Perhaps you've just bought an iPad, or just been given one for the first time. Or maybe you're thinking that your Apple tablet is old and boring and there's nothing fun left that it can do.
Well, friend, you're entirely wrong. Fortunately, the App Store offers loads of gaming greats for you, even if you've forked out your last bit of cash to buy the iPad itself.
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Our lists cover the best free iPad puzzle games, racers, platform games, and more, split into categories (one on each page) for your perusing pleasure.
Plus, check back weekly for our free iPad app of the week, where you'll find that below as we look at new titles all the time.
Free iPad game of the week: XOB
XOB is a precision platform game that’s heavy on the path-finding and puzzling – and even heavier on the psychedelics. The gameplay primarily involves tilting a play area comprising square blocks. The aim is to nurse a trundling square to an exit, grabbing pick-ups along the way.
Fall over an edge and the entire level flips accordingly. Similarly, you can leap to a ceiling to turn everything upside down. As you progress, routes become increasingly labyrinthine.
All this plays out alongside a gorgeous old-school CRT aesthetic, which feels perfectly at home on the TV-like display of an iPad. As a freebie, the game’s also got the kind of business model we wish others would steal – you’ll only ever see 24 ads, and if you want, you can watch them all at once. Top stuff.
Best free iPad arcade games
Our favorite iPad arcade games, including brawlers and fighting games, auto-runners, party games, pinball, and retro classics.
Williams Pinball brings a selection of classic pinball tables to your iPad, and then adds animated remastering – at least, if you’re prepared to work for it.
Initially, you just get to unlock one table for unlimited play. (Pick a good one – Attack from Mars, The Getaway, or Medieval Madness – because you’ll be playing it a lot.) Through daily challenges, you’ll then slowly acquire the parts to gradually unlock other tables – unless you fancy splashing out on IAP to buy them outright.
This probably sounds a bit awful, but the truth is you’re ‘grinding’ by playing pinball. Also, the challenges often give you unlimited balls, so you can learn the tables. Stay the course, and eventually you can boost these already top-notch recreations with tough pro-level physics and animated components.
Fly THIS! echoes early App Store hit Flight Control, having you draw paths for planes to follow. But whereas the older title was an endless test that relentlessly ramped up the panic, this newer game feels more strategic and bite-sized.
The planes are fewer in number, but the maps are more claustrophobic. Also, you’re not just making planes land – instead, you ferry passengers between airports. Further complications come in the form of weather, and massive mountains you really don’t want to fly planes into.
Because each level has a set points target, Fly THIS! is great for playing in short bursts as well. In all, it’s a smart reimagining of a long-lost iPad favorite, which in many ways is more appealing than the game that presumably inspired it.
Skullgirls is an impressive tappy brawler – akin to Street Fighter II reimagined for touch, by someone very much against the concept of virtual joypads.
This means swipes and taps are the order of the day, swift finger movements being used to duff up opponents. Buttons merely exist to fire off special moves, or tag in a team-mate when you’ve been punched in the face one time too many. It all works very well for the game’s fast pace.
Visually, Skullgirls dazzles, too, recalling an amped-up take on classic 1940s cartoons and manga. Character design – bar questionably skimpy clothing choices here and there – is especially impressive: one fighter’s Lovecraftian hair has a life of its own; another is a humanoid brass instrument that transforms into a massive French horn that mows down foes. Parp!
The controls remain the same – tap left or right to ‘flap’ in the relevant direction, moving in an arc as you do so. But multi-screen levels and a lower concentration of enemies makes for an experience that has space for exploration and unearthing secrets, rather than solely being an ongoing frantic dash for survival.
That’s not to say Super Fowlst is easy – far from it. The boss battles in particular are extremely tough, and it will take you some time before you can last a dozen levels. But this one feels like anyone has a crack at becoming ‘super’ rather than only gaming gurus.
Train Party is a multiplayer game for between two and twelve people. In cooperative mode, you all work as a team, trying to keep a train going for as long as possible. You lay tracks for it to chug along, move wildlife from its path, and deal with a renegade track bomber. In competitive mode, Train Party gets added bite, the winner being the last person to survive without wrecking the train.
In either mode, this is a fun game, and it works particularly well on iPad. The larger display means even the sausage-fingered can play with an excellent degree of accuracy. Also, an iPad is a much weightier device to whack a chum with should they get a bit cocky after their fifth Train Party win in a row…
Shadow Fight 3
Shadow Fight 3 is a side-on one-on-one brawler set in a world of shadows that stands on the edge of a great war. In gaming terms, though, it’s mostly an excuse to whip your sword out, slice up your opponent, and then give them a few kicks and punches for good measure.
The fighty action works especially well on the iPad. The large screen provides plenty of space for the lush visuals, and your thumbs don’t cover anything important up while they battle with the surprisingly responsive virtual controls.
Your ongoing mission is a bit grindy at times, with an underlying RPG-lite mechanic of upgrades, but the brawls are great, whether you’re mastering a new weapon, unleashing shadow powers, or figuring out how to get the odd punch in when you’ve lost your sword and an opponent is moving in for the kill.
Beat Street is a love letter to classic scrolling brawlers, where a single, determined hero pummels gangs of evil-doers and saves the day. In Beat Street, giant vermin are terrorizing Toko City, and will only stop when you’ve repeatedly punched them in the face.
On iPhone, Beat Street is a surprisingly successful one-thumb effort, but on iPad you’re better off playing in landscape. With your left thumb, you can dance about, and then use your right to hammer the screen (and the opposition).
The iPad’s large display shows off the great pixel art, but the fighty gameplay’s the real star – from you taking on far too many opponents at once to gleefully beating one about the head with a baseball bat. It turns out they do make ’em like they used to after all.
Up the Wall
Up the Wall is an auto-runner with an edge. Or rather, lots of edges. Because instead of being played on a single plane, Up the Wall regularly has you abruptly turn 90-degree corners, some of which find you zooming up vertical walls.
The speed and snap twists make for a disorienting experience, but the game’s design is extremely smart where, most notably, each challenge is finite and predefined. Up the Wall isn’t about randomness and luck, but mastering layouts, and aiming for that perfect run.
It nails everything else, too. The game sounds great, and has sharp, vibrant visuals, with imaginative environments. It’s not often you’re frantically directing a burger in an abstract fever dream of milkshakes and ketchup bottles, nor a skull in a world of flames, lava, and guitars.
Stranger Things: The Game
Stranger Things: The Game is a rarity: a free tie-in videogame that’s not rubbish. In fact, it’s a really good old-school action-adventure that should delight old-timers and also click with people who follow the TV show.
The idea is to figure out what’s going on in Hawkins, Indiana, where things have gone deeply weird. You start off playing Officer Hopper, who scowls and punches his way about, but soon find kids to join your crew, including Lucas and his wrist rockets, and bat-swinging Nancy.
Occasionally, the game echoes old-school fare a little too well, with set-piece sections that are tough to crack (although you do get infinite attempts) – and the map is if anything too big; for the most part, though, Stranger Things: The Game is a clever, engaging, and compelling slice of mobile adventuring.
Silly Walks is a one-thumb arcade game, featuring wobbling foodstuffs braving the hell of nightmarish kitchens (and, later, gardens and gyms), in order to free fruity chums who’ve been cruelly caged.
The hero of the hour – initially a pineapple cocktail – rotates on one foot. Tapping the screen plants a foot, causing him to rotate on the other foot and changing the direction of rotation. Charitably, this could be called a step, and with practice, it’s possible to put together a reasonable dodder.
And you’ll need to. Although early levels only require you to not fall off of tables, pretty soon you’re dealing with meat pulverizers, hero-slicing knives, and psychotic kitchenware in hot pursuit.
It’s admittedly all a little one-level – Silly Walks reveals almost all in its initial levels – but smart design, superb visuals, and a unique control method make it well worth a download.
Transformers: Forged to Fight
We shouldn’t encourage them, really. Transformers: Forged to Fight is packed full of horrible free-to-play trappings: timers; gates; a baffling currency/resource system. And yet it’s a horribly compelling title. Much of this is down to how much fun it apparently is to watch giant robots punching each other in the face.
If you’re unfamiliar with Transformers, it’s based around robots that disguise themselves as cars and planes as a kind of camouflage - and then they forget about all that, transform into bipedal robots, and attempt to smash each other to bits.
This game has various Transformers universes colliding, which for fans only increases the fun – after all, old hands can watch with glee as old-school Optimus Prime hacks Michael Bay’s version to pieces with a massive axe. But for newcomers hankering for one-on-one Street Fighterish brawls on an iOS device, it’s still a freebie worth grabbing.
Silly Sausage: Doggy Dessert
The world’s stretchiest canine’s found himself in a world full of sticky desserts and a surprising number of saw blades. His aim: get to the other end of this deadly yet yummy horizontally scrolling world. The snag: the aforementioned blades, a smattering of puzzles, and the way this particular pooch moves.
In Silly Sausage: Doggy Dessert, the canine hero doesn’t pootle along on tiny legs – instead, you swipe to make his body stretch like an angular snake until he reaches another surface, whereupon his hind quarters catch up.
The result is an impressive side-scroller that’s more sedate puzzler than frantic platformer – aside from in adrenaline-fueled time-based challenge rooms, which even Silly Sausage veterans will be hard-pressed to master.
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