Our favorite free iPhone arcade games, including brawlers and fighting games, auto-runners, party games, pinball, and retro classics.
Zombie Football is a deranged mash-up of exciting touchdown runs, The Walking Dead, and classic coin-op Gauntlet. In each level, the traditional green football field is peppered with obstacles, and hordes of lurching, ravenous undead. Clearly, the ratings needed a nudge.
Your aim in this free iPhone game is to not get horribly killed. You must figure out how to coax zombies this way and that (thereby clearing a path for your touchdown), avoid speed-sapping mud, and grab energy-boosting food that’s lying around. (Don’t think too much about the hygiene ramifications.)
It’s an entertainingly daft blast, not least when you realize your burly footballer can’t even stomp through cones, and so must gingerly thread his way through the gnashing, toothy opposition. Also, there are no ads, timers, or other cruft – free really does mean free here.
Yokai Dungeon is a fast-paced arcade title that involves running about and squashing demons. It’s set in a series of linked arenas, which are peppered with movable objects you can use to unsportingly squash your adversaries against a wall.
The Japanese-themed game looks superb, whether you’re moseying to the between-stages shop or taking on one of the large bosses in an end of stage battle. Most importantly, it plays really well, with fluid and intuitive controls.
With its grid-like structure and non-stop action, old hands might detect a hint of Bomberman; veterans will find Pengo coming to mind. But despite such retro inspiration, and the old-school pixel art, Yokai Dungeon feels every bit the modern iPhone title, with a sleek design, bite-sized battles, and approachable gameplay that’s suited to newcomers and seasoned gamers alike.
Knight Brawl takes the amusingly bouncy physics and frenetic skirmishes from Colin Lane’s mobile sports gems – Dunkers 2; Touchdowners; Rowdy Wrestling – and applies them to knights who fancy getting a bit stabby.
Your knights leap about the place in a somewhat controllable manner. With deft button taps – and a little luck – you can quickly relieve opponents of helmets and shields, prior to delivering the killing blow.
Only that’s barely scratching the surface, because Knight Brawl is absurdly generous with what you get. There are multiple battle modes and also quest-like missions, where you get to leap into a castle and duff everyone up. It’s bonkers, entertaining, superb stuff, and seriously raises the bar on Lane’s work – which was already impressive to start with.
Project Loading is a speedrun arcade test about the adventures of a loading bar on its way to reach 100%. Yes, you read that right: the star here is the bane of many computer users’ existence – a loading bar.
In Project Loading’s universe, though, loading bars don’t slowly inch from left to right – they must cope with slow-down and speed-up mats, deadly giant crosses and bouncers. To aid their way, there are restart points, and gold stars to collect, but everything happens against the clock. There’s no dawdling for loading bars here.
It’s an interesting conceit, lifted by clever level design, arty visuals, and responsive tilt controls. However, given how tricky later stages are, you’ll likely never gripe about a standard loading bar again.
Boost Buddies is a twitch-based arcade effort, where you’re a cat in a box, trying to reach a crown. Fortunately for the cat, the box is rocket-powered, boosted every time you tap. Less fortunately, between the cat and the crown are… things.
Sometimes you’re pitted against massive laser beams or swinging axes. Occasionally you’re blown about by fans, or chased by critters. Quite what’s going on, we’ve no idea, but it’s a lot of fun figuring out how to beat each test, and stringing together high scores.
Do well enough and you can add to your menagerie of boosting beasts, each of which get their own music and background visuals. And while the game’s basic nature means sessions don’t last an age, it’s always good for giving you a quick boost yourself.
Williams Pinball recreates – and augments – a range of classic Williams tables on your iPhone. It then bakes them into a freemium business model that’s, perhaps surprisingly, actually pretty good.
Select a starter table, and that one’s unlocked from the get-go. You’ll be playing this one a lot, so choose wisely. (The superb Attack From Mars is a good bet.) You then partake in daily challenges to boost your XP, win parts, and unlock other tables.
Eventually, tables are unlocked for offline play, and optionally have animated components, like Zen Pinball’s more fantastical tables. Getting there is a grind, but you’re playing superbly simulated pinball, so that’s no great hardship. And even though pinball is admittedly a bit fiddly on the iPhone, any progress made is instantly zipped across all your devices via iCloud.
Unicycle Giraffe is a balancing game that features a unicycle and a giraffe. Unfortunately for the giraffe, it attempts to ride said unicycle – not a comfortable state of being for the typical ungulate. It’s all very comical, though, as your giraffe wobbles left and right, before seconds later inevitably crashing to the floor in a tangle of legs and neck.
Despite being a one-note game, Unicycle Giraffe rewards mastery with the sheer thrill of staying seated for a few precious extra seconds. Rescuing yourself from very nearly overbalancing is fun, and extra risk comes by way of coins and bombs to tap elsewhere on the screen.
There’s little longevity, of course (short of ‘upgrading’ the animal with new hats and skins), but this one’s endearing, and always good for a quick blast.
Don’t Trip has you direct stompy feet through increasingly surreal terrain. You start off in a kitchen that could do with a tidy-up. Last long enough and you find yourself avoiding crazed vacuum cleaners decked out with knives and axes. Eventually, you end up fleeing from lava, splashing in swimming pools and walking in space.
This all comes off as quite trippy, and that’s only exacerbated by the viewpoint and controls. Everything is zoomed in to the point you can barely see where to head, and the controls have you press the screen to plant a foot, and rotate your phone to find space for the next step. Don’t Trip! really is a game very much designed with mobile in mind – and it’s all the better for it.
Train Party is an arcade-oriented puzzle game designed for multiple people to play together. Between two and 12 people on the same Wi-Fi network do their best to keep the train on time, largely by laying down tracks in front of it. In order to avoid disastrous derailment, you must also figure out how to deal with roaming wildlife and a renegade track bomber.
There are two ways to play: collaboratively and competitively. In the former case, the train always heads to the player with the most complete track, so you can keep going for as long as possible. In competition mode, though, the train goes around devices in order, and the winner is the last person not to turn the 9:45 to Washington Union Station into a crumpled heap of twisted metal.
Beat Street is a touchscreen brawler that wears its influences on its sleeve. The pixelated art recalls classic beat ’em ups, and the stop-start gameplay - with occasional unsporting use of baseball bats to bash enemies around the head - smacks of Double Dragon and Streets of Rage.
Yet this isn’t slavish retro fare. The game feels familiar, but its set-up is entertainingly oddball (liberating a city being terrorized by sentient, bipedal, suited rodents), and everything is controlled by a single thumb.
The controls could have spelled the end for Beat Street, but - amazingly - they work brilliantly, enabling deft footwork, punches, kicks, special moves, and the means to smash an evil rat’s face in with a brick. Apart from unnecessary grind-to-unlock levels, Beat Street’s the perfect freebie iPhone brawler.
If you’re a fan of knocking metal balls about, you’re likely frustrated with iPhone pinball. Even an iPhone Plus’s display is a bit too small, resulting in a fiddly experience replete with eye strain. Enter PinOut!, which rethinks pinball in a manner that works perfectly on the smaller screen.
In PinOut’s neon-infused world, you play against the clock, hitting ramps to send your ball further along what’s apparently the world’s longest pinball table. Rather than losing a ball should it end up behind the flippers, you merely waste vital seconds getting back to where you were. When the clock runs out: game over.
The result is exciting and fresh, and the relatively simple mini-tables are ideal for iPhone. Moreover, the game’s immediacy makes it suitable for all gamers, overcoming pinball’s somewhat inaccessible nature.