Our favorite free iPad scrolling blasters, FPS games, precision shooters, twin-stick blasters, and vertically scrolling shoot ’em ups.
Salvagette (opens in new tab) upends the bullet hell shooter genre by having games play out in turn-based fashion and – from the point of view of your craft – removing the shooting. An odd prospect, then, but one that works magnificently on the larger screen of an iPad.
Each level finds you darting about a grid, aiming to ram every enemy into oblivion. But your ship can sustain just four hits before it’s consigned to the void. You must therefore track bullets and also the blue glows around enemies that denote when they’re ready to fire.
An in-game store – purely funded by how many enemies you destroy (there’s no IAP here) – lets you stock up on additional goodies, like shields and a decoy. Multiple endings and increasingly intense levels add further longevity to what’s a novel, smart, beautifully conceived genre mash-up.
ElectroMaster (opens in new tab) comes across like an unhinged Japanese arcade game from the early 1980s that’s fallen through a time warp and been squirted into your iPad. Along with some fruity language (be warned), it features a little girl with serious firepower who needs to rid her world of enemy swarms.
The controls take a bit of getting used to. You tap to move, hold down to charge your weapon, and then let go to fire, optionally dragging your finger to direct electricity. The aim is to blast everything else off of the screen, in what comes across as half arena shooter (Robotron; Geometry Wars) and half sumo wrestling.
With varied pick-ups, alternate game modes and vibrant visuals, it’s a giddy slice of old-school gaming reimagined for the touchscreen.
PewPew Live (opens in new tab) is a rarity on modern iPads: a frenetic twin-stick shooter. Once, Apple’s tablet hosted loads of similar titles. These days, not so much. Fortunately, PewPew Live gives you a whopping five varied game modes that have a few things in common: the twin-stick shooty bit, lush neon visuals, and gameplay that’s hard as nails.
A jaunty tune plays as you tackle levels that echo Asteroids, Bit Pilot and Geometry Wars. This is bite-sized entertainment, though – mostly because you’ll initially die within seconds. But like classic arcade fare, mastery is possible and feels wonderful when achieved. On iPad, you can customize the control placement and the game dazzles on the large display, resembling a modern take on classic vector arcade games. For free, it’s a hugely generous blast.
Sonar Smash (opens in new tab) is a simple retro-inspired vertically-scrolling blaster. At first, you might surmise it would be better suited to an iPhone, but this shooter really does demand the larger display of an iPad.
Eye-popping visuals aside - the chunky pixels look great on a bigger screen - this one’s all about the controls. You slide a finger from left to right to direct a dolphin, and tap with your other hand to emit deadly sonar blasts. A thumb tap on the bottom-right unleashes special weapons.
Through avoiding the autofire usually associated with mobile shooters of this ilk, Sonar Smash demands more strategy and precision regarding shots you place. However, its zen vibe also makes it entertaining and approachable rather than impenetrable for newcomers.
Missile Command: Recharged
Missile Command: Recharged (opens in new tab) is a rare example of a classic arcade title successfully reimagined for iPad - and which isn’t infected by a raft of IAP.
Taking a cue from the original 1980 hit, Recharged finds your bases fending off an endless barrage of inward-bound missiles. You tap to launch counterstrikes, aiming to take down multiple projectiles with single explosions. Eventually, you succumb to the inevitable, the game coldly displays ‘The End’, and you try again – after first powering up your bases.
Fans of the original may gripe about changes that have robbed the game of nuance, such as the lack of silo selection and multiple levels. But Recharged does the business in providing you with a compelling, intense arcade-like hit - and, entertainingly, there’s even an AR mode that plonks a virtual arcade cabinet in your room.
Banana Kong Blast
Banana Kong Blast (opens in new tab) somewhat brazenly riffs off of the bits in Donkey Kong Country where you use barrels to blast an outsized ape through the air. But what it perhaps lacks in originality, Banana Kong Blast makes up for in polish and fun.
On the iPad, the cartoonish visuals look great as you tap the screen to send your ape soaring (and, if you mistime things, plummeting), aiming to grab as many bananas as possible along the way. It’s not all about the barrels, though – some sections find you sliding down icy hills, barreling (oho!) along in a minecart, and even riding a friendly boar.
The canned nature of this free iPad game might eventually pall, but the 3D visuals and varied scenes make for as much single-digit monkeying around fun as you can conceivably pack into an iPad.
HELI 100 (opens in new tab) is an arena shooter that is thin on story but big on blasting. For some reason, you’re high above a city, attempting to obliterate flying alien armies, but the battlefield is restricted to a ring of airspace within an impassable barrier.
At first, the game’s quite sedate. You weave left and right, your guns automatically aiming and blasting the opposition to bits. But around the tenth of 100 levels, the pace ramps up. Suddenly, the arena walls start rapidly closing in, and enemies spew more bullets than is entirely necessary.
Fortunately, you can fight back with powerful weapon pick-ups – even if on larger iPads they are slightly awkward to reach unless you’ve got banana thumbs. Still, what’s a little discomfort when you’re saving the world?
Angry Birds AR: Isle of Pigs
Angry Birds AR: Isle of Pigs (opens in new tab) moves the long-running Angry Birds saga into the third dimension. Rather than a side-on view as you catapult deranged birds at ramshackle buildings barely shielding kleptomaniac swine, you get a first-person viewpoint.
Given the iPad’s AR smarts, setting up the game on a table or floor is almost instantaneous. From then on, you get a new perspective (many, in fact) on your bird-flinging antics; you can explore levels from every angle, looking to set up shots that will hit sneakily hidden boxes of TNT for maximum destruction.
The few dozen levels may be completed in short order, but that doesn’t really matter. There’s plenty of fun to be had in this freebie that for the first time in years manages to add freshness to the Angry Birds formula.
Piffle (opens in new tab) is another entry in an expanding sub-genre of shooters. You blast a string of ricocheting bullets at bricks, until the numbers on said bricks run down, causing them to explode.
As you gather more ammunition and powers, things become entertainingly chaotic, your screen becoming a sea of ammo and explosions. Here, said ammo appears to be limbless, bouncy cats, which face off against encroaching walls of smiling blocks. Because levels are finite, you can approach each one in strategic fashion.
There is some grind, with later levels being very tough to complete without power-ups. Still, there’s a premium sheen here reminiscent of Holedown (opens in new tab) – only instead of cool minimalism, you get vibrant colorful visuals, no price-tag, and a pile of furry critters to stave off a ‘cat-astrophic’ game over.
Fortnite (opens in new tab) parachutes 100 players on to an island, with the simple task of being the last person standing. Okay, so it’s not that simple, given that everyone wants to kill you.
The road to survival initially involves realizing that your pickaxe isn’t going to cut it, and therefore locating weapons with which to dish out wanton violence. Over time, the area in which players can survive shrinks, at which point you might consider building a defensive fortress.
The mix of building, scavenging, exploration and action mixes perfectly to create unique scenarios within every game, and the game is kept fresh with regular content updates.
Fortnite’s origins on platforms with physical gamepads are somewhat betrayed by complex virtual controls, however this is a much more minor issue on iPad given that there’s more than enough space for your fingers not to cover the action.
Shadowgun Legends (opens in new tab) gives you a big, dumb, brash first-person shooter for your iPad. It looks superb, whether you’re mooching about the neon-bathed central hub world, or merrily blasting hordes of evil aliens.
From a gameplay perspective, it’s no Call of Duty or Doom, but that’s fine for touchscreen play. After all, when you don’t have a gamepad in your hands, you’ll be glad you only need two thumbs to control movement and gaze, your guns discharging automatically when a foe’s in your sights.
But just because Shadowgun Legends is streamlined for mobile, don’t mistake it for being simple. There’s tons to do, a slew of power-ups to get you kitted out for tougher later missions, and an entertaining emphasis on ‘fame’ over character and story that if nothing else seems like savvy commentary on a great deal of modern media.
Drag’n’Boom (opens in new tab) is a breezy, fast-paced arcade game that marries Angry Birds, Tiny Birds, Sonic the Hedgehog, twin-stick shooters, dragons and The Matrix. No, really.
Each level finds your baby dragon zooming about hilly landscapes packed with castles and tunnels, roasting guards and grabbing coins. Movement and unleashing fiery breath alike happen by way of ‘drag and fling’ directional arrows, and everything slows down while you aim, Matrix-style.
This all makes for an interesting combination, enabling deliriously fast zooming about and violence across the tiny worlds, but precision when you need it. Over its 40 levels, Drag’n’Boom could perhaps do with more variety – there are scant few enemy types to defeat. But it’s an exhilarating thrill-ride while it lasts.
You know a game’s not taking itself too seriously when it begins with the hero trudging through a blizzard, only to be faced by a giant heavily armed walrus guarding the fortress of a megalomaniacal genius.
But Evil Factory (opens in new tab) is just warming up, and subsequently revels in flinging all manner of mutated madness your way in its hard-nosed top-down arcade battles.
For each, you dart about using a virtual joystick, while two large on-screen buttons activate weapons. Unfortunately, your bosses are colossal idiots, and have armed you with the likes of dynamite and Molotov cocktails. Bouts often therefore involve dodging bullets to fling wares at a giant foe, before running away like a coward.
It’s silly, relentless arcade fun – or at least it would be relentless if the ‘fuel’ based freemium model didn’t butt up against one-hit-death and tough later levels. Still, if the stop-start nature of playing becomes irksome, fuel limitations can be removed with a $1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99 IAP.
With Darkside Lite (opens in new tab), you rather generously get the entire arcade mode from superb blaster Darkside (opens in new tab). What this means is a slew of fast-paced and eye-dazzling shooty action, where you blast everything around you to pieces, while trying very hard to stay in one piece yourself.
The twin-stick shenanigans echo the likes of Geometry Wars (or, if you’re really old, Robotron) in terms of controls, but the setup is more Asteroids, obliterating space rocks – and also the spaceships that periodically zoom in to do you damage.
The entire thing’s wrapped around planetoids floating in the void, making for a dizzying, thrilling ride as you attempt to locate the last bit of flying rock before some alien attacker swoops in and rips away the last of your shields.
In a marked departure from the impressive Phoenix HD (opens in new tab) and its procedurally generated bullet hell,Phoenix II (opens in new tab) shoves you through set-piece vertically scrolling shoot 'em up grinders. Every 24 hours, a new challenge appears, tasking you with surviving a number of waves comprising massive metal space invaders belching hundreds of deadly bullets your way.
A single hit to your craft's core (a small spot at its center) brings destruction, forcing you to memorize attack and bullet patterns and make use of shields and deflectors if you've any hope of survival. You do sometimes slam into a brick wall, convinced a later wave is impossible to beat.
To lessen the frustration, there's always the knowledge you'll get another crack at smashing new invaders the following day. Regardless, this is a compelling, dazzling and engaging shooter for iPad.
We imagine the creators of Smash Hit (opens in new tab) really hate glass. Look at it, sitting there with its stupid, smug transparency, letting people see what's on the other side of it. Bah! Smash it all! Preferably with ball-bearings while flying along corridors! And that's Smash Hit — fly along, flinging ball-bearings, don't hit any glass face-on, and survive for as long as possible.
There are 50 rooms in all, but cheapskates start from scratch each time; pay $1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99 for the premium unlock and you get checkpoints, stats, iCloud sync, and alternative game modes.