Best free iPad games
iPad & iPhone User staff reveal their top free games
1. 99 Rockets
99 rockets. 99 targets. It all sounds so simple. In this sparse shooter, each screen has little darts meander along skinny tracks; all you need to do is tap the screen when the solid dart is pointing at a target.
Only before long the tracks start looping, and the darts start spinning. Once you get your head around those issues, darts appear with two or three tips, which fire simultaneously. Miss once and it’s game over. That the darts can take multiple passes is scant consolation for those times you miss your final target by a whisker, a dozen levels in.
Fortunately, you can save your progress, rather than having to start from scratch every time – although doing so fires up an ad. (This sometimes also occurs after a level, rather obliterating the otherwise tense atmosphere; a 79p IAP banishes the ads forever.) But the ultimate challenge is apparently to make it through the entire game
without using any saves at all. To say the least, that requires a steely nerve, a steady hand, and an impeccable aim. Craig Grannell
2. Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer
To the casual player Ascension seems not dissimilar to Magic: The Gathering – you build and play from a deck of cards, each of which depicts a warrior, magician or relic of some kind, and use these to slay monsters and acquire both points and further cards. What makes it a ‘deck builder’ (like the classic card game Dominion, or the more recent Star Realms, which is also free and also worth a try) rather than a collectible card game like Magic is the fact that all players start with an identical, very simple deck. You build your deck within the game itself, rather than in spare hours long before it begins.
It’s all weirdly addictive, once you play a few times, and you needn’t pay a penny if you don’t
want to: various single-time payments unlock new sets of cards and suchlike, but the free offering is perfectly decent. And while some reviewers have criticised the mostly rough-seeming art style, we find it all rather beautiful. David Price
3. Asphalt 8: Airborne
Whereas some driving games have one foot planted in reality, Asphalt 8 throws caution to the wind, flinging cars into the air with merry abandon and burning nitro like it’s going out of fashion. The hyper-real tracks you zoom around are occasionally animated with a launching shuttle or a massive ferry to leap over and totally not crash into. Crashes should instead be saved for your rivals: ramming other cars while nitroing is half the fun and, naturally, rewarded with more nitro. Asphalt just can’t get enough of nitro.
The only dent in this game’s otherwise fine chassis is its business model. Gameloft and freemium equates to IAP and adverts. But the latter are infrequent and the former can be avoided if you’re happy grinding a bit – and given the
madcap, glorious courses on offer, who wouldn’t want to play them again and again? Craig Grannell
4. Battle Golf
Developer Colin Lane appears to be attempting to corner the market in ridiculous sports games. First, there was Golf is Hard, a side-on ball-thwacker that required you to hit a hole-in-one every time, because it’s clearly wrong and evil to walk on the grass. Then came Wrassling, a demented wrestling (of sorts) game that looked like it had fallen out of a Commodore 64. Now, Lane’s returned to hitting tiny balls with sticks in Battle Golf.
Again, this one’s all about holes-in-one, but putting greens now emerge from a huge expanse of water. You tap twice (to set angle and then power) and hope for the best. Hazards include hole-blocking seagulls and occasionally having to carefully aim for the top of a giant octopus.
Although perfectly fine in its single-player timeattack incarnation, Battle Golf comes into its own
when the ‘battle’ bit is added via the same-device two-player mode. Players face off at opposite edges of the water and frantically race to five points. As a bonus, you can temporarily knock out your rival by smacking them in the head with a ball, gaining you precious seconds to win a point without interference.
There’s only one IAP: £1.49 gets rid of the ads, although these are unobtrusive and don’t interrupt your games. Only flinging your (ex) friend’s iPad out of the window when they get a last-gasp fluky shot to win 5-4 can do that. Craig Grannell
5. Bejeweled Classic HD
There are so many gem-swapping games on the App Store that it’s easy to overlook the one that popularised the genre. And that’s a pity, given that PopCap’s Bejeweled Classic HD remains one of the best games of its kind. And on iPad, you get a range of modes, each of which has a distinct approach to matching and smashing gems.
The classic offering remains present and correct. You flip two gems on a grid, aiming to match three or more in a row or column, which then explode. New gems then fall from the top of the well into empty space. Rinse and repeat until no moves remain. If that’s a bit stressful, Zen Mode makes subtle changes to ensure you can never lose.
Butterfly and Diamond Mine are tougher prospects. The former has you fashion combos to keep butterflies from reaching the top of the well, otherwise they’re devoured by a vicious spider. And Diamond Mine is all about using gem explosions to dig deep into the earth, against the clock.
The most recent modes are Lightning and Poker. The latter requires IAP to unlock, although you get a few free goes with the initial download. Lightning, though, is interesting in providing a breakneck speed-run take on Bejeweled that should satisfy fans of the once-excellent Bejeweled Blitz, which sadly long ago became mired in freemium hell, encouraging players to buy their way to high-scores. Our advice: stick with the original and best. Craig Grannell
6. Big Bang Racing
Given that Big Bang Racing litters its display with typically irksome freemium trappings – gems, locked chests, timers – it’s an easy game to grumble at and delete. Doing so would be a grave error, though, because it’s a lot of fun.
It’s really two games in one – part trials outing and part multiplayer racer. The trials side of things finds your strange little driver carefully navigating puzzle-like courses, collecting map parts, and trying
very hard to not get electrocuted along the way. Races pit your skills against other players’ ghosts, in a hectic battle to the finish line. Both takes on Big Bang Racing shine, not least due to the fab graphics and responsive, simple controls (virtual buttons for moving forwards and backwards, and for spinning clockwise and anti-clockwise).
You’ll also notice as you play that each level is credited. This isn’t just for show, and is indicative of Big Bang Racing’s other smart idea: the means to create and share levels. This is done by way of a very usable editor, although what obstacles you can actually plonk down in any given course is somewhat reliant on whatever you’ve previously unlocked from chests - unless you’re happy to dig into your virtual or real-world coffers, to buy ramps and the like with coins. Still, even with lurking IAP whiffing the place up a bit, it’s worth a download, whether you fancy picking your way through cleverly crafted traps and structures or leaving random internet racers in the dust. Craig Grannell
7. Bullet Hell Monday
It’s a stretch to say Bullet Hell Monday makes one of the more niche genres – bullethell shooters – accessible in a mainstream sense, but it has a good shot. Lots of shots, actually, given that, as you might expect if you’re remotely familiar with the genre, you spend much of your time blasting alien scum and weaving your ship between dazzling geometric patterns of projectiles, all the while scooping up bling.
What makes Bullet Hell Monday smarter than the average shooter for relative newcomers is the bite-sized levels. The game eases you in relatively gently, introducing you to its basic concepts and initially holding back any overwhelming confrontations where you dance between seemingly endless sprays of bullets, constantly escaping death by a whisker.
They come later, when it eventually mires you in actual bullet hell, but even on reaching sterner challenges, you feel you’ve a fighting chance. In part, this is because of the aforementioned brevity of the levels; but also further levels unlock on the basis of achievements. Essentially, do pretty well on any given level and you’ll get enough points to continue. Fail miserably and you should take that as a hint you need to improve a bit first.
Bullet Hell Monday therefore rewards repeat play as you figure out a path to victory, the best
enemies to attack (and those to avoid), and when to use devastating bombs. It also rewards you with cash for ship upgrades, which, surprisingly, can’t be bought via IAP. Success is for once entirely down to your skills, not your wallet. Craig Grannell
If games took human form, caRRage would wear a grizzled expression, halfway between Judge Dredd and Mad Max. It’s a no-nonsense topdown car-racer that takes no prisoners. It would rather scowl and repeatedly blow up your vehicle than ease you in gently, which suits its dusty and broken post-apocalyptic setting.
Quite how car enthusiasts find time to race each other when they should be scouring a ravaged landscape for food and water, we don’t know. However, this isn’t exactly Formula 1. In caRRage, vehicles are laden with armour and spikes, drop mines and fire missiles. Dirty tactics aren’t so much encouraged as mandatory, unless you want to
limp home in last place. Now and again, racing is ditched entirely for bizarre supply run mini-games, where you fend off crazed attackers by ramming them with a massive articulated lorry. We suppose the petrol for racing has to come from somewhere.
Being a free game, IAP lurks menacingly, mostly to swell your coffers and speed along upgrades you’ll need for tackling later levels. But if you’re prepared to grind a bit, caRRage needn’t cost you a penny - merely a chunk of your humanity as you allow a toothy grin at having blown another rival to oblivion. Craig Grannell
9. Crossy Road
You’ve probably already installed Crossy Road. If not, do so immediately; and while you’re waiting, here’s why it’s one of the finest freebies on mobile.
First, it’s dead simple and entirely intuitive. Imagine Frogger with isometric graphics and a single level that goes on forever. That’s perhaps not fun for the game’s protagonist, who must hop
across endless busy highways, train-lines and rivers full of floating logs before inevitably being squashed/drowning/ending up on the front of the 8:24 to Paddington. But it’s great for you, because it’s an endless, infinitely replayable challenge. And the controls – tap to jump forward or swipe to move in any direction – are pitch-perfect.
Secondly, it looks gorgeous. The visuals are bright and cheery, to the point you won’t be too annoyed when your critter gets splattered.
Finally, Crossy Road is the least obnoxious free-to-play title around, despite being packed full of collectables. Sure, you can pay IAP to get a new character (of which there are many), but alternatively you can grab coins as you play, view an ad to swell your wallet, or even just do nothing at all and grin as the game generously lobs virtual cash in your general direction anyway.
You can then try your luck on a one-armed bandit that will reward you with anything from a vampire that turns Crossy Road into a bleak landscape bathed in red, to ‘Doge’, whose antics are accompanied by lurid Comic Sans phrases. Much hop! Very car! Craig Grannell
Outer-space mining colonies have it tough. They’re surrounded by orbiting chunks of rock and under constant attack from evil aliens. Naturally, you’d think The Company would send in a fleet of crack pilots to deal with such problems. Nope – it’s just you, taking on all and sundry single-handed.
The first thing that will strike you about Darkside is how stunning the game looks. As you fly over an
asteroid’s surface, it effortlessly rolls beneath you, structures and rocks rotating away into space. The second thing you’ll notice – very quickly – is that space is really dangerous. Every rock you blast splits in two, Asteroids-style; enemy craft flit about, daring you to shoot them. Occasionally, you’ll collect a power-up, but you’ll more frequently find your ship becoming one with the universe after having been atomised.
Rather generously, you get the pulsating arcade mode entirely for free. For the reasonable sum of £1.49, you can unlock Survival (one life) and Missions (100 varied objectives) modes; as an added incentive, this also unlocks smart bombs for your ship. Craig Grannell
11. Dashy Crashy
On the surface, Dashy Crashy appears to be just another lane-based survival game. You’re in a car, swipe to avoid traffic, and accrue as many points as possible before an inevitable collision. But Dashy
Crashy sets itself apart in a number of ways. First, the presentation is superb. The game’s visuals are clean and bright, from the crisp, detailed vehicles to the constantly changing backgrounds with day and night cycles. Secondly, it sounds great, with a breezy soundtrack and chirpy voiceover (apparently an excitable satnav) yelping the odd slogan to urge you onwards.
Mostly, though, we love Dashy Crashy because it’s a rare example of a 3D endless runner that’s fully considered the platform it’s running on. As noted, you swipe to move lanes, but the iPad is a multitouch device, and Dashy Crashy is a multitouch game. Use two or three fingers and you quickly shift across multiple lanes. Additionally, swipe up or down and you can boost or brake. These subtle twists make all the difference, adding strategy and ensuring Dashy Crashy is more fun and more interesting to play than the vast majority of its contemporaries. Craig Grannell
12. Disney Crossy Road
You might narrow your eyes on seeing the word ‘Disney’ plonked in front of Crossy Road, but this is far more than yet another cash-in. In fact, it’s far more than Crossy Road. Because although the original title’s modern endless update on
Frogger remains broadly intact, Disney Crossy Road is a very different beast.
At first, it seems little has changed. Instead of a chicken trying to cross roads, rivers and train lines, before inevitably finding itself splattered or drowned, the world’s most famous mouse partakes in a spot of jaywalking. Beyond some scenery bobbing about to a background tune and black outlines on all the graphics, it could be the same game.
But as with the original Crossy Road, this Disneyfied take regularly merrily belches virtual coins, enabling you to try your luck at a prize machine and win new characters. In Crossy Road, many characters update the game’s visuals, but here new worlds are unlocked that provide all kinds of additional challenges. Inside Out and Wreck-It Ralph have objects to collect (respectively, dream cubes and candy), which boost your score but force you to take risks. Toy Story and Tangled feature tumbling boxes to avoid. And Haunted
Mansion has you light candelabras to fend off inky gloom, while avoiding suits of armour with a tendency to get a bit stabby.
What could have been a cynical release is therefore magical and fresh. It’s superior to Crossy Road and has so much scope for expansion, not least when you consider Disney owns rights to Marvel and Star Wars! Craig Grannell
13. Dumb Ways To Die
We always encourage players of free iPad games to consider the question: “How are the developers making money out of this?” If you’re not paying directly, is their play to sell you in-app purchases, show you adverts, or harvest your data? Or are they just trying to grab a big user base before ‘monetising’ later?
Some games, however, are created by nonprofit, publicly funded or charitable organisations, and can be given away for free without any strings attached (except well-intentioned ideological ones, probably). Dumb Ways To Die
was commissioned by Metro Trains Melbourne in order to raise awareness of railway safety, and a proportion of its macabre puzzles involve helping the characters avoid being sliced in half by trains. But the makers didn’t feel the need to stick too closely to the brief, and the theme meanders off all over the place. It’s brilliant.
It’s fun, and funny, and fast – each puzzle lasts just a few seconds, before you’re whisked off to the next. There’s not enormous depth, but it’s definitely worth a go. David Price
14. Fast like a Fox
One of the especially nice things about iOS is how it forced people to look again at how games are controlled. Without a D-pad and buttons, developers were from day one forced to innovate, leading to a plethora of exciting multitouch and motion-driven interfaces. Fast like a Fox showcases how games creators still aren’t done thinking of new ways to control on-screen characters.
A tap system is used to make a little fox run. Essentially, you drum your fingers on the back of your device, and the faster you do so, the speedier the fox. Additionally, you can tap the screen to make the fox jump – a handy skill, given that it apparently lives in a land of steep hills and deadly ravines.
There’s a story about the treasure of a fox tribe being pilfered by nefarious types, but all you really need to know is that this is tried-and-tested gameplay mixed with some gorgeous low-poly artwork, and a control scheme that gives you a surprisingly close bond with your on-screen character. Clever level design means you’ll need several runs on any given one to fully master it, and although the game’s momentum and elegance are slightly knocked by fairly frequent adverts, they can be removed forever for a perfectly reasonable 79p. Craig Grannell
15. Flappy Golf 2
The original Flappy Golf was literally conceived as a joke. Riffing off the then insanely popular Flappy Bird, it reimagined Super Stickman Golf 2: instead of smacking a ball about with a stick, the ball flew, flitting left or right depending on which button you pressed. Pretty soon, a daft joke became a phenomenon, when it became obvious Flappy Golf was hugely entertaining. For newcomers, it was immediate and intuitive, but also original and silly. For Super Stickman Golf veterans, it was an interesting and novel way to tackle familiar courses, which it turned out needed wildly different tactics when your ball happened to be armed with wings.
All of which brings us to Flappy Golf 2. This time, the game wasn’t intended to be a joke, but a follow-up to a surprise hit. In essence, though, it’s more of the same, but this time, you flap about courses from Super Stickman Golf 3. Throughout, you aim to win stars by reaching the hole in the fewest flaps, thereby unlocking further courses. Along the way, you can also collect eggs with which to buy custom balls and trails. Beyond this standard single player game, there’s an unhinged local or online race mode, with up to four flapping golf balls battling their way to the green.
Surprisingly, the game’s bereft of IAP – we’d have happily paid to nuke the irritating ad banner. Still, this makes the iPad the ideal platform for flappy golfing, since said advert doesn’t cover much of the screen. Craig Grannell
16. Final Freeway 2R Free
Perhaps the most cherished racing game from the 1980s is Sega’s OutRun, in which a shiny red sports
car belts along roads where traffic is rather oddly all zooming in the same direction. The game was at the time breezy, ludicrously fast, and also enabled you to pick your journey by way of a fork in the road at the end of each section.
Final Freeway 2R Free is, more or less, OutRun for iPad. Sure, the graphics are different and the handling’s smarter, and the original cheesy tunes have been replaced by entirely different cheesy tunes; but this is much the same game that thrilled people in the 1980s, right down to the flipping car when you blunder into a roadside object at 100mph. (Aficionados will also notice Final Freeway features a rivalry with an angry fellow driving what looks like a white Porsche. This is also a nod to OutRun, albeit the game’s sequel, Turbo OutRun. Clearly, this game’s creator is thorough when it comes to retro geekery.)
The game’s simple nature makes it a good fit for mobile. There’s enough variety to keep you coming back, trying your hand at new routes. But
even a fully successful run takes only a matter of minutes. You will, however, probably wonder what everyone’s in such a hurry to drive away from; perhaps it’s a good thing the game doesn’t give you a rear-view mirror. Craig Grannell
17. Fold the World
With iPads being all about pawing at a glass surface, some games have made a concerted effort to reconnect gamers with something that feels a bit more tangible and tactile. In Fold the World, you’re exploring the Paper Kingdom, leading strange bouncing critter Yolo along pathways that shift and change underneath him, depending on how the paper puzzle is folded.
On playing the game, it will probably come as no surprise that Fold the World’s puzzles were initially fashioned out of paper, before being digitised and fine-tuned inside the computer. Such attention to detail is evident, and it means you never feel cheated. Although some of the puzzles are real
head-scratchers, with you folding the paper this way and that, there’s always seriously solid logic underpinning everything. (That each level is only as big as your screen makes it all the more impressive that the pathways Yolo can take become so deviously and deliciously complicated.)
For free, you get 20 levels of adventuring, which should keep puzzle fans happy for a good long while. Should you hanker for more papery goodness, two further sets of levels can be purchased for 79p each. (Note that the game also has a hints system, replenished using gems. Buying them isn’t necessary, and you can get gems for free by watching video ads.)
18. Forget-Me-Not Craig Grannell
There are a few iPad games up there with the very best of their kind – and we reckon ForgetMe-Not is one of the finest arcade games ever created, on any platform. Part loving tribute to arcade classics, and part modern mobile creation,
it has a kind of demented and frenetic energy that’s hugely compelling.
The game has you explore semi-random mazes, eating flowers, and shooting anything that moves. Once all the flowers are gone, grab a key and you can head for the exit. Simple. Only Forget-Me-Not is full of so many little details that you’ll spend many glorious hours spotting them all: the dot score multipliers; various game modes that require very different approaches; the way you can grind against walls to power up your little square and smash through enemies; the fact other inhabitants of the maze mostly seem as happy obliterating each other as gunning for you.
In early 2016, Forget-Me-Not brushed with oblivion as the developer’s App Store account was about to lapse. He made the game free during its final days, before a kindly soul paid to keep the account alive. In thanks, Forget-Me-Not is now free forever, and entirely without IAP. Now you’ve no excuse to not download one of the finest games to ever grace an iPad.
19 Halcyon Craig Grannell
Before he made whatever passes for the ‘big time’ in iOS gaming with SpellTower, developer Zach Gage’s creative approach arrived from a rather more arty direction; and never was he artier than with Halcyon. In theory, it’s a match game, but it’s also an instrument – your actions augment a generative soundtrack, making for unique compositions in every game.
The matching itself involves coloured currents – triangles that move along horizontal strings.
You draw lines between the strings, so likecoloured currents meet, whereupon they plink and vanish. Everything ends the second two different currents meet, creating disharmony in Halcyon’s ordered world. There are 36 levels across four environments, along with two endless modes that dynamically adjust their difficulty, based on your skills. The only downside is that this is a fairly old iPad game that hasn’t been updated since 2011. So you must skip past sign-up for a now-defunct gaming social network and also make peace with the lack of high-res graphics. But once you’re immersed in the world of Halcyon, you’ll be hypnotised for hours. Craig Grannell
20. Hammer Bomb
If Pac-Man, Wolfenstein 3D and Rogue had a baby, you’d get Hammer Bomb. The game plonks you in a claustrophobic 3D maze, and you sprint along while not entirely suitable (but nonetheless very catchy) thumping electronic music blasts your
ears, urging you onwards. Like in Pac-Man, you automatically move, but the mazes are algorithmically generated and therefore semi-randomised, as per in Rogue. And your aim isn’t so much to eat all the dots (gold coins in this case), but to get to an exit as quickly as possible.
Visually, the chunky graphics are reminiscent of classic shooter Wolfenstein 3D, but you won’t find Nazis in these dungeons. Instead, Hammer Bomb’s corridors are full of terrifying giant bats, roaming zombies and floating eyeballs. Mostly, your best bet is to flee when one heads your way; but find a chest and it’ll present a weapon (with very limited ammo) for when you find yourself in a tight spot.
Hammer Bomb adds further twists with boss battles against massive spiders, dragons and slime beasts, power-up perks to buy with your pilfered coins, and screwball quests that involve hunting down fleeing foodstuffs (in a nod to Ms. Pac-Man’s roaming fruit). It’s all very strange, loads of fun, and hugely replayable. In terms of IAP, you can get rid of the ads or buy extra gold for £1.49. But you’ll find your coffers full enough for the essential power-ups (hint: get the radar as soon as you can), without having to spend a penny. Although you might find yourself suddenly having to spend a
very different kind of penny on turning a corner and finding yourself scared witless by a giant murderous crow. Craig Grannell
21. Hue Ball
There’s a chilled-out, jolly air about Hue Ball. From the tinkly soundtrack to the pastel colours, this is a game wanting to make you feel relaxed. And initially, it’s all rather breezy and throwaway fun. A little cannon at the foot of the screen tilts back and forth, emitting a ball when you tap. This briefly bounces about the confines of the small arena, obliterating those already lurking that it collides with.
However, the circle you really need to track is a very pale one that covers the entire display and quickly reduces in size until it vanishes at the screen’s centre. On doing so, each lurking ball acquires an extra layer. When one has five, it transforms into a cartoon skull that sits frozen in place, impossible to remove no matter how many balls you lob at it.
This clever yet simple mechanic adds a sense of urgency to Hue Ball. Although you could sit there, watching your cannon wobble to and fro indefinitely, high scores only come by way of quickly clearing balls from the
screen, where possible bouncing single shots into clusters, thereby smashing up a bunch of balls in an instant. This might seem familiar territory to players of Orbital (or, indeed, Gimme Friction Baby, which inspired both titles); but Hue Ball’s distinct vibe, skulls, and ping-pong shots make for a new experience that’s well worth checking out. Craig Grannell
One of the best things about the perceived limitations of game controls on touchscreens is that it has caused games creators to rethink. For the most part, traditional platformers have fared poorly, because you no longer have access to the kind of robust physical controls necessary for twitch-style gameplay. The solution in many cases has been to automate movement, only allowing the player to time jumps.
This approach has been surprisingly successful in many games, such as illi. Here, a fluffy slug-like
creature travels around structures floating in space, and bounds into the air with a tap of the screen. This is handy for avoiding illi-killing spikes, but also for leaping to other platforms, in order to reach the level’s goal.
To further complicate matters, illi provides set challenges for each level, turning each into a puzzle of sorts that can be solved in several different ways. You might quickly clock how to finish a level in 10 seconds, but then get stumped working out how to do so in only three leaps. This adds replay value, although speedy restarts can be scuppered by the hungry energy system, which needs regular refreshing by viewing adverts. (Alternatively, you can pay £1.49 to eradicate the energy system entirely.) Craig Grannell
23. Impulse GP
We’re of the opinion that bike racing seems fast and dangerous enough as it is. But in the future of Impulse GP, things have got markedly crazier. Bikes have lost their wheels and hover above roller-coaster tracks that thread and loop their way through gleaming cities. Furthermore, beyond the requirement to commit to memory every twist and turn, Impulse GP has you power up a boost system when travelling over green pads, and fling yourself forward at even faster speeds by utilising an ‘ion thrust’ system (which essentially means zooming over a blue pad and prodding a button to let rip).
This isn’t an easy game. To get the chance to race, you must complete a qualification circuit within an allotted time; and in the actual race, you’ll always start from the back of the grid. Even if you
can rapidly make your way through the pack, you’ll have a hard time catching the leaders, unless you make use of every scrap of boost. But with mastery comes a great sense of reward. Nick a win by a whisker and you feel like a boss.
Even the freemium trappings of Impulse GP don’t irk, which is good, considering it started life as a premium title. There’s a bit of grinding to acquire the funds to upgrade your bike and be able to tackle later tracks, but without enough experience on earlier circuits, you’d never have a hope with them anyway. Craig Grannell
24. Land Sliders
On touchscreen devices, the feel of a game is hugely important. If whatever occurs underneath your fingers doesn’t come across as entirely natural, that can wreck your interaction with a virtual world. Land Sliders is just about perfect in this regard. Drag or swipe and the entire landscape slides beneath your digits; a tap then stops any
inertial movement stone dead. This combination of grace and precision is intoxicating as you usher a cartoon character about, exploring your surroundings, grabbing collectables, avoiding deadly critters, and locating each level’s exit.
This would be enough to grab your attention for a while, but Land Sliders aims for the long term by carefully considering every element of the game. You can swap land sliding for a more conventional ‘swipe to move’ if you consider the former disorienting. The procedurally generated worlds have plenty of variation, with twists and turns that work brilliantly with the fine-tuned controls. And the quirky enemies have unique behaviours to learn and take advantage of, for example, coaxing an over-zealous pogoing T-Rex into a sentient cactus mooching about in some kind of wheelbarrow.
In effect, Land Sliders becomes akin to a kind of advanced, free-range, multi-screen take on Pac-Man, with tiny worlds ripe for exploration and never outstaying their welcome. Quests add further
longevity, new characters can be unlocked, and the breezy gameplay never palls. The only niggle is the ‘one hit and you’re dead’ nature of the game – we’d have happily plumped for a once-traditional three lives. Craig Grannell
25. Lonely One
It’s just a bearded guy and his pants against an endless number of distinctly strange putting greens in this oddball golf ‘em up. The aim is to get a hole-in-one with every shot. Fail three times and it’s game over. Land a direct shot and you get a life back; for some reason, excitable gnomes also celebrate your amazing play.
It’s a pleasantly noodly affair. You drag a finger to draw an aiming arc, sliding to the edge of the screen if you need to cancel a shot. Occasionally, wind adds some complexity to proceedings, but it’s the strange-shaped greens that cause the most trouble, not least ones resembling animals or the head of a knight.
As is seemingly law these days, Lonely One offers collectables. You get coins for successful putts, and 500 can be used to win a randomly selected character that may alter the game’s visual appearance. You can also buy these outright if you wish, but there’s really no need. The game’s at its funniest with the beardy golfer in his pants anyway. Craig Grannell
26. Lost Tracks
Elsewhere in this list we talk about Lunar Flowers, a title that teeters on the edge of being both game and art project. If anything Lost Tracks is more overtly in the latter camp. The experience is short, feeling more like a creative experiment than a typical video game. But it has heart and a kind of offbeat youthful perspective that’s all too rare in gaming.
It starts on a train, where a woman catches the protagonist’s eye, but this propels him into self doubt. Torn in two, he becomes lost in a surreal inner world you must traverse, confronting and defeating fears and inner demons. Mostly, this involves tilting and prodding your device to explore surroundings, figuring out the nature of puzzles and mechanisms that have been laid out before you. The minimal art style and sparse nature of Lost Tracks affords it a palpable sense of atmosphere that will keep you glued to the screen until its conclusion. (Oh, and a quick
hint if you get stuck at one point: remember how to whistle.) Craig Grannell
27. Lunar Flowers
We feel like lobbing a paintbrush at people who tirelessly argue about whether games are art; however, there can’t be any argument that some games are very artistic. Lunar Flowers is a case in point. Although it’s technically a puzzle game, it’s very slight; mostly, it’s more like an interactive journey, with you following the adventures of a princess in a delicate and beautifully illustrated moonlit world.
Although the visuals and audio evoke wonder, Lunar Flowers truly shines through the sense of exploration it affords. Even though the journey is linear and every moment and reaction canned, you need to discover how to move onwards. Only rarely is there any hand-holding, and your brain sometimes gets quite a workout when the puzzles become rather more abstract.
Perhaps the only disappointment is the brevity of the journey – you’ll reach the end within an hour or two. But along the way, you’ll have ridden a dragon, drawn stars in the sky, and had a surprisingly intense battle against floating lanterns, while attempting to cross a river. Craig Grannell
It’s tempting to look at Mekorama and think you’re getting a free take on Monument Valley, but although there are similarities, the pair are very different games. Mekorama does have an isometric viewpoint, along with levels and components that can be manipulated and rotated with a finger, but it has no truck with Escher-style impossible objects. Instead, Mekorama is a more straightforward affair, based around simpler pathfinding, helping a robot find its way to level’s end across a series of 50 dioramas.
It’s a touch finicky at times, and it can be infuriating when an errant digit sends the robot
flying from the diorama when you’re a couple of minutes in. However, any grimaces soon fade, largely due to the thoroughly charming nature of the game. From the robot’s goofy design to the gorgeously rendered surroundings, Mekorama begs to be interacted with. It’s also generous to a fault, offering a free level designer in addition to its many challenges. (Although note that if you decide you want to toss the developer a few virtual coins by way of thanks, you can do so through ‘pay what you want’ IAPs.) Craig Grannell
29. Middle Manager of Justice
Saturated with absurdist, playful humour, Middle Manager of Justice is a superhero-themed basebuilding game in which the stereotype-spouting heroes divide their time between punching thugs, watching TV and manning call centres.
You’re their middle manager, working out where best to spend the squad’s pitiful income while assigning heroes to dole out fist-based
justice to assorted evil-doers. It’s gently satirising FarmVille-style clickfests – your main interactions are spending resources to watch progress bars – but whether deliberately or accidentally it’s also hugely compelling.
Utterly shallow, but the game is aware of that. Which is probably why it works so well. Alec Meer
30. Mr Dig
We’re not sure what’s going on in Mr Dig. The story has a kind of 1980s video game logic, where the titular Mr. Dig has ‘dug too deep’, unleashing monsters on the underworld; rather than ravaging humanity, said monsters are apparently kleptomaniacs and ‘took his stuff ’. You must therefore venture underground in single-screen levels to liberate Mr. Dig’s fortune, which appears to mostly consist of giant gems and fruit.
Usually, you’d expect this kind of game to echo ancient arcade titles such as Boulder Dash or Dig Dug in terms of how it plays, but that’s not the case here. Instead of the kind of frenetic arcade fare that’s ill-suited to iPad, Mr Dig takes a turn-based approach. Yellow squares show where your digging hero can reach, and you tap to move. You must be careful to time movements to avoid roaming monsters,
and also to leave a path back to the surface. The heroes here are apparently pretty good at leaping about, but they’re not blessed with jet-packs.
The result is a charming, silly and surprisingly challenging puzzler that feels quite fresh, despite its chunky and clunky old-school visuals. Craig Grannell
31. Mucho Party
Strictly speaking, Mucho Party is more a demo than a full game, but what you get for nothing makes it worth downloading anyway. It’s a collection of multiplayer mini games, which pit you against a friend (or one of three computer-controlled difficulty levels) across a range of game modes.
What sets Mucho Party apart from similar titles is that it’s deranged. It first has you take a selection of selfies showing your happy, ecstatic and sad faces, and these are duly shoved inside crazed cartoonish avatars that then show up inside all of the games. The challenges are all dead simple to understand, but a lot of fun to play, whether you’re tapping the screen like a mad person in order to win a hurdles contest, blasting asteroids in your opponent’s direction, or matching coloured strips by hammering the right bell (despite the bells
constantly switching places). If you like the five freebies, you can unlock 37 extra mini games for an entirely reasonable £2.99. Craig Grannell
32. Only One
Only One is a silly fighting game with simple, retro graphics, entirely set on top of a circular plateau. Villains continuously spawn and attack you, and it’s your job to slash them to death with your sword or push them over the edge. We recommend the one-off in-app payment – Ultimate Power – that gives you a permanent power multiplier and unlocks all the abilities, but you can have a great laugh without spending anything. David Price
As much a gravity simulation sandbox as a puzzle game, Orbit is all about flicking tiny planets into being and watching how they interact with each other and the various black holes positioned on the screen. Over time, new mechanics are added, such as multiple black holes, repulsers, and having to make moons that orbit your planets, or clusters of planets that whirl and orbit as one.
This is an app that exudes a kind of effortless beauty throughout. The visual side of things has the orbiting planets atop a light grey canvas, and each celestial object leaves a trail of colour as it moves. In the background, a gentle piano score accompanies your game. And even if your hamfisted attempts at completing a level result in tiny planets scything across the screen and heading into the void beyond, Orbit is never less than engaging and compelling.
In the free game, you get 45 levels to experiment with, and the only downside is the atmosphere being periodically wrecked by noisy ads barging in. These can be blasted into space with a one-off 79p payment. Orbit also offers a sandbox option for £2.29, which gives you the means to create your own levels. Think of the free game, then, as the entry point into a gorgeous iOS-based universe. And if it captivates you the same way it did us, it won’t be long before you’ll be busily fashioning your own tiny solar systems. Craig Grannell
34. Pac-Man 256
From the creators of Crossy Road comes this new – if broadly familiar – take on one of the most famous arcade games of all time. Just as in the original Pac-Man, the yellow dot-muncher has to roam a maze, eating dots and avoiding ghosts. Here, though, Pac-Man’s propelled beyond the infamous level 256 glitch, which has transformed into a relentless muncher itself, devouring everything in its path. Our rotund hero must therefore keep moving ever upwards through an endless maze, keeping ahead of the glitch and avoiding getting killed by wandering ghosts.
Pac-Man 256 on iPhone works nicely, but it’s better on iPad. The graphics shine on the larger display, but the device’s aspect ratio is also beneficial. The iPhone’s narrow display meant you either can’t see far ahead (in landscape) or the entire maze’s width (in portrait); the squarer iPad screen makes for a slightly easier and more rewarding game. That said, you’ll still often find
yourself fleeting from a frankly unsporting number of ghosts, trying desperately to reach the next power-up that’ll give you a fighting chance of getting a high score. Craig Grannell
35. Pico Rally
One of the perceived problems with gaming on mobile is the lack of tactile controls. Although some developers have got around this with clever use of tilting, swiping and virtual D-pads, others reduce everything down to players prodding at the screen. One-thumb controls might seem reductive, but in the hands of canny creators, this system has breathed new life into a range of genres.
One-thumb racing games, though, remain thin on the ground, and yet Pico Rally shows how a single digit provides plenty of command as you belt around a track. Here, your car automatically steers, and you press the screen to slam your foot down on the accelerator. You must time this carefully, so as to navigate the track efficiently, zoom ahead
of rivals and take the chequered flag. The overall effect is a lot like classic slot-car racing, except your car isn’t rigidly restricted to a single lane. Instead, cars in Pico Rally jostle for the lead, not least when you’re careening along being pursued by cops more interested in beating you to the finish line than pulling you over for speeding.
There’s plenty of variety within the 60 tracks – in terms of hazards and also course design – and the physics feels suitably solid, yet keeps you on your toes as new surfaces arrive. The two-player mode is disappointing (no split screen, meaning you often find cars vanish off-screen), but there’s loads here to keep the solo racer engrossed. Craig Grannell
36. Planet Quest
At some point, a legion of plastic guitars and boring rock stars sucked all the imagination out of rhythm action games, but it never used to be this way. Planet Quest harks back to the genre’s quirkier and more colourful days, with an eye-searing, head-
bobbing tap-based experience that involves quite a lot of alien abductions, along with people grooving to the music while wearing animal costumes.
It turns out that you are the alien, tapping the screen to match beats you’ve just heard. Get this right and you beam up the dancers; get this almost right and you beam up their costumes; get it wrong or accidentally beam up a flower and you lose a life. (Maybe the alien’s a big fan of botany.) Fortunately, Planet Quest is generous, rewarding you with a replacement life for every successful abduction, and half a life when you merely snag some clothes.
With the colourful graphics, a manic camera that zooms in and out, and an hour of music, Planet Quest is a must-have for any rhythm-action or arcade fan. It’s a lot of fun and you always feel the game really wants to be played; it also gives skinflints something to strive for – top the leaderboards and you unlock the ad-free version. Craig Grannell
37. Pyro Jump Rescue
Pyro is a flame on a mission in this sweet-natured one-thumb platform game – and it doesn’t involve setting fire to anything. Instead, Pyro’s determined to save his friends, which are being held prisoner by the nefarious types that hold cute video game characters hostage. The blighters!
The world Pyro inhabits is on the dangerous side. In fact, quite a few hazards helpfully have the word ‘danger’ written on them, in case their massive spikes and angry spinning faces weren’t enough of a hint. Unfortunately, instead of unleashing fiery doom, all Pyro can do is jump a bit. You therefore
leap from spinning platform to spinning platform, occasionally being belted about by bumpers and sliding along rails. All the while, you collect coins that can be used to unlock restart points.
That last bit’s quite important, because once Pyro’s extinguished, you restart from the beginning. The game nudges you towards IAP, although you won’t need it if you’re careful regarding checkpoint usage (don’t buy every one), fine with grinding a bit for extra coins, and have a bit of patience when it comes to jumping about. The old cliché ‘look before you leap’ is rather apt here. Craig Grannell
38. RAD Boarding
This snowboarding game will feel more than a little familiar if you’ve ever played Tiny Wings. You zoom along a hilly landscape, prodding the screen when careening down slopes, and then letting go as your little boarder hurls themselves into the air. Beyond that, there’s also the ‘RAD’ element, which is all about showing off. When in the air, rather than
merely feeling the wind on your face, you flick the screen to perform all manner of speed-boosting stunts; these must be carefully timed so the ‘border is upright before returning to earth, rather than faceplanting in an inelegant and painful manner.
This isn’t just a matter of bruised pride (and actual bruises), because there’s a tiny snag regarding the landscape this sporting hero’s decided to blaze through: a volcano is belching quite a lot of lava in your general direction. Dawdle and you’re done for.
RAD Boarding is perhaps lacking in originality, and it’s not the deepest of games. Nonetheless, it has a lot going for it. The visuals are slick, with some smart zooming effects and exhilarating sections when you find lava hot on your heels as you speed through areas with barely any lighting. There are also decidedly odd boss battles against the stunt-loving Tiny the Bear. Impress the giant furball and he’ll generously decide against devouring you, giving you a shot at a long and
healthy life – or at least an extra few minutes before board and boarder alike are inevitably deep fried in a volcano’s ejections. Craig Grannell
39. Rush Hour: Subway Sliders
It turns out that in a world of strange sentient cartoon tellies with bunny ears and top-hat-wearing green pyramids, making a mad dash for a train is still a thing. In each level of Rush Hour: Subway Sliders, you see some colourful commuters waiting on a platform before a train arrives and opens its doors for a few brief seconds. Your mission is to quickly drag and flick everyone into the carriage, lest they be left behind and subjected to the sheer horror of waiting for the next train. (Said sheer horror is, apparently, enough to end your go should even a single commuter not make it on board.)
This is another of those casual games that’s extremely easy to grasp, but tough to master. Even the odd obstacle on the platform – a bin or a bench – can be enough to scupper the most dextrous flick-based technique, and you’ll curse when a blue blob in a silly hat rebounds in just the wrong way, thereby sadly face-planting against closing train doors.
You do get the odd bit of help – clock characters on boarding add a few precious seconds to the countdown timer – but
otherwise this is relentless arcade madness that will leave you happily exhausted after battling through a dozen platforms. (That said, if you spend your days mired in commuting hell, Rush Hour: Subway Sliders might be a little too close to home!) Craig Grannell
40. Rust Bucket
Nitrome has a habit of fiddling around with a genre’s core mechanics and coming up with something special. With Rust Bucket, you’re dumped in a dungeon for turn-based roguelike larks; but really, this is an endless – and tough – puzzler, where survival is determined by your ability to think ahead and respond to threats appropriately.
Visually, the game’s a delight, Nitrome’s pixel-art style and penchant for colour making the dungeons a vibrant treat rather than a journey into drabness. The dungeon’s inhabitants, from your wandering helmet to skulls, pigs and ghouls littered about the place, are full of character, making it slightly less irritating when you make a wrong move and get horribly killed.
And you will get killed – and often, at least at first. Rust Bucket can be punishing, with you only a few steps from death at all times. But put your
best chess hat on, consider every move you make and how enemies are likely to respond, and you’ll find a cracking mobile take on turn-based strategy; there’s enough depth here to engage, but short enough games that you can have a session or two of dungeon crawling while the bus pootles along. Craig Grannell
41. Sage Solitaire
Developer Zach Gage asks why, when you have a mobile device that’s not the size of a table, most traditional solitaire efforts ape the typical Klondike and FreeCell layouts, using tiny cards (in order to fit them all on the screen) and overly familiar strategies. His answer: a three-by-three grid, quite a bit of poker, and a virtual trip to Vegas.
In the basic Sage Solitaire game, you score by removing poker hands. The better the hand, the more points you get. Strategy comes by way of a rule that states you must use cards from multiple rows for each hand. With the stacks at the top of the screen being taller than those at the bottom, the latter’s cards are best used sparingly. In addition, a randomly allocated suit is set as a multiplier, bestowing double points when one or more of its cards is used in a hand, and two ‘trashes’ exist to remove individual cards;
one is replenished after each successful hand.
The Vegas mode, unlocked on clearing the entire board three times, gives you a virtual bank account, awards cash prizes only when using the multiplier hand, and ups your overall payout multiplier on clearing piles from the top two rows. Subtly different strategies are required for success, hence the initial lockdown - it’s very easy to otherwise burn through your limited funds. But once you crack Vegas and hit $800, you can try your hand at True Grit. There, once your in-game money’s gone, it’s gone for good.
Note that there’s no horrible IAP to refill your virtual coffers. The game’s sole IAP (£2.29) exists purely to unlock two further modes (Double Deck and Fifteens), remove the (unobtrusive) ads, provide stats tracking, and give you achievements to aim for. Craig Grannell
42. Shooty Skies
“A giant beaver is approaching!” warns Shooty Skies, as your DJ cat in a biplane prepares for battle. The beaver begins spewing spinning axes and giant acorns, any of which would bring instant death. You drag your finger to make your plane deftly weave between these projectiles, admiring the beaver’s surprisingly awesome
firepower – and, frankly, its ability to fly in the first place. Occasionally, you pause to charge your super-weapon, which lets rip the second you move. The beaver defeated, you mull over the fact that this strange scene isn’t even close to the weirdest you’ve experienced within this very flight.
Shooty Skies, then, is a shooting game set in the sky. Think: old-school vertically scrolling blasters. But this one has a decidedly oddball bent. Strange cartoon characters in biplanes are attacked by memes and angry technology (arcade games that fire joysticks; enraged cassette decks; demented robots). The aforementioned super-weapon mechanism adds a dash of risk-versus-reward (you’re vulnerable when stationary, but can clear the screen with the weapon’s superior firepower). And everything’s wrapped in a gorgeous if familiar visual style you’ll recall from Crossy Road. (The teams for both games had lots of crossover, but this isn’t some third-rate knock-off.)
As in Crossy Road, you can unlock characters using a prize system or real cash. But there’s nothing at all here that will ever pressure you into spending money. Shooty Skies is a generous and instantly playable game. Craig Grannell
Addictive in the classic ‘just one more go’ sort of way, striking-looking if not classically handsome, expertly honed and unapologetically simple, SHREDD (formerly known as dEXTRIS) tasks you with... making two coloured squares follow a neverending corridor without bumping into the jagged shapes in your way. There are only four possible
‘moves’: leave the squares to sit in the middle (press nothing); send them both to the left or to the right (press on either the left or right side of the screen); or split them, as in the screen image below (press with both thumbs at once). And then things get faster and faster.
There are in-game adverts, which are mildly annoying, but the gameplay is strong and there’s a lovely old-fashioned feel to the way you’ll find yourself chasing high scores; in no other iOS game have I found myself so obsessed with the rankings on Game Center. David Price
44. Sky Chasers
We’ve no idea where you get the kind of cardboard box Sky Chaser protagonist Max owns, but we want one – it has thrusters and can fly. We are, mind, substantially less jealous of the predicament Max finds himself in: lost in a massive jungle full of dead ends, deadly creatures and locked passageways.
Visually, Sky Chasers is a treat. There’s an oldschool pixel art charm, but this isn’t a game of sharp edges threatening to poke your eyes out. Instead, backgrounds, characters and environments have been precisely crafted, and they look gorgeous on the iPad’s screen.
The controls, too, are spot-on. You hold your device and tap on the left or right of the display to activate the related thruster. You do, however, have limited fuel, and so cannot blast about the place willy-nilly. This is even more apparent as you progress and find yourself faced with corridors of twisted branches packed with huge thorns and rotating wheels with giant spikes nailed to them.
Fortunately, you refuel by collecting hovering bling, and there are regular restart points where you can rest up and also restart if you later blunder into a death-trap. Unlocking checkpoints does cost coins you’ve collected, but you can alternatively activate one by watching a video advert. As freemium goes, that’s one of the least obnoxious approaches we’ve seen, but if you find it distasteful yet love Sky Chasers, a £2.29 IAP gives you free checkpoints forever. Regardless of whether you intend on splashing out or not, this is a game you should chase down immediately. Craig Grannell
45. Sky Force 2014
Sky Force 2014 is a good example of why gaming characters shouldn’t get cocky. Blasting everything to kingdom come in a souped-up spaceship, the protagonist is brought down to earth by a villain with a penchant for insanely massive lasers. Some deft parachuting staves off disaster, but the pilot suddenly finds himself in the next mission flying something akin to an airborne peashooter.
Your aim, then, is to work your way back to the point where you can have a second crack at the big bad. This is done by tackling a range of gorgeous levels, blowing up anything that goes for you, and collecting stars, used for buying upgrades. For a shooting game, Sky Force 2014 is oddly grindy. Levels are locked unless you win enough badges, and these come by way of achieving objectives, such as rescuing stranded comrades, avoiding getting shot and downing every enemy. Additionally, upgrades are pricey and have timers, and you need several runs through early levels to make your ship suitable for later stages. You can of course skip ahead somewhat via IAP – this is a free game, after all – but the nature of Sky Force 2014 is really more tactical than most shooters. It’s all about learning formations and level
layouts, properly honing your skills before taking the next step, rather than blazing ahead like a maniac. Craig Grannell
46. Smash Hit
This first-person shooter - which has more than a hint of the classic nerve-fraying endless runner about it – offers no enemies to shoot except the pleasingly destructible glass and stone obstacles in front of you, which you need to shatter before you run straight into them. The graphics are a triumph, as is the satisfying gunplay: your bullets (more like oversized marbles) describe looping trajectories and make a lovely racket when they strike home. Simple and fun. David Price
47. Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed
Since Mario Kart arrived on the SNES, go-karters have injected both fun and surreal weaponry into the racing genre. When done well, they
are properly video game-y video games, packed with cartoon characters, dazzling tracks and strange projectiles.
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed has a further quirk, which is the ‘transformed’ bit in the title. As you belt around, tracks mutate, forcing you to find alternate routes. Sometimes you’re dunked into water or hurled into the air, and your kart helpfully transforms into a boat or plane to accommodate this. As ever with free games, the spectre of IAP looms large, but the game’s generous with in-game currency and you can get free races forever for £7.99, or just kill the adverts for 79p. Craig Grannell
This one very much hails from the Super Hexagon school of game design. It’s a take-no-prisoners twitch game that twists and turns as you play, intentionally disorienting in a manner that makes you feel entirely inadequate as a gamer. Much like
Super Hexagon, the basics are suitably simple. Here, a spark darts along and must not stray from a ‘track’ of hexagons for too long, or it’ll fizzle and die. But the track keeps shifting, throwing up black blocks to avoid; often, it will suddenly jerk 60 degrees with no notice, and if your eyes and brain don’t keep up, your spark’s done for.
Sparkwave deviates slightly from the razorsharp focus typically seen in twitch titles. There are crystals to collect (which can also be purchased using IAP) that are used to buy advantageous powerups. We wish there was a fully stripped-back mode, but even when your spark has a temporary reprieve in being able to blast through the odd black block, Sparkwave proves to be a formidable (and yet entertaining) challenge. Craig Grannell
49. Temple Run 2
Like the ubiquitous first game, Temple
Run 2 is a simple ‘auto-runner’ in which you’re forced to make snap reactions as your fleeing Indiana Jones-alike is propelled ever onwards at increasing speed: striving to dodge walls, fatal drops, spiky boulders and an enormous pursuing monkey-monster. Death is inevitable, as is having ‘just one more go.’ Alec Meer
50. Threes! Free
Every platform needs its perfect puzzle game, and on release Threes! made its claim to be that for iOS. As with all brilliant examples of the genre, Threes! has at its heart a simple mechanic, which in this case involve merging cards within a tiny four-by-four board. But it’s the details that propel Threes! beyond the competition.
The idea is to match numbers. Slide a blue ‘1’ into a red ‘2’ and they combine to become a single ‘3’. Two 3s make a 6. Two 6s make a 12. And so on. The snag is that every move you make slides every non-blocked tile on the board as well. If you’re fortunate or have planned ahead, this can result in several merges in one move; if not, you end up with a mess to clear up. And since after every turn a new card enters the board in a random spot on the edge you swiped from, planning is key.
It takes a few games for Threes! to properly click, but once it does, it never lets go. You’ll be dying to see new cards (each is infused with a unique personality), and will soon spot how reaching higher-numbered cards boosts your score substantially. The free-to-play aspect is also generous: watch a video ad and you get three more games in the bank, which can be built up into a substantial reserve. This gives the game a fighting chance against a raft of inferior Threes! clones (most of which have 1024 or 2048 in their names) that litter the App Store, and sucked life out of the paid version of Threes! Our advice: stick with the original; you’ve no excuse now you can play for free. Craig Grannell
51. Time Locker
Vertical shooters tend to be frenetic affairs, marrying your ability to dance between showers of glowing bullets and blast everything in your path to smithereens. Often, death comes by way of momentary distraction, and you’ll sometimes wish you could go all Matrix and temporarily slow everything to a crawl.
Time Locker suggests this wouldn’t necessarily help. In its abstract minimal world, everything moves only as fast as you drag a finger. Stop and the entire world freezes. Drag and everything comes back to life, whether that’s you blasting away at whatever ventures nearby, or your many foes marching across the screen, homing in on your position. A further complication comes by way of a universe destroying darkness that pursues you from the moment you set off. Lift your finger and
your enemies might halt, but the inky blackness won’t, eventually ending your journey through this surreal world. Successful ventures therefore combine short breaks to figure out a next move, and then frantic scrabbling to eradicate nearby enemies and move yourself onwards at speed.
Last long enough and colossal bosses will show up, making it very clear that this just isn’t your day if survival was your aim. To counter this, green enemies drop credits you can spend on boosts during your next game, and blue foes ditch pick-ups that boost your critter’s power, augmenting your arsenal – initially a rubbish pea shooter – with multi-directional shots, massive rockets, and more. Craig Grannell
52. Train Conductor World: European Railway
Developer The Voxel Agents have been refining Train Conductor games for years now, and this latest entry in the series is by far the best yet.
It’s essentially all about routing trains to their destinations, and avoiding horrible crashes. Each single-screen level has a number of coloured entry and exit points, and as trains appear, you must draw temporary tracks to point them in the right direction. Trains can be tapped to stop them, but this costs you a bonus star and a crack at a perfect 100 per cent score. Do well and you win bits of track you can lay to connect stations, thereby unlocking new locations and puzzles.
Train Conductor World is a gorgeous game, and the controls are tight. It has a wonderfully tactile feel, and never appears unfair; you always know how you could have avoided a crash, and resolve to do better next time. There is IAP, primarily for buying sections of track if you want to speed things along; but if you don’t fancy dipping into your wallet, you’ll merely have to replay certain locations a number of times, and the game’s so much fun this isn’t something you’ll rail against. Craig Grannell
53. Triple Town
Triple Town’s premise is simple: you’re building a town on a 6 x 6 grid filled with bushes and trees. You do this by grouping items into threes: three trees become a hut, three huts become a house and so on. Trap the game’s ‘enemies’ – adorable bears – and they turn into grave stones, three of which make a church. The whole thing is fresh, addictive and challenging: if you think you’ve seen everything Match 3 has to offer, you’re in for a surprise.
Alan Martin 54. Two Dots
Simple but addictive. Two Dots is all about tracing lines between adjacent dots of the same colour, thereby causing them to disappear and further dots to drop down from above. To pass a given level you need to eliminate a certain number of dots of each colour, along with additional elements such as anchors.
It’s fun to play and beautiful to look at, but watch out for the clever catch: die five times and you’ll have to wait for your lives to recharge... or pay to get more. That’s where they’ll get the money, and if you have weak self-control, you may find yourself coughing up. Amy Moore
55. Whale Trail
It might not have the deepest replay value, but since going free-to-play Whale Trail’s charms have been harder to resist. It’s a one-button game, with a mechanic that’s close to Tiny Wings in reverse: tap the screen to fly upwards, release to swoop down. You need to avoid the clouds and collect fuel of some kind. It looks delightful, the gameplay is well-crafted and there’s a wicked soundtrack too. David Price