The best games money can't buy
The days when you had to buy a dedicated gaming rig and spend a load of cash for a quality gaming experience are long gone. Thanks to the iPhone (and iPod touch) and the App Store, you can get an excellent mobile gaming experience for just a few bucks (or quid, for that matter) or even less.
In fact, a lot of the games out there are free. But can you get great games for nothing at all, or is the "free" section of the App Store just a shoddy excuse to bombard you with in-app purchases?
The answer is, of course, both, and the trick is finding the gems amongst the dross. What follows is our picks of the bunch - our top free iPhone games, presented in no particular order, including both longtime classics and brilliant cutting-edge recent releases. We've even included a VR game for you... aren't you lucky?
New this week: Disney Crossy Road
A kingdom of Disney characters can be unlocked in this alternative look at the popular road-crossing game - intelligently titled Disney Crossy Road.
It's a 'magical take' on a game that has been downloaded over 50 million times, and designed to attract a new raft of players.
Cross as many roads as you can and collect coins to purchase even more stars spanning various Disney films, each with their own music and world for all you film fans out there.
And as you can imagine (if you've played the 'normal' Crossy Road before), you'll see how far you can survive with your favorites from Toy Story, Lion King, Zootopia, and many more.
We're just pleased that Jafar isn't in there. That dude is the WORST.
Slide the Shakes
Colorful, casual, and addictive, Slide the Shakes is a game that stays true to its name and challenges you to slide various milkshakes onto specially marked areas on a counter without tipping them over. Simply pull back and send your glass flying and hope it lands where you want it to.
Sparkwave is a simple yet addictive game where you guide a spark of light through an endless path composed of traps, collectibles, and power-ups. You'll need to have fast fingers if you want to stay alive as obstacles will spawn seconds before you rush into them. You can also pick up crystals to unlock new sparks and power-ups which can completely change the way you play.
Futurama: Game of Drones
Often sarcastic and full of that Futurama humor, Game of Drones is a match-four puzzler that follows the cast on a delivery bot expedition throughout the galaxy. Each level you play requires you to match delivery drones under specific requirements. Sometimes you may need to protect them against Mom's goons or simply match enough to move on to the next level. Even Bender helps out once in a while.
Neon colors and a nostalgic 80's synthwave soundtrack accompany you as you play Retro Shot, a game that's one part golf, one part pinball, and all parts awesome. Each level requires you to get your ball into the goal, but getting there is easier said than done. Collect coins to open gates, bump into switches, and solve puzzles as you shoot your way up the leaderboards.
Solving the puzzles and wordless riddles in Blackbox is going to require a bit of trial and error as each one you encounter is unlike anything you've seen before. Each puzzle is essentially just a few squares on your screen, and the solution comes with figuring out how to activate them. You may need to adjust the volume on your phone, flip it around, or even yell at it.
When your brakes suddenly fail, all you can do is steer and hope you don't ram into a tree. At least that's the case of the hapless driver in Faily Brakes, an arcade title that only lets you move left and right to somehow steer your car out of harm's way for as long as you can. Always wear a seatbelt, kids.
Metal Slug Attack
The classic run-and-gun franchise takes on the tower defense genre in Metal Slug Attack. Missions in this colorful title ultimately come down to destroying your enemy's stronghold using your own deck of troops. You can also play online with others, and go on missions to rescue prisoners, weapons, or items that can aid your campaign.
Kendall & Kylie
Be the king or queen of social media in Kendall & Kylie, a casual title that lets you complete quests, go on dates, make money, and become famous. Your online followers will be reading your every post, so nail each quest and your follower count will skyrocket. The Kardashian sisters will instantly become your BFFs and provide you with networking connections and gigs - obviously.
Cooking Mama Let's Cook Puzzle
Put away the knives and pots and use your finger to do all the cooking in Cooking Mama Let's Cook Puzzle, a game that is as visually charming as the handheld Mama titles. Each level requires you to match "Foo-Dons" of the same type to create dishes your customers want. Satisfy enough people by completing various quests and puzzles and watch your cooking empire grow.
Tennis Champs Returns
Tennis Champs Returns is a robust remake to the 1995 Amiga tennis game and brings with it plenty of great additions and mobile-friendly controls. You can move up the ranks in career mode and challenge the computer to increasingly difficult matches. Or, compete with opponents all over the world in quick bouts. Daily challenges and mini games help to keep the interest levels going.
Simple and yet very addictive, Stack is an arcade game that challenges you to stack shapes as high as you can until you can't fit anything else on top. Each time a shape approaches your pile, you need to tap the screen to glue it down. If your timing is off, your piece will be trimmed a bit, decreasing the amount of space you have to pile stuff on top. How high do you think you can stack?
Use your thumb (or finger) to drift around tight corners and pick up collectibles in Thumb Drift. This arcade racer looks easy, but avoiding obstacles and walls will be your biggest challenge as all you can do is drift. Be sure to also pick up any coins on your trail as they can be used to unlock some cooler and faster vehicles.
Floating Islands Crasher
Floating Islands Crasher is a charming puzzler that requires you to cut pieces off various islands to harvest power. Each level requires you to slice as much land as you can to fill up your meter and complete your objective. The challenge lies in not harming any of the animals on each island nor disturbing the aliens (we promise it'll make more sense if you play it).
OK K.O.! Lakewood Plaza Turbo
Fight your way through an army of robots in OK K.O.! Lakewood Plaza Turbo, a side-scrolling beat 'em up that lets you play as a spunky fighter named K.O. as the battles the evil Lord Boxman. Unlock special attacks, help rebuild Lakewood Plaza, and go on quests for experience and goodies. Colorful comic-book panels narrate the story and a whole cast of colorful characters help draw you into their world.
Bring some color into a drab world in Splash Cars, a racing game that lets you drive around literally painting the town red, green, and other colors while avoiding the cops. Pick up gas to keep driving and collect coins to unlock power-ups that make completing each level's paint requirements a whole lot easier.
All is Lost
All is Lost is a puzzle runner that tasks you with rescuing crewmembers aboard a spacecraft on the brink of doom. Jump and roll under obstacles and swipe the screen to open doors and move levies and traps with each mission you embark on. Timing is of the essence, so your quick gestures and reaction time can make the difference between life and death.
Riddle Stones is a version of picross kids can enjoy and puzzle aficionados will appreciate for its increasingly difficult levels. These nonograms also add a few interesting features so if you accidentally tap an incorrect square you think is the correct answer, you'll trigger a trap and need to find a way to turn it off before it's too late. Exercise your logic and math skills with this stimulating selection of puzzles.
Ricochet Theory 2
Play with the trajectory of a moving ball in Ricochet Theory 2 - only this time, you'll need to draw the lines the ball will bounce off. This new feature ups the ante and truly turns this puzzler into a cerebral experience. Levels will challenge you to solve them in as few bounces as possible and are sure to impress and stimulate your senses with their smart design.
Make your way down the field, dodge incoming players, and score a touchdown in Blocky Football. Once you complete your run, you then need to complete a PAT and see if you can score a key that will unlock some hidden characters to play as. See how many points you can score before the defense overpowers you.
All is Lost
All is Lost is a puzzle runner that tasks you with rescuing crewmembers aboard a spacecraft on the brink of doom. Jump and roll under obstacles and swipe the screen to open doors and move levies and traps with each mission you embark on. Timing is of the essence, so your quick gestures and reaction time can make the difference between life and death.
Run away from falling bombs in Ultimate Briefcase, a colorful arcade title that is sure to keep you on your toes. Run left or right to avoid the explosions, but be sure to collect coins and collectibles to piece together why the bombs are falling in the first place. Unlock characters and use special abilities to survive the doomsday machines.
A beautifully pixelated adventure, Sky Chasers requires you to use your fingers to guide your character along side-scrolling paths collecting coins and completing side-quests for his friends. Your cardboard ship has a limited fuel supply, so you'll occasionally have to stop by checkpoints to refuel and avoid any pesky enemies that add an element of danger to your otherwise peaceful trip. Solve simple puzzles and upgrade your ship as you enjoy its rich colorful worlds.
Keep your planet alive by tapping out any enemies that approach its orbit in the addictive survival game Playnets. Each planet you save also comes with its own set of abilities you can use when in a pinch that can stun, freeze, or zap incoming baddies. You'll need to have quick fingers to guarantee your planets survive waves of attacks so be sure to upgrade them to make them stronger and take more hits.
Build the restaurant of your dreams and make sure you expand and manage it just right to make it beat the competition in World Chef. This management sim requires you to use your resources well to so your chefs have access to the ingredients they need to cook the foods your customers want. Money and experience will allow you hire more chefs, build new rooms, and turn your restaurant into the go-to spot on the block.
Guardian Stone: Second War
Team up with spiritual guardians from the past and harness their abilities as you complete quests and try to save your kingdom in Guardian Stone: Second War. Turn-based battles require you to think on your feet and choose the correct attack that ensures you stay standing despite the opposition. Choose from over 69 guardians, evolve them, and create the character you want to play in this robust RPG.
Simple and yet increasingly difficult, Geometry Lock challenges you to correctly tap the screen at the right time to complete pieces of a geometric pattern. Each level gives you a different shape to reassemble and starts off a timer so the trick is to be quick but accurate when figuring out where a shape should go. Play alone or hook it up to Apple TV for four-player matches.
Rust Bucket turns the concept of a turn-based game into a puzzle-like roguelike that is a blast to play. Each level requires you to navigate your way through a dungeon to reach its goal, but with every step you take, your enemies also move in different patterns. Strategy is key to surviving since you don't want to step in front of an enemy knowing it may kill you in your next turn.
Brickies takes that classic game of bricks to a whole other level and challenges you to clear its many levels before the timer reaches zero. Because you're racing against the clock, you'll need to rely on handy power-ups that can multiply your ball or turn it into an explosive cannonball to ensure you finish before it's too late. Why not also try your hand at its endless mode and see how you fare?
Puzzle & Dragons
Puzzles & Dragons is a mix of many different genres rolled into one addictive experience. At its core is a monster-catching game that has you training new critters and leveling them up in battle. Combat, however, is a lot more like Bejeweled and requires you to quickly clear the screen so your monsters can attack and power up their moves. With dozens of updates and dungeons that reward you with items, experience, and rare monsters to train, this puzzler truly feels like it never ends.
Stunning visuals and solid online features await fans in futuristic third-person shooter Afterpulse. Practice your shooting skills in offline mode and reap some rewards and weapons before making your mark in multiplayer matches with players around the world. Whether you play free-for-all or eight-player team deathmatch, you'll want to come out winning to ensure you get enough prize money to customize your soldier to your liking.
Mind the Arrow
Carefully observe the design of the smaller arrow on the screen and select the right dots on the bigger arrow to match it in Mind the Arrow. What starts off easy soon becomes a test of your directional skills as the smaller arrow starts to rotate around. Soon enough, both arrows will begin rotating so it's only a matter of time before you get disoriented and the 30-second timer reaches zero. Aim for a high score in this brain-turning, mind-bending arcade title.
Planet Quest is a rhythm-based arcade game that has you play as an alien who abducts animals to the beat of some catchy music. Time your taps well for perfect abductions, but avoid zapping any flowers since aliens apparently don't like them very much. Over an hour of electronic, techno, and diverse music await your ears as you aim for a better score each time you play.
The Path to Luma
Learn about clean energy as you play through beautiful worlds in The Path to Luma, a puzzler that has you traveling from planet to planet to power them back up. Rotate entire planets and use the power of natural energy like sunlight and wind to power up switches and open the way forward to your next destination. With a little hard work, dying planets come alive as you play through 20 relaxing levels.
Beneath the Lighthouse
Searching for his lost grandpa, a little boy gets lost underneath a lighthouse and now must escape from a labyrinth filled with traps and secrets. Each inventive dungeon must be rotated in order to guide the boy to the tunnel leading to the next one. You'll need to prepare yourself for spikes, levers, crumbling platforms, and other challenges that amp up the difficulty as you try to survive Beneath the Lighthouse.
Bears vs. Art
What do bears and artwork have in common? Not much, but this pairing makes for a great puzzler starring a bear whose mission is to take down various art galleries that have invaded his woods. Bears vs. Art gives you dozens of levels where you'll need to destroy paintings, bowl over snooty patrons, or a mixture of both. A ticking clock, limited moves, and even artful traps will change things up and challenge you as you play rough.
Does Not Commute
Does Not Commute is a curious puzzler that requires you to drive cars to their destination, but the catch is that previously-solved routes play live as you figure out the next one. A timer is constantly ticking down, so not only will you need to be mindful of the traffic, but you'll also need to be fast and pick up power-ups to extend your commute. Your driving and logic skills are sure to be tested.
Order & Chaos 2: Redemption
Choose from one of five races and classes and take on an expansive world in Order & Chaos 2: Redemption, a robust MMORPG that is made for mobile play. Whether you team up with friends or go it alone, Redemption's plethora of rewarding quests will keep you coming back for more as you explore the beautiful and menacing kingdom of Haradon. Daily quests, challenges, and PvP duels are sure to keep you on your toes no matter how you play.
Collect teddy bears and use them to aid you in making words in the adorable Alphabear. Daily boards and challenges require you to come up with words with the letters that appear on your screen. Each time you do, bears will populate the board and get bigger the more letters you use around them. Make the biggest bear you can and rack in the points and the bragging rights.
Join Rayman and friends as they journey through gorgeous worlds retrieving lost eggs and helping a sacred tree flourish in Rayman Adventures. Levels in this action-platformer can involve searching for hidden Teensies, beating up enemies on your path, or solving puzzles before making it to the goal. Take care of the creatures you hatch by feeding and playing with them, then take them on your adventures for a helpful boost.
Down the Mountain
Down the Mountain is a bit like Crossy Road, but you're not crossing any streets or dodging traffic. Instead, you'll need to guide your intrepid mountaineer down blocks a la Q*bert and avoid dangerous flooring, bears, and other random obstacles that will end your descent. Open presents along the way and gather coins to unlock more colorful characters to climb down with.
Dominate your friends or random strangers in Capitals, a friendly word game that takes some strategy to master. Each time you challenge someone, you need to use the letters around your "capital" to expand your area of influence. If your enemy uses your letters, he'll capture them and slowly start to take over. A good grasp of vocabulary and some quick thinking skills are your best tools to conquering everyone's capital.
Unlock galleries filled with pixelated paintings in the charming Pixel 8, a timed puzzler that has you recreating works of art pixel by pixel. Paint simple shapes and eventually move on to more difficult paintings that challenge your speed and precision. Beat them in record time to gain coins to open the way for even more galleries to paint through.
No one really knows why the chicken crossed the road, but Crossy Road doesn't feature just chickens, and the reason why you'll be crossing each dangerous street is to climb that leaderboard. Time your jumps carefully, and tap and swipe the screen to move as you collect coins to unlock new characters and hilarity. Just be sure to avoid traffic, cannon balls, gaps, and so many other random bits of danger that can end your travels in an instant.
Super Dangerous Dungeons
Homage to 16-bit platformers of the past, Super Dangerous Dungeons is sure to bring you back in time with its pixelated visuals and SNES-inspired soundtrack. Forty-eight colorful levels that feature classic traps are sure to keep you challenged as you solve puzzles, turn on switches, and find that elusive key to open the door to the next one. Avoid those bottomless pits and dangerous water and you'll be fine.
Clicker Heroes does away with all the common fluff of RPGs and gives you a game where all you need to do is tap your screen to attack and win. Of course, you also need to hire heroes to help you out with all that tapping and increase your overall power with all the coins you get from your victims. Can't finish a boss just yet? Farm some coins and try again. It's the quintessential clicker game with some great features, and something tells us you'll be hooked on it in no time.
Guitar Hero Live
Rock out to an impressive collection of popular music either by tapping your screen or strumming on a separate guitar controller like a star in Guitar Hero Live. Each time you play a song, a live audience will let you know how you're doing and cheer you on as you hit all the right notes or throw trash your way if you mess up too much. Enjoy hundreds of hits via the game's online streaming service and see yourself climb the leaderboards in style.
Coolson's Pocket Pack
Make words as fast as you can in this fast-paced game that combines falling blocks with a bit of wordplay. The object of Coolson's Pocket Pack is to survive for as long as you can while you make words of a set length using the letters that start falling down. Think fast and move letters around to make your way through consecutive words for extra chain combos, but take too long and the screen will overflow - game over.
Robot Unicorn Attack 2
Robot Unicorn Attack 2 isn't just for bronies. It's an endless runner that is sure to mesmerize you with its catchy soundtrack, colorful visuals, and overall randomness. Help your unicorn run and survive for as long as it can as it jumps over lofty canyons and dashes into enemies like giant golems while narwhals splash in the distant. Each time you go for a run, you'll get three chances to score as much as you can, so it definitely helps to upgrade your unicorn to ensure you stand a chance. Pegasus wings are where it's at.
Not so much an endless runner as an endless chopper, Timberman has your square-jawed (and, in fact, just plain square) lumberjack hacking away at a giant tree. You tap to move left or right, dodging deadly branches, and must chop at speed, lest your power meter run dry. Those in it for the long haul will find 30 Timbermen to unlock, including a certain large, angry, green superhero.
We've seen quite a few spot-kick flick-based efforts on the iPhone, but Tiny Striker also brings to mind old-school arcade footie like SWOS. It's all goalmouth action here, though, with you scoring from set-pieces, initially against an open goal, but eventually by deftly curling your ball past walls of defenders and a roaming 'keeper.
Run Sackboy! Run!
The wee knitted chap from LittleBigPlanet lands on iOS, in yet another endless runner. We should yawn and hit delete, really, but Run SackBoy! Run! is absolutely gorgeous, with stunning scenery based on the LittleBigPlanet titles. The gameplay's intuitive and simple, but inventive level design will keep you coming back time and time again.
You know that popular Fallout 4 game we've all been getting excited about? Why not get in the post apocalyptic mood with this Bethesda made spin-off game? Fallout Shelter sees you take control of a Vault from the game series as you try to keep all its dwellers happy whilst protecting them from the horrors of the outside world. It's a funny little way to get excited about the upcoming game whilst also being great in its own right.
Stranded: Mars One
You have to give Stranded: Mars One a little time to properly get its hooks into you. At first, it appears to be yet another auto-runner. The blocky retro graphics are cute, but, well, we've seen it all before. But then you notice the smart level design, and the way in which you have to keep your little astronaut's speed up, lest they run out of oxygen. Sliding, jet-packs and wall-jumping are lobbed into the mix as the game flings increasingly complex caverns in your direction. The result ends up akin to an 8-bit Rayman in space — and that's before you've even delved into async multiplayer races!
You can't help but get a sense of having seen it all before when first playing Fallen. Pretty soon, though, you'll be hypnotised by its subtly engaging mix of pachinko and colour-matching, along with a pleasing soundtrack that feels like someone's sneaked Kraftwerk into your iPhone. The game itself is simple: balls drop from the top of the screen and you must rotate your coloured wheel so they hit the right bit. Three errors and you're done. Spin all the way round between hits and you get coins that can be spent on boosting upgrades that occasionally fall from the top of the screen.
Sonic All-Stars Racing Transformed
The first iOS Sonic kart game worked nicely on the platform (a rare thing for the genre), and this sequel doesn't disappoint. You get plenty of dynamic, colourful tracks to speed around, grabbing power-ups and boosts along the way. Periodically, your kart will transform to become a boat or plane, adding further dimensions to the racing action. It's a bit grindy now and again, but you won't care when you're drifting like a loon across an aircraft carrier, before plunging into the sea.
Looking to VR now, with Nival inc's offering: InMind, a free VR game for cardboard-based VR kits. Really it's a glorified demo, as you zoom and whizz through a semi-educational brain, zapping neurons to cure depression.
The one-look button press idea is a good way to navigate the lack of tethered controls although sometimes instructions aren't always clear as to what to do next and the controls (at least on an iPhone 6) aren't as sensitive as they could be. If this is your first experience of VR, you could do worse than to load this Inner Space/Fantastic Voyage movie vibe upon your mobile although gamers will be left feeling a little frustrated after the wow effect of the soaring visuals wears off.
This sweet survival game is full of character, as you assist a Victorian gent, out for his evening constitutional. The problem is it's a bit windy, and the gent's hat is in danger of blowing away during a gust - press the screen and he holds it in place. Each step increases your score and also the chances of seeing thoughtful comments from the hatted chap.
BaconBaconBacon feels a bit like Bejeweled slipped through a time-warp and collided with oddball British gaming humour from the early 1980s. Instead of gems, you swap pigs, and must smite vegans guarding them for extra points. Bonus pigs can be matched for extra sausages, or to fill a ketchup bomb.
In this insanely tough arcade test, you coax a finicky biplane through side-on levels of floating islands. The slightest touch on anything but a collectable coin or runway spells doom, and ghosts of previous crashes helpfully litter the way as you retry. IAP is available to buy coins for restart points, which in this case are tacit admission of your lack of gaming prowess.
Boulder Dash 30th Anniversary
The Boulder Dash series has a long pedigree, but this is the first time its co-creators have teamed up since the classic 1984 original. It's also the first time (in several attempts) the game has worked on iOS. The game itself is business as usual: dig through dirt; avoid boulders and enemies; grab gems. But it looks great, controls well, and even includes the original caves as an optional IAP.
Sky Force 2014
Sky Force 2014 celebrates the mobile series's 10th anniversary in style, with this stunning top-down arcade blaster. Your little red ship, as ever, is tasked with weaving its way through hostile enemy territory, annihilating everything in sight. The visuals are spectacular, the level design is smart, and the bosses are huge, spewing bullet-hell in your general direction.
Crazy Taxi City Rush
We imagine this Crazy Taxi rethink will alienate some fans of the original series, but plenty of the classic time-attack racer's feel remains intact. You zoom through city streets, picking up and dropping off fares against the clock; only this time, everything's largely on rails. It's sort of Crazy Taxi meets Temple Run, with plenty of upgrades and mini-games to master.
Asphalt 8: Airborne
At some point, a total buffoon decreed that racing games should be dull and grey, on grey tracks, with grey controls. Gameloft's Asphalt 8: Airborne dispenses with such foolish notions, along with quite a bit of reality. Here, then, 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.
We're pretty certain if there's one thing you shouldn't be using for a joyride, it's a jetpack that's kept aloft by firing bullets at the floor. But that's the score in this endless survival game with decidedly tongue-in-cheek humour, not least the profit bird power-up, a rather unsubtle dig at certain App Store chart-toppers.
Super Monsters Ate My Condo
Logic? Pah! Sanity? Pfft! We care not for such things, yells Super Monsters Ate My Condo. It then gets on with turning the match-three genre and Jenga-style tower-building into a relentless time-attack cartoon fest of apartment-munching, explosions, giant tantrums and opera. No, really.
Most developers create games from code, but we're pretty sure Hero Academy's composed of the most addictive substances known to man all smushed together and shoved on to the App Store.
The game's sort-of chess with fantasy characters, but the flexibility within the rule-set provides limitless scope for asynchronous one-on-one encounters. For free, you have to put up with ads and only get the 'human' team, but that'll be more than enough to get you hooked.
Three bushes make a tree! Three gravestones make a church! OK, so logic might not be Triple Town's strong suit, but the match-three gameplay is addictive. Match to build things and trap bears, rapidly run out of space, gaze in wonder at your town and start all over again. The free-to-play version has limited moves that are gradually replenished, but you can unlock unlimited moves via IAP.
Real Racing 3
While Asphalt 8 aims squarely at arcade racers, Real Racing 3 goes for the simulation jugular. Its stunning visuals drop you deep into high-quality racing action that sets new standards on mobile devices. Plenty of cars and tracks add longevity, although do be aware the game is a bit grindy and quick to hint you should buy some in-app cash with some of your real hard-earned.
Again, the forced Plus+ account sign-up is hateful, but it's worth persevering to get to this addictive game, where you "unleash the awesome power of your finger," according to the App Store blurb.
The aim is to drag your finger from the start to the finish of each simple maze. The problem is you're against the clock and obstacles litter your path. Great graphics and 200 levels of compelling gameplay ensure you'll be glued to your screen.
Candy Crush Soda Saga
It gets a bit of stick from time to time, but microtransactions aside, the Candy Crush saga is quite a lot of fun. Sandy Crush Soda Saga throws in some new dynamics, making the game even more addictive - and frustrating. You can do quite a lot without parting any money at all, but the game will limit your replays, meaning you'll eventually hit a timer that demands you take a break for a little while - or pay up to keep playing.
It's a horribly arbitrary feature, but all things considered, probably a good way of stopping us from becoming forever lost in the colourful abyss.
Trace is a sweet, inventive platform game which has you navigating hand-drawn obstacles to reach the star-shaped exit. The twist is that you can draw and erase your own platforms, to assist your progress.
With an emphasis on time-based scores rather than lives and the ability to skip levels, Trace is very much a 'casual' platform game, but it's none the worse because of it.
Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
Few free games are quite as polished as Hearthstone, but then this is a Blizzard game, so we hardly expected anything less.
There are dozens of card games available for iPhone, but Hearthstone stands out with high production values and easy to learn, difficult to master mechanics, which can keep you playing, improving and collecting cards for months on end. Matches don't generally take too long either so it's great for playing in short bursts.
Spider: Hornet Smash
Tiger Style's Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor is an App Store classic, combining arcade adventuring and platforming action, with you playing the role of a roaming arachnid.
Hornet Smash includes a level from that game, but its main draw is the frenetic arcade minigame. Still controlling our eight-legged hero, the aim is to fend off attacks by swarms of angry hornets, while weaving webs and munching tasty lacewings for health boosts. Three environments are included in this compelling and innovative title.
One for pool sharks, Bankshot tasks you with sending your orb to a goal by bouncing it off of at least one wall. A few different modes are on offer in this attractive neon-style game, but the best is Blitz, a high-octane time-attack affair.
Think you know stress? You haven't experienced stress until you've played Spaceteam, a cooperative multiplayer game that requires you to all work together as a crew (and bark orders at your friends). Sounds easier than it is; failure to cooperate will probably end with your ship getting sucked into a black hole.
There are plenty of one-thumb copter games on the App Store, but iCopter Classic goes right back to the genre's roots. You simply use your thumb to make your copter bob up and down, surviving for as long as possible without smashing into something; and there are plenty of unlockable themes if you prefer, say, a bee, submarine, spaceship or football to a helicopter!
So you think you're observant? Cell Splat will test that claim to the limit. The game distills 'match' games to their purest form. You get a target shape or colour, and, against the clock, must tap all matching items in the well. Quite why this frantic, great-looking, fun, addictive game is free, we don't know; we just suggest you download it immediately.
Like Cell Splat, InvaderR streamlines and hones a popular game, but this time it's Space Invaders. Like Taito's original, aliens are out to get you, but in InvaderR you have it tough. While the invaders are content to stay out of reach, it's 'game over' the second you're hit by a projectile. This turns InvaderR into a compelling and exciting score-attack game.
Hoggy resembles VVVVVV smashed into Nintendo's Kirby, combining platforming and puzzles. The game tasks you with grabbing fruit within jars that are peppered around a maze. Complete a jar and you get a key; with a certain number of keys, new maze areas open up. Although occasionally a mite frustrating, Hoggy's a great-looking, fun and innovative freebie.
Bam Bam Dash
Imagine Monster Dash with the cast of The Flintstones and you've got Bam Bam Dash. Your auto-running caveman has to avoid plummeting to his death and being eaten by things with sharp teeth. Nice graphics and helpful dinosaurs you can ride add extra flavour to the game.
Alice in the Secret Castle
If brutally difficult old-school games are your thing, Alice in the Secret Castle will appeal. The game boasts 64 rooms of NES-style hell, with a curious game mechanic that hides walls when you hold the 'A' button. Progression therefore becomes a case of mastering taxing and relentless (but rewarding) puzzle-oriented platforming.
Fairway Solitaire Blast
In this game, golf met solitaire and they decided to elope while leaving Mr. Puzzle Game to fill the void. What's left is an entertaining bout of higher-or-lower, draped over a loose framework of golf scores, with a crazed gopher attempting to scupper everything. You get loads of courses for free with Fairway Solitaire Blast and can use IAP to buy more.
It's clear you'll never see Nintendo games on iOS, but PicoPicoGames is the next best thing: a collection of tiny, addictive NES-like minigames. Frankly, we'd happily pay for scrolling shooter GunDiver and the Denki Blocks-like Puzzle; that they're free and joined by several other great games is astonishing.
At first, Froggy Jump seems like Doodle Jump, starring a frog. That's probably because Froggy Jump pretty much is Doodle Jump, starring a frog. However, its character, unique items, themes and lack of price-tag makes it worth a download, especially if you're a fan of vertically scrolling platform games.
Another game showing that simplicity often works wonders on mobile titles, SlamDunk is a straightforward side-on basketball game. The time-attack nature of the title gives it oomph, though, and there's also the option for online competition against players worldwide.
Into the Dead
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!)
What do you get if you cross Drop7 with Zynga? A free version of Drop7! Luckily, the game's far more entertaining than that attempt at a joke: drop numbered discs into a grid and watch them explode when the number of discs in a column or row matches numbers on the discs. Drive yourself mad trying to boost your score by chaining! Forget to eat!
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.
Galaga 30th Collection
In the old days, invaders from space were strange, remaining in a holding pattern and slowly descending, enabling you to shoot them. By the time of Galaxian, the aliens realised they could swoop down and get you, and Galaga 30th Collection is the game you get here, with minor updates that improve its graphics and pace, albeit for a weighty 140+ MB footprint on your device. Galaga fanatics can unlock other remakes in the series via IAP.
It's a little-known fact that baseball mostly involves trying to hit colourful birds flying overhead and bananas lobbed in your direction by a mischievous fan. But X-Baseball provides a perfect, accurate one-thumb iOS recreation of America's favourite banana-thwacking pastime. (What?)
Rogue Runner is another one of those endless games, where you leap over gaps and shoot things until you fall down a chasm and ponder why your in-game avatar doesn't learn to stop once in a while. Rogue Runner stands out by offering a ton of skins and a smart overhead dodge-and-shoot variation, which is a bit like Spy Hunter if someone knocked the original arcade cabinet on its side - the vandal.
Draw Something Free
"No drawing skills required!," boasts the App Store description for Draw Something Free. You might argue otherwise when this app demands you draw something suitably tricky for your friends to guess, but can merely manage a red blob. Still, Pictionary plus iPhone plus social gaming equals 'must have' in gaming maths.
Top tip for any budding Indiana Jones types reading this: do not steal shiny things from temples guarded by demon monkeys, otherwise you will die. Still, if you're too stubborn to take our advice, use Temple Run for training, swiping and tilting your device until your on screen hero meets his inevitable demise.
We've no idea what's going on in ElectroMaster, beyond a bored girl trying to avoid responsibility by killing everything in sight with electro-blasts. The game's sort of like a twin-stick shooter but you tap-hold to charge and then release to let rip, dragging your finger about to fry your foes.
Games are short, but this is one of the most thrilling blasters on the system, despite it costing nothing at all.
Grim Joggers Freestyle
The original Grim Joggers was odd enough: 15 joggers jog for their lives in oddball environments, including a warzone, the Arctic, and an alien world. In the free Grim Joggers Freestyle, you get just one world, but it mashes up everything from the paid game into a surreal (but thoroughly enjoyable) endless survival game.
Kings in fairytale lands have a screw lose, or perhaps just an odd desire to create the conditions for a tough videogame. In Wind-Up Knight, a princess has been kidnapped. Horrors! But rather than send an army, the king tasks a knight with rescuing her. Only he's fragile. And clockwork. And can't turn around.
Really, it's an excuse for puzzle-oriented swipe-based thrills, which demand near-perfect timing as the quest nears its end.
Flood-It! 2 meets the rules of great puzzlers: keep things simple, but make the game so challenging that your brains start to dribble out of your ears. In Flood-It!, you tap colours to 'flood' the board from the top-left, aiming to make the entire board one colour using a limited number of taps.
This release offers additional modes over the original Flood-It! (timers, obstacles, finishing with a defined colour), and offers schemes for colour-blind players.
The Sims Freeplay
EA might not have a great reputation when it comes to free-to-play (*cough cough* Dungeon Keeper), but The Sims Freeplay is one of the games that's closer to getting the balance "right". Buying more Simoleons (the in-game currency) with real money will let you skip ahead, but you can also simply make your Sim earn them in the good old fashioned way by getting them a job. Lifestyle points will let you skip timers, but they can also be earned by levelling up. As for the game itself, this is the closest thing to a fully-fledged Sims experience you'll get on your mobile.
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.
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 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.
This latest rethink of one of gaming's oldest and most-loved series asks what lies beyond the infamous level 256 glitch. As it turns out, it's endless mazey hell for the yellow dot-muncher. Pac-Man's therefore charged with eating as many dots as possible, avoiding a seemingly infinite number of ghosts, while simultaneously outrunning the all-devouring glitch. Power-ups potentially extend Pac-Man's life, enabling you to gleefully take out lines of ghosts with a laser or obliterate them with a wandering tornado.
Although there's an energy system in Pac-Man 256, it's reasonably generous: one credit for a game with power-ups, and one for the single continue; one credit refreshes every ten minutes, to a maximum of six, and you can always play without power-ups for free. If you don't like that, there's an IAP-based £5.99/$7.99 permanent buy-out.
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.
If you've never played Peggle before then get ready for a new addiction as shooting balls at pegs has never been this much fun. Actually, before Peggle shooting balls at pegs probably wasn't even slightly fun, but with its colourful art style, crazy power-ups and high-score chasing Peggle Blast is very much a game where one more go turns into a dozen.
In app purchases can give you an edge, but it's playable without them and hearing Ode to Joy at the end of each level is all the sweeter for having earned your victory.
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.
It's hard not to have a smile glued to your face when playing Tiny Thief, with its colourful cartoon graphics, inventive levels and constant humour.
It feels like a point and click game of old redesigned for the smartphone generation, with simple controls and bite-sized levels.
While you get several level packs for free several more are hidden behind a paywall, but whether you stump up for them or not the game is likely to prove memorable and well worth your time.
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!
If you're of a certain vintage, you probably spent many hours playing Solitaire on a PC, success being rewarded by cards bouncing around the screen. Sage Solitaire's developer wondered why iOS solitaire games hadn't moved on in the intervening years, and decided to reinvent the genre. Here, then, you get a three-by-three grid and remove cards by using poker hands.
Additional strategy comes through limitations (hands must include cards from two rows; card piles are uneven) and potential aid (two 'trashes', one replenished after each successful hand; a starred multiplier suit). A few rounds in, you realise this game's deeper than it first appears. Beyond that, you'll be hooked. The single £2.29/$2.99 IAP adds extra modes and kills the ads.
On a mission to fill your entire iPhone with tributes to classic arcade games with super-blocky graphics, the Crossy Road and Pac-Man 256 devs return with Shooty Skies. It's a top-down vertically scrolling blaster, with heroic animals hopping into their biplanes, taking to the skies, and doing shooty things. Bob and weave between enemies and bullets, or pause for a bit and unleash homing-missile destruction the next time you move.
The game's relentless, enemies coming thick and fast, spewing all manner of weirdness in your general direction. The deranged bosses are especially tough, such as a huge garbage-emitting mouth, and the "freedom eagle" that flings dollars, fast-food fries and then cruise missiles your way; if you're fortunate, you'll pick up a gift beforehand and get a suitably quirky wingman assistant, such as "gunny rabbit."