Looking for the best games for iPad, iPhone and iPod touch? You’ve come to the right place. With iOS games reviews, gameplay videos and links to the games on the App Store, this roundup lists the 100 very best games ever released for the iPad & iPhone, from strategy and action to puzzlers and RPGs.
New in our list this month: Alien: Isolation, Ghosts and Apples Mobile, Joe Danger and Please, Touch The Artwork.
A quick note on IAP: Many games have IAPs (in-app purchases). Be wary of overspending on consumable IAPs. Our reviews note when IAPs impact on any particular game.
Adventure & story games
From retro point-and-click to thoroughly modern touchscreen adventures, these interactive stories will keep you engrossed for days.
Although lumped in with adventures for this roundup, Bird Alone sits slightly awkwardly in that genre. Really, it’s more a slice of life the creator calls a “journey of growth and loss with a best friend”. Said friend just happens to be feathered – a lively and sweet-natured but lonely parrot aching for company.
Interactions are straightforward. The parrot will ask basic questions about you, and riff off your responses. Over time, you build up something of a rapport, and are invited to partake in additional activities, such as drawing your fears and writing poetry. What the parrot then does with these things is, in roughly equal measure, very touching and mildly concerning.
Although you can spend as much time as you’d like chatting with your colourful chum, Bird Alone is designed to be dipped into for a few minutes daily over the course of a few weeks. You’ll get notifications when the bird has something it wants to pick your brains about; because these interruptions are infrequent and the episodes endearing, it’s never a chore to return.
What you might not be ready for is the game’s emotional impact. What begins as something akin to a needy and squawking digital pet reveals itself as a production with hidden depths, not least when the seasons start to change and everyone grows older.
£2.99/$2.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Bird Alone
It’s safe to say that Device 6 is unlike any other adventure game you’ll play on your iPhone or iPad. The introductory sequence has all the swagger and verve of the sassiest spy movie, but then it dumps you in a mystery, not knowing who you are or how you got there.
The really clever bit, though, is how the game is constructed. The narrative becomes the paths and corridors along which you walk, sentences darting around corners, or taking on the appearance of stairs and ladders. Dotted about are clues and brain-bending puzzles. Arm yourself with a pencil and paper – you’re going to need it.
The notion of a text-oriented game might not appeal, but Device 6 is not to be missed. This isn’t your parent’s (or grandparent’s) adventure – Device 6 is as far from Zork as GTA is from Pac-Man. It’s an essential, unconventional gaming experience like no other, which simply wouldn’t make any sense on a more traditional gaming system. In short, buy it.
£3.99/$3.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Device 6
Far: Lone Sails
The washed-out, desolate landscape of Far: Lone Sails suggests a world in which bad things have happened. But there’s also an element of the fantastical and magical as you attempt to cajole a rickety, gigantic vehicle across the barren seabed, littered with the detritus of a dying civilisation.
Your ride is discovered almost immediately, and it’s a beautiful, baffling contraption. The massive form is reminiscent of an upturned boat, and yet it has two massive wheels on its sides. You leap about its innards like Mario, smashing switches to make the great beast rumble into action.
The game omits to tell you pretty much anything: it’s down to you to figure out what’s going on and what to do. Fortunately, there are many moments of contemplation as you move through the landscape, taking in its strange sights.
Punctuating this journey are various challenges. The first finds you installing huge sails on to your vehicle, which can sometimes be used instead of fuel. Later on, you’ll need to make repairs.
On iPhone, the controls are cramped (use a physical controller if you can), but in widescreen you do have the advantage of additional seconds to spot upcoming obstacles or rare collectables. iPad is arguably the better option, though, the larger canvas letting the visuals properly wow. Either way, the game’s a delight and suitably different from other arcade adventures you’ll have played before.
£3.99/$3.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Far: Lone Sails
Full-motion video – FMV to its friends – doesn’t have a great reputation in videogame circles. But rare titles buck the trend, including Her Story (mentioned elsewhere in this list), which utilises video in a clever way to construct a twisty-turny plot you gradually unravel by using a search engine to discover and watch clips.
Five Dates doesn’t have that level of innovation nor even interaction. That said, it’s an engaging experience, with you acting as voyeur and occasional decision-maker in the world of Vinny, a London-based millennial who’s joined a dating app.
Things kick off with Vinny setting up a dating profile while chatting with his friend. Decisions made here do impact later conversations during dates, although it’s not a case of choosing wisely – more deciding on aspects of Vinny’s personality. Then come the actual dates, which are lockdown-appropriate video chats. They’re sometimes stilted, but full of humanity, and sporadically have you choose Vinny’s reply. Said answers can make or break a connection.
The dating app’s rules are designed to further the plot rather than Vinny’s life, as you’re forced to drop a potential partner during each of two subsequent rounds. And when it ends, there’s no Hollywood reveal. But what might come across as mere surface has enough authenticity and heart to make it worth the journey – or multiple journeys if you want to try again and see how different approaches affect Vinny’s chances.
FREE (but £5.99/$5.99 to unlock full game) | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Five Dates
In Her Story, an interactive narrative mystery game, you play as an anonymous user looking through old interview tapes from a murder case in 1994.
Your job is to sift through hundreds of unorganised video clips; fortunately, these have been transcribed so you can search for words using a free-input search box. When you start the game, the first search term has already been typed in for you: MURDER. There are few other instructions, which means solving this mystery is entirely up to your detective skills.
The script is well-written, unsettlingly realistic, and dark. And no two people will have the same experience playing Her Story: the experience depends on how you search, in what order you watch the tapes, how many tapes you watch, and what conclusions you want to draw.
£4.99/$4.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Her Story
This classic robotic point-and-click adventure offers a unique experience with more heart than the average tin man. Each room has a puzzle for you to solve, moving you forwards as you try to find your lady-friend and thwart a dastardly plot by some robo-bullies. You scan environments for items to interact with, combine objects in your inventory and solve a variety of brain-teasers.
Machinarium manages to feel both electronic and organic. The hand-painted visuals feel both cartoony and believable, and the soundtrack blends ambient electronica, jazz and dubstep. Rarely has a game felt so thematically and aesthetically unified.
£1.99/$1.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Machinarium
Minecraft is a hugely popular, widely available game, which provides you with the opportunity to create whatever you desire. Set in a blocky world, users must learn to survive the ever-changing environment, and to thrive and build weapons, armour, castles and more.
The default controls are a little fiddly at first, but after some tweaking, you’ll find your ideal play style; and if touchscreen isn’t the way forward, the game supports MFi controllers.
Part of the joy of Minecraft is multiplayer, and the iOS edition enables you to create, explore and survive alongside friends using mobile devices or Windows 10. Splash out for a monthly Minecraft Realms subscription, and you can also create your own always-on Minecraft world. This is great for worlds where groups of people are active, as it doesn’t require the host to be online all the time.
It’s a barrel of laughs and with a bit of help from online Minecraft tutorials, you’ll be sold on this blocky sandbox game.
£6.99/$6.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Minecraft
There’s been a murder! And you’re acutely aware of this fact, having pushed your husband overboard last night, during a transatlantic journey. The snag is that others aboard the vessel have their suspicions about your foul play. You must therefore use the scant few hours remaining prior to your arrival in the US to get away with murder.
The game plays out like other inkle titles, in being an old-school adventure game in fast forward. Routes through a branching narrative are taken by selecting responses to people during conversations, or by performing actions on objects. However, unlike 80 Days or Sorcery, Overboard provides a sense of claustrophobia rather than offering free-roaming and space.
This ramps up the tension while the hours speed by, as you dart between the ship’s few locations and chat with its handful of characters. Within 30 minutes or so, you’ll be done – and almost certainly in jail. On subsequent playthroughs, you’ll fast realise Overboard is about taking notes, chipping away at a solution to find a path to freedom.
Getting to the elusive full-fat win condition (no jail; new life; stinking rich) involves repetition, but the game’s breezy nature and script ensures that’s never dull; and the shortish games make Overboard an especially ideal fit for iPhone.
£4.99/$5.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Overboard
The Unfinished Swan
Things are tough for Monroe. His artist mother’s died and he’s been told by a tightfisted orphanage that he can keep just one of her 300 incomplete works. He chooses her favourite, which depicts a painting of a swan missing its neck. Because video games, the swan decides to escape the painting one night, and Monroe sets off in hot pursuit.
As if this wasn’t weird enough, the protagonist finds himself in a place so visually minimal it’d give Jony Ive heart palpitations. Fortunately, this scene of blank white can be ‘augmented’ by you lobbing paint bombs about. This enables you to spot pathways, including golden swan footprints that help you keep on the fleeing bird’s trail.
This is an odd production, which feels part fairytale, part adventure and part shooter. Your quest is punctuated by voiceovers that explain how the kingdom came to be, providing explanations for the evolving landscape as you get deeper into the quest. And although the sense of wonder from those very early scenes is never quite matched, The Unfinished Swan regularly shakes things up to keep you engrossed for its duration.
There are snags: the game’s PlayStation origins are betrayed by sections that prove fiddly and frustrating on the touchscreen. But connect a DualShock or take things slowly and you’ll have a fighting chance of helping Monroe reach the game’s conclusion and perhaps find some peace – or at least a piece of swan.
£4.99/$4.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download The Unfinished Swan
The moment unmemory fully reveals itself as something other than what you were expecting is when a telephone starts ringing. This being an illustrated telephone you’ll have earlier spotted towards the top of the scrolling story you’d been reading as if it happened to be along the lines of a conventional book.
By that point you’ll have already clocked that unmemory isn’t quite a normal tome. Sometimes, sentences need a tap to resolve; images shift and change. Text and images alike propel the plot but are also peppered with clues designed to help you further unlock the story. But when you hear that distant ring, quickly scroll the page, tap a button and hear a vital message, a grin will rapidly spread across your face. At least it will if you had the foresight to have a pen and paper handy to scribble down the message’s salient points.
This is how unmemory behaves throughout its several hours of play time. Each ‘chapter’ of this mysterious tale is a tightly woven network of puzzles. And as lightbulbs go off in your brain, causing you to jump back and forth in the scrolling pane, gradually cracking its code, you’ll feel smart. But more importantly, you’ll recognise you’re playing what amounts to a unique mash-up of narrative, adventure, puzzle and touchscreen/device interaction of a quality that hasn’t been seen on iPhone and iPad since the classic Device 6.
£3.99/$3.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Unmemory
Arcade and action games
A grab bag of gems, from fighting games to strange journeys through gorgeous digital worlds.
Beat Sneak Bandit
Now and again, developers gleefully mash genres together, resulting in some of the more interesting games on the App Store. On that basis, you’d expect Beat Sneak Bandit to be very interesting indeed, given that it combines rhythm action, platforming, stealth, and pathfinding. That it manages to do so with one-thumb controls and bucketfuls of humour should be considered nothing short of astonishing.
The backstory is that evil Duke Clockface has stolen all the clocks and the world is in chaos – no-one knows when to brush their teeth, or what time Doctor Who’s on! So a friendly thief, the Beat Sneak Bandit, resolves to heroically scoot about the Duke’s fortress, scoop up all the clocks, and save the day.
Each level is a single screen, and everything moves to the beat: guards bob and turn; searchlights flick on and off; doors open and close; and you’d swear even the clocks are nodding along to the soundtrack. The trick is to always tap on the beat to move (rebounding off walls as necessary), while figuring out how to get at all the clocks and avoid being spotted.
It’s not easy, but it is artful and delightful – a true App Store original.
£2.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Beat Sneak Bandit
Giant Dancing Plushies
Wondering what would be more terrifying than a giant lizard or ape rampaging through a city? How about a giant teddy bear grooving its way past skyscrapers and stomping on tanks, prior to being beamed up by a UFO – presumably seconds before every conspiracy theorist the world over subsequently explodes in a mixture of glee and disbelief? That’s Giant Dancing Plushies – apart from the conspiracy theorist bit.
You take control of the titular cuddly kaijus, directing their movements to the beat. Move combos unleash special powers, as if someone smashed Strictly Come Dancing into Street Fighter II. And because these gigantic furry beings aren’t malevolent in nature, it’s vital to ensure they only stomp on the bad guys (as in, those shooting at them) and not civilians caught up in the melee.
The entire production is ridiculous in the best of ways. You’re deader inside than any stuffed toy if you don’t crack a grin on seeing a knitted panda taking out bulbous tanks. And how the game utilises XP and upgrades smacks a bit of IAP-infused games, but showcases how such progression can encourage regular play in a manner that’s player-friendly rather than a cynical cash-grab. The cherry on top? Loading up your own music. If you ever wanted to see city-wide destruction by a colossal cuddly rabbit playing out to everything from Lady Gaga to The Prodigy, this is your game.
£3.49/$3.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Giant Dancing Plushies
This one came roaring back to Apple devices in 2022, with a lovely story attached.
Created by the team behind No Man’s Sky, Joe Danger was abandoned when the newer title went on to great success and Apple annihilated support for 32-bit games. Years later, Hello Games founder Sean Murray received a letter from a father, outlining how his autistic son found great solace and joy in Joe Danger. Cue: broken hearts, resolving to set things right, and the game being rebuilt piece by piece, with revamped visuals and gamepad support.
But what of the game itself? It initially comes across as basic fare, with you prodding the screen to help the titular motorcyclist to the end of a larger-than-life obstacle course. Tap to jump when told. Easy. Naturally, the game then merrily kicks your ego into the sea.
Rapidly, you gain new actions to perform, ducking beneath objects and performing wheelies to zoom along at higher speeds. Bonuses lurk, awaiting tap-based collection. At the end of each race, you’ll be informed whether you’ve perfected three challenges.
Bringing back old games is a risk, but Joe Danger stands the test of time. The new graphics look great, but it’s the game’s design that most appeals. It’s ideal for quick blasts, yet provides a test for anyone who enjoys battling for high scores and perfection. Let’s hope Joe doesn’t disappear from the App Store again.
£1.99/$1.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Joe Danger
When you return to ancient games, they often seem pedestrian. Jumpgrid takes two such classics – Pac-Man and Frogger – strips them right back, adds a swig or two of rocket fuel, and then flings them at your face with the kind of menace that will leave you a gibbering wreck. And it’s great.
The entire game plays out on a three-by-three grid. Along the edges are spinning cubes. Munch all the cubes and a teleporter appears in the centre, allowing you to escape to the next level. But there are no ghostly adversaries or trundling traffic in Jumpgrid’s world – instead, your foes are lurching, wheeling chunks of geometric doom.
In being infused with the sadistic edge of a Super Hexagon, Jumpgrid immediately throws down the gauntlet, and can feel overwhelming. But stick with it, and you’ll start to learn the patterns, giving you a fighting chance of victory in speedruns or the gaming perfection that is its endless mode.
Getting there will require lots of patience, quite a few deaths, and a steely nerve; but this is one of those titles that when mastered makes you feel like a gaming god; it’s well worth the effort.
£2.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Jumpgrid
Osmos was originally a highly regarded ‘ambient gaming’ PC title, but the touchscreen suits it perfectly. It’s a tranquil experience, with trippy visuals and music.
You play a pulsating ball of light. The aim is to work your way up the food chain by moving around and absorbing smaller balls of light (making you expand) and avoiding bigger ones. Yet this simple concept produces an engaging experience like no other.
Despite remaining utterly serene, some levels can get fiendishly complicated, with different balls of light acting in dramatically different ways. Some echo a kind of gloopy Petri dish, whereas others have you battle physics as you orbit a central ‘planet’ at insane speed. It’s a classic that deserves a place in every iOS gamer’s collection.
£2.99/£4.99 | For iPhone and iPad (separate apps) | Download Osmos for iPhone and iPad
When you first encounter pureya, you might wonder what you’ve installed on your device. After a brief introductory sequence that features a girl literally losing her marbles, you’re thrown headlong into a frenetic arcade test.
You prod left and right on two chunky buttons, directing something on-screen. It might be a leapy penguin or a paper plane. Whatever you’re faced with, it all feels rough and ready and a bit basic. But after 10 seconds, something unexpected happens: the game switches to something completely different. This keeps happening until, finally, 90 seconds later, you’re sat staring at a pachinko machine, wondering what just happened.
At this point, it becomes clear you should have scooped up marbles in the mini-games you played. When enough hit a target in the pachinko machine, new goodies are unlocked – skins for mini-game characters or new pint-sized arcade tests.
For a game theoretically designed to last barely two minutes, pureya has a fierce compulsion loop. You’ll work through just one more cycle, seeing what you can unlock. And then another. And when you figure out the obscure in-game menus, you’ll realise every game you’ve unlocked can be played in endless mode. It’s all rather joyful – if unwieldy on iPad. On iPhone, though – in landscape or portrait – it’s top-notch old-school fun rethought for the modern era.
£3.99/$3.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download pureya
This game is like being plunged into a vat of lurid animated GIFs. It’s an assault on the senses, packed full of eye-searing colour, looping glitch animation, and cats temporarily on loan from the latest memes. Oh, and there’s a game buried in there, too.
Said game is the digital equivalent of wire loop challenges where you carefully thread a ring along a winding pathway. Here, the path instead comprises a top-down maze, and you direct a cat’s head. Obviously. Also, the path unhelpfully shifts and changes as you battle with controls best described as slippy. Touch an edge and the screen glitches; fail to quickly course-correct and you’ll lose one of your nine lives.
It’s fair to say the experience is divisive. The semi-random nature of level ordering means you can smack hard into a wall of pain after breezing through several simpler tests. The boss battles will push you to your limits. And if you’re not careful, the psychedelic visuals will leave you in need of a lie down.
There’s more here than masochism, though. Like Super Hexagon’s patterns, PUSS! levels can be committed to memory. Control sensitivity can be tweaked. On a larger display, there’s more margin for error. Especially on an iPad, then, PUSS! should click; and when it does, you’ll be gripped by a compelling, exhilarating game that never ceases to be deeply strange.
£2.99/$2.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download PUSS!
Sine the Game
Minimalist visuals? Check. Head-bobbing soundtrack? Check. Chill-out vibe? Stony silence. So it turns out Sine the Game (which we’ll subsequently call Sine, because, well, we know it’s a game) is one of those single-finger titles that resembles a relaxation app but houses gameplay keen to rip your throat out.
The premise is simple: don’t die. More specifically, you must guide a waveform through hostile territory. Being that it’s a waveform, it moves up and down, but you can adjust its wavelength by dragging left or right. In doing so, you can squeeze through gaps, grab floating orbs, or dramatically hasten your arrival at the level’s end.
All these considerations are important, because Sine bestows stars upon you for each level: one for finishing it, one for beating a time limit, and the last for collecting every orb. Naturally, you won’t grab every orb during a speedy run and so must unearth alternate routes to meet your goals.
Sine can be tough to the point you need to go for a little walk to calm down. It’s reminiscent of iPhone classic Squareball in demanding absolute precision and yet making you realise you’ve messed up when things don’t go to plan. But the game is just forgiving enough to be compelling rather than frustrating – the sort of thing you’ll be determined to beat rather than taking your failure as a ‘sine’ (sorry) you should not continue.
99p/$0.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Sine the Game
In this side-scrolling game, you hold the screen and a little bird furls her stunted wings and speeds downwards at a rapid lick. Raise your finger, and she flaps them and soars briefly – if she’s gained sufficient momentum to rocket off of the hill she’s just slid up. All the while, you’re racing against the sun (when it sets your bird goes to sleep and the game is over).
The basic gameplay mechanics are simple but exquisitely crafted, and the game is an aesthetic delight, from the crayony backdrops to the charming music and effects. Alongside this endless mode, the game provides some extra goodies, too – two-player same-device multiplayer, and a race game of sorts, featuring the bird’s chicks, desperate to get back to mum to snag the biggest worm.
In all, this is a wonderful, charming, inventive, simple, beautiful, fun game.
£2.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Tiny Wings
From an aesthetic standpoint, Vectronom is all geometric shapes and lurid colours. Initially, it resembles iOS classic Edge, and, indeed, the basics of the gameplay also have you trying to get from A to B. But Vectronom lobs one further challenge into the mix – a demand that you dance to the beat.
We mean this almost literally. Vectronom might look like a speedrun path-finding game, and be controlled with swipes and taps, but it’s all about understanding the rhythm. You’ll need to move on the beat to avoid getting impaled by marching spikes, and also commit to memory the clockwork movements of the very ground, also synced to the soundtrack. Failure means plunging into the abyss time and time again.
Hence: dancing. Sure, Vectronom isn’t exactly a digital Strictly, but as you 1-2-3-4 your way to a goal, carefully matching the required choreography, you’ll soon discover whether you’ve two left thumbs to go with two left feet. And the result is fabulous. There is admittedly the odd level that frustrates, but for the most part Vectronom is a game that’ll slap a smile right across your face, as you discover new beats and minimalist landscapes to nod and tap along to.
£3.99/$3.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Vectronom
Board & card games
Don’t risk the dog getting excited and knocking plastic pieces on the floor – play these amazing board and card games inside your iOS device instead.
Cards! – MonkeyBox 2
Cards! begins with you receiving a plea for help – only, you’re in a locked cell. The titular cards depict your surroundings and actions as you make decisions regarding what to do next. One swift escape later (by way of a deft few swipes) and an arrow misses your foot by inches. It’s instantly clear choices you subsequently make will be the difference between life and death.
What’s less clear is everything else. If Cards! was marketed in an old-school manner, it’d rock up as a disc inside a plain box. The game isn’t in a hurry to explain anything. Instead, there’s a lot of trial and error. Slowly, you figure out the order in which to play cards, to avoid an untimely demise. Logic is sometimes – but not always – a useful ally.
From the days of Rick Dangerous on ancient home computers, we’ve never been keen on games that kill you without warning. Cards! does this frequently. But while the game is confounding and occasionally frustrating, it’s also forgiving. Lose your lives (you get the classic three) and the game loops back to the start of the current chapter rather than the very beginning.
If you expect card-based adventuring to work like clockwork, the oddball nature of Cards! might not appeal. But if you like the sound of a mobile-friendly card game full of charm, puzzles and experimentation, look no further.
£2.99/$2.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Cards! – MonkeyBox 2
This game is what happens when solitaire collides with stealth. Nine cards are dealt as a three-by-three grid, and your aim is to draw a path through them that maximises the loot you snag, but minimises stealth point losses. Said losses can quickly rack up, if you attempt to tackle too many guards or monsters, or blunder about extinguishing torches.
As you get further into the game, new subtleties are unearthed. There are chests to ransack, and barrels to hide in that replenish your stealth points. Some enemies steal your gold, and others move around, as if the cards they’re housed in are alive. Collect enough swag and you can spend it on power-ups, giving you a fighting chance of higher scores during subsequent games.
With plenty of depth and superb visuals, even its slightly repetitive nature can’t take the edge off Card Thief. Start playing and it’s guaranteed to steal plenty of your time.
£2.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Card Thief
Graphically, this is a faithful rendition of Klaus Teuber’s superb and deservedly idolised tile-based island conquest game. Having the iPad handle those tiresome banking duties and victory point calculations makes things far more fast-paced than the board game, and you can view statistical tables at the end of the bout.
The computer players can be absolute swines – they’ll merrily gang up on you in a way that most human players would consider beyond the pale – but hardcore gamers may even consider this a plus. And the original game is such a work of genius that this couldn’t help being great fun, even if it’s not the perfect iOS port.
£4.99 per app | For iPhone and iPad (separate apps) | Download Catan Classic for iPhone or Catan Classic HD for iPad
Originally a real-life card game that was the most-backed ever (in terms of backer numbers) on Kickstarter, Exploding Kittens subsequently blasted its way on to mobile. The game is more or less Russian Roulette with cats. You play with two to four other people, drawing cards. If someone gets an exploding kitten, they’re out of the game – unless they can defuse it. Other cards enable a modicum of tactics: you can skip turns, peek at the top of the deck, shuffle and steal cards, and slap opponents so they take a turn.
The iOS version offers online play against random opponents or friends in private matches, secured with codes. Everything’s been cleverly tweaked for screen, such as with the addition of a ‘chance of kitten’ meter that starts going nuts when an exploding kitten is likely, and madcap audio and energetic animation that aligns nicely with co-creator Matthew Inman’s surreal oddball imagery.
£1.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Exploding Kittens
Basically Magic: The Gathering with Warcraft characters, Hearthstone is a card battle game. Build decks and strategies, summon minions and cast spells. The different classes and their specific cards and abilities add a nice level of variety, and a single-player mode means you don’t have to take your game online unless you want to.
As with all trading card games, Hearthstone hinges to some degree on IAP for new card packs, but the quest rewards for fulfilling various criteria (such as number of monsters summoned or points healed) minimise the necessity of paying for anything.
The turn-based set-up makes it a perfect game to play during odd moments, and seeing a long-term strategy pay off is very satisfying.
FREE + IAPs | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Hearthstone
Meteorfall: Krumit’s Tale
One of the most intriguing, successful sub-genres on mobile has been a mash-up of dungeon crawling and card-based deck-building, squashed into tiny grids. Krumit’s Tale takes this foundation and runs with it in every sense.
It’s simple to grasp but hard to master, with tons of depth and a wide range of game modes. And although it’s suitable for serious play – fashioning tactics; building a deck; learning to win – the game doesn’t take itself too seriously, instead being infused with colourful, characterful art with lashings of personality.
The basic gameplay involves you attempting to take out every enemy within a three-by-three grid. At any point, you can choose to grab power-ups, but doing so needs coin. Cash is earned by selecting and removing potentially useful cards from the grid. All these choices must be weighed up against what you need to go into battle.
Said battles are turn-based affairs where you can equip yourself with weapons for getting all stabby with, and armour that can simultaneously parry and stun an enemy, in effect giving you a free attack. Early on, you’ll die – often. You’ll come to realise Krumit’s Tale demands you think several moves ahead, considering the current dungeon holistically, rather than merely equipping yourself to duff up the nearest meanie. But in being a premium game (there’s no throwing cash at it to instantly level up), this latest Meteorfall is rewarding in the long term and arguably best-in-kind on mobile.
£6.99/$6.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Meteorfall: Krumit’s Tale
Pandemic: The Board Game
Pandemic is a vastly popular co-operative board game in which up to four friends work together to defeat four diseases sweeping the globe. Each turn you’ll travel from city to city, treat the sick and research cures, hoping that the random new infections don’t strike in that worst possible place and snowball into multiple outbreaks (spoiler: they always do). It’s unbelievably tense, and winning feels amazing. And everyone is involved, since you’re each allocated a role with special powers that will prove crucial in particular situations.
The iOS version works far better as a solo experience, but it still induces a massive (but pleasurable) panic at its key moments. And the euphoria of victory is also sweet. That said, take heed – even on the easy difficulty level, this virtual take seems tougher than the cardboard version.
£3.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Pandemic: The Board Game
Railroad Ink Challenge
Board game conversions can be hit and miss on mobile, and tend to be stymied by the sheer length of playing time and the lack of satisfying single-player modes. No such problems befall Railroad Ink Challenge.
The game finds you constructing road and rail routes on a seven-by-seven board. During each round, you’re given four new pieces to place on the board, building routes from exits at the edges. There are several twists, but the main one is each game lasting a mere seven rounds. This makes the going swift, and you must think ahead to make best use of your pieces, because incomplete routes result in penalties when points are tallied at the game’s conclusion.
Although it’s possible to challenge other people in asynchronous matches (albeit with a proprietary login rather than Game Centre), Railroad Ink Challenge works perfectly as a solo pursuit. During each round, you’ll figure out new tactics to better your score next time – even more so when you tackle the ‘base’ mode, which adds bonuses for running routes through grid squares with villages, factories and universities.
Add in a gentle soundtrack and first-rate visuals and you’ve got an excellent handheld take on an interesting path-finding board game. It’s one you’ll want to play again and again – and that won’t require days of your life to do so.
£3.99/$3.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Railroad Ink Challenge
Ticket To Ride
One for the trainspotters, you might think, although experience suggests that this simple but engrossing game will appeal to everyone.
You collect coloured cards, which you then use to build railway infrastructure across the map, attempting to connect up the cities named in your (randomly allocated) objectives. Tactically we believe it’s relatively straightforward, but the competition for critical stretches can get fierce. And in the end there’s not much in life more satisfying than building a railway.
The default map covers the US, and there are European – and other – expansions available as IAP.
£8.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Ticket to Ride
From retro-oriented jumping fare to games designed specifically with a touchscreen in mind, these are our picks for best iOS platformer.
It turns out all those rumours about fast food being bad for your health were true. Or at least the ones about BFC were – its mysterious blue hot sauce is not only addictive, but arrives from a decidedly unconventional production process.
Your aim is to uncover the secret. The snag: you’re a chicken. Also, you’re a chicken who after a freak accident in some of the blue goop now happens to lay bombs instead of eggs.
Fortunately, explosive ‘eggs’ are an advantage to purposeful poultry suddenly surrounded by hostile enemies. Bombs can be used to blow up walls, or laid as a column, which is then shoved across the screen towards switches – or terrified enemies.
There are clear retro vibes throughout the entire game. The visuals are decidedly old-school in nature – all chunky pixels – albeit animated like a modern cartoon. It’s also extremely tough. The first boss level finds the chicken pursued by a screen-high circular saw, and staying enough steps ahead to avoid being filleted is quite a challenge.
It’s the difficulty level that might stop you staying the course. Even though levels are relatively short, it can be trying having to grind through them again and again. Still, you can at least rack up extra lives by grabbing all the blue gems from earlier levels; and if you can make it through to the end, you can certainly claim from a gaming standpoint that you’re anything but chicken.
£4.99/$4.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Bomb Chicken
We recall once laughing at a games reviewer’s observation that an RPG with a jump button is “rarer than a badger in a Ferrari”. Well, this is that even rarer thing: a platform game without one.
In Drop Wizard you can’t jump; all you can do is move left or right (it’s one or the other – you can’t stand still) and fall off things. Fortunately the hole at the bottom of each level, unlike those in most platform games, leads not to death but to the top of the screen again.
Dropping is thus centrally important, as the name of the game suggests: as well as your primary way of navigating each level, it’s also your only way of attacking, as each time the wizard drops on to a new platform he shoots a little star that can stun enemies and allow you to walk into them for the coup de grâce.
The graphics are sweet and cheerful, the levels are fiendish, and the gameplay is beautifully polished. Drop Wizard is a simple game, but one that comes highly recommended.
£1.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Drop Wizard
Gris shows how conventional gaming structures can combine with an emotionally charged narrative (or, rather, lack of narrative – but we’ll get to that) and beautiful visuals to create something beguiling and fresh.
The game starts out with Gris losing her voice. She falls into a crumbling, ruined world of towering stone structures, colossal statues, and angular woodlands. A stirring score plays as you examine your surroundings and explore this strange world.
From a gameplay standpoint, Gris echoes side-on platformers of the kind that have been popular since the days of Super Mario Bros. – perhaps even Pitfall 2, if you’re old enough to remember that. In short, you run, leap, and search for items to unlock new areas of the map.
It’s the emotional core that sets Gris apart. There are no words, and so you must infer what’s happening. However, elements of struggle and emotional distress are painfully obvious – and obviously painful to Gris – as you battle a morphing black blob that transforms into a shrieking giant bird, or face watercolour splats that paint the gaming canvas red.
That’s not to say this game is without hope. From the off, there are grin-inducing moments, such as when you first grapple with the transformative powers of Gris’s dress, or spot a tiny apple-munching stalker tracking you through the woods. A bittersweet tale, then, and one you absolutely should take, if you hanker for games that aspire to transcend the medium.
£4.99/$4.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Gris
Linn: Path of Orchards
Most platform games are reassuringly and resolutely solid when it comes to the actual platforms. When you’re sprinting along, grabbing bling, and hopping on enemy heads, there’s a good chance any platform you land on will stay there. Those that vanish are the exception, rather than the rule. Linn has no truck with that, instead having apparently decided its levels are crazed clockwork contraptions harbouring ambitions to become a deadly fairground.
Your very first experience finds you already running towards the level’s exit, and you watch as the platform starts to tip before Linn reaches her goal. Soon, you face much tougher tests. Levels spin and wheel. Exits appear nailed to ceilings that seconds later become floors, while you leap into the abyss, trying in a split-second to figure out where you should land.
It’s dizzying and confusing, but you soon recognise there’s a mechanical logic to everything on the screen. Each level can – if you get your timing precisely right – be completed in a set number of moves. Gold shards that appear impossible to reach can be collected – if you crack the sequence required for doing so.
Linn can frustrate, not least when the slightly twitchy controls fail you. But restarts are swift, and this is a rewarding game when you crack a particularly bonkers level, and then spare yourself a few seconds to breathe in the lush audio and minimal visuals before tackling the next challenge.
£2.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Linn: Path of Orchards
Something terrible’s happened in the world of Mushroom 11. The scarred landscape – peppered with pools of toxic liquids – provides only glimpses of what once was, in a few twisted scraps of metal and damaged structures. Life barely clings on – although not necessarily in the forms you’d expect.
One such survivor is a green blob, which comes under your control. It has a thirst to explore its ravaged world, gobbling up bugs, flowers, and surprisingly psychotic plants. And the way in which it does so showcases the wonderfully tactile, intuitive nature of the best iOS games.
Although this is a platform/puzzler, you at no point press left, right or jump. Instead, you use a finger to ‘erase’ chunks of the blob, which then grow back. Sometimes, you blaze through tunnels, Sonic-style. Elsewhere, you carefully mould your creature into a pole to activate a set of buttons, or split it in half, so one part can trigger a switch while the other sneaks through a door.
Whether you tackle the adventure by slowly picking your way along or treating it as a manic speedrun, Mushroom 11 is a unique, engaging experience that only really makes sense on the touchscreen.
£4.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Mushroom 11
Oddmar has the horned helmet of a cartoon Viking, but in every other way he’s not cut out for the job, being lazy, oafish, selfish, and totally against burning down a nearby forest after an ultimatum from his clan. Fortunately (for the forest and Oddmar – if not the other Vikings), his tribe is mysteriously zapped away, shortly after the titular protagonist is bestowed with special powers after snarfing magic mushrooms.
You might wonder whether ingesting such dodgy substances accounts for the strange nature of Oddmar’s quest as he strives to find his tribe. He bounds around on giant mushrooms like a bearded flea, grabs levitating bling, and frequently finds himself in ethereal auto-scrolling lands after having purple dust blown in his face (uh-oh).
That said, it’s not like cartoonish adventures are rare in the world of platform games. What is rare – especially on iOS – is a platform game this good. Oddmar looks superb – akin to an animated cartoon, with distinctive characters and painterly backgrounds. Most importantly, it plays brilliantly.
The touchscreen controls are tight, and the levels are superbly designed. There’s thought in the placement of every obstacle, and the manner in which the game’s pace ebbs and flows. Only occasionally does it stumble, with the odd section where you smack into a wall of awkward. Mostly, though, Oddmar is a gem – a magical, console-like experience that’s a joy, whether tearing through the forest to escape a giant troll, or picking your way through a level to find its many hidden secrets.
£4.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Oddmar
There’s an element of ‘psycho’ in Psychofunk, a platform game keen to tear your face off. Fortunately, it stays just on the right side of punishing, with clever design work – in terms of visuals, mechanics and level layouts – that keep you on board, even when repeated failure finds you tempted to angrily hurl your device at a tree.
The game is a platformer of sorts. Only rather than your hero (a doddering bipedal play button) moving back and forth and leaping on command, it auto-runs. What you get to control are the platforms, turning them on and off to direct the hero towards their goal.
At least, that’s the theory. The world of Psychofunk wants to make life difficult – and death easy – for the tiny hero, being packed full of spikes and providing an inordinate number of opportunities for the sprinting play button to fall to its doom. Things happen at speed, and so it can frustrate when you turn off a platform at precisely the wrong moment, meaning the hero is immediately impaled or hurled into the air towards yet more spikes.
But it’s compelling. You’ll always feel failure was your fault – and that with just one more try, you’d succeed. Learn a level’s choreography and you’ll feel like a genius on reaching the goal. Then work through enough of the game and you’ll return to earlier levels and wonder what all the teeth-gnashing was about. Probably.
£2.49/$2.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Psychofunk
Load up Reventure, and you might think it more of the same side-on platform adventuring you’ve seen countless times before – right up until you trot towards a nearby bridge, trip over a rock, and fall on your face. At this point, the game informs you that you’ve died. Don’t worry – Reventure keeps bringing you back (in increasingly unlikely ways) for another crack at your quest.
Almost immediately, you recognise the absurdity of your goal: it’s not to survive; it’s not to acquire bling, nor rescue innocents captured by nefarious types. These are mere byproducts in figuring out 100 different ways you can meet your maker.
So although this game does initially look an awful lot like a mobile take on Zelda II, it’s always underpinned by that darkly comic foundation of figuring out how exciting new discoveries – Stabby sword! Hook line! Explody bombs! – might help you end your life.
Fortunately, all this death isn’t just a gimmick. The platform adventuring bits are good. A breezy script ramps up the laughs as you build your collection of endings. Clever puzzles are peppered throughout, forcing you to think laterally about how to pass deadly obstacles. Even the controls work well, giving you the option to move and resize them.
There is a question mark on whether you’ll stick around for all 100 destinies – the game gets a touch grindy once you’re dozens of deaths in. But for the hours of joy it’ll give you before that point, Reventure is well worth getting hold of.
£3.99/$3.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Reventure
Rolando: Royal Edition
The original Rolando was an early App Store darling. Fully embracing the then-oddball nature of an iPhone (at least from a gaming perspective), it was a gem of a platform-puzzler. From a quality standpoint, it stood shoulder to shoulder with handheld console games of the era – a step up from mobile phone fodder of the day. Arguably, it put iPhone gaming on the map.
When Apple nuked support for 32-bit games in 2017, Rolando was a victim, but Royal Edition brings it back in remastered form. If nothing else, this revamp shows that Rolando was always about quality gameplay rather than gimmickry, given that it still shines.
The storyline is thin, involving The Kingdom, populated by ball-like Rolandos, being invaded by shadow creatures. In every multi-screen level, you need to trundle to an exit, avoiding enemies and hazards. Success often involves prodding switches, flinging Rolandos into the air using catapults, and bundling snoozing regal Rolandos along – trying to avoid sending them into a lava pit.
Royal Edition’s visual update looks very smart indeed, but the game also plays well. Levels have been optimised and tweaked, and the controls – tilt to move, drag to select, and physically manipulating things like lifts – still feel just right on your device, rather than being gaming conventions (or even an entire game) beamed in from another platform.
£2.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Rolando: Royal Edition
The time is fast disappearing regarding the need to narrow eyes on hearing of a console-style platform game on iOS. Suzy Cube adds another dimension to proceedings, too, regularly switching up your viewpoint into 3D for a range of thrilling leapy escapades.
If you need a backstory, rotters have nicked Castle Cubetron’s gold, and you’re tasked with getting it back. Being that this is a platform game, the pilferers have littered their spoils about the landscape, and now roam about, ready to duff up anyone audacious enough to reclaim their property.
With slick two-thumb controls, Suzy Cube feels the part. Only occasionally do you feel the game rather than your thumbs lets you down as Suzy Cube plunges into the abyss or gets walloped by a nasty. Mostly, you’ll gleefully blaze about the blocky landscapes, and revel in the way the game keeps trying new things.
There are relatively free-roaming 3D bits, where you’ll find secret rooms. Vertigo-inducing overhead sections have you carefully leap between moving platforms suspended high in the air. Auto-scrolling third-person scenes find you sliding down snowy mountains. And then there are 2.5D miniature adventures set within maze-like pyramids.
The pace feels urgent, even if the timers are fairly generous. And although the game occasionally falls flat, notably with some oddly dull boss battles, Suzy Cube is mostly a superbly designed iOS platformer. Most importantly, it also does something different, rather than being yet another glossy but stripped-back Super Mario Bros. clone.
£3.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Suzy Cube
When your brain needs a bit of a workout, have steam shoot from your ears while taking on these devious, challenging puzzles.
Baba Is You
Shoving boxes around to complete puzzles is a mechanic almost as old as videogaming itself. But Baba Is You brings something new, through enabling – in fact, demanding – you to manipulate the rules in order to complete each single-screen challenge.
Typically, you control a white rabbit-like critter called Baba. It exists in a world of simple objects, obstacles and word blocks. The objective is to reach a specified goal, which will be written out on the screen using three blocks – for example ‘flag is win’. Because all these blocks are potentially moveable, you can subtly and radically shake up the game environment just by making a few changes. Nudge ‘stop’ away from ‘wall is’ and you’ll be able to walk through walls. Can’t get to a win flag? Perhaps you can change all the walls to flags – or Baba to something else that’s outside of wherever you’re confined.
Which probably all sounds terribly confusing, but take our word for it that Baba Is You makes sense when you play it. Moreover, it’s clever stuff – with gleefully vicious puzzles that’ll have you grin from ear to ear when you crack them. The conversion to mobile has been handled sensitively too, with precise, responsive gestural controls that are a perfect fit for iPhone and iPad alike. In a word: superb.
£5.99/$6.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Baba Is You
Behind the Frame
There’s a structure and an aesthetic to Behind the Frame that makes you think you’re playing within familiar tropes. The game features an aspiring and passionate artist, keen to make her mark on the world. She lives in a small apartment, peppered with elements from her daily life. It all feels quite idyllic, not least given the gorgeous Ghibli-inspired animated sequences that thread narrative through the game’s chapters.
Said chapters are presented as a framework that’s broadly a room-escape game. The protagonist needs to work, but her tasks are stymied by barriers. There are paints to find and actions to perform. Clues are dotted around, and so it’s a case of joining the dots – or sometimes painting them, based on clippings in the artist’s handy sketchbook.
At one point, the artist asks: “How come I keep finding drawings and paint in mysterious places lately?” And you might ask yourself the same long before the game’s bittersweet conclusion. All is not what it seems – and the clues are there from the start, if you’re paying attention rather than rushing to daub the next glob of paint on to a virtual canvas. The journey is worth taking, though, even if Behind the Frame’s ending is open to interpretation to a degree where you might be left with as many questions as answers.
£4.49/$4.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Behind the Frame
Day Repeat Day
On the surface, Day Repeat Day appears mundane. It combines smartphone tropes you’ll have seen plenty of: match-three puzzling and instant messaging. But the way the game works with these things, subverting conventions, propels it to classic status.
The game begins with you taking on a new role at the Joki corporation. You chat with your boss and are assigned tasks, presented as match-three puzzles. Meet your quota (by matching enough items) and you can move on to the next. Periodically, new people arrive in your comms tab, and you can talk to them by way of branching narrative prompts.
From the start, you’ll feel that something’s off. The visuals might be jolly but the soundtrack is melancholy. As you work through the puzzles, time jumps in your virtual life shake up everything from your relationships to the way the company operates.
A lot of the game is subtle. Unless you’re paying attention – and not always to the most obvious things – there will be elements of Day Repeat Day you’ll miss. But dig deeper and you’ll find there’s more to the game than first meets the eye.
The puzzles are smartly designed. The writing is compelling. Most importantly, there’s emotional clout as you recognise the game can echo your own thinking, resulting in playthroughs that become surprisingly personal. In all, Day Repeat Day is a triumph of mobile gaming.
£4.99/$4.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Day Repeat Day
Dissembler is a match game with a difference. Instead of being presented with a well of gems, each level begins as a tiny slice of abstract art. And although the mechanics are familiar – swap two tiles to connect a series of three or more, whereupon they disappear – Dissembler is a much more strategic affair.
In part, this is because there’s no gravity, and no new pieces fill the void left by those you’ve already removed. Each slice of artwork is therefore a finite, intricately designed puzzle. Your aim is to figure out the precise sequence of moves required to eliminate every dab of colour, leaving you with a blank canvas.
At first, the puzzles are obvious. Then you’ll come across ones that seem obvious, until you’re several moves in and realise you’ve stranded a single tile so no others can reach it. You’ll soon come to appreciate the deviousness of the hand-crafted challenges, along with the unlimited undos that enable you to try different approaches.
An endless mode provides an interesting spin on the game – if one that doesn’t quite come off; but there’s also a daily puzzle for Dissembler fanatics who exhaust the game (and solutions the following day for us mere mortals).
£2.99/$2.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Dissembler
The Gardens Between
Cause and effect are more fluid concepts than normal in The Gardens Between. After some scene-setting showing best friends Arina and Frendt in a rickety treehouse between their homes, you’re whisked away to the first of over a dozen islands, built from oversized objects extracted from the duo’s memories.
The aim is to reach the peak of each surrealist mountain, so the pair can plant a light. The snag is you’ve little control over Arina and Frendt – you can merely drag the screen to direct the flow of time, or tap during the rare occasions when one of the kids can interact with something.
The timey-wimey aspect of the game – and how you break the rules of reality – is where the puzzles arrive from. You might, for example, leap back and forth in time to saw a plank that creates a pathway; or by pausing time at just the right moment, natural elements may continue to flow, exploding all over the place in a manner that enables progress.
One of the most beautiful games you’ll play on iOS, The Gardens Between is also one of the most unique. The experience is short, but one to relish as you breathe in every moment.
£4.99/$4.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download The Gardens Between
Ghosts and Apples Mobile
It’s always a treat when you find a game on the App Store that feels right at home on the touchscreen – even if it began life elsewhere. Ghosts and Apples was originally released for Nintendo Switch, but we reckon it makes more sense with you frantically tapping a screen than mashing buttons.
The game begins with a child entering a house, whereupon their soul is trapped inside a puppet. They then explore a world that appears to have escaped from a Tim Burton movie. The gameplay, though, is pure adrenaline-fuelled lightning-paced match fare.
Two columns sit at the screen edges, filled with miffed, blocky ghosts. Further ghosts float up, to be snared by your lasso. Tapping towards a screen corner hurls the brightly coloured spectre to the top or bottom of a column, your aim being to match three or more of the same hue. At level’s end, captured ghosts are converted to apples, which are used to unlock more levels.
Ghosts and Apples doesn’t hang about. A timer relentlessly ticks down and you must grab a set number of ghosts within that time. With four stacks to manage, winning can be tricky as your thumbs dance over the screen. On iPhone in particular, the mix of exciting gameplay, vibrant visuals and varied level design is a blast. You might even call it spooktacular – if you didn’t want people to wish you were trapped in a puppet for crimes against comedy.
£1.79/$1.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Ghosts and Apples Mobile
Craft often sets apart the very best games on iPhone and iPad. You can have a great concept – or even share a concept with many other titles – but only with perfect execution do you grasp the chance to leap from also-ran to classic.
Hidden Folks is in that space. The basic idea isn’t innovative or terribly exciting: it’s a hidden object game. And there are plenty of those on the App Store, more or less transferring paper equivalents to the screen, and inviting you to poke around until all targets are discovered.
Here, though, everything has been fashioned with the utmost care. The illustrations are hand-drawn and neatly animated. As you tap objects, mouth-originated sounds are emitted – particularly joyful in an area based on a rock gig. Even the clues are bright and clever, intelligently marrying hints and humour in only a handful of words.
All this comes together to make a hidden object game that’s leagues ahead of anything else on the system – or paper, for that matter. And it’s a challenge, too, especially when you’re faced with mammoth scenes packed with detail you know will conceivably keep you occupied for many hours.
It’s testament to the game’s creators that Hidden Folks is so good – not just if you’re a fan of Where’s Wally? and the like, but also if you fancy a sit-back title that will challenge your eye for detail and frequently bring a smile to your face.
£5.99/$5.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Hidden Folks
Whether your reference point is a TARDIS or iPad classic The Room, you’re going to get major ‘bigger on the inside’ vibes from Moncage. And that’s because the game’s perfect cube houses individual worlds on each of its faces.
At first, they don’t appear related. You drag the cube around, entertained by its impossible nature, zooming in and out of tiny scenes. But then it will click. You’ll move your cube just so and previously independent objects will link and flash. Then something will happen.
Exactly what depends on the scene and how far into Moncage you’ve managed to get. But each discovery will plant a grin across your face, while simultaneously (and more importantly) taking you a step further into the game’s multi-layered mystery.
At its best, this all comes across as ridiculously clever, echoing the intricacy of The Room and the optical illusions of mobile classic Monument Valley. Moncage also happens to be more complex and obtuse than either of those, which is its one weak spot. The developers counter this by providing a layered hints system that even includes full video walkthroughs.
But using those feels like cheating at the game and cheating yourself. Instead, spend time mulling things over in the real world before returning to these miniature ones. It’s far more rewarding to discover Moncage’s connections yourself, even if doing so might leave you flummoxed for many hours.
£4.99/$4.49 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Moncage
Please, Touch The Artwork
Are games art? We don’t know. We don’t care either. What we do know is this title, based around abstract art, immerses you in a wonderful marriage of stories and chill-out puzzling that’s ideal fodder for eyes, brains and ears alike.
There are three distinct challenges, all based on the works of precision paint troubler Piet Mondrian. ‘The Style’ explores the origins of abstract art as you add lines to canvases and have colour flood from your fingertips. Figuring out the correct order of tapping gets tougher as the paintings become more intricate.
Next, ‘Boogie Woogie’ uses the painting ‘Broadway Boogie-Woogie’ as its foundation, and tells the tale of two squares who want to be together. This one’s all about path-finding and understanding how objects affect auto-trundling squares during their journeys. The final set is ‘New York City’, which resembles a no-risk Snake, having you thread a line through a ‘city’, scooping up squares before heading to an exit.
Throughout, a narrative ties everything together. Neatly, completed puzzles build into a gallery you can peruse, or use as an access point to retry any individual puzzle. All this works very nicely on any device; but if you’ve got an iPad, manipulating and gawping at vibrant living abstract paintings works particularly well on a larger digital canvas. We still don’t know whether games are art – but, in this case, art as a game turns out to be great.
£4.49/$4.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Please, Touch The Artwork
Song of Bloom
If you’re still questioning whether games can be art, Song of Bloom might just convince you. Although you’re unlikely to find it playing on an iPad nailed to the wall at the Tate Modern, there’s no denying Song of Bloom is an artistic, hand-crafted passion project. It also helps that it’s really good.
Like the best art, there’s a certain ambiguity running throughout Song of Bloom – it drops you into a bizarre universe of miniature vignettes and lets you get on with it. Assuming you’re prepared to observe, think, and experiment, you’ll find one of the most satisfying and rewarding puzzlers on the platform.
The root of the game is a looping animation, with flickering chalk-like illustrations narrating a tale of regret. Soon, you end up staring at a stick with a bud that when held reveals a mountain with a circle at its peak. Draw this circle at the right moment when the animation is replayed and you’re transported to another scene.
To say more would spoil the surprise in a game that’s basically all about surprises. Suffice to say Song of Bloom is varied and clever, not only in what you see on the screen, but also in the various ways it has you interact with your device. You might still question whether it’s art, but on playing through Song of Bloom, you won’t be in any doubt that it’s wonderful.
£1.99/$1.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Song of Bloom
Splice: Tree of Life
Set in a world of microbes, Splice is an experimental puzzler about rearranging tiny organisms into pre-defined frameworks, based on the rules of binary trees. That probably doesn’t sound interesting, but Splice is an excellent game, with a unique aesthetic and smart challenges.
In each level, you’re presented with a set of black blobs, suspended in goop, and a white outline into which they’re supposed to fit. Any microbe can have another dangle from it, or two branch from it. You also begin with the power to splice specific blobs by tapping an invitingly large button.
The key is in understanding how the system works, and thinking ahead, picturing how what’s before you will look several moves down the line. That’s easier said than done, but when Splice clicks, it clings on for dear life. Having engaged your chess brain, you’ll master splicing before being faced with microbes that mutate in other ways.
Complete the game and it barely gives you time for a spot of smugness before unleashing a brain-smashing ‘epilogue’ level set. Still, that just gives you more time to enjoy the swish visuals and relaxing piano score, while slowly rocking back and forth in the corner, broken by the final few challenges.
£3.99/$3.99 | For iPad only | Download Splice: Tree of Life
There Is No Game: WD
The original There Is No Game wowed at a 2015 game jam, and finally arrived on iPhone/iPad in late 2020 as an App Store freebie. It spends much of its length arguing that there is no game.
By manipulating the interface and doing things you clearly shouldn’t, you gradually unlock its oddball world. WD (Wrong Dimension) is a superbly polished and massive evolution on this basic concept – and one of the best games released on any platform during 2020.
Like its predecessor, the game begins by claiming it’s not, in fact, a game. You must convince it otherwise, kicking things off by using an exclamation mark as a bat and ball to smash up the game’s logo. This escalates with the game’s voiceover going to extreme lengths to keep you out.
Things get progressively weirder as the not-game subsequently transforms itself into recognisable puzzle genres, and a narrative unfolds that incorporates the voiceover, a deadly foe, and various NPCs who aren’t aware they’re in a game. Or a not-game. Because there is no game.
With a witty script and clever puzzles and set pieces, this (not a) game is a must-have on iPad. On iPhone, iOS’s infuriating Home indicator sometimes gets in the way; but if you can put up with that bobbing up and down, grab There Is No Game: WD, savour it, and wish every title on your devices was infused with a fraction of its imagination.
£4.99/$4.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download There Is No Game: WD
When you want an entire world to immerse yourself in, these titles could each provide you with months of gaming on your iOS device.
If you’ve been lamenting the lack of a really meaty, old-school and gloriously geeky roleplaying game on your iOS device, look no further than this semi-remake of one of the 1990s true classics.
The game does sometimes betray its originals – the busy interface and tiny characters can be awkward, as can the save system. But stick with it and you find an adventure of uncommon breadth, with some great characters (both serious and ridiculous) and massive flexibility in terms of your party of heroes and their abilities.
It’s the complexity and sprawl that really hits home with this old-timer. So while it may not look as exciting as more modern fare, this is a game that offers weeks, if not months, of tactical combat, agonising choices and frenzied goblin-bashing. And if you find it does eventually pall but you hanker for more, the sequel is on the App Store, too.
£9.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Baldur’s Gate
The Bard’s Tale
This iOS port of a classic and much-beloved PS2-era RPG is memorable not so much for its sparkling graphics or revolutionary gameplay (though both are perfectly serviceable, and even sort of charming) as for its absolutely fantastic writing.
Imagine a mix between The Princess Bride and Robin Hood: Men In Tights; this game sets out to skewer just about every fantasy and RPG trope it can get its hands on. The Princess Bride comparison is helped by the fact that the titular scoundrel is voiced by none other than the inimitable Cary Elwes, who bickers constantly with the snarky, fourth-wall-breaking narrator (points if you can spot which classic Disney villain he voiced).
The gameplay is fairly standard real-time RPG hack-and-slash fare, based primarily on summoning various support characters to provide buffs and aid in combat. However, focusing on gameplay in a title like this would be inconceivable.
£2.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download The Bard’s Tale
Casual description does this painterly action-roleplaying game few favours – games about beating up beasties in exchange for experience points are a dime a dozen on the App Store, after all.
Where Bastion differs is in its storytelling. A near-omniscient narrator commentates your progress as you play, picking up on your decisions and mistakes as well as furthering a sombre, opaque tale with a voice that redefines the very concept of gravel. It adds a huge amount of character, as well as lending Bastion the eerie sense that it’s watching you.
A beautiful game both visually and in atmosphere, Bastion is fortunately not so bogged down on its own grandeur that it forgets to be a reliably compulsive stream of action too.
FREE (but £4.99/$4.99 to unlock full game) | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Bastion
Book of Demons: Tablet Edition
There’s usually an element of linearity around dungeon crawlers, with you being guided along set routes while hacking and slashing at the various horrors around you. Book of Demons takes this to an extreme, forcing you down narrow corridors, and even automating your attacks. The end result is akin to Diablo on rails, and although that shouldn’t really work, it feels like a stab at the genre properly rethought for mobile play.
In fact, if there’s anything Book of Demons wants to avoid, it’s wasting your time. Footsteps mark paths you’ve already taken; prior to entering any dungeon, you’re given the option to adjust its size to an approximate set game length; and when you’re done obliterating everything on any given floor, you can zip immediately to the exit.
This doesn’t mean the game lacks depth – although the visuals sort of do in a literal sense. (The characters are all papercraft creations, which also means no gore!) But there’s plenty to dig into as you get to grips with the game. You learn automated attacks can be overridden by tapping and holding on foes you want to prioritise. As you collect bling, you can build, upgrade and equip spell cards that give you a fighting chance of surviving longer in the dank dungeons.
The only real problem Book of Demons has is in direct comparisons with the games that inspired it. Taken on its own terms, it’s a novel, smart, mobile-friendly take on a classic, captivating set-up.
£6.99/$6.99 | For iPad | Download Book of Demons: Tablet Edition
While other RPGs can require lots of time and skilful thinking, Crashlands is designed for the casual player. There’s an unlimited inventory, so you can scavenge where and when you want without worry. And it’s Minecraft-esque in ways, offering a build mode that lets you fashion a personalised base from the ground up with various benches for crafting weapons, armour, elixirs and more. Because of the unlimited inventory, if you want to move your base somewhere with more resources, you need only pick up all the pieces to your base and put it in your bag. Simple.
The tap-to-interact aspect of the game takes time to get used to, especially when battling the many monsters you’ll come across on the alien planet, but it’s effective. You get a toolbar for quick access to equipment like potions or weapons – with varying cooldowns for each – and a world map, which enables you to zip between telepads at no cost. This makes exploring the massive open world easier, as you can nip back to your base to recover/build new equipment on the fly without worrying about wasting time.
In all, it’s an accessible take on the genre, which should have wide appeal.
£3.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Crashlands
Death Road to Canada
Road trip! Only the roads on the way to the safety of Canada (from your native Florida) are packed with the undead. Eek! Your aim is to not get eaten, which isn’t easy. It turns out Death Road to Canada is aptly named.
The game is a mix of arcade fare and multiple-choice decision-making akin to a Choose Your Own Adventure book. The top-down arcade parts involve your little gang looting buildings and fending off the undead with whatever comes to hand, or timed ‘sieges’ – claustrophobic affairs that prove tense and terrifying, despite the blocky, cartoonish graphics. The more adventure-oriented bits mix snippets of story with multiple-choice decision-making, both of which can hugely affect your ongoing quest.
There’s a lot of randomness – sudden deaths are commonplace – but also plenty of knockabout humour. This is more oddball 1980s video game than The Walking Dead: a place where zombies co-exist with dogs that can talk and make Molotov cocktails, and where you should never trust a supposedly injured moose. Buy it. Play it. But don’t imagine you’ll be seeing Canada any time soon.
£11.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Death Road to Canada
In this idiosyncratic turn-based roguelike, you’re the administrator of a hamlet beset on all sides by evil creatures. You resolve to send various fantasy archetypes into the villain-riddled swamps, forests and mountains nearby to sort things out. Each time one of your disposable heroes goes on a quest, a dungeon is randomly generated, and it’s up to you to work out the best way of coping.
The game is chess-like in nature – almost as much puzzle as RPG. The trick is to work out which monsters to attack in which order, so as to gain enough experience, collect enough equipment and conserve enough health and mana to be able to take on the boss at the end. There’s also an actual – and brutally difficult – puzzle mode, in which a range of pre-prepared scenarios must be navigated in precisely the right way.
As threats are neutralised and loot piles up, you’ll be able to build or upgrade new facilities and thereby unlock new character types, equipment and monsters, all of which has an appeal of its own; and the writing is consistently witty. But it’s the slow-paced, deceptively brain-bruising dungeon crawling which gives Desktop Dungeons its unique charm.
£9.99/$9.99 | For iPad only | Download Desktop Dungeons
A brief look at Minit and you might wonder if someone’s sneakily replaced your shiny Apple device with the innards of a ZX Spectrum – or, indeed, a Mac Plus. The 1-bit artwork looks like it’s beamed in from the 1980s – although this stark, minimal style is rather striking.
The gameplay is also distinctly old-school, with you ambling about a tiled map, chatting with other characters, hacking enemies to bits, and solving simple puzzles. The twist, though, is that Minit is played against the clock.
As the game’s name subtly suggests, you’ve 60 seconds to solve the quest. Fail and your beaky hero carks it. Fortunately, during your next go, his successor starts off kitted out with whatever was being carried during your previous attempt – and you of course are armed with a little more knowledge.
Minit therefore becomes a compelling (if odd) mix of chipping away at a global quest, figuring out your next steps, and blazingly fast speedruns when you figure out what you need to do – all too aware that 60 seconds is barely enough time to do it.
£4.99/$4.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Minit
A quick look at Michael Brough’s iOS games suggests a creator who has no truck with convention. 868-HACK might technically be a turn-based strategy Roguelike, and Helix is in theory an arena shooter. But these titles have singular twists and visual design that make them resemble games that have slipped through a crack from another dimension.
P1 Select is in similar territory. At its core, this is a stripped-back Roguelike – a turn-based title that has you make your way through a dungeon, duffing up enemies, grabbing bling, and grumbling about your terrible strategy when you inevitably get killed shortly before you can escape its nine levels. But as you swipe, the direction you choose not only shifts your on-screen avatar, but also which character is selected on a three-by-three grid.
This is, to put it mildly, disorienting. You must keep track of each character’s abilities and lives count – and even their abilities aren’t necessarily obvious at first. But this added layer of complexity feels like cracking a code – and once you figure out P1 Select’s nuances, you’ll return time and again to beat your high score.
£2.99/$2.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download P1 Select
Shooting and FPS games
When your thumbs are getting twitchy and you want to blow up some nasty alien slimebags, these are the games to buy.
We don’t want to alarm you, but a massive idiot appears to have set up your ship in a manner that’s not entirely conventional. So rather than your gun firing from your craft’s nose, it instead does so from the rear. Also, again, we don’t want to alarm you, but you appear to be in hell, surrounded by demons, and under threat of your soul being forever bound there if you fail in your mission of shooty exorcism. Eep!
So that’s Backfire in a nutshell – scoot about each arena’s confines, blast bullets from your bottom, and try to not get horribly killed. Except that’s not quite it, because that gimmick alone wouldn’t make for a great game. What ensures Backfire that accolade is everything else.
It looks superb, neon foes squelching from the arena’s walls, and darting after you like psychotic underwater insectoid creatures. It sounds genuinely creepy, mixing up pew pew laser noises with terrifying guttural growls from the creatures that are in hot pursuit. There’s also a cleverly balanced upgrades system, where you deck out your ship using collected ‘souls’, boosting your chances of survival in subsequent games.
That’s not to say Backfire ever becomes easy. The game echoes classic arcade fare, in the way it’ll hand your ego back to you in mangled form. But persevere and you’ll find one of the best – and most unique – blasters on iOS.
£2.99/$2.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Backfire
The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth
This oddball twin-stick shooter is confusing and upsetting in equal parts. It finds you controlling a small child roaming a series of bleak, randomly generated dungeons and caves. He fights hideously mutated versions of himself while becoming hideous and mutated in his own right. (Power-ups are signified by wounds, such as safety pins through his head.) The left joystick controls movement; the right one controls the direction of your attacks. If you die, that’s it – there’s no saving.
It’s a tough game, although there are plenty of unlockable characters and items to discover. So despite each playthrough being brief, the game has a good amount of longevity. Also, arm yourself with a MFi controller and you’ll up your chances. Either way, the quality of the gameplay and the unique atmosphere makes this a must-play.
£14.99/$14.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth
With its detailed monochrome visuals, Gun Rounds looks like it’s time-travelled from the days of the ZX Spectrum. But this is a thoroughly modern mobile take on turn-based battles, finding your dinky gunslinger fending off all manner of hideous beasties.
Each round gives you the option of firing off one blast from one of four weapons you’re armed with: drag back to aim and release to let rip. Then it’s the turn of your adversaries, whereupon you must carefully time a screen tap to coincide with their projectiles meeting the edge of your shield.
That is pretty much the entire game – which, admittedly, sounds shallow. But there’s more going on beneath the surface. As you battle your way through each world, you collect new weapons, and must manage ammo and reloads. Shops give you a chance to power up, but should you save your coins for later? And if you manage to master the easy mode, there’s a much tougher one to tackle, accessed via the two-gun button on the title screen.
Even these extras don’t result in the deepest of turn-based challenges, but then that’s not what Gun Rounds aims for. Instead, it’s a mobile-centric mix of shooting and strategy that’s ideal for a quick blast, and with enough collectables to keep you coming back to see what else you might discover.
£2.99/$2.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Gun Rounds
Having impressed with touchscreen strategy title rymdkapsel, games creator webbfarbror AB has gone full-on casual with holedown. We were sceptical prior to playing – after all, the game looked an awful lot like a slew of freebie wallet-punching IAP-infused App Store nightmares. But although holedown retains some common ground with such titles, it ditches all the bad stuff, leaving you with an enjoyable progressive shooty game.
The idea is to dig deep into planets by shooting balls at numbered blocks. You’ve only so many balls per shot and limited shots overall, and so must carefully target specific blocks – not least those that hold up a small pile of impossibly high-numbered blocks that will tumble into the abyss once the supporting structure is obliterated.
Often, the best strategy is to get your balls through tight gaps so they spang about in enclosed spaces like angry wasps, rapidly depleting block numbers. Underpinning your missions is a nicely balanced upgrade cycle, which has you swap crystals you find for power-ups like extra balls and more shots. Do well enough and you’ll reach the core, get a ton of bling, and be able to unlock larger, deeper planets – and eventually an endless mode.
This game showcases that concepts and even grind aren’t the enemies of iOS gaming. There’s lots of repetition here, but it’s more hypnotic and entertaining than grating, because this game only wants to dig deep into your spare time – not your wallet.
£3.99/$3.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Holedown
In space, no-one can hear you scream “Die, alien scumbags!” Unless you’ve left the intercom on. Hmm. Perhaps that’s why they’re mad and shooting at you.
Anyway, that’s what’s going on here: you’re in the middle of a massive scrap against the oppressive Commonwealth, and are – as is always the way – tasked with going it alone against swarms of enemy spaceships that are armed to the teeth.
From the off, it’s obvious Interloper is more arcade fare than simulator. It revels in its dizzying six degrees of freedom as you whirl and loop among lazily drifting asteroids, seeking out enemies, partaking in flashy dogfighting and (hopefully) ending up victorious. If you’re old, it’s like you imagined Elite to be in your head; if you’re younger, it’s akin to modern epic space battle games but with the faffing and busywork removed.
This is, however, more than a straight arcade blaster, because you can over time customise your fighter with weapons and other kit to suit your style. And the battles are smart too: visually stunning and playable in landscape and portrait, meaning even owners of the largest iPads don’t need banana thumbs to take on the mighty Commonwealth. You might need time to succeed, though – your enemies might whiff of cannon fodder, but they’re not all blithering idiots who’ll merrily lurk in your sights until you blow them to space dust.
£5.99/$5.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Interloper
Having bubbled up from the primordial ooze, your instinct in Ordia is to survive. Which is a tiny problem, given that your entire environment’s instinct appears to be snuffing out your life, by way of impaling or eating you.
Luckily, despite being little more than a googly eyeball, you can shoot about the place. Pull back a finger, let go, and your cycloptoid critter pings across the screen. If your aim’s true, it’ll bounce off of a wall to a hook, ready for another shot. Or perhaps it’ll rattle along a secret tunnel, grabbing some bling along the way. If not, it’ll end up in something’s maw, and you’ll have to have another crack.
Ordia’s a curious beast, not only in terms of the protagonist’s biology, but also regarding how great it is. There’s really nothing here you haven’t seen before: the controls are straight from Angry Birds; the flat, minimal visuals are familiar; and vertical platforming action is commonplace on iOS. But the combination – part artillery shooter; part platformer; a bit of pinball; the odd frenetic escape from a predator – is perfectly executed, leading to a title that might lack innovation, but that’s nonetheless blessed with an abundance of quality, polish, tension, and rewarding gameplay.
£3.99/$3.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Ordia
Imagine The Matrix was a story primarily about polyamory, featuring strange little creatures that spat bodily fluids at each other rather than bullets, and then someone decided to make a videogame conversion that mixed up single-screen platforming and Angry Birds-style artillery action. That’s Spitkiss. And of that intro hasn’t just made steam shoot out of your ears, congratulations – you’re in for a treat.
The basic aim across the 80 levels is to get an ejected glob to your love elsewhere on the screen. As noted, there’s a smattering of Angry Birds, with you dragging a line to fire said glob. If it reaches your love, well done. But mostly, the route is far more labyrinthine, requiring you deal with multiple surfaces, and avoid all kinds of deadly critters.
Fortunately, this magical mucus can leap multiple times, only needing to regain energy by temporarily landing on a wall. And if you’re thinking “actually, this doesn’t sound much like The Matrix”, Spitkiss slows to a crawl the moment you hold the screen, bullet time-style, giving you a fighting chance of dodging adversaries, and perfecting your shot. Also, the protagonists are dressed all in black. We’re sure the Wachowskis are smashing out a spitty sequel screenplay as we speak.
99p/99c | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Spitkiss
Steredenn is a gorgeous horizontally scrolling blaster with a distinctly retro vibe. But this is no trip back to the 1980s. Although there are hints of R-Type lurking within Steredenn’s DNA, this is a thoroughly modern shooter.
You never get the same game twice, for a start. Every go pits you against randomly selected waves of enemies, which you must figure out how best to blow to smithereens with the ordinance strapped to your tiny spaceship. Periodically, you face off against huge bosses, which when beaten replenish your shields, and allow you to pick a bonus to boost your chances.
Also, Steredenn is bonkers. There are shiny craft and lush space backgrounds, but also huge chainsaws welded to the front of enemy vessels, and power-ups in the shape of swords, massive saw-blades and guns that spit endless casings into space. And, although this title doesn’t take itself seriously, it nails vital details like the controls – an upwards swipe to switch weapons; a crosshair to locate your craft should it end up under a thumb; MFi support for those who want to use a gamepad.
With such smart design and endless replayability, Steredenn is easily the best horizontal shooter on iOS.
£3.99/$3.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Steredenn
Space Invaders was exciting in 1979, but these days shows its age as monochrome invaders slowly dodder along, and your underpowered tank aims to shoot them down. Super Crossfighter neatly showcases that the basic framework isn’t the problem – the game just needs ramping up for modern sensibilities.
This is achieved by way of varied enemies and power-ups, plenty of projectiles, and an awful lot of neon. You blaze about from left to right, obliterating enemies raining down fire in your general direction, scooping up gems used to kit out your ship between waves.
Handily, you also have one other trick up your sleeve. A deft tap of the screen and your ship leaps to the top rail, so you can shoot the alien scumbags in the back. (Bet they weren’t expecting that! And, no, this isn’t especially sportsmanlike, but then you are, as ever, outnumbered about a billion to one.)
Although waves are pre-defined, Super Crossfighter’s power-ups ensure no two games are alike, and provide different approaches for tackling the game. And once you manage to blast your way through 150 or so waves of alien mayhem, two additional modes provide yet more shooty action – and all for less money than you’d have pumped into an arcade game for a single hour’s play back in 1979.
£2.99/$2.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Super Crossfighter
Sports & racing games
From football to space-age wheel spin, these are the best sport- and driving-related games to install on your iOS device.
Speaking of retro, Drift’n’Drive doesn’t look so much like it crawled out of a Dreamcast as the 1980s. But this cruelly overlooked overhead racer is one of the most compelling we’ve played on iOS. Dinky cars barge their way along vertically scrolling tracks, getting all smashy in an attempt to reach their goal.
At first, your car is underpowered and fragile, but as you improve your position, you can buy upgrades (only with earned in-game currency – there’s no IAP). Eventually, you’ll be kicking bottom racking up wins, at which point you can take on the next championship level. There’s also a split-screen multiplayer mode, if you think you’ve got what it takes to beat your friends.
£2.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Drift’n’Drive
Golf On Mars
It’s the year 2866. A third of Mars is terraformed. But humans are humans, and so the red planet’s now a gargantuan golf course.
How gargantuan? Try 25.77 billion holes – all algorithmically generated to make your own personal course unique. Helpfully, we’re told if a time traveller sent an iPhone 24,515 years into the past, and a tribe ritually played the game daily for 30 seconds, they’d only just be done today. And, no, we’ve no idea how they’d charge the iPhone.
All of which might lead you to conclude Golf On Mars is pointless, since it’s never-ending. But that in itself is part of the point. Your score is logged but doesn’t really matter. This is a game to relax with, idly working through an effectively endless zen-like quest into the unknown.
The mechanics are suitably simple for such a task: drag an arrow to define direction and power, and set spin with a second finger. The sandy surface means the ball sometimes catches on hills, and there are other hazards to contend with, like low-flying clouds. Occasionally, the algorithm makes your challenge almost – or literally – impossible, but 25 fraught shots later you’ll get a skip button. Such moments are markedly less zen, but still don’t take the shine off of this superb follow-up to classic ball-smacker Desert Golfing.
So we’ll see you at the clubhouse. Just try to keep your scorecard under the 77-billion par.
£2.99/$2.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Golf On Mars
One of the criticisms often levelled at games on mobile is they’re not ‘proper’ games like you get on consoles. Well, Grid Autosport is the highly regarded simulation-oriented console/PC racer squeezed into your iOS device. You get the full complement of tracks and cars (100 of each), and an almost bewildering array of settings.
Fortunately, beginners can ease themselves in gently, leaving on driving aids and nursing Touring Cars around tarmac tracks. But with mastery comes the rewards of tackling beefier cars, and gradually tweaking the set-up so you do more of the driving than the computer.
This is a game that demands perseverance and attention – you can’t barrel into a corner at full speed and expect for anything to happen other than a head-on collision with a very solid wall. But if you want a rich, exciting, deep driving experience on iOS, you won’t find anything better.
£9.99/$9.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Grid Autosport
Horizon Chase – World Tour
A love letter to classic arcade fare, Horizon Chase brings the likes of the Amiga’s Lotus Turbo Esprit Challenge and SNES racer Top Gear kicking and screaming into the present. This one’s all about insane speed, vibrant graphics, and fighting your way from the back of the pack – every time.
But just because Horizon Chase has one foot in 1992, that doesn’t mean it’s entirely retro. The controls are perfect for touchscreens, the career mode is finely tuned for mobile play, and the visuals boast a gorgeous low-poly aesthetic that’s unique and modern, and yet evokes the feel of old-school racers – all without stabbing your eyes with chunky pixels.
FREE + £2.99/$2.99 IAP | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Horizon Chase – World Tour
Reckless Racing 3
Putting our political correctness hat aside for a moment, the original game in this series was perhaps best described as ‘Redneck Racing’. Beaten up vehicles jostled around courses comprising a grimy mall car park and a wrecking yard. The sequel stripped away the character, but this third entry again gets the balance right.
If anything, Reckless Racing 3 is even more oddball than its grandparent, with a decidedly surreal edge. You smash and drift your way through airports, abandoned nuclear plants, and genteel Mediterranean hilltop cafes. And along with straightforward racing events, there’s a Gymkhana mode, to test your skills at coaxing a rickety car around precision courses. The physics is a bit floaty, but get used to that and you’ll spend many hours enjoying the best top-down racer on iOS.
£2.99/$2.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Reckless Racing 3
For all of the gripes we hear about hand-holding in games, players tend to like something to aim for. Repulsive is therefore disarming, in dumping you in a little world and leaving you to it.
The game channels arcade classic 720°, but provides many acres for your hoverboarder to explore. Neon litters the landscape, and cars hover, but buildings are ramshackle constructions, and the walled-off village oddly light on human activity. Notably – and amusingly – greenery appears to comprise holographic projections.
Fortunately, this grim veneer is offset by everything else. The visuals are vibrant, and the soundtrack engaging and chilled. And an experience that initially seems unfocused and unguided quickly transforms into you revelling in a real sense of freedom while you perform stunts in your own personal sandbox, leaping off of rooftops without a care in the world.
Should you choose to be a little more focused, there are missions of a sort. This world isn’t entirely empty of goals: you’ll at some point collide with an object that will display a counter, indicating how many more are waiting to be found. Repulsive then becomes a game of mapping, hunting, and in some cases figuring out how to get at targets that may float tantalisingly out of reach.
You might hanker for more – maps; moves; challenges. But elegant simplicity is the beating heart of this game, and being more conventional would threaten its very core. Ultimately, Repulsive succeeds because it brings something different to your device.
£4.99/$4.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Repulsive
Way back in 2012, New Star Soccer arrived on mobile, bringing with it an interesting take on football management. Unlike Football Manager, it stripped things back to make the game far more, erm, manageable; you also got the chance during matches to directly influence results by making passes and taking chances in front of goal. It made a nice change from merely bellowing from the virtual sidelines. Retro Goal flips its predecessor’s emphasis, ramping up the arcade component and further refining the management aspect.
The game kicks off with you taking control of a team and attempting to lead them to glory. You use your paltry income to improve your ground, boost your training academy and sign players – and will inevitably never have enough cash for everything you want to achieve. In the arcade sections, you partake in a virtual kickabout, with cleverly conceived touchscreen controls enabling you to create surprisingly silky and fluid moves.
It’s a lot of fun – although realism fanatics should look elsewhere. Retro Goal is liberal in handing out yellow cards, and you’re punished when not taking advantage of chances. You’ll likely end up with the most goals scored and most conceded by the end of a season. But for the tiny outlay, this one’s top of the table, especially on the iPad where the larger display gives you more space to make those inch-perfect passes to your star striker.
89p/$0.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Retro Goal
Rush Rally Origins
From a visual standpoint, Rush Rally Origins comes across like Reckless Racing 3 and Rush Rally 3 had a baby. Only this baby is vicious and unforgiving – keen to take your face off. In other words, within seconds of starting out in this gorgeous overhead racer, chances are your car will be inconveniently embedded in a tree. If you’re playing race mode, the computer cars will at this point be long gone too.
So it’s tough. But Rush Rally Origins is also compelling, which will ensure you stick around. The handling is great: simpler and more arcade-oriented than its predecessors, making it feel glorious when you tap the brake and majestically drift around a U-turn (before, naturally, smacking into another tree). However, take the time to master the game – the course; the handling; the different cars – and it all starts to click. You take more risks. You start winning races (against ferocious AI opponents – but they do also make mistakes!) and championships. And it feels great.
Helpfully, the game’s packed with options too. In the Other section of the settings, you can set the difficulty level and camera view. Brilliantly, the virtual controls layout can be overhauled to whatever works for you; other game creators take note. Above all, though, this is an engaging, exhilarating racer that manages to straddle that awkward gap between arcade and simulation with aplomb.
£4.49/$4.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Rush Rally Origins
Super Stickman Golf 3
Golf games can be a great way to unwind, but traditional fare on iOS is often subpar rather than under par (the latter being a good thing in golf, sports fans). Fortunately, Super Stickman Golf 3’s oddball side-on take on the sport is there to fill the void.
This cartoonish title has you thwack balls across and through all manner of madcap courses, from giant castles to space stations full of portals. But despite its zany nature, Super Stickman Golf 3 – like any good golf game – rewards anyone willing to learn the courses to shave the odd shot off of their score. Online modes (live races and turn-based two-player games) add to the fun, but you’ll need the £2.99/$2.99 premium upgrade to access all of the content.
FREE + IAP | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Super Stickman Golf 3
Touchgrind Skate 2
People talk about realism in video games, but few sports titles are a truly accurate reflection of real life. Oddly, Touchgrind Skate 2 kind of is, and we say ‘oddly’ on the basis that two of your fingers become legs that drive a dinky skateboard about a virtual park.
This might feel like a gimmick, but Touchgrind Skate 2 works remarkably well, especially on an iPad. Little movements and flicks are enough to trigger all kinds of tricks. Do well and you’ll unlock new gear and skateparks.
Just be aware that skating like a pro isn’t something that comes instantly nor particularly naturally – the tutorials in this game aren’t so much to be breezed through as fully committed to memory unless you want to wipe out over and over.
FREE + IAP | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Touchgrind Skate 2
Strategy and tower defence games
If you’re the kind of gamer who likes to think several steps ahead, these are the ideal titles to pit against your planning expertise.
This survival horror drops you right into the famous movie franchise, in an interactive bout of running, hiding and possibly surviving that sits somewhere between Alien and its gun-happy sequel. You take on the role of Amanda Ripley, daughter of Ellen, trying to solve the mystery of her mother’s disappearance.
Originally released on PCs and consoles, this port for iPhone and iPad has lush visuals befitting of a AAA title. And although you can use a gamepad or even a mouse and keyboard on an iPad, the default controls have been tailored for touchscreen, thereby giving you a reasonable chance of stealthily exploring environments without getting your innards ripped out by a xenomorph.
We won’t give away the beats of the story, but suffice to say it’s tense and arresting, like the best of the Alien series, and finds you fighting for survival in a manner that echoes the original film. However, the runtime is far longer than even the most ambitious director’s cut, given that even skilled players will take north of 18 hours to work through the game.
If after all that terror you still can’t get enough of having a starring role in your own Alien movie, you can immerse yourself in a version of the original. One of the seven(!) bundled DLCs is Last Survivor, which features Ellen Ripley’s attempt to escape the Nostromo – albeit in this case without the added hassle of dealing with an insubordinate cat.
£12.99/$14.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Alien: Isolation
Bad North: Jotunn Edition
An issue that affects skirmish-oriented strategy titles – even on mobile – is a need to micromanage. Whether you’re immersed in turn-based megalomania by way of Civilization VI or giving tiny armies a kicking in Total War, plenty of time is spent delving into the finer details of your sprawling campaign. Half the time, you wonder if you’d be better equipped with a spreadsheet.
Bad North does away with all that by giving you warfare in microcosm. Each battle takes place on an island, and finds a handful of armies facing off against invading Vikings. Select an army and tap a space on the map to move them. Should anyone come near, your chaps will attempt to fight them off. And that’s it.
This probably sounds reductive, but there is depth. As you win battles, you can train armies, acquiring skills such as archery. In subsequent scraps, you can then have your archers dispatch enemies from a distance; but foes also come up with their own new tricks.
Escalation continues until you win the campaign or – most likely – end up horribly murdered. And in this game, death really is the end – any obliterated army stays that way. But with each battle lasting mere minutes and the entire campaign possible to complete in a few hours (at least in theory), this is a strategy title you can get your teeth into, without the risk of it taking over your life – or forcing you to manage every aspect of a virtual empire.
£4.99/$4.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Bad North: Jotunn Edition
It’s safe to say Civilization VI was quite the surprise when it suddenly appeared on iPad. Whereas previous Civs for iOS had been massively cut-back takes on the classic empire-building/world-domination series, here you get the real deal.
There’s a price-tag to match, of course, but then that should be expected when a top-notch PC strategy title has been squeezed into your iPad. And there are months of strategising to be had here, from having your settlers take their very first steps to attempting to duff up your opponents – economically or by getting a bit stabby and shooty.
Given the click-happy nature of the original, everything works very nicely on the touchscreen. The only obvious rough edge is some slightly blurry graphics on iPad Pro. Regardless, this is an astonishing achievement on iOS and – more importantly – a first-rate game.
FREE + £19.99/$19.99 IAP for full game | For iPad only | Download Civilization VI
In 2017, Euclidean Lands swept on to the App Store. Gorgeous minimal aesthetics recalled Monument Valley, but the game’s turn-based battles echoed the chess-like Hitman GO and Lara Croft GO. All this took place on geometric structures akin to Rubik’s Cubes hanging in space.
Sequel Euclidean Skies initially resembles its predecessor. You’re faced with an improbably floating structure, albeit with soft pastel shades replaced by bold colours, and skeletal monsters draping over the battlements. Enemies still roam these strange locations, though, slicing up your intrepid adventurer should she step into their path.
However, this game is a very different beast, largely due to the freedom you’re afforded in manipulating your surroundings. Instead of offering a Rubik’s Cube, Euclidean Skies has you unwrap each level, deconstructing the land before you. Sometimes, you can spin a section of level about an axis and wallop an enemy on an outcrop. Other times, you’ll fashion twisting pathways to simultaneously bridge doorways and switches.
Needless to say, Euclidean Skies is not easy. Even early on, it disorients and baffles; and as you get deeper into the game, your ability to contain and control chaos will be severely tested, as you stare at a mess of cubes, with no idea how to progress. But perseverance reaps rewards in what’s another fine iOS title from the peerless kunabi brother; and there’s an extra nod of approval from Macworld at a games creator that could have offered more of the same, but instead went for something ambitious and distinct.
£4.99/$4.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Euclidean Skies
FTL: Faster Than Light
A wonderfully tense strategy game set in space, Faster Than Light also incorporates many of the crueller elements of roguelike roleplaying games.
You direct the small crew of a Federation messenger craft fleeing from the advancing rebel fleet, and at each point on the map a randomly generated encounter may result in new equipment, additional crew members, or a dangerous fight with another vessel. Any crew members who fall in battle are gone for good, and losing a fight is permanent too – hence the unbearable tension, and the glorious satisfaction when things work out.
It’s a tough game, but well worth the tears it will make you shed.
£9.99/$9.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download FTL: Faster Than Light
Kingdom Rush: Vengeance
If you’ve played a tower defence game before, you’ll broadly know the score when settling down for a few rounds of Kingdom Rush: Vengeance. You get a screen with pathways and slots, and then build towers to obliterate waves of enemies that appear. The aim is to stop them reaching their goal – and giving you an off-screen kicking.
The backstory finds you as miffed wizard Vez’nan, sick of being defeated by the heroes of the realm, and so out for revenge. Quite how deep-rooted tower defence enables you to advance into enemy territory, it’s hard to say. Perhaps don’t think about it too much – after all, this is only a videogame.
Still, this isn’t just any videogame, nor just any tower defence game. It looks fantastic, not least when dozens of tiny foes are darting about, being contained by your cunning tactics. It’s reasonably deep, with special powers to unleash, mighty heroes to deploy, and an upgrade tree to grapple with.
Oddly – and slightly disappointingly – some goodies (towers; alternate heroes) sit behind IAP. But you don’t need to splash out to win; and for the outlay, it’s hard to remain grumpy at the best game of its kind on iOS.
£4.99/$4.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Kingdom Rush: Vengeance
Kingdom Two Crowns
Build. Expand. Defend. Those are your goals in Kingdom Two Crowns – although the beginnings for your monarch are suitably humble. While on horseback, a ghost briefly bosses you about, teaching you how to transform an abandoned campsite into something slightly more liveable. Lob a coin at a vagrant and they become a peasant you can train. Pretty soon, you’ll have a little band of workers and archers, all going about their business, without you needing to micromanage them.
This is just as well, because when night falls, the Greed come to visit. The fleet-of-foot demonic kleptomaniacs appear from portals, raid your camp, and make off with anything shiny. If that happens to be your crown, your reign is over, and it’ll be down to your heir to take over – and figure out how to give the Greed a solid kicking.
It’s an intriguing set-up – rather like Settlers meets Gridland. And much like the latter title, there’s almost no hand-holding. You’re expected to experiment and explore, and only occasionally will the aforementioned ghost make an appearance if the game thinks you’re dawdling a bit too much.
This could all prove overwhelming, but Kingdom Two Crowns is anything but. It’s perhaps sometimes perplexing when you’re not sure how to progress; and it’s frequently intense, notably when trying to get back to the safety of your camp when your ride is tired and the Greed are in hot pursuit. But the game’s mix of gorgeous pixel-art visuals, sublime audio, and slow-paced yet engaging gameplay with meaningful, regular progression makes for a modern-day mobile classic.
£9.99/$9.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Kingdom Two Crowns
Arnold Rauers has form reimagining dungeon-crawlers as claustrophobic, atmospheric card games. Miracle Merchant, Card Crawl, and Card Thief are all exceptional, but Maze Machina takes things to a new level – especially in terms of smashing your brains out.
The backstory involves Automatron, an inventor robot with a skull for a head, who’s forged tiny steampunk versions of himself. He fancies testing them to destruction in a tiny ever-changing arena, at which point you rock up. The snag: you’re a mouse. Fortunately, there’s an escape route – although getting there is extremely tough.
There are 15 rounds of clockwork mayhem to get through, each requiring you to grab a key and make it to the exit. Also, every move depletes your energy – and reinvigorating cheese only shows up every three rounds. Furthermore, every tile on the grid represents a power-up that arms whoever’s holding it.
Swipe and everything on the board moves in that direction and triggers the power-ups. Given that there are well over a dozen of them, even a single round presents a whopping number of potential combinations, and routes to your goal can quickly unravel if you end up stuck with the wrong item, surrounded by tiny knife-wielding murderous robots.
This one’s initially baffling, then – perhaps even overwhelming. But it’s also compelling, beautifully designed and animated, and – if it clicks – a strategy title you’ll still be playing in years to come.
£1.99/$1.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Maze Machina
Almost as much an exercise in modern art as a video game, Mini Metro makes underground maps come alive. Part simulator, part strategy title, the game gradually adds stations to an initially blank map. Said stations must be connected by lines, whereupon passengers start being ferried back and forth. Over time, you can choose from bonus items – more lines; extra tunnels; interchanges – to expand your network.
The semi-random nature of where stations appear always keeps you on your toes, and Mini Metro eventually becomes a frenetic juggling act of management, with you constantly rejigging lines and moving trains to more efficiently cart people about. Should a single station become overcrowded, your game is over.
Do well enough by that point and a new map will be unlocked, with its own challenges. If it all gets a bit much, fire up the endless mode, which aligns perfectly with the minimal visuals and noodly ambient soundtrack generated by movement within the game. Feeling a bit more hardcore? Check out the extreme mode, which doesn’t allow you to edit any lines you’ve previously laid. However you play, Mini Metro is a modern mobile masterpiece.
£3.99/$3.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Mini Metro
When you’re told a game is a ‘city builder’, you tend to think of conflict – or at least competition. Townscaper is more akin to Lego, having you build island towns from coloured blocks. But in contrast to constructions that result from boxy plastic bricks, Townscaper gives you organic, curvy streets – and unexpected surprises when certain combinations of blocks are used.
The basics are simple. You begin with an empty sea. Tap the screen and a foundation drops into the water with a satisfying splash. Where you go from there – outwards or upwards – is up to you.
At first, you’ll likely be tentative – or at least tend towards the realistic. You might also find yourself fighting the twisty nature of Townscaper streets. But before long, you’ll dig deeper into the core of the game, whether that’s accessing the underlying grid, more methodically exploring what happens with specific combinations and patterns, or realising that you can tap-hold to remove blocks, leading to increasingly delicate and fantastical constructions.
With no defined goal, score or timer, you might ask what’s the point – and whether this is even a game. Our take is that Townscaper is about the pure joy of building. And while it does stretch the definition of what a game can be, the result is as compelling as anything else on this list.
£3.49/$3.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Townscaper
XCOM 2 Collection
If you’ve played XCOM on other platforms – or in its previous incarnation on iPad – you’ll be aware that things aren’t exactly going well for humankind. Aliens have rocked up – and they’re the evil type, intent on quite a lot of ‘killing the humans’. Fortunately, some people resolve to fight back, in this case by way of quite a lot of turn-based strategy, shooty business, and blowing things up.
With XCOM 2 Collection, you’re getting the original PC experience on your device – including four DLC packs. So although the game might seem expensive, this represents great value and is cheaper than buying the same content for PC on Steam. This is a faithful port, too, as you guide your squad around procedurally generated maps, figuring out how to ambush foes while not getting your soldiers horribly killed. Between missions, there’s strategising of a different kind as you embark on research, attempting to improve your tech and your chances.
Arguably, all of this is too much for iPhone. Although Apple’s latest smartphones can technically run the game, the displays are too small to give you a pleasurable experience kicking alien bottom. But on a sufficiently powerful iPad, this is full-fat AAA strategy of the kind that could keep you battling away for many months.
£23.99/$24.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download XCOM 2 Collection
Word searches, anagrams and crosswords are all very well, but these games do new and fresh things with such traditional frameworks.
This game comes across like a politically literate tirade against censorship. An Orwellian adventure story told through one half of an increasingly mangled email exchange, it also happens to be a word game based around decoding blocks of text.
You play the part of a downtrodden citizen of a dimly sketched dystopia, receiving messages with parts blacked out by censors. All you have to do is work out the missing words – which is easy at first, but becomes increasingly tricky as Blackbar’s internal logic starts to weave and tangle.
It can be frustrating. You may find yourself baffled by a single word required to unlock the next screen. But the rewarding nature of cracking each puzzle along with the clever, funny storyline makes it all _________.
£2.99/$2.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Blackbar
Because Letterpress’s approach is unique – sort of a clever mashup of Boggle and Strategery – it takes some time to explain the rules. Once you get them down, though, this word game (with a healthy serving of strategy) is alarmingly addictive.
On your turn, you can use any of the letters in a five-by-five grid to build a word. After you submit your word, the tiles you used turn blue. Then it’s your opponent’s turn to make a word. The tiles he or she uses to spell a word turn pink.
As you play, then, some tiles will go from blue to pink to blue again, if you and your opponent keep spelling words with the same letters, but if you box in a blue tile with other blue tiles, it turns a darker shade of blue and stays that way. Once all the tiles have been used (or after both players skip a turn), the game ends. Whichever player turned more tiles to his or her colour emerges the victor.
Fans of word games won’t be disappointed. Letterpress is seriously fun.
FREE + IAPs | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Letterpress
This word puzzler knows what it wants to be – a really good anagrams game. It doesn’t try anything wildly new, and it’s not aiming to blow your socks off with buckets of innovation, dazzling animations, or adrenaline-fuelled timed challenges. It just wants you to have fun dragging letters around to fashion words that match brief clues.
That might sound reductive – even dull. But while it’s true Letter Rooms isn’t exciting, it does manage to be engrossing as you work your way through its 200 or so puzzles.
Much of the enjoyment stems from a bold interface that features chunky coloured vertical letter columns that you drag back and forth. On an iPhone, this makes for a visually bold game infused with clarity that’s the opposite of fiddly. On iPad, it’s a joy, with you dragging even bigger columns left and right, sounds playing as you do so.
Gradually, additional gameplay mechanics are wisely introduced to shake things up and make your brain work a touch harder: on-off characters and columns that can be switched between multiple letters. This adds useful variety to stop Letter Rooms from getting samey. A daily puzzle would be a welcome addition too, but in its current incarnation, Letter Rooms deftly fulfils what it sets out to achieve, being a pleasant, refined, focused anagrams game.
FREE (89p/99c to buy all puzzles) | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Letter Rooms
Imagine a text-based adventure from the early 1980s devoid of the vast majority of its narrative and you get Ord. Here, every scenario plays out as three words. There’s a single-word setup that describes each situation. You then select from two options to define your action, after which point you’re treated to the most concise of written outcomes. If you’re fortunate, it will make you laugh or at least progress your story. Make the wrong choice and your fast-paced exploits of lexical brevity come to an abrupt conclusion.
It sounds crude, limiting and minimal, but the game’s atmosphere is heightened by sound effects and subtle visual flourishes. Mostly, though, you quickly find your mind starts to fill in the blanks. Despite every tiny scene featuring just three words, you’ll find a sense of horror when caught in a time loop, or tension when picking your way through a dangerous forest.
Ord. is, however, at least as much word game as adventure, hence its categorisation in this roundup. It’s about recognising a situation and figuring out what might be associated with that word, rather than traditional adventuring that affords you plenty of context and logical pathways through a quest. Regardless, Ord. is a must-install. It’ll make you grin as you come to grips with its terse form, be a go-to game to fill spare moments, and keep you playing until you’ve weaved your way to every ending.
£1.99/$1.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Ord.
The original SpellTower is a classic. Drawing from magazine-style crosswords and word searches, it subverted such games by introducing elements from arcade-oriented puzzlers like Tetris.
This ‘plus’ version spruces up the original, adding full cross-device support, and a handful of new modes and features. All over again, SpellTower finds itself propelled to the top of the word-game heap.
The clever way tradition and arcade gaming are merged becomes apparent the second you start Tower mode. The jumble of letters resembles a scrambled crossword puzzle. Words can be created by snaking a path through the tiles. Submit a word and its letters disappear; gravity then makes itself known, and tiles left hanging plummet downwards. Maximising your score requires strategic planning rather than merely dragging out the longest constructions.
Beyond this, you get a range of other ways to play. Puzzle adds a new line of tiles for every submitted word, ending your go when your tower reaches a red line. Rush is more tense, since you play against the clock. Double-speed versions of these modes exist – great for quicker games – along with Bubble Puzzle (blow up bubbles before using letters) and Search (one chance to secure the biggest word, utilising double-score tiles where possible).
For free, five modes are unlocked, but ads frequently intrude. For the best experience, pay your fiver and fully unlock the finest solo word game on Apple devices.
FREE + £4.99/$4.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download SpellTower+
Zach Gage apparently has a thing for rethinking classic puzzle games from the world of print. SpellTower is a word search crossed with a well-based puzzle game, and Really Bad Chess subverts the chess puzzles you sometimes still find lurking in newspapers. TypeShift is in similar territory, only this game has hurled all the component bits of crosswords up into the air to see what would happen.
What you end up with is a grid of letters that you manipulate by dragging columns up and down. If a word is found in the centre row, its tiles are coloured in. The aim is to use every tile on the board – and as quickly as possible, if you’re inclined towards bragging about your brainpower online.
There are set packs of puzzles and a daily entry that toughens as the week goes on. The star of the show, though, is the clue puzzle, which doesn’t allow you to find any old words. Instead, you get a list of obtuse clues, and must find a word associated with each. The end result is a game that really does feel like a perfect combination of old and new. For free, you get a small selection of puzzles to try (and the daily challenge); extra packs are available via IAP.
FREE + IAPs | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download TypeShift
This fast-paced word game keeps things simple. At the bottom of the screen, you get seven letters, and a two-minute timer starts. You drag letters into the tray, which turns blue whenever it recognises something in its (more lenient than most) dictionary. Tap the word at that point and it disappears, and new letters arrive for you to use.
The game’s flexibility and lack of fussiness are evident throughout. Rather than trip you up, it tries to aid you while the clock counts down. You can drag and drop letters to and from the tray, and rearrange those you’ve previously added. Tapping the downwards-facing arrow immediately empties the tray. When no letters have been added, the aforementioned button is instead a trash can, for replacing your entire set of letters.
Naturally, get good at the game and there are bonuses to be had. Much like in Scrabble, trickier letters net you a better score, as do longer words. But because you’ve limited time to play, you can sometimes amass higher scores by playing more shorter words – well, as long as you don’t go for something like ‘at’, which awards you all of two points.
Do well and you can share your game with a friend, whereupon they’ll start with the same letters – or you can challenge them to a fresh competition by way of the duel mode.
£1.99/$1.99 | For iPhone | Download Up Spell
This exploration of how to rethink narrative storytelling comes across like how a book might be in the world of Terry Gilliam’s steampunk bureaucratic nightmare Brazil. Each page requires ‘unlocking’ by you turning a dial, at which point you’re faced with a screen of scattered text. Some lines are intertwined like a completed crossword puzzle. Somewhere there will be empty spaces.
In order to progress, you need to use encircled letters to form a new word in the empty spots that completes the page and moves the story on. The problem is that whatever letters you leave behind must still make up complete words.
At first, this isn’t a problem – you can hack words in two with ease, glue two halves back together in a new construction, sit back and admire your genius. But as Vitriol progresses, it bares its teeth. The puzzles become increasingly intricate as the narrative bubbles with unease.
The story part, unfortunately, comes off second best. The app’s visuals and audio are deeply atmospheric, and the interaction is novel and intriguing. But you at times do wish you could flip the pages back and forth to remind yourself of the story so far. That niggle aside, Vitriol is a strange and gripping word game, especially when played on the smaller screen of an iPhone.
£4.49/$4.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Vitriol
If you fancy a strategic take on word games, Word Forward fits the bill. Rather than having you pit your wits against randomly generated letter grids, or human opponents in a game of Scrabble (or an ‘almost Scrabble’ clone), Word Forward instead presents hand-crafted puzzles. Each grid must be entirely removed – which is easier said than done.
Your initial approach might be to drag out show-off snaking constructions that’d make a lexicographer’s lower lip wobble. But this often leaves tiny letter islands that are subsequently impossible to remove. You must therefore engage your chess brain, think ahead, and figure out how you’re going to eradicate awkward consonants inconveniently clustered together in a corner.
The game does at least provide a helping hand of sorts, by way of special tiles. Some are letters you swap for existing ones on the board. There’s the ubiquitous shuffle, and a bomb for unsportingly blowing a particularly tricky letter to oblivion. Of course, you’ll use them all, complete a level, feel triumphant, and immediately be informed you can in fact finish the entire game without such assistance. Still, that gives you the impetus to do better – or sit slowly rocking in the corner, hugging a dictionary.
£1.99/$1.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Word Forward
The key to a good game can come down to approach. That’s the case with Wordsmyth, which doesn’t do anything new, but offers an experience and level of elegance that propels it towards the top of the word-game heap.
The game itself is Boggle with fewer letters. You get a three-by-three grid and are tasked with using those nine letters to make words. But there are no timers and few expectations. This is a contemplative word game that wants you to succeed and has no interest in making you stressed.
To that end, you can at any time swipe upwards to check your previous words and how many of each length remain to be found. There are plentiful hints to get you going when you’re stuck. Even the basic interface for working with letters is nicely conceived, with leftwards swipes enabling you to remove a letter or two, in order to adjust a word ending.
The general idea is you’ll dip into the game daily, but even there Wordsmyth is relaxed about things. Seven previous puzzles remain accessible and days where you don’t check in are ignored entirely. Instead of grind, then, here’s a word game that doesn’t care about completionism, instead providing a gentle workout that eradicates frustration and keeps you hooked simply by being really pleasant.
£2.99/$2.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Wordsmyth
If you’re a big fan of iOS gaming, you’ve come to the right place.
We’ve got a roundup of brilliant free iPhone games, if you’d rather not pay for software; if your preference would be to pay a monthly or yearly subscription for your iPad, iPhone, Mac and Apple TV games, take a look at our roundup of the best Apple Arcade games.
You may also like to read our round up of the Apple Games Console rumours.
Finally, here’s how to block persistent review requests, which is a recurrent annoyance in mobile gaming.