Our favorite free iPhone on-rails, 3D and 2D racers, and trials games.
Beach Buggy Racing 2
Beach Buggy Racing 2 (opens in new tab) is a fast-paced kart racer from the team behind the visually-stunning Riptide series. This one takes place on dry land, though, as you barrel along, grabbing power-ups and flinging them at your opponents.
The courses aren’t as bonkers as those in an Asphalt game, but certainly have their moments. One has a dragon that unsportingly barbecues racers, while a pirate-themed course gets all splashy as you race through a half-sunken ship.
You do sometimes wish this was a premium effort. There’s grind and loot boxes, and difficulty spikes are overly apparent when you level up. Even so, Beach Buggy Racing 2 manages to be an exciting, great-looking kart racer, on a platform with far too few entries on this sub-genre’s starting grid.
Asphalt 9: Legends
Asphalt 9: Legends (opens in new tab) is a madcap, streamlined racer. Much like Super Mario Run has the plumber ‘auto-run’, leaving you to time jumps, Legends corners and steers while you focus on timing. You must perform show-off drifts, jumps, and control frequent blasts of nitro.
The notion of a driving game stripped of steering might seem odd, but it works. Races are exhilarating and the courses become puzzle-like as you figure out where and when to perform the correct actions. If letting the game do the work is not your cup of tea, there is also a manual option which puts you back in control.
As with all Asphalt games, you spend an unfeasibly long time hurtling through the air; car pinwheeling in a manner that would make even the most maverick stunt-person’s eyes widen.
For a visually dazzling, entirely over the top slice of mobile-focused arcade racing, Asphalt 9: Legends is hard to beat.
Retro Highway (opens in new tab) marries the accessibility of modern mobile titles with the high-skill challenge and aesthetics of old-school racers. Visually, it comes across like Hang On and Enduro Racer (or, if you’re not old enough to recognize those titles, those weird games your dad used to play). But in gameplay terms, we’re very much in endless survival territory.
As you zoom along, you collect coins and jump high into the air using ramped trucks, gradually unlocking better bikes and new places where you can ride them. It’s not a very deep experience, but Retro Highway is fun to dip into when you fancy an exhilarating blast of weaving between lorries at breakneck speed, regularly leaping from ramps, and only occasionally splattering your hapless rider against an overpass.
Disc Drivin’ 2
Disc Drivin’ 2 (opens in new tab) is a turn-based racing game. That might make no sense on paper, but it translates well to the screen, effectively mashing up shuffleboard with high-tech levitating tracks full of speed-up mats, gaps, and traps.
You can play alone, tackling a daily challenge or partaking in speed-runs. The latter option is ideal for getting to know the tracks – essential when battling other players online. You then swap moves – bite-sized chunks of gameplay where you inch your disc around the circuit, in races that can last for days.
There are freemium shenanigans going on, mostly for cards that unlock new disc powers, and the fixed camera can be frustrating – although if you’re facing the wrong way, you should probably resolve to learn that track’s layout a bit better. Those minor niggles aside, this is a compelling, entertaining racer that rewards extended play.
Data Wing (opens in new tab) is a neon-infused story-driven racing adventure. It’s also brilliant - a game you can’t believe someone has released for free, and also devoid of ads and IAP.
It starts off as an unconventional top-down racer, with you steering a little triangular ship, scraping its tail against track edges for extra boost. As you chalk up victories, more level types open up, including side-on challenges where you venture underground to find bling, before using boost pads to clamber back up to an exit.
The floaty world feels like outer-space, but Data Wing actually takes place inside a smartphone, with irrational AI Mother calling the shots. To say more would spoil things, but this free iPhone game's story is as clever as the racing bits, and it all adds up to the iPhone’s most essential freebie.
Built for Speed
Built for Speed (opens in new tab) is a top-down racer with chunky old-school graphics, and a drag-and-drop track editor. Make a track and it’s added to the pool the game randomly grabs from during its three-race mini-tours; other users are the opposition, with you racing their ‘ghosts’.
Handling’s simple – you steer left or right. Winning is largely about finding the racing line, not smacking into tires some idiot’s left in the road, and not drifting too much.
Initially, though, the game’s so sedate you wonder whether someone mistook an instruction to make it “very 80s” by having it seem like the cars are driven by octogenarians. But a few upgrades later and everything becomes nicely zippy.
The only real snag is the matchmaking doesn’t always work, pitting you against pimped-out cars you’ve no chance against. Still, even if you take a sound beating, another tour’s only ever a few races a way.
One Tap Rally
One Tap Rally (opens in new tab) distils the top-down mobile racer into a one-thumb effort. Press the screen and you accelerate; let go and you slow down. In the nitros mode, you can also swipe upward for an extra burst of speed.
It feels a bit like slot-racing, but the tracks are organic and free-flowing, rather than rigid chunks of plastic. Learning each bend and straight is essential to get around without hitting the sides – important because such collisions rob you of precious seconds.
You’re also not alone – One Tap Rally pits you against the online ghosts of other players. Each time you better your score, you improve your rank on the current track, ready to face tougher opponents. This affords an extra layer of depth to what was already an elegant, playable mobile racer.
Crazy Taxi (opens in new tab) is a port of a popular and superb Dreamcast/arcade title from 1999. You belt around a videogame take on San Francisco, hurling yourself from massive hills, soaring through the air like only a crazy taxi can, and regularly smashing other traffic out of the way.
Given the ‘taxi’ bit in the title, fares are important. Getting them where they want to go in good time replenishes the clock. Excite them and you’re awarded bonuses. Go ‘crashy’ rather than ‘crazy’ and the fare will take their chances and leap out of your cab, leaving you without their cash.
Crazy Taxi looks crude, but still plays brilliantly, and even the touchscreen controls work very nicely. For free, you must be online to play, however – a sole black mark in an otherwise fantastic port (and one you can remove with IAP).
Asphalt 8: Airborne
Asphalt 8: Airborne (opens in new tab) is a nitro-happy racer with four tires firmly planted in arcade racing. That said, tires don’t remain planted for long, because this game has a need for speed, having you bomb along larger-than-life courses peppered with fantastical set pieces (Rocket launches! Active volcanos!), and hurling you into the air at every available opportunity.
There’s a ton of content to unlock, although the game regularly cynically nudges you towards IAP to hurry things along. This in itself feels like someone’s welded massive unwieldy bumpers to what’s otherwise a sleek iPhone sportscar racer. But for the most part, Asphalt 8 is a madcap, exciting blast, insane drifts and mid-air barrel rolls pushing your car way beyond anything the manufacturer ever envisioned.