80 best free iPad games 2016
So you've got an iPad and 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.
Our updated pick of the best free iPad games are listed right here.
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, 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.
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, not least when considering the iOS port of the original has vanished. But 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/£2.29.)
For a game that started as a joke, Flappy Golf has a lot going for it. A combination of Flappy Bird and Super Stickman Golf 2, it merges the controls of the former (although you can flap right and left) with the courses of the latter, challenging you to reach the hole using the fewest flaps. It's ridiculous, enjoyable, and a great means of experiencing the courses in a new way. There's also madcap online multiplayer, which has you speed-run to each hole.
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. With smart thinking, you can amass colossal scores, even if Imago is a touch too reliant on luck.
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 '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. You get 14 levels for free, and further packs are available via IAP.
When it was first released, Neon Drive had a kind of intoxicating vibe, but a difficulty level that made you want to punch a wall. An infusion of the 1980s into your eyes and ears, the game features a car driving along a neon track, avoiding obstacles, all to a synth-pop soundtrack. Even getting to the end of the first course was murder. Someone must have told the dev, because Neon Drive quietly got checkpoints, along with new tracks to try. It's still not exactly easy, but you now have a fighting chance.
When the Crossy Road devs got their hands on gaming's most famous character, Pac-Man 256 was the result. It's endless Pac-Man, with the glitch from the infamous 256th level on an endless mission to consume. You must keep ahead of its flickering maw, simultaneously eating dots and avoiding ghosts roaming about the place. This is a great reimagining of a classic, and rewards repeat play with collectable power-ups — if the ghosts in Pac-Man 256 get a bit smug, you can take their face off with a laser or tiny tornado.
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.
The poor polar bear in Roller Polar is atop a massive snowball rolling down the mountain, and he can't stop. Actually, that's not entirely true: he can stop when something painfully wallops him off of said snowball. Your aim is to stave off the inevitable for as long as possible, by helping the bear leap into the air to avoid rocks, trees, moose, and anything else the giant ball of snow scoops up along the way.
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.
Silly Sausage in Meatland
The sausage dog in Silly Sausage in Meatland appears to have fallen into the same radioactive sludge as a bunch of Marvel superheroes. He can stretch, seemingly forever, and stick to walks. This stands him in good stead for navigating horizontally scrolling landscapes full of spiky doom. Come a cropper and you go back to the start, unless you unlock restart points by using gems collected along the way. The game will also let you watch an ad, if you're running low on bling, which seems fair enough. (We've seen people grumbling you're later 'forced' to watch ads, because there aren't enough gems. That misses the point: Silly Sausage is about risk versus reward — not unlocking every restart point — and occasionally a dog sniffing its own behind.)
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/£1.49 for the premium unlock and you get checkpoints, stats, iCloud sync, and alternative game modes.
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed
The iPad has plenty of fast, playable racing games, but it took an awfully long time for a decent kart racer to appear on the platform. That was Sega's Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing, and follow-up Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is even better. You race across land, sea and air, tracks dynamically shifting after each lap. It looks great, handles almost perfectly, and gives you loads to do. IAP does stink up the place a bit, notably if you want to quickly buy characters or burn through the game, but otherwise this is the best free racer this side of Asphalt 8.
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.
Splish Splash Pong
Another one-thumb high-score chaser, Splish Splash Pong is worth a look because it's more devious than it initially appears. You bounce between two gates, collecting square coins. This would be easy if the water between them wasn't infested with killer whales. All you can do to avoid pointy teeth of doom is prod the screen to change direction. Naturally, the game's pace means you'll just as often instead tap the screen, and emit a yelp as you watch your little duck head in precisely the wrong direction and become a tasty snack — just like dozens before it.
Super Stickman Golf 2
Golf is dull — it's pretty much people hitting a ball with a stick. But imagine if golf was played in massive castles. Or on the moon. Or inside a giant ice palace. And everyone wore strange hats that gave them magical powers. Well, wonder no more, because that's Super Stickman Golf 2 in a nutshell, and it's a blast whether you're playing solo, against a friend in asynchronous two-player battles, or thwacking at breakneck pace in the online race mode.
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.
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 by way of finger gymnastics and fast reactions.
Asphalt 8: Airborne (universal)
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 warrantee.
Air Hockey Gold
Air hockey games work much better on the iPad than the iPhone, simply due to the iPad's larger screen. Air Hockey Gold isn't the only free game of this type, but it was the one that felt best during testing, and the two-player mode works nicely.
Jetpack Joyride (universal)
Endless game Jetpack Joyride is a witty, polished take on the iCopter format, with one-thumb controls dictating the hero's attempts to avoid death that comes increasingly rapidly from the side of the screen. The real gems here are the power-ups, including the amusing Profit Bird (depicted), which isn't at all a swipe at Angry Birds and Tiny Wings.
Plants vs. Zombies 2 (universal)
This is more like Plants vs. Zombies 2 vs. freemium grinding. But if you can look past the forced repetition of stages and irksome IAP, there's a lot to like in EA's horticulture/zombie defence sequel, including loads of new stages, a bunch of new plants, plenty of unique features, and a smattering of time travel.
Myriad physics puzzlers exist for iOS, but most are twitch-oriented games where you fling objects around, and repeat with slight variation until you succeed. TinkerBox is different, because it demands you carefully consider the task at hand and then construct machines and tools using engineering concepts. It's great for educating kids and also perfect for anyone who used to love the likes of Meccano.
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.
Harbor Master HD
This game might look like Flight Control in the drink, but the gameplay mechanics are subtly different. As with Firemint's effort, Harbor Master is a line-drawing game, this time with you drawing paths so boats can dock. However, once they've unloaded, they must leave the screen or sometimes visit another dock, ensuring things rapidly become complex and frantic.
Tiny Tower (universal)
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.
Crimson: Steam Pirates
This turn-based strategy game comes complete with an engaging story and a healthy dollop of yo-ho-ho. You command pirate ships, setting their courses and then watching the action unfold. Crimson: Steam Pirates gives you eight free voyages and further adventures can be bought via IAP.
Frisbee Forever (universal)
With almost limitless possibilities in videogames, it's amazing how many are drab grey and brown affairs. Frisbee Forever is therefore a breath of fresh air with its almost eye-searing vibrance. The sense of fun continues through to the gameplay, which is all about steering a frisbee to collect stars strewn along winding paths. Initially, you explore a fairground, but soon you're soaring above the wild west and sandy bays.
Pocket Legends (universal)
Many free iPhone OS MMOs are dreary text-based affairs, so it's nice to see Spacetime Studios creating something a bit more ambitious with Pocket Legends, providing us with an iOS-specific 3D world populated by the usual motley collection of fantasy characters. As always with MMOs, the game demands you invest plenty of time to get anything out of it.
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. The game stands apart from similar releases due to its polish and sense of humour. You get the basic mode for free, and others can be unlocked by in-app purchase.
Doctor Who: Legacy (universal)
It's a case of timey-wimey-puzzley-wuzzley as Doctor Who: Legacy aims to show you that your iPad is bigger on the inside, able to house intergalactic warfare. The game itself is a gem-swapper not a million miles away from Puzzle Quest, but all the Doctor Who trappings will make it a must for fans of the show - or Daleks fine-tuning their tactics regarding how to finally beat their nemesis, mostly via the use of strategically placed coloured orbs.
10 Pin Shuffle (Bowling) Lite (universal)
We're big fans of 10 Pin Shuffle, a universal app that combines ten-pin bowling and shuffleboard. Of that title's three game modes, the best one is included here in 10 Pin Shuffle Lite, for free. Called 10 Pin Poker, it adds a card game to the mix. Get a spare or strike and you're given one or two cards, respectively. At the end of the tenth frame, whoever has the best hand wins.
Fans of the ancient Pitfall series on the Atari might feel a bit short-changed, given that this comeback in the shape of a Temple Run clone diverges wildly from the platforming action of the originals. However, it's one of the best-looking endless runners on iOS, and if you persevere there are exciting mine-cart and motorbike sections to master.
To-Fu 2 (universal)
There's a touch of Angry Birds about To-Fu 2, at least if the birds were covered in something yucky that glued them to any walls they collided with. Said stickiness is the name of the game here, getting the squidgy hero to level's end rather than impaling him on the literally strewn spikes.
Choice of the Dragon (universal)
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 that perhaps lacks replay value, but you'll enjoy it while it lasts.
Grim Joggers Freestyle (universal)
When we think of extreme sports, jogging isn't the first that comes to mind, although it might be now we've experienced Grim Joggers Freestyle. The game's essentially Canabalt, but instead of one guy leaping across grey rooftops, you get a string of joggers trying desperately to survive in a surreal alien world.
Pilot Winds (universal)
With Tiny Wings having spent a large amount of time troubling the App Store charts, we're surprised it took so long to make it to the iPad. All along, Pilot Winds was the next best thing, and it's free. Instead of a fat bird sliding down hills, you're a daredevil penguin skier, and while the game's inspiration is clear, it has plenty of tricks of its own.
Drop7 Free (universal)
Drop7 is one of the finest puzzle games on iOS. You drop numbered discs into a grid, and if the number matches the number of discs in its column or row, it vanishes. Grey discs are destroyed by twice removing discs next to them. Three modes are on offer, each demanding a different strategy. And now the game's owned by Zynga, it's free, with only the occasional unobtrusive advert.
Although it works on an iPhone, Frotz isn't great on the smaller screen. But on the iPad, with its larger keyboard, the interactive fiction player is a revelation. It uses the Z-Machine format, and you can download a selection of freely available text adventures (including the original Zork) using the app, or upload your own files to the app via FTP.
Trainyard Express (universal)
Trainyard Express is a puzzle game which tasks you with getting trains to stations by laying track. It starts simple, but the logic puzzles soon test you, with colour theory and other complications. In all, you get 60 puzzles, and there's no overlap with the app's commercial sibling Trainyard.
As the saying goes, there are few American sports that can't be improved by the impending threat of a banana, and that's X-Baseball. Hit balls! Hit bananas thrown by fans! Also, hit annoying birds flying overhead! Just don't 'not hit', otherwise your game will soon be over. It's just like the real thing!
Paper Toss: World Tour HD
The original Paper Toss was pretty dry and throwaway, but in dumping the wastebasket in absurd surroundings (within a volcanic pool, in the desert, by the Taj Mahal), it gets a second wind as Paper Toss: World Tour HD and is a far more satisfying flick-based arcade game.
NinJump - HD
NinJump is a quickfire one-thumb game which has your ninja rapidly climbing, leaping between two endless towers. As he leaps, he knocks obstacles from the air, dispatching killer squirrels, deadly birds and throwing stars lobbed by enemy ninjas. Simple, addictive fun.
BIT.TRIP Beat Blitz (universal)
The love-child of Pong and a drug-fuelled hallucination, BIT.TRIP Beat Blitz has you deflecting hundreds of balls, in time to crunchy industrial-style dance beats. This is dazzling and pure but demanding arcade gaming, with long, tough levels. Miss too many beats and you're plunged into Nether, a soulless black-and-white realm where you must chain multiple beats to escape from.
Triple Town (universal)
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. 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.
Pinball HD Collection
If you're a fan of spanging a metal ball about, Gameprom's iPad pinball tables are as good as they come. Pinball HD Collection is the freemium incarnation of the company's output, and you get the simple but playable Wild West entirely for free. Yee-haw!
Temple Run (universal)
There are many endless running games for the iPad, but in Temple Run you're being chased by deadly evil demon monkeys! It's your own fault really, what with nicking that priceless trinket from a temple. The tilty swipey gameplay's perhaps a tad tiring after a while of holding up an iPad, but Temple Run is great in short bursts on the larger screen.
Punch Quest (universal)
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 in-game currency's also very generous, so if you like the game reward the dev by grabbing some IAP.
Bejeweled Blitz (universal)
Bejeweled Blitz is the online incarnation of PopCap's hugely popular gem-swap game, and it looks fab on the iPad's screen. As a freemium title, there's a whiff of IAP (either grind or buy coins to unlock power-ups, or you've no chance of topping the high-score tables), but you'll still be addicted all the same.
Magnetic Shaving Derby (universal)
"Use the magnet to attract the razor to shave the face!" explains Magnetic Shaving Derby, presumably having first hidden any safety instructions from view. The result is an experience best described as completely bonkers, with a side order of "don't try this at home, kids, unless you enjoy the site of blood".
Fairway Solitaire HD
Fairway Solitaire HD is a perfect example of what happens when you marry simple gameplay with a bit of character. On its own, the basic card system would be fine: unlock face-down cards by selecting those one higher or lower than the current one in the draw pile. But the addition of golf scoring and a crazed gopher out for blood turns this into a surprisingly enjoyable and original title. You get nine courses for free.
X-Motorcycle happily offers two video game cliches for the price of none: the speeding hero (this time on a motorbike), who cannot slow down, and inexplicably giant fruit that appears to be an immensely important currency. The result is a fast, playable game reminiscent of old-school thrills filtered down to their essence and squirted into your iPad.
One thumb per person and one glowing neon ship is the premise behind Orbit1. You grab points, aim to destroy your opponents, and just hope someone doesn't flip out, grab the iPad and fling it out of the window in a huff.
Zen Pinball (universal)
More pinball! This one's a bit less realistic than Gameprom's efforts, but Zen Pinball is very pretty, with a bright and exciting free table, Sorcerer's Lair. Further tables are available via IAP, including some Marvel-themed and surprisingly great Star Wars efforts, but the sole freebie should have pinball addicts happily sated for a while.
Word Solitaire HD
With a game called Word Solitaire, you might expect a kind of solitaire game that has you form words rather than use standard cards. And that's exactly what you get here - sorry, anyone waiting for a huge surprise. However, this is not a bad thing, because Word Solitaire HD is a relaxing, entertaining title.
Royal Revolt (universal)
In Royal Revolt the king is dead and his siblings have stolen his kingdom while the prince was at school. Unfortunately for them, he was studying magic and is now out for revenge. The game itself is a real-time-strategy effort with some seriously cute and well-animated graphics.
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.)
Snuggle Truck HD
This one had a dubious start, initially named Smuggle Truck and featuring immigrants being smuggled across the US border. One swift rejection by Apple later and the game swapped immigrants for cuddly toys, which is significantly funnier anyway. The trials-oriented gameplay isn't bad either.
55. Frisbee Forever 2 (universal)
As noted elsewhere in this list, we love Frisbee Forever. This sequel is essentially more of the same: fling your plastic disc away, guide it through hoops, collect stars, and make it to the finish line. What makes Frisbee Forever 2 really stand out is the lush locations you get to fly through, including ancient ruins and beautiful snowy hillsides.
Hero Academy (universal)
There's a point in chess where you sometimes wish your knight would just give your opponent's bishop a thoroughly good trampling. Sadly, few chess games do such things (the ancient Battlechess being an exception), but Hero Academy takes the idea and runs with it. On specially designed boards, wizards attack knights, and demons defend their turf against samurais. It's an engaging turn-based effort with plenty of depth.
Another chessish two-player effort, Outwitters has 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.) Unlike Hero Academy, Outwitters has a 'fog of war', meaning units cannot see any further than they can move. This makes the game tougher to master but perhaps more rewarding on doing so.
Shadow Era: Dark Prophecies (universal)
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.
A game about blending colours, which doesn't feature an Old English Sheepdog barely avoiding tipping paint everywhere? Missed opportunity! Still, what you're left with in Blendoku is a beautifully minimal game that tasks you with putting coloured squares in order. It starts off simple, but the level design will soon have you sobbing into your crayons.
Into the Dead (universal)
You know, if infinite zombies were running towards us, we'd leg it in the opposite direction. Not so in Into the Dead, where you battle on until your inevitable and bloody demise. The game's oddly dream-like (well, nightmare-like), and perseverance rewards you with new weapons, such as a noisy chainsaw. VVRRRMMM! (Splutch!)
Score! World Goals (universal)
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.
Lost Treasures of Infocom (universal)
"You are standing in an open field west of a white house." If you're of a certain age, you're already downloading Lost Treasures of Infocom, which gives you classic text adventure Zork entirely for free. IAP enables you to buy further titles by Infocom, the masters of interactive fiction, and they all work wonderfully on the iPad.
Super Monsters Ate My Condo (universal)
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.
RAD Soldiers (universal)
Tactical war-games tend to work well on a touchscreen device, and RAD Soldiers is no exception. The turn-based action has you take on chums or the single-player mode, and the cartoon styling gives a palatable face to leaving an enemy soldier as a pair of smoking boots. Just watch out for the IAP.
Cubed Rally Redline (universal)
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.
In the distant past (well, the 1980s), there was an excellent console called the Vectrex, which had a vector-based iPad-sized screen. In the Vectrex app, it's been beautifully recreated on the iPad. The Asteroids-Like Minestorm is entirely free, but further games are available to buy via IAP.
Flow Free (universal)
Flow's quite sneaky. It looks simple enough, tasking you with connecting like-coloured blobs via pathways that cannot cross. And indeed it is at first, despite you also having to fill the entire board to proceed. But once you're on larger grids, trying to figure out snaking pathways, your ears will be shooting steam.
Color Zen (universal)
Color Zen appears to be noodly central - a game where you match coloured shapes while pleasant sounds massage your ears. But there's a devious puzzler lurking underneath, with later levels being tricky to solve. There's no timer, though, and so it's the kind of game you can put down and return to at any point, rather than wanting to hurl your iPad out of the window in frustration.
Sid Meier's Ace Patrol (universal)
Nyeeeeooowww! Daggadaggadaggadagga! It's biplane o' clock in Sid Meier's Ace Patrol - a Civ-like take on World War I dogfighting. You and the bally enemy take it in turns to climb, dive, roll and shoot, as you aim to turn the tide of the war and ensure it'll all be over by Christmas. The game is also one of the few we've seen that understands the concept of micro-transactions, for example enabling you to spring POWs for 69p/$0.99 a pop.
You'd think that a falling block game with only a handful of colours and set on a rotating disc wouldn't be that tough, and you'd be right — for about a minute. But Rotational soon ramps up the brain-busting, flinging multiple arcs at your spinnable walls, forcing lightning-quick reactions and thinking or — in our case - a lightning-quick end-of-game.
Pocket Planes (universal)
The Tiny Tower devs take to the air in game form, with Pocket Planes. In this management sim, you take command of a fleet of planes, aiming to not entirely annoy people as you ferry them around the world. Like Tiny Tower, this one's a touch grindy, but it's a similarly amusing time-waster.
Letris 3 (universal)
At first, Letris 3 looks like yet another bog-standard word game, albeit one that's rather visually swish, but it regularly tries new things. The game's based around creating words from falling tiles, but it keeps things fresh by adding hazards, such as debris, ice and various creatures lurking in the letter pile. If you're feeling particularly brainy, you can even play in two languages at once.
Dots looks and feels like the sort of thing Jony Ive might play on his downtime (well, ignoring the festive theme, which is probably more Scott Forstall's style). A stark regimented set of coloured dots awaits, and like-coloured ones can be joined, whereupon they disappear, enabling more to fall into the square well. The aim: clear as many as possible - with the largest combos you can muster - in 60 seconds.
Smash Bandits (universal)
In Smash Cops, you got to be the good guy, bringing down perps, mostly by ramming them into oblivion. Now in Smash Bandits your chance to be a dangerous crim, hopping between vehicles and leaving a trail of destruction in your wake. 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!