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.