GREAT FREE GAMES
Brilliant games that won’t cost you a penny
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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