The best iPad games
No-one predicted the meteoric rise of gaming on iOS, and we’re not sure anyone knew what the iPad was for at all when it first appeared.
However, Apple’s tablet has become a very able gaming platform. With more screen space than the iPhone, games have the means to be more immersive. The iPad’s therefore a perfect platform for adventure games, strategy titles and puzzlers.
But, just like the iPhone, there are so many iPad games that it’s tough to unearth the gems and avoid the dross. That’s our mission here – to bring you the very best iPad games, mixing traditional fare with titles that could only have appeared on a capable and modern multi-touch device.
New this week: Warbits ($3.99/£2.99)
Nintendo fans probably wonder why the big N hasn’t yet brought the superb Advance Wars to iPad, but Warbits now scratches that particular itch. However, although Warbits is influenced by Nintendo’s turn-based strategy title, it isn’t a copy — the iOS game brings plenty of new thinking to the table and is very much optimised for the iPad.
Working with 16 varied units, you conquer a series of battlefields by directing your troops, making careful note of your strengths and the enemy’s relevant weaknesses. All the while, Warbits merrily has you and your opponent trading barbs, often about subjects such as whether tomatoes are fruit, because that’s the kind of thing you’d go to war over.
Finish the 20-mission campaign and you’ll have a decent grasp of Warbits, and can then venture online to take on other human players across dozens of different maps. With superb visuals, enough new ideas over the game that inspired it, and a single one-off price-tag, Warbits is a must-buy for any iPad-owning strategy nut.
Shadow Bug ($3.99/£2.99)
Often, platform games have you reach new places by majestically leaping about and occasionally jumping on a cute enemy’s head. Not so in Shadow Bug, where a deranged insect ninja speeds about by slashing foes with swords. To be fair, he’s surrounded by horrors, and so perhaps stabbing someone in this nightmarish world is simply a way of saying hello.
This means of getting around — just tap to move to an enemy and slice them up — infuses Shadow Bug with a Sonic-style manic pace, but the game is also about puzzle-like pathfinding.
It’s an interesting combination, although Shadow Bug is never afraid to shake things up, with one early set piece finding the slashy insect merrily bludgeoning its way across the landscape while driving a kind of ramshackle tank that squashes everything in its path.
The idea behind Dreii is apparently to explore skill, logic and friendship, happening by way of you controlling strange flying creatures that pick up shapes using tethers. These shapes must be stacked to reach a light for a few seconds, after which point your floating avatar briefly celebrates before moving on to the next challenge.
Even the earliest levels are quite engaging, due to the delicate controls and slightly bouncy physics. But Dreii revels in throwing curveballs. Before long, you find yourself faced with levels that require multiple people to complete — only you can barely communicate with other players who enter the room.
Imagine assembling flatpack furniture with several friends, while everyone’s gagged and wearing boxing gloves and a jet-pack and you’re most of the way there.
Dashy Crashy (free)
Here’s another great example of how plenty of polish can transform even the simplest iOS game into a classic. Dashy Crashy pits you against an endless challenge, where you swipe to change lanes and increase your score as you overtake cars all heading in the same direction on a suspiciously straight road.
We’ve seen it all before, but not quite like this. Dashy Crashy’s visuals are dazzling — cartoonish vehicles, a stunning day/night cycle, and colourful, varied backdrops.
But it’s the game’s sense of humor that cements a recommendation, with emoji speech balloons appearing above cars you overtake, and high-score attempts being derailed due to police chases and alien invasions scattering traffic across your intended path.
Magic Touch: Wizard for Hire (free)
Touchscreens have opened up many new ways to play games, but scribbling with a finger is perhaps the most natural. And that’s essentially all you do in Magic Touch, which sounds pretty reductive – right up until you start playing.
The premise is that you’re a wizard, fending off invading nasties who all oddly use balloons to parachute towards their prize. Match the symbol on any balloon and it pops, potentially causing a hapless intruder to meet the ground rather more rapidly than intended.
Initially, this is all very simple, but when dozens of balloons fill your field of vision, you’ll be scrawling like crazy, desperately fending off the invasion to keep the wizard gainfully employed.
Pac-Man 256 (free)
Taking the most famous video game character of all and shoving him into an endless freemium title could have ended disastrously. Fortunately, Pac-Man 256 is by the people behind Crossy Road – and it’s just as compelling.
In Pac-Man 256, our rotund hero finds himself beyond the infamous level 256 glitch, which has become an all-consuming swarm of broken code that must be outrun. Pac-Man must therefore speed through the endless maze, munching dots, avoiding ghosts, and making use of power-ups dotted about the place.
And there aren’t just power pellets this time round – Pac-Man can fry ghosts with lasers, or implement stealth technology to move through his spectral foes as if they weren’t even there.
Cally’s Caves 3 (free)
Very occasionally, free games appear that are so generous you wonder what the catch is. Cally’s Caves 3 is rather Metroid, except the hero of the hour is a little girl who has pigtails, stupid parents who keep getting kidnapped, and a surprisingly large arsenal of deadly weapons.
She leaps about, blasting enemies, and conquering bosses. Weapons are levelled up simply by shooting things with them, and the eight zones take some serious beating — although not as much as the legions of grunts you’re shooting at.
With its numbered sliding squares and soaring scores, there’s more than a hint of Threes! about Imago. In truth, Threes! remains the better game, on the basis that it’s more focussed, but Imago has plenty going for it. The idea is to merge pieces of the same size and colour, which when they get too big explode into smaller pieces that can be reused.
The clever bit is each of these smaller pieces retains the score of the larger block. This means that with smart thinking, you can amass colossal scores that head into the billions. The game also includes daily challenges with different success criteria, to keep you on your toes.
Planet Quest (free)
Having played Planet Quest, we imagine whoever was on naming duties didn’t speak to the programmer. If they had, the game would be called Awesome Madcap Beam-Up One-Thumb Rhythm Action Insanity – or possibly something a bit shorter. Anyway, you’re in a spaceship, prodding the screen to repeat beats you’ve just heard.
Doing so beams up dancers on the planet’s surface; get your timing a bit wrong and you merely beam-up their outfits; miss by a lot and you lose a life. To say this one’s offbeat would be a terrible pun, but entirely accurate; it’d also be true to say this is the most fun rhythm action game on iPad — and it doesn’t cost a penny.
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed (free)
The iPad has plenty of fast, playable racing games, but it took an awfully long time for a decent kart racer to appear on the platform. That was Sega’s Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing, and follow-up Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is even better.
You race across land, sea and air, tracks dynamically shifting after each lap. It looks great, handles almost perfectly, and gives you loads to do. IAP does stink up the place a bit, notably if you want to quickly buy characters or burn through the game, but otherwise this is the best free racer this side of Asphalt 8.
A veteran of the iOS puzzle scene, Drop7 remains one of the best of its kind on the platform. It’s based around dropping numbered discs into a grid. If a disc’s number matches that of any discs within its column or row, those discs all explode. Grey discs are dealt with by twice removing discs next to them, finally revealing their numbers.
Three varied modes are on offer, each of which demands a different strategy, although success always requires serious brainpower and making the most of every drop.
Triple Town (free)
In Triple Town, you have to think many moves ahead to succeed. It’s a match game where trios of things combine to make other things, thereby giving you more space on the board to evolve your town. For example, three bushes become a tree, and three trees become a hut.
All the while, roaming bears and ninjas complicate matters, blocking squares on the board. At times surreal, Triple Town is also brain-bending and thoroughly addictive. Free moves slowly replenish, but you can also unlock unlimited moves via IAP.
Traps n’ Gemstones ($4.99/£3.99)
Traditional platform games often fare poorly on iPad, but Traps n’ Gemstones bucks the trend. Its approach is resolutely old-school, from the on-screen controls to the Metroid-style gameplay that involves exploring a huge interconnected world, opening up new passageways by finding and correctly using objects.
The theme, though, is more Indiana Jones. A little chap, armed with a whip and with a fedora on his head, leaps about a pyramid, grabs loot, and gives mummies and snakes a good whipping. Interestingly, the game simultaneously manages to appeal to casual and hardcore gamers.
Progress doesn’t reset, meaning you can keep getting killed but gradually work your way into the bowels of the pyramid. But your score reverts to zero when you come a cropper; getting into the thousands is therefore a big challenge for those who want to take it.
There’s a hint of classic iOS puzzler The Room about _PRISM, although this game propels the concept into a futuristic sci-fi setting. Each of the 13 puzzles finds you staring at a floating shape in a star-lit void. Close inspection reveals buttons, switches and levers. Manipulating these transforms the shape before your eyes, and you keep fiddling and delving deeper until a crystal is given up.
It’s a quite meditative experience, although it’s also quite easy and fairly short. Still, the sense of discovery throughout is frequently enchanting, even if you do sometimes end up playing finger Twister to reach a number of switches, or spinning a shape multiple times for a lever you could have sworn was visible earlier.
Love You to Bits ($3.99/£2.99)
Love You to Bits has a heart as big as a thousand iPads. It’s a tap-based adventure that finds a little space explorer trying to retrieve pieces of his android girlfriend that have been scattered across the galaxy.
The mechanics are right out of classic point-and-click gaming, essentially having you amble about 2D locations, unearth items and then drop them in the right spot.
But the game is so relentlessly creative and inventive with its environments — full of dazzling visuals, references to movies and other games, and increasingly clever mechanics and ideas — that you can’t help but love it to bits yourself.
A Good Snowman Is Hard To Build ($4.99/£3.99)
The little monster at the heart of A Good Snowman Is Hard To Build, wants some friends, and so sets about making them from crisp snow covering the ground. But as the game’s title states, making snowman is hard — largely because of strict rules governing the monster’s universe. Snowmen must comprise precisely three balls of gradually decreasing size, and any snowball rolled in the snow quickly grows. A Good Snowman therefore becomes a series of brain-bending puzzles – part Soko-Ban, part Towers of Hanoi – as you figure out how to manipulate balls of snow to build icy friends for a monster to hug.
AirAttack 2 ($0.99/79p)
You get the feeling creators of classic vertically scrolling shooters would sit in front of AirAttack 2 in a daze, dumbfounded at what’s possible on modern home-computing devices. That’s not down to the gameplay, though: like its predecessor, AirAttack 2 is a straightforward shooter – you’re piloting a fighter in World War II, downing enemies while optionally yelling “tally ho” at an annoyingly loud volume.
But this World War II is decidedly different from the one that occurred in our reality: Germans own limitless squadrons and building-sized tanks (versus the Allies, seemingly relying on a single nutcase in a plane to win the war). It’s the jaw-dropping visuals that really dazzle, effortlessly displaying swarms of enemies to down, colossal bosses to defeat, and a destructible environment to take out your frustrations on. For the low price (not least given that there’s no IAP whatsoever), it’s an insane bargain.
Badland 2 ($3.99/£2.99)
The first Badland combined the simplicity of one-thumb ‘copter’/flappy games with the repeating hell of Limbo. It was a stunning, compelling title, pitting a little winged protagonist against all kinds of crazy ordeals in a forest that had clearly gone very wrong.
In Badland 2, the wrongness has been amplified considerably. Now, levels scroll in all directions, traps are deadlier, puzzles are tougher, and the cruelty meted out on the little winged beast is beyond compare. Still, all is not lost – the hero can now flap left and right. We’re sure that comes as a huge consolation when it’s sawn in half for the hundredth time.
The Room Three ($4.99/£3.99)
We mention The Room and its sequel elsewhere in this list, but The Room Three is the best entry in the series yet. Again, this is a somewhat Myst-like game of exploration and puzzle-solving, figuring out how to escape your environment by utilising everything around you.
But there’s more freedom this time round, with multi-room locations, surreal and deeply strange moments that find you sucked into the very puzzles you’re trying to solve, and the creeping menace of The Craftsman, a malevolent nutcase who initially leaves you locked in a dungeon, and then tasks you with freeing yourself from the confines of the remote island on which you’re stranded. One to play in the dark, with rain pouring down outside – if you dare.
Drop Wizard ($1.99/£1.99)
This single-screen platformer initially resembles a tribute to arcade classics Bubble Bobble and Snow Bros., but Drop Wizard is a very different beast. It’s part auto-runner, which might infuriate retro-gamers, but this proves to be a brilliant limitation in practice. Your little wizard never stops running, and emits a blast of magic each time he lands. You must therefore time leaps to blast roaming foes, and then boot the dazed creatures during a second pass. It’s vibrant, fast-paced, engaging, and — since you only need to move left or right — nicely optimised for iPad play.
Football Manager Touch 2016 ($19.99/£14.99)
Every release of Football Manager for iPad has found the series moving a little closer to the PC incarnation. Now, Football Manager Touch 2016 gives you something that marries the complexity and depth you’d expect from such a title with an interface suitable for a tablet. There are some flaws: long load times; a certain amount of fiddliness; a whiff of IAP lurking to ‘boost your bank balance’. On the whole, though, this is more ‘top of the league’ than ‘own goal’.
Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions Evolved ($9.99/£7.99)
Since it rebooted Robotron-style twin-stick blasting, the Geometry Wars series has been the go-to game for a session of duffing up hordes of neon ships. Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions Evolved takes the basic concept and wraps it around 3D shapes lurching and spinning in space.
It disorients but brings a new dimension (pun intended) to the genre, and is one of the prettiest and noisiest games on the system. If you’re armed with an iPad Pro, you even get a co-op mode, where two people play on the same screen.
Her Story ($4.99/£3.99)
A murder mystery inside a rickety old PC, itself inside your iPad, Her Story is one of the most intriguing titles around. It plonks you in front of the L.O.G.I.C. Database, a creaky old system that returns snippets of police interviews in relation to search terms. Helpfully, you can only access five at once, even if there are many more results (the joys of 1990s interface design!), but this forces you to delve deeper. Before long, you’ll be scribbling notes, eking out clues from every other sentence, and realising there’s more to every mystery than meets the eye.
Icycle: On Thin Ice ($2.99/£2.29)
One of the most beautiful games we’ve ever seen, Icycle: On Thin Ice also has a penchant for the surreal. It features naked hero Dennis, peddling through a strange and deadly post-apocalyptic frozen wonderland. Each level feels like a scene from a Gilliamesque animation, but on venturing further into madness, you’ll note how tight the level design is — any failures are down to your fingers rather than the game. At the tail end of 2015, seven new locations arrived, so you could discover what happens at the end of the end of the world.
Lara Croft GO ($4.99/£3.99)
Much in the same way Hitman GO reworked a much-loved franchise for mobile, Lara Croft GO transforms Tomb Raider into a dinky turn-based boardgame of sorts. It shouldn’t work, but the result is wonderful — all minimal, breathtaking visuals, and smart puzzles that present a challenge but rarely stop you for too long in continuing your journey. Most amazingly, it feels like a proper Tomb Raider game, with moments of wonder, and palpable tension when you mull over whether your next move will send Lara tumbling into the abyss.
Because of the nature of touchscreen controls, there’s a tendency to slow things down on iOS. ALONE… throws such caution to the wind, flinging you along at Retina-searing speed as you try in vain to save a little ship hurtling through rocky caverns of doom.
This is a game that’s properly exciting, and where every narrow escape feels like a victory; that all you’re doing is dragging a finger up and down, trying in vain to avoid the many projectiles sent your way, is testament to you not needing a gamepad and complex controls to create a game that genuinely thrills.
Power Hover ($3.99/£2.99)
It turns out the future will involve hoverboards, only it’ll be robots piloting them. In Power Hover, all the humans are gone, but so too are the batteries that power your robot village. So you hop on your flying board and pursue a thief through 30 varied and visually stunning levels.
Whether scything curved paths across a gorgeous sun-drenched sea or picking your way through a grey and dead human city, Power Hover will have you glued to the screen until you reach the end of the journey. And although it’s initially tricky to get to grips with, you’ll soon discover the board’s floaty physics and controls are perfectly balanced.
A love letter to trees. A game about the beauty and joy of cultivation. These aren’t words that would usually scream ‘amazing game’. But Prune is a unique and frequently remarkable experience. It starts simply, teaching you how to prune a tiny branch, so a plant can grow to reach the sunlight and blossom. Before long, you’re responsible for cultivating huge trees that arc past poisonous floating orbs, dealing with fragile foliage in unforgiving cities, and coaxing unruly underground weeds towards their prize.
The Executive ($4.99/£3.99)
If you’ve ever felt a bit angry at the end of a long day in the office, take solace in the fact you’ve never felt quite as miffed as the stars of The Executive. Stress levels have reached the point everyone’s mutated into monsters. Fortunately, the CEO’s remained cool-headed and can now become the karate-kicking superhero he always wanted to be. Cue: 120 hand-crafted levels where you dart about the place, kicking werewolves in the face, leaping between floors, and marvelling at the bewitching ridiculousness of it all.
Asphalt 8: Airborne (free)
At some point, a total buffoon decreed that racing games should be dull and grey, on grey tracks, with grey controls. Gameloft’s Asphalt series dispenses with such foolish notions, along with quite a bit of reality.
Here, in Asphalt 8, you zoom along at ludicrous speeds, drifting for miles through exciting city courses, occasionally being hurled into the air to perform stunts that absolutely aren’t acceptable according to the car manufacturer’s warranty. It’s admittedly a bit grindy, but if you tire of zooming about the tracks in this game, there’s no hope for you.
At its core, Badland echoes copter-style games, in that you prod the screen to make your avatar fly. But the hazards and traps are devious and plentiful: imaginative and deadly contraptions in silhouette, ready to eliminate any passing creature. Your retaliation comes in cloning your flying monster, and figuring out how to manipulate the environment to bring as many clones home as possible.
It’s a tough challenge, but one where you can repeat bits time and again until you succeed. And if you tire of the existing levels, the game lets you create your own.
Bejeweled Classic HD (free)
We’ve lost count of how many gem-swappers exist for iOS, but PopCap’s Bejeweled has a long history, which brings a maturity that’s reflected in this iPad release. The polished standard mode is present and correct, where you match three or more gems to make them explode and bring more into the well. ‘Zen’ then transforms this into a no-lose chill-out zone.
Beyond that, there’s the fast-paced ‘Lightning’, ‘Diamond Mine’ (dig into the ground), Butterflies (save insects from spider-ronch doom), and Poker (make ‘hands’ of gems).
Beyond Ynth HD ($2.99/£2.29)
This fantastic platform puzzler stars a bug who’s oddly averse to flying. Instead, he gets about 2D levels by rolling around in boxes full of platforms. Beyond Ynth HD hangs on a quest, but each level forms a devious test, where you must figure out precisely how to reach the end via careful use of boxes, switches and even environmental hazards.
And for anyone wanting an even sterner test, cunningly placed jewels are there to find in each stage, requiring all kinds of trickery and box manipulation to reach.
Bit Pilot ($1.99/£1.49)
A pilot finds himself trapped inside a tiny area of space frequented by an alarming number of deadly asteroids. You must stave off death for as long as possible. Bit Pilot is the best of the iOS avoid ’em ups, with precise one- and two-thumb controls guiding your tiny ship, effortlessly dodging between rocky foes — until the inevitable collision.
Beyond the basic and harder modes, you can try Supermassive, a kind of zoomed-out Rocky Horror Show, or thread your way through tiny temporary corridors in the claustrophobic and deadly Tunnels.
As much a warning about digital surveillance as a word-based puzzler, Blackbar is a unique and compelling iOS classic. The game comprises single screens of communications, many involving your friend who’s gone to work in the city, which you soon learn is part of a worryingly oppressive society. Your job is to literally fill in the blanks, while becoming immersed in a stark dystopian reality that’s fortunately still peppered with warmth, humour and humanity.
Blek is akin to shepherding semi-sentient calligraphy through a series of dexterity tests. Each sparse screen has one or more dots that need collecting, which is achieved by drawing a squiggle that’s then set in motion. To say the game can be opaque is putting it lightly, but as a voyage of discovery, there are few touchscreen games that come close.
Boson X ($2.99/£2.29)
In what we assume is a totally accurate representation of what boffins in Geneva get up to, Boson X finds scientists sprinting inside colliders, running over energy panels and then discovering particles by leaping into the abyss.
Initially, at least, said abyss is quite tricky to avoid; but learn the patterns in each collider and you’ll have a fighting chance of success in this addictive mash-up of Super Hexagon, Tempest and Canabalt.
Botanicula is another excellent adventure from the brains behind Machinarium, this time featuring a little group of tree creatures on a quest to save the last seed from their home, which is infested with parasites. Puzzles abound as you keep the seed safe while marvelling at the gorgeous environments. Although the point-and-click-style mechanics might be familiar, Botanicula is nonetheless a unique and joyful gaming experience.
CRUSH! is deceptive. At first, it appears to be little more than a collapse game, where you prod a coloured tile, only for the rest to collapse into the now empty space. But subtle changes to the formula elevate this title to greatness: the tiles wrap around, and each removal sees your pile jump towards a line of death. So even when tiles are moving at speed, you must carefully consider each tap.
Some variation is provided by the three different modes (which affect block speed and surges), and power-ups, which blast away colors and blocks in specific ways you can take advantage of.
Device 6 ($3.99/£2.99)
Device 6 is first and foremost a story — a mystery into which protagonist Anna finds herself propelled. She awakes on an island, but where is she? How did she get there? Why can’t she remember anything? The game fuses literature with adventuring, the very words forming corridors you travel along, integrated puzzles being dotted about for you to investigate.
It’s a truly inspiring experience, an imaginative, ambitious and brilliantly realised creation that showcases how iOS can be the home for something unique and wonderful. It’s also extremely tough at times. Our advice: pay attention, jot down notes, and mull away from the screen if you get stuck.
Eliss Infinity ($2.99/£2.29)
Eliss was the first game to truly take advantage of iOS’s multi-touch capabilities, with you combining and tearing apart planets to fling into like-coloured and suitably-sized wormholes. This semi-sequel brings the original’s levels into glorious Retina and adds a totally bonkers endless mode. Unique, challenging and fun, this is a game that defines the platform.
First Strike ($3.99/£2.99)
First Strike bills itself as the fun side of nuclear war, but there’s a sting in its tail. The game mixes Risk-like land-grabs, a Civ-style tech-tree, and defence akin to Missile Command, your missiles aiming to intercept incoming strikes. Sooner or later, though, you realise the only way to win is to go all-out, sacrificing territory and obliterating your opponents.
Just like the classic Missile Command, First Strike remains a playable game, but it’s one with a chilling message that comes through loud and clear – at least when it’s not buried under radioactive crackles.
Forget-Me-Not is like one of those ice creams you get with every kind of candy imaginable, but instead of sugary treats, the sprinkles here are all the best arcade games of old. There’s Pac-Man dot-munching, Rogue dungeon-roaming, nods to Caterpillar, Wizard of Wor and more. It’s a glorious, madcap neon-drenched slice of perfect arcade fare, deserving a lofty position in gaming’s history alongside the more famous games that inspired it.
Frisbee Forever 2 (free)
With almost limitless possibilities in videogames, it’s amazing how many are drab grey and brown affairs. Frisbee Forever 2 (like its similarly impressive forerunner) is therefore a breath of fresh air with its almost eye-searing vibrance.
There’s a kind of Nintendo vibe – a sense of fun that continues through to the gameplay, which is all about steering a frisbee left and right, collecting stars strewn along winding paths. And these are a world away from the parks you’d usually fling plastic discs about in – here, you’re hurled along roller-coaster journeys through ancient ruins and gorgeous snowy hillsides.
Hitman GO ($4.99/£3.99)
It’s great to see Square Enix do something entirely different with Hitman GO, rather than simply converting its free-roaming 3D game to touchscreens. Although still echoing the original series, this touchscreen title is presented as a board game of sorts, with turn-based actions against clockwork opposition.
You must figure out your way to the prize, without getting knocked off (the board). It’s an oddly adorable take on assassination, and one of the best iOS puzzlers. There’s also extra replay value in the various challenges (such as grabbing a briefcase or not killing guards), each of which requires an alternate solution to be found.
Icebreaker: A Viking Voyage HD ($2.99/£2.29)
There are other famous swiping games on iOS — Cut the Rope and Fruit Ninja spring to mind — but Icebreaker has oodles more charm, loads more character and, importantly, better puzzles.
The basics initially involve slicing chunks of ice, so frozen Vikings trapped within can be rescued in a boat. Over time, this animated, cartoon world continues to come alive under your fingers, as you learn to manipulate other objects – such as rope and slime – to get your helmeted chums home.
Impossible Road ($1.99/£1.49)
A roller-coaster ribbon of road winds through space, and your only aim is to stay on it and reach the highest-numbered gate. But Impossible Road is sneaky: the winding track is one you can leave and rejoin, if you’ve enough skill, ‘cheating’ your way to higher scores. It’s like the distillation of Super Monkey Ball, Rainbow Road and queue-jumping, all bundled up in a stark, razor-sharp package.
There is a hint of Lemmings in Kiwanuka, this sweet-natured action puzzler. You must guide a little tribe to freedom, using a magical staff to make bridges from the citizens themselves.
They’re left behind as you bolt for each level’s exit, presumably thrilled at their assisting your escape, if less thrilled that they’re now forever fused into an unused pathway across a yawning chasm. It’s quite a short game, but one that leaves its mark, through a mix of superb visuals and enchanting gameplay.
Who knew you could have such fun with a five-by-five grid of letters? In Letterpress, you play friends via Game Center, making words to colour lettered squares. Surround any and they’re out of reach from your friend’s tally. Cue: word-tug-o’-war, last-minute reversals of fortune, and arguments about whether ‘qat’ is a real word or not (it is).
A boy awakens in hell, and must work his way through a deadly forest. Gruesome deaths and trial and error gradually lead to progress, as he forces his way deeper into the gloom and greater mystery.
Originating on the Xbox, Limbo fares surprisingly well on iOS, with smartly designed controls that feel entirely at home on the iPad. But mostly it’s Limbo’s eerie beauty and intriguing environments that captivate, ensuring the game remains hypnotic throughout.
Magnetic Billiards (free)
A game that could have been called Reverse Pool For Show-Offs, Magnetic Billiards lacks pockets. Instead, the aim is to join like-coloured balls that cling together on colliding. Along the way, you get more points for trick shots and ‘buzzing’ other balls that must otherwise be avoided. 20 diverse tables are provided for free, and many more can be unlocked for $1.99/£1.49.
Monument Valley ($3.99/£2.99)
In Monument Valley, you journey through delightful Escher-like landscapes, manipulating the very architecture to build impossible paths along which to explore. It’s not the most challenging of games (nor does it have the most coherent of storylines), but each scene is a gorgeous and mesmerising bite-sized experience that showcases how important great craft is in the best iOS titles.
Need For Speed Most Wanted ($4.99/£3.99)
Racing games are all very well, but too many aim for simulation rather than evoking the glorious feeling of speeding along like a maniac. Most Wanted absolutely nails the fun side of arcade racing, and is reminiscent of classic console title OutRun 2 in enabling you to drift effortlessly for miles. Add to that varied city streets on which to best rivals and avoid (or smash) the cops, and you’ve got a tremendous iOS racer.
Osmos HD ($4.99/£3.99)
This superb arcade puzzler is at times microscopic and at others galactic in nature, as you use the power of physics and time to move your ‘mote’ about. Some levels in Osmos are primordial soup, the mote propelled by ejecting bits of itself, all the while aiming to absorb everything around it. Elsewhere, motes circle sun-like ‘Attractors’, and your challenge becomes one of understanding the intersecting trajectories of orbital paths.
Pinball Arcade ($0.99/69p)
The iPhone’s a bit small for pinball, but the larger iPad screen is perfect for a bit of ball-spanging. Pinball Arcade is the go-to app for realistic pinball, because it lovingly and accurately recreates a huge number of classic tables.
Tales of the Arabian Nights is bundled for free, and the likes of Twilight Zone, Black Knight, Bride of PinBot and Star Trek: The Next Generation are available via in-app purchase. On exploring the various tables (you can demo all of them for free), it rapidly becomes apparent just how diverse and deep pinball games can be.
Plants vs Zombies HD ($0.99/69p)
Yes, we know there’s a Plants vs. Zombies 2, but some dolt infected that with a pointless time-travel gimmick and a freemium business model. The charming, amusing, silly and sweet original remains where it’s at.
For the uninitiated, in Plants vs Zombies you repel zombies that march towards your house with the power of hostile plants. Only through careful plant placement and choosing the right ones for the job will your bRAAiinnZZZ remain in your head.
Royal Revolt (free)
In Royal Revolt, the king is dead and his siblings have stolen his kingdom while the prince was at school. Unfortunately for them, he was studying magic and is now out for revenge. The game itself is a real-time-strategy effort with some seriously cute and well-animated graphics.
There is, admittedly, some grinding if you want to reach later levels. But we found with some careful upgrading of your troops, you needn’t dip into your wallet. (Do, though, avoid the not-great sequel.)
This sort-of-Tetris has you drop sets of coloured blocks into a well. Tactics are of paramount importance, since you can move only one block for each new line of junk that’s introduced. Slydris therefore becomes an ongoing challenge, a deceptively deep slice of strategy, gravity, block management and combos.
Beyond the standard Infinite mode, there’s ‘Zen’ (never ends; no scores) and ‘Survival’ (ten seconds to drag blocks like crazy before a barrage of additional blocks are hurled your way).
Smash Hit (free)
If you find catharsis in smashing things, Smash Hit will leave you in a totally blissed-out state. You float through the void, lobbing metal balls at glass objects, clearing a path and chaining collisions. Over time, the paths become increasingly complex, the camera begins to whirl, and the shots get very demanding, depleting your meagre resources. A single one-time ‘premium’ IAP upgrade exists should you want to start out on any sections of the journey you’ve managed to already reach.
This fantastic word game starts off easy. You get a grid of letters and remove them by dragging out words. Your only foe in SpellTower is gravity, letters falling into empty space as completed words disappear.
But then come new modes, with ferocious timers and numbered letters that won’t vanish unless you craft long enough words. ‘Puzzle’ is first, adding a new row with each word made. Then Rush adds rows over time. The final option is Debate, enabling two players to battle it out over Bluetooth.
Splice: Tree of Life ($3.99/£2.99)
A regimented game set in a world of microbes, Splice is all about arranging said microbes to fit within predefined outlines. Restrictions abound, based on binary trees, forcing you to think ahead regarding where to drop your microbes and when to splice them. Grasp the basic mechanics and the game opens up, but it never relinquishes its devious edge, later introducing freeform microbes, and those that grow and vaporise.
Super Hexagon ($2.99/£2.29)
Ah, Super Hexagon. We remember that first game, which must have lasted all of three seconds. Much like the next — and the next. But then we recognised patterns in the walls that closed in on our tiny ship, and learned to react and dodge. Then you threw increasingly tough difficulty levels at us, and we’ve been smitten ever since.
That said, we suspect only if you’re superhuman will you ever get to see the hallowed final screen that appears when you survive 60 seconds in every Super Hexagon mode.
Super Monsters Ate My Condo (free)
The original Monsters Ate My Condo was like Jenga and a match-three game shoved into a blender with a massive dollop of crazy. Super Monsters Ate My Condo is a semi-sequel which takes a time-attack approach, shoe-horning the bizarre tower-building/floor-matching/monster-feeding into a tiny amount of time, breaking your brain in the process.
Essentially, you aim to manage like-coloured apartments in a single-column tower, flinging unwanted floors into the maws of flanking beasts. Lob gems their way and they’ll power-up in a suitably odd manner. Give them the wrong colour, and they’ll have a massive tantrum, potentially destroying all your hard work.
Super Stickman Golf 2 (free)
If you’ve often thought golf would be much better if it was played on Mars, or in a giant castle, or in dank caverns with glue-like surfaces, Super Stickman Golf 2 is the game for you.
Its side-on charms echo Angry Birds in its artillery core, in the sense careful aiming is the order of the day. But this is a far smarter and more polished game, with some excellent and imaginative level design. It also boasts two equally brilliant but very different multiplayer modes: one-on-one asynchronous play and frantic multiplayer racing.
Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP ($3.99/£2.99)
Apple’s mobile platform has become an unlikely home for traditional point-and-click adventures. Sword & Sworcery has long been a favourite, with its sense of mystery, palpable atmosphere, gorgeous pixel art and an evocative soundtrack.
Exploratory in nature, this is a true adventure in the real sense of the word, and it’s not to be missed. (To say anything more would spoil the many surprises within. Just trust us on this one, grab a copy, don some headphones, and immerse yourself in a gorgeous virtual world.)
The Room ($0.99/79p)
There’s something wonderfully old-school about The Room, in its Myst-like exploration and sense of mystery. But this is a truly touchscreen experience, with you investigating inexplicable boxes with seemingly infinite nooks and crannies, which unlock to present yet more secrets and routes to explore. An obscure narrative is woven throughout, along with plenty of scares. Devour it greedily, preferably at night, in a dark room, and then take on its more expansive sequel, The Room 2. And when you’re done with that, there’s The Room 3…
Threes! is all about matching numbered cards. 1s and 2s merge to make 3s, and then pairs of identical cards can subsequently be merged, doubling their face value. With each swipe, a new card enters the tiny grid, forcing you to carefully manage your growing collection and think many moves ahead. The ingenious mix of risk and reward makes it hugely frustrating when you’re a fraction from an elusive 1536 card, but so addictive you’ll immediately want another go.
Trainyard is another devious puzzler that at first seems a cinch. Initially, you merely drag tracks to lead trains between stations of the same colour. But then rocks enter the fray, along with colour-mixing and train-splitting. Before you know it, you’ve 14 stations, seven trains, hazards aplenty and an aching brain from figuring out how to get all the trains home safely.
If you manage to make it to the very end (and, believe us, the last few puzzles are insanely hard), you can then make your own levels, or download those crafted by other players.
Tiny Wings HD ($2.99/£2.29)
This sweet, endless title stars a bird who loves to fly but doesn’t have the wings for it. Instead, she uses gravity, sliding down hills and then propelling herself into the air from the top of adjacent slopes. Meanwhile, in another mode, her offspring are happily racing, bounding over lakes, eager to earn the biggest fish from their mother. Whichever route you take, Tiny Wings is a vibrant, warm and friendly experience.
Touchgrind Skate 2 ($4.99/£3.99)
You can almost see the development process behind this one: “Hey, fingers look a bit like legs, so if we put a skateboard underneath…” And so arrived one of the finest iOS sports titles, with you using your fingers to roam urban locations and perform gnarly stunts. Admittedly, this game is tricky to master, but it’s hugely rewarding when you do so, and video highlights can be shared with your friends. The game’s also a great example of touchscreen-oriented innovation — Touchgrind Skate just wouldn’t be the same with a traditional controller.
Walking Dead (free)
Ever since cop-in-a-coma Rick awoke to find himself in a post-apocalyptic world filled with the undead, Walking Dead has captured the imagination of comic-book readers and TV viewers alike. The interactive version follows a new set of characters, but the threats facing them are no less terrifying.
As with creator Telltale’s other titles, Walking Dead comes across like a mash-up of comic strip and adventure, with palpable moments of tension, and a game experience that changes depending on your actions. The first part of the story is free, and you can then buy new episodes; if you survive, season 2 is also available.
World of Goo HD ($4.99/£3.99)
It didn’t begin life on the iPad, but World of Goo certainly makes sense on it. A bewitching game of physics puzzles and bridge building, the title also has real heart at its core. The basics are disarmingly simple: use semi-sentient blobs to create structures that enable unused goo to access ‘goo heaven’ (by way of an industrial-looking pipe).
But through powerful and frequently surreal imagery, haunting audio and the odd moment of poignancy, you find yourself actually caring about little blobs of goo, rather than merely storming through the game’s many levels.
Year Walk ($3.99/£2.99)
At the heart of Year Walk is something dark and horrifying. This daring game is a first-person adventure of sorts, but it presents itself as a kind of living picture book. You begin in a sparse forest, snow crunching underfoot.
Gradually, a story is revealed that is unsettling, clever, distinctive and beautifully crafted — much like the game itself. You won’t rest until the story’s told, but getting to the end will mean facing many moments of horror in one of the iPad’s most unmissable and original creations.
Zen Pinball (free)
Pinball games tend to be divided into two camps. One aims for a kind of realism, aping real-world tables. The other takes a more arcade-oriented approach. Zen Pinball is somewhere in-between, marrying realistic physics with tables that come to life with animated 3D figures.
Loads of tables are available via IAP, including some excellent Star Wars and Marvel efforts. But for free you get access to the bright and breezy Sorcerer’s Lair, which, aside from some dodgy voice acting, is a hugely compelling and fast-paced table with plenty of missions and challenges to discover.