Our favorite iPad platform games, including free-roaming adventures, retro-infused titles, and modern console-style classics.
Typoman Mobile (free + $1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99)
Typoman Mobile is a platform puzzler with a twist – much of its world is made of letters. That even includes the protagonist, who begins life as a trundling letter O, before subsequently acquiring a body (E) and some limbs.
The silhouette visuals echo Limbo, as do aspects of the controls and gameplay. However, the game is keen to use language as a key to unlock solutions. You may find yourself fashioning the word ‘rain’ to fill a lake, or shoving an O into an N to activate a platform.
The controls are a touch awkward on the iPad, and occasionally hasten failure. But the game lets you try each challenge an endless number of times, and outside of a few frustrating moments is relentlessly captivating.
Linn: Path of Orchards ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49)
Linn: Path of Orchards is an unconventional platform game, which takes place in a world of dynamic, rotating surfaces. You must help protagonist Aban to each level’s exit, grabbing bling along the way.
Although you can sort of brute-force your way through the game, making use of gestures to dash left and right, and mid-air jump, you’re better off embracing the elegance and thoughtfulness that exists at the heart of Linn. Think of each challenge as a turn-based test, and figure out the optimum sequence of moves to your goal.
Multiple challenges per level, stylish visuals, and a lovely soundtrack further ensure Linn is something special – an engaging mash-up of Monument Valley-style visual minimalism, clockwork structures, and parkour-like sliding and leaping.
see/saw is a platform game that features a sadistic professor (whose credentials we’re extremely skeptical of) putting a speedy protagonist through ostensibly scientific tests. Said tests mostly involve the subject collecting coins, but also avoiding hazards. Increasingly frequently as you explore each single-screen room, your untimely demise is the key to reaching the last coin.
Its basic controls – hold the left or right of the screen to head in that direction – mean see/saw works really nicely on the iPad’s large display, but this stripped-back approach to platform gaming doesn’t make for dumbed-down level design. In fact, as you progress, challenges become devious, with you having to figure out how to impale the hero just so, in order to reach that final target.
Spitkiss is unique in the App Store, what with it featuring tiny creatures that communicate by lobbing bodily fluids at each other. But how you get spittle and the like from one to the other plays like Angry Birds became a single-screen platformer, and then had Matrix-style slo-mo welded to it.
To get started, you aim and fling some spittle, and then direct it from surface to surface until the blob reaches its goal. Hold the screen and time slows, allowing you to prepare your next shot – essential given the claustrophobic and hazard-strewn screens you face.
This all works particularly well on iPad. You’ve plenty of space to move your finger, and can be far more accurate on the larger screen. The vibrant visuals are arresting, too, even if you might feel squeamish about flinging spit.
Suzy Cube ($3.99/£3.99/AU$5.99)
Suzy Cube is a platform game set in a world with a thing for straight edges. Assuming you’ve played a platformer before, you know the drill: explore; grab gold; unsportingly jump on the heads of enemies to obliterate them.
But Suzy Cube goes beyond the stripped-back 2D fare we often see on iOS for something akin to Super Mario 3D Land. This means you may find yourself quickly swapping between skidding down icy mountains in 3D, following Suzy Cube as she runs side-on around a tower, and then delicately leaping between floating platforms, as seen from above.
Bar some duff boss battles, it’s ambitious, entertaining fare, with tight touchscreen controls, and a great sense of pace and variety as you delve into the world and discover its many hidden secrets.
Oddmar is a Viking who’s not good at being a Viking, but he’s forced into action when his village vanishes and an evil takes over the land. Cue: swiftly munching a magic mushroom to get some special powers, followed by quite a lot of platforming action.
And what platforming action! Oddmar looks and feels like nothing else on iPad. Although the gameplay mechanics are familiar (leap about, explore, collect bling, hack up enemies, don’t get killed), the production values here are something else. Oddmar’s world feels alive, and each level has been painstakingly constructed, imbuing the game with smarts and pace.
Peppered with set pieces, survival-oriented ‘dream’ levels, and varied challenges, and blessed with pitch-perfect touchscreen controls, Oddmar is only to be missed if you can’t stand this kind of game. And even then, we suggest taking a look anyway – just in case.
VVVVVV is an old-school twitch platformer. It strings a bunch of single-screen challenges together, gives them silly names, peppers restart points about, and then sits back with an evil grin as you blunder into traps time and time again.
The main twist is VVVVVV’s use of gravity. Instead of jumping, your running man can switch between ceiling and floor. Most rooms within the game cleverly play with this gravity mechanic. There are bounce pads, roaming enemies, and columns of screens where you weave your way down through columns of spikes, and then head back, all because some nutcase didn’t think to install a small bridge.
Visually, the game is odd – 1980s-style graphics, which also look blurry on iPad. The virtual controls are occasionally slippy too. Mostly, though, it’s a joy (albeit sometimes a head-bangingly frustrating one), with smart writing and clever puzzle-infused level design.
Thomas Was Alone ($4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99)
Thomas Was Alone is a platform adventure that tells the tale of a self-aware artificial intelligence. Said AI is represented as a little red rectangle, charged with leaping about blocky environments, and reaching the exit. Along the way, other AIs appear, each with its own distinct abilities, which you must make best use of to get everyone to their goals.
What sets Thomas Was Alone apart is its storytelling. The little rectangles are imbued with big personalities, and a voiceover gives you a window into their thoughts, which is often meta and frequently entertaining. After all, it’s hard not to love a game that finds the hero peering at certain doom, before the voiceover notes: “Something about the boiling, toxic, glowing water intimidated Thomas. He didn’t like it, and he certainly didn’t want to swim in it.”
Still, you’ll want to swim in this game, because it’s a beautifully realized production.
Mushroom 11 ($4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99)
Mushroom 11 finds you controlling a living pile of green gunge that gloops its way around a post-apocalyptic world. Its mission appears to be hoovering up whatever life is desperately clinging on in this harsh landscape, from tiny spiders to mutated plants that spit fire.
If you had to label it, Mushroom 11 is a fairly traditional side-on platform puzzler, but the manner in which it’s controlled proves transformative. There’s no virtual joystick here – instead, you touch to ‘erase’ bits of the green blob, which then rapidly grows back.
This mechanic is used inventively throughout the game, whether you’re figuring out how to zoom through tunnels, make the blob ‘jump’, or split it in two, so one part can trigger a switch while the rest moves onward. On iPad, the game is one of a kind and a tactile joy.
INSIDE (free + $6.99/£6.99/AU$10.99 IAP)
INSIDE is a puzzle-heavy platform game that charts a boy’s adventures in a chilling dystopia. It begins with him fleeing from armed men. You must duck behind trees and flee from ferocious dogs or end up dead, face-down in the dirt.
But death is not the end; like INSIDE’s predecessor, the equally disturbing LIMBO, the hero here seems doomed to repeat every failure until it becomes a victory.
It’s trial and error time, then. You run through a building, get horribly killed, take some mental notes, and then try again. Occasionally, this gets old; some sequences in the game are too long, and a couple have a margin of error that’s too tight.
For the most part, though, this is a game of intriguing puzzles and a mesmerizing – if extremely dark – world, packed full of surprises, horror and tiny victories.
Drop Wizard ($1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99)
Drop Wizard is a single-screen effort that initially resembles a tribute to arcade classics Bubble Bobble and Snow Bros – but it turns out Drop Wizard is a very different beast.
It's part auto-runner, which might infuriate retro-gamers, but this proves to be a brilliant limitation in practice. Your little wizard never stops running, and emits a blast of magic each time he lands. You must therefore time leaps to blast roaming foes, and then boot the dazed creatures during a second pass.
This is a vibrant, fast-paced, engaging game. And since you you only ever move left or right, it’s nicely optimized for touchscreen play.