So you've got an iPad, but have come to the dawning realisation that you've got no cash left to buy any games for it.
Have no fear, because the App Store offers plenty of iPad gaming goodness for the (unintentional or otherwise) skinflint.
Our updated pick of the best free iPad games are listed right here.
Alphabear 2 has you tap out words on Scrabble-like tiles set into a grid-like board featuring bears. As tiles are used, bears grow to fill the gaps, often becoming comically tall or thin. Simultaneously, tiles have turn countdowns on them; those that reach zero become immovable stones, scuppering any gigant-o-bear schemes you had in mind.
This is very similar to the original Alphabear, only this time there’s smarter visuals, a story involving a time machine (everything’s gone wrong, but you can apparently fix history by spelling words), and a smattering of educational content through a built-in dictionary and modes based around morphemes.
An underlying meta-game with collectable bonus bears remains baffling and endearing in equal measure, but otherwise this one’s a furry good word game that’s definitely worth bear-ing in mind.
Watch the video below for our 48hr review of the new iPad (2018)
Golfing Around is a golf game with a rather old-fashioned approach. Instead of photo-realistic courses where you could feasibly knock a virtual caterpillar out of a virtual tree with your virtual three-iron, this one’s all vibrant, cartoonish fare, played from above.
The controls are simple: you rotate your golfer, and use a power meter to smack the ball. If it heads to the red, you get extra boost, but your aim starts swinging wildly about, risking your shot’s accuracy. There’s also a full-course map, which isn’t so much a nicety as a necessity for aiming, and for choosing the right club.
This all sets Golfing Around up for a solid par, but a built-in course builder snags it an eagle. It’s great fun to make your own courses to share, although do remember Pebble Beach never used its greens to spell out naughty words.
Fortnite parachutes 100 players on to an island, with the simple task of being the last person standing. Okay, so it’s not that simple, given that everyone wants to kill you.
The road to survival initially involves realizing that your pickaxe isn’t going to cut it, and therefore locating weapons with which to dish out wanton violence. Over time, the area in which players can survive shrinks, at which point you might consider building a defensive fortress.
The mix of building, scavenging, exploration and action mixes perfectly to create unique scenarios within every game, and the game is kept fresh with regular content updates.
Fortnite’s origins on platforms with physical gamepads are somewhat betrayed by complex virtual controls, however this is a much more minor issue on iPad given that there’s more than enough space for your fingers not to cover the action.
Soosiz is a fun platforming adventure which features a blobby protagonist, who in traditional platformer fashion runs left and right, leaps into the air, grabs gold coins, and jumps on enemies to dispatch them.
The twist? The world of Soosiz is based around tiny circular islands hanging in space, each of which has its own gravitational pull, adding an exciting new twist to a tried and tested format.
As you sprint from left to right, the screen spins and whirls, disorienting you as you figure out a route to the exit – and how not to leap from a floating island into oblivion. After a recent refresh, the game represents a great spin on an age-old concept.
A Way To Slay – Bloody Fight is a series of epic sword fights reimagined as turn-based strategy. You start each bout surrounded by weapon-wielding foes eager to take your head off. Double-tap one and you almost instantly appear before them, for a swift bit of ultra-violence. But then enemies get their turn. End up too near one of them and it’s curtains for you.
Assuming you can deal with liberal amounts of videogame blood being sprayed about, A Way To Slay is an excellent puzzler. Parked halfway between action and strategy, it feels fresh; and it’s enhanced further by the clever way you can adjust the zoom and panning of what you see before you, as if directing a very stabby movie.
Sneak Ops gives you a whiff of a Metal Gear Solid stealth experience on iPad, distilled down to the basics. You tap to sneak about, avoiding traps, and occasionally knocking out guards. The chunky graphics look fab on the iPad, and the largish screen means you can make more accurate prods.
This is just as well, given that death comes swiftly if you’re caught in a torch beam, or linger too long in a room with unbreathable air. Die and you’re whisked back to the start – or any restart point you’ve bought using floppy disks collected along the way.
This is a great, tense, exciting game, as you battle to the escape chopper. And there’s a new mission every day, so you can keep your virtual sneaking skills in tip-top condition.
It’s Full of Sparks is a platform game in a world where firecrackers are cruelly aware they’re about to explode – and are desperate to find water to extinguish their sparks.
Each side-on level is an urgent sprint to the finish line. The first is literally just that, but – inevitably – you’re soon dealing with platforms and hazards, many being triggered by a trio of colored buttons that enter the equation.
This thumb choreography adds another level to It’s Full of Sparks. It’s not enough just to be fast and know your way to the exit – you’re also frantically tapping buttons on and off, all too aware that your firework is about to go out in a blaze of glory.
It’s frustrating when that happen moments before watery bliss, but short, smartly designed levels keep you running, jumping and splashing, even when you’re occasionally gnashing.
Data Wing is a speedy but elegant neon-clad top-down racer. It’s also an intriguing narrative based around an irrational artificial intelligence’s attempts to escape its lot.
The racing bit is superb as you pilot your tiny craft, scraping track edges for boosts of speed during time trials. New challenges are slowly unlocked, such as races, and levels that flip everything on it side, pitting you against gravity and forcing you to use boost pads to reach a high-up exit.
A simple two-thumb control system ensures the game works brilliantly on every size of iPad, and as game and story alike unfold there are plenty of surprises in store. But perhaps the biggest is that a production this polished is entirely free. Get it!
Asphalt 9: Legends is a brash arcade racer with such a scant regard for physics and reality it almost makes its bonkers predecessor look like a simulation.
You blaze along hyper-real road circuits, having pimped-up sports cars do things no manufacturer’s warranty had ever considered. 360-degree turns off of massive ramps to pinwheel through the air! Nitro-boosting through skyscraper windows! Playing chicken with massive trains! We’re not in conventional racing territory here…
Like all Asphalt games, this one scrapes a key along its pristine bodywork in the form of IAP and grind; also, some players may be irked by a default control scheme that has you swipe and tap to time actions rather than actually steer. But despite its shortcomings, Asphalt 9: Legends remains a glorious and compelling oddball arcade racer.
Super Cat Tales looks like it’s beamed in from the 1980s. It’s all chunky pixels and bright colors as you bound about side-scrolling levels, grabbing coins and making for the exit.
Even the best-intentioned platform games often prove unwieldy on iPad due to the device’s size and whatever virtual controls you’re afforded. Not here. Your cat scoots about solely by you holding and tapping the left- and right-hand screen edges.
This is baffling at first, and you might pine for a more traditional setup, but once the system clicks, your moggie will be dashing, sliding and performing wall jumps like a feline ninja.
Combined with superb level design (featuring loads of secrets, plenty of variation and the odd dandelion field to scamper through), Super Cat Tales proves to be one of the best games of its kind on iPad.
Look, Your Loot! is a free-roaming RPG reworked as a sliding puzzler. It’s an odd combination, but it works brilliantly, mixing Threes!-style tile-shifting, scraps with monsters, and accumulating bling and skills.
You play as a mouse in a dungeon, surrounded by murdery foes. Flick and you move to an adjacent tile. The tiles behind follow, and something new appears at the other end of the grid. Attack an enemy and you win if your energy level’s high enough. Otherwise: bye bye, mouse.
The game feels more premium than freebie, and as you get better at planning your routes, you’ll survive to see dangers that force new approaches. One boss, Jack (as in O’ Lantern), unhelpfully turns nearby tiles into death-dealing pumpkins. In short, then, top stuff for RPG fans of all stripes.
Kind of Soccer is more a combination of relief and revenge than a digital take on actual soccer. There’s still a pitch and a ball to kick about, but no goals. Instead, you get points by booting the ball slingshot-style at the referee’s head.
That’s not especially sportsmanlike, but it is amusing, not least when you get power-ups like bombs and lasers to take on the hapless official. Fortunately for him (and giving the game extra challenge), your team’s not alone on the field.
Defenders will try to take the ball from you, and the ref lurks behind them when possible. Also, ping the ball out of bounds and you lose a point. Success therefore hinges on keeping calm and a careful aim – in other words, don’t lose your head before the ref loses his.
Cubor is a puzzler that features trundling cubes. The aim is to get each cube to its corresponding target. Sometimes, cubes have only one colored side, which must be placed face-down over its intended home.
That probably doesn’t have you already stabbing an install button, but Cubor’s a game that quietly takes hold, gradually sucking you in as you become engrossed in its simple, smartly designed puzzles.
It’s got something for everyone, too. Casual players can tinker with levels until they’re complete – and that might be reward enough. But for more hardcore puzzle fans, each level offers bonus stars for meeting move limits – many of which are extremely tough to crack, not least when you’re juggling five cubes on a decidedly claustrophobic level layout.
Shadowgun Legends gives you a big, dumb, brash first-person shooter for your iPad. It looks superb, whether you’re mooching about the neon-bathed central hub world, or merrily blasting hordes of evil aliens.
From a gameplay perspective, it’s no Call of Duty or Doom, but that’s fine for touchscreen play. After all, when you don’t have a gamepad in your hands, you’ll be glad you only need two thumbs to control movement and gaze, your guns discharging automatically when a foe’s in your sights.
But just because Shadowgun Legends is streamlined for mobile, don’t mistake it for being simple. There’s tons to do, a slew of power-ups to get you kitted out for tougher later missions, and an entertaining emphasis on ‘fame’ over character and story that if nothing else seems like savvy commentary on a great deal of modern media.
MMX Hill Dash 2 is a one-on-one monster truck racer, with tracks akin to roller coasters, full of unlikely peaks and crazy dips. Helpfully, then, the physics is so bouncy vehicles often feel like they’ll bound off of the screen, never to be seen again.
At first, this makes for an off-putting experience. It can feel like you’re fighting the physics with the two-button control system that deals both with braking and also rotation when a vehicle’s airborne. But grab vehicle upgrades and properly plan how to tackle a track, and you start making progress.
The game then becomes strangely absorbing – almost puzzle-like as you gradually figure out the choreography and upgrades required to crack a track. It is, however, best for players with a slightly masochistic streak, since you’re often hitting the same track time and again, until you get the kit and brainwave to defeat it.
Ava Airborne is a one-thumb endless survival game. It features the titular protagonist hurling herself through a suspiciously hazardous sky, putting off for as long as possible the inevitable moment when she plummets back to Earth and face-plants into the dirt.
Holding the screen raises your altitude, and your aim is to burst balloons, zoom through hoops, and bounce off of trampolines – and definitely not to hit massive bombs or get horribly electrocuted by weird floating boxes.
Ava Airborne feels effortless, although you can see the care that went into it. This is especially apparent when you acquire and experiment with alternate transport, such as a giant yo-yo and a jet-fueled trombone. The beautifully rendered visuals also make it ideally suited to the iPad’s large display.
Runventure is a streamlined platform game that finds your little hero darting through trap-laden jungles, temples and castles. However, rather than use a traditional D-pad or have you auto-run and tap to jump, Runventure tries something new.
At the foot of the screen is the run-jumping bar. Drag across it and the hero runs, and the game previews the jump you’ll make on lifting your finger. With deft timing, you’ll leap on enemy heads, rope-swing across deadly ravines, and totally not die by falling into a spike-filled pit like an idiot.
That’s the theory. Initially, you’ll fail often as you get to grips with what seems like a needlessly awkward control system. But stick around, discover the nuance in the leapy action, and Runventure proves compelling. If nothing else, grab if if you’re tired of the same old thing.
Hue Ball is a strategic shooting game that features a little turret that oscillates back and forth at the foot of the screen. Tap and it fires a ball that bounces about. Other balls it hits disappear, and you must also ensure your ball doesn’t zip over the line of death, robbing you of a life.
There’s another ball, though – one you can’t hit. It fills the screen with color and shrinks towards the center. When it vanishes, every static ball gets another layer. When any end up with five, they become indestructible skulls.
This combination of clever mechanics makes for an entertaining experience, which works well on the iPad’s larger screen. And although the noodly chill-out audio seems at odds with Hue Ball’s take-no-prisoners claustrophobic end-game panic, it may calm you for long enough to make that perfect shot.
Drop the Clock features a grinning timepiece that’s hurled into single-screen challenges, with the goal of reaching an exit as quickly as possible. The snag: this world is full of angry red hammers, teleportation pipes, and other hazards.
You can’t control the clock as such – its path is predetermined. Instead, you control time. Press the screen and the clock’s own movement slows down, Matrix-style (if The Matrix featured a moustachioed clock rather than leather-clad, shades-wearing protagonists). With deft fingerwork and a little luck, you’ll figure out how to avoid your enemies and reach your goal.
Given that Drop the Clock resembles pinball in how its hero pings about, you’ll fail often. But levels are so short, and the game’s so relentlessly jolly, that having another go is a no-brainer – after all, you’ll be having a great time.
Dancing Line is a rhythm action game controlled with a single finger. You help a wiggly line carve its way through isometric worlds. Its survival is down to you tapping the screen at opportune moments, to make the line change direction rather than smack into a wall.
If that was it, Dancing Line would be easy to dismiss, but beautiful design ensures it’s a winner. One level features a piano, with keys moving to the soundtrack’s notes; part-way through, you’re suddenly inside the instrument, hammers raining down all around you. Elsewhere, you blaze through gardens and a savannah at sunset.
The game can frustrate when you fail near the end of a minutes-long level, and its ad-heavy freemium trappings can grate, but if you’ve a sense of rhythm, and a penchant for great-looking games that marry immediacy and elegance, Dancing Line is well worth a download.
The Battle of Polytopia is akin to turn-based strategy classic Civilization in fast-forward. You aim to rule over a tiny isometric world by exploring, discovering new technologies, and duffing up anyone who gets in your way.
The game is heavily optimized for mobile play. Technology stops evolving before anyone gets guns, you can only expand your empire via conquest rather than founding new cities, and there’s a 30-move limit that stops you dawdling. (For more bloodthirsty players, there’s a Domination mode, too, where you win by being the last tribe standing.)
You get the entire core game for free, but buy extra tribes and everything expands. You gain access to new maps, but also an online multiplayer mode, where you quickly discover whether you’re a powerful despot or one of history’s also-rans. However you play, Polytopia is one of the very best free games on mobile.
Mekorama is a path-finding puzzle game where you help a little doddering robot reach its goal. There are 50 hand-crafted diorama-like levels in all, which you spin with a finger. You then tap to make the robot head to a particular spot.
The pace is slow, but the game is charming and relaxing rather than dull. Wisely, it always provides you with several levels to tackle in case you get stuck on one, and new hazards and ideas regularly appear, such as sections of buildings that move, and patrolling robots that may help or hinder.
It works particularly well on iPad, largely because the bigger screen makes it easier to see what’s going on when you’re peering into a complex structure’s nooks and crannies, but the real prize is a level designer. There’s huge scope for long-term play through the ability to download levels and create your own.
Tako Bubble has roots in classic arcade games, but at its heart is a cleverly designed turn-based puzzler that straddles the divide between casual and challenging play.
You play an octopus, popping bubbles and aiming to recover a collection of beetles. Grab all of the colored bubbles and you finish a level, but only by popping them all do you get the satisfaction of a job well done.
The snag is the turn-based bit. You move, and then the ferocious monsters dotted about get their go. Get your timing wrong and the octopus is ejected from the screen.
Success is therefore about pathfinding – learning how enemies react and move, and planning accordingly. There’s no timer and no time limit, so it’s just you against the game. And while it’s approachable enough for all, getting every bubble is a very tough test indeed.
Slide the Shakes recreates the bartender slide, where a beverage is sent to a patron at speed – only in Slide the Shakes, the bars have been built by a maniac. They’re full of humps and gaps, set on slopes, and often covered in sticky goo and slippy ice.
In each level, you’re tasked with sending a milkshake to several precise destinations. Fall short and the game generously gives you another shot (albeit at the expense of a perfect score); smash the glass and you must start that round again.
This is a bright, breezy, immediate game, with intuitive catapult controls. It also avoids the irritating randomness of an Angry Birds, because the pull-back mechanism affords you plenty of accuracy. Just as well when you’re confronted with bar-top designs akin to motocross tracks.
Beat Street is a love letter to classic scrolling brawlers, where a single, determined hero pummels gangs of evil-doers and saves the day. In Beat Street, giant vermin are terrorizing Toko City, and will only stop when you’ve repeatedly punched them in the face.
On iPhone, Beat Street is a surprisingly successful one-thumb effort, but on iPad you’re better off playing in landscape. With your left thumb, you can dance about, and then use your right to hammer the screen (and the opposition).
The iPad’s large display shows off the great pixel art, but the fighty gameplay’s the real star – from you taking on far too many opponents at once to gleefully beating one about the head with a baseball bat. It turns out they do make ’em like they used to after all.
Carmageddon is in theory a racing game, but is really more a demolition derby set in a grim dystopia where armored cars smash each other to bits and drivers gleefully mow down ambling pedestrians and cows.
It’s a game of questionable taste and a brains-free approach. You may not be surprised to hear it ended up banned in several countries when originally released on PC back in 1997. These days, though, its low-res over-the-top feel seems more cartoonish than gory – and the freeform driving is a lot of fun.
The maps are huge, the physics is bouncy, and your opponents are an odd mix of braindead and psychotic. There’s no nuance, but loads of laughs to be had – assuming you’re not the type to get offended when a game congratulates you for power-sliding a startled cow into a wall.
Turn Undead: Monster Hunter is a spooky run-and-gun platformer, in the same territory as arcade classic Ghosts ’n Goblins. Hordes of zombies, vampires and werewolves need offing by way of your trusty supply of stakes, before you make for an exit – and a few moments of feeling smug.
But Turn Undead has another trick up its sleeve: it’s turn-based. This means time only moves on when you do, which upends everything you thought you knew about this kind of game.
In theory, the stop-start action should make things easier, enabling you to plan when to kill each nasty, but the clockwork nature of Turn Undead often transforms proceedings into a brain-smashing puzzler. Just try to make sure the brains getting smashed are those of the undead – and not your own.
To The Castle finds tiny knight Sir Petrionius doddering about gloomy dungeons, attacking monsters, pilfering bling and making for the exit.
The twist in this platform game is the limited controls; the knight runs of his own accord, and you can only make him either jump or unleash a devastating thrust attack that propels him forward, killing anything in his way.
These restrictions, married with tight level design, make for a fast-paced path-finding-tinged arcade platformer. Timing and good reflexes are key as you leap into the air, and then thrust attack to obliterate enemies or leap over spike pits. And if you get particularly good at all that, blazing through the 60 built-in levels, you can make your own in the game’s editor.
Breakout Ninja teaches us you shouldn’t imprison angry, green-eyed, immensely powerful ninjas. Here, the masked protagonist auto-runs, leaping over fences, kicking guards in the face, and occasionally smashing up entire buildings.
Your entire interactions with the game involve tapping the screen when the hero is atop yellow circles, whereupon he gets all punchy or leapy. That might sound reductive, but it’s an interesting take on the genre, lending a sense of choreography to each level.
It’s a pity what you do isn’t synchronized to a beat (this could have been an amazing rhythm-action title), but it’s nonetheless enjoyable and a bit different. And when you’re done with the initial dozen levels, you get to tackle them in ‘hard’ mode at breakneck speed.
Cally’s Caves 4 is a free game that appears so generous that you wonder what the catch is. The Metroid-style run-and-gun shenanigans find you leaping about, shooting anyone in your path. However, the hero is a girl with pigtails and a surprising arsenal of deadly weapons, neatly subverting convention.
The plot’s a tad more mundane - something about finding a cure for a curse. But the game retains its oddball credentials with a gaggle of strange enemies - everything from footballers to cleaver-lobbing chefs.
The jumping, blasting, and exploring is compelling stuff, which is just as well, because this is a big game, with hundreds of sprawling levels, 11 bosses, and stints where you temporarily control a psychotic ninja bear. No, that last bit isn’t a typo; and, yes, those bits are particularly great.
Up the Wall is an auto-runner with an edge. Or rather, lots of edges. Because instead of being played on a single plane, Up the Wall regularly has you abruptly turn 90-degree corners, some of which find you zooming up vertical walls.
The speed and snap twists make for a disorienting experience, but the game’s design is extremely smart where, most notably, each challenge is finite and predefined. Up the Wall isn’t about randomness and luck, but mastering layouts, and aiming for that perfect run.
It nails everything else, too. The game sounds great, and has sharp, vibrant visuals, with imaginative environments. It’s not often you’re frantically directing a burger in an abstract fever dream of milkshakes and ketchup bottles, no
12/10/2018 12:35 PM