Best puzzle game for iPhone and iPad: Threes! Freeplay
In Threes! Freeplay, 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! Freeplay 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.
Friday the 13th: Killer Puzzle
You don’t usually associate sliding puzzles with lashings of gore, but then only slightly unhinged developers reason Soko-Ban should be smashed into Friday the 13th with a baseball bat.
Oddly, it all works brilliantly, with you sliding Jason about a tiled board to bludgeon his next victim, splattering your screen with cartoon gore. All the while, the levitating decapitated head of Jason’s mother offers sagely advice.
Naturally, it won’t be for everyone. But if you can stomach loads of South Park-style violence, the actual puzzles (of which you get 100 for free) are suitably brain-smashing in an entirely different manner.
Having already reimagined solitaire in Sage Solitaire, which combined the famous card game with poker, Zach Gage’s broken it entirely in FlipFlop Solitaire. Although what you get resembles Spider Solitaire, you can in this iOS game stack cards by counting upwards and downwards on a single stack.
This one change upends the game, and there’s an added twist in you only being able to move blocks of cards of a single suit. The result is a game where more deals (the vast majority, in fact) are possible to complete – but only when you tie yourself in knots first. Naturally, the entire thing’s therefore also designed as a time-attack speed runner.
Match and rhythm games
Best free match game for iPhone and iPad: Slydris 2
If you’ve played Tetris on a smartphone, chances are you’ve also dipped your entire head in mind bleach, in a desperate attempt to wipe away the memory. Fortunately, Slydris 2 deftly shows that block-dropping puzzlers can actually work on a touchscreen.
As ever, you use blocks to fashion lines that vanish, enabling more blocks to drop into the well. The difference is that everything’s turn-based. During each go, you can horizontally slide (hence the name) one block anywhere on the screen.
To stop a game-ending well breach, you need to create chains and use special pieces to obliterate blocks. And Slydris 2 is so good you’ll soon forget that other block game even exists. Probably.
If your eyes just glazed over on seeing yet another grid of coloured things to swap, hang on a bit. You see, Six Match does things a bit differently from other gem swappers on your iOS device. Rather than you directly flicking a pair of gems, aiming to match three or more in a row, you swipe to make Mr Swap-With-Coins roam about, switching coins in his wake.
The twist is the number on the cuboid protagonist’s head – it’s a countdown. You at any point have six moves in which to make a swap, which instantly transforms Six Match into a smarter match-three than its contemporaries. And that’s before it lobs bombs, diamonds, skulls, coin cages, and poker hands into the mix.
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.
Strategy and word games
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.
Look, Your Loot
It’s not so much ‘quiet as a mouse’ in this card-based dungeon crawler, seeing as the rodent hero seems keen on stabbing monsters to death. The action takes place on a grid, and you swipe to move the critter, taking care to ensure his lifeforce and shield values are high enough that he won’t become dinner.
Over time, you grab bling, spells, and keys, give bosses a good kicking, and acquire new powers. But death is only ever a few swipes away, and so you must traverse the claustrophobic dungeon with care, in what rapidly becomes a hugely compelling pocket-based mash-up of strategy, path-finding and RPG.
There’s a nod to old-school Metal Gear Solid outings in this retro-oriented stealth ’em up. You sneak through rooms peppered with cameras, guards with itchy trigger fingers, laser grids, and sometimes poisonous air. All you have on your side are your wits, an ability to clonk someone over the head, and the good fortune that your enemies are stupid to the point they can’t see anyone beyond their torch beams.
So you zig-zag along, inching your way to victory in the form of a waiting chopper. It’s nerve-wracking stuff, even if death is not the end – you’re just sent back to the most recent restart point. And the missions themselves are also never-ending for your dinky spy – there’s rather generously a new one every day.