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.
It turns out being king of the bunnies isn’t all about relaxing on a hay throne while being fed endless carrots. At least not when your subjects are taken, caged, and dumped on grid-like islands housing a suspicious number of spikes, boxes ominously marked with skulls, and whizzing saw blades. Your goal: save them all!
We’re in traditional path-finding puzzle territory here, with the hopping hero having to figure out the way to his goal, preferably without getting hacked into so much cat food along the way.
It’s a mite derivative, and there’s a whiff of aggressive monetisation about the level editor. But otherwise, King Rabbit contains hours of leapy lawks.
Somewhere between a zen solar system toy and exploratory puzzler, Orbit has you experiment with gravity, pinging planets about to have them orbit black holes. It’s a gorgeous title – a piano soundtrack serenading your ears as your little planets scoot about, leaving coloured trails on the light grey canvas.
Most importantly, Orbit is about play. Although each level has a solution of sorts, there’s plenty of fun to be had just mucking about, creating new planets, figuring out how to make them cluster, and watching everything move. The ads are a bit irksome and atmosphere-destroying, but you can be rid of them for just 79p. Stump up £2.29 and you add a sandbox, for creating your own little universes beyond the 45 that come with the game.
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.
With its minimal graphics and trundling shapes, Outfolded has the ingredients for a modern endless runner, but is instead a smart, minimal puzzler.
The aim in each level is to reach a goal by creating a pathway through unfolding shapes. Initially, you only get basic cubes and cuboids, but before long must figure out how to cross ravines and reach distant targets using shapes that would give Tetris veterans nightmares.
There’s no pressure, though; the lack of a timer and the unlimited undo instead create a serene experience ideal for whiling away an hour, or to calm down after another dozen failed attempts at Super Hexagon have left you wanting to hurl your iPhone into the sun.
Match and rhythm games
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.
Little Alchemy 2
This logic puzzler starts you off with a few items, the aim being to combine them into new things. Imagine a lazy universe-building god with an iPad and you’re there.
Sometimes, the combinations are obvious – a couple of ponds becomes a lake. But many are humorous (meat from a livestock and a sword – ouch), or require lateral thinking (merging a car and bird to make a plane).
In droughts between discoveries, there’s the temptation to tediously ‘drop all the things on all the other things’, but it’s always a blast when you find something new.
Tappy Cat - Musical Kitty Arcade
Imagine Guitar Hero with rock gods swapped for musical kitties, and axes for rubber bands. That’s Tappy Cat. Here, you earn fish and kudos by tapping musical bubbles in time, in order to fashion a plinky plonky take on a classical tune.
Bi-directional play ensures Tappy Cat feels fresher than the fish lobbed at your feline musician, and it’s all very manageable on iPhone. What cements its place in our list, though, are lovely touches peppered throughout, such as the cat readying itself before a performance with a deep breath, and donning shades when doing particularly well.
Best free strategy game for iPhone and iPad: The Battle of Polytopia
Civilization’s a great game, but there are two tiny snags on mobile: first, Civ games take forever, which isn’t good when playing on an iPhone; secondly, mobile Civs are rubbish. Enter: The Battle of Polytopia, which takes the basics of classic Civ, but speeds things along nicely.
In this distilled, compelling and surprisingly tense take on becoming a world-conquering despot, there’s a real sense of focus: you’re by default up against a moves limit, and the maps are tightly packed. Yet it’s not reductive: you still get tech trees, cities to found and expand, and a range of enemies to administer a jolly good thrashing to.
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.