The best games money can't buy
The days when you had to buy a dedicated gaming rig and spend a load of cash for a quality gaming experience are long gone. Thanks to the iPhone (and iPod touch) and the App Store, you can get an excellent mobile gaming experience for just a few bucks (or quid, for that matter), or even less.
In fact, a lot of the games out there are free. But can you get great games for nothing at all, or is the 'free' section of the App Store just a shoddy excuse to bombard you with in-app purchases?
The answer is, of course, both. The trick is finding the gems amongst the dross, and what follows are our picks of the bunch: our top free iPhone games, presented in no particular order, including both long-time classics and brilliant cutting-edge recent releases. We've even included a VR game for you... aren't you lucky?
New this week: Bacon
Bacon reasons you should put bacon on everything, to make it taste better. You start by dropping a slice on to a sizzling pan. Another tap and it’s flipped on to a cheeseburger for an instant food hack. Next up: pancakes. Everyone knows pancakes taste better with bacon.
Next up, it’s, um, a piña colada, and then a map of the United States of America. You’re invited to create ‘Napoleon Baconaparte’, add bacon to the MSCI World Index, and make an iOS alert extra tasty by draping bacon on top of it.
Not the most sensible of games, then, but Bacon’s a great way to infuse tasty fun into the odd spare moment. The bacon physics is great, the objects you’re faced with are imaginative, and some of the levels are surprisingly challenging.
Want to learn more about the latest iPhone? Check out our overview of the iPhone X below!
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.
Super Cat Tales 2
Super Cat Tales 2 is a platform game that works brilliantly on your iPhone. That in itself is rare, but also this isn’t a stripped-back one-thumb leapy game. Instead, it’s a full-fledged 2D platforming experience reworked for the touchscreen.
The game features a group of cats, determined to save their world from a robot invasion. They sprint, jump, grab coins, and occasionally hop into tanks to eradicate the metal aggressors.
It’s a visual treat – all vibrant colors and chunky pixels. The controls are fab too – a two-thumb system that’s ideal for touchscreens, flexible enough to allow for a range of actions, and that transforms challenges into feats of choreography. In short, this is one of the very best platform games on mobile, and it would be an insult to the creator to not give it a try.
Golfing Around transports you to a simpler age of golf video games. You don’t get lush 3D visuals, enough club choices to give a pro caddie a nervous breakdown, or inch-perfect takes on real-life courses. Instead, you have basic controls, minimal top-down visuals, and a handful of holes dreamed up by the developer.
On iPhone, though, this works really well. The visuals provide clarity, and the straightforward controls afford Golfing Around immediacy. There’s some nuance too – push the power meter into the red and your aim wobbles about, your dream of extra distance at risk from potentially smacking the ball in the wrong direction.
All this ensures Golfing Around makes the cut, but it’s boosted up the leaderboard by a construction kit. Making and sharing your own courses is a cinch. Probably don’t spell out “I prefer soccer actually” using water traps, mind.
Bendy in Nightmare Run
Bendy in Nightmare Run dumps you in a world of seriously messed up cartoons. Crackly audio and glitchy black-and-white visuals recall 1920s animation, but with content apparently ferried in from a nightmare dimension.
Each level has your hero run towards the screen, fleeing a pursuing horror and its legions of tiny – yet equally ferocious – minions. You swipe between three lanes and lob collected weapons behind you with a tap. Do this enough times and your aggressor finally gets the hint and slinks off.
In gameplay terms, there’s little here you’ve not seen before – Bendy is more or less Temple Run flipped 180 degrees – but the presentation alone makes the game worth an install. Just be aware this nightmare run has a difficulty level that, if not nightmarish, is at least very challenging.
A Way to Slay
A Way to Slay is a game of epic sword fights reimagined as time-attack turn-based puzzling. You begin each round surrounded by enemies eager to separate your head from your shoulders. A quick double-tap on any of them and you strike with a killing blow – but then your opponents get their chance to move, and if you’re too near one of them, your innards end up sprayed across the sparse landscape.
Assuming you don’t mind quite a lot of ‘red’ as you go about solving its challenges, A Way to Slay proves itself to be a novel take on turn-based puzzling. And even though your view’s more limited on an iPhone than an iPad, you can use gestures to pan and zoom the screen like you’re directing your very own stabby Hollywood epic.
Alphabear 2 introduces you to a world where bears have made a major blunder with a time machine, and need you to fix things by… spelling words. Even the in-game protagonists don’t seem convinced by that setup, but it’s a fun hook on which to hang the sequel to one of the iPhone’s best word games.
As in the original Alphabear, you make words from Scrabble tiles on a grid. When tiles are used, bears expand into the gaps. Tiles also have countdown timers, and turn to stone if you don’t use them in time, thwarting your ability to make full-screen bears.
There’s a lot going on, including several modes, oddball ‘bear speech’ victory screens, a smattering of (horrors!) education, and a mildly baffling bear collection meta-game. In all, though, it’s furry much worth a download.
Asphalt 9: Legends
Asphalt 9: Legends 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.
Soosiz is a side-on classic platformer – of a sort. Most such games echo Super Mario Bros, having you sprint from left to right, jumping on enemy heads, grabbing bling, and hot-footing it to an exit. Soosiz takes that basic framework, but has you explore tiny chunks of land floating in space, each of which has its own gravitational pull.
As you run, the screen flips and lurches; your brain flips, too, as you try to figure out which way is up, locate a bunch of tiny critters who’ve got themselves lost, and not accidentally careen into the void due to a misdirected jump.
But once everything clicks, what amounts to a 2D take on Super Mario Galaxy proves to be a smart, engaging mobile platformer, putting a new spin on the genre.
Sneak Ops is a stealth game that wants you to “get to the chopper”. The snag: between you and your airborne escape route are rooms packed with enemy soldiers, traps, and – occasionally – inconveniently unbreathable air. Also, you’re unarmed. Thanks, budget cutbacks!
You must therefore sneak about, avoid detection and unsportingly wallop enemies over the head whenever you get the chance. Along the way, you grab floppy disks, which for some reason are used to buy restart points. Perhaps evil dudes are all retro gamers at heart.
It’s tense, pacy stuff, with some fab visuals. Even better: there’s a new mission every day – and everyone gets the same one, thereby pitting you against many thousands of other wannabe strategic operators.
Wordgraphy looks like a stripped-back crossword puzzle with letters crammed into a grid, but the letters are muddled up and you can’t just drag them wherever you fancy. Tap any letter and you’ll be presented with a small set of possible destinations.
The aim is to ensure you create complete words. It’s often easy enough to make one or two, but then you’ll be left with the likes of CCRZK along one axis, and a realization that perhaps your other words aren’t the right ones.
A smart, interesting piece of logic word puzzling, then, and a game that’s suitably different from its contemporaries when you’re getting bored with more conventional fare.
Kind of Soccer
Kind of Soccer will be catharsis in gaming form for anyone who ever felt their soccer team was wronged by an official. That’s because although this game has a pitch and a ball, points are scored by belting the ball directly at the referee’s head.
The controls are a straightforward slingshot – just drag an arrow indicator and let rip. At first, your only danger is bad aim – kick the ball out of bounds and a point is awarded against your team – but in later rounds, defenders attempt to save the ref from a beating.
Fortunately, you can continue your unsporting rage by using bonuses that pop-up, including laser sights, and one option that entertainingly turns every opposition player into a tree.
Fortnite is a massively multiplayer online ‘battle royale’. You’re dropped into a playfield with 100 other players, each aiming to be the last standing. To achieve that goal, you must explore your surroundings, find a dangerous weapon, and use it to do some serious violence.
This in itself isn’t unique – even on mobile. But Fortnite differentiates itself in key ways. It has a sense of humor – and a sense of style that isn’t dull military fare. Also, rather than just shooting things, Fortnite encouragers you to build, creating strategic defensive barriers.
The relatively complex controls are, naturally, a problem on iPhone, and can frustrate in the heat of a battle. For the most part, though, this is impressive and ambitious multiplayer gaming that makes your iPhone feel like a console.
Look, Your Loot!
Look, Your Loot! takes the basics of free-roaming RPGs and shoves them into a grid-based interface not dissimilar from puzzlers like Threes!
The rodent protagonist – a heavily armed mouse – moves about the grid as you swipe, his energy being depleted during battles or replenished on grabbing elixirs and shields. Whenever you enter a new tile, something new appears from the opposite side of the grid.
The key to survival – and a high-score – is carefully planning your route, ensuring you don’t end up trapped between a number of powerful and angry adversaries. It’s the sort of RPG-lite that’s perfect to quickly fire up during a few minutes of downtime; but multiple level layouts and surprising depth in the mechanics also make Look, Your Loot! a rewarding game to master over the longer term.
DROLF is mini golf combined with scribbling and a smattering of route-finding. Courses start in bare-bones, incomplete fashion. You see a ball, a hole, and perhaps a few walls. You then draw on the screen to add new barriers, before dragging a line to smack the ball on its way.
This isn’t a game that cares a jot for realism. The ball has endless momentum and merrily bounces around enclosed spaces like a trapped fly before – with luck – finding the hole, or exiting the screen.
But DROLF wants to be played, and so the only limitations are your pot of scribbling ink (for which you get unlimited undos) and your cunning planning powers when battling later stages packed full of magnets, fans and moving walls. As a tactile touchscreen reimagining of a fun pastime, it’s more hole-in-one than out of bounds.
Pocket Run Pool
Pocket Run Pool reimagines pool for the solo player. It gives you a table from above, with the twist that each of the pockets has a multiplier on it. Your score comprises the number on the ball multiplied by the number on the pocket, and you lose one of your three lives every time you miss a shot or pocket the white.
Aficionados of videogame pool may grumble at this game’s basic nature. The visuals are 2D and minimal, and there’s some major hand-holding regarding aiming. But any such complaints miss the point.
Pocket Run Pool isn’t about slavish realism, but taking a fresh look at pool, and fashioning a modern, quick solo game around scoring and taking risks, rather than getting soundly beaten again and again by a computer opponent on a 3D table.
Letterpress is a mix of Boggle and Risk. Two players (you and an online or computer opponent) face a five-by-five grid of letters and take turns tapping out words. But the key isn’t to show off your vocabulary; instead, you must strategize to secure territory.
Captured letters turn your color, but those surrounded by your tiles become a darker shade and cannot be flipped by your opponent during their turn. With careful play, you gradually chip away at the board; to win, you must secure every tile.
It’s a simple premise, but one that makes for surprisingly exciting battles. Games can turn on a smart play you didn’t see coming; many become like a tug of war, with you and an opponent trading blows. The claustrophobic board further adds to the intensity, and makes a nice change from countless Scrabble clones.
Shadowgun Legends is a first-person shooter with swagger, which depicts you as a show-off gun for hire, partaking in a probably prescient mix of wiping out evil aliens and reality TV.
After arriving in the game’s hub, you immediately find yourself on missions, which mostly involve following fairly linear pathways, violently shooting everything that moves – and some things that don’t. Control mostly happens by way of two thumbs (movement and gaze), with the odd trip to special power-up buttons.
For anyone deep into the world of console shooters, Shadowgun Legends may feel stripped back and reductive, but you’d have to be a misery to not have fun blasting away, gradually working your way through dozens of missions. Just remember when your worryingly eager fans build a statue of your wonderful self to worship, they’ll ditch you the second their next hero comes along.
Colorblind begins with a twist on a gaming cliche – the hero’s girl is kidnapped, but she happens to be an eyeball. So is the hero, Right Eye, who suddenly finds his world bereft of color.
Naturally, the hero sets out to rescue his love, and defeat the nefarious cloud pirates. But all is not as it seems in this world of monochrome platforms and hazards. Grab an easel and specific items spring vividly to life – coins, monsters, traps and platforms. You must make best use of the color (and waterfalls to wash it off) to work your way through the three unique worlds.
Don’t be fooled by the cutesy visuals and sweet-natured music, though – Colorblind also has an eye for old-school platforming classics. This means you’ll need tight reflexes and precision to succeed.
Orbia is a one-thumb action game where you dash between targets, avoiding orbiting monsters. The path onwards is always pre-set, so this game is all about timing – waiting for the exact moment to sneak through a gap rather than ending up getting horribly killed.
It might not be particularly innovative, but although you’ve probably seen a game like this before, Orbia is worth downloading. It looks pretty great, with a nicely cartoonish vibe. The levels and approaches are nicely varied, as is the pace, which veers between Matrix-style slo-mo and like someone’s slammed down a fast-forward button.
With hundreds of levels and a slew of skins to collect (each of which offers unique abilities), Orbia should keep you dashing for some time.
Golf Up is an endless golfing game. However, as its name might suggest, this isn’t about forever belting a ball across a horizontal landscape - the holes here head towards the heavens.
Everything about Golf Up is pretty basic. The visuals are clean, and the audio sparse. The controls are straightforward, too: drag a finger to set direction and power. A little aiming arc even helps predict where the ball will go.
A simple game, then, but Golf Up quickly proves itself to be a relaxing, meditative arcade experience, with a hint of strategy and risk. There’s no timer and no rush, but you always know you’re only one shot from your ball falling into the abyss, ending your latest attempt at a new high score.
Retro Highway 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.
Up a Cave
Up a Cave is a platform game that seemingly plays out in a world of ice. As you leap about, collecting gems and stars, you quickly realize the square protagonist slides all over the place. And that’s a problem, given that the titular caves are strewn with square-killing spikes and other horrors.
This game cleverly mixes precision and speed. One minute, you’re carefully picking your way up a wall; the next, you’re zooming along like a blocky Sonic. The tension is sometimes further ramped up when you’re pursued by a mean-looking eyeball covered in spikes.
The one snag is a fairly obnoxious lives system (wait 30 minutes for five, or watch an ad) that lacks an IAP buy-out. Still, the quality of this freebie is such that you’ll put up with the inconvenience, to get another crack at the latest tricky cave.
Will Hero is a superb one-thumb arcade game that features a blocky hero dashing through a world of levitating islands, being all heroic and duffing up enemies. His foes are mostly bouncing cubes, and you must carefully time dashes to pass beneath them, or engineer collisions to knock them into the abyss.
Crack open a chest you find on your travels, and you’ll get weapons that transform dashes into violent attacks. Add in the game’s collectible helms (from unlocking loot crate chests), and you’ll end up with many potential weapons to choose from, including missiles and colossal swords.
Will Hero is fast-paced, inventive, and a lot of fun. It has a unique feel, and pleasingly bucks convention when you rescue a princess. When you do so, she tags along on subsequent adventures, gleefully hacking away at the enemies who once imprisoned her.
A Hollow Doorway
A Hollow Doorway finds a rectangular doorway spinning into the void. Its survival depends on your thumb – dragging left and right to align the doorway with an endless number of rapidly approaching concentric walls. Imagine Super Hexagon, if the game was instead called Super Rectangle, and only required one of your thumbs for controlling things, rather than two.
Initially, the overt simplicity makes A Hollow Doorway seem throwaway, and surprisingly basic from the brains behind superb platformer Circa Infinity and the insanely tricky Yankai’s puzzlers.
But there’s nuance here. Each of the game’s nine zones has its own character, often melding with the excellent audio. And for the long-term, these zones have a theoretically infinite range of difficulty modes – enough to push even the twitchiest of dexterous thumbs to its absolute limits.
Cobalt Dungeon finds an explorer roaming dungeons, battling monsters, going on quests, and occasionally getting a bit shoppy. The action’s turn-based, and success often depends on engaging your chess brain to think several moves ahead. When you’re surrounded by enemies, you must figure out in which order to dispatch them.
This infusion of puzzling isn’t uncommon in top-down games of this kind, but it plays out really nicely in Cobalt Dungeon. When you’re surrounded by roaming floating eyeballs, you might initially panic. But then you’ll spot a narrow path to coax them down, to off them one by one, or figure out how to exploit their sluggish movement patterns.
With procedurally generated dungeons and in-game upgrade stores, every game is different. But more importantly, Cobalt Dungeon’s clever design means that every game is fun.
Flipflop Solitaire reasons that a card game you play on an iPhone should be designed for its screen and mobile play rather than a table. To that end, it takes spider solitaire as a basic framework, then messes around with the formula.
You’re still working with stacks of cards, aiming to sort them back into suits. However, in this game you have only five columns to work with and the height of your iPhone’s display provides a vertical limit.
Flipflop Solitaire shakes things up more by letting you stack cards in increasing or decreasing value. This single change proves transformative, turning every deal into a solvable puzzle, and games with a single suit into frantic, entertaining speed-runs.
Disc Drivin’ 2
Disc Drivin’ 2 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.
Slime Pizza is a platform game, with running and jumping replaced by catapulting the protagonist around like one of the characters from Angry Birds. The hero here (a delivery drone for Slime Pizza) is a gloopy blob that sticks to ceilings and walls, and his world is one of lethal traps, gigantic spiders, and annoyingly efficient guard dogs.
Your aim is to grab scattered pizzas and make your way ever further into a game continually finding inventive ways to kill you. With its unconventional controls and restart points that only appear every half-dozen or so screens, Slime Pizza can frustrate when you hit a tricky bit and repeatedly have to fight your way back for another go.
On the whole, though, it’s a novel mobile platformer with enough charm and smarts to make you stick around.
The Battle of Polytopia
The Battle of Polytopia is more or less a classic version of Civilization played in fast-forward. You start off with a single city, surrounded by the unknown. You then explore, research technologies, and give anyone who gets in your way a serious kicking.
Unlike the sprawling Civilization games, Polytopia is focused and sleek. The technology tree stops before guns arrive, the standard game mode limits you to 30 moves, and new cities cannot be founded – only conquered.
For the more bloodthirsty, there’s a domination mode, where you aim to be the last tribe standing. The maximum map size expands and online asynchronous multiplayer opens up if you pay for more tribes. However you play, this is a furiously addictive, brilliantly realized slice of mobile strategy.
Six Match is a match-three game with a twist. Rather than arbitrarily swapping gems, you control a character with the oddly literal moniker Mr Swap-With-Coins, and as the game’s name suggests, he has just six moves after every successful match to make another.
The game wrong-foots you from the start. Any muscle memory you have from the likes of Bejeweled evaporates as you figure out the most efficient way to make the next match. The result is a game heavy on puzzling and light on speed.
Just when you think you’ve got it worked out, Six Match throws new mechanics into the mix: diamonds you clear by dropping them out of the well, deadly skulls and cages that push entire lines of coins. The layered strategy should keep you matching for the long term, as you figure out new ways to crack your high score.
ARcade Plane – with emphasis in the ‘AR’ – combines the complex and the simple, providing you with an augmented reality gaming experience controlled by a single digit.
The game projects a tiny city on to a nearby surface, above which a plane circles. It’s low on fuel and – for reasons unknown – must grab a set number of stars before it lands. The tiny snag: the city is rather suspiciously surrounded by extremely tall, spiky hills – and between them is where the stars are found.
You hold the screen to dive, carefully timing doing so to snatch up stars, then release the screen so your plane briefly soars heavenward again. All the while, your city grows and you unlock more planes. Simple stuff, then, but an effective and fun use of AR that anyone can get into.
It’s Full of Sparks
It’s Full of Sparks finds you in a world where firecrackers are cruelly imbued with sentience. Aware of their imminent demise, they make a beeline for water to extinguish their spark and therefore not explode. Your aim is to help them make a splash.
Each of the 80 hand-crafted levels takes a mere handful of seconds to complete – at least when you master the precise choreography required. Before then, there’s plenty of trial and error as you tap colored buttons to turn hazards and chunks of the landscape on and off, and grab rotors that let you soar heavenward.
Despite occasionally slippy controls, this one’s a joy – full of personality and smart level design. It’s likely to put a smile on your face even when your firework goes out with a bang.
Amazing Katamari Damacy
Amazing Katamari Damacy is a deeply weird endless runner. It’s based on a popular PlayStation 2 game, where a tiny prince rolls a magical ball (the titular katamari) into smaller things to make it grow.
On iPhone, the original’s free-roaming nature has been dispensed with, but its bonkers premise remains. You start off rolling nails into your ball, but it quickly balloons to take on toys, vehicles, and entire buildings.
The controls are a touch slippy – although better in tilt than swipe – and games can be lengthy. But this one’s a visual treat, with an interesting twist that makes it worth a look even if you’re tiring of games where you endlessly sprint into the screen.
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.
Duke Dashington Remastered
Duke Dashington Remastered is a fast-paced single-screen platform game featuring dapper explorer Duke Dashington. Suitably, given his moniker, this treasure-hunting gent doesn’t so much walk as dash. Press left or right and he hurtles in that direction until hitting a wall. Prod up and he shoots towards the ceiling.
This turn of speed is handy, given that his adventures take place within four crumbling dungeons. He must escape each room before a ten-second timer runs down, or end up being a kind of buried treasure himself.
Smart level design turns each of the 120 rooms into something akin to a tiny puzzle. And although the entire game can be dashed through in a couple of hours, a time-attack mode gives hardy and dextrous armchair adventurers a reason to return.
Cally’s Caves 4
Cally’s Caves 4 continues the adventures of worryingly heavily armed pigtailed protagonist Cally, a young girl who spends most of her life leaping about vast worlds of suspended platforms, shooting all manner of bad guys.
For once, her parents haven’t been kidnapped (the plot behind all three previous games in the series) – this time she’s searching for a medallion to cure a curse. But the gameplay remains an engaging mix of console-like running and shooting, with tons of weapons to find (and level-up by blasting things).
But perhaps the best sections feature Bera, Cally’s ‘ninja bear cub’ pal. His razor-sharp claws make short work of enemies, resulting in a nice change of pace as the furry sidekick tears up the place.
Infiniroom is an endless runner set inside a claustrophobic room. The dinky protagonist leaps from wall to wall, going in circles and avoiding electrified boxes that periodically pop-up.
Every now and again, a chunk of surrounding wall turns orange, before vanishing and opening things up a bit. But sometimes space within the room turns red – a warning that it’s about to become wall again, and that you really shouldn’t be there when it does. Lasers and whirling saw blades add further complications.
Each character in the game has a special power, designed to increase their longevity. But make no mistake: this is intense twitch gaming of the Super Hexagon kind.
Managing to survive for a minute requires almost superhuman reactions. Just be aware all those short games add up – Infiniroom might be brutal and frustrating, but it’s also hugely compelling.
Sonic Forces: Speed Battle
Sonic Forces: Speed Battle re-imagines Sega’s long-time mascot’s adventures as a 3D lane-based auto-runner. Which is to say that it’s an awful lot like Sonic Dash and Sonic Dash 2, which you may have already played.
The twist here is in the ‘battle’ bit, which pits you against three other human players. As you belt along the track, avoiding traps, you can grab pick-ups – many of which happen to be weapons.
This transforms the slightly throwaway Sonic Dash format into a tense and competitive on-rails racer closer in nature to Mario Kart.
Naturally, there’s still a load of freemium shenanigans stinking the place up a bit, but even for free there’s plenty of blazing fast fun to be had.
BotHeads looks like a low-rent Badland game, with its colorful backgrounds, and levels full of silhouettes. But BotHeads plays very differently, being more about precision than semi-controlled chaos – even if you’re often pelted along against your will.
Your BotHead has two thrusters to keep it aloft. You travel rightwards, towards periodic checkpoints that allow a few seconds’ breathing space. Levels are full of hazards, from pinball-like bumpers that hurl you off-course to giant saw blades.
That wouldn’t be so bad, but the aim is to get through the entire game in one go. By means of ‘encouragement’, the trails of ex-BotHeads from failed attempts appear in the background of subsequent attempts. It all combines to make for an immediate, compelling blend of styles and ideas that’s perfectly suited to iPhone.
Super Phantom Cat 2
Super Phantom Cat 2 is an eye-searingly colorful side-scrolling platform game. Like its predecessor, this game wants you to delve into every nook and cranny, looking for hidden gold, unearthing secrets, and finding out what makes its vibrant miniature worlds tick.
It’s also a game that never seems content to settle – and we mean that in a good way. It revels in unleashing new superpowers, such as a flower you fire at walls to make climbing vines, or at bricks to increase their fragility. It also wants you to experiment, figuring out how critters who are ostensibly your enemies can be coerced into doing your bidding.
The only downside is the presence of freemium elements (ads and an ‘energy’ system) - although both can be removed with inexpensive IAP if you agree this is one cool cat to hang out with.
Anycrate takes the idea of a gunfight and hurls it headlong into absurdist territory. There’s no ‘20 paces’ nonsense here – instead, the two protagonists are on floating stone platforms, leaping about like maniacs and blasting each other with gigantic bullets.
You can share your device to play against a friend (which is admittedly more suitable with an iPad) or play against the AI.
And given that we’re firmly in arcade territory, it should come as no surprise that there are all sorts of power-ups that affect the game in various ways. Medical kits patch up your tiny soldier, but you’re just as likely to blast a crate that unsportingly sends fiery meteors your opponent’s way.
Given that you only get two buttons (Jump and Shoot), there’s a surprising amount going on in Anycrate, not least when you venture into the co-op mode with a friend, and find yourselves battling to protect a pile of bling from tiny ‘magical’ thieves. No, we weren’t expecting that twist either.
Train Bandit isn’t exactly nuanced. It depicts a showdown on top of a train, where a bandit faces off against an endless stream of foes, all of whom are quick on the draw – and armed to the teeth.
The bandit’s not going to take his impending demise lying down – instead, he’ll take as many of the enemies with him as he can. You therefore tap left and right to dart between carriages, kicking enemies in the face before they shoot you.
Make one wrong move and you’re dead. Misread the type of enemy you’re facing and you’re dead. Pause for a fraction of a second too long and you’re dead. You get the picture. But the great thing about being a bandit in a videogame – you can always be resurrected for another quick go.
Data Wing 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 Data Wing’s story is as clever as the racing bits, and it all adds up to the iPhone’s most essential freebie.
Tappy Cat is a rhythm action game, with you playing as a musical moggie. Your cat sits before a ‘tree guitar’, and notes head out from the middle of the screen along two rails. These must be tapped, held, or tapped along with another note, depending on their color.
This is routine for a rhythm action game, but it’s the execution that makes Tappy Cat delightful. It feels perfectly tuned for iPhone (your thumbs can always reach the notes), and there’s a cat-collection meta-game, rewarding you with new kitties when you totally nail a tune.
The only bum notes are a lives system (a video ad will give you five lives – although there is also a $2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49 endless lives IAP for those who want it), and the way in which a single major blunder ends your latest attempt at musical superstardom of the furry kind.
Flat Pack wraps a two-dimensional platform game around three-dimensional shapes. You control a little flying creature tasked with collecting every side of a cube before finding a level’s exit.
But figuring out where to head isn’t straightforward, because in applying a 2D game world to 3D wall surfaces, you can end up facing a different way when entering a plane from a new direction.
Fortunately, the game has a gentle difficulty curve – death means restarting a level, but not collecting cube parts you’ve already found. And Flat Pack slowly introduces its new ideas, such as enemies defeated by smashing them from below.
Should you find the main game discombobulating, there’s also an augmented reality mode, which has you walk around a puzzle with your iPhone. It’s a weird but effective experience.
Memory Path is a simple memory test that showcases how polish and smart design can transform the most basic of concepts into an essential download.
Across 50 levels, you tap left or right to move along a path toward a goal. The twist is the path disappears shortly after you enter a level. Initially, remembering where to go isn’t tough, but later levels are likely to find your adventurer regularly impaled before you finally succeed.
Levels complete, you’ll feel fully trained for the endless modes. Random shuffles the order in which you tackle levels; and Race Path is all about speed – how far you can get before the road ahead vanishes. Sharp isometric graphics, a gentle soundtrack, and unlockable characters further boost the game’s longevity.
Power Hover: Cruise
Power Hover: Cruise is three endless runners (well, surfers) for the price of one. It borrows the boss battle levels from the superb, beautiful Power Hover, and expands on them. You get to speed through a booby-trapped pyramid, avoid projectiles blasted your way by an angry machine you’re chasing through a tunnel, and whirl around a track that snakes through the clouds.
This is a gorgeous game, with silky animation and minimal, but vibrant objects and scenery. The audio is excellent, too – the rousing electronic soundtrack urging you on.
There are a couple of snags: games can abruptly end due to difficulty spikes, and the controls initially seem floaty. But we grew to love the inertia, which differentiates Power Hover: Cruise and makes it feel like you’re surfing on air. As for the difficulty, spend time learning the hazards and mastering the game, and you’ll soon be climbing the high score tables.
Finger Smash is more or less whack-a-mole with fruit - and a big ol’ dose of sudden death. You get a minute to dish out tappy destruction, divided up into seconds-long rounds.
In each case, you’re briefly told what to smash, and set about tapping like a maniac. Hit the wrong object, and your game ends with a flaming skull taunting you. (Lasting the full minute is surprisingly tough.)
This is a simple high-score chaser, and so there’s understandably not a lot of depth here. However, there are plenty of nice touches. The visuals have an old-school charm, and the music is suitably energetic.
But also, there’s the way you can swipe through multiple items, the bomb that ominously appears during the final ten seconds, and varied alternate graphics sets if you feel the need to squish space invaders, fast food, or adorable cartoon robots. Great stuff.
is an endless runner set in a landscape of endless industrial cogs and sparks. You control a piece of metal you set spinning with a swipe, subsequently tapping to leap, and swiping downwards to flip the ground beneath you.
In the endless mode, played in portrait, you try to get as far as possible – easier said than done when massive pieces of machinery regularly want to flatten you, and your power must be constantly replenished by grabbing golden targets.
There’s also a 15-level challenge mode, which plays out in landscape. This is more about pathfinding – getting to the end of each course intact, having collected as many gems as possible along the way. However you play, Spin Addict is a wonderful app with a properly premium feel (bar the inevitable ads, which can be removed for $0.99/99p/AU$1.49).
is an endless jumper with a sadistic streak – at least as far as its bounding protagonist goes. The two-eyed ball is tied to a central spiked star by a huge piece of elastic. Whenever you hold the screen, the hero moves in a clockwise direction.
The snag is hitting the spiked star spells instant doom – as does touching anything else that’s black. At first, this mostly means jumping on white orbs, and avoiding the odd lurking blob, but before long, the star starts lobbing all manner of ball-killing stuff your way.
You can fight back by grabbing power ups and smashing the white bits of projectiles, while chasing dual high scores – how many white orbs you hit, and your furthest distance from the star. Leap On! is admittedly a bit one note, but the pacy, chaotic gameplay very much appeals in short bursts.
Built for Speed
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.
Knight Saves Queen
Initially, he’s only faced by pawns, but soon other pieces enter the fray, forcing you to carefully plan your path. Over time, allies also appear, allowing you to further manipulate the opposition, which takes pieces every chance it gets.
The bite-sized nature of the game combined with the smart puzzle design make it ideal freebie fare for mobile. We do, however, take exception at needing perfect runs on every level set to unlock the next – unless, of course, you buy coins via IAP.
Still, if nothing else, this forces you to properly tackle every puzzle, rather than blaze through with the least amount of effort.
Flick Soccer 17
is all about scoring goals by booting a ball with your finger. It looks very smart, with fairly realistic visuals and nicely arcade-y ball movement. You can unleash pretty amazing shots as you aim for the targets, and occasionally bean a defender.
The game includes several alternate modes, providing a surprising amount of variation on the basic theme. There’s a speed option that involves flicking at furious speed, and the tense sudden-death Specialist, which ends your go after three failed attempts to hit the target.
Rather more esoteric fare also lurks, demanding you repeatedly hit the crossbar, or smash panes of glass a crazy person has installed in the goalmouth.
Like real-world sport on the TV, Flick Soccer is a bit ad-infested. You can, though, remove ads with a one-off $0.99/99p/AU$1.99 IAP, or – ironically – turn them off for ten minutes by watching an ad.
Drop Wizard Tower
is a superb mobile take on classic single-screen arcade platform games like Bubble Bobble. Your little wizard has been thrown in jail by the evil Shadow Order, and must ascend a tower over 50 levels to give his enemies a good ‘wanding’ (or something.)
It’s all very cute, with dinky pixelated enemies, varied level design (skiddy ice; disappearing platforms; watery bits in which you move slowly), and fast-paced boss battles against gargantuan foes.
Most importantly, it’s very much designed for mobile. You auto-run left or right, and blast magic when landing on a platform. Said blasts temporarily stun roaming enemies, which can be booted away, becoming a whirling ‘avalanche’ on colliding with cohorts.
The auto-running bit disarms at first – in most similar games, the protagonist stays put unless you keep a direction button held. But once the mechanics click, Drop Wizard Tower cements itself as a little slice of magic on your iPhone.
One Tap Rally
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.
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).
Fish & Trip
In , you command a single smiling fish, happily swimming in the ocean depths. Using your finger, you direct the fish towards eggs and other stragglers, the latter of which join you to gradually form a school. Unfortunately, everything else in the sea is hungry for a fish dinner.
At first, you’ll spot spiky anemones and the occasional sluggish green fish with big teeth. But eventually, you’ll be zig-zagging through claustrophobic seas, trying to find new friends to keep your school alive, and avoiding massive sharks that show up to the theme from Jaws.
It’s all rather simple, and may eventually pall. But in the short term at least, Fish & Trip is one of those wonderful and rare iPhone games pretty much guaranteed to plaster a smile on your face.
, like its subject matter of gardening, is something that only really works if you’re willing to put in the investment. And that’s because it’s a puzzler that’s easy to grasp within seconds, but that rewards long-term play, as you slowly master new strategies to lengthen your games.
The board is a four-by-four grid, into which you add plants. Every four moves you can harvest a plant – or group of adjacent plants – which turns the soil. A reckless approach soon leaves you with non-contiguous chunks of land and no chance of removing loads of plants at once.
Even when planning ahead, the game’s inherently random nature can rapidly end a game. But Topsoil’s charm and gradual drip-feeding of new items to plant makes for a leisurely and enduring brain-teaser ideal for filling spare moments.
NASCAR Heat Mobile
There’s a lot going on in 3D racer . There’s the racing bit, obviously, which is rather nicely done. You find yourself on an oval of tarmac, attempting to slipstream and weave your way to the checkered flag, avoiding a horrible pile-up along the way. It all looks rather smart, even if vehicle movement is occasionally suspect; the controls are simple and responsive too.
Away from the racing, you can delve into a meta-game of sorts, erecting buildings to generate resources that support your little race team’s efforts. This can be a bit of a distraction, but adds depth to the game.
And while the entire package doesn’t hold a candle to the madcap racing in the likes of Asphalt, it works nicely if you fancy speeding along in a manner that’s a bit more grounded.
is an easy game to dismiss. Despite the pleasant piano soundtrack and clear visuals, it doesn’t seem like anything special. You get a bunch of interlocking circles with dots on, and must select and rotate them so the puzzle matches the image at the top of the screen. Easy!
Only rvlvr. is anything but. Once you’ve blazed through the initial levels, everything becomes a mite more complicated. You end up staring at half a dozen or more rings with dots liberally sprinkled about, realizing one wrong move might wreck everything you’ve to that point worked so hard for.
This mix of progression and challenge, alongside rvlvr’s quiet elegance, will keep it rooted to your home screen. And that you can skip any of the 15,000(!) puzzle combinations is a nice touch, ensuring you won’t remain stuck on a single test you can’t get your head around.
Full of Stars
There’s ambition at the heart of Full of Stars, which so easily could have been yet another run-of-the-mill tap-based survival game.
Much of your time is spent in space, tapping screen edges to deftly weave your ship through space debris. When possible, you scoop up stardust to charge up your weapons system and a hyperdrive that blasts you towards your destination at serious speed.
But Full of Stars is also a role-playing game of sorts, finding you immersed in a plot that puts humanity on the brink. Along with your deft arcade skills, you’ll need to manage resources and make vital decisions to ensure your survival.
It can get repetitive, and the arcade sections are sometimes harsh, but Full of Stars is a commendable effort at trying something different – a story-driven journey that demands both arcade and strategic smarts.
Swordigo is a love letter to the classic side-scrolling platform adventures that blessed 16-bit consoles. You leap about platforms, slice up enemies with your trusty sword, and figure out how to solve simple puzzles, which open up new areas of the game and move the plot onwards.
The plot is, admittedly, nothing special – you’re embarking on the kind of perilous quest to keep evil at bay that typically afflicts videogame heroes. But everything else about Swordigo shines.
The virtual controls are surprisingly solid, the environments are pleasingly varied, and the pace ranges from pleasant quiet moments of solitude to intense boss battles you’ll struggle to survive. All in all, then, a fitting tribute to those much-loved titles of old.
Tape it Up!
It takes place on an endless scrolling conveyor belt, with your little dispenser leaping from box to box as you swipe. It’s easy to grasp, but tough to survive when everything’s moving at breakneck speed.
Grab enough coins and you unlock rather more esoteric dispensers that give the game a surreal edge. You might end up sealing boxes with milk, while cows moo in the background, or controlling a little console-style dispenser while an exciting-looking shoot ’em up taunts you by playing itself below.
Ah well – everyone knows taping up boxes is more fun than blowing up spaceships, right?
Playing football on your own can be dull – that is, unless you’re the sporty hero of . As ever, scoring is the main aim – and there’s a goal to be found somewhere on each course. But along the way, you can also collect coins someone’s generously left lying around.
The controls are straightforward (aim with a directional arrow and then let rip); much of the challenge comes in trying to maximize your star rating by reaching the goal using the fewest possible kicks. You’ll also have to navigate increasingly complex courses as you move through a city, caverns, a factory, and a scorching desert.
The game’s a bit ad-infested, with a mildly hateful level unlock mechanism that encourages grinding, but played in bite-sized chunks, it’s definitely more ‘match winner’ than ‘own goal’.
You know when a game’s entire App Store description is “an exciting new thumb-sport” that you’re probably not heading for a title with oodles of depth.
Here, a little fish swims in a circle whenever you press the screen, aiming to keep a square jelly in play. If you don’t think that’s hard enough (and, frankly, it is – this game’s like juggling at speed), crabs eventually mosey on in to complicate matters, and new levels open up where you’re juggling multiple jellies.
A simple title, then, but one with immediacy (given how simple it is to grasp) and relentless intensity. Plus, games are short enough that you can probably have several attempts to beat your high score while waiting in a queue at the grocery store.
Although, at its core, this is a fairly standard lane-based survival game (swipe to avoid traffic; don’t crash), Dashy Crashy has loads going on underneath the surface. It’s packed full of neat features, such as pile-ups, a gorgeous day/night cycle, and random events that involve maniacs hurtling along a lane, smashing everything out of their way.
It also cleverly adds value to mobile gaming’s tendency to have you collect things. In Dashy Crashy, you’re periodically awarded vehicles, but these often shake up how you play the game. For example, the cop car can collect massive donuts for bonus points, and an army jeep can call in tanks – just like you wish you could when stuck in slow-moving traffic.
Frisbee Forever 2
Flinging a plastic disc about isn’t the most thrilling premise for a game, which is why it’s a surprise is so good. The game finds a little toy careening along rollercoaster-like pathways, darting inside buildings and tunnels, and soaring high above snow-covered mountains and erupting volcanos.
You simply dart left and right, keeping aloft by collecting stars, and avoiding hazards at all costs – otherwise your Frisbee goes ‘donk’ and falls sadly to the ground. Grab enough bling and you unlock new stages and Frisbees.
This game could have been a grindy disaster, but instead it’s a treat. The visuals are superb – bright and vibrant – and the courses are smartly designed. And even if you fail, Frisbee Forever 2 lobs coins your way, rewarding any effort you put in.
Pixel Craft - Space Shooter
Before long, you clock formations and foes, learn to dodge huge arrows fired by a massive space bow, figure out how to avoid kamikaze ships, and discover how to best an opponent that’s apparently ambled in, lost from arcade classic Caterpillar. Then you face a massive boss and get blown up again.
It’s staccato at first, then – even grindy. But Pixel Craft has a sense of fun and urgency that makes it worth sticking with. The aesthetics and controls are impressive, and death always feels fair – to be blamed on your fingers failing you.
But with perseverance comes collected bling and ship upgrades. Then you’re the one dishing out lessons in lasery death!
(At least until you meet the next boss.)
You aim to guide two friends to a goal in each of the 60 tiny single-screen levels. The chums are typically surrounded by platforms, spikes, and switches – and that’s before you consider the perilous drops into a bottomless void. Also, there’s usually no obvious way for both to reach the goal.
It’s a head-scratcher until you start utilizing Heart Star’s world-swapping. Prod a button to switch character, whereupon the other friend’s platforms vanish. With a combination of brainpower, deft finger-work, and having the friends collaborate – often by one hopping on the other’s head – a solution should present itself, allowing you to continue on your journey.
The basics are familiar: you direct the protagonist by swiping about, aiming to keep ahead of your inevitable demise for as long as possible. But in Remedy Rush, you play as an experimental remedy (such as a cookie or sunglasses) exploring a grid-like infected body.
As you scoot about, toxins are destroyed to open up pathways, and health bursts can be collected to take out any cells and germs that are in your way. Over time, the host gets sicker and the fever more ferocious; when the end comes, you can try again with a new remedy, each one having its own game-altering side-effect.
Mostly, this one is a think-ahead puzzler, with loads of box sliding. But instead of being purely turn-based fare, King Rabbit adds tense swipe-based arcade sections, with you running from scary creatures armed with rabbit-filleting weaponry.
Really, this isn’t anything you won’t have seen before, but King Rabbit rules through its execution. Visually, everything’s very smart, from the clear, colorful backgrounds to the wonderfully animated hero (and the little jig he does on rescuing a chum). But the puzzles are the real heroes, offering a perfect balance of immediacy and brain-scratching.
Instead, you’ve limited action points, which are used to transform pieces you already have on the board. (So, for example, with three points, you can cunningly change a pawn into a knight.) The aim remains a game-winning checkmate, and, presumably, avoiding the ire of your non-magic opponent.
It’s chess as a puzzler, then, and with a twist that’ll even make veterans of the game stop and think about how to proceed at any given moment.
After all, when you get deep into the game’s challenges, you might find wizarding powers don’t always make for a swift win when you can’t move your pieces.
We’re sort of in Crossy Road territory here, but instead of a chicken hopping along an endless landscape of roads and rivers, finds a little knight dumped in a seemingly infinite dungeon full of traps.
Credit to whoever wanted to make the knight suffer, because said traps include endless inventive ways to kill someone, from squelching blobs of goo to massive metal panels that slam together, squashing flat anyone daft enough to get in their way.
As ever, you’re being chased by some kind of unrelenting evil (here depicted by loads of spooky red eyes) and so can’t hang about.
As such, you’ll mostly fail by swiping the wrong way when in a panic, thereby impaling your knight. Still, grab enough bling on your journey and you can upgrade your character (and unlock new ones), giving them a fighting chance – well, at least an extra 30 seconds.
Icarus – A Star’s Journey
In , you help a fallen star get back to the heavens. To make each little leap upwards, you drag back and release to catapult the star, like a celestial Angry Bird. Over time, energy is used, your star eventually exploding; to avoid that, you temporarily lurk inside other stars for a quick top up.
Much of the challenge involves successfully navigating hazards – usually spinning shapes you awkwardly ricochet off of – before you burn through your health.
Grab enough orbs along the way and you can lengthen subsequent attempts through leveling up and gaining extra health. If only you could burn through the ads, too, since they obliterate the tranquil vibe – but, inexplicably, there’s no IAP for that.
Given Laser Dog’s tendency to make infuriatingly difficult games, at first seems like a departure. You control a little cartoon banana, keeping it in the air – and away from massive saw blades – by tapping the screen and swiping to move a bit. It’s like a pleasant keepie-uppie effort – for a few seconds.
After that point, all hell breaks loose, with your worried-looking fruit having to escape a squishy, painful death by avoiding laser guns, rockets, and all manner of other hazards intent on shoving it towards the blades.
Collect enough stars while tapping the screen and you can unlock new victims. If you’re terrible, there are no shortcuts to bolster your collection either – the only IAP is to get rid of the ads. Brutal.
Tomb of the Mask
With eye-searing colors and jagged pixels, looks like it’s escaped from a ZX Spectrum, but this fast-paced twitch maze game is very much a modern mobile effort. In a sense, it feels a bit like a speeded-up and flattened Pac-Man 256, with you zooming through a maze, eating dots, and outrunning an all-devouring evil.
But the controls here are key – a flick hurls you in that direction until something makes you stop. Hopefully, that’s a wall. If it’s a spike or an enemy, you’re dead.
The procedurally generated Arcade mode increasingly ramps up the intensity as you strive to reach the end of each tomb, while a stage-based mode pits your flicking finger against 60 deviously designed set challenges.
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 , 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.
Super Cat Tales
But although Super Cat Tales twangs the odd nostalgia gland, the controls make it a thoroughly modern affair. Character movement happens by tapping the left or right screen edge - hold to move or double-tap to dash. While dashing, your moggie will leap from a platform’s edge; and if sliding down a wall, a tap in the opposite direction performs a wall jump.
At first, this feels confusing, as muscle memory fights these unique controls. Before long, though, this smart design dovetails with succinct levels packed with secrets, collectible cats with distinct abilities, and gorgeous aesthetics, to make for one of the best games of its type on mobile.
The Mikey series has evolved with every entry. Initially a speedrun-oriented stripped-back Mario, it then gained swinging by way of grappling hooks, before ditching traditional controls entirely, strapping jet boots to Mikey in a kind of Flappy Bird with class.
With , the series has its biggest shift yet. Scrolling levels are dispensed with, in favor of quick-fire single-screen efforts. Now, Mikey auto-runs, and you tap the screen to time jumps so he doesn’t end up impaled on a spike or plummet to his death.
It sounds reductive, but the result is superb. Devoid of cruft and intensely focused, Mikey Jumps is perfect for mobile play, makes nods to previous entries in the series (with hooks and boots peppered about) and has excellent level design that sits just on the right side of infuriatingly tough.
A little square scoots back and forth across the screen, changing color whenever it hits the edge and reverses direction. Your aim is to tap a matching colored column when the square passes over it.
The snag is that the square then changes color again; furthermore, the columns all change color when the square hits a screen edge.
To add to your troubles, Higher Higher! regularly speeds up, too, thereby transforming into a high-octane dexterity and reactions test. Combos are the key to the highest scores and, as ever, one mistake spells game over.
is a somewhat abstract game that borrows from endless runners and rhythm action titles. You play as a white hexagon, sliding left to right to scoop up green hexagons streaming in from the top. You can also tap, which jumps you to the relative horizontal location while simultaneously switching deadly red hexagons to green (and greens to red). It sounds complicated, but it really isn’t.
Survival is reliant on observation and quick thinking, where you must constantly ensure whatever hexagons are coming up are the right color, jump across at the perfect moment, and slide to scoop them all up. Last long enough and you unlock new modes and music.
It would have been interesting to see choreographed levels with percentage scores, rather than games comprising semi-randomized waves that always end on a single missed hexagon; nevertheless, Satellina Zero is a fresh, compelling arcade experience.
is a furious, high-speed color-matching game that punishes you for the slightest hesitation. The initial mode plonks you in front of a three-by-three grid, and you have to swap colored squares, Bejewelled-style, to make complete lines, which then vanish.
The timer is the key to the game. A clock sits in the upper-left of the screen and rapidly counts down, giving you only a few moments to complete a line. If the timer runs dry it's game over; make a line and it resets, giving you another few seconds.
The intensity is therefore always set to maximum, nicely contrasting with the game's friendly, bold colors (which amusingly turn stark black and white the instant you lose); and if you stick around, you'll find further challenges by way of boosters and tougher modes.
Aptly named, given that it has loads of platforms and aims to make you panic, Platform Panic is a high-speed single-screen platform game. Whenever you enter a new screen, you’ve a split second to work out what’s going on before you forge ahead, trying to beat its various traps. As is so often the way on mobile gaming titles, a single slip up spells death.
There’s auto-runner DNA in Platform Panic, since your little character never stops running – although you can change their direction with a swipe and, crucially, leap into the air. Over many games, you’ll figure out how to beat each screen, and then it’s just a question of chaining together a number of successful attempts.
This is easier said than done, mind. Scores of over a dozen are something to be proud of in Platform Panic’s world. Still, games are short enough that when your little cartoon avatar is rudely impaled, there’s always time for another go.
Really Bad Chess
Apparently turned off by chess’s commitment to beauty, elegance and balance, the developer of Really Bad Chess set out to break it. You therefore start your first game with a seriously souped-up set of pieces: several queens, and loads of knights. Your hapless computer opponent can only look on while lumbered with a suspicious number of pawns.
One easy win later and you’re full of confidence, but Really Bad Chess keeps switching things up. Rather than the AI getting better or worse, the game changes the balance of your set-up. As you improve, your pieces get worse and the computer’s get better, until you’re the one fending off an overpowered opponent.
It’s a small twist on the chess formula, to be sure, but one that opens up many new ways of playing, whether you’re a grandmaster or a relative novice.
In , you careen along winding roads, smashing your chunky car into other similarly Lego-like vehicles. When possible, you lob missiles about with merry abandon, boost, drift, and generally barrel along like a lunatic. It’s a bit like a stripped-down Burnout or a gleefully violent OutRun.
Your terrorising of other road users (through near misses and blithely driving on the wrong side of the road), rewards you with coins to spend on powering up your ride. Do so and Maximum Car speeds up significantly, veering into absurd and barely controllable territory.
Takedowns (as in, smashing other cars off of the road) are also positively encouraged; destroy the same car over enough races and it’ll be unlocked for purchase.
Along with a tongue-in-cheek commentary track, this is all very silly entertainment – great for quick bursts of adrenaline-fuelled racing, and absolutely not the sort of thing to play before a driving test.
Dots and Co
This third entry in the Dots series, Dots & Co, will be familiar to anyone who's played the previous efforts. The aim is to collect a pre-set number of colored dots on each level, which is achieved by dragging out paths through dots of the same color. Manage to draw a square and all dots of the relevant color vanish.
Complications come by way of odd-shaped levels that often leave you with small groups of dots stranded within awkward shapes, and obstacles that need clearing. Cartoon 'companions' help a bit here, blasting away at the board once you've powered them up, and there are also a few special powers to make use of.
It's here the charms of Dots & Co fade slightly – as the game progresses, you can't help but feel you're being given impossible tasks, and that an awful lot of luck is required to beat levels without resorting to buying tokens to spend on powers or extra moves. Despite this, Dots & Co remains a pleasant and engaging time sink.
Big Bang Racing
Two games in one, Big Bang Racing offers a breezy single-player trials experience on trap-filled larger-than-life tracks, and then multiplayer races across similarly crazy courses. The visuals are very smart, with your odd little alien rider imbued with plenty of personality; the controls work well, too, with two pairs of buttons for moving and rotating your bike.
The game's infested with the usual trappings of modern freemium titles – chests; timers; in-game gold; in-app purchases – but, surprisingly, this doesn't make much difference nor really impact negatively on the experience. With a little patience, you can play a few races every day, gradually improving your bike, winning races, and mastering courses.
Collect enough bits and bobs from chests and you can even have a go at creating and sharing your own tracks, using an excellent built-in editor.
At all points, you can see the next three cards from the draw pile. You then swipe away unwanted cards from your hand with the aim of those remaining and any newcomers forming a poker hand, which then vanishes, automatically bringing in more new cards.
When possible, you want to score 'combos', through multiple hands subsequently occurring with you doing nothing at all. Naturally, this requires a little luck, but there's also plenty of skill here, in terms of managing your cards and figuring out what's coming in the pile.
It sounds confusing, but give it time and it'll dig into your very soul.
For free, you generously get the entire main single-deck game, which rapidly becomes furiously addictive. Splash out for the one-off IAP ($1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99) and you unlock double-deck mode and alternate card designs, along with getting rid of occasional ads.
As its name implies, Looty Dungeon tests your survival skills as you loot your way through endless dungeons teeming with traps, bosses, and falling floors.
Pick up coins to purchase additional heroes, each with different powers and stats, keeping the game fresh. Hidden dangers can easily put an end to your looting, so tread carefully and carry a big sword - which is just good advice for life really, isn't it?
Well, maybe not a sword. Perhaps a sense of self-confidence... life can sometimes be about metaphors too.
PKTBALL takes ping pong and turns into an endless arcade addiction. Outsmart your opponents to get the best score you can, get money, and unlock lots of colorful playable characters, each with their own court and soundtrack.
Once you've mastered the basics you can challenge your friends in local multiplayer matches or simply smash your way to the top of the leaderboards. This is the kind of game that you'll start playing while making dinner and only look up from when the fire brigade are breaking down your door.
Disney Crossy Road
A kingdom of Disney characters can be unlocked in this alternative look at the popular road-crossing game - intelligently titled Disney Crossy Road.
It's a 'magical take' on a game that has been downloaded over 50 million times, and designed to attract a new raft of players.
Cross as many roads as you can and collect coins to purchase even more stars spanning various Disney films, each with their own music and world for all you film fans out there.
And as you can imagine (if you've played the 'normal' Crossy Road before), you'll see how far you can survive with your favorites from Toy Story, Lion King, Zootopia, and many more.
Asphalt 8: Airborne
At some point, a total buffoon decreed that racing games should be dull and grey, on grey tracks, with grey controls. Gameloft's Asphalt 8: Airborne dispenses with such foolish notions, along with quite a bit of reality. Here, then, you zoom along at ludicrous speeds, drifting for miles through exciting city courses, occasionally being hurled into the air to perform stunts that absolutely aren't acceptable according to the car manufacturer's warrantee.
Three bushes make a tree! Three gravestones make a church! OK, so logic might not be Triple Town's strong suit, but the match-three gameplay is addictive. Match to build things and trap bears, rapidly run out of space, gaze in wonder at your town and start all over again. The free-to-play version has limited moves that are gradually replenished, but you can unlock unlimited moves via IAP.
Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
Few free games are quite as polished as Hearthstone, but then this is a Blizzard game, so we hardly expected anything less.
There are dozens of card games available for iPhone, but Hearthstone stands out with high production values and easy to learn, difficult to master mechanics, which can keep you playing, improving and collecting cards for months on end. Matches don't generally take too long either so it's great for playing in short bursts.
Think you know stress? You haven't experienced stress until you've played Spaceteam, a cooperative multiplayer game that requires you to all work together as a crew (and bark orders at your friends). Sounds easier than it is; failure to cooperate will probably end with your ship getting sucked into a black hole.
The clue's in the title - there's a quest, and it involves quite a lot of punching. There's hidden depth, though - the game might look like a screen-masher, but Punch Quest is all about mastering combos, perfecting your timing, and making good use of special abilities. The in-game currency's also very generous, so if you like the game reward the dev by grabbing some IAP.
Groove Coaster Zero
Tap! Tap! Swipe! Rub! Argh! That's the way this intoxicating rhythm action game plays out. Groove Coaster Zero is all on rails, and chock full of dizzying roller-coaster-style paths and exciting tunes. All the while, you aim for prodding perfection, chaining hits and other movements as symbols appear on the screen. Simple, stylish and brilliant.
This latest rethink of one of gaming's oldest and most-loved series asks what lies beyond the infamous level 256 glitch. As it turns out, it's endless mazey hell for the yellow dot-muncher. Pac-Man's therefore charged with eating as many dots as possible, avoiding a seemingly infinite number of ghosts, while simultaneously outrunning the all-devouring glitch. Power-ups potentially extend Pac-Man's life, enabling you to gleefully take out lines of ghosts with a laser or obliterate them with a wandering tornado.
Although there's an energy system in Pac-Man 256, it's reasonably generous: one credit for a game with power-ups, and one for the single continue; one credit refreshes every ten minutes, to a maximum of six, and you can always play without power-ups for free. If you don't like that, there's an IAP-based £5.99/$7.99 permanent buy-out.
Cubed Rally Redline
The endless rally game Cubed Rally Redline is devious. On the surface, it looks simple: move left or right in five clearly-defined lanes, and use the 'emergency time brake' to navigate tricky bits. But the brake needs time to recharge and the road soon becomes chock full of trees, cows, cruise liners and dinosaurs. And you thought your local motorway had problems!
If you're of a certain vintage, you probably spent many hours playing Solitaire on a PC, success being rewarded by cards bouncing around the screen. Sage Solitaire's developer wondered why iOS solitaire games hadn't moved on in the intervening years, and decided to reinvent the genre. Here, then, you get a three-by-three grid and remove cards by using poker hands.
Additional strategy comes through limitations (hands must include cards from two rows; card piles are uneven) and potential aid (two 'trashes', one replenished after each successful hand; a starred multiplier suit). A few rounds in, you realise this game's deeper than it first appears. Beyond that, you'll be hooked. The single £2.29/$2.99 IAP adds extra modes and kills the ads.