The best iPad games
No-one predicted the meteoric rise of gaming on iOS, and we're not sure anyone knew what the iPad was for at all when it first appeared.
However, Apple's tablet has become a very able gaming platform. With more screen space than the iPhone, games have the means to be more immersive. The iPad's therefore a perfect platform for adventure games, strategy titles and puzzlers.
- Not sure which iPad 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.
But, just like the iPhone, there are so many iPad games that it's tough to unearth the gems and avoid the dross. That's our mission here - to bring you the very best iPad games, mixing traditional fare with titles that could only have appeared on a capable and modern multi-touch device.
New: Voyageur ($3.99/£3.99/AU$5.99)
The story begins with you having bolted an alien ‘Descent Device’ to your ship, enabling faster-than-light travel – but only towards the center of the galaxy. You embark on a one-way journey, stopping off on planets to trade, explore, and become embroiled in side quests.
With the game being text-oriented and algorithmically generated, descriptions and events tend to repeat quite often. Still, if you at any point feel you’ve seen a planet before, you can leave with a few taps – and there are always new things waiting to be found. For anyone armed with an imagination, Voyageur becomes a unique, captivating experience.
Hidden Folks ($3.99/£3.99/AU$5.99)
You’re presented with hand-drawn scenes, each of which has a strip across the bottom, depicting objects to find. You can tap any of them for a clue, but the scene can also be interacted with, for example to rustle bushes to find someone lurking behind them.
Cute mouth-originated sound effects pepper proceedings, and the pace is varied with differing map sizes, and the odd playable scene, such as helping someone to a destination by adjusting the landscape.
Thus, with its wit and smarts, Hidden Folks very much stands out from the crowd – unlike some of the tiny critters it tasks you with locating.
Splitter Critters ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49)
The basic mechanics of resemble 1990s arcade puzzler Lemmings, in that you guide marching creatures to a goal. But whereas you armed lemmings with tools, Splitter Critters has you slice up the screen with a finger, so you can adjust the landscape to create new pathways.
This is clever, but Splitter Critters isn’t done. The undo button reverts your last cut, but not the position of critters. Undo therefore becomes a device vital for completing levels, rather than merely a means of reverting errors.
Throughout its length, the game keeps adding new elements, such as ocean worlds and a grim underground base full of critter-frying lasers. And although the challenge never rises above slight, the charm and tactile nature of Splitter Critters makes it a joyful journey, especially on the iPad’s larger display.
Twisted Lines ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49)
is another great iOS puzzler with simple rules, but also level design seemingly created to drive you to despair. Each of the 100 levels involves you directing a little colored block that leaves a trail of two colors, but should you cross over the trail, your block changes color to match the first line it hits.
This is pretty important, given that your task is to scoop up colored blocks littered about claustrophobic, deviously designed single-screen puzzles. From the start, Twisted Lines is a pleasingly tricky challenge, and it keeps adding further complications – trail erasers; teleporters – to keep you on your toes.
If there’s any drawback to the game, it’s the strict linear unlock of levels (presumably, this is designed to urge you to grab hint IAPs if you get stuck). But other than that niggle, Twisted Lines is a brain-teaser among the very best on iPad.
Although there’s a hint of Limbo about the silhouette-heavy imagery in , this is a much sunnier – and speedier – affair. An exploration-oriented platform game, Yuri finds the titular protagonist belting about on a skateboard-like bed.
Visually, the game resembles a living papercraft project, with cut-out creatures milling about, and subtle textures providing depth, but it’s the feel of the game that draws you in.
This is a world where every nook and cranny begs to be scrutinized and, because you get endless lives, there’s little frustration when you zoom along at Sonic speeds and suddenly find yourself at the bottom of a ravine. You can just try again – perhaps knocking back the speed a touch.
Old-hands might gripe Yuri is a bit simplistic and shallow, because there’s little to do beyond exploration. But then that’s the point, and so if you fancy delving into an interesting arty world on your iPad, Yuri’s a good bet.
Milkmaid of the Milky Way ($3.99/£3.99/AU$5.99)
This old-school adventure game is all the more impressive when you realize it’s the work of one man. From the delicate pixel art to the smart story – all delivered in rhyme – you’d think a team of clever people had beavered away on rather than a sole individual.
The star of the show is Ruth. Her tools have vanished in a storm, and she needs to make cheese and butter to sell. It’s all very slow and relaxing – until a spaceship abruptly shows up and rudely steals her cows, propelling her into a rather more out-of-this-world experience.
If you’ve played this kind of game before, you’ll know what to expect – explore your surroundings, find objects, and figure out where to use them.
But the difficulty curve is gentle enough to snare newcomers, while the feel and polish of the game should help it appeal to anyone who spent years taking on Lucasfilm fare on a PC.
Super Gridland ($1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99)
From the off, though, there’s something odd about Super Gridland. You’re collecting resources, and building structures rather than gaining points. And as the sun sinks below the horizon, everything goes dark, the tiles spin, and you find yourself fending off all manner of horrors.
Much of the magic in Super Gridland is in figuring out how everything works, and so we won’t spoil things.
Suffice to say: this is a clever, distinctive entry in a packed match game genre. And while the journey itself is quite short, it’ll make you think far more than contemporaries only interested in how fast you can swap tiles.
There are games that scream for attention and then there are creations like . This somewhat minimal puzzler is as relaxed as they come, with its lack of a time limit and serene soundtrack that bubbles away as you play. The tasks also – initially at least – border on the meditative, early puzzles being very simple to complete.
The basic aim is to fashion complete lines, which is achieved by manipulating tiles on the surfaces of 3D shapes. At first, this is just a case of swapping a few tiles around, but later levels become quite devious in adding new ideas and challenges to trip you up.
Even so, Klocki never becomes frustrating. This is a no-stress puzzler, ideal for winding down rather than being a game that will wind you up. But even if you typically prefer tougher fare, give Klocki a go, because its tiny isometric worlds prove rewarding and mesmerizing in equal measure.
Pac-Man Championship Edition DX ($4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99)
You might balk at Pac-Man appearing in a best-of list for iPad games, but this isn’t your father’s arcade game. Sure, the basics remain: scoot about a maze, eating dots, avoiding ghosts, and turning the tables on them on eating a power pill. But is significantly faster, has neon-clad mazes and a thumping soundtrack, and the gameplay’s evolved in key areas.
First, the maze is split in two. Clear one side and a special object appears on the other, which refills the cleared side when eaten. Secondly, snoozing ghosts can be brushed past to fashion a spectral conga to shepherd, contain, and not blunder into – until you eat a power pill, reverse course, and eat your pursuers to amass huge points.
In short, this game is superb, transforming an ancient classic into something fresh and exciting. And importantly, it works best on the large iPad display, because your fingers don’t get in the way of your frenetic dot-gobbling.
AG Drive ($3.99/£3.99/AU$5.99)
In the future, it turns out people have tired of racers zooming about circuits on the ground. In , tracks soar into the air – akin to massive roller-coasters along which daredevil racers of the day speed, gunning for the checkered flag.
This is a pure racing game – all about learning the twists and turns of every circuit, and the thrill of breakneck speed. The only weapons you have available are strategy and skill. And this suits the kind of stripped-back controls that work best on iPad – tilting to steer, and using thumbs to accelerate, brake, and trigger a turbo.
Also, while some slightly irksome IAP lurks, there’s little need to splash out. The game’s difficulty curve is such that you can gradually improve your skills and ship, working your way through varied events until you become an out-of-this-world racing legend. (Or, if you’re a bit rubbish, an ugly stain on the side of a massive metal building.)
Concrete Jungle ($4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99)
Most city building games are about micro-management – juggling budgets, people’s demands, and limited space. But rethinks the genre as a brilliant brain-bending puzzler. And here, restrictions regarding where you can build are of paramount importance.
At any point, you have seven rows with six lots where you can place a building. Said buildings are served semi-randomly from a card deck. Each column needs to have enough housing points for it to vanish and unlock more space on which to build. The snag: other buildings boost or reduce the points allocated to adjacent lots.
You must therefore take great care to place your factories (bad) and parks (good), realizing that any complacency may be severely punished several moves down the line, when you suddenly find yourself faced with a slum of your own making.
Treasure Buster ($0.99/99p/AU$1.49)
comes from the Angry Birds school of game design – at least in terms of its insanely simple controls. You drag back on a little dungeoneer, who upon release bounces about the screen, scooping up loot and smashing into enemies. Clear a room and you venture further into the dungeon, unearthing new adversaries that try to kill you in excitingly varied ways.
Chances are your tactics won’t vary a great deal – these kinds of titles (which take influence from Japanese pachinko, a style of mechanical arcade game) often devolve into firing at maximum strength and hoping for the best.
But there is at least some nuance here, in locating or buying new powers, and defeating bosses by way of amazing pool-like rebound shots.
And at any rate, Treasure Hunter looks superb on the iPad screen, with an immediacy and energy that’s compelling enough to counter any lack of depth.
Rome: Total War ($9.99/£9.99/AU$14.99)
Although it's almost 13 years old, Rome: Total War is one of the best games of 2017 thanks to its re-release on iPad.
You can now rule an empire from your Apple slate in this strategy game that defined the genre. You start the game as one of six factions, aiming to throttle enemies and conquer the known world. This historical simulator will force you to wield your tactical brain, as well as demonstrating your diplomatic and fighting skills.
You may not think this complicated battle simulator would work on iPad, but Feral Interactive have reworked the game enough that it works brilliantly with a touchscreen. You’ll want a larger iPad to play this though, as you’ll need to do a lot of reading within the menus.
But if you have a sizeable slate this is essential, and the Barbarian Invasion expansion is coming to iPad very soon as well, so there's a lot of life in this game.
Go Rally ($4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99)
Aside from some nicely rendered courses, Go Rally’s a winner through its controls, solid physics, and relatively short tracks. Playing doesn’t feel like an ordeal to be overcome – instead, the brevity of the courses makes Go Rally akin to a Trials title, where you can conceivably master every turn.
The career mode eases you in gently, gradually unlocking access to new cars and tougher races. And if you get fed up with what the game throws at you, it’s even possible to scribble on your iPad’s screen to fashion new tracks of your own. The tracks of your dreams – and everyone else’s nightmares – can then be inflicted on the world at large.
You blast your way through 120 levels set across three unique worlds, but even endless ammunition and lives don’t help, because every level is packed full of spikes, projectiles and massive saw blades – plus, the protagonist is a massive idiot.
Instead of carefully picking his way through the carnage, he belts along, using his gun to blast ahead (whereupon he loses altitude) or downwards (in order to gain height). You’re therefore charged with juggling these minimal controls while figuring out a route, getting the timing precisely right so you’re not killed and catapulted back to the start – repeatedly.
If that’s not quite enough for you, each level includes collectables, designed as a “gift to self-hating completionists” by the game’s creator. Masochistic? Quite possibly. Ingenious fun-infused havoc? Definitely.
Mini Metro ($4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99)
Traveling on underground railways can be a fairly hideous experience, which is perhaps why is such a pleasant surprise. The game is all about designing and managing a subway, using an interface akin to a minimal take on the schematics usually found hanging on subway walls. And it’s glorious.
Periodically, new stations appear. You drag lines between them, and position trains on them, in order to shepherd passengers to their stops. All the while, movement generates a hypnotic, ambient soundtrack.
Over time, things admittedly become more fraught than during these relaxing beginnings. The demands of an increasing number of passengers forces you to juggle trains and rearrange lines until you’re inevitably overwhelmed. But the nature of the game is such that this never frustrates – instead, you’ll want to take another journey - hugely unlike when suffering the real thing.
Samorost 3 ($4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99)
It follows the adventures of a gnome who sets out to search the cosmos and defeat a deranged monk who's smashed up a load of planets by attacking them with a steampunk hydra.
The wordless tale primarily involves poking about the landscape, revealing snatches of audio that transform into dreamlike animations hinting at what you should do next.
Although occasionally opaque, the puzzles are frequently clever, and the game revels in the joy of exploration and play. It's also full of heart – a rare enchanting title that gives your soul a little lift.
RPG combat games usually involve doddering about dungeons with a massive stick, walloping goblins. But in , cards are your weapon; or, more accurately, cards are the means by which you come by weapons.
Your aim is to trudge to a castle, defeating enemies along the way. You do so in a simplified solitaire, where you string together combos by removing cards one higher or lower than your current card. Doing so collects energies used to unleash defensive or offensive spells.
Unfortunately, your enemies also have skills, and survival requires a mix of luck and planning to defeat them.
This involves managing your inventory so you're always armed with the best capabilities, while probably simultaneously wondering why the hero didn't arm themselves with a bloody great sword rather than a deck of cards.
Legend of the Skyfish ($3.99/£3.99/AU$5.99)
The story involves a civilization greedily emptying the seas and subsequently getting enslaved by angry fish...a s you do.
Heroine Red Hook sets out to rescue her brother from the cod mob, having been trained by a friendly whale in the art of maiming bipedal seafood by way of her trusty fishing rod.
Each of the 45 handcrafted levels comprises loads of miniature islands, where your rod can be used to catapult you across rivers, drag boulders onto switches that open doors, and smack fishy foes into fillets. It's all quite linear and by-the-numbers, but Skyfish is so relentlessly charming you'll be smitten.
Lumines Puzzle & Music ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49)
One time darling of Sony handhelds, Lumines barges its way on to iOS by way of . If you've not played any games in the series before, we're very much in Tetris-style block-falling territory, only Lumines has a thumping beat at its core.
As you drop blocks into the well – each comprising up to two colors – you aim to craft solid slabs at least two-by-two squares in size; these are then wiped when the playhead moves over them.
Time it right and you get combos, high scores, and a giddy sense of smugness; mess up and you'll merely be taunted with a premature game over, while sadly nodding your head to the beat.
Exploding Kittens ($1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99)
High-octane card games don’t seem the greatest fit for iPad gaming, but perfectly captures the manic chaos of the Oatmeal-illustrated original. As per that version, this is Russian roulette with detonating cats.
Players take turns to grab a card, and if they get an exploding kitten, they must defuse it or very abruptly find themselves out of the game.
Strategy comes by way of action cards, which enable you to peek at the deck, skip a turn, steal cards from an opponent, and draw from the bottom of the deck “like the baby you are”.
Local and online multiplayer is supported, timers stop people from dawdling, and a ‘chance of kitten’ meter helps everyone keep track of the odds. Large hands of cards rather irritatingly require quite a bit of swiping to peruse (although cards can be reordered), but otherwise this is first-rate and amusingly deranged multiplayer mayhem.
Pro Pinball (free + IAP)
By the 1990s, pinball games had come a long way from their roots, and Timeshock! has long been regarded as something of a classic.
The basic plot involves unlocking and then traveling between time zones, achieving further goals by winning various prizes scattered throughout the ages.
Of course, this all comes by way of smacking a metal ball about the place, racking up points by successfully hitting ramps and targets.
Fast forward to 2016 and the original creators have had a couple of cracks at Kickstarter to bring back their game, the second of which succeeded.
You only get one table, which might seem miserly in a world of Zen Pinball and Pinball Arcade, but it’s one of the best – and certainly the best-looking – pinball tables you’re going to find on an iPad.
60 Seconds! Atomic Adventure ($3.99/£3.99/AU$5.99)
There’s some seriously black humor lurking at the heart of . The game begins as a frantic collect ’em up, your chunky dad bounding around his home trying to grab whatever he can in order to survive an imminent nuclear strike.
The controls and physics are bouncy and elicit a sense of panic as you choose between shotguns, food, family members, maps, and radios.
Assuming you make it underground, the game switches to a Choose Your Own Adventure of sorts, with a smattering of resource management.
You dish out provisions, send your kid out into a probable nuclear winter, armed only with a torch and your best wishes, and attempt to eke out an existence before everyone inevitably dies of starvation.
It’s a bleak end of the world story as written by a satirical cartoonist: equally chilling, compelling and – due to the breezily-written narration – oddly entertaining.
Burly Men at Sea ($4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99)
One of the things the iPad’s been really great at is reimagining books. From textbooks to stories, interactive tomes have brought new life to literature and education alike.
Being that this is a videogame, they’re of course instantly eaten by a whale, after which point you direct their progress by dragging the screen and tapping items to interact with them.
The story is short, but you end up in a kind of nautical Groundhog Day, retracing steps and attempting to locate further pathways to explore.
The branches are limited in number compared to the complexity found in the likes of 80 Days, but Burly Men at Sea remains essential nonetheless, due to its charm, polish and sheer artistry.
Dig Deep! ($1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99)
As your little miner burrows into an alien world, you must avoid being blown up by buried explosives, eaten by alien monsters, or impaled on spikes some idiot carelessly left lying around.
All you can do is move left or right, dashing (by way of swipes) to scoot faster when necessary, and hope a pick-up (shields; super-fast digging boosters) shows up when you're in a tough spot.
This might all seem suited to iPhone, but Dig Deep! works far better on an iPad resting on a table. The larger display makes it easier to spot incoming hazards, and the seat-of-the-pants nature of Dig Deep! gives you more of a fighting chance when you're not covering half the display with two thumbs.
Although a fairly simple game to play, there's a lot to unpack in Severed. It features a one-armed woman attempting to save her family from a hell populated by hideous-looking beasts.
She roams dungeons, slicing enemies to bits and then - equally ingeniously and horrifically - uses their severed parts to level-up her own skills and powers.
There's no gore, though - Severed resembles Infinity Blade as reimagined by a graphic designer. The visuals are all sleek 2D planes, lines and tasteful gradients. But the battles are exciting, comprising frantic swordplay and careful parries.
Often, you find yourself surrounded, rhythmically flicking between monsters, figuring out which to kill first and those you can cope with absorbing a few blows from.
The repetitive nature of such skirmishes may pall a little over the game's length, but there's enough here to keep touchscreen swordplay fans occupied for hours. And the story that underpins the adventure has the kind of heart that provides an emotional center that's frequently lacking on mobile.
Road Not Taken ($4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99)
There's a strangeness at the core of Road Not Taken that will be familiar to anyone who's experienced Spry Fox's other top-notch mobile puzzler Triple Town. Road Not Taken is a more expansive title than its forebear, featuring a ranger attempting to rescue children lost in the woods during a harsh winter. Said younglings must be reunited with their parents, but that's easier said than done.
The frosty woods are full of horrors, and you have limited energy, sapped by moving when holding items, or when blasted by a blizzard.
You must therefore figure out the most efficient way to get the kids back to safety, making use of the game's quirky way of manipulating objects: tap and you hurl everything you're holding in a straight line away from you, until it hits something; combine several of a specific item and you'll sometimes be nicely surprised by what they transform into.
There is something of a take-no-prisoners aspect to Road Not Taken - it'll be a while before you fully understand its many nuances. But if you're after a game with depth, charm, and intrigue, this snowy puzzler won't leave you cold.
When playing Linia, you feel like a hunter, waiting to strike. Only instead of lobbing a spear at a wild beast, your prey is abstract shapes that shift and morph in cycles.
Your target is displayed at the top of the screen as a row of colored discs. You must then drag a line through shapes that match the provided series of target colors. Hit a wrong color – even if you only slice a bit too far – and you'll need to try again.
The mechanic is, of course, Fruit Ninja – and every other slicing game you've ever played; but the stark visuals and rhythmic nature of the targets results in something fresh and vibrant. And you'll need a strong sense of observation along with excellent timing and reactions to succeed, not least when shapes start revolving, pulsating, hiding, overlapping and changing before your very eyes.
One of the dangers in games is they sometimes have a tendency to try and do too much. No such problems with Hyperburner, which has a razor-sharp sense of focus.
This one's essentially the 'escape' bit from countless sci-fi movies, where a pilot heroically weaves their way to freedom through the narrowest of twisty obstacle-laden corridors.
In Hyperburner, this scenario is played out again and again, across a range of visually stunning courses. One minute, you'll be bobbing and weaving between massive red asteroids and associated deep-space mining equipment; the next, you'll be lurching back and forth in a desperate attempt to not smear your ship across the insides of a colossal duct someone's seen fit to fill with spinning cogs of death. It's a relentlessly exhilarating ride that's a joy to experience.
Human Resource Machine ($4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99)
From the minds behind World of Goo and Little Inferno comes this decidedly oddball puzzler. Human Resource Machine, in a non-too-subtle satirical dig at workers, finds a little employee as a cog in a corporate machine.
Actions (moving and sorting boxes) are 'automated' by way of programming inputs - loops and routines constructed by dragging and dropping commands.
This might seem daunting, but the learning curve isn't too harsh, and a distinct sense of personality permeates the entire production, smoothing things over when the mechanics are threatening to make your brain steam.
If there's a criticism, the story seems slight compared to the team's previous work, but it is nonetheless oddly affecting to see your little automaton age as you work your way through the game.
Day of the Tentacle Remastered ($4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99)
For people of a certain age, Day of the Tentacle will need no introduction. This pioneering work set the standard for point-and-click adventures in the early 1990s, through its mix of smart scripting, eye-popping visuals and devious puzzles.
On iPad, you get the original title more or less intact, along with a remastered edition, with all-new high-res art and audio. (You can instantly switch between the two using pinch gestures.)
Chances are the puzzles and pace might initially throw newcomers, but players old and new will find much to love trying to stop the nefarious purple tentacle taking over the world, along with delving into the importance of hamsters, and figuring out how to best utilize items to assist people stuck in three different time zones.
(And if you're very old and wondering if they included Maniac Mansion in the PC, it's there, in full!)
Super Stickman Golf 3 (free + IAP)
If you find golf a bit dull, Super Stickman Golf 3 offers a decidedly different take on the sport. Instead of rolling greens, a sprinkling of trees and the odd sandpit, golfers in this bizarre world pit their wits against gravity-free space-stations, floating islands, and dank caverns with glue-like surfaces.
The game's side-on charms echo Angry Birds in its artillery core, in the sense that careful aiming is the order of the day. But this is a far smarter and more polished title, with some excellent and imaginative level design.
With this third entry, you also get the chance to spin the ball, opening up the possibility of otherwise impossible shots. And once you're done with the solo mode, you can go online with asynchronous turn-based play and frenetic live races.
In Telepaint, a semi-sentient wandering paint pot wants nothing more than to be reunited with a brush. The tiny snag: it appears to be stuck in a world of brain-bending maze-like tests, comprising single screens of platforms and teleporters. Your goal is to figure out a route, avoiding pot-puncturing spikes and a clingy magnetic 'friend' - a task that becomes increasingly baffling and complex.
You're helped along a little by VCR-style controls that let you pause for breath, and these often become key to solving puzzles, enabling you to switch teleport triggers while everything else on-screen remains static. Even then, the going's tough.
Still, while Telepaint has the propensity to make your head hurt like having a paint can dropped on it, this is a colorful, unique and enjoyable iOS puzzling classic that's not to be missed.
Tanks! - Seek & Destroy ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49)
One of the earliest 3D games was Battlezone, a tank warfare title at the time so realistic the US military commissioned a version from Atari to train gunners. iOS tribute Vector Tanks was subsequently gunned down by Atari lawyers, but its DNA survives in Tanks! - Seek & Destroy.
Like Battlezone, Tanks pits you against an endless number of vector tanks, on a sparse battlefield. But this is a much faster, tougher game, with tilt-and-tap controls that put you more in mind of console racing games than a stodgy tank 'em up. The result is a relentlessly thrilling 3D shooter that marries the best of old-school smarts and modern mobile gaming.
Having escaped from the primordial soup, bipedal Egz discover a hostile world. Everything's out to get them, from the hazardous environment to evil critters lurking in wait. Your goal is to make it to the end of 80 stages, without literally cracking up first.
Egz looks superb: colorful, vibrant and cartoony. The controls are also great, with you simply pointing which way your Egz should head, setting the strength of a jump, and hoping for the best. But the best doesn't always come - the game can be quite punishing, not least due to an odd upgrade and XP model that requires quite a lot of grinding at times.
But the game's charm, smart level design and tendency to fling new ideas your way makes it a tasty treat worth sticking with.
Pinball games tend to either ape real-world tables or go full-on videogame, with highly animated content that would be impossible on a real table. INKS. tries something different, boasting a modern 'flat design' aesthetic, and having coloured targets on each table that emit an ink explosion when hit with the ball.
Each of the dozens of tables therefore becomes a mix of canvas and puzzle as you try to hit targets while simultaneously creating a work of art. Neatly, as the ball rolls through ink splats, it creates paths across the table, which is visually appealing and also shows when your aim is off.
Because each level is short — usually possible to complete in a minute or so — INKS. manages to be both approachable enough for newcomers and different enough for experts to get some enjoyment out of.
Pixel Cup Soccer 16 ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49)
These days, most footie games want to be an interactive facsimile of what you see on the telly. But Pixel Cup Soccer 16 harks back to breezier arcade fare of old, with a fast, fun take on the beautiful game.
That's not to say there's a lack of nuance and depth - the game includes various modes (World Cup, Euros, and, brilliantly, the Women's World Cup), along with directional controls and varied passing types. Mostly, though, it's about silky smooth runs and blasting shots from the half-way line - the kind of football you imagine in your head but otherwise never get to see on a screen.
Circa Infinity ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49)
Shove a stripped-back platform game into a washing machine and you might end up with Circa Infinity, the mutant offspring of Super Mario, Super Hexagon, and Tempest. This is a universe of spinning concentric circles, patrolled by tiny demons and flying beasties. You must heroically jump inside each circle, avoid your foes, and leap towards a tiny orb that veers and sways, providing access to the next bite-sized challenge when caught.
Despite looking like it was dredged up from a 1980s home computer and having — horrors! — on-screen virtual buttons, Circa Infinity is hugely compelling. But take heed: you will have a major falling out with your thumbs when you misjudge which direction you should be heading in while upside down, your brain dizzy from traversing dozens of spinning discs.
Momoka: An Interplanetary Adventure ($6.99/£6.99/AU$10.99)
From its earliest moments, Momoka evokes a sense of wonder from the events happening beneath your fingertips. It recalls iOS classics Soosiz and Swordigo — the latter in Momoka's Metroidish side-on platform adventuring larks, and the former with its circular planetoids. Larger areas become lazily rolling, mesmerising environments boasting lovely low-poly art; occasionally, you leap between tiny asteroids, the screen lurching and spinning like a 2D Mario Galaxy on fast forward.
The effect is striking, but Momoka is rewarding beyond interesting aesthetics. The story's simple quest unfolds at a brisk pace, with clear objectives encouraging exploration, gradually rewarding you with new abilities and places to visit. The price tag might put some people off, and there is perhaps the sense at times Momoka's a touch simplistic, but its creative level design and heart is something we need more of on iOS.
Twofold inc. ($3.99/£3.99/AU$5.99)
From the developers of strange, minimal strategy title rymdkapsel comes equally strange, minimal puzzler Twofold inc.. At its heart, this is a match game, but it's one of those gloriously delicious brain-teasers that's out to break your mind by giving you a play experience akin to juggling.
The aim is to clear 'requests' supplied by a goofy robot. You do so by dragging out lines of colored squares. But it's not quite so simple, because Twofold's convoluted rules are far more complex than the average puzzler; it therefore takes a long time to formulate strategies that'll keep you going beyond a couple of dozen rounds.
Extended play reveals a nagging suspicion luck plays a bit too much of a part, but not to the point you won't immediately restart the second the little robot conks out due to your failure.
Captain Cowboy ($0.99/£0.99/AU$1.49)
The second we set eyes on Captain Cowboy, with its 'retro' flickering screen and caves full of boulders and diamonds, a grin plastered itself across our faces. It resembled a giant game of classic arcade title Boulder Dash.
And that's more or less what you get, but with added bonus features. Your space cowboy scoots about, digging through dirt, collecting swag, and trying to avoid being crushed by boulders.
On leaping into the void, he spins wildly until reaching safe ground, often on another of the many screens that compose the map, some of which include surprises — underwater caverns, space busses and a super-secret space station disco. Yes, you read that right. And, yes, we imagine the folks on the ISS are quite jealous right now.
Chameleon Run ($1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99)
Just when you think there's nothing more auto-runners have to say, along comes a great game that freshens up the genre. In Chameleon Run, your blocky character belts along, leaping into the air, and switching colour to match the platforms below.
Being the wrong colour on landing results in death. Falling down one of the many gaps results in death. Leaping over the goal like an idiot also results in death. This is not a kind game.
Instead, Chameleon Run rewards perseverance, attention to detail, and a willingness to try new things. As you progress, skills are revealed that open up new pathways on previously tackled level, giving you a shot at beating each stage's three predefined challenges, thereby unlocking further, tougher levels.
And for anyone who thinks they can breeze through, the last couple of stages are knowingly ridiculously tough to the point you'll be yelling at your thumbs for being rubbish when you fail yet again.
King Rabbit (free)
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.
Nintendo fans probably wonder why the big N hasn't yet brought the superb Advance Wars to iPad, but Warbits now scratches that particular itch. However, although Warbits is influenced by Nintendo's turn-based strategy title, it isn't a copy — the iOS game brings plenty of new thinking to the table and is very much optimised for the iPad.
Working with 16 varied units, you conquer a series of battlefields by directing your troops, making careful note of your strengths and the enemy's relevant weaknesses. All the while, Warbits merrily has you and your opponent trading barbs, often about subjects such as whether tomatoes are fruit, because that's the kind of thing you'd go to war over.
Finish the 20-mission campaign and you'll have a decent grasp of Warbits, and can then venture online to take on other human players across dozens of different maps. With superb visuals, enough new ideas over the game that inspired it, and a single one-off price-tag, Warbits is a must-buy for any iPad-owning strategy nut.
Shadow Bug ($3.99/£3.99/AU$5.99)
Often, platform games have you reach new places by majestically leaping about and occasionally jumping on a cute enemy's head. Not so in Shadow Bug, where a deranged insect ninja speeds about by slashing foes with swords. To be fair, he's surrounded by horrors, and so perhaps stabbing someone in this nightmarish world is simply a way of saying hello.
This means of getting around — just tap to move to an enemy and slice them up — infuses Shadow Bug with a Sonic-style manic pace, but the game is also about puzzle-like pathfinding.
It's an interesting combination, although Shadow Bug is never afraid to shake things up, with one early set piece finding the slashy insect merrily bludgeoning its way across the landscape while driving a kind of ramshackle tank that squashes everything in its path.
The idea behind Dreii is apparently to explore skill, logic and friendship, happening by way of you controlling strange flying creatures that pick up shapes using tethers. These shapes must be stacked to reach a light for a few seconds, after which point your floating avatar briefly celebrates before moving on to the next challenge.
Even the earliest levels are quite engaging, due to the delicate controls and slightly bouncy physics. But Dreii revels in throwing curveballs. Before long, you find yourself faced with levels that require multiple people to complete — only you can barely communicate with other players who enter the room.
Imagine assembling flatpack furniture with several friends, while everyone's gagged and wearing boxing gloves and a jet-pack and you're most of the way there.
Magic Touch: Wizard for Hire (free)
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.
Cally's Caves 3 (free)
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.
Planet Quest (free)
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.
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed (free)
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.
Traps n' Gemstones ($4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99)
Traditional platform games often fare poorly on iPad, but Traps n' Gemstones bucks the trend. Its approach is resolutely old-school, from the on-screen controls to the Metroid-style gameplay that involves exploring a huge interconnected world, opening up new passageways by finding and correctly using objects.
The theme, though, is more Indiana Jones. A little chap, armed with a whip and with a fedora on his head, leaps about a pyramid, grabs loot, and gives mummies and snakes a good whipping. Interestingly, the game simultaneously manages to appeal to casual and hardcore gamers.
Progress doesn't reset, meaning you can keep getting killed but gradually work your way into the bowels of the pyramid. But your score reverts to zero when you come a cropper; getting into the thousands is therefore a big challenge for those who want to take it.
There's a hint of classic iOS puzzler The Room about _PRISM, although this game propels the concept into a futuristic sci-fi setting. Each of the 13 puzzles finds you staring at a floating shape in a star-lit void. Close inspection reveals buttons, switches and levers. Manipulating these transforms the shape before your eyes, and you keep fiddling and delving deeper until a crystal is given up.
It's a quite meditative experience, although it's also quite easy and fairly short. Still, the sense of discovery throughout is frequently enchanting, even if you do sometimes end up playing finger Twister to reach a number of switches, or spinning a shape multiple times for a lever you could have sworn was visible earlier.
Love You to Bits ($3.99/£3.99/AU$5.99)
Love You to Bits has a heart as big as a thousand iPads. It's a tap-based adventure that finds a little space explorer trying to retrieve pieces of his android girlfriend that have been scattered across the galaxy.
The mechanics are right out of classic point-and-click gaming, essentially having you amble about 2D locations, unearth items and then drop them in the right spot.
But the game is so relentlessly creative and inventive with its environments — full of dazzling visuals, references to movies and other games, and increasingly clever mechanics and ideas — that you can't help but love it to bits yourself.
A Good Snowman Is Hard To Build ($4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99)
The little monster at the heart of A Good Snowman Is Hard To Build, wants some friends, and so sets about making them from crisp snow covering the ground. But as the game's title states, making snowman is hard — largely because of strict rules governing the monster's universe. Snowmen must comprise precisely three balls of gradually decreasing size, and any snowball rolled in the snow quickly grows. A Good Snowman therefore becomes a series of brain-bending puzzles - part Soko-Ban, part Towers of Hanoi - as you figure out how to manipulate balls of snow to build icy friends for a monster to hug.
AirAttack 2 ($0.99/£0.99/AU$1.49)
You get the feeling creators of classic vertically scrolling shooters would sit in front of AirAttack 2 in a daze, dumbfounded at what's possible on modern home-computing devices. That's not down to the gameplay, though: like its predecessor, AirAttack 2 is a straightforward shooter - you're piloting a fighter in World War II, downing enemies while optionally yelling "tally ho" at an annoyingly loud volume.
But this World War II is decidedly different from the one that occurred in our reality: Germans own limitless squadrons and building-sized tanks (versus the Allies, seemingly relying on a single nutcase in a plane to win the war). It's the jaw-dropping visuals that really dazzle, effortlessly displaying swarms of enemies to down, colossal bosses to defeat, and a destructible environment to take out your frustrations on. For the low price (not least given that there's no IAP whatsoever), it's an insane bargain.
Badland 2 ($3.99/£3.99/AU$5.99)
The first Badland combined the simplicity of one-thumb 'copter'/flappy games with the repeating hell of Limbo. It was a stunning, compelling title, pitting a little winged protagonist against all kinds of crazy ordeals in a forest that had clearly gone very wrong.
In Badland 2, the wrongness has been amplified considerably. Now, levels scroll in all directions, traps are deadlier, puzzles are tougher, and the cruelty meted out on the little winged beast is beyond compare. Still, all is not lost - the hero can now flap left and right. We're sure that comes as a huge consolation when it's sawn in half for the hundredth time.
The Room Three ($4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99)
We mention The Room and its sequel elsewhere in this list, but The Room Three is the best entry in the series yet. Again, this is a somewhat Myst-like game of exploration and puzzle-solving, figuring out how to escape your environment by utilising everything around you.
But there's more freedom this time round, with multi-room locations, surreal and deeply strange moments that find you sucked into the very puzzles you're trying to solve, and the creeping menace of The Craftsman, a malevolent nutcase who initially leaves you locked in a dungeon, and then tasks you with freeing yourself from the confines of the remote island on which you're stranded. One to play in the dark, with rain pouring down outside - if you dare.
Drop Wizard ($1.99/£1.99/AU$3.99)
This single-screen platformer initially resembles a tribute to arcade classics Bubble Bobble and Snow Bros., but Drop Wizard is a very different beast. It's part auto-runner, which might infuriate retro-gamers, but this proves to be a brilliant limitation in practice. Your little wizard never stops running, and emits a blast of magic each time he lands. You must therefore time leaps to blast roaming foes, and then boot the dazed creatures during a second pass. It's vibrant, fast-paced, engaging, and — since you only need to move left or right — nicely optimised for iPad play.
Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions Evolved ($9.99/£9.99/AU$14.99)
Since it rebooted Robotron-style twin-stick blasting, the Geometry Wars series has been the go-to game for a session of duffing up hordes of neon ships. Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions Evolved takes the basic concept and wraps it around 3D shapes lurching and spinning in space.
It disorients but brings a new dimension (pun intended) to the genre, and is one of the prettiest and noisiest games on the system. If you're armed with an iPad Pro, you even get a co-op mode, where two people play on the same screen.
Her Story ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49)
A murder mystery inside a rickety old PC, itself inside your iPad, Her Story is one of the most intriguing titles around. It plonks you in front of the L.O.G.I.C. Database, a creaky old system that returns snippets of police interviews in relation to search terms. Helpfully, you can only access five at once, even if there are many more results (the joys of 1990s interface design!), but this forces you to delve deeper. Before long, you'll be scribbling notes, eking out clues from every other sentence, and realising there's more to every mystery than meets the eye.
Icycle: On Thin Ice ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49)
One of the most beautiful games we've ever seen, Icycle: On Thin Ice also has a penchant for the surreal. It features naked hero Dennis, peddling through a strange and deadly post-apocalyptic frozen wonderland. Each level feels like a scene from a Gilliamesque animation, but on venturing further into madness, you'll note how tight the level design is — any failures are down to your fingers rather than the game. At the tail end of 2015, seven new locations arrived, so you could discover what happens at the end of the end of the world.
Lara Croft GO ($4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99)
Much in the same way Hitman GO reworked a much-loved franchise for mobile, Lara Croft GO transforms Tomb Raider into a dinky turn-based boardgame of sorts. It shouldn't work, but the result is wonderful — all minimal, breathtaking visuals, and smart puzzles that present a challenge but rarely stop you for too long in continuing your journey. Most amazingly, it feels like a proper Tomb Raider game, with moments of wonder, and palpable tension when you mull over whether your next move will send Lara tumbling into the abyss.
Because of the nature of touchscreen controls, there's a tendency to slow things down on iOS. ALONE… throws such caution to the wind, flinging you along at Retina-searing speed as you try in vain to save a little ship hurtling through rocky caverns of doom.
This is a game that's properly exciting, and where every narrow escape feels like a victory; that all you're doing is dragging a finger up and down, trying in vain to avoid the many projectiles sent your way, is testament to you not needing a gamepad and complex controls to create a game that genuinely thrills.
Power Hover ($3.99/£3.99/AU$5.99)
It turns out the future will involve hoverboards, only it'll be robots piloting them. In Power Hover, all the humans are gone, but so too are the batteries that power your robot village. So you hop on your flying board and pursue a thief through 30 varied and visually stunning levels.
Whether scything curved paths across a gorgeous sun-drenched sea or picking your way through a grey and dead human city, Power Hover will have you glued to the screen until you reach the end of the journey. And although it's initially tricky to get to grips with, you'll soon discover the board's floaty physics and controls are perfectly balanced.
A love letter to trees. A game about the beauty and joy of cultivation. These aren't words that would usually scream 'amazing game'. But Prune is a unique and frequently remarkable experience. It starts simply, teaching you how to prune a tiny branch, so a plant can grow to reach the sunlight and blossom. Before long, you're responsible for cultivating huge trees that arc past poisonous floating orbs, dealing with fragile foliage in unforgiving cities, and coaxing unruly underground weeds towards their prize.
The Executive ($4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99)
If you've ever felt a bit angry at the end of a long day in the office, take solace in the fact you've never felt quite as miffed as the stars of The Executive. Stress levels have reached the point everyone's mutated into monsters. Fortunately, the CEO's remained cool-headed and can now become the karate-kicking superhero he always wanted to be. Cue: 120 hand-crafted levels where you dart about the place, kicking werewolves in the face, leaping between floors, and marvelling at the bewitching ridiculousness of it all.
Asphalt 8: Airborne (free)
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.
Bejeweled Classic HD (free)
We've lost count of how many gem-swappers exist for iOS, but PopCap's Bejeweled has a long history, which brings a maturity that's reflected in this iPad release. The polished standard mode is present and correct, where you match three or more gems to make them explode and bring more into the well. 'Zen' then transforms this into a no-lose chill-out zone.
Beyond that, there's the fast-paced 'Lightning', 'Diamond Mine' (dig into the ground), Butterflies (save insects from spider-ronch doom), and Poker (make 'hands' of gems).
Beyond Ynth HD ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49)
This fantastic platform puzzler stars a bug who's oddly averse to flying. Instead, he gets about 2D levels by rolling around in boxes full of platforms. Beyond Ynth HD hangs on a quest, but each level forms a devious test, where you must figure out precisely how to reach the end via careful use of boxes, switches and even environmental hazards.
And for anyone wanting an even sterner test, cunningly placed jewels are there to find in each stage, requiring all kinds of trickery and box manipulation to reach.
Bit Pilot ($1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99)
A pilot finds himself trapped inside a tiny area of space frequented by an alarming number of deadly asteroids. You must stave off death for as long as possible. Bit Pilot is the best of the iOS avoid 'em ups, with precise one- and two-thumb controls guiding your tiny ship, effortlessly dodging between rocky foes — until the inevitable collision.
Beyond the basic and harder modes, you can try Supermassive, a kind of zoomed-out Rocky Horror Show, or thread your way through tiny temporary corridors in the claustrophobic and deadly Tunnels.
Blek is akin to shepherding semi-sentient calligraphy through a series of dexterity tests. Each sparse screen has one or more dots that need collecting, which is achieved by drawing a squiggle that's then set in motion. To say the game can be opaque is putting it lightly, but as a voyage of discovery, there are few touchscreen games that come close.
Boson X ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49)
In what we assume is a totally accurate representation of what boffins in Geneva get up to, Boson X finds scientists sprinting inside colliders, running over energy panels and then discovering particles by leaping into the abyss.
Initially, at least, said abyss is quite tricky to avoid; but learn the patterns in each collider and you'll have a fighting chance of success in this addictive mash-up of Super Hexagon, Tempest and Canabalt.
CRUSH! is deceptive. At first, it appears to be little more than a collapse game, where you prod a coloured tile, only for the rest to collapse into the now empty space. But subtle changes to the formula elevate this title to greatness: the tiles wrap around, and each removal sees your pile jump towards a line of death. So even when tiles are moving at speed, you must carefully consider each tap.
Some variation is provided by the three different modes (which affect block speed and surges), and power-ups, which blast away colors and blocks in specific ways you can take advantage of.
Device 6 ($3.99/£3.99/AU$5.99)
Device 6 is first and foremost a story — a mystery into which protagonist Anna finds herself propelled. She awakes on an island, but where is she? How did she get there? Why can't she remember anything? The game fuses literature with adventuring, the very words forming corridors you travel along, integrated puzzles being dotted about for you to investigate.
It's a truly inspiring experience, an imaginative, ambitious and brilliantly realised creation that showcases how iOS can be the home for something unique and wonderful. It's also extremely tough at times. Our advice: pay attention, jot down notes, and mull away from the screen if you get stuck.
Eliss Infinity ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49)
Eliss was the first game to truly take advantage of iOS's multi-touch capabilities, with you combining and tearing apart planets to fling into like-coloured and suitably-sized wormholes. This semi-sequel brings the original's levels into glorious Retina and adds a totally bonkers endless mode. Unique, challenging and fun, this is a game that defines the platform.
First Strike ($3.99/£3.99/AU$5.99)
First Strike bills itself as the fun side of nuclear war, but there's a sting in its tail. The game mixes Risk-like land-grabs, a Civ-style tech-tree, and defence akin to Missile Command, your missiles aiming to intercept incoming strikes. Sooner or later, though, you realise the only way to win is to go all-out, sacrificing territory and obliterating your opponents.
Just like the classic Missile Command, First Strike remains a playable game, but it's one with a chilling message that comes through loud and clear - at least when it's not buried under radioactive crackles.
Forget-Me-Not is like one of those ice creams you get with every kind of candy imaginable, but instead of sugary treats, the sprinkles here are all the best arcade games of old. There's Pac-Man dot-munching, Rogue dungeon-roaming, nods to Caterpillar, Wizard of Wor and more. It's a glorious, madcap neon-drenched slice of perfect arcade fare, deserving a lofty position in gaming's history alongside the more famous games that inspired it.
Frisbee Forever 2 (free)
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.
Hitman GO ($4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99)
It's great to see Square Enix do something entirely different with Hitman GO, rather than simply converting its free-roaming 3D game to touchscreens. Although still echoing the original series, this touchscreen title is presented as a board game of sorts, with turn-based actions against clockwork opposition.
You must figure out your way to the prize, without getting knocked off (the board). It's an oddly adorable take on assassination, and one of the best iOS puzzlers. There's also extra replay value in the various challenges (such as grabbing a briefcase or not killing guards), each of which requires an alternate solution to be found.
Icebreaker: A Viking Voyage HD ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49)
There are other famous swiping games on iOS — Cut the Rope and Fruit Ninja spring to mind — but Icebreaker has oodles more charm, loads more character and, importantly, better puzzles.
The basics initially involve slicing chunks of ice, so frozen Vikings trapped within can be rescued in a boat. Over time, this animated, cartoon world continues to come alive under your fingers, as you learn to manipulate other objects - such as rope and slime - to get your helmeted chums home.
Impossible Road ($1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99)
A roller-coaster ribbon of road winds through space, and your only aim is to stay on it and reach the highest-numbered gate. But Impossible Road is sneaky: the winding track is one you can leave and rejoin, if you've enough skill, 'cheating' your way to higher scores. It's like the distillation of Super Monkey Ball, Rainbow Road and queue-jumping, all bundled up in a stark, razor-sharp package.
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).
A boy awakens in hell, and must work his way through a deadly forest. Gruesome deaths and trial and error gradually lead to progress, as he forces his way deeper into the gloom and greater mystery.
Originating on the Xbox, Limbo fares surprisingly well on iOS, with smartly designed controls that feel entirely at home on the iPad. But mostly it's Limbo's eerie beauty and intriguing environments that captivate, ensuring the game remains hypnotic throughout.
Magnetic Billiards (free)
A game that could have been called Reverse Pool For Show-Offs, Magnetic Billiards lacks pockets. Instead, the aim is to join like-coloured balls that cling together on colliding. Along the way, you get more points for trick shots and 'buzzing' other balls that must otherwise be avoided. 20 diverse tables are provided for free, and many more can be unlocked for $1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99.
Monument Valley ($3.99/£3.99/AU$5.99)
In Monument Valley, you journey through delightful Escher-like landscapes, manipulating the very architecture to build impossible paths along which to explore. It's not the most challenging of games (nor does it have the most coherent of storylines), but each scene is a gorgeous and mesmerising bite-sized experience that showcases how important great craft is in the best iOS titles.
Need For Speed Most Wanted ($4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99)
Racing games are all very well, but too many aim for simulation rather than evoking the glorious feeling of speeding along like a maniac. Most Wanted absolutely nails the fun side of arcade racing, and is reminiscent of classic console title OutRun 2 in enabling you to drift effortlessly for miles. Add to that varied city streets on which to best rivals and avoid (or smash) the cops, and you've got a tremendous iOS racer.
Osmos HD ($4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99)
This superb arcade puzzler is at times microscopic and at others galactic in nature, as you use the power of physics and time to move your 'mote' about. Some levels in Osmos are primordial soup, the mote propelled by ejecting bits of itself, all the while aiming to absorb everything around it. Elsewhere, motes circle sun-like 'Attractors', and your challenge becomes one of understanding the intersecting trajectories of orbital paths.
Pinball Arcade ($0.99/£0.99/AU$1.49)
The iPhone's a bit small for pinball, but the larger iPad screen is perfect for a bit of ball-spanging. Pinball Arcade is the go-to app for realistic pinball, because it lovingly and accurately recreates a huge number of classic tables.
Tales of the Arabian Nights is bundled for free, and the likes of Twilight Zone, Black Knight, Bride of PinBot and Star Trek: The Next Generation are available via in-app purchase. On exploring the various tables (you can demo all of them for free), it rapidly becomes apparent just how diverse and deep pinball games can be.
Plants vs Zombies HD ($0.99/£0.99/AU$1.49)
Yes, we know there's a Plants vs. Zombies 2, but some dolt infected that with a pointless time-travel gimmick and a freemium business model. The charming, amusing, silly and sweet original remains where it's at.
For the uninitiated, in Plants vs Zombies you repel zombies that march towards your house with the power of hostile plants. Only through careful plant placement and choosing the right ones for the job will your bRAAiinnZZZ remain in your head.
This fantastic word game starts off easy. You get a grid of letters and remove them by dragging out words. Your only foe in SpellTower is gravity, letters falling into empty space as completed words disappear.
But then come new modes, with ferocious timers and numbered letters that won't vanish unless you craft long enough words. 'Puzzle' is first, adding a new row with each word made. Then Rush adds rows over time. The final option is Debate, enabling two players to battle it out over Bluetooth.
Splice: Tree of Life ($3.99/£3.99/AU$5.99)
A regimented game set in a world of microbes, Splice is all about arranging said microbes to fit within predefined outlines. Restrictions abound, based on binary trees, forcing you to think ahead regarding where to drop your microbes and when to splice them. Grasp the basic mechanics and the game opens up, but it never relinquishes its devious edge, later introducing freeform microbes, and those that grow and vaporise.
Super Hexagon ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49)
Ah, Super Hexagon. We remember that first game, which must have lasted all of three seconds. Much like the next — and the next. But then we recognised patterns in the walls that closed in on our tiny ship, and learned to react and dodge. Then you threw increasingly tough difficulty levels at us, and we've been smitten ever since.
That said, we suspect only if you're superhuman will you ever get to see the hallowed final screen that appears when you survive 60 seconds in every Super Hexagon mode.
Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP ($3.99/£3.99/AU$5.99)
Apple's mobile platform has become an unlikely home for traditional point-and-click adventures. Sword & Sworcery has long been a favourite, with its sense of mystery, palpable atmosphere, gorgeous pixel art and an evocative soundtrack.
Exploratory in nature, this is a true adventure in the real sense of the word, and it's not to be missed. (To say anything more would spoil the many surprises within. Just trust us on this one, grab a copy, don some headphones, and immerse yourself in a gorgeous virtual world.)
Threes! is all about matching numbered cards. 1s and 2s merge to make 3s, and then pairs of identical cards can subsequently be merged, doubling their face value. With each swipe, a new card enters the tiny grid, forcing you to carefully manage your growing collection and think many moves ahead. The ingenious mix of risk and reward makes it hugely frustrating when you're a fraction from an elusive 1536 card, but so addictive you'll immediately want another go.
Tiny Wings HD ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49)
This sweet, endless title stars a bird who loves to fly but doesn't have the wings for it. Instead, she uses gravity, sliding down hills and then propelling herself into the air from the top of adjacent slopes. Meanwhile, in another mode, her offspring are happily racing, bounding over lakes, eager to earn the biggest fish from their mother. Whichever route you take, Tiny Wings is a vibrant, warm and friendly experience.
Touchgrind Skate 2 ($4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99)
You can almost see the development process behind this one: "Hey, fingers look a bit like legs, so if we put a skateboard underneath…" And so arrived one of the finest iOS sports titles, with you using your fingers to roam urban locations and perform gnarly stunts. Admittedly, this game is tricky to master, but it's hugely rewarding when you do so, and video highlights can be shared with your friends. The game's also a great example of touchscreen-oriented innovation — Touchgrind Skate just wouldn't be the same with a traditional controller.
Walking Dead (free)
Ever since cop-in-a-coma Rick awoke to find himself in a post-apocalyptic world filled with the undead, Walking Dead has captured the imagination of comic-book readers and TV viewers alike. The interactive version follows a new set of characters, but the threats facing them are no less terrifying.
As with creator Telltale's other titles, Walking Dead comes across like a mash-up of comic strip and adventure, with palpable moments of tension, and a game experience that changes depending on your actions. The first part of the story is free, and you can then buy new episodes; if you survive, season 2 is also available.
World of Goo HD ($4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99)
It didn't begin life on the iPad, but World of Goo certainly makes sense on it. A bewitching game of physics puzzles and bridge building, the title also has real heart at its core. The basics are disarmingly simple: use semi-sentient blobs to create structures that enable unused goo to access 'goo heaven' (by way of an industrial-looking pipe).
But through powerful and frequently surreal imagery, haunting audio and the odd moment of poignancy, you find yourself actually caring about little blobs of goo, rather than merely storming through the game's many levels.
Year Walk ($3.99/£3.99/AU$5.99)
At the heart of Year Walk is something dark and horrifying. This daring game is a first-person adventure of sorts, but it presents itself as a kind of living picture book. You begin in a sparse forest, snow crunching underfoot.
Gradually, a story is revealed that is unsettling, clever, distinctive and beautifully crafted — much like the game itself. You won't rest until the story's told, but getting to the end will mean facing many moments of horror in one of the iPad's most unmissable and original creations.
Zen Pinball (free)
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.