Free iPhone games have a reputation for being rubbish and full of IAP. But loads of superb free titles await your twitchy gaming thumbs – if you know where to look.
To save you the effort of finding them, we’ve compiled the best here, split into handy categories. So if you fancy an arcade blast, a brain-bending puzzle, or a thrilling racer – for free – read on.
Plus, check back weekly for our free iPhone game of the week, which you'll find below.
Free iPhone games of the week: Project Loading
Project Loading is a speedrun arcade test about the adventures of a loading bar on its way to reach 100%. Yes, you read that right: the star here is the bane of many computer users’ existence – a loading bar.
In Project Loading’s universe, though, loading bars don’t slowly inch from left to right – they must cope with slow-down and speed-up mats, deadly giant crosses and bouncers. To aid their way, there are restart points, and gold stars to collect, but everything happens against the clock. There’s no dawdling for loading bars here.
It’s an interesting conceit, lifted by clever level design, arty visuals, and responsive tilt controls. However, given how tricky later stages are, you’ll likely never gripe about a standard loading bar again.
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Our favorite free iPhone arcade games, including brawlers and fighting games, auto-runners, party games, pinball, and retro classics.
Boost Buddies is a twitch-based arcade effort, where you’re a cat in a box, trying to reach a crown. Fortunately for the cat, the box is rocket-powered, boosted every time you tap. Less fortunately, between the cat and the crown are… things.
Sometimes you’re pitted against massive laser beams or swinging axes. Occasionally you’re blown about by fans, or chased by critters. Quite what’s going on, we’ve no idea, but it’s a lot of fun figuring out how to beat each test, and stringing together high scores.
Do well enough and you can add to your menagerie of boosting beasts, each of which get their own music and background visuals. And while the game’s basic nature means sessions don’t last an age, it’s always good for giving you a quick boost yourself.
Williams Pinball recreates – and augments – a range of classic Williams tables on your iPhone. It then bakes them into a freemium business model that’s, perhaps surprisingly, actually pretty good.
Select a starter table, and that one’s unlocked from the get-go. You’ll be playing this one a lot, so choose wisely. (The superb Attack From Mars is a good bet.) You then partake in daily challenges to boost your XP, win parts, and unlock other tables.
Eventually, tables are unlocked for offline play, and optionally have animated components, like Zen Pinball’s more fantastical tables. Getting there is a grind, but you’re playing superbly simulated pinball, so that’s no great hardship. And even though pinball is admittedly a bit fiddly on the iPhone, any progress made is instantly zipped across all your devices via iCloud.
Unicycle Giraffe is a balancing game that features a unicycle and a giraffe. Unfortunately for the giraffe, it attempts to ride said unicycle – not a comfortable state of being for the typical ungulate. It’s all very comical, though, as your giraffe wobbles left and right, before seconds later inevitably crashing to the floor in a tangle of legs and neck.
Despite being a one-note game, Unicycle Giraffe rewards mastery with the sheer thrill of staying seated for a few precious extra seconds. Rescuing yourself from very nearly overbalancing is fun, and extra risk comes by way of coins and bombs to tap elsewhere on the screen.
There’s little longevity, of course (short of ‘upgrading’ the animal with new hats and skins), but this one’s endearing, and always good for a quick blast.
Don’t Trip has you direct stompy feet through increasingly surreal terrain. You start off in a kitchen that could do with a tidy-up. Last long enough and you find yourself avoiding crazed vacuum cleaners decked out with knives and axes. Eventually, you end up fleeing from lava, splashing in swimming pools and walking in space.
This all comes off as quite trippy, and that’s only exacerbated by the viewpoint and controls. Everything is zoomed in to the point you can barely see where to head, and the controls have you press the screen to plant a foot, and rotate your phone to find space for the next step. Don’t Trip! really is a game very much designed with mobile in mind – and it’s all the better for it.
Super Fowlst is an arcade game featuring a flappy chicken out to stop angry red demons from taking over the world. This heroic fowl can flap left or right at the command of one of your thumbs, briefly flying in an arc – or plummeting to the ground when you don’t prod the screen again.
The aim throughout is to biff enemies (while avoiding the projectiles they spew), grab bling, and make for the exit. As you travel through the procedurally generated levels, you’ll discover secrets, weird bits of landscape, and ferocious bosses looking to turn you into a roast dinner. Fortunately, coins you collect can be traded for upgrades, including the ability to fire rockets from your behind. Clucking great? You betcha.
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.
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.
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.
Beat Street is a touchscreen brawler that wears its influences on its sleeve. The pixelated art recalls classic beat ’em ups, and the stop-start gameplay – with occasional unsporting use of baseball bats to bash enemies around the head – smacks of Double Dragon and Streets of Rage.
Yet this isn’t slavish retro fare. The game feels familiar, but its set-up is entertainingly oddball (liberating a city being terrorized by sentient, bipedal, suited rodents), and everything is controlled by a single thumb.
The controls could have spelled the end for Beat Street, but – amazingly – they work brilliantly, enabling deft footwork, punches, kicks, special moves, and the means to smash an evil rat’s face in with a brick. Apart from unnecessary grind-to-unlock levels, Beat Street’s the perfect freebie iPhone brawler.
If you’re a fan of knocking metal balls about, you’re likely frustrated with iPhone pinball. Even an iPhone Plus’s display is a bit too small, resulting in a fiddly experience replete with eye strain. Enter PinOut!, which rethinks pinball in a manner that works perfectly on the smaller screen.
In PinOut’s neon-infused world, you play against the clock, hitting ramps to send your ball further along what’s apparently the world’s longest pinball table. Rather than losing a ball should it end up behind the flippers, you merely waste vital seconds getting back to where you were. When the clock runs out: game over.
The result is exciting and fresh, and the relatively simple mini-tables are ideal for iPhone. Moreover, the game’s immediacy makes it suitable for all gamers, overcoming pinball’s somewhat inaccessible nature.
Our favorite free iPhone games where you sprint, jump, drive, hoverboard, dig or pinball to victory – or your doom.
The VideoKid is an infusion of the 1980s for your iPhone. The core gameplay is an auto-scrolling avoid ’em up, where you periodically hurl deliveries at mailboxes positioned at the side of the road. If you’re very old, you’ll instantly recognize this as a take on arcade classic Paperboy.
But what elevates The VideoKid beyond being a mere clone of a much-loved – albeit ancient – game is it being peppered with chunky versions of cultural references. There are transforming robots, and martial-arts-obsessed turtles. A guy in red trunks sprints down the street. Every game you’ll spot something new.
Importantly, it also plays pretty well. You tap to throw a video tape, and swipe to move and perform stunts. Reaching the end of your round will be tough – but you’ll have a ball getting there.
Pigeon Wings Strike
It initially features a pigeon in a biplane, which you must direct through twisting corridors and caverns, and periodically have shoot down drones and massive enemy airborne battle stations.
The controls are pitch perfect, with one button for speed, another for boost or blasting, and vertical tilt controls for subtle or abrupt changes in altitude.
It’s simple stuff, but hugely compelling. And although there’s not a ton of depth, Pigeon Wings Strike has multiple characters (each with unique skills) to unlock, and a cleverly designed upgrade system that encourages you to take extra risks when belting along at speeds no pigeon should be subjected to.
Transformers Bumblebee hurls you back to the halcyon days of the original Generation One Transformers, before Michael Bay got his hands on the franchise. Here, the boxy, heroic Autobots valiantly try to stop the evil Decepticons from taking over the world – mostly by driving around a lot and then blowing things up.
The entire game is controlled with a single finger, whether you’re zooming along freeways in car mode, engaged in a bout of vehicular combat against Decepticon enemies, or shooting at anything that moves (or doesn’t) in a Decepticon base.
Survive long enough and you get to battle one of the bad guys. These boss battles are varied and entertaining – and you must quickly figure out how they work, lest your ‘bot’s alternate mode ends up being a pile of smoldering scrap.
PAKO Forever seemingly takes place in a world where law-enforcement really doesn’t want you mucking about in what appears to be the world’s largest parking lot. The second you move, police cars are on you like a shot, and if one smashes into you, that’s your lot.
Pretty quickly, you figure out that you need to drift and snake about to survive – and then you start seeing gigantic gift boxes bouncing along. Snag one of those and your car temporarily balloons to giant size, or acquires a handy ball and chain to smash the cops.
Visually, the game’s quite crude, and the staccato nature of missions can pall, but for a quick blast of breezy endless driving larks, it’s a decent install.
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.
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.
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.
Leap On! 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.
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.
Disney Crossy Road
Disney Crossy Road builds on the endless Frogger-style hopping shenanigans found in Crossy Road, mostly by mashing it into a ton of famous Disney properties.
It kicks off with a fairly humdrum take on the original, just with Mickey Mouse instead of a chicken, trying very hard to move ever onwards and not get run over by cars or drown in a river. But you soon start winning coins, enabling you to unlock new characters.
When you get to visit blocky endless takes on Toy Story, Lion King, Wreck-It Ralph, Monsters Inc, and more, sound and vision alike get a major overhaul. Even better: many of these worlds offer subtle changes to the way the game plays, making it more varied, and boosting long-term appeal.
Our favorite free iPhone gem-swap, tile-match, and rhythm action games.
Slydris 2 whiffs a bit of Tetris. It has similar shapes that drop into a well, the aim being to form solid lines that vanish. Breach the top of the well and your game ends. Simple. Only Slydris 2 then performs a handbrake turn and gleefully speeds off in an entirely different direction.
For a start, it’s turn-based. Also, several shapes drop into the well each turn, and you can only move one (whether it’s ‘hanging’ or already in the well). This subverts the classic formula, transforming it into a smart, unique game of strategy.
Everything you thought you know goes out the window as you figure out how to shatter pieces, make use of power-ups and survive long enough to get a high score. Top stuff, then, and just as compelling as the game that inspired it.
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.
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.
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.
Minimal arcade game Higher Higher! is another of those titles that on paper seems ridiculously simple, but in reality could result in your thumb and brain having a nasty falling out.
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.
Satellina Zero 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.
Blokout 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.
Threes! Freeplay is a sliding puzzler with the same kind of compulsion loop found in the likes of Tetris. That might sound like a bold claim, but Threes! really is one of those rare games that’s easy to understand but that has enough depth and strategy to potentially keep you playing for years as you master your tactics.
It takes place on a grid, on which you slide cards. Those that match merge to create ever higher numbers, and new items appear on the side of the grid they moved from. Also, all the cards move as one. It’s clever stuff, which becomes apparent the more you play; as does the care and polish within, from the pleasant background ditty to the character and charm infused even into the very cards you move.
Triple Town is a think-ahead match game, where you combine trios of things to make other things. Three bushes make a tree, and three trees become a hut. Through careful positioning and a chess-champion’s ability to think ahead, you can chain moves together, thereby freeing up the space required to continue evolving your tiny town.
Then there are the bears. For some reason, the place is full of them. Some roam about the place in a semi-random fashion. Others are leapy ninjas. All of them need to be taken into consideration when laying down new objects. If you fancy a surreal, novel, challenging match game, then, this is definitely a game to bear in mind.
Groove Coaster 2
Groove Coaster 2 is a rhythm action game twinned with a roller-coaster. Everything’s on-rails, with you zooming along Rez-like vector pathways, all manner of colorful blocky pyrotechnics spinning and exploding beneath the track. All you need to do is get your timing right, tapping, swiping and rubbing when the icons tell you to.
Only it’s not that simple. The track flips and lurches, and the stages are designed to give your thumb a serious choreographic workout. As ever, perseverance reaps rewards, by way of massive score-enhancing chains, and, frankly, just the smugness that comes from knowing your prodding perfection means you’ve got rhythm.
Our favorite free iPhone platform games, from classic side-on 2D games to ambitious console-style adventures.
OCO is a platform game of a decidedly minimalist stripe. Its levels all take place on circular courses that fit within a single screen. As they rotate, you prod the screen to jump – and that’s it.
This could all have been reductive and awful, but OCO excels due to gorgeous visuals reminiscent of modern art coupled with superb level design. You really have to think about how to grab all of the collectibles and reach your goal. And once you get there, you’ll discover move-limit and speedrun challenges that force you to upend your existing tactics and figure out new paths to your goal.
As if that’s not enough, OCO makes a case for a permanent spot on your iPhone with a daily challenge, and a built-in level editor that lets you share creations with friends.
Spicy Piggy is a platformer that has a top tip for anyone eating insanely hot chilli: make sure between you and a refreshing juice stand there isn’t a slew of zombies, whirling saw blades, deep spiked pits, and all manner of other things keen for your end to be messy and sticky.
Fortunately, the pig of the hour has skills to hand (or, rather, trotter). As it scoots along, auto-runner style, you prod buttons to jump, stylishly slide, or belch disgusting breath so fiery it can take out entire walls.
The game is hard. You will die often until you crack a level’s layout and the perfect timing required to avoid porcine death. But this one’s a lot of fun too, with bright visuals, tricky traps, and plenty of auto-running goodness.
Yeah Bunny 2
Yeah Bunny 2 features a little rabbit sprinting around colorful landscapes, squashing enemies, collecting coins, freeing trapped chicks, and generally being awesome before reaching a goal. Pretty standard platforming territory, then – Mario with bunny ears.
Only this game’s different, because all your direction for the running rabbit comes from a single digit. Tap and the bunny leaps. Hold the screen and the leap is higher. You must therefore figure out how to traverse levels by bouncing the auto-running rabbit off of walls, and ensure during boss-battle pursuits you don’t get inadvertently rebounded towards your doom.
You get vibrant visuals, loads of varied levels, and an endearingly cute lead character. It’s a fab little platformer, ideally suited to one-thumb mobile play and quick bouts of gaming on the go.
Snow Kids is a sweet-natured horizontally scrolling platform game, featuring what appears to be a chubby cartoon penguin with a penchant for lobbing snowballs. Should one hit a roaming bad guy, they’re temporarily frozen, and can be booted along, potentially knocking out more enemies.
The game looks lovely – like a refined, modern take on a classic arcade game. In fact, that description is pretty apt for the game as a whole. And although it’s perhaps a bit short and a little obvious (not least compared to the creator’s own rather more ambitious Super Cat Tales titles), it’s a breezy and fun outing, whether you’re carefully timing leaps between whirling fireballs of death, or figuring out how to give a boss a serious pelting.
Candies ’n Curses
Candies ’n Curses is a single-screen platform game, featuring a protagonist who’s taken on the role of solo ghostbuster in a very haunted house. As you swipe, she zips back and forth, and jumps from platform to platform, zapping spooky critters with her weapons. On obliterating the requisite number of scary creatures, she gets to fight a boss, before moving on to the next room.
There are only six in all, but you’ll be hard-pressed to see more than a couple in your initial goes, because Candies ’n Curses has a ‘take no prisoners’ attitude to difficulty. But grind a bit, grab some upgrades, and you’ll find your more equipped heroine can make a bigger dent in the undead’s population. Just remember that “I ain’t afraid of no ghosts” isn’t a smart catchphrase here – if in doubt, run!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Drop Wizard Tower
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.
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.
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 Mikey Jumps, 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.
Our favorite free iPhone logic tests, path-finding challenges, bridge builders, and turn-based puzzlers.
Invaders 2048 is, as its name might suggest, a mash-up of arcade classic Space Invaders, and tile-sliding mobile phenomenon 2048. Usually, we wouldn’t be recommending a 2048 game, given that it’s a massive rip-off of the far superior Threes!, but Invaders 2048 does plenty to differentiate itself.
As ever, you merge tiles by sliding matching pairs together, doubling their face values. Above, alien craft lurk menacingly. At any point, you can unleash your numbers as missiles, depleting your foes’ energy reserves.
Invaders 2048 is rounds-based, and so the challenges and pace are shaken up as you play. And because levels are short, it’s a super little title to dip into for a few minutes, rather than requiring hours of your life, as Threes! quite often does.
Friday the 13th: Killer Puzzle
Friday the 13th: Killer Puzzle is more or less classic sliding puzzler Sokoban infused with South Park-style humor, and dressed in the garb of a famous horror series.
As horror icon Jason Voorhees, you slide around each tiny scene to capture campers, cops, inmates, and more besides. On grabbing them, you’re greeted to a splattering of cartoon gore, while the levitating decapitated undead head of your mother offers sagely advice.
This could so easily have been a gimmicky release, but Friday the 13th: Killer Puzzle gets everything right. The puzzles are smartly designed, forcing you to find labyrinthine paths to targets; there’s a sense of progression as you unlock new worlds; and the dark sense of humor at the heart of the game gives it a real sense of character.
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.
Knight Saves Queen
Knight Saves Queen is a turn-based puzzle game, based on a knight leaping about a chess board. He moves in a standard ‘L’, aiming to bump off every adversary on the board, before rescuing the 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.
King Rabbit has some unorthodox enemies. Having kidnapped his rabbit subjects, said foes have dotted them about grid-based worlds they’ve filled with meticulously designed traps.
Mostly, this one is a think-ahead puzzler, with loads of Sokoban-style 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.
There’s a bit of cheating going on in Moveless Chess. Although your opponent plays a standard game, you’re some kind of wizard and apparently don’t want the hassle of moving pieces.
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.
Cubway is an abstract logic test that challenges you to reach the goal in dozens of scenes. Your little red square simply has to get past objects that block its path and respond to its presence in different ways.
This would all be a lot easier if you could move freely, but you’re limited to moving forward or backward. Solutions therefore involve precisely when to move – and in what direction. Often, you perform a kind of dance, moving a little way on, stopping for a moment, moving back a bit, an then continuing. It’s a fresh, inventive take on logic tests, and the aesthetics provide a real sense of atmosphere and artistry.
Mekorama finds a little robot ambling about mechanical dioramas, trying to reach a goal. It’s a tactile game, where you spin the tiny world with a finger, tap to direct the android, and sometimes urge it on by using a lift, or flinging it across the screen with a pulley system.
It’s a ponderous game but that suits the aesthetic. There’s polish and consideration in every moment that deserves to be breathed in. Also, it’s a very generous game, from how it always provides several levels to tackle, to the built-in construction kit when you’ve finished all the built-in challenges and fancy creating some of your own. If you enjoy your time in Mekorama, do fling the creator some (entirely optional) IAP.
Our favorite free iPhone on-rails, 3D and 2D racers, and trials games.
Beach Buggy Racing 2
Beach Buggy Racing 2 is a fast-paced kart racer from the team behind the visually-stunning Riptide series. This one takes place on dry land, though, as you barrel along, grabbing power-ups and flinging them at your opponents.
The courses aren’t as bonkers as those in an Asphalt game, but certainly have their moments. One has a dragon that unsportingly barbecues racers, while a pirate-themed course gets all splashy as you race through a half-sunken ship.
You do sometimes wish this was a premium effort. There’s grind and loot boxes, and difficulty spikes are overly apparent when you level up. Even so, Beach Buggy Racing 2 manages to be an exciting, great-looking kart racer, on a platform with far too few entries on this sub-genre’s starting grid.
Asphalt 9: Legends
Asphalt 9: Legends is a madcap, streamlined racer. Much like Super Mario Run has the plumber ‘auto-run’, leaving you to time jumps, Legends corners and steers while you focus on timing. You must perform show-off drifts, jumps, and control frequent blasts of nitro.
The notion of a driving game stripped of steering might seem odd, but it works. Races are exhilarating and the courses become puzzle-like as you figure out where and when to perform the correct actions. If letting the game do the work is not your cup of tea, there is also a manual option which puts you back in control.
As with all Asphalt games, you spend an unfeasibly long time hurtling through the air; car pinwheeling in a manner that would make even the most maverick stunt-person’s eyes widen.
For a visually dazzling, entirely over the top slice of mobile-focused arcade racing, Asphalt 9: Legends is hard to beat.
Retro Highway marries the accessibility of modern mobile titles with the high-skill challenge and aesthetics of old-school racers. Visually, it comes across like Hang On and Enduro Racer (or, if you’re not old enough to recognize those titles, those weird games your dad used to play). But in gameplay terms, we’re very much in endless survival territory.
As you zoom along, you collect coins and jump high into the air using ramped trucks, gradually unlocking better bikes and new places where you can ride them. It’s not a very deep experience, but Retro Highway is fun to dip into when you fancy an exhilarating blast of weaving between lorries at breakneck speed, regularly leaping from ramps, and only occasionally splattering your hapless rider against an overpass.
Disc Drivin’ 2
Disc Drivin’ 2 is a turn-based racing game. That might make no sense on paper, but it translates well to the screen, effectively mashing up shuffleboard with high-tech levitating tracks full of speed-up mats, gaps, and traps.
You can play alone, tackling a daily challenge or partaking in speed-runs. The latter option is ideal for getting to know the tracks – essential when battling other players online. You then swap moves – bite-sized chunks of gameplay where you inch your disc around the circuit, in races that can last for days.
There are freemium shenanigans going on, mostly for cards that unlock new disc powers, and the fixed camera can be frustrating – although if you’re facing the wrong way, you should probably resolve to learn that track’s layout a bit better. Those minor niggles aside, this is a compelling, entertaining racer that rewards extended play.
Data Wing 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.
Built for Speed
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.
One Tap Rally
One Tap Rally distils the top-down mobile racer into a one-thumb effort. Press the screen and you accelerate; let go and you slow down. In the nitros mode, you can also swipe upward for an extra burst of speed.
It feels a bit like slot-racing, but the tracks are organic and free-flowing, rather than rigid chunks of plastic. Learning each bend and straight is essential to get around without hitting the sides – important because such collisions rob you of precious seconds.
You’re also not alone – One Tap Rally pits you against the online ghosts of other players. Each time you better your score, you improve your rank on the current track, ready to face tougher opponents. This affords an extra layer of depth to what was already an elegant, playable mobile racer.
Crazy Taxi 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).
In Maximum Car, 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.
Asphalt 8: Airborne
Asphalt 8: Airborne is a nitro-happy racer with four tires firmly planted in arcade racing. That said, tires don’t remain planted for long, because this game has a need for speed, having you bomb along larger-than-life courses peppered with fantastical set pieces (Rocket launches! Active volcanos!), and hurling you into the air at every available opportunity.
There’s a ton of content to unlock, although the game regularly cynically nudges you towards IAP to hurry things along. This in itself feels like someone’s welded massive unwieldy bumpers to what’s otherwise a sleek iPhone sportscar racer. But for the most part, Asphalt 8 is a madcap, exciting blast, insane drifts and mid-air barrel rolls pushing your car way beyond anything the manufacturer ever envisioned.
Our favorite free iPhone FPS games, precision shooters, twin-stick blasters, and vertically scrolling shoot ’em ups.
Angry Birds AR: Isle of Pigs
Angry Birds AR: Isle of Pigs provides a new dimension on one of mobile’s biggest hits. As ever, you catapult deranged feathered missiles at rickety contraptions housing rotund green pigs. The aim: eradicate the pigs, and the structures they’re hiding in. Their shoddy construction – along with quite a lot of ill-advisedly stored TNT – helps.
Unlike previous Angry Birds efforts, this one’s AR-based. You set up a virtual 3D game on a table or the floor, and can investigate each level from every angle to figure out the optimum shot.
This adds freshness to a concept that has become tired since its 2009 iPhone debut. Here’s hoping Rovio can keep the momentum going with new levels – although the dozens you get make this a no-brainer download, given the game’s lack of a price tag.
Piffle is a shooter that has you blast away encroaching blocks, which are under the control of the nefarious Doc Block, and on landing will presumably do something terrible and evil. To keep them at bay, you lob strings of piffle balls – cat-like critters that bounce around while emitting endearingly cute meowing noises.
As the sort-of cats ricochet around, the numbers on the blocks drop until they’re finally destroyed. Rinse, repeat, and the world is saved. Only, things aren’t quite that simple due to tricky layouts that demand precision aiming, blocks that annoyingly duplicate or deflect your piffles in the wrong direction, and setups that demand you grab and master powerups to aid you in your task.
Fun stuff to dip into when you fancy some colorful, destructive action.
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.
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.
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.
Pixel Craft – Space Shooter
Pixel Craft takes no prisoners. No sooner have you found your feet in your little auto-firing spaceship than hordes of aliens blow you into so much stardust.
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.)
Darkside Lite is a visually stunning twin-stick shooter that has you protecting outer-space mining colonies under attack from aliens who’d rather humans weren’t messing up the place.
The tiny snag is the mining bit – the bases you patrol are surrounded by massive ship-smashing rocks slowly ambling about. In classic Asteroids-style, you must make short work of them, while ensuring you don’t get blown to pieces by alien foes.
It’s a dizzying, thrilling ride as you zoom over the planetoids, dodging installations, blasting space rocks, and taking out UFOs coming in for the kill. Should you hanker for more, additional modes (and handy smart bombs) are available in the full Darkside game.
Smash Hit is a 3D on-rails shooter, seemingly aimed at people who really like smashing things. You float in ghostly fashion through its various scenes, hurling your limited cache of metal balls at glass objects minding their own business, or huge panes of glass that rather unwisely block your path.
Initially, you’ll fling balls with merry abandon, but you soon realize getting deep into the game requires a solid aim and sparing use of ammo – not least when the camera starts to spin and the shots become increasingly tough. You’ll need to be a pretty hardcore smasher and a crack shot to reach the end – although you can ease the journey by way of a one-off IAP that unlocks checkpoints.
Time Locker is a vertically scrolling shoot ’em up with a twist: when you stop, time stops. This means that although you’re often weaving between bullet hell and blowing up swarms of enemies, you at least get the chance to think for a bit and consider your next move.
That said, Time Locker doesn’t make things too easy: hang around and a relentless world-consuming darkness gobbles up your craft. This means although you can pause for a bit, you must remain on the move, utilizing power-ups to zoom ahead wherever possible.
It’s a unique, engaging shooter, and its distinctive nature is further cemented by its vibrant low-poly world, which at any moment may see you attacked by gigantic tanks, dinosaur herds, or deadly waddling penguins.
Our favorite free iPhone soccer, golf, tennis and basketball games.
Nano Golf: Hole In One
Nano Golf: Hole In One is mini golf in fast forward, redefined as a pastime of perfection. Every tiny course you’re presented with must be completed in a single shot. Miss just once and your game is over.
Shooting, at least, is simple enough – you drag your finger back to aim/set power, and then let go. The game’s also rather generous regarding how near to the hole you need to be in order to succeed.
Given the hazards on these courses, that’s just as well. Along with the usual awkward corners and bumps, there are ball-frying heaters and teleporters, and some courses take place underwater. It’s all simple stuff, but the compulsion loop here is strong – not least because you can rattle through a complete game in a matter of minutes.
Rowdy Wrestling is a sports game that doesn’t take itself remotely seriously – and that says a lot, given the spectacle it’s simulating. But all the weirdness of pro wrestling has nothing on this game, which features ludicrously bouncy physics and fighters whose arms whirl around in an entertainingly cartoonish manner.
There’s the feeling throughout that you’re only just in control, whether trying to dropkick an opponent in the face, or unceremoniously hurl them out of the ring. But when Rowdy Wrestling clicks, it grabs hold for good. Just as well, then, that you get a range of modes – Tag Team; a solo career; and the ‘last man standing’ Rumble – along with multiple fighters to unlock.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Flick Soccer 17
Flick Soccer 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.
Frisbee Forever 2
Flinging a plastic disc about isn’t the most thrilling premise for a game, which is why it’s a surprise Frisbee Forever 2 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.
PKTBALL is tennis on fast-forward – a racket game that appears to have absorbed the pace and power from air hockey, squash, and a demented take on classic videogame Pong.
Each match features cute characters facing off, smacking a ball back and forth at insane speed. Bonuses regularly appear on the court, and if you can direct the ball over one, you might end up with some shields – or find the ball unhelpfully turns into a fish.
It’s like Wimbledon as reimagined by Salvador Dali. And PKTBALL’s bonkers nature only increases once you start collecting characters. Courts become strewn with rainbows, searing neon-nightmares, or have games of Tetris running in the background.
Our favorite free iPhone RTS and turn-based strategy games, board games, and card games.
Pocket Cowboys is a strategy game in a Wild West that exists in a permanent state of high noon. You pit your trio of gunslingers against those controlled by other humans, the aim being to be the first to rack up three kills.
Where Pocket Cowboys excels is in its mix of immediacy and depth. Each turn gives you the option to move, shoot, or reload – and everyone takes their turn at the same time. The mix of strategy and guesswork proves a lot of fun, in what ultimately amounts to four-player rock/paper/scissors.
The game of course also comes lumbered with the usual in-game currencies and upgrades. But it always seems to place you in fair fights, rather than giving you no chance to avoid pushing up the daisies.
King Crusher comes across like someone compressed an epic fantasy RPG and turn-based strategy into a shoebox and squirted the result into your iPhone. It has all the trappings of its more expansive cousins, but is perfectly streamlined for mobile play.
Your little band embarks on quests that mostly take the form of grid-based battles. As adversaries try to shoot, flatten or even eat the heroes, you must swipe them about, getting them into the best positions to mete out some punishment of their own.
With dozens of events and 12 character classes, there’s plenty to discover in King Crushe, but its bite-sized nature means it won’t rule over your day, instead filling odd moments with tiny procedurally-generated adventures fit for a king.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Spaceteam is the best multi-device party game for iPhone. The backstory is that you’re attempting to outrun an exploding star, in a ship that’s seen better days. Unhelpfully, the control panel for your craft was seemingly designed by an engineer who considers user-friendliness an offensive abomination.
The system provides instructions, but they’re usually not related to controls on your display. Games therefore turn into people desperately screaming “will someone turn on the dangling shunter?”, while combing every inch of their own screen for an elusive ‘eigenthrottle’ switch.
With Spaceteam offering cross-device play, up to eight players can immerse themselves in this madness, as long as they’re on the same Wi-Fi network.
Hearthstone is a one-on-one card battler set in a magical world of mystics and warriors. You and an opponent take it in turns to attack, using cards that unleash spells, minions, and other acquired skills.
Given how complicated card games of this sort can be, Hearthstone proves intuitive and welcoming to the newcomer – and it’s also extremely well balanced. It’s possible, if you take the time and effort to master the game, to top the leaderboards without splashing out IAP on new cards – although such temptation might get the better of you anyway once you’re immersed in this engaging world of strategy, chance, and fantasy.
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.
Our favorite free iPhone games all about crosswords, anagrams, and playing with letters.
Typochondria is a game about typos. You sit before an algorithmically generated crime novel, looking for mistakes in each of its pages. Tap one and you move on to the next. Which probably doesn’t sound all that thrilling, but Typochondria is played against the clock.
When you’re deep into a round, the timer running dry at ferocious speed, it’s surprisingly exciting partaking in a videogame take on proofreading. And if that isn’t quite enough challenge for you, an alternate mode has you figure out how many mistakes are on any given page.
Should you get fully drawn in, but need a bit of a break during your downtime, there’s a risk-free zen mode, too, along with a bunch of additional genre options available via IAP.
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.
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.
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.
Scrabble [non-US App Store link] is a digital take on the famous boardgame. You play the computer or human opponents (over Wi-Fi or the internet), carefully placing letters on the grid, trying to position them over bonus spots for double and triple points.
Crossword games of this ilk are now commonplace, but Scrabble’s board layout remains the best. It also gives you the option for ponderous play or a kind of time-attack take, forcing everyone to quickly make moves.
On the iPhone, things are perhaps a touch cramped compared to on larger devices, and you’ll quite often get ads thrown in your face. Even so, Scrabble remains a solid download, not least if you’re a fan of the original.
The Impossible Letter Game
The Impossible Letter Game isn’t actually impossible, but it does get decidedly tricky once you’re deep into the game. Each challenge presents you with a grid of letters, the idea being to find the odd one out. This might be a W in a grid of M’s, or a 2 sneakily nestled within rows and columns of Z’s.
Initially, the letters are fairly large, but they soon shrink, and even start animating, to try and throw you off the scent of your prize. The smallish screen of an iPhone adds an extra layer of difficulty to the mix. Good for your powers of observation; not so much for resting your eyes!
Bonza Word Puzzle
Bonza Word Puzzle deconstructs classic crosswords – and then has you put them back together again. You’re given a clue, hinting at the words you need to make, and then a bunch of fragments that resemble tetrominos.
The game ends up coming across like a mix of Scrabble and jigsaws as you slowly piece together the puzzle. And just like with jigsaws, everything gets a mite tougher when you’re grasping with a larger number of pieces.
Packs in the game are split between free, IAP, and those you can buy with coins earned in-game. There’s also a daily freebie, and the option to create your own puzzles – a nice touch for people who get seriously into the game.
Four Letters is a word game based around speed. You get four letters, a rapidly depleting timer, and a handy note that says how many words can be made from the letters in front of you. Tap out a word and your game gets to continue for a bit longer.
Once you’re a few dozen words in, Four Letters becomes a fast, frantic, panic-inducing flurry of quick thinking and super-fast tapping. In some ways, it’s perhaps a pity there’s no timer-free mode for training purposes (and the faint hearted), but Four Letters is a great bet if you fancy a simple, entertaining word game that doesn’t let you dawdle.