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.
The 38 you'll read about here encompass a wide range of genres, 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.
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38. 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.
37. 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.
More after the break...
36. 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.
35. Tiny Striker (iPhone/iPad)
This fast-paced flick-based arcade effort tasks you with scoring endless free kicks. You drag out net-busters and breathtaking curls using a speedy swiping finger, all the while fighting against the relentlessly ticking clock.
Initially, you’re presented with an open goal, but soon defenders get in your way and a goalie starts milling about. There’s little depth here, but Tiny Striker’s a perfect condensed footie game for when you don’t have the time for the likes of FIFA.
34. Word Forward (iPhone/iPad)
With many word games aiming for minimal rules from a random selection of letters, Word Forward instead tries the opposite. Each level provides a specific selection of letters and challenges you to remove the lot by dragging out words, SpellTower-style. Power-ups can help you along, but it’s careful planning that pays dividends here, even if you’re often tempted to lob a bomb on to the board, to remove an awkward ‘Qu’.