliminate every dab of colour, leaving you with a blank canvas.
At first, the puzzles are obvious. Then you’ll come across ones that seem obvious, until you’re several moves in and realise you’ve stranded a single tile so no others can reach it. You’ll soon come to appreciate the deviousness of the hand-crafted challenges, along with the unlimited undos that enable you to try different approaches.
An endless mode provides an interesting spin on the game – if one that doesn’t quite come off; but there’s also a daily puzzle for Dissembler fanatics who exhaust the game (and solutions the following day for us mere mortals). Craig Grannell
The basic aim is to wipe out your enemies before heading to an exit. The tiny snag is that each enemy behaves differently - some guarding the space in front of them, and others unhelpfully moving about of their own accord. Getting into position to off them with your spear can be tough.
Even early levels offer a challenge for anyone wanting to crack the minimum moves count. But before long, just getting to the exit is enough, when you’re confronted by optical illusions, multi-cube constructions that shift in weird ways, and boss battles where your enemy takes control of the cubes.
The entire thing’s dressed up in a gorgeous minimal visual aesthetic that echoes mobile hit Monument Valley. But although Euclidean Lands perhaps wears its inspirations on its sleeve, it still feels fresh and essential, ensuring the game’s place among the very best puzzlers on the platform. Craig Grannell
In FROST, you find yourself confronted by tiny single-screen universes, driven by rules that dictate how each element reacts to you – and anything else on the screen. The aim is to fill orbs, by directing swarms of flocking spirits their way.
FROST is, in essence, a puzzle game. In each level, there’s a trick to filling those orbs, whether simply carving a path through space with your finger, or understanding how to combine flocks to make the new creatures required to sate the appetite of a particular orb.
But FROST feels more than a typical puzzler. Like the developer’s own BLEK, this game somehow feels alive. It’s an organic, tactile experience as everything shifts and moves beneath your fingers. And as you interrupt constructions akin to neon-infused abstract art, fluorescent strands spit across the screen, while microscopic creatures fizz and fly.
It’s an iOS gaming experience to slow down with, savouring each level like a gallery painting, rather than blazing through it in a tearing hurry. Craig Grannell
There’s an immediacy about G30 that becomes disarming when you realise what’s really going on. At first, it all seems obvious and straightforward – a puzzler where you spin dials to change the object before you into something that matches the level’s name.
This convention is familiar – even overdone – in puzzle games, but G30’s refined, vibrant visuals ensure it’s engaging; and, frankly, that tactile sense of one-to-one physical interaction with on-screen components never gets old.
But beneath the dial-twiddling, which resembles a flattened take on Shadowmatic, is an underlying narrative about fear and loss. It turns out the shapes you’re playing with are memories being chased by a protagonist with a cognitive disorder. In a sense, they’re losing their mind, and need you to grasp glimpses of meaning before they’re gone forever.
These take the form of collectable words that appear above the current puzzle. Sentences morph and change along with meaning, and so a single word (trees) can become a command (find trees), then something more elaborate (find trees in an unknown park), before acquiring a sense of terror (I was petrified to find trees in an unknown park). Grabbed words fill empty slots in a parallel tale told on the level select screen.
This sense of layering propels G30 beyond its contemporaries, providing serious emotional heft alongside the minimal visuals. And rather fittingly, just as the shapes you manipulate are more than what they initially appear to be, so too is the game as a whole. Craig Grannell
This elegant puzzler exists in a world of neon lines dancing to the beat of a chill-out soundtrack. You direct a little white spark about networks of grids suspended above a coloured haze.
The puzzles are mostly about pathfinding and logic - figuring out how to deal with switches that unlock doors and move coloured pathways, in order to open up the route for you to continue. But once you encounter patrolling sparks, moving back and forth along pre-set pathways, you realise the vital rhythm that underpins the game.
You’ll initially consider these sparks enemies, because they kill with a single touch; but they’re easily avoided, since they move to the beat. And they’re also allies of sorts, which you can manipulate into doing your bidding. For example, you might use moving platforms to place a spark near a switch that triggers a platform elsewhere, allowing you to move across an otherwise impassible divide (if you’re on the platform by that point).
Towards the end of the first set of levels, Linelight ramps up the tension by having you complete such puzzles at speed, with another line in hot pursuit (yet also required to help you cross numerous bridges). Beyond that, further subtle shifts in the game’s mechanics force you to rethink your strategy yet again, in what turns out to be one of iOS’s most beguiling modern puzzlers. Craig Grannell
There’s a hint of Lemmings about Splitter Critters, which features little aliens toddling about platform-based levels, trying to reach their spaceship. However, their only means of help is your finger, which can slice through scenery, and drag separate sections of the screen about.
Early on, your impromptu landscaping mostly involves aligning platforms, but Splitter Critters keeps adding new ideas to the mix. Gruff and deadly brown critters with spiked teeth show up, as do little red aliens who karate kick the aforementioned foes in the face. Rocky areas have platforms that topple. Watery sections flood or fling our ambling heroes towards deadly anemones. And that’s before you get to the bits with lasers.
The end result comes across like Telepaint crossed with Fruit Ninja, only lacking the insanely tough challenge of the former and the freneticism of the latter. Instead, Splitter Critters is a gentler puzzler, which you’ll likely work through in a few hours - but every step of the short journey is a joy. Craig Grannell
The Room: Old Sins
It doesn’t take long before you realise there’s something very weird going on in The Room: Old Sins. Tracking a missing engineer and his wife, the trail leads to an attic. You catch a glimpse of a body, quickly fix a lamp that illuminates a doll’s house, and then find yourself sucked inside.
Elaborate and impossible, the doll’s house is itself a miniature mansion, packed full of contraptions and puzzles. And every puzzle you complete enables you to dig a little deeper into a Lovecraftian horror and the overriding puzzle of the house itself.
The atmospheric surroundings surpass other games of this type on iOS, and the combination of multiple locations and speedy navigation result in something a bit like Myst – but without the tedious walking around. Tactile, peculiar and thoughtful, this is a superb puzzler. Once your done, fill in the backstory with The Room, The Room Two, and The Room Three. Craig Grannell
Every platform needs its perfect puzzle game, and Threes! deftly makes its to be the iPhone’s. As with all brilliant examples of the puzzle 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. Craig Grannell
World of Goo
This gorgeous puzzler presents you with a pile of small goo balls (usually sitting dormant at the bottom of the screen) and an open pipe (generally up high) and asks you to introduce them to each other. Using your finger, you have to stack the balls up to reach the pipe: once you get your goo structure near enough, the pipe sucks up all the balls not used to build the structure.
Each level is a challenge and takes a great deal of thought (and structural consideration) to complete. There’s a lot of strategy involved, and graphically, the game soars, its levels littered with canyons, water fountains and volcanoes. Moreover, it’s infused with heart. You end up caring what happens to these little balls of goo, urging yourself to help them complete their journey to ‘goo heaven’. Few games are as fun, interesting and enjoyably complicated. Sam Felsing
You Must Build A Boat
This hybrid game blends match–3 puzzlers like Bejewelled and dungeon-running roleplaying games. As your little pixel-dude sprints through a retro dungeon, he encounters assorted obstacles - monsters, locked chests and traps. You must arrange matching blocks in the bottom half of the screen to defeat them.
Matching three (or more) swords or staves damages the enemies; keys unlock the chests; shields increase your defensive powers; and so on. Don’t match fast enough and you’re forced off the lefthand side of the screen and your session ends.
Alongside these speedy missions is a side order of boat-building action. Your vessel begins as barely a dinghy but grows to a sprawling galleon by the end of the game, complete with hordes of recruited monsters, each providing a small stats boost, and shopkeepers waiting patiently to upgrade your character. It’s a wonderful spin on a genre that elsewhere has become markedly stale. David Price
Zen Bound 2
Yes, we’re covering a game where you wrap a length of rope around little sculptures. No, we haven’t lost it. And that’s because Zen Bound 2 is beautiful, engaging and unique.
Much of the magic of Zen Bound 2 stems from its tactile nature. Objects turn beneath your fingers with the slightest swipe, and the rope’s position can be shifted with subtle tilting of your iPhone. Despite the fact you’re pawing at glass, you can almost fool yourself into feeling like you’re manipulating a real object; and it’s a rather magical experience as this object is slowly painted due to the rope’s touch (or, in some slightly less meditative cases, through blowing up strategically positioned paint bombs).
Those with long memories may recall the stir the original Zen Bound made at the dawn of the App Store - and even this sequel has been around for some years. However, 2017 saw it get a big 64bit revamp for modern iPhones, thereby ensuring a wonderful, timeless concept was made fully fit for Apple’s most recent devices. Craig Grannell
Racing and driving games
Whether you want to blast along space-age rollercoasters or wheel-spin on some tarmac, these are the games to grab.
Compared to some futuristic racers, AG Drive takes a relatively traditional view: all zooming spaceships and massive metal tracks akin to giant looping roller-coasters that leave your heart in your mouth. It’s a dazzling game, with animated environments and gorgeous lighting effects that make everything feel alive.
But mostly you’ll stay because of the racing. When immersed in the game, you can try your luck in one-off time-trials and single races, or work your way through a career, gradually upgrading your craft as you go. Just try not to gawp too much at a Mars sunrise as you speed on to yet another loop, or you’ll soon find rivals blazing past. Craig Grannell
Asphalt 8: Airborne
Whereas most racers have one foot planted in reality, Asphalt 8 throws caution to the wind, flinging cars into the air with merry abandon, and burning nitro like it’s going out of fashion. You zoom your way around hyper-real tracks, occasionally animated with a launching shuttle or a massive ferry to leap over and totally not crash into. Crashy moments should instead be saved for rival cars, ramming them while nitroing; this, naturally, rewards you with more nitro. Asphalt just can’t get enough of nitro.
The only dent in this bonkers driving game’s otherwise fine frame is its business model. Gameloft and freemium equates to IAP and ads. But the latter are infrequent and the former can be avoided if you’re happy grinding a bit - and given the madcap, glorious courses on offer, who wouldn’t want to play them again and again? Craig Grannell
Speaking of retro, Drift’n’Drive doesn’t look so much like it crawled out of a Dreamcast as the 1980s. But this cruelly overlooked overhead racer is one of the most compelling we’ve played on iOS. Dinky cars barge their way along vertically scrolling tracks, getting all smashy in an attempt to reach their goal.
At first, your car is underpowered and fragile, but as you improve your position, you can buy upgrades (only with earned in-game currency - there’s no IAP). Eventually, you’ll be kicking bottom racking up wins, at which point you can take on the next championship level. There’s also a split-screen multiplayer mode, if you think you’ve got what it takes to beat your friends. Craig Grannell
One of the criticisms often levelled at games on mobile is they’re not ‘proper’ games like you get on consoles. Well, Grid Autosport is the highly regarded simulation-oriented console/PC racer squeezed into your iOS device. You get the full complement of tracks and cars (100 of each), and an almost bewildering array of settings.
Fortunately, beginners can ease themselves in gently, leaving on driving aids and nursing Touring Cars around tarmac tracks. But with mastery comes the rewards of tackling beefier cars, and gradually tweaking the set-up so you do more of the driving than the computer.
This is a game that demands perseverance and attention - you can’t barrel into a corner at full speed and expect for anything to happen other than a head-on collision with a very solid wall. But if you want a rich, exciting, deep driving experience on iOS, you won’t find anything better. Craig Grannell
Horizon Chase - World Tour
A love letter to classic arcade fare, Horizon Chase brings the likes of the Amiga’s Lotus Turbo Esprit Challenge and SNES racer Top Gear kicking and screaming into the present. This one’s all about insane speed, vibrant graphics, and fighting your way from the back of the pack - every time.
But just because Horizon Chase has one foot in 1992, that doesn’t mean it’s entirely retro. The controls are perfect for touchscreens, the career mode is finely tuned for mobile play, and the visuals boast a gorgeous low-poly aesthetic that’s unique and modern, and yet evokes the feel of old-school racers - all without stabbing your eyes with chunky pixels. Craig Grannell
Like AG Drive, Impulse GP envisions a future of looping tracks and insane speed, but rather than encase racers inside metal spaceships, it instead plonks them on hoverbikes. Health & Safety must be taking a decades-long break.
As for the game itself, Impulse GP can’t match its most beautiful rivals when it comes to visuals, but it gets things right where it matters: speed, track design, and feeling like you’re hanging on by your fingernails. The courses are full of corkscrews, hills, twists and tunnels, and boost pads give you a stomach-lurching blast when you time it right. Just avoid the red pads (which slow you to a crawl) and rivals (who’ll knock you into a spin, given the chance) if you want to win. Craig Grannell
Reckless Racing 3
Putting our political correctness hat aside for a moment, the original game in this series was perhaps best described as ‘Redneck Racing’. Beaten up vehicles jostled around courses comprising a grimy mall car park and a wrecking yard. The sequel stripped away the character, but this third entry again gets the balance right.
If anything, Reckless Racing 3 is even more oddball than its grandparent, with a decidedly surreal edge. You smash and drift your way through airports, abandoned nuclear plants, and genteel Mediterranean hilltop cafes. And along with straightforward racing events, there’s a Gymkhana mode, to test your skills at coaxing a rickety car around precision courses. The physics is a bit floaty, but get used to that and you’ll spend many hours enjoying the best top-down racer on iOS. Craig Grannell
If you prefer racers to make a splash, Riptide GP2 dumps you in a future that has decided cars are old hat. Instead, rocket-powered hydro jets are the way forward, lurching their way along undulating watery tracks. This future also likes massive show-offs, and so at opportune moments, you must perform spectacular stunts to acquire boost.
This is easier said than done. Some courses have handy yellow ramps, but others merely offer huge waves where you take your chances. One wrong move and you’ll find splashy disaster, hitting the water just before your rocket-powered hydro jet hits your head. Still, there’s great satisfaction in mastering stunts, and Riptide GP2 as a whole is a gloriously fun arcade racing experience. Craig Grannell
When you want an entire world to immerse yourself in, these titles could each provide you with months of gaming on your iOS device.
If you’ve been lamenting the lack of a really meaty, old-school and gloriously geeky roleplaying game on your iOS device, look no further than this semi-remake of one of the 1990s true classics.
The game does sometimes betray its originals - the busy interface and tiny characters can be awkward, as can the save system. But stick with it and you find an adventure of uncommon breadth, with some great characters (both serious and ridiculous) and massive flexibility in terms of your party of heroes and their abilities.
It’s the complexity and sprawl that really hits home with this old-timer. So while it may not look as exciting as more modern fare, this is a game that offers weeks, if not months, of tactical combat, agonising choices and frenzied goblin-bashing. And if you find it does eventually pall but you hanker for more, the sequel is on the App Store, too. Alec Meer
Casual description does this painterly action-roleplaying game few favours - games about beating up beasties in exchange for experience points are a dime a dozen on the App Store, after all.
Where Bastion differs is in its storytelling. A near-omniscient narrator commentates your progress as you play, picking up on your decisions and mistakes as well as furthering a sombre, opaque tale with a voice that redefines the very concept of gravel. It adds a huge amount of character, as well as lending Bastion the eerie sense that it’s watching you.
A beautiful game both visually and in atmosphere, Bastion is fortunately not so bogged down on its own grandeur that it forgets to be a reliably compulsive stream of action too. Alec Meer
While other RPGs can require lots of time and skilful thinking, Crashlands is designed for the casual player. There’s an unlimited inventory, so you can scavenge where and when you want without worry. And it’s Minecraft-esque in ways, offering a build mode that lets you fashion a personalised base from the ground up with various benches for crafting weapons, armour, elixirs and more. Because of the unlimited inventory, if you want to move your base somewhere with more resources, you need only pick up all the pieces to your base and put it in your bag. Simple.
The tap-to-interact aspect of the game takes time to get used to, especially when battling the many monsters you’ll come across on the alien planet, but it’s effective. You get a toolbar for quick access to equipment like potions or weapons - with varying cooldowns for each - and a world map, which enables you to zip between telepads at no cost. This makes exploring the massive open world easier, as you can nip back to your base to recover/build new equipment on the fly without worrying about wasting time.
In all, it’s an accessible take on the genre, which should have wide appeal. Lewis Painter
Death Road to Canada
Road trip! Only the roads on the way to the safety of Canada (from your native Florida) are packed with the undead. Eek! Your aim is to not get eaten, which isn’t easy. It turns out Death Road to Canada is aptly named.
The game is a mix of arcade fare and multiple-choice decision-making akin to a Choose Your Own Adventure book. The top-down arcade parts involve your little gang looting buildings and fending off the undead with whatever comes to hand, or timed ‘sieges’ - claustrophobic affairs that prove tense and terrifying, despite the blocky, cartoonish graphics. The more adventure-oriented bits mix snippets of story with multiple-choice decision-making, both of which can hugely affect your ongoing quest.
There’s a lot of randomness - sudden deaths are commonplace - but also plenty of knockabout humour. This is more oddball 1980s videogame than The Walking Dead: a place where zombies co-exist with dogs that can talk and make Molotov cocktails, and where you should never trust a supposedly injured moose. Buy it. Play it. But don’t imagine you’ll be seeing Canada any time soon. Craig Grannell
In this idiosyncratic turn-based roguelike, you’re the administrator of a hamlet beset on all sides by evil creatures. You resolve to send various fantasy archetypes into the villain-riddled swamps, forests and mountains nearby to sort things out. Each time one of your disposable heroes goes on a quest, a dungeon is randomly generated, and it’s up to you to work out the best way of coping.
The game is chess-like in nature - almost as much puzzle as RPG. The trick is to work out which monsters to attack in which order, so as to gain enough experience, collect enough equipment and conserve enough health and mana to be able to take on the boss at the end. There’s also an actual - and brutally difficult - puzzle mode, in which a range of pre-prepared scenarios must be navigated in precisely the right way.
As threats are neutralised and loot piles up, you’ll be able to build or upgrade new facilities and thereby unlock new character types, equipment and monsters, all of which has an appeal of its own; and the writing is consistently witty. But it’s the slow-paced, deceptively brain-bruising dungeon crawling which gives Desktop Dungeons its unique charm. David Price
£9.99 | For iPad only | Download Desktop Dungeons
Legend of Grimrock
Ah, the sweet taste of old-school RPG action.
Legend of Grimrock, a sort of modern remake of Eye Of The Beholder (or, going further back, Dungeon Master), is a fantasy dungeon crawler, meaning that it takes place amongst the neatly right-angular grid of an underground catacomb.
The action takes place in the first person: you see through the eyes of your four-character party (made up of wizards, fighters and thieves, with the nicely weird option of having them be giant insects or minotaurs as well as humans), and tap big chunky buttons to make them walk forward or back one tile at a time, turn, swing swords and axes, shoot bows and cast spells.
The graphics are quite lovely - although true again to EOTB in the walls of each section of dungeon being crafted from three or four identikit tiles, adding to the sense of exploratory confusion, particularly if you select the harder mode in which no automap is created. The movement and combat are fast, smooth and frantic. It’s pretty tough, too, with some mind-bending puzzles and plenty of monsters who can wipe you out in a few swipes, and more than long enough to justify the price tag. David Price
The Bard’s Tale
This iOS port of a classic and much-beloved PS2-era RPG is memorable not so much for its sparkling graphics or revolutionary gameplay (though both are perfectly serviceable, and even sort of charming) as for its absolutely fantastic writing.
Imagine a mix between The Princess Bride and Robin Hood: Men In Tights; this game sets out to skewer just about every fantasy and RPG trope it can get its hands on. The Princess Bride comparison is helped by the fact that the titular scoundrel is voiced by none other than the inimitable Cary Elwes, who bickers constantly with the snarky, fourth-wall-breaking narrator (points if you can spot which classic Disney villain he voiced).
The gameplay is fairly standard real-time RPG hack-and-slash fare, based primarily on summoning various support characters to provide buffs and aid in combat. However, focusing on gameplay in a title like this would be inconceivable. Adam Shepherd
Shoot ’em ups, twin-stick shooters and FPS games
When your thumbs are getting twitchy and you want to blow up some nasty alien slimebags, these are the games to buy.
Arkanoid vs Space Invaders
It’s in some ways a stretch to call this mash-up of two arcade classics a shooter. This mix of Breakout follow-up Arkanoid and seminal single-screen shoot ’em up Space Invaders has plenty of projectiles, but most are sent your way from chunky pixellated alien craft. Rather than arm you with a weapon of your own, your planet’s high command has seen fit to have you pilot a massive bat, the Vaus, used to bounce bullets back at those who sent them. Perhaps it cuts down on the bills.
Early on, the game’s sedate - even dull - with you deflecting bullets, aiming to blow up the odd alien or brick. But a couple of dozen levels in, Arkanoid vs Space Invaders clicks. Tight time limits combined with level targets (offing a certain number of invaders) make for an increasingly tense challenge. New strategies need to be formed, and power-ups (which arrive by way of cameos from much-loved Taito games) must be carefully considered. The end result’s a gloriously high-octane arcade thrill - if you stick with it past those duff early levels. Craig Grannell
At the dawn of gaming, Asteroids wowed the world, with its glowing vector graphics depicting your tiny ship and the many angular asteroids it was invited to obliterate. Today, it looks laughably crude, but Darkside shows the basic concept still works.
Darkside, though, isn’t your father’s (or his father’s) videogame. It does, admittedly, take the basic Asteroids concept, in you mostly contending with huge chunks of space rock that you blow into smaller pieces until they’re space dust. But this iOS effort wraps all that around planetoids packed full of mining kit, under constant invasion from hostile alien craft.
With power-ups and twin-stick shooting controls, Darkside is far more intense than the game that inspired it. Throughout its 100 levels, it proves to be an intoxicating mix of dizzying disorientation and pyrotechnics as the planetoid spins beneath your fingers and countless things blow up all around you. Craig Grannell
Deus Ex: The Fall
Stealth, gunplay, silent death moves and some roleplaying elements. Deus Ex: The Fall is the iOS port of a deep, ambitious and critically acclaimed PC game, and loses little in translation, offering thrills and spills in a beautifully realised sci-fi setting.
The story’s all about cybernetic enhancements and post-human ethical conundrums, but it never gets in the way of the important stuff: hacking your way through a computerised security door, crawling down a tunnel and shooting a man in the head. Lots of fun, if a touch brief. David Price
Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions Evolved
This twin-stick shooter bucks the trend, given that such titles rarely translate well to the touchscreen. But here, the controls are precise, with subtle thumb movements corresponding near-perfectly in the game. Just as importantly, Geometry Wars 3 is fantastic fun throughout, delivering tense shootouts against an array of enemies, along with plenty of variety - there’s even a mode without guns – which might be the most entertaining of the lot.
The basic premise finds your little ship dropped into a grid that the game quickly loads with enemies. Early foes are simple creatures that slowly pursue, but before long you’ve got cubes that explode into smaller ones, glowing snakes that slither about, lengthy formations of arrows that bounce from wall to wall, and wormholes that’ll suck you in if you venture too close. The game thrives on chaos, and staying alive amidst the madness is a real test. Andrew Hayward
No Stick Shooter
There’s more than a hint of arcade classics Missile Command and Parachute in No Stick Shooter. You’re armed with a turret, and must protect your base from the advances of kamikaze enemies intent on your destruction. But unlike most games of this ilk, No Stick Shooter dispenses with virtual trackpads or joysticks - instead, you tap the screen like a lunatic, to hurl fiery death at your opponents in a frenzied battle for survival.
And it is frenzied. Like the games that inspired it, No Stick Shooter takes no prisoners. Even early levels, which have you hurl explosives at doddering asteroids, are no picnic. A few levels in, you’re attempting to juggle various weapon types (including crackling electricity and atomising laser beams), aliens that unsportingly dodge your shots, and vicious bosses that don’t want to die, no matter how much you shoot at them.
For the casual gamer, it’s a bit much. But for anyone wanting the best in high-octane neon blasting with a brain, No Stick Shooter’s one of the best games on iOS. Craig Grannell
Steredenn is a gorgeous horizontally scrolling blaster with a distinctly retro vibe. But this is no trip back to the 1980s. Although there are hints of R-Type lurking within Steredenn’s DNA, this is a thoroughly modern shooter.
You never get the same game twice, for a start. Every go pits you against randomly selected waves of enemies, which you must figure out how best to blow to smithereens with the ordinance strapped to your tiny spaceship. Periodically, you face off against huge bosses, which when beaten replenish your shields, and allow you to pick a bonus to boost your chances.
Also, Steredenn is bonkers. There are shiny craft and lush space backgrounds, but also huge chainsaws welded to the front of enemy vessels, and power-ups in the shape of swords, massive saw-blades and guns that spit endless casings into space. And, although this title doesn’t take itself seriously, it nails vital details like the controls - an upwards swipe to switch weapons; a crosshair to locate your craft should it end up under a thumb; MFi support for those who want to use a gamepad.
With such smart design and endless replayability, Steredenn is easily the best horizontal shooter on iOS. Craig Grannell
The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth
This oddball twin-stick shooter is confusing and upsetting in equal parts. It finds you controlling a small child roaming a series of bleak, randomly generated dungeons and caves. He fights hideously mutated versions of himself while becoming hideous and mutated in his own right. (Power-ups are signified by wounds, such as safety pins through his head.) The left joystick controls movement; the right one controls the direction of your attacks. If you die, that’s it – there’s no saving.
It’s a tough game, although there are plenty of unlockable characters and items to discover. So despite each playthrough being brief, the game has a good amount of longevity. Also, arm yourself with a MFi controller and you’ll up your chances. Either way, the quality of the gameplay and the unique atmosphere makes this a must-play. David Price
From football to managing a racing team, these are the games to install on your iOS devices.
Active Soccer 2 DX
This one harks back to the classic era of 1990s footie games, such as Sensible Soccer and Kick Off. It’s a fast-paced affair that finds the ball pinging about the place in a manner akin to pinball. At first, it’s unnerving and tricky to get to grips with. But persevere, and Active Soccer 2 DX becomes all-engrossing.
First up, this is a surprisingly deep game, with the option of full seasons and cups; but you can alternatively just have a one-off match between two teams of your choosing. Secondly, there are loads of settings to tinker with, from how the controls behave to the viewpoint used. But mostly, Active Soccer 2 DX excels because it’s a clear labour of love from a sole indie developer. It might lack the polish of FIFA, but during play it’s a lot more fun - like a kickabout with your mates rather than watching rich sports stars on TV. Craig Grannell
Football Manager Touch 2018
Early cracks at football management on iPad felt like cut-down takes on PC titles, but Football Manager Touch 2018 is the real deal. It’s a hugely comprehensive and involved game where you take control of your favourite team, watch matches, and headbutt the desk when your defenders inexplicably forget how to play football during the 89th minute.
Beyond a full career mode, there are scenarios to try your luck at, such as escaping from deep in the relegation zone when the season’s halfway done, or dealing with the impact of Brexit. But be warned: Football Manager Touch 2018 is a game that will make huge demands on your time, and must be mastered before you have a hope of emerging victorious. If you fancy something lighter (and that also works on an iPhone), check out Football Manager Mobile 2018 instead. Craig Grannell
£14.99 | For iPad only | Download Football Manager Touch 2018
Different sports games take varied approaches to realism. Some try to be as authentic as possible while others instead concern themselves with recreating the ‘feel’ of a game. This ice hockey title sometimes pits Santa Claus against an angry bear with a hockey stick, so you can probably guess it’s not firmly in the photorealism camp.
Weird players aside, Ice Rage nails the frenetic and frequently physical nature of ice hockey. As you speed about the tiny rink, battering your opponent and shooting for the goal, it feels like you’re in the middle of a cup-final tussle. And for the hardcore, there’s Rage-Off mode: a three-tie deathmatch with the emphasis very much on the ‘death’ bit. Craig Grannell
This basketball title has its origins in a 1993 arcade hit, and it’s fair to say that the iOS update isn’t entirely fussed about sportingly playing by the rules. In NBA Jam’s two-on-two matches, you’re positively encouraged to shove opponents to the ground, leg it to the other end of the court, and net an impressive three-pointer.
Visually, the game is also distinct, with goofy virtual takes on real-life stars; these can be made even more comical via a ‘big head’ mode. The controls are a minor blemish - fiddly on a smaller iPhone (especially given that some moves require sliding your finger between buttons) - but NBA Jam’s sense of fun and satisfying action make up for any shortcomings. Craig Grannell
Super Stickman Golf 3
Golf games can be a great way to unwind, but traditional fare on iOS is often subpar rather than under par (the latter being a good thing in golf, sports fans). Fortunately, Super Stickman Golf 3’s oddball side-on take on the sport is there to fill the void.
This cartoonish title has you thwack balls across and through all manner of madcap courses, from giant castles to space stations full of portals. But despite its zany nature, Super Stickman Golf 3 - like any good golf game - rewards anyone willing to learn the courses to shave the odd shot off of their score. Online modes (live races and turn-based two-player games) add to the fun, but you’ll need the £2.99 premium upgrade to access all of the content. Craig Grannell
Touchgrind BMX 2
Touchgrind games are built around the simple, brilliant idea that your fingers are the game’s protagonist. In Touchgrind Skate, they replace legs, directing a tiny plank on wheels about courses full of ramps and rails. Touchgrind BMX 2 lacks a direct substitute for limbs (your fingers control the bike’s handlebars and seat), but doubles down on the ‘extreme’ bit of extreme sports, with courses you’d have to be out of your mind to try in real life.
Fortunately, the only thing that gets smashed to bits here is your pride, as you battle to keep your BMX from flying into a wall or the abyss. And that’s not easy, given that you’re often airborne, twisting and flicking your fingers to pull off all kinds of show-off stunts.
It’s a tactile, exhilarating experience, and mastery reaps rewards as you figure out how to squeeze extra stunts into courses fully committed to memory. This is especially true on iPhone, to which the game feels ideally suited, unlike Touchgrind Skate, which works better on the iPad’s relative acres. But however you play, Touchgrind BMX proves to be an exciting mobile-optimised slice of extreme sports that marries immediacy and longevity.
Note that the initial download is free, which nets you a couple of courses; but grab the IAP to unlock them all, so you can experience the stomach-flipping drops in the appropriately named Vertigo city course. Craig Grannell
Touchgrind Skate 2
People talk about realism in videogames, but few sports titles are a truly accurate reflection of real life. Oddly, Touchgrind Skate 2 kind of is, and we say ‘oddly’ on the basis that two of your fingers become legs that drive a dinky skateboard about a virtual park.
This might feel like a gimmick, but Touchgrind Skate 2 works remarkably well, especially on an iPad. Little movements and flicks are enough to trigger all kinds of tricks. Do well and you’ll unlock new gear and skateparks.
Just be aware that skating like a pro isn’t something that comes instantly nor particularly naturally - the tutorials in this game aren’t so much to be breezed through as fully committed to memory unless you want to wipe out over and over. Craig Grannell
Strategy and tower defence games
If you’re the kind of gamer who likes to think several steps ahead, these are the ideal titles to pit against your planning expertise.
It’s safe to say Civilization VI was quite the surprise when it suddenly appeared on iPad. Whereas previous Civs for iOS had been massively cut-back takes on the classic empire-building/world-domination series, here you get the real deal.
There’s a price-tag to match, of course, but then that should be expected when a top-notch PC strategy title has been squeezed into your iPad. And there are months of strategising to be had here, from having your settlers take their very first steps to attempting to duff up your opponents – economically or by getting a bit stabby and shooty.
Given the click-happy nature of the original, everything works very nicely on the touchscreen. The only obvious rough edge is some slightly blurry graphics on iPad Pro. Regardless, this is an astonishing achievement on iOS and – more importantly – a first-rate game. Craig Grannell
£58.99 | For iPad only | Download Civilization VI
Like the best tower-defence titles, Fieldrunners 2 keeps your mind constantly occupied. There are always problems to address, threats to deal with, towers to upgrade or weak spots that need filling. It’s a brilliantly frenetic game.
As the enemy assaults you with waves of troops, your job is to prevent them from getting to the other side of the screen by building gun towers in strategic combinations. Funnel bad guys into bottlenecks and then shoot them to pieces. You have to last a given number of waves to finish a level, but you can then play an endless mode, and carry on for a laugh.
There’s a decent range of weapon towers. There are radiation, plague and poison gas towers (lovely), towers that generate a vicious laser ribbon between them and a tower that lobs beehives. And the Fieldrunners have medics who heal troops around them and hazmat specialists who are immune to your chemical warfare. The graphics are great, too.
Fieldrunners 2 is about as polished, well-crafted and enjoyable to play as the humble tower defence genre gets. David Price
Freeways doesn’t look like much. This game about creating motorway interchanges for autonomous vehicles has all the visual polish of a kid scrawling on a blackboard with fist-sized chalks. But don’t be put off by the crude graphics, because this is one of the finest strategy titles to ever grace iOS.
In each single-screen level, you’re given a bunch of road stubs and buildings. Press one and arrows display connections you need to make, and the amount of traffic that’s going to head along it. All you need to do is draw in the roads.
This is easier said than done. Although in most (but not all) levels, it’s possible to raise roads up to two levels higher, you very rapidly run out of space - or concrete. You’re often forced to economise and get creative, fashioning weird looping spaghetti junctions.
Fire up the simulator, which zooms through a day in fast-forward, and you’ll get a feeling of pride when all goes well. But if your network becomes jammed, it’s time to start from scratch, or figure out how to fix your system by adding yet more roads. There’s no undo in Freeways - but there is tons of surprisingly compelling road-scribbling fun. Craig Grannell
FTL: Faster Than Light
A wonderfully tense strategy game set in space, Faster Than Light also incorporates many of the crueller elements of roguelike roleplaying games.
You direct the small crew of a Federation messenger craft fleeing from the advancing rebel fleet, and at each point on the map a randomly generated encounter may result in new equipment, additional crew members, or a dangerous fight with another vessel. Any crew members who fall in battle are gone for good, and losing a fight is permanent too - hence the unbearable tension, and the glorious satisfaction when things work out.
It’s a tough game, but well worth the tears it will make you shed. David Price
Adorable isn’t an adjective usually found in a videogame review about a hitman, but here we are. Hitman GO is adorable. And we even mean the assassination bit.
No, we haven’t lost it, and this might come as a shock to fans of the console Hitman series, or – for that matter – anyone who knows assassins kill people for a living. But what on telly consoles is a violent, bloody game of death is on iOS transformed into a clockwork chess, taking place on beautifully constructed dioramas.
The game’s turn-based, and you move Agent 47 along pre-defined paths, in an attempt to get him to a goal. Once you move, everyone else gets their turn. Find yourself in the way of a guard, and they’ll bump you off (literally – Agent 47 is knocked off of the board); but if you get your timing right, you can take them out instead.
Right from the off, Hitman GO is tricksy, often forcing you to think several moves ahead, and take labyrinthine routes to the exit. Later on, it drops in hiding spots, sniper rifles and disguises.
There’s plenty of replay value, too – every level has three goals. These tend to be impossible to complete during a single run, and often require you shake up everything you figured out so far about any particular level. Frankly, even if these didn’t exist, you’d want to play the game through several times anyway, because it’s that good. Craig Grannell
The Western perhaps isn’t a genre that screams innovation, and that extends to Infinite West – a strategy game set in a world of gunslingers. Its isometric viewpoint and deliberate turn-based structure echo the likes of Hitman GO, while the backstory (a hero’s family is killed by a gang, and so he seeks revenge) is so overused that it almost borders on parody. Nonetheless, it’s hard to not become captivated by what turns out to be an engaging combination of chess and violence.
Each algorithmically generated level takes place on a seven-by-seven grid, your aim being to get to the exit. The tiny snag is enemies will try to thwart your escape, by getting all stabby or shooting you. Each enemy type’s range differs, and can be previewed by way of a tap; and all characters on the field must move one space during their turn.
These limitations – along with a few special actions that can be gradually enhanced over time – make for an endless supply of brain-smashing logic tests. This is even more the case when you’re deep into a game, find yourself facing a dozen armed gang members, and have to figure out a sequence of moves and actions that’ll help you avoid a very final trip to Boot Hill. Craig Grannell
Almost as much an exercise in modern art as a video game, Mini Metro makes underground maps come alive. Part simulator, part strategy title, the game gradually adds stations to an initially blank map. Said stations must be connected by lines, whereupon passengers start being ferried back and forth. Over time, you can choose from bonus items - more lines; extra tunnels; interchanges - to expand your network.
The semi-random nature of where stations appear always keeps you on your toes, and Mini Metro eventually becomes a frenetic juggling act of management, with you constantly rejigging lines and moving trains to more efficiently cart people about. Should a single station become overcrowded, your game is over.
Do well enough by that point and a new map will be unlocked, with its own challenges. If it all gets a bit much, fire up the endless mode, which aligns perfectly with the minimal visuals and noodly ambient soundtrack generated by movement within the game. Feeling a bit more hardcore? Check out the extreme mode, which doesn’t allow you to edit any lines you’ve previously laid. However you play, Mini Metro is a modern mobile masterpiece. Craig Grannell
XCOM: Enemy Within
XCOM, which you command, is a pancontinental paramilitary organisation devoted to investigating and combatting alien incursions. You do this primarily by way of tense turn-based strategy encounters, cautiously advancing your team of operatives from cover to cover and attempting to gun down enemy units and tick off persistent or mission-specific objectives. But there’s also a neat resource-management/base-building aspect in which you hire additional troops, build new facilities, research advanced tech, launch satellites and generally do your best to keep on top of planetary panic.
Enemy Within takes the overall storyline and ultra-slick framework of 2013’s XCOM: Enemy Unknown, which it replaced on the App Store, and adds masses of new material. You get new enemies, fun but non-essential toys (such as the ability to manipulate your people’s genetic makeup and turn them into grotesque super-soldiers) and clever new missions that break up the often repetitive structure of the earlier game and encourage new styles of play - fast, aggressive approaches are rewarded more than before. The result is one of the finest strategy games on the iPad. David Price
Word searches, anagrams and crosswords are all very well, but these games do new and fresh things with such traditional frameworks.
Alphabear: Word Puzzle Game
This one’s all about getting the biggest bears. Use letters to fashion words on the tiled grid and bears appear in the spaces left behind. With enough space, they become huge, giving you massive bonus scores once your game ends.
The main danger comes from move countdown timers on every letter tile. When one hits zero, the letter turns to stone, potentially thwarting further bear expansion.
The main game is frequently comical, as your weirdly tall and thin or wide and squat bears grumble and fidget while you figure out how to use a selection of tiles that appear to only make words you’d otherwise get from mashing a keyboard with your head.
There are drawbacks in the game’s weird freemium system, which includes energy timers (‘honey’) and baffling collectable bear power-ups. But the former can be removed with a £4.99 IAP if you can’t wait for a furry fix. Craig Grannell
This game comes across like a politically literate tirade against censorship. An Orwellian adventure story told through one half of an increasingly mangled email exchange, it also happens to be a word game based around decoding blocks of text.
You play the part of a downtrodden citizen of a dimly sketched dystopia, receiving messages with parts blacked out by censors. All you have to do is work out the missing words - easy at first, but Blackbar eventually taunts, tangling and weaving its internal logic until your head hurts.
It can be frustrating. You may find yourself baffled by a single word required to unlock the next screen. But the rewarding nature of cracking each puzzle along with the clever, funny storyline makes it all _________. David Price
Because Letterpress’s approach is unique - sort of a clever mashup of Boggle and Strategery - it takes some time to explain the rules. Once you get them down, though, this word game (with a healthy serving of strategy) is alarmingly addictive.
On your turn, you can use any of the letters in a five-by-five grid to build a word. After you submit your word, the tiles you used turn blue. Then it’s your opponent’s turn to make a word. The tiles he or she uses to spell a word turn pink.
As you play, then, some tiles will go from blue to pink to blue again, if you and your opponent keep spelling words with the same letters, but if you box in a blue tile with other blue tiles, it turns a darker shade of blue and stays that way. Once all the tiles have been used (or after both players skip a turn), the game ends. Whichever player turned more tiles to his or her colour emerges the victor.
Fans of word games won’t be disappointed. Letterpress is seriously fun. Lex Friedman
Although half the world’s addicted to Words With Friends, Scrabble is the daddy of crossword boardgames - and remains the better game. You get the familiar (and best) layout, with triple-word tiles at the edge of the board, and other bonuses exploding out from the centre. Then it’s down to you and an opponent to battle it out, making best use of those special tiles to rack up a high score.
There’ve been quite a few incarnations of Scrabble on iOS - and, frankly, they’ve been variable. Right now, we’re going through a good patch. Scrabble for iPhone and iPad looks great and has modes for playing against the computer, online, or by passing your device between several people. And if you’re fed up waiting for chums to take their turns, there’s always the chat system to turn to - or a speed play mode, which flings up penalties if anyone dawdles. Craig Grannell
At first, SpellTower comes across a lot like a wordsearch, albeit one in which you can snake your line back and forth as you please. This gives you the potential to drag out intricate pathways that form massive words, resulting in huge points. But then the letters disappear, gravity makes a sudden appearance and any letters left in the air abruptly plummet downwards. Planning out maximising your score from the initial board is therefore rather tough.
But SpellTower’s not done, because that’s just Tower Mode. Beyond that are modes that have the stack of letters grow with each move, along with pitting you against the clock and tiles that demand a minimum word size. Rush Mode is particularly tense, with you trying frantically to clear letters as towers of them edge closer to the game over line. On iPhone and iPad alike, it’s the best solo word game on iOS. Craig Grannell
Zach Gage apparently has a thing for rethinking classic puzzle games from the world of print. SpellTower is a word search crossed with a well-based puzzle game, and Really Bad Chess subverts the chess puzzles you sometimes still find lurking in newspapers. TypeShift is in similar territory, only this game has hurled all the component bits of crosswords up into the air to see what would happen.
What you end up with is a grid of letters that you manipulate by dragging columns up and down. If a word is found in the centre row, its tiles are coloured in. The aim is to use every tile on the board - and as quickly as possible, if you’re inclined towards bragging about your brainpower online.
There are set packs of puzzles and a daily entry that toughens as the week goes on. The star of the show, though, is the clue puzzle, which doesn’t allow you to find any old words. Instead, you get a list of obtuse clues, and must find a word associated with each. The end result is a game that really does feel like a perfect combination of old and new. For free, you get a small selection of puzzles to try (and the daily challenge); extra packs are available via IAP. Craig Grannell
At its core, W.E.L.D.E.R. is a word search. You create words of four or more letters by swapping nearby tiles. If, for example, you’ve got the letters PUSN lined up, tap S and then N and the two letters change positions, forming PUNS. When this happens, the letters vaporise, earning you points, and any letters above drop down.
The steampunk interface looks very cool, and just as unnecessary-yet-lovely are the ambient sounds that whoosh and tick along in the background. Taken altogether, W.E.L.D.E.R. is addictive, instructive and a pleasure for the senses. If you have the slightest interest in word games, you should own it. Christopher Breen