Best iPad games: the top free and paid-for titles around
screen until you reach the end of the journey. And although it’s initially tricky to get to grips with, you’ll soon discover the board’s floaty physics and controls are perfectly balanced.
A love letter to trees. A game about the beauty and joy of cultivation. These aren’t words that would usually scream ‘amazing game’. But Prune is a unique and frequently remarkable experience. It starts simply, teaching you how to prune a tiny branch, so a plant can grow to reach the sunlight and blossom. Before long, you’re responsible for cultivating huge trees that arc past poisonous floating orbs, dealing with fragile foliage in unforgiving cities, and coaxing unruly underground weeds towards their prize.
If you’ve ever felt a bit angry at the end of a long day in the office, take solace in the fact you’ve never felt quite as miffed as the stars of The Executive . Stress levels have reached the point everyone’s mutated into monsters. Fortunately, the CEO’s remained cool-headed and can now become the karate-kicking superhero he always wanted to be. Cue: 120 hand-crafted levels where you dart about the place, kicking werewolves in the face, leaping between floors, and marvelling at the bewitching ridiculousness of it all.
At some point, a total buffoon decreed that racing games should be dull and grey, on grey tracks, with grey controls. Gameloft’s Asphalt series dispenses with such foolish notions, along with quite a bit of reality.
Here, in Asphalt 8 , 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 warranty. It’s admittedly a bit grindy, but if you tire of zooming about the tracks in this game, there’s no hope for you.
At its core, Badland echoes copter-style games, in that you prod the screen to make your avatar fly. But the hazards and traps are devious and plentiful: imaginative and deadly contraptions in silhouette, ready to eliminate any passing creature. Your retaliation comes in cloning your flying monster, and figuring out how to manipulate the environment to bring as many clones home as possible.
It’s a tough challenge, but one where you can repeat bits time and again until you succeed. And if you tire of the existing levels, the game lets you create your own.
We’ve lost count of how many gem-swappers exist for iOS, but PopCap’s Bejeweledhas a long history, which brings a maturity that’s reflected in this iPad release. The polished standard mode is present and correct, where you match three or more gems to make them explode and bring more into the well. ‘Zen’ then transforms this into a no-lose chill-out zone.
Beyond that, there’s the fast-paced ‘Lightning’, ‘Diamond Mine’ (dig into the ground), Butterflies (save insects from spider-ronch doom), and Poker (make ‘hands’ of gems).
This fantastic platform puzzler stars a bug who’s oddly averse to flying. Instead, he gets about 2D levels by rolling around in boxes full of platforms. Beyond Ynth HDhangs on a quest, but each level forms a devious test, where you must figure out precisely how to reach the end via careful use of boxes, switches and even environmental hazards.
And for anyone wanting an even sterner test, cunningly placed jewels are there to find in each stage, requiring all kinds of trickery and box manipulation to reach.
A pilot finds himself trapped inside a tiny area of space frequented by an alarming number of deadly asteroids. You must stave off death for as long as possible. Bit Pilot is the best of the iOS avoid ’em ups, with precise one- and two-thumb controls guiding your tiny ship, effortlessly dodging between rocky foes — until the inevitable collision.
Beyond the basic and harder modes, you can try Supermassive, a kind of zoomed-out Rocky Horror Show, or thread your way through tiny temporary corridors in the claustrophobic and deadly Tunnels.
Blek is akin to shepherding semi-sentient calligraphy through a series of dexterity tests. Each sparse screen has one or more dots that need collecting, which is achieved by drawing a squiggle that’s then set in motion. To say the game can be opaque is putting it lightly, but as a voyage of discovery, there are few touchscreen games that come close.
In what we assume is a totally accurate representation of what boffins in Geneva get up to, Boson X finds scientists sprinting inside colliders, running over energy panels and then discovering particles by leaping into the abyss.
Initially, at least, said abyss is quite tricky to avoid; but learn the patterns in each collider and you’ll have a fighting chance of success in this addictive mash-up of Super Hexagon, Tempest and Canabalt.
Botanicula is another excellent adventure from the brains behind Machinarium, this time featuring a little group of tree creatures on a quest to save the last seed from their home, which is infested with parasites. Puzzles abound as you keep the seed safe while marvelling at the gorgeous environments. Although the point-and-click-style mechanics might be familiar, Botanicula is nonetheless a unique and joyful gaming experience.
CRUSH! is deceptive. At first, it appears to be little more than a collapse game, where you prod a coloured tile, only for the rest to collapse into the now empty space. But subtle changes to the formula elevate this title to greatness: the tiles wrap around, and each removal sees your pile jump towards a line of death. So even when tiles are moving at speed, you must carefully consider each tap.
Some variation is provided by the three different modes (which affect block speed and surges), and power-ups, which blast away colors and blocks in specific ways you can take advantage of.
Device 6 is first and foremost a story — a mystery into which protagonist Anna finds herself propelled. She awakes on an island, but where is she? How did she get there? Why can’t she remember anything? The game fuses literature with adventuring, the very words forming corridors you travel along, integrated puzzles being dotted about for you to investigate.
It’s a truly inspiring experience, an imaginative, ambitious and brilliantly realised creation that showcases how iOS can be the home for something unique and wonderful. It’s also extremely tough at times. Our advice: pay attention, jot down notes, and mull away from the screen if you get stuck.
Eliss was the first game to truly take advantage of iOS’s multi-touch capabilities, with you combining and tearing apart planets to fling into like-coloured and suitably-sized wormholes. This semi-sequel brings the original’s levels into glorious Retina and adds a totally bonkers endless mode. Unique, challenging and fun, this is a game that defines the platform.
First Strike bills itself as the fun side of nuclear war, but there’s a sting in its tail. The game mixes Risk-like land-grabs, a Civ-style tech-tree, and defence akin to Missile Command, your missiles aiming to intercept incoming strikes. Sooner or later, though, you realise the only way to win is to go all-out, sacrificing territory and obliterating your opponents.
Just like the classic Missile Command, First Strike remains a playable game, but it’s one with a chilling message that comes through loud and clear – at least when it’s not buried under radioactive crackles.
Forget-Me-Not is like one of those ice creams you get with every kind of candy imaginable, but instead of sugary treats, the sprinkles here are all the best arcade games of old. There’s Pac-Man dot-munching, Rogue dungeon-roaming, nods to Caterpillar, Wizard of Wor and more. It’s a glorious, madcap neon-drenched slice of perfect arcade fare, deserving a lofty position in gaming’s history alongside the more famous games that inspired it.
With almost limitless possibilities in videogames, it’s amazing how many are drab grey and brown affairs. Frisbee Forever 2 (like its similarly impressive forerunner ) is therefore a breath of fresh air with its almost eye-searing vibrance.
There’s a kind of Nintendo vibe – a sense of fun that continues through to the gameplay, which is all about steering a frisbee left and right, collecting stars strewn along winding paths. And these are a world away from the parks you’d usually fling plastic discs about in – here, you’re hurled along roller-coaster journeys through ancient ruins and gorgeous snowy hillsides.
It’s great to see Square Enix do something entirely different with Hitman GO , rather than simply converting its free-roaming 3D game to touchscreens. Although still echoing the original series, this touchscreen title is presented as a board game of sorts, with turn-based actions against clockwork opposition.
You must figure out your way to the prize, without getting knocked off (the board). It’s an oddly adorable take on assassination, and one of the best iOS puzzlers. There’s also extra replay value in the various challenges (such as grabbing a briefcase or not killing guards), each of which requires an alternate solution to be found.
There are other famous swiping games on iOS — Cut the Rope and Fruit Ninja spring to mind — but Icebreaker has oodles more charm, loads more character and, importantly, better puzzles.
The basics initially involve slicing chunks of ice, so frozen Vikings trapped within can be rescued in a boat. Over time, this animated, cartoon world continues to come alive under your fingers, as you learn to manipulate other objects – such as rope and slime – to get your helmeted chums home.
A roller-coaster ribbon of road winds through space, and your only aim is to stay on it and reach the highest-numbered gate. But Impossible Road is sneaky: the winding track is one you can leave and rejoin, if you’ve enough skill, ‘cheating’ your way to higher scores. It’s like the distillation of Super Monkey Ball, Rainbow Road and queue-jumping, all bundled up in a stark, razor-sharp package.
There is a hint of Lemmings in Kiwanuka , this sweet-natured action puzzler. You must guide a little tribe to freedom, using a magical staff to make bridges from the citizens themselves.
They’re left behind as you bolt for each level’s exit, presumably thrilled at their assisting your escape, if less thrilled that they’re now forever fused into an unused pathway across a yawning chasm. It’s quite a short game, but one that leaves its mark, through a mix of superb visuals and enchanting gameplay.
Who knew you could have such fun with a five-by-five grid of letters? In Letterpress , you play friends via Game Center, making words to colour lettered squares. Surround any and they’re out of reach from your friend’s tally. Cue: word-tug-o’-war, last-minute reversals of fortune, and arguments about whether ‘qat’ is a real word or not (it is).
A boy awakens in hell, and must work his way through a deadly forest. Gruesome deaths and trial and error gradually lead to progress, as he forces his way deeper into the gloom and greater mystery.
Originating on the Xbox, Limbo fares surprisingly well on iOS, with smartly designed controls that feel entirely at home on the iPad. But mostly it’s Limbo’s eerie beauty and intriguing environments that captivate, ensuring the game remains hypnotic throughout.
A game that could have been called Reverse Pool For Show-Offs, Magnetic Billiardslacks pockets. Instead, the aim is to join like-coloured balls that cling together on colliding. Along the way, you get more points for trick shots and ‘buzzing’ other balls that must otherwise be avoided. 20 diverse tables are provided for free, and many more can be unlocked for $1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99.
In Monument Valley , you journey through delightful Escher-like landscapes, manipulating the very architecture to build impossible paths along which to explore. It’s not the most challenging of games (nor does it have the most coherent of storylines), but each scene is a gorgeous and mesmerising bite-sized experience that showcases how important great craft is in the best iOS titles.
Racing games are all very well, but too many aim for simulation rather than evoking the glorious feeling of speeding along like a maniac. Most Wanted absolutely nails the fun side of arcade racing, and is reminiscent of classic console title OutRun 2 in enabling you to drift effortlessly for miles. Add to that varied city streets on which to best rivals and avoid (or smash) the cops, and you’ve got a tremendous iOS racer.
This superb arcade puzzler is at times microscopic and at others galactic in nature, as you use the power of physics and time to move your ‘mote’ about. Some levels inOsmos are primordial soup, the mote propelled by ejecting bits of itself, all the while aiming to absorb everything around it. Elsewhere, motes circle sun-like ‘Attractors’, and your challenge becomes one of understanding the intersecting trajectories of orbital paths.
The iPhone’s a bit small for pinball, but the larger iPad screen is perfect for a bit of ball-spanging. Pinball Arcade is the go-to app for realistic pinball, because it lovingly and accurately recreates a huge number of classic tables.
Tales of the Arabian Nights is bundled for free, and the likes of Twilight Zone, Black Knight, Bride of PinBot and Star Trek: The Next Generation are available via in-app purchase. On exploring the various tables (you can demo all of them for free), it rapidly becomes apparent just how diverse and deep pinball games can be.
Yes, we know there’s a Plants vs. Zombies 2, but some dolt infected that with a pointless time-travel gimmick and a freemium business model. The charming, amusing, silly and sweet original remains where it’s at.
For the uninitiated, in Plants vs Zombies you repel zombies that march towards your house with the power of hostile plants. Only through careful plant placement and choosing the right ones for the job will your bRAAiinnZZZ remain in your head.
In Royal Revolt , the king is dead and his siblings have stolen his kingdom while the prince was at school. Unfortunately for them, he was studying magic and is now out for revenge. The game itself is a real-time-strategy effort with some seriously cute and well-animated graphics.
There is, admittedly, some grinding if you want to reach later levels. But we found with some careful upgrading of your troops, you needn’t dip into your wallet. (Do, though, avoid the not-great sequel.)
This sort-of-Tetris has you drop sets of coloured blocks into a well. Tactics are of paramount importance, since you can move only one block for each new line of junk that’s introduced. Slydris therefore becomes an ongoing challenge, a deceptively deep slice of strategy, gravity, block management and combos.
Beyond the standard Infinite mode, there’s ‘Zen’ (never ends; no scores) and ‘Survival’ (ten seconds to drag blocks like crazy before a barrage of additional blocks are hurled your way).
This fantastic word game starts off easy. You get a grid of letters and remove them by dragging out words. Your only foe in SpellTower is gravity, letters falling into empty space as completed words disappear.
But then come new modes, with ferocious timers and numbered letters that won’t vanish unless you craft long enough words. ‘Puzzle’ is first, adding a new row with each word made. Then Rush adds rows over time. The final option is Debate, enabling two players to battle it out over Bluetooth.
A regimented game set in a world of microbes, Splice is all about arranging said microbes to fit within predefined outlines. Restrictions abound, based on binary trees, forcing you to think ahead regarding where to drop your microbes and when to splice them. Grasp the basic mechanics and the game opens up, but it never relinquishes its devious edge, later introducing freeform microbes, and those that grow and vaporise.
Ah, Super Hexagon . We remember that first game, which must have lasted all of three seconds. Much like the next — and the next. But then we recognised patterns in the walls that closed in on our tiny ship, and learned to react and dodge. Then you threw increasingly tough difficulty levels at us, and we’ve been smitten ever since.
That said, we suspect only if you’re superhuman will you ever get to see the hallowed final screen that appears when you survive 60 seconds in every Super Hexagon mode.
The original Monsters Ate My Condo was like Jenga and a match-three game shoved into a blender with a massive dollop of crazy. Super Monsters Ate My Condois a semi-sequel which takes a time-attack approach, shoe-horning the bizarre tower-building/floor-matching/monster-feeding into a tiny amount of time, breaking your brain in the process.
Essentially, you aim to manage like-coloured apartments in a single-column tower, flinging unwanted floors into the maws of flanking beasts. Lob gems their way and they’ll power-up in a suitably odd manner. Give them the wrong colour, and they’ll have a massive tantrum, potentially destroying all your hard work.
Apple’s mobile platform has become an unlikely home for traditional point-and-click adventures. Sword & Sworcery has long been a favourite, with its sense of mystery, palpable atmosphere, gorgeous pixel art and an evocative soundtrack.
Exploratory in nature, this is a true adventure in the real sense of the word, and it’s not to be missed. (To say anything more would spoil the many surprises within. Just trust us on this one, grab a copy, don some headphones, and immerse yourself in a gorgeous virtual world.)
There’s something wonderfully old-school about The Room , in its Myst-like exploration and sense of mystery. But this is a truly touchscreen experience, with you investigating inexplicable boxes with seemingly infinite nooks and crannies, which unlock to present yet more secrets and routes to explore. An obscure narrative is woven throughout, along with plenty of scares. Devour it greedily, preferably at night, in a dark room, and then take on its more expansive sequel, The Room 2 . And when you’re done with that, there’s The Room 3 …
Threes! is all about matching numbered cards. 1s and 2s merge to make 3s, and then pairs of identical cards can subsequently be merged, doubling their face value. With each swipe, a new card enters the tiny grid, forcing you to carefully manage your growing collection and think many moves ahead. The ingenious mix of risk and reward makes it hugely frustrating when you’re a fraction from an elusive 1536 card, but so addictive you’ll immediately want another go.
Trainyard is another devious puzzler that at first seems a cinch. Initially, you merely drag tracks to lead trains between stations of the same colour. But then rocks enter the fray, along with colour-mixing and train-splitting. Before you know it, you’ve 14 stations, seven trains, hazards aplenty and an aching brain from figuring out how to get all the trains home safely.
If you manage to make it to the very end (and, believe us, the last few puzzles are insanely hard), you can then make your own levels, or download those crafted by other players.
This sweet, endless title stars a bird who loves to fly but doesn’t have the wings for it. Instead, she uses gravity, sliding down hills and then propelling herself into the air from the top of adjacent slopes. Meanwhile, in another mode, her offspring are happily racing, bounding over lakes, eager to earn the biggest fish from their mother. Whichever route you take, Tiny Wings is a vibrant, warm and friendly experience.
You can almost see the development process behind this one: “Hey, fingers look a bit like legs, so if we put a skateboard underneath…” And so arrived one of the finest iOS sports titles, with you using your fingers to roam urban locations and perform gnarly stunts. Admittedly, this game is tricky to master, but it’s hugely rewarding when you do so, and video highlights can be shared with your friends. The game’s also a great example of touchscreen-oriented innovation — Touchgrind Skate just wouldn’t be the same with a traditional controller.
Ever since cop-in-a-coma Rick awoke to find himself in a post-apocalyptic world filled with the undead, Walking Dead has captured the imagination of comic-book readers and TV viewers alike. The interactive version follows a new set of characters, but the threats facing them are no less terrifying.
As with creator Telltale’s other titles, Walking Dead comes across like a mash-up of comic strip and adventure, with palpable moments of tension, and a game experience that changes depending on your actions. The first part of the story is free, and you can then buy new episodes; if you survive, season 2 is also available .
It didn’t begin life on the iPad, but World of Goo certainly makes sense on it. A bewitching game of physics puzzles and bridge building, the title also has real heart at its core. The basics are disarmingly simple: use semi-sentient blobs to create structures that enable unused goo to access ‘goo heaven’ (by way of an industrial-looking pipe).
But through powerful and frequently surreal imagery, haunting audio and the odd moment of poignancy, you find yourself actually caring about little blobs of goo, rather than merely storming through the game’s many levels.
At the heart of Year Walk is something dark and horrifying. This daring game is a first-person adventure of sorts, but it presents itself as a kind of living picture book. You begin in a sparse forest, snow crunching underfoot.
Gradually, a story is revealed that is unsettling, clever, distinctive and beautifully crafted — much like the game itself. You won’t rest until the story’s told, but getting to the end will mean facing many moments of horror in one of the iPad’s most unmissable and original creations.
Pinball games tend to be divided into two camps. One aims for a kind of realism, aping real-world tables. The other takes a more arcade-oriented approach. Zen Pinball is somewhere in-between, marrying realistic physics with tables that come to life with animated 3D figures.
Loads of tables are available via IAP, including some excellent Star Wars and Marvel efforts. But for free you get access to the bright and breezy Sorcerer’s Lair, which, aside from some dodgy voice acting, is a hugely compelling and fast-paced table with plenty of missions and challenges to discover.