Bril­liant games that won’t cost you a penny

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AGRAV: In­er­tial or­bit

In the iPhone’s early days, it was the games that had you di­rectly ma­nip­u­late on-screen con­tent that most ex­cited. They felt like a slice of the fu­ture, rather than awk­wardly try­ing to give you some kind of on-screen joy­stick. AGRAV takes the for­mer ap­proach, hav­ing you direct a tiny space­ship about the place by us­ing your fin­gers to fash­ion black holes.

It’s a beau­ti­fully sim­ple sys­tem, but in prac­tice AGRAV can be frus­trat­ing, purely be­cause it’s so dif­fer­ent. Ini­tial tries will al­most cer­tainly find your craft smashed to pieces on hit­ting the edge of the screen, or zoom­ing past the goal, in a man­ner that sets teeth gnash­ing.

But once it clicks, AGRAV be­comes a com­pelling game. Soon, you’ll be carv­ing out el­e­gant arcs by touch­ing the screen at pre­cisely the right mo­ment; a sec­ond black hole in front of the ship will urge it on, to beat time lim­its. Even­tu­ally, you’ll be deftly avoid­ing ob­sta­cles, grab­bing pick­ups, and learn­ing the ben­e­fits of mul­ti­touch on the more com­plex stages. For free, you get 30 to tackle; a sin­gle IAP un­locks an­other 60 if th­ese vir­tual black holes suck you in. Craig Grannell


An­other word game? Yes, but this one stars bears! Even bet­ter, it’s really, really good, and dead easy to get into. You start out with a board with some let­ters on. Tap out a word and the space the let­ters took up is im­me­di­ately re­placed by bears, which are in­stantly sur­rounded by more let­ters.

Added com­pli­ca­tions ar­rive in the form of count­down timers. Let­ters start out as green, and then if un­used over sub­se­quent goes turn yel­low, or­ange and then red. Ig­nore red let­ters at your peril,

be­cause they trans­form into rocks, block­ing bears from ex­pand­ing.

You might won­der about the use of ‘ex­pand­ing’ and ‘bears’ in that pre­vi­ous sen­tence, but we haven’t erred – the bears in Alphabear really do stretch to fill avail­able space. So you’ll get tall and thin bears, weirdly wide and squat bears, and there’s the holy grail of the ‘fill­ing the en­tire screen’ bear if you clear all of the let­ters. At the end of a round, such gi­ant beasts re­sult in huge scores and im­mense sat­is­fac­tion. There are some mi­nor draw­backs to the bear-ori­ented an­tics. The game re­quires a con­stant in­ter­net con­nec­tion for on­line sync, and there are in-game cur­ren­cies – one es­sen­tially for ‘en­ergy’ to en­ter new rounds and the other to skip ahead by more rapidly ac­cess­ing trea­sure events. It’s there you dis­cover es­pe­cially rare bears with spe­cial pow­ers that se­ri­ously boost your score in var­i­ous ways when se­lected be­fore a new round; but this me­chanic serves more to over-com­pli­cate the game than im­prove it.

Still, for free, you can play a couple of really fun rounds per day, and there’s al­ways an ‘in­fi­nite honey’ IAP (£3.99) if you can’t stand to wait for your next furry fix. Craig Grannell

Be­jew­eled Blitz

This ul­tra-mor­eish puz­zle game takes the ‘match three’ me­chanic and squashes it into minute-long blasts of daz­zling colours and crazy point tal­lies. It’s as­ton­ish­ingly ad­dic­tive.

You have to swap coloured jewels within a grid, us­ing sim­ple fin­ger swipes, so that three or more line up; the matched jewels will dis­ap­pear and more will re­place them. The tense game­play, dripfeed of re­wards and so­cial-me­dia in­te­gra­tion com­bine to make a game that will ex­pand to fill any time pe­riod avail­able.

Be­neath The Light­house

We’ve never been be­neath a light­house. We’d al­ways as­sumed it’d mostly be rocks. How wrong we were. It turns out that un­derneath a light­house – or at least this par­tic­u­lar one – you find al­most cer­tain death, in the form of spin­ning rooms that

have spikes all over the place. If you’re a ro­tund boy try­ing to find his lost Grandpa and get the light­house’s light shin­ing again, that’s a prob­lem.

What you get here, then, is an ac­tion puz­zler, where through a com­bi­na­tion of deft fin­ger-work and a bit of brain­power you make your way safely into the depths of the light­house. The clever bit is the con­trols. You drag the on-screen wheel to shift the cir­cu­lar rooms, and grav­ity gets your lit­tle chap rolling (or, as is of­ten the case, hurtling) about. The other clever bit is the level de­sign, which starts off very slightly chal­leng­ing, and be­comes in­creas­ingly mur­der­ous as the game goes on.

For free, you get ac­cess to ev­ery­thing, but there’s a lives sys­tem in play. Get killed three times dur­ing any level, and an ex­tra set for that at­tempt only be­comes avail­able on watch­ing an ad. That seems em­i­nently fair, al­though those lives soon van­ish – es­pe­cially if you want to speed run through the game like a ma­niac, in or­der to win your­self shiny re­wards. Craig Grannell

Blocky High­way

Ah, the open road. In this case, the open road that stretches on for­ever, with nary a bend in sight. Still, it’s rather a busy road, with count­less ve­hi­cles you must deftly avoid, be­cause a sin­gle col­li­sion spells the end of your go. To drive the mes­sage home, even the slight­est prang finds your truck hurled into the air, re­turn­ing to the ground as a heap of twisted and black­ened pix­els. Dra­matic!

There’s not much orig­i­nal­ity here and the chunky vis­ual style is overly fa­mil­iar, but Blocky High­way is nonethe­less com­pelling. You get a choice of touch or tilt con­trols, with the lat­ter be­ing a bit slippy and un­wieldy, yet this oddly makes for a more ex­cit­ing game. It’s quite some­thing for your chunky ve­hi­cle to zigzag along a busy free­way, avoid­ing col­li­sions by a hair’s breadth.

Over time, the game adds to the chal­lenge through var­i­ous means. Road­work oc­ca­sion­ally and

abruptly blocks your way, and train tracks cross your path; in the lat­ter case, the game of­fers a novel means to avoid speed­ing lo­co­mo­tives: huge pads that bounce you into the air. Other helpers in­fre­quently ap­pear, too – there’s a he­li­copter that for a short while lifts you above the busy road, and a truck you can drive on top of that glee­fully bull­dozes traf­fic out of your way. And when your game fi­nally comes to its smashy end, you get a chance to grab a few ex­tra points by land­ing your bounc­ing wreck on other cars pre­sum­ably driven by sig­nif­i­cantly more care­ful road users. Craig Grannell


It’s not the best of days. The world is oc­cu­pied by hos­tile in­vaders, in­tent on hunt­ing you down. Worse, you just zoomed away in a space­ship clearly de­signed by an id­iot. It never runs out of fuel, but has the steer­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties of a cow on an ice rink.

And al­though it boasts a boost func­tion - handy for keep­ing ahead of, say, fe­ro­cious aliens with mas­sive laser can­nons - it’s charged by per­ilously hav­ing your badly steer­ing craft ‘graze’ flat sur­faces.

What this makes for, though, is an ex­hil­a­rat­ing video game. You blast through gor­geous 3D en­vi­ron­ments, avoid­ing ob­sta­cles in the des­o­late land­scape, care­fully tim­ing boosts when­ever your alien pur­suer ven­tures a bit too near. Phan­toms of your best and pre­vi­ous runs are dis­played, so you can po­ten­tially ex­e­cute a bril­liant ma­noeu­vre a sec­ond time round while si­mul­ta­ne­ously avoid­ing that less-bril­liant move where you slammed into a mas­sive wall.

We’d pre­fer Break­neck if the craft was more ma­noeu­vrable – there’s no deft weav­ing and zigzag­ging here. In­stead, you drift in a man­ner akin to the de­vel­oper’s own end­less hor­ror run­ner, Into the Dead. Still, that adds strat­egy – the en­vi­ron­ment re­sets ev­ery day, and your craft’s in­ad­e­qua­cies force you to find shortcuts and quickly learn the best routes. And when you’re ap­proach­ing the end of a zone, boost tank empty, and your siren starts blar­ing about an im­mi­nent alien at­tack, this is one of the most ex­cit­ing 3D avoid ‘em ups around. Craig Grannell

Cally’s Caves 3

You’ll prob­a­bly be some way into Cally’s Caves 3 when you start to won­der what the catch is. “Surely,” you’ll say, “the de­vel­op­ers haven’t given me an ex­pan­sive and beau­ti­fully de­signed – if fre­quently frus­trat­ing and chal­leng­ing in an old-school kind of way - plat­form game with oo­dles of blast­ing.” At least

that’s what we said, curs­ing our thumbs when­ever we died, and won­der­ing at what point the game would lock up and start de­mand­ing money.

As it turns out, the de­vel­op­ers are hard­core gamers and have no truck with ter­ri­ble mon­eti­sa­tion. There­fore, you get un­ob­tru­sive ads on static screens, and are oth­er­wise left to your own de­vices. And the game is ex­cel­lent.

The back­story in­volves Cally’s par­ents be­ing kid­napped for a third time by an evil sci­en­tist. She there­fore re­solves to res­cue them, pri­mar­ily by leap­ing about the place and blow­ing away all man­ner of ad­ver­saries us­ing the kind of high­pow­ered weaponry not usu­ally as­so­ci­ated with a young girl with pig-tails. Level lay­outs are var­ied, and weapon power-ups are clev­erly de­signed, based around how much you use each item. The one nig­gle is the map, which is check­point-based – it’s a bit too easy to find your­self re­play­ing a trio of lev­els

again and again to get to a place fur­ther along in your jour­ney where you can restart.

Still, that merely forces you to take a lit­tle more care, rather than blun­der­ing about the place, and to breathe in the del­i­cately de­signed pixel­lated land­scapes. And should you de­cide you want to throw money at the de­vel­op­ers, there are op­tional IAPs that un­lock new game modes, or a load of coins if you want to splurge in the in-game store with­out work­ing for your money. Craig Grannell


We do like a good word game, and Cap­i­tals is a very good word game. There are echoes here of Let­ter­press, in the sense that Cap­i­tals com­bines Risk-style land-grab­bing with the need to cre­ate words from a jum­ble of let­ters. How­ever, while Let­ter­press for the most part ben­e­fits play­ers able to fash­ion lengthy words, Cap­i­tals is more about where the let­ters you choose to use are lo­cated.

The game plays out on a hexag­o­nal grid, ei­ther with two play­ers us­ing the same de­vice or

bat­tling it out on­line thanks to a Game Cen­ter matchup. All let­ters on the board can be used to cre­ate a word, but only those at­tached to your ter­ri­tory flip to your colour on sub­mit­ting a move. The im­por­tant thing is to keep your cap­i­tal sur­rounded by ter­ri­tory rather than let­ters. If you don’t and your ri­val’s move in­cludes let­ters adjacent to your cap­i­tal, it’s cap­tured. They then get a free turn, and since the ob­jec­tive of the game is to­tal and ut­ter an­ni­hi­la­tion, that ex­tra move is of­ten enough to gift vic­tory.

For no money at all, Cap­i­tals is one of the best games around for word-game nuts, al­though we’ll ad­mit to be­ing a smidgeon miffed about the ad model; in miserly fash­ion, it only gives up a soli­tary game for ev­ery ad­vert watched. Still, since a game can of­ten play out as a days-long tug of war, the ads are hardly a huge drain on your time for what you get in re­turn. Craig Grannell

Does Not Com­mute

Does Not Com­mute starts with a sim­ple driv­ing chal­lenge: get from point A to point B be­fore the timer runs out. (The car runs au­to­mat­i­cally: you just tap the left or right side of the screen to steer.) But as soon as you achieve this, the game rewinds time and asks you to re­peat the trick, driv­ing a sec­ond ve­hi­cle on the same course. Only this time you need to con­tend with an­other driver on the road: your­self, fol­low­ing what­ever route you just took in the first car. This re­peats un­til the screen is dan­ger­ously and hi­lar­i­ously full.

There are lots of neat touches: the funny snap­shots of each com­muter’s life and why they’re in a hurry; the reck­less jumps and shortcuts that

you’re heav­ily en­cour­aged to use in or­der to avoid traf­fic, but which nearly al­ways end in dis­as­ter; the des­per­ate rush to beat the clock and pick up the timer-boost­ing powerups; and, best of all, the chal­lenge of adapt­ing to a ve­hi­cle that han­dles com­pletely dif­fer­ently to the pre­vi­ous one, all within a space of sec­onds.

This is a free game, though you can’t save at any of the check­points un­til you up­grade to the Pre­mium version, which costs £1.49. David Price

Down The Moun­tain

You might de­tect a whiff of Crossy Road (above) when first lay­ing eyes on Down The Moun­tain. It has sim­i­lar car­toon­ish, cuboid, colour­ful char­ac­ters. There’s in­stant death when you mess up. And there’s a hint of Crossy Road’s col­lec­tor men­tal­ity, in you grad­u­ally amass­ing a bunch of mis­fits to guide down the seem­ingly in­fin­itely high hill from

hell. But there any sim­i­lar­ity ends, be­cause Down The Moun­tain is si­mul­ta­ne­ously much sim­pler and far trick­ier than Crossy Road.

It’s much eas­ier in the sense of the con­trols. Like Crossy Road, there’s old ar­cade game DNA in Down The Moun­tain, but it’s a Q*bert field of iso­met­ric cubes, rather than end­less Frog­ger. But whereas other char­ac­ters on the moun­tain have free move­ment, you don’t – you can only bound down­wards, to your left or right. The tough bit is ev­ery­thing else. The moun­tain is chock full of deadly haz­ards, such as bound­ing cars, spikes, lava blocks and rav­en­ous beasts. Some tiles tem­po­rar­ily re­verse the con­trols, while oth­ers poi­son you, leav­ing mere sec­onds to find an an­ti­dote.

Down The Moun­tain then be­comes a bit over­whelm­ing, with you hav­ing to jug­gle all kinds of tasks and dan­gers. Games are short. Yet if you per­se­vere and get your­self into ‘the zone’, it be­comes a thor­oughly ad­dic­tive ex­pe­ri­ence; and even if you get frus­trated, the game’s charm­ing na­ture al­ways draws you back for one more go.

(There’s IAP here, but it’s all avoid­able. If you’d like to re­ward the devs, though, 79p re­moves the un­ob­tru­sive ads, or gets you four keys that can be used to un­lock crates that award you new char­ac­ters. Keys are oth­er­wise found on the moun­tain.) Craig Grannell

Hill Climb Rac­ing

Hill Climb Rac­ing is an ex­cel­lent time filler which you can pick up and put down at a mo­ment’s no­tice. Bet­ter still, it’s an ex­cel­lent free time filler.

You spend the game driv­ing a 4x4 up hills, across bridges, down hills and then up more hills. Along the way you col­lect coins and fuel. Drive too slowly and you’ll run out of petrol; drive too quick and you’ll flip the ve­hi­cle over. There’s just a brake and ac­cel­er­a­tor, but you must use th­ese con­trols care­fully – and mas­ter­ing them is tremen­dously re­ward­ing. Be­fore long you’ll be

beat­ing the steep hills you pre­vi­ously thought im­pos­si­ble. Us­ing coins you can up­grade your start­ing ve­hi­cle and un­lock new ones. You’ll quickly re­alise that to un­lock most of the lev­els and ve­hi­cles you’ll have to use the in-app pur­chases to buy coins rather than earn­ing them, but it’s per­fectly pos­si­ble to play Hill Climb Rac­ing with­out spend­ing any money at all. Jim Martin

Jet­pack Joyride

In this de­light­ful cave flyer, your dis­grun­tled labassis­tant char­ac­ter steals a ma­chine-gun-pow­ered jet­pack (don’t ask) and takes flight through the lab’s never-end­ing string of long, tun­nel-like rooms. As you jet or run along, you need to avoid elec­tri­fied bar­ri­ers, lasers and mis­siles while col­lect­ing coins. The mix of re­spon­sive­ness and ac­cel­er­a­tion is just about per­fect, the com­i­cal graph­ics raise it above most of­fer­ings in the genre, and the ex­tras –

in­clud­ing a su­perb ar­ray of ve­hi­cles – make Jet­pack Joyride a true stand­out. Dan Frakes


We’ve played KANO a bunch of times and still have ab­so­lutely no idea what’s go­ing on. We know what we have to do, but this is oth­er­wise a game of strange­ness.

The game­play, then, in­volves colour-match­ing. You con­trol a plat­form at the foot of the screen, which has four coloured tiles. It can be spun with a fin­ger, and stops with a prod, in a pleas­ingly tac­tile man­ner. The aim is to match the colour of a bounc­ing and end­lessly trans­form­ing gurn­ing 3D be­ing when it lands.

At first, KANO is mind­numb­ingly easy, but that doesn’t last long. Within a minute or so, the bounc­ing in­creases to manic pace, and you’ll even­tu­ally miss a match. At that point, the tile dis­ap­pears, leav­ing a hole into a lava pit; you’ll then meet a fu­ri­ous fire­ball, which when it ap­pears must be steered into the lava rather than al­low­ing it to col­lide with

any re­main­ing coloured tiles. Now and again, there’s a lit­tle bonus sec­tion, where you grab coins in space, boost­ing your points tally.

The game con­tin­ues un­til you’ve only one tile left, at which point you’re awarded with a score and get to have a bit of a breather. Rather amus­ingly, the sole IAP (£2.29 for ‘pre­mium’) adds a ‘turbo mode’ at dou­ble speed. Frankly, we’re not sure we’d be able to cope. Craig Grannell


In this alarm­ingly ad­dic­tive puz­zle game, you and your op­po­nent take turns to use the let­ters in a five-by­five grid to build a word, thereby caus­ing the tiles you use to change into your colour. At game end, which­ever player has turned more tiles to his or her colour emerges the vic­tor. Se­ri­ous fun for word game fans. Lex Friedman

Los Aliens

The lit­tle crit­ters in Los Aliens know how to make things hard for them­selves. They’re very much into ex­plor­ing new worlds, but also cre­ate rigid rules about how to do so. For some rea­son, they can only move about like knights on a chess­board, work­ing their way around grid sec­tors by way of L-shaped leaps. As they go, they dump fuel re­quired to power their space­ship. Should a com­plete line be built ver­ti­cally or hor­i­zon­tally across the cur­rent zone, the ship blasts for­wards;

do this enough times, and it heads into or­bit, ready to zoom to a new planet.

As you work your way through the game, it mer­rily lobs new curve­balls in your di­rec­tion: lim­ited moves or lim­ited time; the re­quire­ment to col­lect na­tive species; tele­porters; and more. The vi­su­als are vi­brant, and the game’s me­chan­ics feel quite fresh, even if this is fairly stan­dard puz­zle fare. There are ads and timers lurk­ing, as you might imag­ine. But if you play a lit­tle ev­ery day, the for­mer won’t irk, and the ads can be blasted into space by way of a sin­gle £1.49 if they be­gin to grate. Craig Grannell

Mr. Square

It’s very easy on fir­ing up a puz­zle game to be dis­mis­sive, not­ing that you’ve seen it all be­fore. You might think that on down­load­ing Mr. Square, but what this game lacks in orig­i­nal­ity, it makes up for with dozens of en­joy­able puzzles, and a ten­dency to never out­stay its wel­come.

The idea is to ‘paint’ ev­ery tile on the floor. The snag is that Mr. Square is seem­ingly on ice, and will slide un­til reach­ing a bar­rier of some sort. Fur­ther­more, any painted tiles trans­form into walls

that can­not be crossed a sec­ond time. You must there­fore plan ahead, fig­ur­ing out a path that won’t leave you stranded, with one pesky un­painted tile taunt­ing you from across the screen.

Two smart ideas pro­pel this ba­sic con­cept on­wards. First, the game’s di­vided into chap­ters, each of which throws some­thing new into the mix - tele­porters; one-way routes; a clone that copies your ev­ery move. Se­condly, you can make and share lev­els of your own, or try those that other peo­ple have made. Most sur­pris­ingly, this is all of­fered en­tirely for free. Al­though you can buy coins to un­lock chap­ters early, there’s really no need, be­cause 150 are gen­er­ously given out on com­plet­ing a level; and if tempted, you can get 100 more at any point by watch­ing a video ad. Craig Grannell

New Star Soc­cer

It’s a tes­ta­ment to the bril­liant game­play that even foot­ball haters will get some­thing out of this.

You’re a striker start­ing out in non-league foot­ball and aim­ing for the big time. On the pitch, you’re tasked with set­ting up and scor­ing won­der goals. But the game also deals with non-match ac­tiv­i­ties:

train­ing, se­lect­ing clothes and kit­ting out your house in a load of tat. Alan Martin

Nono Is­lands

With its 3D view­point and tap-based con­trols for hop­ping about, Nono Games ini­tially feels a bit like Crossy Road got mashed into Tem­ple Run with a fork. But you soon re­alise that this jun­gle ex­pe­di­tion is some­thing else en­tirely, and it has more in com­mon with old-school plat­form games that de­manded you to mem­o­rise a course and zoom through it as fast as pos­si­ble.

Each of the short­ish lev­els has you nav­i­gat­ing a small patch of wilder­ness on a ‘clock­work’ is­land, along nar­row paths sur­rounded by death. You tap to move for­ward one step, swipe left or right to move for­wards and in the rel­e­vant di­rec­tion, and swipe back to move back­wards. You must take care to avoid get­ting eaten by a leap­ing shark, poi­soned by a scut­tling spi­der, or fall­ing into the fetid swamp wa­ter. Tim­ing is key.

What’s es­pe­cially smart about Nono Is­lands, though, is how it can be ap­proached in var­i­ous ways. If you like, it’s pos­si­ble to care­fully pick your way through each level – and do­ing so is rel­a­tively sim­ple. But really it’s all about time-at­tack scores, es­pe­cially if your friends are play­ing. You’ll want to get to the end of each stage as rapidly

as pos­si­ble, and that means im­ple­ment­ing a pre­cise se­ries of taps and swipes to shave frac­tions of a sec­ond off of your time.

For free, you rather gen­er­ously get ac­cess to ev­ery­thing. You can also buy five check­point to­kens for 79p or un­lock all check­points for £2.29. Check­points mean you don’t have to re­play pre­vi­ous lev­els should you fail, al­though to­kens can also be found within the game it­self, and Nono Is­lands gives you one free at­tempt, and an­other af­ter a few more min­utes. Craig Grannell

Pac-Man 256

The orig­i­nal Pac-Man was a bit bro­ken. If you had magic thumbs and could some­how reach the 256th level, you’d be con­fronted by a mas­sive glitch. The right-hand side of the screen be­came all messed up, with no way through. Un­til now, that is. In Pac-Man 256, you get to ven­ture be­yond the glitch.

What’s there, it turns out, is a kind of end­less hell for the yel­low dot-muncher. Pac-Man gets to tra­verse a never-end­ing maze full of spooks, eat­ing pills un­til he fi­nally comes a crop­per. He can’t linger for long, ei­ther, be­cause the all­con­sum­ing glitch is al­ways in hot pur­suit.

For­tu­nately, Pac-Man has ways of fight­ing back. Power pel­lets from the orig­i­nal game are present and cor­rect. Eat one and the ghosts turn blue, en­abling you to gob­ble them down for ex­tra points. New power-ups are also dot­ted about, and th­ese

be­come more pow­er­ful the more you play the game. If you ever thought, dur­ing the orig­i­nal Pac-Man, that it would be a bet­ter game if the ro­tund hero could spew laser death from his maw, then you’ll be a happy camper here. Craig Grannell


A physics-based puz­zler in which you bounce a cute lit­tle crea­ture around a level and try to get him to the goal with as few shots as pos­si­ble. Sort of like crazy

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