Best free iPad games
So you've got an iPad, but have come to the dawning realisation that you've got no cash left to buy any games for it.
Have no fear, because the App Store offers plenty of iPad gaming goodness for the (unintentional or otherwise) skinflint.
- Haven't bought an iPad yet and not sure which is best? We've got them listed on our best iPad ranking - or you can check out the best tablets list to see the full range available now.
Our updated pick of the best free iPad games are listed right here.
New this week: Reckless Getaway 2
If you’ve ever played the last level of PC classic Driver, with its psychotic police vehicles, you’ll have an inkling what you’re in for in . You pick a car and barrel about a little wraparound city, driving around like a maniac, until your inevitable arrest.
Well, we say ‘arrest’, but these police are crazed. SWAT vans will hurl themselves at your vehicle, oblivious to the carnage around them. Eventually, airstrikes will be called in, at which point you might question if the law’s applying a bit too much zeal towards grand theft auto these days.
Over time, the game’s repetitive nature palls a bit, and the physics is a bit floaty; but otherwise it’s a great fun freebie for virtual joyriders armed with an iPad.
It begins by displaying a bunch of neon shapes. The aim is to prod a shape that belongs to the most numerous group, and work your way to the smallest. Do this rapidly and you build a combo that can seriously ramp up your score. Now and again shapes also house credits, which can be used to buy new themes.
On iPad, the game looks great, and although some themes (such as gloopy bubbles) make the game easier, that at least gives you a choice if the minimal original theme proves too tricky.
And despite Estiman’s overt simplicity, its odd contrasting mix of relaxation (chill-out audio; zero-stress timer) and urgency (if you want those combos) proves compelling.
Its overhead viewpoint and tiny players might evoke arcade-oriented soccer games of old, like Sensible Soccer and Kick off, but is very much a mobile oriented affair. In part, this is down to the main mode taking you through loads of challenges, rather than a league, but mostly it’s about the controls.
There are no virtual buttons and D-pads here – everything in Retro Soccer is about taps and gestures. You tap to move somewhere, dribble with the ball or pass. A swipe unleashes a shot if you’re within sight of the goal, or a scything sliding tackle that carves up a fair chunk of the field if you’re near an opposing player with the ball.
It takes a fair bit of getting used to and really needs the iPad’s large screen for you to have any hope of mastering the game. But stick around and you’ll find Retro Soccer an entertaining take on the beautiful game.
You hop about tiny towns, deserts, and mines, shooting bad guys and being rewarded for being the kind of sheriff who doesn’t also shoot innocents.
Although the controls mirror (albeit with a tap to shoot rather than leap forward), progression is more akin to , with you having to complete each miniature room (as in, shoot all the bad guys) before moving on.
The net result is a game that’s ultimately an entertaining arcade title, but that somehow also feels like you’re exploring a tiny universe – and one with character. It’s amusing when you’re facing a duel, and a pianist is rather conspicuously outside, furiously playing an ominous score.
We’re in broadly familiar territory with , which twins with bomb disposal. This means you get chunky graphics and a swipe-based take on Frogger, but must also quickly locate and deal with high-explosives that are soon to go off.
This twist transforms Bomb Hunters into a relentlessly frantic experience, and keeps you on your toes regarding the route you’re taking. Everything becomes markedly tougher when enemy snipers and grenadiers appear, and when some bombs only disarm when you complete a dexterity mini-game.
The swipe controls can be a touch iffy at times, but otherwise this is a smart take on an otherwise tired genre – and one that rewards repeat play through unlocks that boost your survival rate during subsequent games.
Build a Bridge!
The clue’s in the title in this entertaining and arcade-oriented engineering test. In , you’re faced with a vehicle, a gap over which the vehicle would like to travel, and some materials to build your bridge. You lay down a structure on virtual graph paper, press play, and see what happens.
If your bridge falls to bits – as it invariably will on the first few attempts – you can go back, rebuild and try again. Should you want to properly test out your engineering skills, you must minimize the materials used to get a three-star award – tricky when you hit levels requiring outlandish solutions that incorporate jumps and hot-air balloons.
Some of the building can be a bit fiddly, but on an iPad Build a Bridge! proves a compelling test of your engineering skills.
Yes, we know: you’ve seen a dozen games just like this, essentially endless runners with a puzzle solving edge, complete with teleporters and multiple routes. But wait – all is not quite as it seems.
One thing does have in common with several other games is you auto-tumbling about an isometric world, prodding the screen to abruptly change direction. Get it wrong and chances are you’ll fall off of a narrow elevated pathway into oblivion.
But unlike the competition, DROP NOT! isn’t algorithmically generated; instead, it has 20 handcrafted levels, transforming the game into an adventure you can master.
Beating it in one go from the start requires some serious memory and timing skills; if that all seems too much, points buy keys to unlock checkpoints you can start from, in order to discover all of the game’s secrets. Either way, this title’s far more than it first appears to be.
The basic premise, as ever, is your little character must keep running, lest they be eaten up by a game world falling into the abyss. To push ever onward, they can obliterate walls and other hazards by dropping bombs and then fleeing before they explode.
During each game, you can grab power-ups, collect coins to spend on new characters, and coo at the pretty graphics. From a longevity standpoint, Tiny Bombers is probably not another Crossy Road, but even so it makes for a fun and explosive change.
Transformers: Forged to Fight
We shouldn’t encourage them, really. is packed full of horrible free-to-play trappings: timers; gates; a baffling currency/resource system. And yet it’s a horribly compelling title. Much of this is down to how much fun it apparently is to watch giant robots punching each other in the face.
If you’re unfamiliar with Transformers, it’s based around robots that disguise themselves as cars and planes as a kind of camouflage - and then they forget about all that, transform into bipedal robots, and attempt to smash each other to bits.
This game has various Transformers universes colliding, which for fans only increases the fun – after all, old hands can watch with glee as old-school Optimus Prime hacks Michael Bay’s version to pieces with a massive axe. But for newcomers hankering for one-on-one Street Fighterish brawls on an iOS device, it’s still a freebie worth grabbing.
With , you rather generously get the entire arcade mode from superb blaster . What this means is a slew of fast-paced and eye-dazzling shooty action, where you blast everything around you to pieces, while trying very hard to stay in one piece yourself.
The twin-stick shenanigans echo the likes of Geometry Wars (or, if you’re really old, Robotron) in terms of controls, but the setup is more Asteroids, obliterating space rocks – and also the spaceships that periodically zoom in to do you damage.
The entire thing’s wrapped around planetoids floating in the void, making for a dizzying, thrilling ride as you attempt to locate the last bit of flying rock before some alien attacker swoops in and rips away the last of your shields.
This one’s from the folks, but this time the classic titles being mined appear to be Dig-Dug and Mr. Driller. And, yes, that was a terrible pun, because is all about mining, your little hero drilling deep into the ground on a quest for bling, trying to avoid regular cave-ins and various underground ‘one touch equals death’ denizens.
Bar a baffling card power-up system, Digby Forever is a breezy arcade blast. Its little world feels very alive, with explosions blasting pixels across the screen, and various creatures going about their business. Intriguingly, it also deftly deals with that problem in endless games of starting from scratch – here, you always restart from where you were last defeated.
However, this portal of discovery, thinking outside the box, and, frankly, random guessing, is nonetheless a lot of fun.
You start with the classical elements (air; fire; water; earth), and combine them to create new objects. The aim is to figure out how to make over 500 things, from volcanoes to unicorns.
Some combinations are logical and amusing – a vacuum cleaner is a broom combined with electricity. But a helicopter? That requires you merge an airplane and a windmill. And now we really want to see someone combine those things in the real world.
Archer Dash 2
For the most part, side-on endless runners tend to be ideal iPhone fare, but has a twist that makes it a much better bet for your iPad. In this world of retro-style pixelated graphics, a little archer dashes along, aiming to scoop up blue gems, and jumping to avoid getting fried on electrified fences.
The twist here is the ‘archer’ bit – drag across the left-hand side of the screen and time temporarily slows, so you can aim and unleash an arrow to destroy obstacles or collect out-of-reach bling. Now and again, there’s a frantic boss battle to survive.
On iPhone, the game works fine, but only on iPad are you afforded the precision needed to have a lengthy dash rather than a short sprint.
With , the iPad shows bigger (as in, the screen) really can be better. The basics involve swiping to avoid traffic while hurtling along a road. New vehicles are periodically won, each of which has a special skill (such as the UFO abducting traffic, and the taxi picking up fares); and there are also random events to respond to, such as huge dinosaurs barreling along.
On iPad, the gorgeous visuals are more dazzling than on the smaller iPhone, and in landscape or portrait, it’s easier to see what’s in front of you, potentially leading to higher scores.
Also, the game’s multi-touch aware, so you can multi-finger-swipe to change several lanes at once – fiddly on an iPhone but a cinch on a tablet, making for an addictive, just-one-more-go experience.
First, the visuals include plenty of large characters bursting with personality. But more importantly, the controls are clever. You get two buttons – ‘turn’ and ‘climb’ – for working your way up a zigzagging staircase to the heavens. ‘Turn’ not only flips you round, but also has you climb a step.
That might not sound like much, but as the timer rapidly depletes, you’ll mess up often in the more winding sections of staircase, curse your thumbs, have another go, and realize you’re once again glued to another endless runner.
As your little players scoot about the pitch, you use drag and release gestures to tackle and shoot, or drag back and slide left and right to dribble.
This all feels a bit floaty, but a few games in everything clicks, and you’ll have fun kicking off against online opposition. There is a sense of shallowness, however – there’s no offline mode and none of the extensive depth found in the likes of . Still, as a freebie iPad kickabout, Solid Soccer manages a scrappy win.
Snake meets land-grabbing in . On entering the arena – populated by other players – you swipe to guide your little square about. Encircle a section of space and it fills with your color, boosting your territory score.
You must be careful to not collide with the walls surrounding the arena. Also, square trails are player’s weak spots. Run over an opponent’s and they’re removed from the game, leaving gems you can munch. But the same’s true for you – so watch out.
Paper.io’s a bit heavy on ads and bereft of audio, but the game itself is nonetheless compelling, not least because you can dive right back in for revenge should someone abruptly terminate your go.
Here’s yet another game with a ‘Verby Noun’ moniker, and blocky voxel graphics. But although riffs off of Crossy Road in those areas, it’s in fact a nicely-designed trivia game, in which you have to guess 300 famous faces, grouped into 12 item rounds.
In each case, you get a basic clue and a figurine to spin. Tap in an answer (using a suitably blocky custom keyboard) and the figurine explodes all over the screen if you guess correctly. If you’re close – just a small misspelling away – the game amusingly moves into game show host mode, asking “Can we take that?”
Should you get stuck, ask for more clues – but note: replenishing your clue token stash requires IAP or watching ads.
Marvel Contest of Champions
On consoles, fighting games tend to need millions of buttons and players to have an eidetic memory to recall all the various combinations for special moves. Mercifully, simplifies things for the touchscreen, and gives you the added bonus of having your favorite comic characters smack each other’s faces off.
The plot’s thin, but the side-on one-on-one scraps pack a punch, with you swiping to unleash attacks and holding the screen to block. Visually, it’s a treat, and the fighting element is entertaining and accessible.
And the freemium angle? Well, that can irk in the long term, but – like a Marvel movie – this one’s good for a quick blast every now and again, even if it’s a bit lacking in depth and longevity.
Silly Sausage: Doggy Dessert
The world’s stretchiest canine’s found himself in a world full of sticky desserts and a surprising number of saw blades. His aim: get to the other end of this deadly yet yummy horizontally scrolling world. The snag: the aforementioned blades, a smattering of puzzles, and the way this particular pooch moves.
The result is an impressive side-scroller that’s more sedate puzzler than frantic platformer – aside from in adrenaline-fueled time-based challenge rooms, which even Silly Sausage veterans will be hard-pressed to master.
Super Hyper Ball 2
Do you like brick-bashing Breakout? Do you like ball-whacking pinball? If so, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy , which mashes the two together. Here, you get flippers to smack the ball around but also a little bat you move back and forth at the foot of the screen. Oh, and there are power-ups, too, which can be triggered to blow up hard-to-reach targets and bricks.
If that all sounds a bit like patting your head while rubbing your stomach, that’s not far off. Super Hyper Ball 2 can be like playing two games simultaneously.
Curiously, given its heritage, it can also be oddly pedestrian at times, but it’s mostly giddy fun, whether facing off against a laser-spewing skull boss, or smashing your way through a whirling disc with colorful bricks glued to its surface.
But this title cleverly differentiates itself from mundane contemporaries by welding itself to the guts of an endless runner.
In Waiit’s vertically scrolling world, a universe-devouring entity is in hot pursuit. You must rapidly figure out routes to the next exit and deftly perform the swipes required to get both of your squares through unscathed.
Tension is mixed with charm as the little squares holler to each other by way of comic-style balloons. And although you’ll initially fail quickly and often – perhaps even hankering for a hazard-free zen mode – it’s Waiit’s relative toughness that’ll keep you coming back to beat your high score.
The best way to think about is as a radically simplified Tetris where you happen to be hurtling along at insane speeds. There’s just one shape here – a rectangular brick – and it must be fired along one of four columns, with you aiming to complete rows and make them disappear.
For the first fifteen shots, it’s pretty much impossible to mess up. The screen scrolls slowly, ensuring your aim is always true. Then Brick Shot ups the pace considerably, and even only having four columns to decide between can sometimes feel like three too many.
On the iPad at least, your fingers have space to rest and your eyes can more easily track incoming walls. Ongoing success unlocks alternate modes, although the straightforward original’s probably the best.
The Battle of Polytopia
Coming across like Civilization in miniature, is all about dominating a tiny isometric world. You explore, capture villages, duff up opponents and discover new technologies in order to build more powerful units.
But the empire building is stripped back, with smart limitations for mobile. The ‘tech tree’ is abbreviated (trust us, you’ll understand when you play), and only one unit can sit in any given square. Also, by default you have a 30-move limit – although hardcore players can opt for a mode where you continue until only one tribe is left standing.
Despite its relative simplicity compared to Civilization, Polytopia has plenty of depth, and can be tough as you delve into the higher difficulty levels. Rather generously, you get the entire thing for free – IAP exists purely to unlock new tribes and boost the number you can face beyond three.
If you know your arcade history, you’ll know that Galaga is one of the earliest single-screen shooters. The sequel to Galaxian – where aliens started fighting back by way of dive-bombing – Galaga added ‘Challenging Stages’, where strings of ships would flit about rather than marching back and forth in formation.
combines both approaches, increases the pace, adds glossy modern cartoonish graphics, and gleefully ends your war should your ship take a single hit. You must therefore weave through projectiles, efficiently offing opponents, and grabbing power-ups whenever they appear.
Regular boss battles up the ante in what’s a vibrant and compelling shooter. The excitement does eventually wane – levels never change and it’s a grind to reach later ones – but for a time this is a solid free blaster for your iPad, and for many of us that’s just the way we like our tablet gaming.
Flappy Golf 2
The original Flappy Golf was a surprise hit, given that it was essentially a joke – a satire on Flappy Bird. While is a more polished and considered effort, it’s essentially more of the same, giving you courses from the most recent Super Stickman Golf, and adding wings to the balls.
Instead of smacking the ball with a stick, then, you flap it skywards, using left and right buttons to head in the right direction. If you’re a Super Stickman Golf 3 aficionado, Flappy Golf 2 forces you to try very different approaches to minimize flaps and get the scores needed to unlock further courses.
For newcomers, it’s an immediate, fun and silly take on golf, not least when you delve into the manic race mode. The permanent ad during play also makes this a far better bet on iPad than iPhone, where the ad can obscure the course. (Disappointingly, there’s no IAP to eradicate advertising.)
This fast-paced rhythm-action game has you swiping the screen like a lunatic, trying to help your tiny musicians to the end of a piece of classical music without them exploding. Yep, things are tough in the world of – one bum note and a violinist or pianist will evaporate in a puff of smoke.
The entire thing is swipe-based. Arrows descend from the top of a narrow column at the centre of the screen, and you must match them with a gesture. At lower difficulty levels, this is insanely easy.
Ramp up the speed, though, and your fingers will soon be in a twist, despite the apparent simplicity of the task. A $1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99 IAP unlocks more songs, but you get five for free.
Brake or Break
One of the most ludicrous one-thumb games around, features a car hurtling along the road. You can hold the screen to brake, and if you don’t, the car speeds up. Sooner or later, it’ll be hurled into the air and start spinning, thereby awarding you with huge points – unless you land badly and smash your vehicle to pieces.
There’s a lot of risk-versus-reward and careful timing here, with gameplay that offers a smattering of Tiny Wings and a whole lot of weird.
Most of said oddness comes by way of the environment, which lobs all kinds of objects at your car, and regularly has it propelled into the air by a grinning tornado. Stick out the game long enough (or open your wallet) and you can unlock new worlds and cars to further shake things up.
Instead of blazing through larger-than-life takes on real-world cities, takes you off-road, zooming through dunes, drifting across muddy flats, and generally treating the great outdoors in a manner that will win you no favors with the local authorities.
As per other entries in the series, this is ballsy arcade racing, with bouncy physics, simple controls, an obsession with boosting, and tracks designed to make you regularly smash your car to bits.
It’s also, sadly, absolutely riddled with freemium cruft: timers; currencies; nags – the lot. But if you can look past that and dip in and out occasionally to allow the game to ‘recharge’, there’s a lot to like in this racer that’s decided roads and rules are so last season.
There’s a delightful and elegant simplicity at the heart of . The game echoes iPad classic Desert Golfing, in providing a seemingly endless course to explore. But rather than smacking a ball, you’re blasting a little astronaut between landing pads.
The controls also hark back to another game – the ancient Lunar Lander. After blast-off, you tap the sides of the screen to emit little jets of air, attempting to nudge your astronaut in the right direction and break their fall before a collision breaks them.
Smartly, you can have endless tries without penalty, but the game also tots up streaks without death. Repeat play is further rewarded by unlocking characters (also available via IAP), many of which dramatically alter the environment you’re immersed in.
Groove Coaster 2 Original Style
It flings you through dizzying, blazing-fast tracks, asking you to tap or hold the screen to the beat of thumping techno and catchy J-Pop.
The game looks superb – all retro-futuristic vector graphics and explosions of color that are like being stuck inside a mirror ball while 1980s video games whirl around your head.
Mostly you'll stick around for the exhilarating tap-happy rhythm action, which marries immediacy with plenty of challenge, clever choreography tripping up the complacent on higher difficulty levels.
It never becomes a slog though – tracks are shortish and ideal for quick play; and for free, you can unlock plenty of them, but loads more are available via in-app purchase.
So crazy it has an exclamation mark in its name, is essentially a reverse Flappy Bird. Your blocky vehicle bounces around like a hyperactive hybrid of a 4x4 and a flea, abruptly returning to terra firma when you hold the screen.
This sounds simple enough, yet the controls are oddly disorienting, not least when your chunky vehicle's tasked with avoiding waves of deadly bombs and rockets that litter the screen.. which is at pretty much every moment.
Games are therefore very short; and, frankly, we shouldn't encourage this kind of iPad game, given that there are so many of them. But Crazy Truck! is colorful – if frequently frustrating – fun, and neatly has you tackle the same 'course' until you beat a virtual opponent. (Well, we say 'neatly'; whether you'll think that on your 27th attempt…)
But you soon realize you're in color-matching territory, rings exploding when colors match on a horizontal, vertical or diagonal line.
The twist is that there are three sizes of ring, and sometimes pieces have multiple rings with different colors. You must therefore carefully manage where you place each piece, otherwise the board fills up in a manner that will have you desperately hoping for a tiny green ring before the game bats away your trifling wishes and mercilessly ends your game.
That won't happen for some time though – the games tend to go on for too long, unless you're paying no attention whatsoever.
However, if you can carve an hour out of your day, a session with Rings should prove a satisfying and relaxing diversion that gives your brain a bit of a workout.
Rather than requiring you to build a tower, is all about demolition, tapping to blast Tetris-like shapes from a colorful column. The tiny snag is a hexagon sits at the top, and the second it falls into the void, your game is over.
In theory, Six! is the kind of game that should be ridiculously easy. In reality, the hexagon is big and unwieldy and the tower narrow enough that you must take care removing blocks, lest the plummeting shape spin and fling itself to certain doom.
When that happens, the simple fun rather nicely concludes with a frantic 'last call', where you tap like a maniac to grab a bunch of extra points before the screen dims.
According to the game’s blurb, Masky’s all about some kind of grand costume ball, with you dancing to mystic sounds and inviting other masked dancers to join you. What this means in practice is shuffling left and right, adding other dancers to your merry band, and ensuring the balance meter never goes beyond red. If it does, everyone falls over – masks everywhere.
Beyond the lovely graphics and audio, there’s a smart – if simple – game here. Some masks from newcomers added to your line shake things up, flipping the screen or temporarily removing the balance meter.
Inevitably, everything also speeds up as you play, making keeping balance increasingly tough. We don’t doubt the unique visuals count for a lot regarding Masky’s pull, but the strange premise and compelling gameplay keep you dancing for the long haul.
Level With Me
Said plank’s position is shifted by tapping water at the foot of the screen, launching massive bubbles. These counter whatever’s lurking on top, unless you mess up and everything slides into the sea and explodes.
Tasks come thick and fast, often lasting mere seconds. You must quickly figure out how to balance 10 people when they’re being chased by zombies, construct a hamburger when its component parts are being lobbed from the heavens, and pop balloons by using a trundling hedgehog.
The themes admittedly repeat quite often, but everything’s so charming (and your games are so short) that this doesn’t really matter.
Ding Dong Delivery
It’s safe to say that subtlety wasn’t on the menu of whatever service represents. This is a brash endless runner of the tap head/rub belly variety. You control a delivery vehicle, smashing its way along a road, attempting to hurl takeaways at waiting hungry people who might think otherwise about ordering from you in future.
This is a two-button effort, one lobs food and the other switches lanes. Games mostly involve frantically mashing the throw food button, hoping for the best, while maniacally weaving between parked cars and avoiding idiots driving into the middle of the road without looking.
It’s part Paperboy, part Flappy Bird, and while the action eventually palls, it’s always good for a quick blast – especially when you start unlocking vehicles and get to deliver pizza using a massive tank.
The BAFTA-winning rethought pinball for mobile, breaking it down into bite-sized simple tables that were more like puzzles. Precision shots – and few of them – were the key to victory. thinks similarly, while simultaneously transforming the genre into an against-the-clock endless runner.
The idea is to always move forwards, shooting the ball up ramps that send it to the next miniature table. Along the way, you grab dots to replenish the relentlessly ticking down timer, find and use power-ups, and play the odd mini-game, in a game that recalls basic but compelling fare once found on the LED displays of real-life tables.
PinOut! is gorgeous – all neon-infused tables and silky smooth synth-pop soundtrack. And while the seemingly simplified physics might nag pinball aficionados, it makes for an accessible and playable game for everyone else.
There's not a lot of originality in King Rabbit, but it's one of those simple and endearing puzzle games that sucks you in and refuses to let go until you've worked your way through the entire thing.
The premise is hackneyed — bunnies have been kidnapped, and a sole hero must save them. And the gameplay is familiar too, where you leap about a grid-like landscape, manipulating objects, avoiding hazards, finding keys, unlocking doors, and reaching a goal.
But the execution is such that King Rabbit is immediately engaging, while new ideas keep coming as you work through the dozens of puzzles. Pleasingly, the game also increases the challenge so subtly that you barely notice — until you realise you've been figuring out a royal bunny's next moves into the wee small hours.
From the off, it's obvious Ollie Cats isn't taking itself seriously. The aim is to 'ollie' (jump) an endless number of cats heading in your rad skateboarder's direction. You can perform all manner of tricks (including grinding along fences when loads of cats suddenly appear), but the game in miserly fashion only bestows a single point per cat cleared, regardless of your amazing skills.
However, you can also be the cat. That's right - it's possible to play the game as a black moggie on a board, aiming to become the coolest feline around. There are fewer stunts in this mode, but it's so ridiculous that the cat version of the game fast became our favorite.
There's very much an old-school vibe about Sports Hero, and it's not just the pixelated graphics, with characters so jagged you might cut yourself on their kneecaps.
There's also the control method, which has you hammer virtual buttons to make the retro athletes sprint, swim or lift weights. You'll look faintly ridiculous bashing away at your iPad's display, but there's something satisfying about such a simple, exhausting control scheme.
Sports Hero trips over the odd hurdle in its quest for a medal with its grindy nature. It very clearly wants you to grab an all-disciplines IAP, and so slowly drips XP your way for unlocks. But even with only a few events available, this is an entertaining title for armchair Olympians who fancy working up a sweat.
In a marked departure from the impressive Phoenix HD and its procedurally generated bullet hell,Phoenix II shoves you through set-piece vertically scrolling shoot 'em up grinders. Every 24 hours, a new challenge appears, tasking you with surviving a number of waves comprising massive metal space invaders belching hundreds of deadly bullets your way.
A single hit to your craft's core (a small spot at its center) brings destruction, forcing you to memorize attack and bullet patterns and make use of shields and deflectors if you've any hope of survival. You do sometimes slam into a brick wall, convinced a later wave is impossible to beat.
To lessen the frustration, there's always the knowledge you'll get another crack at smashing new invaders the following day. Regardless, this is a compelling, dazzling and engaging shooter for iPad.
Sharing DNA with Super Hexagon and ALONE…, Barrier X is the kind of game that merrily smacks you in the face for having the audacity to blink.
Hurling you at insane speeds along minimal 3D tracks that some idiot's peppered with walls, all you have to do is head left and right to avoid crashing. But this isn't so simple when blazing along at about a million miles per hour.
Comically, Barrier X speeds up every 15 seconds; and if you survive long enough further challenges are unlocked. Suddenly, you're told to travel through (rather than avoid) certain barriers, and to shoot rivals, all while attempting to not become so much space dust.
Minimal visuals and a thumping soundtrack further add to Barrier X's brutal charms - it's an exhilarating, exciting title among the very best of its kind.
If you've experienced Colin Lane's deranged take on wrestling (the decidedly oddball Wrassling), you probably know what you're in for with Dunkers. In theory, this is side-on one-on-one basketball, but Dunkers is knowingly mad.
You only get two buttons, one of which dodders your player back towards their own basket, while the other lurches them into the air and in the opposite direction. All the while, their arms whirl like a hysterical clock.
You battle as best you can, grabbing the ball from your berserk opponent, fighting your way to the basket, and slam dunking victoriously. The entire thing is ridiculous, almost the antithesis of photo-realistic fare like NBA 2K; but we'd also argue that it's a lot more fun.
The Little Fox
An excellent example in how iteration can improve a game, The Little Fox was almost impossible upon release. But a reduction in speed and some restart points proved transformative, enabling you to immerse yourself in a sweet-natured, great-looking pathfinding arcade outing.
The titular fox is on a quest that takes the bounding carnivore through 13 varied lands. Pathways comprise hexagons littered with collectables and hazards, and at any moment you can only turn left or right or continue straight on.
At the original breakneck pace (still available as an in-game option), this all feels too much. But when slowed down, The Little Fox reveals itself to be a clever, imaginative, fun title, with surprises to be found on every planet the furry critter visits.
Rodeo Stampede - Sky Zoo Safari
It's hard to imagine a less efficient way of building and maintaining a zoo than what you see in Rodeo Stampede. Armed with a lasso, you foolishly venture into a stampede and leap from animal to animal, attempting to win their hearts by virtue of not being flung to the ground.
You then whisk beaten animals away to a zoo in a massive sky-based craft - the kind of place where you imagine the Avengers might hang out if they gave up crime-fighting and decided to start jailing animals rather than villains.
Despite overly familiar chunky visuals (Crossy Road has a lot to answer for), this fast-paced, breezy game is a lot of fun, with you dragging left and right to avoid blundering into rocks, and lifting your finger to soar into the air, aiming to catch another rampaging beast.
Super Stickman Golf 3
Much like previous entries in the series, Super Stickman Golf 3 finds a tiny golfer dumped in fantastical surroundings. So rather than thwacking a ball about carefully tended fairways and greens, there are castles full of teleporters and a moon base bereft of gravity. The Ryder Cup, this is not.
New to the series is a spin mechanic, for flipping impossible shots off of ceilings and nudging fluffed efforts holewards on the greens. You also get turn-by-turn battles against Game Centre chums and a frenetic multiplayer race mode.
The spendthrift release is limited, though, restricting how many two-player battles you have on the go, locking away downloadable courses beyond the 20 initially built-in, and peppering the game with ads. Even so, you get a lot for nothing, should you be after new side-on golfing larks but not want to pay for the privilege.
Apparently the national sport of Slamdovia, a country where blocky people look like they just stepped out of a Commodore 64, Wrassling is like wrestling combined with a dollop of sheer stupid.
You're dropped into the ring and must fling your opponents into the inky gloom before they do the same to you. Ridiculous controls (spin your arms with all your might!) and absurdly bouncy physics add to the game's oddball nature, which will put a smile on your face before it's promptly smashed into the canvas and then rudely hurled into the air.
With more than a hint of Fruit Ninja about it, Bushido Bear finds a sword-wielding teddy defending the forest against endless waves of evil demons. You get a brief warning about where your assailants will appear, and must quickly drag paths to move your bear about; it'll then get suitably slashy and stabby, hopefully not blundering into an enemy in the meantime.
It's a fast-paced affair, and you'll need swift reactions to survive. Over time, you unlock additional frenzied furry animals, each with their own particular skills. And, amusingly, when a bear is killed, its colleague can be thrown into the fray, ready for some angry ninja bear vengeance!
WGT: World Tour Golf
If you like the idea of golf, but not traipsing around greens in the drizzle, WGT: World Tour Golf is the closest you'll get to the real thing on your iPad. Courses have been meticulously rebuilt in virtual form, based on thousands of photographs, and WGT's control scheme is accessible yet also quite punishing.
There's no mucking about spinning balls in mid-air to alter your shot here - mess up and you'll know about it, with a score card massively over par. But this is a game that rewards mastery and perseverance, and you feel like a boss once you crack how to land near-perfect shots.
WGT is, mind, a touch ad-heavy at times, but this is countered by there being loads to do, including head-to-head online multiplayer and a range of tournaments to try your hand at.
In Clash Royale, two players battle online, sending out troops to obliterate their opponent's three towers, while simultaneously protecting their own. It comes across a bit like animated chess, if chess pieces were armed to the teeth and ranged from a giant robot with a huge scythe to an army of skittering skeletons.
The troops you have available come by way of cards you collect, from which you select a deck of eight. In matches, elixir gradually tops up, which can be 'spent' deploying said troops, forcing you to manage resources and spot when your opponent might be dry.
Clash Royale is very much a freemium game. You can spend a ton of real-world cash on virtual coins to buy and upgrade cards. However, doing so isn't really necessary, and we've heard of people getting to the very highest levels in the game without spending a penny. But even if you find yourself scrapping in the lower leagues, Clash Royale is loads of fun.
Uncharted: Fortune Hunter
Following in the footsteps of Tomb Raider and Hitman, Uncharted: Fortune Hunter has been squirted into your iPad in puzzle-game form. Hero of the hour Nathan Drake must nab loot by working out how to not-horribly die across dozens of grid-based puzzles. Fortune Hunter lacks the polish and atmosphere of Lara Croft GO and Hitman GO, but it's still worth grabbing.
The puzzles are smartly designed, and ideal for mobile play, taking only a few minutes each to solve. And if you own the latest PS4 Uncharted, some of the iPad achievements can benefit Drake on your console (even if said benefits might only be a natty new hat).
Disney Crossy Road
Tie-ins between indie game companies and major movie houses often end badly, but Disney Crossy Road bucks the trend. It starts off like the original Crossy Road — an endless take on Frogger. Only here, Mickey Mouse picks his way across motorways, train lines and rivers, trying to avoid death by drowning or being splattered across a windscreen.
But unlock new characters (you'll have several for free within a few games) and you open up further Disney worlds, each with unique visuals and challenges.
In Toy Story, Woody and Buzz dodge tumbling building blocks, whereas the inhabitants of Haunted Mansion are tasked with keeping the lights on and avoiding a decidedly violent suit of armour.
Elsewhere, Inside Out has you dart about collecting memories, which are sucked up for bonus points. And on the iPad, the gorgeous chunky visuals of these worlds really get a chance to shine.
Forget-Me-Not is a distillation of the very best classic arcade games. A little square mooches about procedurally generated mazes, munching flowers, and shooting anything that gets in its way. When the flowers are gone, you grab the key and make for the exit.
It's a simple concept (as are all the best arcade games), but what makes Forget-Me-Not memorable is how alive everything feels. Varied maze inhabitants regularly beam in, some doddering about while others wage all-out war, with the demented vigour of the most psychotic videogame characters.
The net result is a frenetic neon mash-up of Pac-Man, Rogue, Wizard of Wor and a half-dozen other 1980s classics, but one that manages to match or surpass all of them. That it's entirely free (of price tag and IAP) makes it iPad gaming's biggest bargain.
This smashy endless arcade sports title has more than a hint of air hockey about it, but PKTBALL is also infused with the breakneck madness associated with Laser Dog's brutal iOS games.
It takes place on a tiny cartoon tennis court, with you swiping across the ball to send it back to your opponent. But this game is *really* fast, meaning that although you'll clock how to play PKTBALL almost immediately, mastering it takes time.
In solo mode, the computer AI offers plenty of challenge, but it's in multiplayer matches that PKTBALL serves an ace. Two to four people duke it out, swiping like lunatics (and hopefully not hurling the iPad away in a huff, like a modern-day McEnroe, when things go bad).
As ever, there are new characters to unlock, each of which boasts its own court and background music. Our current favourite: a little Game Boy, whose court has a certain famous blocky puzzle game playing in the background.
At first glance, Looty Dungeon comes across like a Crossy Road wannabe. But you soon realise it's actually a very smartly designed endless dungeon crawler that just happens to pilfer Crossy Road's control method, chunky visual style, and sense of urgency.
You begin as a tiny stabby knight, scooting through algorithmically generated isometric rooms. You must avoid spikes and chopping axes, outrun a collapsing floor, and dispatch monsters. The action is fast-paced, lots of fun, and challenges your dexterity and ability to think on the move.
As is seemingly law in today's mobile gaming landscape, Looty Dungeon also nags at the collector in you, offering characters to unlock. But these aren't just decorative in nature — they have unique weapons, which alter how you play. For example, an archer has better range than the knight, but no defensive shield when up against an angry witch or ravenous zombie.
It's not every day you get to become a robot superhero, protecting the public in the retro-futuristic Helsinki. But future Finns should be thrilled Byteman is about, because their capital city appears to be chock full of burning buildings, robbers, and villains escaping in helicopters.
Your task is to fly about, using your radar to swoop in and be all heroic, without slamming into a building while doing so. The controls are straightforward (move with your left thumb and 'speed boost' with your right), and there's a handy radar to figure out which cases to prioritise.
It all comes across a bit like a robot superhero Crazy Taxi, albeit one where the valiant android must occasionally head above the clouds to recharge its solar panels. (We bet Captain Marvel never had that problem.)
Traffic Rush 2
In the tiny isometric world of Traffic Rush 2, traffic lights are seemingly anathema to the general public. Instead, dangerous crossings are manned by the kind of people who need the steely nerve of an air-traffic controller. Cars rush in, and each can be temporarily stopped with a tap or given a boost with a swipe. Your job is to keep the traffic flowing and avoid a hideous pile-up.
Of course, a hideous pile-up is inevitable, not least when you're dealing with an increasing number of cars coming from all directions, driven by people who we're pretty sure have never taken a driving test in their lives.
Fortunately, wreckage is instantly cleared with the tap of a button, enabling you to have another go. Additionally, as is seemingly law these days, Traffic Rush 2 has you collect coins, receive 'rewards', and grab prizes from a machine. These enhance the game, adding new vehicles to the mix, and making the crashes a bit more colourful.
Endless 3D avoid 'em ups have been a mainstay on the App Store ever since Cube Runner arrived way back in 2008. Geometry Race, like the older title, is keen on you learning a fixed course over repeat attempts, rather than battling your way through semi-randomised landscapes. Unlike Cube Runner, though, Geometry Race is a visual treat.
For reasons unknown, your spaceship finds itself zooming through worlds packed full of geometric obstacles, such as huge toppling letters and marching cubes. Beyond not colliding with anything, you must grab fuel to recharge your ship and coins that can be used to unlock better spaceships and additional worlds.
The lack of variety may eventually dent the game's own long-term survival on your device, but for a while Geometry Race is bright and breezy fun.
Hectic Space 2
Although Hectic Space 2 looks like it's been wrenched kicking and screaming from a 1980's 8-bit console, this is a thoroughly modern bullet-hell shooter. You slide your finger vertically on the left side of the screen to move your ship and the sole aim is survival, which involves avoiding projectiles while your ship's automatic weapon blasts anything in your path.
The gaudy graphics oddly prove beneficial, making it easy to spot enemy fire (red — so much red), and are occasionally dazzling when facing off against inventively designed bosses.
You know you're not sitting in front of an old Atari when a giant skull bounces around the screen, or a bunch of Space Invaders changes formation, becoming a massive gun that fires countless bullets your way.
The original iSlash came across a bit like a thinking man's Fruit Ninja combined with arcade classic Qix. Each challenge involved slicing off bits of a wooden box, carefully avoiding the shuriken bouncing about within.
iSlash Heroes is more of the same in freemium form, albeit with revamped graphics, a load of new levels, bosses that muck about with the board as you play, and some infrequent irritating social gubbins that occasionally blocks your way for a bit.
Despite some niggles, it remains a smart, engaging arcade effort, which works especially well on the iPad, given that the large screen enables you to be a bit more precise when slicing off those final slivers of wood required to meet your target.
Rocket Ski Racing
There's a bold bluntness about Rocket Ski Racing that actually makes it rather endearing. Unlike most iOS freebie racers, it doesn't muck about with freemium coins, timers, IAP, nor even, frankly, a difficulty curve.
Instead, you're dumped into a tough competition across 24 icy courses, pitting your wits against ten computer controlled opponents.
The main aim in every battle is to keep to the racing line and not crash. That's easier said than done, because Rocket Ski Racing is fast, and the tracks rapidly ramp up in difficulty, introducing loops, inconvenient walls of ice, and moving gates you must pass through.
On your first go, you'll probably languish at the foot of the league table, but perseverance reaps rewards.
This block-merging puzzle game is based on dominoes, where you place pieces on the board, and when three or more identical tiles sit next to each other they're sucked into a single piece with a larger number.
Should three or more sixes merge, they create an M. Merge three of those and they obliterate a three-by-three section of the board, giving you temporary breathing space.
The claustrophobic nature of Merged! means you must think carefully when placing every piece, and try to create cascades that will quickly increment tile values. It's a bit too random at times, and has some distasteful freemium trappings, but otherwise this is a fine puzzler for your iPad.
At some point, developers will run out of new ways to present endless runners, but that moment hasn't yet arrived. Surfingers tries something a bit different, marrying the genre with a kind of stripped-back breakneck match puzzler. You must line up the blocky wave you're currently on to match whatever's coming next, lest your surfer abruptly wipe-out.
At first, this is leisurely and simple, with you swiping up and down, avoiding maniacs in low-flying hot-air balloons, and collecting stars. But before long, you're two-finger swiping to get past massive rocks and buried spaceships, surfing across snowy mountains and sand dunes, and thinking a dip in the shallows might have been a smarter move. And it turns out even being an ice-cool crocodile riding a rubber duck won't save you if those shapes don't line up.
Magic Touch: Wizard for Hire
Touchscreens have opened up many new ways to play games, but scribbling with a finger is perhaps the most natural. And that's essentially all you do in Magic Touch, which sounds pretty reductive - right up until you start playing.
The premise is that you're a wizard, fending off invading nasties who all oddly use balloons to parachute towards their prize. Match the symbol on any balloon and it pops, potentially causing a hapless intruder to meet the ground rather more rapidly than intended. Initially, this is all very simple, but when dozens of balloons fill your field of vision, you'll be scrawling like crazy, desperately fending off the invasion to keep the wizard gainfully employed.
Into the Dim
The first thing that strikes you about Into the Dim is that it transforms your iPad into a giant Game Boy - at least from a visual standpoint. Its chunky yellowed graphics hark back to handheld gaming's past; but to some extent, this is also true of Into the Dim's mechanics.
It's a turn-based RPG, featuring a boy and his dog exploring dungeons, outwitting enemies, and uncovering a mystery. But whereas most modern mobile fare offers procedurally generated levels, Into the Dim's dungeons have all been carefully individually designed. It rewards planning, strategic thinking, and patience; and although the game's finite nature means it can be beaten, doing so will make you feel like a boss, rather than a player being put through the 'random mill' time and time again.
Taking the most famous video game character of all and shoving him into an endless freemium title could have ended disastrously. Fortunately, Pac-Man 256 is by the people behind Crossy Road - and it's just as compelling.
In Pac-Man 256, our rotund hero finds himself beyond the infamous level 256 glitch, which has become an all-consuming swarm of broken code that must be outrun. Pac-Man must therefore speed through the endless maze, munching dots, avoiding ghosts, and making use of power-ups dotted about the place.
And there aren't just power pellets this time round - Pac-Man can fry ghosts with lasers, or implement stealth technology to move through his spectral foes as if they weren't even there.
Routing cabling in the real world is a source of fury, and so it might not be the smartest procedure to make into a game played on a device with a glass screen. But Aux B turns out to be a lot of fun, routing INs and OUTs, across increasingly large and complex patch boards, striving to make music blare forth.
There are 80 levels, although towards the end, you wonder whether someone should have a quiet word with the gig organiser and suggest a set-up that's a wee bit simpler. (And once you're done with the 80, the game continues randomising levels forever, placing you in a weirdly entertaining mixing desk 'purgatory'.)
Cally's Caves 3
Very occasionally, free games appear that are so generous you wonder what the catch is. Cally's Caves 3 is rather Metroid, except the hero of the hour is a little girl who has pigtails, stupid parents who keep getting kidnapped, and a surprisingly large arsenal of deadly weapons. She leaps about, blasting enemies, and conquering bosses. Weapons are levelled up simply by shooting things with them, and the eight zones take some serious beating — although not as much as the legions of grunts you're shooting at.
Coolson's Artisanal Chocolate Alphabet
It's always the way — you're looking for work, armed with your useless degree, and all that's available is a job in a sweltering chocolate factory, under the watchful eye of an angry penguin overseer. At least that's the story in Coolson's Artisanal Chocolate Alphabet, which hangs an absurdly addictive word game on this premise. Sort chocolate letters from a conveyor belt into boxes with slots, creating words while doing so; make your boss slightly less angry by spelling out seafood whenever possible; and don't let too much chocolate fall into the trash!
Crazy Taxi City Rush
The notion of a freemium on-rails Crazy Taxi must seem like sacrilege to Dreamcast fans. And yet although a serviceable port of the original arcade game exists, it feels a bit awkward on a touchscreen device. Surprisingly, Crazy Taxi City Rush manages to capture some of the original's spirit and madness.
You belt along city streets, picking up fares and dropping them off within tight time limits, all while cheesy rock music is hammered into your ears. There's more than a whiff of freemium, but if you're prepared to grind a bit and spend wisely on upgrades, you won't have to dig into your real-world wallet.
In a world of exploitative freemium gaming, Crossy Road shows an entire industry how things could be done. The basic gameplay is endless Frogger — avoid traffic, navigate rivers by way of floating logs, and try to not get splattered across the front of a speeding train. But the genius is in triggering people's collector mentality. During the game, you pick up coins, which can be pumped into a one-armed bandit that dispenses new characters. These often dramatically change how the game looks and plays. You'll want to collect them all. You can of course buy them outright, but Crossy Road is generous in flinging coins your way. Nice.
Does Not Commute
Time travel weirdness meets the morning rush hour in Does Not Commute. You get a short story about a character, and guide their car to the right road. Easy! Only the next character's car must be dealt with while avoiding the previous one. And the next. Before long, you're a dozen cars in and weaving about like a lunatic, desperately trying to avoid a pile-up. For free, you get the entire game, but with the snag that you must always start from scratch, rather than being able to use checkpoints that appear after each zone. (You can unlock these for a one-off payment of $2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49.)
With its numbered sliding squares and soaring scores, there's more than a hint of Threes! about Imago. In truth, Threes! remains the better game, on the basis that it's more focussed, but Imago has plenty going for it. The idea is to merge pieces of the same size and colour, which when they get too big explode into smaller pieces that can be reused.
The clever bit is each of these smaller pieces retains the score of the larger block. This means that with smart thinking, you can amass colossal scores that head into the billions. The game also includes daily challenges with different success criteria, to keep you on your toes.
Pool for massive show-offs, with the table's pockets removed, Magnetic Billiards is all about smacking balls about in a strategic manner. Those that are the same colour stick together; the aim is to connect them all, preferably into a bonus shape, whereupon they vanish. Balls of different colours must not collide, but can 'buzz' each other for bonus points; further points come from cushion bounces. For free, you get the 'classic' level set, with 20 tables. If you want more, a $1.99/£1.49/AU$2.99 'skeleton key' IAP unlocks everything else in the game.
With iPads lacking tactile controls, they should be rubbish for platform games. But savvy developers have stripped back the genre, creating hybrid one-thumb auto-runner/platformers. These are entirely reliant on careful timing, the key element of more traditional fare.
Mr. Crab further complicates matters by wrapping its levels around a pole. The titular crustacean ambles back and forth, scooping up baby crabs, and avoiding the many enemies lurking about the place. The end result is familiar and yet fresh. You get a selection of diverse levels for free, and additional packs are available via IAP.
Having played Planet Quest, we imagine whoever was on naming duties didn't speak to the programmer. If they had, the game would be called Awesome Madcap Beam-Up One-Thumb Rhythm Action Insanity — or possibly something a bit shorter. Anyway, you're in a spaceship, prodding the screen to repeat beats you've just heard. Doing so beams up dancers on the planet's surface; get your timing a bit wrong and you merely beam-up their outfits; miss by a lot and you lose a life. To say this one's offbeat would be a terrible pun, but entirely accurate; it'd also be true to say this is the most fun rhythm action game on iPad — and it doesn't cost a penny.
A blocky take on classic vertically scrolling shoot 'em ups, Shooty Skies has flying-ace animals in biplanes battling endless squadrons of internet memes, flying robots, and deranged bosses. The controls are simple, but infuse the entire game with a sense of risk-versus-reward: drag to shoot, but stay still (and therefore instantly become extremely vulnerable) to charge a mega weapon. Fortunately, you can also grab gift boxes to gain a temporary wingman, which is essential when battling giant bosses like an ink-spewing headphone-wearing octopus, or an American Eagle that spits out nuclear missiles and 'patriotism' like they're going out of fashion.
We imagine the creators of Smash Hit really hate glass. Look at it, sitting there with its stupid, smug transparency, letting people see what's on the other side of it. Bah! Smash it all! Preferably with ball-bearings while flying along corridors! And that's Smash Hit — fly along, flinging ball-bearings, don't hit any glass face-on, and survive for as long as possible.
There are 50 rooms in all, but cheapskates start from scratch each time; pay $1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99 for the premium unlock and you get checkpoints, stats, iCloud sync, and alternative game modes.
One of the most innovative multiplayer titles we've ever played, Spaceteam has you and a bunch of friends in a room, each staring at a rickety and oddball spaceship control panel on your device's display. Instructions appear, which need a fast response if your ship is to avoid being swallowed up by an exploding star. But what you see might not relate to your screen and controls. Spaceteam therefore rapidly descends into a cacophony of barked demands and frantic searches across control panels (which helpfully start falling to bits), in a last-ditch attempt to 'set the Copernicus Crane to 6' or 'activate the Twinmill' and avoid fiery death.
A somewhat chessish two-player effort, Outwitters finds teams of angry sea creatures battling to the death, first helpfully arming them with surprisingly dangerous weapons. (It turns out crabs eschew claws when they've a mortar cannon to hand.)
Despite the cartoonish visuals, this is a deep and immersive strategy experience. Games are further complicated by a 'fog of war', which means units cannot see any further than they can move. This makes Outwitters tough to master but more rewarding on doing so and chalking up your first victories.
The best puzzle game on mobile, Threes! has you slide cards about a grid, merging pairs to create ever higher numbers. The catch is all cards slide as one, unless they cannot move; additionally, each turn leads to a new card in a random empty slot on the edge you swiped away from. It's all about careful management of a tiny space.
On launch, Threes! was mercilessly cloned, with dozens of alternatives flooding iTunes, but 2048 and its ilk lack the charm and fine details that made Threes! so great in the first place. And now there's Threes! Free, where you watch ads to top up a 'free goes' bin, there's no excuse for going with inferior pretenders.
"Expect retro graphics and megatons of enemies," says the developer about this twin-stick shooter, adding: "Don't expect a story". With its vector graphics and Robotronish air, PewPew brings to mind Geometry Wars and Infinity Field, but without a price tag.
Despite being free, PewPew nonetheless boasts five modes of shooty goodness. These range from the aptly named 'Pandemonium', where enemies spin around the screen on dying, to the more thoughtful (but still manic) 'Chromatic Conflict', where you can only shoot foes whose colour matches your ship.
It turns out if you're a sheep that thinks the grass is greener, you should check out the other side of the fence first. In Flockwork, wooly heroes make a break for freedom, but end up immersed in a kind of ruminant hell. Your task: help the sheep escape.
The tiny snag is that all the sheep move as one, meaning you must use a combination of quick thinking, finger gymnastics and fast reactions to ensure they don't drown, get eaten by clockwork wolves, or end up getting stuck behind walls like wooly idiots.
Asphalt 8: Airborne
At some point, a total buffoon decreed that racing games should be dull and grey, on grey tracks, with grey controls. Gameloft's Asphalt series dispenses with such foolish notions, along with quite a bit of reality.
Here, in Asphalt 8, you zoom along at ludicrous speeds, drifting for miles through exciting city courses, occasionally being hurled into the air to perform stunts that absolutely aren't acceptable according to the car manufacturer's warranty. It's admittedly a bit grindy, but if you tire of zooming about the tracks in this game, there's no hope for you.
QatQi starts off a bit like Scrabble in the dark, until you figure out that you're really immersed in a kind of Roguelike mash-up. So although the aim is to make crosswords from a selection of letters, you're also tasked with exploring dungeons to find score-boosting stars and special tiles.
This results in QatQi being a bit like a puzzler on top of a puzzler. You must balance the best works with the ability to move on, trying hard to not get backed into a corner. Undos soften the blow if you mess up, although you'll need IAP to buy more.
Tiny people in a tiny skyscraper need you to feed then tiny sushi and do other tiny tasks. Things can, inevitably, be sped up by not-so-tiny IAP cash infusions, but if you're a patient sort, and keen on micromanagement games, Tiny Tower is a charming, enjoyable title that will eat many tiny moments out of your day.
Tilt to Live HD
The basic aim of Tilt to Live is simple: avoid the red dots, either by cunning dodging and weaving or by triggering explosive devices in the arena. At the time, this wasn't especially innovative, and Tilt to Live has itself since spawned two (paid) sequels.
Even so, the game manages to appeal, largely due to its polish and sense of humour — the latter of which is especially handy when you miss your high score by moments during a particularly gruelling game and fancy flinging your device out of the window. You get the basic mode for free, and others can be unlocked by in-app purchase.
Choice of the Dragon
It's not the most interesting-looking game in the world, but luckily the magic of Choice of the Dragon is in its witty prose. Playing as a multiple-choice text adventure, akin to an extremely stripped-back RPG, this game is an amusing romp. It also, through a combination of stats and branching pathways with more than two options, boasts more depth than many more recent stabs at text-based iOS adventuring.
It's hard not to love Frotz when you see its App Store description 'warn' that it involves "reading, thinking, and typing" and that if you "just want to blow stuff up", it's not the app for you. And that's very true, given that this is an interactive fiction player.
You load titles written for the Z-Machine format (such as the famous Zork trilogy), and explore virtual worlds by typing in commands such as 'go north' and 'put the long dangly bit into the Tea Substitute'. As you might expect, Frotz works particularly well on an iPad (rather than the smaller screen of an iPhone), and it adds a menu for common commands to speed you along a bit.
In Triple Town, you have to think many moves ahead to succeed. It's a match game where trios of things combine to make other things, thereby giving you more space on the board to evolve your town. For example, three bushes become a tree, and three trees become a hut.
All the while, roaming bears and ninjas complicate matters, blocking squares on the board. At times surreal, Triple Town is also brain-bending and thoroughly addictive. Free moves slowly replenish, but you can also unlock unlimited moves via IAP.
The clue's in the title — there's a quest, and it involves quite a lot of punching. There's hidden depth, though — the game might look like a screen-masher, but Punch Quest is all about mastering combos, perfecting your timing, and making good use of special abilities.
The game looks superb, too, marrying old-school pixel art with lashings of character. The in-game currency's also very generous, so if you like the game reward the dev by grabbing some IAP.
Pinball games tend to be divided into two camps. One aims for a kind of realism, aping real-world tables. The other takes a more arcade-oriented approach. Zen Pinball is somewhere in-between, marrying realistic physics with tables that come to life with animated 3D figures.
Loads of tables are available via IAP, including some excellent Star Wars and Marvel efforts. But for free you get access to the bright and breezy Sorcerer's Lair, which, aside from some dodgy voice acting, is a hugely compelling and fast-paced table with plenty of missions and challenges to discover.
Who knew you could have such fun with a five-by-five grid of letters? In Letterpress, you play friends via Game Center, making words to colour lettered squares. Surround any and they're out of reach from your friend's tally. Cue: word-tug-o'-war, last-minute reversals of fortune, and arguments about whether 'qat' is a real word or not. (It is.)
Frisbee Forever 2
With almost limitless possibilities in videogames, it's amazing how many are drab grey and brown affairs. Frisbee Forever 2 (like its similarly impressive forerunner) is therefore a breath of fresh air with its almost eye-searing vibrance.
There's a kind of Nintendo vibe - a sense of fun that continues through to the gameplay, which is all about steering a frisbee left and right, collecting stars strewn along winding paths. And these are a world away from the parks you'd usually fling plastic discs about in - here, you're hurled along roller-coaster journeys through ancient ruins and gorgeous snowy hillsides.
Shadow Era: Dark Prophecies
Proving that great ideas never die, Shadow Era brings trading cards to life on the iPad. What you lose in not being able to smell the ink and manually shuffle the deck, you gain in not being able to lose the cards or have them eaten by the dog. It's all very swords-and-fantasy oriented, and just like in real life you can also buy extra cards if you feel the need.
Score! World Goals
Score! takes the basic premise of a million path-drawing games and wraps it around classic footie goals. The combination works really well, with you attempting to recreate the ball's path in the best goals the world's ever seen. Failure results in a baying crowd and, frequently, improbable goalkeeping heroics.
The game's since had a sequel, but we prefer the original, which is less aggressive in its freemium model.
Super Monsters Ate My Condo
The original Monsters Ate My Condo was like Jenga and a match-three game shoved into a blender with a massive dollop of crazy. Super Monsters Ate My Condo is a semi-sequel which takes a time-attack approach, shoe-horning the bizarre tower-building/floor-matching/monster-feeding into a tiny amount of time, breaking your brain in the process.
Essentially, you aim to manage like-colored apartments in a single-column tower, flinging unwanted floors into the maws of flanking beasts. Lob gems their way and they'll power-up in a suitably odd manner. Give them the wrong colour, and they'll have a massive tantrum, potentially destroying all your hard work.
Cubed Rally Redline
Argh! That's pretty much what you'll be yelling on a regular basis on playing this endless racer. Cubed Rally Redline shouldn't be difficult. You can go left or right on five clearly defined lanes, and there's a 'time brake' for going all slow-motion, Matrix-style, to weave through tricky gaps; but you'll still be smashing into cows, dinosaurs and bridges before you know it.
You'll persevere if you're particularly bloody minded, or just to see what other visual treats the developer's created for hardcore players.
In Smash Cops, you got to be the good guy, bringing down perps, mostly by ramming them into oblivion. Now in Smash Bandits it's your chance to be a dangerous crim, hopping between vehicles and leaving a trail of destruction in your wake. Smartly, this can all be done with a single finger, which is all you need to steer, drive and smash.
The game also amusingly includes the A-Team van and a gadget known only as the Jibba Jabba. We love it when a plan comes together!
If you liked this, then make sure you check out our best free iPad apps roundup!