There are many thousands of games for iOS, and a lot of them are available for absolutely nothing.
The tiny snag is figuring out which ones are any good, given that quite a few freebies are so awful they’d embarrass a type-in listing for a 1980s home computer. However, the standouts are some of the finest games available for mobile; and that’s what we’re interested in here at Stuff: the very best free iOS games.
To help you find what you’re after, we’ve grouped our games into sections, starting with racing games, ending with puzzlers and taking in pretty much everything you can imagine on the way.
And if you can’t find something you like from that vast selection, you must be picky, dead, or an ex-Amstrad CPC owner.
Best free racing game for iPhone and iPad: Asphalt 8: Airborne
There’s a point where arcade racers lose all connection with reality and they’re all the better for it. Asphalt isn’t bothered by trivial concerns such as an actual car’s inability to fly hundreds of metres through the air, or drift seemingly endlessly around gloriously sweeping bends; instead, it’s all about the need for speed, zooming around beautifully rendered and inventive courses, occasionally smashing your rivals into a wall, just because you can.
It’s a touch shoppy and grindy, but there’s hours of exhilarating racing here without spending a penny.
If virtual D-pads and tilt controls make you fume in iOS racers, Pico Rally’s a better bet. It hones down the racing experience to a single button, used to step on the gas.
The experience feels a bit like slot-racing, with you carefully timing when to accelerate and brake to most efficiently overtake, scream round bends, and improve lap times. But since cars have the freedom of the entire track, races are more frenetic than any Scalextric set. This is even more so when scrapping with cops on skiddy backstreets, or blazing about maze-like road systems in Asia, trying to catch rivals rather unsportingly given a sizeable head-start.
Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing Transformed
Seemingly bored of scooting about in traditional karts, Sonic and chums are now equipped with transforming vehicles that soar into the air and scythe through water. In Transformed, you’re therefore as likely to barrel roll towards After Burner aircraft carriers and splash about in murky Panzer Dragoon waterways as zoom along colourful roads.
The vibrant visuals are to be expected from Sega, but we’re happy the company nailed touchscreen controls. Rarely has a racer felt so right on iOS, enabling you to drive, dive and drift with ease, before unsportingly flinging weapons at the opposition. The whiff of freemium sadly pervades, along with irritatingly linear events unlocks for the ’World Tour’ mode. Even so, there’s no better kart racer on the platform.
Presumably, caRRage depicts what all the nutcases in the Mad Max flicks do on their days off. In a ravaged wasteland, battered armoured vehicles zoom about post-apocalyptic circuits, aiming to smash up the opposition in a manner that would even give the dirtiest F1 drivers pause for thought.
Now and again, the game changes tack for a bit, sending you on a supply run where you drive a huge lorry to its destination, desperately fending off hordes of hostile vehicles intent on taking your cargo for themselves. Sadly, you can’t then use the lorry in the next race — that’d probably be a bit unsporting, even in this future (racing-obsessed) hell.
Best free sports game for iPhone and iPad: Super Stickman Golf 3
Super Stickman Golf 3’s ancestor is the same Apple II Artillery game Angry Birds has at its core, but Noodlecake’s title is a lot more fun than catapulting birds around.
It’s a larger-than-life side-on mini-golf extravaganza, with you thwacking balls about giant forests, space stations distinctly lacking in gravity, and strange fortresses with a suspiciously high deadly laser count.
The single-player game’s fun, but SSMG 3 comes into its own in multiplayer, whether you’re taking the more sedate turn-by-turn route or ball-smacking at speed in the frenetic race mode. Note that the free version has some restrictions (limited courses; fewer simultaneous turn-based games), but there’s still plenty of genuinely crazy golf here to take a swing at.
WGT: World Golf Tour
With EA having deserted ‘proper’ golf games on mobile for the arcadey nonsense of King of the Course, WGT thwacks a ball and gets a realism hole-in-one. This really is a quite astonishing game, from the delicate controls through to the eye-popping photo-realistic courses you play on.
A word of warning: it also takes no prisoners. There’s no nonchalantly spinning a ball in mid-air when you fluff a shot. Here, you’ll end up in the bunker, then overshoot the green, before multiple putts leave you embarrassingly over par. But put in the practice and you’ll be a virtual golfing superstar before long.
Magnetic Billiards: Blueprint
"Show-Off Billiards" would be an appropriate alternative name for this game that forces you to unlearn and relearn how to smack balls around a pool table.
Here, there are no pockets — instead, you play the craziest possible trick-shots (bounce off table edges; ‘buzz’ nearby balls) to score big points. As like-coloured balls stick together, you can create shapes for bigger bonuses.
You get a bunch of tables for free, and more are available via IAP.
New Star Soccer
If you've ever fancied yourself as the next Wayne Rooney, you can work your way through the footie leagues in New Star Soccer.
The simplified abstraction of life (keep everyone happy via success in minigames; buy all of the things) and matches (score goals; intercept passes; grumble as your teammates lack barn-door hitting abilities once again) are perfect for mobile play.
Best free platform game for iPhone and iPad: Cally’s Caves 3
You’ll probably be a few levels into Cally’s Caves 3 before you wonder what the catch is. This leapy shooty platform game feels like an impossibly solid, complete title for no money at all. But there is no catch: developer Jordan Pearson really is giving you an entire 120-level old-school platformer entirely for free.
It follows the adventures of Cally, whose parents have gotten themselves kidnapped - again. (This is the third entry in the series, after all.) She must go after them, bounding about and shooting things along the way.
Cally’s Caves 3 has smart level design, a checkpoint system that forces you to be a bit careful rather than blundering about, a superb weapon upgrade system (they get more powerful the more things you shoot with them) and tons of charm.
IAPs exist, but merely to simultaneously reward the dev and get yourself additional game modes.
Before all games had to be 3D by law, the 2D adventure-platformer reigned supreme. On touchscreens, these games are usually a bit rubbish, due to iffy design and even worse controls, but Swordigo bucks the trend.
You get a huge magical realm of monsters to fight, treasures to find, and towns to explore. Any whiff of nostalgia is rapidly expunged as you become engrossed in the plot, give giant spiders a serious kicking, and do your best Harry Potter impersonation with the aid of enemy-troubling spells.
A new challenge beckons daily in this one-thumb platformer likely to have you embed devices in a wall through sheer frustration. Your little blob pootles about, and you tap to make it jump, threading your way through spikes and nasties to reach the top of each tall, narrow level.
It visually echoes 1980s classics such as Bubble Bobble but has the brutal heart of Super Hexagon. On each death, you’ll swear at your thumbs (or just swear), fume a bit, and then inevitably plump for ‘one more go’.
Super Dangerous Dungeons
Another game echoing old-school platforming, Super Dangerous Dungeons is rather more claustrophobic than the other games in our selection. Each dungeon is a mere few screens in size, but peppered with dangerous traps intent on impaling or drowning the intrepid Timmy.
Across 48 stages, you leap about, grab keys, and head for the exit. Which sounds simple until you’ve died 27 times in a row, despite being convinced you’d totally nailed the choreography required to get past a particularly tricky bit.
Best free endless runner for iPhone and iPad: Disney Crossy Road
Endless Frogger meets Disney in a rare example of an indie dev/movie house tie-up that works perfectly.
The mechanics will be familiar to anyone who’s played the excellent original — tap and swipe to have a blocky protagonist weave through traffic and deftly jump across rivers. But the addition of Disney characters finds you battling your way through retro versions of famous animated worlds, dodging tumbling blocks in Toy Story, filing memories for bonuses in Inside Out, and avoiding a psychotic suit of armour in Haunted House.
We at Stuff HQ aren’t privy to insider knowledge regarding how zoos are populated and maintained, but we’re pretty sure Rodeo Stampede plays fast and loose with reality. Here, you saddle up, leap into the air and lasso a rampaging beast (the alternative being an embarrassing face-plant in the dirt). Ride said critter for long enough and it’ll decide it loves you want wants to be a part of your zoo — your zoo in the sky.
Rodeo Stampede then finds you switching back and forth between endless runner thrills to capture new animals (super-fast twitchy ostriches; bulldozer-like elephants) and micro-managing a flying zoo sure to give animal rights people a field day in the press.
Most endless runners are more concerned with your character leaping about like a deranged bunny. Not here, where the heroes punch their way to victory.
Jab! Uppercut! Slam! Pummel! Eight fingers and two thumbs are apparently all you need to defeat evil — at least until you discover power-ups and find a tame laser-spewing dinosaur to ride!
Oddly cathartic, surprisingly atmospheric, and very compelling, Smash Hit is an abstract and semi-ambient smash ’em up. You float through the void, lobbing metal balls at crystals, which rewards you with yet more balls; all the while, you must judge which glass forms are about to collide with you and smash them to pieces.
Each new level brings surprises, from power-ups through to lurching camera angles and intriguing new obstacles.
Best free strategy game for iPhone and iPad: Clash Royale
This mash-up of RTS and card collecting has you battle opponents online in single-screen arenas. Individual, varied units are plonked on the battlefield from your deck, each costing elixir that refills as you fight. Wins come by clocking an opponent’s strategy, and countering with cunning combos.
Clash Royale’s freemium, so obviously designed to mug your wallet, but canny players can progress for free; and it’s hugely compelling, so although your bank balance might be safe, your free time won’t be.
Triple Town tasks you with building a city on a tiny grid-based board, using a match-and-combine dynamic that has a curious grasp of evolution. Three bushes make a tree! Three tombstones make a church! All the while, bears roam about, making a nuisance of themselves and blocking spaces.
Your free moves slowly replenish (you can buy unlimited turns for £2.49/US$3.99), but that won’t bother you as you stare at the screen, trying to think a dozen moves ahead.
A young Prince is sent to Bogsmarts to learn about magic. While he’s gone, unruly relatives carve up his kingdom.
That just won’t do. A total of 58 castles are therefore ripe for the taking as the Prince and his army set about hacking, smashing and magicking their way to victory in this charming and generous real-time strategy title.
This sweet exploration game in part resembles certain other mobile classics, not least Mines Of Mars, Ridiculous Fishing and Mr Driller. At its heart though, Deep Loot is a Roguelike. Your little diver scoots about, unearthing wrecks and treasure in a procedurally generated watery environment, taking his turn to move before various fishy critters follow suit.
Loads of surprises and Easter Eggs hide in the depths, and there’s a real sense of progression and wonder as you gradually add to collections back on the surface. It is grindy at first, and dives are short; but either persevere or spend £0.69 on a few items in the Upgrade Shack, and you’ll salvage one of the best mobile games around.
Best word game for iPhone and iPad: Letterpress
There are mash-ups and then there’s Letterpress, the mash-up to beat them all, concocting an absurdly addictive stew from Boggle and Risk.
The idea’s easy: find words on a five-by-five grid. But the cunning bit is any tiles surrounded by ones you’ve claimed are protected from your opponent during their next go. Letterpress therefore becomes a tug o’ war land-grab, more about strategic thinking than pure wordplay. For free, you can play two games simultaneously; £1.49/US$1.99 unlocks unlimited games.
More or less welding Scrabble to Rogue, QatQi has you explore dungeons by building crosswords. As you roam, barriers and coins are discovered; and on completing a challenge, you’re presented with interactive statistics comparing your score to other players from your town or country, or worldwide.
There’s a currency of sorts in undos, but these can be replenished with patience or by watching some ads if you don’t want to fork out any real-world cash.
Coolson's Pocket Pack
Speed’s the name of the game in this simple but furiously addictive word game. Letters drop into a well, and those on the lowest row can be dragged to empty slots in a box below.
The magic lies in the multiplier, which rewards you if you don’t flick letters out from the well’s bottom row to get at the ones above, or move letters from the box back to the well. As Coolson’s speeds up, it becomes a tense test of nerves, and also an indication of precisely how many short words you totally forget when under pressure.
This word puzzler from the Triple Town developers has you tapping out words on a grid.
On using adjacent letters, bears fill the space, and other letters on the screen begin a countdown. If letters hit zero, they turn to stone, potentially stopping subsequent bear expansion. And, if we’ve learned anything in life, it’s that bear expansion leads to lots of points.
Alphabear has a chunk of freemium at its heart — it can get a bit grindy and needy. But, surrounding this, is a joyful word game that rewards repeated play, especially if you’re for some reason really into bear-related power-ups.
Best arcade game for iPhone and iPad: Forget-Me-Not
Forget-Me-Not is a pick-and-mix of classic arcade gaming. You control a little square with eyes who spews lasers and munches flowers.
As he ambles about each randomly generated dungeon, other critters go about their business, which usually means furiously trying to kill anything nearby. Before long, open warfare breaks out and huge chunks of the maze are obliterated as you frantically seek out the key to the exit.
Equal parts Pac-Man, Rogue, Wizard of Wor and Gauntlet, and with dashes of other arcade titles, Forget-Me-Not is easily the equal of every one of its inspirations, and one of the finest arcade titles we’ve ever played.
Mobile games are so often solo pursuits; even those claiming to be ‘social’ usually require battling someone you’ve only ever ‘met’ on Facebook or Game Center. Spaceteam is different - two to four players join on a local network, faced with a control panel of dials, buttons and sliders.
Between you, everyone must coordinate to rapidly deal with silly time-sensitive instructions (“Set Shiftsanitizer to 1!”), lest the spaceship explode. It’s a hugely entertaining experience and also works across platforms, meaning your Android-device-owning chums needn’t sit out and wear a glum expression.
There’s some IAP, but only for entirely optional challenges and aesthetic enhancements, and those are primarily designed to support the indie who made the game in the first place. We’d say they’re well worth investigating, too.
There’s not much ‘zen’ in this highly animated, exciting pinball, which adds to classic metal-ball-spanging with dynamic table elements.
Free table Sorcerer’s Lair gives you plenty to do as two siblings face off against an evil sorcerer. They must battle all manner of creepy crawlies, aided only by the power of friendly ghost Whisper, a smattering of mini-games, some dubious voice acting, and plenty of ramps, targets and multiball modes.
Frisbee Forever 2
There’s an almost Nintendo-style charm to this game that’s ostensibly about flinging a plastic disc through the air.
The mechanics are simple: move left and right to keep your disc on the right path, in order to collect stars that keep you aloft. But it’s the beautifully rendered and realised environments - pirate ships anchored at desert islands; looming snowy cliffs; lost ruins - that keep you playing.
Best shooting game for iPhone and iPad: Darkside
This twin-stick shooter updates Asteroids and wraps it around planetoids. The visuals are a treat, from the organic, spinning space rocks to the pyrotechnics on display as your powered-up ship seeks to obliterate everything around it.
The free version of the game gives you the arcade mode, but for £1.49/US$1.99 you unlock missions, survival mode and smart bombs.
If you thought vertical shooters would be easier if you could stop for a bit at any point, Time Locker proves otherwise. In this strange, blocky, abstract universe of roaming dinosaurs and angry giant bears, time freezes when you stop moving, allowing you to consider your next move.
This is less helpful than you might think, given that your next move often involves being blown to pieces by a gigantic looming boss, or hurled into oblivion by a relentless world-devouring darkness (which unsportingly continues its pursuit even when the clock is otherwise stopped).
Still, as you gradually grasp the mechanics, you learn how to target foes that bestow weapons and credits for bling boosts at the start of your next go; all the while, you’ll coo at how clever and different the game is, and perhaps note the developer’s generosity in giving it away for free.
Sky Force 2014
Sky Force titles have been providing old-school shoot ’em up larks on the iPhone since 2009, but this latest release takes things to a whole new level.
It’s gorgeous, with beautifully rendered environments and waves of ships zooming about the place. More importantly, the addictive gameplay that’s the hallmark of the series remains intact, giving you a dazzling blaster with plenty of character for no coins at all.
The sole drawback is that it can get a bit grindy, although you can always spend some IAP on a star doubler to help you upgrade your craft more rapidly.
HungryMaster features Delica and her cat, Saten, ‘scrubbing’ enemies to turn them into food that’s then fed to oddly ravenous houses. It looks like a NES classic, but plays like a thoroughly modern (if relentlessly frenetic) touchscreen title.
There’s an amusingly knowing sense of humour at the heart of HungryMaster, too, notably during cut-scenes that ape curiously scripted Japanese titles. “Does Saten like drink?” “Alcohol is the best!” (To be fair, we can’t argue.)
Best puzzle game for iPhone and iPad: Threes!
In Threes!, you move cards around a four-by-four board, merging pairs, which then double in value. The snag? Every time you slide your finger, all cards on the board move in that direction, assuming they’re not blocked. The other snag: after every move, a new card shows up in a random empty spot on the board edge you dragged from.
Threes! therefore becomes a delicate balancing act: you have to think several moves ahead, because your game’s done when no more moves are available.
Cloned like crazy shortly after release, Threes! nonetheless shone compared to the countless cheap rip-offs, through its breezy personality and tighter rules.
This free version is identical to the paid release, bar having to watch video ads to get extra goes. And, yes, you can queue up a load if you’re going to be offline for a while.
We love the mechanics behind Drop7, which involves dropping coloured discs into a well. If a disc’s number matches the number of touching discs in its row or column, it explodes. Cue: lots of brainpower usage, trying to figure out how to make combos.
Zynga’s 2015 update was divisive, however, and the ads might irk if you’re on an iPad. (Scrap them and Drop7 would zoom up our list; but then it also wouldn’t be free. You can pay to annihilate them if you get hooked though.)
This effort from the developer behind the excellent SpellTower rethinks solitaire for portrait mobile devices. Out goes tedious filing by suit. In comes a fast-paced match effort heavily influenced by poker.
Extra depth is found in varying heights of card piles, a rule stating you must use cards from at least two rows in every hand, a multiplier suit for double points, and two trashes that replenish after successful turns.
For free, you get the entire standard game. The single IAP unlocks further modes, stats tracking, wallpapers and card backs.
Technically speaking, Trainyard Express is a demo for Trainyard, a game that comes with a (not exactly hefty) £1.99/US$2.99 price-tag. In both games, the aim is to draw tracks to lead trains to stations of the same colour.
At first, this is dead easy, but soon you’re juggling multiple stations, rocks, colour-switching and train-merging, all on a tiny playfield. Our advice: devour this freebie and then immerse yourself in its commercial sibling.
Best Match game for iPhone and iPad: Gridland
Gridland appears to be a typical match-three effort, but it’s really something else entirely. True, you do have a grid, swap items and make matches, but as Gridland switches from day to night, it transforms from strategic asset manager to turn-based seat-of-the-pants survival.
As you play, you must learn how everything works (there are no instructions), which is part of the appeal. It’s also a web game (the only one in our list), so save it to your home screen using Safari’s Share button before you start playing.
PopCap’s gem-swapper is one of the most famous games around, and it feels perfectly at home on the touchscreen. Along with the standard mode, you get several unique variations on the theme: in Butterflies, you must carefully consider every move, to ensure your winged creatures aren’t eaten by a deadly spider; and in Diamond Mine, you battle against the clock to dig ever deeper into the ground, blasting away at the rock with explosive special gems.
Super Monsters Ate My Condo!
Part Jenga, part match-game, and all bonkers, Super Monsters Ate My Condo! gives you two minutes to feed giant monsters apartment floors, while combining sets of three condos into gems, cats, clocks and piggy banks.
Fling gems into a monster’s maw to fire-up its special power, then collapse in a heap as your condo finally crumbles to dust while the fat lady sings on the spinning Monster Wheel. Like we said: bonkers.
A unique take on match games, Halcyon also borrows heavily from sound toys. You match colour currents, guiding pairs by drawing paths between strings. As you do so, the strings play and colliding currents chime, resulting in a beautiful accompanying generative soundtrack.
Make no mistake, though: this is no noodly puzzler, and some of the later levels are ferocious.