It’s strange to think that Apple’s pricey mobile hardware led to an extremely diverse ecosystem of hugely affordable games. But whereas handheld consoles have historically been lumbered with expensive cartridges, Apple pioneered a digital-only approach and embraced all-comers — indies and majors alike — leading to a staggering number of titles being created for the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad.
With such a selection on offer, the fight for gamers’ eyes and thumbs now often involves minimising barriers to entry, and so thousands of free iOS games exist. Many of them would embarrass a type-in listing for a ZX81, but the standouts are among the best titles mobile gaming has to offer.
Our top 30 encompasses a wide range of titles, from frantic arcade fare through to thoughtful multiplayer turn-based strategy. Although most of our choices include some kind of in-app currency system, none require payment in order to get some enjoyment from them; that said, if you love one of the games to death and want to reward the developer accordingly, they’ll always be grateful for a few bucks sent their way.
READ MORE: 25 fantastic free Android games
30. Cool Pizza (iPhone/iPad)
This skateboarding game’s a bit of a departure from the Tony Hawk template. The skateboard is haunted and propelled into the depths of the underworld, where a pizza-delivering girl must use boost mats to launch into the air, ready to smack fighting devils with her board. Imagine Space Harrier fused with neon and dipped in plenty of hallucinogens and you’re there.
29. Breakfinity (iPhone/iPad)
Bat-and-ball games have a long intertwined history with Apple hardware, Breakout driving many of Woz’s decisions regarding the Apple II. We doubt Breakout impacted the iPad or iPhone so much, but it nonetheless seems appropriate to include Breakfinity in this list. It’s essentially an update of 1980s classic Arkanoid, but instead of smashing walls of bricks to smithereens, the walls relentlessly close in. Get the ball through a gap and you can take on the next formation. Despite some twitchy controls, this is a playable and surprisingly tense take on an old favourite.
More after the break...
28. Smash Bandits (iPhone/iPad)
If you’re regularly stuck on motorways, wishing you could let rip and get all smashy, try this game. You tear about the place like a maniac, ramming the fuzz and obliterating anything smaller than a building. All the while, you’re racking up TV viewing figures that result in cash for upgrades. When you crash, it’s possible to steal a police car or SWAT van so you can cause even more mayhem.
27. ON/OFF (iPhone/iPad)
Sort of a sliding puzzle crossed with a Rubik’s Cube, ON/OFF is all about connecting coloured switches with tiles you drag around. Almost immediately, this is a game that’ll cause steam to fly out of your ears as you battle devious level design. You get the first set for nothing, and several harder packs are available for £0.99/US$0.99 each or £1.49/US$1.99 for the lot.
26. Lost Treasures Of Infocom (iPhone/iPad)
Once upon a time, quite a few games were like books, only you typed in what you wanted to do next. Go north! Put dangly bit in tea substitute! Tell husband, “Kiss my kneecaps”! And so on. Zork was one of the earliest masterpieces of interactive fiction, and it’s entirely free in this collection (which enables you to buy other Infocom classics). Just don’t get eaten by a grue.