Free iPhone games have a reputation for being rubbish and full of IAP. But loads of superb free titles await your twitchy gaming thumbs – if you know where to look.
To save you the effort of finding them, we’ve compiled the best here, split into handy categories. So if you fancy an arcade blast, a brain-bending puzzle, or a thrilling racer – for free – read on.
Plus, check back every two weeks for our latest favorite free iPhone game, which you'll find below.
Free iPhone game of the week: Cyber Drive
Cyber Drive ostensibly recreates that scene from The Fifth Element, where Bruce Willis dives his cab down through layers of traffic in a gigantic neon-tinged futuristic city, weaving through obstacles, until he hits city bottom.
We say ‘ostensibly’ primarily on the basis that Cyber Drive is an oddly chilled-out take on this idea. The music has a relaxed vibe, the visuals are bright, and the action is more relentlessly ‘quite tricky’ rather than terrifyingly exhilarating.
But for all that, this is nonetheless a really fun game. In endless mode, what’s in your way gradually becomes more crowded, forcing you to start planning your snaking pathway rather than just reacting. If you don’t have that much time to kill, there are finite handcrafted levels to tackle as well.
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Our favorite free iPhone arcade games, including brawlers and fighting games, auto-runners, party games, pinball, and retro classics.
Zombie Football is a deranged mash-up of exciting touchdown runs, The Walking Dead, and classic coin-op Gauntlet. In each level, the traditional green football field is peppered with obstacles, and hordes of lurching, ravenous undead. Clearly, the ratings needed a nudge.
Your aim in this free iPad game is to not get horribly killed. You must figure out how to coax zombies this way and that (thereby clearing a path for your touchdown), avoid speed-sapping mud, and grab energy-boosting food that’s lying around. (Don’t think too much about the hygiene ramifications.)
It’s an entertainingly daft blast, not least when you realize your burly footballer can’t even stomp through cones, and so must gingerly thread his way through the gnashing, toothy opposition. Also, there are no ads, timers, or other cruft – free really does mean free here.
Yokai Dungeon is a fast-paced arcade title that involves running about and squashing demons. It’s set in a series of linked arenas, which are peppered with movable objects you can use to unsportingly squash your adversaries against a wall.
The Japanese-themed game looks superb, whether you’re moseying to the between-stages shop or taking on one of the large bosses in an end of stage battle. Most importantly, it plays really well, with fluid and intuitive controls.
With its grid-like structure and non-stop action, old hands might detect a hint of Bomberman; veterans will find Pengo coming to mind. But despite such retro inspiration, and the old-school pixel art, Yokai Dungeon feels every bit the modern iPhone title, with a sleek design, bite-sized battles, and approachable gameplay that’s suited to newcomers and seasoned gamers alike.
Knight Brawl takes the amusingly bouncy physics and frenetic skirmishes from Colin Lane’s mobile sports gems – Dunkers 2; Touchdowners; Rowdy Wrestling – and applies them to knights who fancy getting a bit stabby.
Your knights leap about the place in a somewhat controllable manner. With deft button taps – and a little luck – you can quickly relieve opponents of helmets and shields, prior to delivering the killing blow.
Only that’s barely scratching the surface, because Knight Brawl is absurdly generous with what you get. There are multiple battle modes and also quest-like missions, where you get to leap into a castle and duff everyone up. It’s bonkers, entertaining, superb stuff, and seriously raises the bar on Lane’s work – which was already impressive to start with.
Project Loading is a speedrun arcade test about the adventures of a loading bar on its way to reach 100%. Yes, you read that right: the star here is the bane of many computer users’ existence – a loading bar.
In Project Loading’s universe, though, loading bars don’t slowly inch from left to right – they must cope with slow-down and speed-up mats, deadly giant crosses and bouncers. To aid their way, there are restart points, and gold stars to collect, but everything happens against the clock. There’s no dawdling for loading bars here.
It’s an interesting conceit, lifted by clever level design, arty visuals, and responsive tilt controls. However, given how tricky later stages are, you’ll likely never gripe about a standard loading bar again.
Boost Buddies is a twitch-based arcade effort, where you’re a cat in a box, trying to reach a crown. Fortunately for the cat, the box is rocket-powered, boosted every time you tap. Less fortunately, between the cat and the crown are… things.
Sometimes you’re pitted against massive laser beams or swinging axes. Occasionally you’re blown about by fans, or chased by critters. Quite what’s going on, we’ve no idea, but it’s a lot of fun figuring out how to beat each test, and stringing together high scores.
Do well enough and you can add to your menagerie of boosting beasts, each of which get their own music and background visuals. And while the game’s basic nature means sessions don’t last an age, it’s always good for giving you a quick boost yourself.
Williams Pinball recreates – and augments – a range of classic Williams tables on your iPhone. It then bakes them into a freemium business model that’s, perhaps surprisingly, actually pretty good.
Select a starter table, and that one’s unlocked from the get-go. You’ll be playing this one a lot, so choose wisely. (The superb Attack From Mars is a good bet.) You then partake in daily challenges to boost your XP, win parts, and unlock other tables.
Eventually, tables are unlocked for offline play, and optionally have animated components, like Zen Pinball’s more fantastical tables. Getting there is a grind, but you’re playing superbly simulated pinball, so that’s no great hardship. And even though pinball is admittedly a bit fiddly on the iPhone, any progress made is instantly zipped across all your devices via iCloud.
Unicycle Giraffe is a balancing game that features a unicycle and a giraffe. Unfortunately for the giraffe, it attempts to ride said unicycle – not a comfortable state of being for the typical ungulate. It’s all very comical, though, as your giraffe wobbles left and right, before seconds later inevitably crashing to the floor in a tangle of legs and neck.
Despite being a one-note game, Unicycle Giraffe rewards mastery with the sheer thrill of staying seated for a few precious extra seconds. Rescuing yourself from very nearly overbalancing is fun, and extra risk comes by way of coins and bombs to tap elsewhere on the screen.
There’s little longevity, of course (short of ‘upgrading’ the animal with new hats and skins), but this one’s endearing, and always good for a quick blast.
Don’t Trip has you direct stompy feet through increasingly surreal terrain. You start off in a kitchen that could do with a tidy-up. Last long enough and you find yourself avoiding crazed vacuum cleaners decked out with knives and axes. Eventually, you end up fleeing from lava, splashing in swimming pools and walking in space.
This all comes off as quite trippy, and that’s only exacerbated by the viewpoint and controls. Everything is zoomed in to the point you can barely see where to head, and the controls have you press the screen to plant a foot, and rotate your phone to find space for the next step. Don’t Trip! really is a game very much designed with mobile in mind – and it’s all the better for it.
Train Party is an arcade-oriented puzzle game designed for multiple people to play together. Between two and 12 people on the same Wi-Fi network do their best to keep the train on time, largely by laying down tracks in front of it. In order to avoid disastrous derailment, you must also figure out how to deal with roaming wildlife and a renegade track bomber.
There are two ways to play: collaboratively and competitively. In the former case, the train always heads to the player with the most complete track, so you can keep going for as long as possible. In competition mode, though, the train goes around devices in order, and the winner is the last person not to turn the 9:45 to Washington Union Station into a crumpled heap of twisted metal.
Beat Street is a touchscreen brawler that wears its influences on its sleeve. The pixelated art recalls classic beat ’em ups, and the stop-start gameplay – with occasional unsporting use of baseball bats to bash enemies around the head – smacks of Double Dragon and Streets of Rage.
Yet this isn’t slavish retro fare. The game feels familiar, but its set-up is entertainingly oddball (liberating a city being terrorized by sentient, bipedal, suited rodents), and everything is controlled by a single thumb.
The controls could have spelled the end for Beat Street, but – amazingly – they work brilliantly, enabling deft footwork, punches, kicks, special moves, and the means to smash an evil rat’s face in with a brick. Apart from unnecessary grind-to-unlock levels, Beat Street’s the perfect freebie iPhone brawler.
If you’re a fan of knocking metal balls about, you’re likely frustrated with iPhone pinball. Even an iPhone Plus’s display is a bit too small, resulting in a fiddly experience replete with eye strain. Enter PinOut!, which rethinks pinball in a manner that works perfectly on the smaller screen.
In PinOut’s neon-infused world, you play against the clock, hitting ramps to send your ball further along what’s apparently the world’s longest pinball table. Rather than losing a ball should it end up behind the flippers, you merely waste vital seconds getting back to where you were. When the clock runs out: game over.
The result is exciting and fresh, and the relatively simple mini-tables are ideal for iPhone. Moreover, the game’s immediacy makes it suitable for all gamers, overcoming pinball’s somewhat inaccessible nature.
Our favorite free endless iPhone games where you sprint, jump, drive, hoverboard, dig or pinball to victory – or your doom.
Star Jolt puts you in a spaceship, bathes the screen with faked old-school CRT visuals, and then laughs mercilessly as you crash. Repeatedly. This is an endless game of the Flappy Bird variety – but that also means it has the kind of compulsion loop that doesn’t let go.
Ostensibly, you’re collecting space garbage, but this is for some reason lined up neatly in square packages dotted along winding corridors. Also, you belt along at insane speeds, sliding your finger left and right to rotate the landscape, constantly trying to point yourself at empty space rather than a wall.
Death comes often, but because games are so short, you’ll instantly want to try again – not least because of Star Jolt’s humor, entertaining hidden features, and eye-popping visuals.
Saily Seas has echoes of Alto’s Adventure and Tiny Wings, as you seek to survive as long as possible in a beautifully rendered hilly environment. But instead of snow-capped mountains and valleys at sunset, you’re pitting your gaming digit against the high seas.
Your little boat climbs often humongous waves as you tap the screen. Other gestures enable you to dive or jump and briefly hang in the air before an inevitably wet landing. At first, such show-off antics are entirely unnecessary, but the game soon lobs all kinds of sea life at you to avoid – and a single collision is game-ending.
With vibrant visuals, gorgeous weather effects, a meditative soundtrack, smartly included checkpoints, and a massive whale always in hot pursuit, Saily Seas deserves to make a splash on the App Store.
Dungeon Drop is an endless faller. It finds you plunging ever deeper into a layered dungeon with an encroaching spiked ceiling in hot pursuit.
Your tiny protagonist can’t move of its own accord. In order to escape, you drag platforms left or right, lining up holes to plunge into. However, traps pepper the dungeon, meaning you must ensure you grab objects to get past them unscathed.
It’s not like you need much brainpower to realize you need a sword to stab a monster, or a key to unlock a door. But Dungeon Drop moves at serious speed, transforming it into a relentlessly tense affair as you try to beat your high score – and end up horribly killed yet again when your fingers can’t quite keep up.
Race the Sun Challenge Edition
Race the Sun Challenge Edition is an endless flyer. You zoom along in your craft, zigzagging between minimalist structures, and trying very hard to not fly into a wall. But collisions aren’t your only enemy – and that’s because your craft is solar powered.
Apparently, no-one in Race the Sun’s universe has mastered battery storage, because the second the sun sets, your race is over. Fortunately, you can delay the inevitable by grabbing boosts that reverse the direction of the sun for a few moments. Staying in the light also helps you eke out a few extra yards.
With an eminently fair energy system, gorgeous visuals, and a daily challenge, this is a must-download, whether or not you’re familiar with the not so free original.
Pigeon Wings Strike
It initially features a pigeon in a biplane, which you must direct through twisting corridors and caverns, and periodically have shoot down drones and massive enemy airborne battle stations.
The controls are pitch perfect, with one button for speed, another for boost or blasting, and vertical tilt controls for subtle or abrupt changes in altitude.
It’s simple stuff, but hugely compelling. And although there’s not a ton of depth, Pigeon Wings Strike has multiple characters (each with unique skills) to unlock, and a cleverly designed upgrade system that encourages you to take extra risks when belting along at speeds no pigeon should be subjected to.
PAKO Forever seemingly takes place in a world where law-enforcement really doesn’t want you mucking about in what appears to be the world’s largest parking lot. The second you move, police cars are on you like a shot, and if one smashes into you, that’s your lot.
Pretty quickly, you figure out that you need to drift and snake about to survive – and then you start seeing gigantic gift boxes bouncing along. Snag one of those and your car temporarily balloons to giant size, or acquires a handy ball and chain to smash the cops.
Visually, the game’s quite crude, and the staccato nature of missions can pall, but for a quick blast of breezy endless driving larks, it’s a decent install.
Will Hero is a superb one-thumb arcade game that features a blocky hero dashing through a world of levitating islands, being all heroic and duffing up enemies. His foes are mostly bouncing cubes, and you must carefully time dashes to pass beneath them, or engineer collisions to knock them into the abyss.
Crack open a chest you find on your travels, and you’ll get weapons that transform dashes into violent attacks. Add in the game’s collectible helms (from unlocking loot crate chests), and you’ll end up with many potential weapons to choose from, including missiles and colossal swords.
Will Hero is fast-paced, inventive, and a lot of fun. It has a unique feel, and pleasingly bucks convention when you rescue a princess. When you do so, she tags along on subsequent adventures, gleefully hacking away at the enemies who once imprisoned her.
Power Hover: Cruise
Power Hover: Cruise is three endless runners (well, surfers) for the price of one. It borrows the boss battle levels from the superb, beautiful Power Hover, and expands on them. You get to speed through a booby-trapped pyramid, avoid projectiles blasted your way by an angry machine you’re chasing through a tunnel, and whirl around a track that snakes through the clouds.
This is a gorgeous game, with silky animation and minimal, but vibrant objects and scenery. The audio is excellent, too – the rousing electronic soundtrack urging you on.
There are a couple of snags: games can abruptly end due to difficulty spikes, and the controls initially seem floaty. But we grew to love the inertia, which differentiates Power Hover: Cruise and makes it feel like you’re surfing on air. As for the difficulty, spend time learning the hazards and mastering the game, and you’ll soon be climbing the high score tables.
Although, at its core, this is a fairly standard lane-based survival game (swipe to avoid traffic; don’t crash), Dashy Crashy has loads going on underneath the surface. It’s packed full of neat features, such as pile-ups, a gorgeous day/night cycle, and random events that involve maniacs hurtling along a lane, smashing everything out of their way.
It also cleverly adds value to mobile gaming’s tendency to have you collect things. In Dashy Crashy, you’re periodically awarded vehicles, but these often shake up how you play the game. For example, the cop car can collect massive donuts for bonus points, and an army jeep can call in tanks – just like you wish you could when stuck in slow-moving traffic.
Disney Crossy Road
Disney Crossy Road builds on the endless Frogger-style hopping shenanigans found in Crossy Road, mostly by mashing it into a ton of famous Disney properties.
It kicks off with a fairly humdrum take on the original, just with Mickey Mouse instead of a chicken, trying very hard to move ever onwards and not get run over by cars or drown in a river. But you soon start winning coins, enabling you to unlock new characters.
When you get to visit blocky endless takes on Toy Story, Lion King, Wreck-It Ralph, Monsters Inc, and more, sound and vision alike get a major overhaul. Even better: many of these worlds offer subtle changes to the way the game plays, making it more varied, and boosting long-term appeal.
Our favorite free iPhone gem-swap, tile-match, and rhythm action games.
Tetris deserves its fame. Decades after the title’s emergence on PC – and subsequent mainstream breakthrough on the original Game Boy – it remains compelling. And it’s all so simple: rotate falling blocks to make complete lines, which then disappear, leaving you with more space. Over time, the game speeds up, until eventually the well is full.
With Tetris having been designed for platforms with keys or buttons, it can be a tricky proposition on touchscreens. But N3TWORK’s take is responsive, giving you a fighting chance at high scores. It’s also the most ‘retro’ iPhone Tetris we’ve seen in a long time, eschewing bells and whistles for a straightforward take on the game, with only a single optional IAP to remove the ads.
No marks for ambition, then, but this free iPhone game is a refreshingly streamlined take on a retro classic.
Sprint RPG, with its black-and-white stylings and basic first-person maze, instantly transports you back to the halcyon days of retro gaming. Quite some way back, in fact, since it’s reminiscent of the ancient (yet terrifying) 3D Monster Maze.
Here, though, the aptly named Sprint RPG ramps up gameplay speed. Everything plays out against the clock, and you’ve mere fractions of a second to make decisions. When confronted by a monster, you need to tap the optimum sequence of actions to proceed. Get the order wrong and you’re dead.
Despite its RPG and speedrun trappings, then, Sprint RPG is effectively a match game – and one that feels very much suited to quick missions on an iPhone, obliterating gigantic spiders and skeletons until your overworked thumb begs for mercy.
Six Match is a match-three game with a twist. Rather than arbitrarily swapping gems, you control a character with the oddly literal moniker Mr Swap-With-Coins, and as the game’s name suggests, he has just six moves after every successful match to make another.
The game wrong-foots you from the start. Any muscle memory you have from the likes of Bejeweled evaporates as you figure out the most efficient way to make the next match. The result is a game heavy on puzzling and light on speed.
Just when you think you’ve got it worked out, Six Match throws new mechanics into the mix: diamonds you clear by dropping them out of the well, deadly skulls and cages that push entire lines of coins. The layered strategy should keep you matching for the long term, as you figure out new ways to crack your high score.
Tappy Cat is a rhythm action game, with you playing as a musical moggie. Your cat sits before a ‘tree guitar’, and notes head out from the middle of the screen along two rails. These must be tapped, held, or tapped along with another note, depending on their color.
This is routine for a rhythm action game, but it’s the execution that makes Tappy Cat delightful. It feels perfectly tuned for iPhone (your thumbs can always reach the notes), and there’s a cat-collection meta-game, rewarding you with new kitties when you totally nail a tune.
The only bum notes are a lives system (a video ad will give you five lives – although there is also a $2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49 endless lives IAP for those who want it), and the way in which a single major blunder ends your latest attempt at musical superstardom of the furry kind.
Finger Smash is more or less whack-a-mole with fruit – and a big ol’ dose of sudden death. You get a minute to dish out tappy destruction, divided up into seconds-long rounds.
In each case, you’re briefly told what to smash, and set about tapping like a maniac. Hit the wrong object, and your game ends with a flaming skull taunting you. (Lasting the full minute is surprisingly tough.)
This is a simple high-score chaser, and so there’s understandably not a lot of depth here. However, there are plenty of nice touches. The visuals have an old-school charm, and the music is suitably energetic.
But also, there’s the way you can swipe through multiple items, the bomb that ominously appears during the final ten seconds, and varied alternate graphics sets if you feel the need to squish space invaders, fast food, or adorable cartoon robots. Great stuff.
Minimal arcade game Higher Higher! is another of those titles that on paper seems ridiculously simple, but in reality could result in your thumb and brain having a nasty falling out.
A little square scoots back and forth across the screen, changing color whenever it hits the edge and reverses direction. Your aim is to tap a matching colored column when the square passes over it.
The snag is that the square then changes color again; furthermore, the columns all change color when the square hits a screen edge.
To add to your troubles, Higher Higher! regularly speeds up, too, thereby transforming into a high-octane dexterity and reactions test. Combos are the key to the highest scores and, as ever, one mistake spells game over.
Blokout is a furious, high-speed color-matching game that punishes you for the slightest hesitation. The initial mode plonks you in front of a three-by-three grid, and you have to swap colored squares, Bejewelled-style, to make complete lines, which then vanish.
The timer is the key to the game. A clock sits in the upper-left of the screen and rapidly counts down, giving you only a few moments to complete a line. If the timer runs dry it's game over; make a line and it resets, giving you another few seconds.
The intensity is therefore always set to maximum, nicely contrasting with the game's friendly, bold colors (which amusingly turn stark black and white the instant you lose); and if you stick around, you'll find further challenges by way of boosters and tougher modes.
Threes! Freeplay is a sliding puzzler with the same kind of compulsion loop found in the likes of Tetris. That might sound like a bold claim, but Threes! really is one of those rare games that’s easy to understand but that has enough depth and strategy to potentially keep you playing for years as you master your tactics.
It takes place on a grid, on which you slide cards. Those that match merge to create ever higher numbers, and new items appear on the side of the grid they moved from. Also, all the cards move as one. It’s clever stuff, which becomes apparent the more you play; as does the care and polish within, from the pleasant background ditty to the character and charm infused even into the very cards you move.
Triple Town is a think-ahead match game, where you combine trios of things to make other things. Three bushes make a tree, and three trees become a hut. Through careful positioning and a chess-champion’s ability to think ahead, you can chain moves together, thereby freeing up the space required to continue evolving your tiny town.
Then there are the bears. For some reason, the place is full of them. Some roam about the place in a semi-random fashion. Others are leapy ninjas. All of them need to be taken into consideration when laying down new objects. If you fancy a surreal, novel, challenging match game, then, this is definitely a game to bear in mind.
Groove Coaster 2
Groove Coaster 2 is a rhythm action game twinned with a roller-coaster. Everything’s on-rails, with you zooming along Rez-like vector pathways, all manner of colorful blocky pyrotechnics spinning and exploding beneath the track. All you need to do is get your timing right, tapping, swiping and rubbing when the icons tell you to.
Only it’s not that simple. The track flips and lurches, and the stages are designed to give your thumb a serious choreographic workout. As ever, perseverance reaps rewards, by way of massive score-enhancing chains, and, frankly, just the smugness that comes from knowing your prodding perfection means you’ve got rhythm.
Our favorite free iPhone platform games, from classic side-on 2D games to ambitious console-style adventures.
Tombshaft is a game stuffed full of high-octane platforming action. But rather than mirroring Mario’s horizontally scrolling larks, you’re heading deep into the bowels of the planet.
You get just two buttons, which direct your tiny tomb raider left and right. Depending on their particular power, they might be able to slide down walls to slow their descent, or hover for a bit.
This is vital, because Tombshaft auto-scrolls. End up at the very top or bottom of the screen and you lose a life. But all the bits in between are no picnic either, with enemies aplenty, spikes falling from distant ceilings, and the occasional very angry boss monster who wants you gone from his tomb – and in pieces will do!
OCO is a platform game of a decidedly minimalist stripe. Its levels all take place on circular courses that fit within a single screen. As they rotate, you prod the screen to jump – and that’s it.
This could all have been reductive and awful, but OCO excels due to gorgeous visuals reminiscent of modern art coupled with superb level design. You really have to think about how to grab all of the collectibles and reach your goal. And once you get there, you’ll discover move-limit and speedrun challenges that force you to upend your existing tactics and figure out new paths to your goal.
As if that’s not enough, OCO makes a case for a permanent spot on your iPhone with a daily challenge, and a built-in level editor that lets you share creations with friends.
Yeah Bunny 2
Yeah Bunny 2 features a little rabbit sprinting around colorful landscapes, squashing enemies, collecting coins, freeing trapped chicks, and generally being awesome before reaching a goal. Pretty standard platforming territory, then – Mario with bunny ears.
Only this game’s different, because all your direction for the running rabbit comes from a single digit. Tap and the bunny leaps. Hold the screen and the leap is higher. You must therefore figure out how to traverse levels by bouncing the auto-running rabbit off of walls, and ensure during boss-battle pursuits you don’t get inadvertently rebounded towards your doom.
You get vibrant visuals, loads of varied levels, and an endearingly cute lead character. It’s a fab little platformer, ideally suited to one-thumb mobile play and quick bouts of gaming on the go.
Super Cat Tales 2
Super Cat Tales 2 is a platform game that works brilliantly on your iPhone. That in itself is rare, but also this isn’t a stripped-back one-thumb leapy game. Instead, it’s a full-fledged 2D platforming experience reworked for the touchscreen.
The game features a group of cats, determined to save their world from a robot invasion. They sprint, jump, grab coins, and occasionally hop into tanks to eradicate the metal aggressors.
It’s a visual treat – all vibrant colors and chunky pixels. The controls are fab too – a two-thumb system that’s ideal for touchscreens, flexible enough to allow for a range of actions, and that transforms challenges into feats of choreography. In short, this is one of the very best platform games on mobile, and it would be an insult to the creator to not give it a try.
Soosiz is a side-on classic platformer – of a sort. Most such games echo Super Mario Bros, having you sprint from left to right, jumping on enemy heads, grabbing bling, and hot-footing it to an exit. Soosiz takes that basic framework, but has you explore tiny chunks of land floating in space, each of which has its own gravitational pull.
As you run, the screen flips and lurches; your brain flips, too, as you try to figure out which way is up, locate a bunch of tiny critters who’ve got themselves lost, and not accidentally careen into the void due to a misdirected jump.
But once everything clicks, what amounts to a 2D take on Super Mario Galaxy proves to be a smart, engaging mobile platformer, putting a new spin on the genre.
It’s Full of Sparks
It’s Full of Sparks finds you in a world where firecrackers are cruelly imbued with sentience. Aware of their imminent demise, they make a beeline for water to extinguish their spark and therefore not explode. Your aim is to help them make a splash.
Each of the 80 hand-crafted levels takes a mere handful of seconds to complete – at least when you master the precise choreography required. Before then, there’s plenty of trial and error as you tap colored buttons to turn hazards and chunks of the landscape on and off, and grab rotors that let you soar heavenward.
Despite occasionally slippy controls, this one’s a joy – full of personality and smart level design. It’s likely to put a smile on your face even when your firework goes out with a bang.
Cally’s Caves 4
Cally’s Caves 4 continues the adventures of worryingly heavily armed pigtailed protagonist Cally, a young girl who spends most of her life leaping about vast worlds of suspended platforms, shooting all manner of bad guys.
For once, her parents haven’t been kidnapped (the plot behind all three previous games in the series) – this time she’s searching for a medallion to cure a curse. But the gameplay remains an engaging mix of console-like running and shooting, with tons of weapons to find (and level-up by blasting things).
But perhaps the best sections feature Bera, Cally’s ‘ninja bear cub’ pal. His razor-sharp claws make short work of enemies, resulting in a nice change of pace as the furry sidekick tears up the place.
Super Phantom Cat 2
Super Phantom Cat 2 is an eye-searingly colorful side-scrolling platform game. Like its predecessor, this game wants you to delve into every nook and cranny, looking for hidden gold, unearthing secrets, and finding out what makes its vibrant miniature worlds tick.
It’s also a game that never seems content to settle – and we mean that in a good way. It revels in unleashing new superpowers, such as a flower you fire at walls to make climbing vines, or at bricks to increase their fragility. It also wants you to experiment, figuring out how critters who are ostensibly your enemies can be coerced into doing your bidding.
The only downside is the presence of freemium elements (ads and an ‘energy’ system) – although both can be removed with inexpensive IAP if you agree this is one cool cat to hang out with.
Drop Wizard Tower
Drop Wizard Tower is a superb mobile take on classic single-screen arcade platform games like Bubble Bobble. Your little wizard has been thrown in jail by the evil Shadow Order, and must ascend a tower over 50 levels to give his enemies a good ‘wanding’ (or something.)
It’s all very cute, with dinky pixelated enemies, varied level design (skiddy ice; disappearing platforms; watery bits in which you move slowly), and fast-paced boss battles against gargantuan foes.
Most importantly, it’s very much designed for mobile. You auto-run left or right, and blast magic when landing on a platform. Said blasts temporarily stun roaming enemies, which can be booted away, becoming a whirling ‘avalanche’ on colliding with cohorts.
The auto-running bit disarms at first – in most similar games, the protagonist stays put unless you keep a direction button held. But once the mechanics click, Drop Wizard Tower cements itself as a little slice of magic on your iPhone.
Swordigo is a love letter to the classic side-scrolling platform adventures that blessed 16-bit consoles. You leap about platforms, slice up enemies with your trusty sword, and figure out how to solve simple puzzles, which open up new areas of the game and move the plot onwards.
The plot is, admittedly, nothing special – you’re embarking on the kind of perilous quest to keep evil at bay that typically afflicts videogame heroes. But everything else about Swordigo shines.
The virtual controls are surprisingly solid, the environments are pleasingly varied, and the pace ranges from pleasant quiet moments of solitude to intense boss battles you’ll struggle to survive. All in all, then, a fitting tribute to those much-loved titles of old.
The Mikey series has evolved with every entry. Initially a speedrun-oriented stripped-back Mario, it then gained swinging by way of grappling hooks, before ditching traditional controls entirely, strapping jet boots to Mikey in a kind of Flappy Bird with class.
With Mikey Jumps, the series has its biggest shift yet. Scrolling levels are dispensed with, in favor of quick-fire single-screen efforts. Now, Mikey auto-runs, and you tap the screen to time jumps so he doesn’t end up impaled on a spike or plummet to his death.
It sounds reductive, but the result is superb. Devoid of cruft and intensely focused, Mikey Jumps is perfect for mobile play, makes nods to previous entries in the series (with hooks and boots peppered about) and has excellent level design that sits just on the right side of infuriatingly tough.
Our favorite free iPhone logic tests, path-finding challenges, bridge builders, and turn-based puzzlers.
Tile Snap is based around matching clicky tiles. As in classic gem-swappers, you flip two, and if that move matches three or more tiles, they all disappear. Here, however, nothing appears to fill gaps you make, and so to clear each board, you must be strategic. (Sounds familiar? That’s because this is essentially a free version of the excellent Dissembler.)
Initially, Tile Snap won’t give you much trouble, but it eventually ramps up the difficulty level to become a proper head-scratcher. However, for a free iPhone game, it’s very generous, enabling you to undo moves and experiment. (The only IAP is for ‘hints’.)
Visually, it’s very smart, too – like an ultra-modern take on 1970s wallpaper patterns (which is a lot nicer than it sounds). Couple that with clever puzzles and its tactile feel, and you’ve got one of the best freebies on iPhone.
Total Party Kill
Total Party Kill finds a mage, a knight, and a ranger lost in a maze of dungeons. And the architect of these dungeons clearly wasn’t planning on anyone escaping. The floors and walls are littered with spikes and traps, and each single-screen room’s exit is far out of reach.
How you get out turns out to be novel – you kill off your allies, and use their corpses in a darkly comic yet enterprising manner. The knight’s sword can hurl a lifeless friend at switches; the mage can freeze allies into blocks of ice; and the ranger’s arrows can pin bodies to walls, which can then be used as impromptu platforms.
The concept is fresh and brilliantly realized – the game taking a turn towards being properly brain-smashing as you work towards its conclusion.
XOB describes itself as a kinetic puzzle game with a psychedelic poetic aesthetic. It’s certainly nailed the psychedelic part – its visuals are an arresting mix of low-fi TV fuzz, color-cycling, and chunky shapes.
Fortunately, the game’s not merely visually arresting – the puzzling bit has a lot going for it, too. The aim is to grab a bunch of collectables before reaching a goal. To do so, you drag to tilt the entire landscape. Land on a ceiling, and everything flips. Pathfinding therefore requires precision and thought.
The game exudes confidence from every pore. Also, it has one of the most user-friendly ad models in existence. You’ll never see more than 24, and you can watch them all in one go, if you like, for a subsequently permanently ad-free experience. Nice.
Invaders 2048 is, as its name might suggest, a mash-up of arcade classic Space Invaders, and tile-sliding mobile phenomenon 2048. Usually, we wouldn’t be recommending a 2048 game, given that it’s a massive rip-off of the far superior Threes!, but Invaders 2048 does plenty to differentiate itself.
As ever, you merge tiles by sliding matching pairs together, doubling their face values. Above, alien craft lurk menacingly. At any point, you can unleash your numbers as missiles, depleting your foes’ energy reserves.
Invaders 2048 is rounds-based, and so the challenges and pace are shaken up as you play. And because levels are short, it’s a super little title to dip into for a few minutes, rather than requiring hours of your life, as Threes! quite often does.
Friday the 13th: Killer Puzzle
Friday the 13th: Killer Puzzle is more or less classic sliding puzzler Sokoban infused with South Park-style humor, and dressed in the garb of a famous horror series.
As horror icon Jason Voorhees, you slide around each tiny scene to capture campers, cops, inmates, and more besides. On grabbing them, you’re greeted to a splattering of cartoon gore, while the levitating decapitated undead head of your mother offers sagely advice.
This could so easily have been a gimmicky release, but Friday the 13th: Killer Puzzle gets everything right. The puzzles are smartly designed, forcing you to find labyrinthine paths to targets; there’s a sense of progression as you unlock new worlds; and the dark sense of humor at the heart of the game gives it a real sense of character.
A Way to Slay
A Way to Slay is a game of epic sword fights reimagined as time-attack turn-based puzzling. You begin each round surrounded by enemies eager to separate your head from your shoulders. A quick double-tap on any of them and you strike with a killing blow – but then your opponents get their chance to move, and if you’re too near one of them, your innards end up sprayed across the sparse landscape.
Assuming you don’t mind quite a lot of ‘red’ as you go about solving its challenges, A Way to Slay proves itself to be a novel take on turn-based puzzling. And even though your view’s more limited on an iPhone than an iPad, you can use gestures to pan and zoom the screen like you’re directing your very own stabby Hollywood epic.
King Rabbit has some unorthodox enemies. Having kidnapped his rabbit subjects, said foes have dotted them about grid-based worlds they’ve filled with meticulously designed traps.
Mostly, this one is a think-ahead puzzler, with loads of Sokoban-style box sliding. But instead of being purely turn-based fare, King Rabbit adds tense swipe-based arcade sections, with you running from scary creatures armed with rabbit-filleting weaponry.
Really, this isn’t anything you won’t have seen before, but King Rabbit rules through its execution. Visually, everything’s very smart, from the clear, colorful backgrounds to the wonderfully animated hero (and the little jig he does on rescuing a chum). But the puzzles are the real heroes, offering a perfect balance of immediacy and brain-scratching.
There’s a bit of cheating going on in Moveless Chess. Although your opponent plays a standard game, you’re some kind of wizard and apparently don’t want the hassle of moving pieces.
Instead, you’ve limited action points, which are used to transform pieces you already have on the board. (So, for example, with three points, you can cunningly change a pawn into a knight.) The aim remains a game-winning checkmate, and, presumably, avoiding the ire of your non-magic opponent.
It’s chess as a puzzler, then, and with a twist that’ll even make veterans of the game stop and think about how to proceed at any given moment.
After all, when you get deep into the game’s challenges, you might find wizarding powers don’t always make for a swift win when you can’t move your pieces.
Mekorama finds a little robot ambling about mechanical dioramas, trying to reach a goal. It’s a tactile game, where you spin the tiny world with a finger, tap to direct the android, and sometimes urge it on by using a lift, or flinging it across the screen with a pulley system.
It’s a ponderous game but that suits the aesthetic. There’s polish and consideration in every moment that deserves to be breathed in. Also, it’s a very generous game, from how it always provides several levels to tackle, to the built-in construction kit when you’ve finished all the built-in challenges and fancy creating some of your own. If you enjoy your time in Mekorama, do fling the creator some (entirely optional) IAP.
Our favorite free iPhone on-rails, 3D and 2D racers, and trials games.
Beach Buggy Racing 2
Beach Buggy Racing 2 is a fast-paced kart racer from the team behind the visually-stunning Riptide series. This one takes place on dry land, though, as you barrel along, grabbing power-ups and flinging them at your opponents.
The courses aren’t as bonkers as those in an Asphalt game, but certainly have their moments. One has a dragon that unsportingly barbecues racers, while a pirate-themed course gets all splashy as you race through a half-sunken ship.
You do sometimes wish this was a premium effort. There’s grind and loot boxes, and difficulty spikes are overly apparent when you level up. Even so, Beach Buggy Racing 2 manages to be an exciting, great-looking kart racer, on a platform with far too few entries on this sub-genre’s starting grid.
Asphalt 9: Legends
Asphalt 9: Legends is a madcap, streamlined racer. Much like Super Mario Run has the plumber ‘auto-run’, leaving you to time jumps, Legends corners and steers while you focus on timing. You must perform show-off drifts, jumps, and control frequent blasts of nitro.
The notion of a driving game stripped of steering might seem odd, but it works. Races are exhilarating and the courses become puzzle-like as you figure out where and when to perform the correct actions. If letting the game do the work is not your cup of tea, there is also a manual option which puts you back in control.
As with all Asphalt games, you spend an unfeasibly long time hurtling through the air; car pinwheeling in a manner that would make even the most maverick stunt-person’s eyes widen.
For a visually dazzling, entirely over the top slice of mobile-focused arcade racing, Asphalt 9: Legends is hard to beat.
Retro Highway marries the accessibility of modern mobile titles with the high-skill challenge and aesthetics of old-school racers. Visually, it comes across like Hang On and Enduro Racer (or, if you’re not old enough to recognize those titles, those weird games your dad used to play). But in gameplay terms, we’re very much in endless survival territory.
As you zoom along, you collect coins and jump high into the air using ramped trucks, gradually unlocking better bikes and new places where you can ride them. It’s not a very deep experience, but Retro Highway is fun to dip into when you fancy an exhilarating blast of weaving between lorries at breakneck speed, regularly leaping from ramps, and only occasionally splattering your hapless rider against an overpass.
Disc Drivin’ 2
Disc Drivin’ 2 is a turn-based racing game. That might make no sense on paper, but it translates well to the screen, effectively mashing up shuffleboard with high-tech levitating tracks full of speed-up mats, gaps, and traps.
You can play alone, tackling a daily challenge or partaking in speed-runs. The latter option is ideal for getting to know the tracks – essential when battling other players online. You then swap moves – bite-sized chunks of gameplay where you inch your disc around the circuit, in races that can last for days.
There are freemium shenanigans going on, mostly for cards that unlock new disc powers, and the fixed camera can be frustrating – although if you’re facing the wrong way, you should probably resolve to learn that track’s layout a bit better. Those minor niggles aside, this is a compelling, entertaining racer that rewards extended play.
Data Wing is a neon-infused story-driven racing adventure. It’s also brilliant – a game you can’t believe someone has released for free, and also devoid of ads and IAP.
It starts off as an unconventional top-down racer, with you steering a little triangular ship, scraping its tail against track edges for extra boost. As you chalk up victories, more level types open up, including side-on challenges where you venture underground to find bling, before using boost pads to clamber back up to an exit.
The floaty world feels like outer-space, but Data Wing actually takes place inside a smartphone, with irrational AI Mother calling the shots. To say more would spoil things, but Data Wing’s story is as clever as the racing bits, and it all adds up to the iPhone’s most essential freebie.
Built for Speed
Built for Speed is a top-down racer with chunky old-school graphics, and a drag-and-drop track editor. Make a track and it’s added to the pool the game randomly grabs from during its three-race mini-tours; other users are the opposition, with you racing their ‘ghosts’.
Handling’s simple – you steer left or right. Winning is largely about finding the racing line, not smacking into tires some idiot’s left in the road, and not drifting too much.
Initially, though, the game’s so sedate you wonder whether someone mistook an instruction to make it “very 80s” by having it seem like the cars are driven by octogenarians. But a few upgrades later and everything becomes nicely zippy.
The only real snag is the matchmaking doesn’t always work, pitting you against pimped-out cars you’ve no chance against. Still, even if you take a sound beating, another tour’s only ever a few races a way.
One Tap Rally
One Tap Rally distils the top-down mobile racer into a one-thumb effort. Press the screen and you accelerate; let go and you slow down. In the nitros mode, you can also swipe upward for an extra burst of speed.
It feels a bit like slot-racing, but the tracks are organic and free-flowing, rather than rigid chunks of plastic. Learning each bend and straight is essential to get around without hitting the sides – important because such collisions rob you of precious seconds.
You’re also not alone – One Tap Rally pits you against the online ghosts of other players. Each time you better your score, you improve your rank on the current track, ready to face tougher opponents. This affords an extra layer of depth to what was already an elegant, playable mobile racer.
Crazy Taxi is a port of a popular and superb Dreamcast/arcade title from 1999. You belt around a videogame take on San Francisco, hurling yourself from massive hills, soaring through the air like only a crazy taxi can, and regularly smashing other traffic out of the way.
Given the ‘taxi’ bit in the title, fares are important. Getting them where they want to go in good time replenishes the clock. Excite them and you’re awarded bonuses. Go ‘crashy’ rather than ‘crazy’ and the fare will take their chances and leap out of your cab, leaving you without their cash.
Crazy Taxi looks crude, but still plays brilliantly, and even the touchscreen controls work very nicely. For free, you must be online to play, however – a sole black mark in an otherwise fantastic port (and one you can remove with IAP).
Asphalt 8: Airborne
Asphalt 8: Airborne is a nitro-happy racer with four tires firmly planted in arcade racing. That said, tires don’t remain planted for long, because this game has a need for speed, having you bomb along larger-than-life courses peppered with fantastical set pieces (Rocket launches! Active volcanos!), and hurling you into the air at every available opportunity.
There’s a ton of content to unlock, although the game regularly cynically nudges you towards IAP to hurry things along. This in itself feels like someone’s welded massive unwieldy bumpers to what’s otherwise a sleek iPhone sportscar racer. But for the most part, Asphalt 8 is a madcap, exciting blast, insane drifts and mid-air barrel rolls pushing your car way beyond anything the manufacturer ever envisioned.
Our favorite free iPhone FPS games, precision shooters, twin-stick blasters, and vertically scrolling shoot ’em ups.
InfiniBugs is a shooter with a decidedly retro bent. The basic gameplay of this free iPhone game resembles arcade classic Caterpillar, with worm-like aliens snaking down from the top of the screen. Blast one in the middle and it splits in two. All the while, you’re having to contend with skulls that appear on the spots anything was blasted, and more nimble individual crafts that flit about.
The chunky visuals and fast pace make for a hectic and claustrophobic experience. Every shot counts, given that the second you’re hit, it’s game over – something that becomes instantly apparent when you first encounter ship-smashing walls to blast through during bonus waves.
If you fancy something more forgiving, the one-off premium pack IAP opens up new modes, including one with a traditional three lives. But even for free, this is top-notch iPhone blasting action.
Kazarma is a shooter seemingly set on a neon-colored world’s longest – and worst-maintained – bridge. As you zip along, all manner of nasties are out to blow up your tiny ship. Naturally, your aim is to atomize them first.
Ultimately, it’s a modern take on Space Invaders, in 3D. You move left and right, avoiding neon death, and blast away at everything in your path. Over time, your enemies become more powerful and adept, keeping you on your toes – not least the extremely durable bosses.
On the easiest difficulty level, the game remains almost zen-like as you lazily use a single thumb to dish out wanton destruction. But ramp up the difficulty and Kazarma becomes a vicious, challenging shooter – especially when you grab a speed power-up and belt along like a maniac.
Yuseong comes off like someone has shoved an arcade machine from 1979 into your phone – albeit a machine with broken controls. The basic game resembles a cross between Asteroids and Space Invaders, with your ship obliterating space rocks before they hit the planet below. Too many strikes and you’re out; a single hit to your ship and it’s game over for you.
The twist is the aforementioned controls. Instead of a joystick and fire button, this is one-thumb fare, your ship shooting and switching direction when you prod the screen. Muscle memory goes out the window as you battle with this new minimalism, but what starts off seeming impossible and frustrating soon transforms into a smart, tight shooter once you understand its idiosyncrasies.
HELI 100 comes across like a hyper-casual take on a twin-stick arena shooter, albeit without the twin stick bit. You merely steer left and right, while your ship automatically targets and blasts away at enemies. It seems a bit dull. But hang on, because HELI 100 gets much better.
Something happens around level ten. Mostly, the game ramps everything up, and it becomes clear you’ve been trundling around on training wheels. You suddenly find the arena boundaries rapidly close in. You weave between bullet hell, making use of pick-ups that enable your craft to spew all manner of projectile death – or encase itself in a huge shield.
So give this one a chance – recognize the slightly dull early levels are primarily there to help you get to grips with HELI 100, and then prepare to have a blast.
Angry Birds AR: Isle of Pigs
Angry Birds AR: Isle of Pigs provides a new dimension on one of mobile’s biggest hits. As ever, you catapult deranged feathered missiles at rickety contraptions housing rotund green pigs. The aim: eradicate the pigs, and the structures they’re hiding in. Their shoddy construction – along with quite a lot of ill-advisedly stored TNT – helps.
Unlike previous Angry Birds efforts, this one’s AR-based. You set up a virtual 3D game on a table or the floor, and can investigate each level from every angle to figure out the optimum shot.
This adds freshness to a concept that has become tired since its 2009 iPhone debut. Here’s hoping Rovio can keep the momentum going with new levels – although the dozens you get make this a no-brainer download, given the game’s lack of a price tag.
Piffle is a shooter that has you blast away encroaching blocks, which are under the control of the nefarious Doc Block, and on landing will presumably do something terrible and evil. To keep them at bay, you lob strings of piffle balls – cat-like critters that bounce around while emitting endearingly cute meowing noises.
As the sort-of cats ricochet around, the numbers on the blocks drop until they’re finally destroyed. Rinse, repeat, and the world is saved. Only, things aren’t quite that simple due to tricky layouts that demand precision aiming, blocks that annoyingly duplicate or deflect your piffles in the wrong direction, and setups that demand you grab and master powerups to aid you in your task.
Fun stuff to dip into when you fancy some colorful, destructive action.
Fortnite is a massively multiplayer online ‘battle royale’. You’re dropped into a playfield with 100 other players, each aiming to be the last standing. To achieve that goal, you must explore your surroundings, find a dangerous weapon, and use it to do some serious violence.
This in itself isn’t unique – even on mobile. But Fortnite differentiates itself in key ways. It has a sense of humor – and a sense of style that isn’t dull military fare. Also, rather than just shooting things, Fortnite encouragers you to build, creating strategic defensive barriers.
The relatively complex controls are, naturally, a problem on iPhone, and can frustrate in the heat of a battle. For the most part, though, this is impressive and ambitious multiplayer gaming that makes your iPhone feel like a console.
Shadowgun Legends is a first-person shooter with swagger, which depicts you as a show-off gun for hire, partaking in a probably prescient mix of wiping out evil aliens and reality TV.
After arriving in the game’s hub, you immediately find yourself on missions, which mostly involve following fairly linear pathways, violently shooting everything that moves – and some things that don’t. Control mostly happens by way of two thumbs (movement and gaze), with the odd trip to special power-up buttons.
For anyone deep into the world of console shooters, Shadowgun Legends may feel stripped back and reductive, but you’d have to be a misery to not have fun blasting away, gradually working your way through dozens of missions. Just remember when your worryingly eager fans build a statue of your wonderful self to worship, they’ll ditch you the second their next hero comes along.
Darkside Lite is a visually stunning twin-stick shooter that has you protecting outer-space mining colonies under attack from aliens who’d rather humans weren’t messing up the place.
The tiny snag is the mining bit – the bases you patrol are surrounded by massive ship-smashing rocks slowly ambling about. In classic Asteroids-style, you must make short work of them, while ensuring you don’t get blown to pieces by alien foes.
It’s a dizzying, thrilling ride as you zoom over the planetoids, dodging installations, blasting space rocks, and taking out UFOs coming in for the kill. Should you hanker for more, additional modes (and handy smart bombs) are available in the full Darkside game.
Smash Hit is a 3D on-rails shooter, seemingly aimed at people who really like smashing things. You float in ghostly fashion through its various scenes, hurling your limited cache of metal balls at glass objects minding their own business, or huge panes of glass that rather unwisely block your path.
Initially, you’ll fling balls with merry abandon, but you soon realize getting deep into the game requires a solid aim and sparing use of ammo – not least when the camera starts to spin and the shots become increasingly tough. You’ll need to be a pretty hardcore smasher and a crack shot to reach the end – although you can ease the journey by way of a one-off IAP that unlocks checkpoints.
Time Locker is a vertically scrolling shoot ’em up with a twist: when you stop, time stops. This means that although you’re often weaving between bullet hell and blowing up swarms of enemies, you at least get the chance to think for a bit and consider your next move.
That said, Time Locker doesn’t make things too easy: hang around and a relentless world-consuming darkness gobbles up your craft. This means although you can pause for a bit, you must remain on the move, utilizing power-ups to zoom ahead wherever possible.
It’s a unique, engaging shooter, and its distinctive nature is further cemented by its vibrant low-poly world, which at any moment may see you attacked by gigantic tanks, dinosaur herds, or deadly waddling penguins.
Our favorite free iPhone soccer, golf, tennis, basketball and other sports games.
Super Over! strips back cricket to an almost ludicrous degree. A sport where a single match in the real world can take up to five days is here distilled into mere minutes – and many would argue is all the better for it.
The single-player game has you in bat, chasing a total from a limited number of balls. Your bat whizzes once back and forth across the screen. You must tap to stop it on a number, whereupon you get the requisite number of runs – or lose the game if you hit W (for wicket).
The best bit, though, is the same-device two-player mode. It’s faintly absurd playing this on an iPhone, but the simple interface and very silly gameplay seem entirely appropriate to such larks, as you attempt to smack your ball toward the boundary.
Golf Blitz is a side-on crazy golf game, with emphasis on the crazy. Infused with the DNA of the Super Stickman Golf series, its larger-than-life courses have you thwacking balls about islands suspended in space, often with walls covered in sticky goo, or massive wooden contraptions spinning around.
As if this wasn’t enough, each Golf Blitz contest also happens to be a multiplayer race. You take on three other golfers, all aiming to be first to putt. Those who win get kudos and XP. Those who don’t lick their wounds and try again.
It’s fast, breezy fun, and although there’s a mite too much randomness, regular play yields rewards by way of player upgrades, without you having to dip into your golf bag for a pile of cash to spend on IAP.
Nano Golf: Hole In One
Nano Golf: Hole In One is mini golf in fast forward, redefined as a pastime of perfection. Every tiny course you’re presented with must be completed in a single shot. Miss just once and your game is over.
Shooting, at least, is simple enough – you drag your finger back to aim/set power, and then let go. The game’s also rather generous regarding how near to the hole you need to be in order to succeed.
Given the hazards on these courses, that’s just as well. Along with the usual awkward corners and bumps, there are ball-frying heaters and teleporters, and some courses take place underwater. It’s all simple stuff, but the compulsion loop here is strong – not least because you can rattle through a complete game in a matter of minutes.
Rowdy Wrestling is a sports game that doesn’t take itself remotely seriously – and that says a lot, given the spectacle it’s simulating. But all the weirdness of pro wrestling has nothing on this game, which features ludicrously bouncy physics and fighters whose arms whirl around in an entertainingly cartoonish manner.
There’s the feeling throughout that you’re only just in control, whether trying to dropkick an opponent in the face, or unceremoniously hurl them out of the ring. But when Rowdy Wrestling clicks, it grabs hold for good. Just as well, then, that you get a range of modes – Tag Team; a solo career; and the ‘last man standing’ Rumble – along with multiple fighters to unlock.
Golfing Around transports you to a simpler age of golf video games. You don’t get lush 3D visuals, enough club choices to give a pro caddie a nervous breakdown, or inch-perfect takes on real-life courses. Instead, you have basic controls, minimal top-down visuals, and a handful of holes dreamed up by the developer.
On iPhone, though, this works really well. The visuals provide clarity, and the straightforward controls afford Golfing Around immediacy. There’s some nuance too – push the power meter into the red and your aim wobbles about, your dream of extra distance at risk from potentially smacking the ball in the wrong direction.
All this ensures Golfing Around makes the cut, but it’s boosted up the leaderboard by a construction kit. Making and sharing your own courses is a cinch. Probably don’t spell out “I prefer soccer actually” using water traps, mind.
Kind of Soccer
Kind of Soccer will be catharsis in gaming form for anyone who ever felt their soccer team was wronged by an official. That’s because although this game has a pitch and a ball, points are scored by belting the ball directly at the referee’s head.
The controls are a straightforward slingshot – just drag an arrow indicator and let rip. At first, your only danger is bad aim – kick the ball out of bounds and a point is awarded against your team – but in later rounds, defenders attempt to save the ref from a beating.
Fortunately, you can continue your unsporting rage by using bonuses that pop-up, including laser sights, and one option that entertainingly turns every opposition player into a tree.
Pocket Run Pool
Pocket Run Pool reimagines pool for the solo player. It gives you a table from above, with the twist that each of the pockets has a multiplier on it. Your score comprises the number on the ball multiplied by the number on the pocket, and you lose one of your three lives every time you miss a shot or pocket the white.
Aficionados of videogame pool may grumble at this game’s basic nature. The visuals are 2D and minimal, and there’s some major hand-holding regarding aiming. But any such complaints miss the point.
Pocket Run Pool isn’t about slavish realism, but taking a fresh look at pool, and fashioning a modern, quick solo game around scoring and taking risks, rather than getting soundly beaten again and again by a computer opponent on a 3D table.
Flick Soccer 17
Flick Soccer is all about scoring goals by booting a ball with your finger. It looks very smart, with fairly realistic visuals and nicely arcade-y ball movement. You can unleash pretty amazing shots as you aim for the targets, and occasionally bean a defender.
The game includes several alternate modes, providing a surprising amount of variation on the basic theme. There’s a speed option that involves flicking at furious speed, and the tense sudden-death Specialist, which ends your go after three failed attempts to hit the target.
Rather more esoteric fare also lurks, demanding you repeatedly hit the crossbar, or smash panes of glass a crazy person has installed in the goalmouth.
Like real-world sport on the TV, Flick Soccer is a bit ad-infested. You can, though, remove ads with a one-off $0.99/99p/AU$1.99 IAP, or – ironically – turn them off for ten minutes by watching an ad.
Frisbee Forever 2
Flinging a plastic disc about isn’t the most thrilling premise for a game, which is why it’s a surprise Frisbee Forever 2 is so good. The game finds a little toy careening along rollercoaster-like pathways, darting inside buildings and tunnels, and soaring high above snow-covered mountains and erupting volcanos.
You simply dart left and right, keeping aloft by collecting stars, and avoiding hazards at all costs – otherwise your Frisbee goes ‘donk’ and falls sadly to the ground. Grab enough bling and you unlock new stages and Frisbees.
This game could have been a grindy disaster, but instead it’s a treat. The visuals are superb – bright and vibrant – and the courses are smartly designed. And even if you fail, Frisbee Forever 2 lobs coins your way, rewarding any effort you put in.
PKTBALL is tennis on fast-forward – a racket game that appears to have absorbed the pace and power from air hockey, squash, and a demented take on classic videogame Pong.
Each match features cute characters facing off, smacking a ball back and forth at insane speed. Bonuses regularly appear on the court, and if you can direct the ball over one, you might end up with some shields – or find the ball unhelpfully turns into a fish.
It’s like Wimbledon as reimagined by Salvador Dali. And PKTBALL’s bonkers nature only increases once you start collecting characters. Courts become strewn with rainbows, searing neon-nightmares, or have games of Tetris running in the background.
Our favorite free iPhone RTS and turn-based strategy games, board games, and card games.
Void Tyrant is a semi-randomized card-based adventure, where you scoot about the galaxy, giving bad guys on various planets a jolly good kicking. At first, it seems quite basic, more or less being based on blackjack – only here you go bust when you hit 13. Quickly, though, you’re hurled down a bonus-deck rabbit-hole.
It’s these additional cards where most of the strategy lies. Each requires energy to play, and has a unique effect. You need to time your plays right to ensure you defeat your enemy. And because a string of victories is required for you to successfully get back to your ship, Void Tyrant becomes a constant balancing act of risk versus reward.
There’s no risk in trying the game, though, because it’s very rewarding – one of the best card battlers around.
Bounty Hunter Space Lizard
Bounty Hunter Space Lizard is a bite-sized turn-based strategy game, with a smattering of RPG. It features the titular reptile, previously down on its luck, but now having a go at being a bounty hunter as a way to “feel alive”.
Naturally, feeling alive (and staying alive) means killing everyone else – and that requires brainpower. You must with your limited number of moves figure out how to off your foes, and position yourself so you’ll take no damage when they get to move.
The visuals are crude, but there’s a lot going on here, with cleverly designed rules, and plenty of variety in the challenges you face. The mission is also finite, meaning that when you’ve put in the hours to crack level 20, you’ll discover whether this previously despondent – and now rather murdery – lizard gets a happy ending.
Chessplode is of the opinion that what chess really needs is a whole lot of explosions. But this isn’t some kind of Battlechess with dynamite. The big bangs in this game aren’t just aesthetic – they shake up everything you knew about chess.
Capturing a piece is what leads to the explosions – friends and enemies alike in the taken piece’s row and column are obliterated. The exception is when a king is in the same row or column as a captured piece, at which point you get the standard chess capture.
To rewire your brain, Chessplode offers basic levels to get you started, and then a bunch of puzzle-like set pieces. A level editor lets you upload your own creations – once you win – and multiplayer bouts are in the mix, too. This isn’t the first mobile alternative take on chess, but it might well be the best.
Pocket Cowboys is a strategy game in a Wild West that exists in a permanent state of high noon. You pit your trio of gunslingers against those controlled by other humans, the aim being to be the first to rack up three kills.
Where Pocket Cowboys excels is in its mix of immediacy and depth. Each turn gives you the option to move, shoot, or reload – and everyone takes their turn at the same time. The mix of strategy and guesswork proves a lot of fun, in what ultimately amounts to four-player rock/paper/scissors.
The game of course also comes lumbered with the usual in-game currencies and upgrades. But it always seems to place you in fair fights, rather than giving you no chance to avoid pushing up the daisies.
King Crusher comes across like someone compressed an epic fantasy RPG and turn-based strategy into a shoebox and squirted the result into your iPhone. It has all the trappings of its more expansive cousins, but is perfectly streamlined for mobile play.
Your little band embarks on quests that mostly take the form of grid-based battles. As adversaries try to shoot, flatten or even eat the heroes, you must swipe them about, getting them into the best positions to mete out some punishment of their own.
With dozens of events and 12 character classes, there’s plenty to discover in King Crushe, but its bite-sized nature means it won’t rule over your day, instead filling odd moments with tiny procedurally-generated adventures fit for a king.
Sneak Ops is a stealth game that wants you to “get to the chopper”. The snag: between you and your airborne escape route are rooms packed with enemy soldiers, traps, and – occasionally – inconveniently unbreathable air. Also, you’re unarmed. Thanks, budget cutbacks!
You must therefore sneak about, avoid detection and unsportingly wallop enemies over the head whenever you get the chance. Along the way, you grab floppy disks, which for some reason are used to buy restart points. Perhaps evil dudes are all retro gamers at heart.
It’s tense, pacy stuff, with some fab visuals. Even better: there’s a new mission every day – and everyone gets the same one, thereby pitting you against many thousands of other wannabe strategic operators.
Look, Your Loot!
Look, Your Loot! takes the basics of free-roaming RPGs and shoves them into a grid-based interface not dissimilar from puzzlers like Threes!
The rodent protagonist – a heavily armed mouse – moves about the grid as you swipe, his energy being depleted during battles or replenished on grabbing elixirs and shields. Whenever you enter a new tile, something new appears from the opposite side of the grid.
The key to survival – and a high-score – is carefully planning your route, ensuring you don’t end up trapped between a number of powerful and angry adversaries. It’s the sort of RPG-lite that’s perfect to quickly fire up during a few minutes of downtime; but multiple level layouts and surprising depth in the mechanics also make Look, Your Loot! a rewarding game to master over the longer term.
Flipflop Solitaire reasons that a card game you play on an iPhone should be designed for its screen and mobile play rather than a table. To that end, it takes spider solitaire as a basic framework, then messes around with the formula.
You’re still working with stacks of cards, aiming to sort them back into suits. However, in this game you have only five columns to work with and the height of your iPhone’s display provides a vertical limit.
Flipflop Solitaire shakes things up more by letting you stack cards in increasing or decreasing value. This single change proves transformative, turning every deal into a solvable puzzle, and games with a single suit into frantic, entertaining speed-runs.
The Battle of Polytopia
The Battle of Polytopia is more or less a classic version of Civilization played in fast-forward. You start off with a single city, surrounded by the unknown. You then explore, research technologies, and give anyone who gets in your way a serious kicking.
Unlike the sprawling Civilization games, Polytopia is focused and sleek. The technology tree stops before guns arrive, the standard game mode limits you to 30 moves, and new cities cannot be founded – only conquered.
For the more bloodthirsty, there’s a domination mode, where you aim to be the last tribe standing. The maximum map size expands and online asynchronous multiplayer opens up if you pay for more tribes. However you play, this is a furiously addictive, brilliantly realized slice of mobile strategy.
Spaceteam is the best multi-device party game for iPhone. The backstory is that you’re attempting to outrun an exploding star, in a ship that’s seen better days. Unhelpfully, the control panel for your craft was seemingly designed by an engineer who considers user-friendliness an offensive abomination.
The system provides instructions, but they’re usually not related to controls on your display. Games therefore turn into people desperately screaming “will someone turn on the dangling shunter?”, while combing every inch of their own screen for an elusive ‘eigenthrottle’ switch.
With Spaceteam offering cross-device play, up to eight players can immerse themselves in this madness, as long as they’re on the same Wi-Fi network.
Hearthstone is a one-on-one card battler set in a magical world of mystics and warriors. You and an opponent take it in turns to attack, using cards that unleash spells, minions, and other acquired skills.
Given how complicated card games of this sort can be, Hearthstone proves intuitive and welcoming to the newcomer – and it’s also extremely well balanced. It’s possible, if you take the time and effort to master the game, to top the leaderboards without splashing out IAP on new cards – although such temptation might get the better of you anyway once you’re immersed in this engaging world of strategy, chance, and fantasy.
Our favorite free iPhone games all about crosswords, anagrams, and playing with letters.
Sticky Terms is more or less a set of jigsaw puzzles, but for oddball phrases. At the start of each level, you’re presented with a mess of shapes, some of which resemble recognizable letters. Your aim is to drag them together to make a coherent form. You’ll then be told what the phrase actually means, and where it comes from.
Making this all tricker is the fact Sticky Terms is all about untranslatable words. So although you’ll be familiar with some of the terms, you won’t know most of them. Instead, your path to completing a challenge usually rests in recognizing parts of letterforms, and shoving words back together in a process of trial and error.
It’s unique stuff on the App Store – rare for a word game – along with being tactile and smart.
AI Dungeon resembles a classic text adventure from the dawn of gaming. But unlike the canned, scripted likes of a Zork, this game is potentially endless, providing new chunks of storyline on the fly. This is achieved by the ‘AI’ bit, via an engine trained on reading the internet.
You can start your adventure with a generic pre-defined setting, like fantasy, and select a character type. But it’s more fun to construct a scenario of your own (just type a few lines of text), and see where it takes you.
Given that AI Dungeon isn’t hand-crafted, its grasp on reality and consistency can be creaky. Objects and names can be forgotten or switched, and stories often have whiplash-like shifts that upend everything. This might prove annoying to old-school traditionalists, but if you’ve got an open mind, you’ll find AI Dungeon dreamlike and fascinating.
Typochondria is a game about typos. You sit before an algorithmically generated crime novel, looking for mistakes in each of its pages. Tap one and you move on to the next. Which probably doesn’t sound all that thrilling, but Typochondria is played against the clock.
When you’re deep into a round, the timer running dry at ferocious speed, it’s surprisingly exciting partaking in a videogame take on proofreading. And if that isn’t quite enough challenge for you, an alternate mode has you figure out how many mistakes are on any given page.
Should you get fully drawn in, but need a bit of a break during your downtime, there’s a risk-free zen mode, too, along with a bunch of additional genre options available via IAP.
Alphabear 2 introduces you to a world where bears have made a major blunder with a time machine, and need you to fix things by… spelling words. Even the in-game protagonists don’t seem convinced by that setup, but it’s a fun hook on which to hang the sequel to one of the iPhone’s best word games.
As in the original Alphabear, you make words from Scrabble tiles on a grid. When tiles are used, bears expand into the gaps. Tiles also have countdown timers, and turn to stone if you don’t use them in time, thwarting your ability to make full-screen bears.
There’s a lot going on, including several modes, oddball ‘bear speech’ victory screens, a smattering of (horrors!) education, and a mildly baffling bear collection meta-game. In all, though, it’s furry much worth a download.
Wordgraphy looks like a stripped-back crossword puzzle with letters crammed into a grid, but the letters are muddled up and you can’t just drag them wherever you fancy. Tap any letter and you’ll be presented with a small set of possible destinations.
The aim is to ensure you create complete words. It’s often easy enough to make one or two, but then you’ll be left with the likes of CCRZK along one axis, and a realization that perhaps your other words aren’t the right ones.
A smart, interesting piece of logic word puzzling, then, and a game that’s suitably different from its contemporaries when you’re getting bored with more conventional fare.
Letterpress is a mix of Boggle and Risk. Two players (you and an online or computer opponent) face a five-by-five grid of letters and take turns tapping out words. But the key isn’t to show off your vocabulary; instead, you must strategize to secure territory.
Captured letters turn your color, but those surrounded by your tiles become a darker shade and cannot be flipped by your opponent during their turn. With careful play, you gradually chip away at the board; to win, you must secure every tile.
It’s a simple premise, but one that makes for surprisingly exciting battles. Games can turn on a smart play you didn’t see coming; many become like a tug of war, with you and an opponent trading blows. The claustrophobic board further adds to the intensity, and makes a nice change from countless Scrabble clones.
Scrabble [non-US App Store link] is a digital take on the famous boardgame. You play the computer or human opponents (over Wi-Fi or the internet), carefully placing letters on the grid, trying to position them over bonus spots for double and triple points.
Crossword games of this ilk are now commonplace, but Scrabble’s board layout remains the best. It also gives you the option for ponderous play or a kind of time-attack take, forcing everyone to quickly make moves.
On the iPhone, things are perhaps a touch cramped compared to on larger devices, and you’ll quite often get ads thrown in your face. Even so, Scrabble remains a solid download, not least if you’re a fan of the original.
The Impossible Letter Game
The Impossible Letter Game isn’t actually impossible, but it does get decidedly tricky once you’re deep into the game. Each challenge presents you with a grid of letters, the idea being to find the odd one out. This might be a W in a grid of M’s, or a 2 sneakily nestled within rows and columns of Z’s.
Initially, the letters are fairly large, but they soon shrink, and even start animating, to try and throw you off the scent of your prize. The smallish screen of an iPhone adds an extra layer of difficulty to the mix. Good for your powers of observation; not so much for resting your eyes!
Bonza Word Puzzle
Bonza Word Puzzle deconstructs classic crosswords – and then has you put them back together again. You’re given a clue, hinting at the words you need to make, and then a bunch of fragments that resemble tetrominos.
The game ends up coming across like a mix of Scrabble and jigsaws as you slowly piece together the puzzle. And just like with jigsaws, everything gets a mite tougher when you’re grasping with a larger number of pieces.
Packs in the game are split between free, IAP, and those you can buy with coins earned in-game. There’s also a daily freebie, and the option to create your own puzzles – a nice touch for people who get seriously into the game.
Four Letters is a word game based around speed. You get four letters, a rapidly depleting timer, and a handy note that says how many words can be made from the letters in front of you. Tap out a word and your game gets to continue for a bit longer.
Once you’re a few dozen words in, Four Letters becomes a fast, frantic, panic-inducing flurry of quick thinking and super-fast tapping. In some ways, it’s perhaps a pity there’s no timer-free mode for training purposes (and the faint hearted), but Four Letters is a great bet if you fancy a simple, entertaining word game that doesn’t let you dawdle.