Greedy Bankers: Bailout!
A nod to our current financial woes, Greedy Bankers: Bailout! is all about greed. You swipe coloured gems together, to make bigger gems; tap and they explode in a shower of gold coins. Avoid the thief and beat the time limit to succeed. Extra modes are available via IAP, but the original—Arcade—should keep dollar signs in your eyes for a long while.
Social management games are big business, but are often stuffed full of cynical wallet-grabbing mechanics. While Tiny Tower does have the whiff of IAP to speed things along a bit, its tower-building and management remains enjoyable even if you pay nothing at all, and the pixel graphics are lovely.
The accelerometers in Apple handhelds have driven development of myriad tilt-based racing games, but tilt controls can be finicky. Cube Runner, however, feels just right as you pilot your craft left and right through cube-littered landscapes, aiming to survive for as long as possible.
The game doesn't look like much, but it plays well, and longevity is extended by Cube Runner enabling you to create and download new levels.
At first, Letris 4 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.
Before we played Bejeweled Blitz, we never knew precious gems were so 'explodey'. Still, here's the frantic member of the match-tree/gem-swap family, giving you one minute to obliterate as much shiny as possible, and then discover via online leaderboards that your chums are gem-smashing wizards.
Cool Pizza isn't so much endless running as endless weirdness. In a world of stark black, white and neon, a skateboarder catches air to hack oddball enemies (laser-spewing mini Cthulhus; rotating pyramids of doom) to death. The crunchy soundtrack adds to the sensory overload, resulting in one of the finest freebies on the platform.
Frisbee Forever 2
We already covered Frisbee Forever on this list, with its Nintendo-like fling-a-plastic-disc about larks. Frisbee Forever 2's essentially more of the same, but prettier, smoother and with wilder locations in which to fly through hoops and collect stars. It's lovely and costs precisely zero pence, so download it.
Jeff Minter is a shoot 'em up genius, and his Gridrunner series has a long history, starting out on the VIC-20, at the dawn of home gaming. This update riffs off classic Namco arcade machines but also shoves modern bullet-hell mechanics into a claustrophobic single screen, and in this version's survival mode, you have just one life. Argh! The 69p 'Oxtended Mode' IAP adds the rest of the standard game.
It looks a lot like Temple Run mashed into a children's cartoon show, but Subway Surfers plays a lot more like Run!, with its primarily linear leaping and sliding action. There are also plenty of power-ups to keep your graffiti-spraying hoodlum away from the chasing lawman and his faithful mutt. Just don't try this at home, kids, unless you want to redecorate a train with your innards.
The hero from the insane ElectroMaster returns, but this time she appears to be tasked with feeding sentient houses roaring "HUNGRY!" in a fairly rude manner.
Local monsters amble about, which can be snared by swiping over them with a surprisingly deadly pixie dust trail, whereupon they're handily converted into food to be collected. Much like ElectroMaster, HungryMaster feels like someone found a lost classic arcade game and squirted it into your iPhone, but forgot to charge you for it.
Temple Run 2
We have no sympathy for the heroes of Temple Run 2. Having presumably escaped from the demon monkeys in Temple Run, they steal more ancient and shiny goodies. This time, they're pursued by only one undead ape - but it's massive. Cue: more running/jumping/hopefully not falling over, and some new mine-cart and zip-line sections. Wheeee!
This wonderful ngmoco title used to cost a few quid, but Dropship is now free and is one of the App Store's biggest bargains. The game is a modern take on Gravitar or Thrust, with your ship battling gravity and shooting gun emplacements while searching complex vector-based cave formations for marooned allies.
The 'touch anywhere' dual-thumb controls take some getting used to, but the game feels fluid and exciting once they're mastered.
This combo-oriented match game has a casino feel, and there is a certain amount of luck evident, not least in the way new chips are added to the table. But in carefully laying your own chips in Chip Chain, merging sets of three to increment their number, and wisely playing cards, you can amass high scores while simultaneously wondering why real casino games are rarely as much fun.
Score! World Goals
Take dozens of classic goals and introduce them to path-drawing and you've got the oddly addictive game of Score! World Goals. As you recreate stunning moments of soccer greatness, the game pauses for you to get the ball to its next spot. Accuracy rewards you with stars; failure presumably means you're compelled to take an early bath.
Groove Coaster Zero
Tap! Tap! Swipe! Rub! Argh! That's the way this intoxicating rhythm action game plays out. Groove Coaster Zero is all on rails, and chock full of dizzying roller-coaster-style paths and exciting tunes. All the while, you aim for prodding perfection, chaining hits and other movements as symbols appear on the screen. Simple, stylish and brilliant.
For reasons unknown, cuddly toys are making a break for it, trying to get away from… something. We dread to think what cuddly toys are scared of, but we're willing to help them flee. The aim in Snuggle Truck, then: trials-like side-on hill-jumping with a truck, trying not to spill your cute chums along the way.
Dr Awesome Plus
Another ngmoco game, Dr. Awesome uses a hateful forced Plus+ account sign-up, but get past that and you find a compulsive title that smashes together ancient arcade classic Qix and surgery game Trauma Centre. Dr. Awesome's gameplay centres around removing viruses by tilting your device to 'cut out' infections.
Gameplay is fast and furious and, oddly, your Address Book contacts are used for patient names, so you can always choose to sacrifice your high score and off your boss in the virtual world.
Cubed Rally Redline
The endless rally game Cubed Rally Redline is devious. On the surface, it looks simple: move left or right in five clearly-defined lanes, and use the 'emergency time brake' to navigate tricky bits. But the brake needs time to recharge and the road soon becomes chock full of trees, cows, cruise liners and dinosaurs. And you thought your local motorway had problems!
There's something delightfully trippy and dreamy about Whale Trail, which features a giant mammal from the sea traversing the heavens, powered by rainbow bubbles, collecting stars with which to attack menacing angry clouds. The game's sweet nature disguises a challenging edge, though - it takes plenty of practice before your whale stays aloft for any length of time.
Games don't come any simpler than 1800. You try to stop a cursor in the dead centre of the screen, which rewards you with the maximum score. Any deviation and you'll be awarded with a lower number and have to try again… and again. This one might be insanely minimal but it's absurdly addictive.
All you have to do in ON/OFF is connect the switches using solid strings of coloured tiles. The problem is, you can't just draw the colours on - instead, you slide tiles around, thereby messing up connections you've already made. Within just a dozen levels, this one will trigger the switch that makes steam shoot out of your ears.
Clowns in the Face
Tennis in the Face had a racket-wielding hero saving a city from an evil energy drink corporation, mostly through smacking enemies in the face with tennis balls. This freebie version comes across like the protagonist's fever dream, placing him in a clown-filled hell, with only his fuzzy balls to save him.
Plants vs Zombies 2
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.
Doctor Who: Legacy
It's a case of timey-wimey-puzzley-wuzzley as Doctor Who: Legacy aims to show you that your iPhone 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.
Rise of the Blobs
Poor Marsh Mal. He's atop a cylindrical tower, about to be mauled to death by waves of hungry blobs. His only defence: a limitless supply of fruit, which he can use to blow up like-coloured blobs, thereby holding off death for a few precious extra moments. Yep, it's Rise of the Blobs - another block-falling game (think: a simplified Dr. Mario wrapped around a tube), but this one has wonderful visuals, suitably squelchy sound, and strategic underpinnings for those willing to master the game mechanics.
Sid Meier's Ace Patrol
Nyeeeeooowww! Daggadaggadaggadagga! It's biplane o' clock in this 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. Sid Meier's Ace Patrol is also one of the few games 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.
The Tiny Tower devs take to the air in game form. In, Pocket Planes, 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.
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.
In Smash Cops, you got to be the good guy, bringing down perps, mostly by ramming them into oblivion. Now in Smash Bandits it's your chance to be a dangerous crim, hopping between vehicles and leaving a trail of destruction in your wake. 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!