60 best free iPad games
3rd Dec 2012 | 12:12
Top free games for older iPads, iPad 4 and iPad mini
Best free iPad games 1 - 30
So you've got an iPad and come to the dawning realisation that you've no cash left to buy any games for it.
Have no fear, because the App Store offers plenty of iPad gaming goodness for the (unintentional or otherwise) skinflint. Our pick of the 60 best free iPad games is listed below.
Note that apps marked 'universal' will also work on an iPhone or iPod touch, scaling down controls and graphics accordingly.
You can also check out some of the entries in our TechRadar video:
1. PewPew (universal)
"Expect retro graphics and megatons of enemies," says the developer about this twin-stick shooter, adding: "Don't expect a story". With its vector graphics and Robotronish air, PewPew brings to mind Geometry Wars and Infinity Field, but without a price tag. Despite being free, PewPew nonetheless boasts five modes of shooty goodness.
2. Bub - Wider
This curious creation is a tranquil arcade game, where you tilt your iPad to guide a bubble around forests. The aim of Bub is to snare strangely named seeds and avoid foes. There's little new here over the iPhone release, and the fuzzy graphics desperately need an upgrade, but Bub works well on iPad due to the precision the larger device offers.
3. Checkers Free HD
It's checkers. On an iPad. For free. What more do you want to know? Oh, OK, then – Checkers Free HD is a pretty decent version of the popular board-game, with a variable difficulty level, configurable player names, an 'undo' function for wusses, and a toggle for forced captures.
4. Cliffed: Norm's World XL (universal)
This race-to-the-bottom vertical platform game lacks depth but Cliffed is fun for a quick high-score blast. Use the chunky controls to make your guy dash left or right to avoid rocks and leap down holes. If the screen catches up with him, it's game over.
5. Air Hockey Gold
Air hockey games work much better on the iPad than the iPhone, simply due to the iPad's larger screen. Air Hockey Gold isn't the only free game of this type, but it was the one that felt best during testing, and the two-player mode works nicely.
6. Compression HD
Compression HD is roughly what you'd end up with if you used a hammer to smash Puyo Puyo into the garbage compactor scene from Star Wars. Pieces fall, and you move and rotate them to fashion lines of three. All the while, the walls are closing in.
7. Dizzypad HD
Dizzypad is a one-thumb game which has you tapping the screen to have your frog leap between rotating lily pads. If he falls in the drink, he dies (pollution, eh?), but extra lives can be gained by munching bugs or bravely skipping lily pads. Extra modes are available via in-app purchase.
8. Escape - Norm's World XL (universal)
IUGO's puzzler Escape has you swiping to make your silhouette leap between circles, which vanish when you leave them. The idea is to jump on every circle, whereupon you move to the next level. in-app purchases are available for tougher levels and two-player modes.
9. Frotz (universal)
Although it works on an iPhone, Frotz isn't great on the smaller screen. But on the iPad, with its larger keyboard, the interactive fiction player is a revelation. It uses the Z-Machine format, and you can download a selection of freely available text adventures (including the original Zork) using the app, or upload your own files to the app via FTP.
10. GodFinger All-Stars for iPad
There are quite a few open-ended god games for the iPad, but most are pretty charmless affairs (we're looking at you, We Rule). GodFinger All-Stars takes you in close, enabling you to interfere with your subjects in detail. The interface is interesting, the game is full of character, and while it doesn't last forever, it'll provide you with plenty of entertainment.
11. Harbor Master HD
This game might look like Flight Control in the drink, but the gameplay mechanics are subtly different. As with Firemint's effort, Harbor Master is a line-drawing game, this time with you drawing paths so boats can dock. However, once they've unloaded, they must leave the screen or sometimes visit another dock, ensuring things rapidly become complex and frantic.
12. Tiny Tower (universal)
Tiny people in a tiny skyscraper need you to feed then tiny sushi and do other tiny tasks. Things can, inevitably, be sped up by not-so-tiny IAP cash infusions, but if you're a patient sort, and keen on micromanagement games, Tiny Tower is a charming, enjoyable title that will eat many tiny moments out of your day.
13. Crimson: Steam Pirates
This turn-based strategy game comes complete with an engaging story and a healthy dollop of yo-ho-ho. You command pirate ships, setting their courses and then watching the action unfold. Crimson: Steam Pirates gives you eight free voyages and further adventures can be bought via IAP.
14. Labyrinth 2 HD Lite
Another demo for a paid-for title (and one that made our best paid-for iPad games list), Labyrinth 2 HD Lite's definitely worth downloading if you don't have the full game. It's the digital equivalent of tilt-based marble games, but with crazy designs. You get a small selection of mazes here, but they're playable and varied, and there's always a high-score to beat.
15. Frisbee Forever (universal)
With almost limitless possibilities in videogames, it's amazing how many are drab grey and brown affairs. Frisbee Forever is therefore a breath of fresh air with its almost eye-searing vibrance. The sense of fun continues through to the gameplay, which is all about steering a frisbee to collect stars strewn along winding paths. Initially, you explore a fairground, but soon you're soaring above the wild west and sandy bays.
16. Pocket Legends (universal)
Most iPhone OS MMOs are dreary text-based affairs, so it's nice to see Spacetime Studios creating something a bit more ambitious with Pocket Legends, providing us with an iOS-specific 3D world populated by the usual motley collection of fantasy characters. As always with MMOs, the game demands you invest plenty of time to get anything out of it.
17. Solitaire Ace
After a few hands of Klondike, we actually ended up preferring this free app to several of the iPad solitaire apps with hefty price tags. Solitaire Ace might be simple (no undo, only one theme, just three solitaire variations), but it's fast and responsive, with intuitive controls and extremely clear cards.
18. Tilt to Live HD
The basic aim of Tilt to Live is simple: avoid the red dots, either by cunning dodging and weaving or by triggering explosive devices in the arena. The game stands apart from similar releases due to its polish and sense of humour. You get the basic mode for free, and others can be unlocked by in-app purchase.
19. Flow Free (universal)
Flow's quite sneaky. It looks simple enough, tasking you with connecting like-coloured blobs via pathways that cannot cross. And indeed it is at first, despite you also having to fill the entire board to proceed. But once you're on larger grids, trying to figure out snaking pathways, your ears will be shooting steam.
20. 10 Pin Shuffle (Bowling) Lite (universal)
We're big fans of 10 Pin Shuffle, a universal app that combines ten-pin bowling and shuffleboard. Of that title's three game modes, the best one is included here in 10 Pin Shuffle Lite, for free. Called 10 Pin Poker, it adds a card game to the mix. Get a spare or strike and you're given one or two cards, respectively. At the end of the tenth frame, whoever has the best hand wins.
21. Pilgrim's Punch-Out (universal)
Become a 1980s NES-style Scott Pilgrim in Pilgrim's Punch-Out, a movie tie-in that isn't at all a massive rip-off of (sorry, tribute to) Nintendo classic Punch-Out!! Decent controls enable you to fight your way to glory, and although the game's over pretty quickly, there's always a high-score to beat.
22. Fowlplay HD
If you ever wanted to poop on someone's head from above, Fowlplay HD is the game for you. Taking on the role of a pigeon that should really cut back on fibre, you zoom around a stylised forest that appears to be populated by refugees from Minigore. Aim your deposits at their heads, avoid the trees, and grab any power-ups that come your way.
23. To-Fu 2 (universal)
There's a touch of Angry Birds about To-Fu 2, at least if the birds were covered in something yucky that glued them to any walls they collided with. Said stickiness is the name of the game here, getting the squidgy hero to level's end rather than impaling him on the liberally strewn spikes.
24. Choice of the Dragon (universal)
It might look like it's been repeatedly beaten with an ugly stick, but luckily the magic of Choice of the Dragon is in its witty prose. Playing as a multiple-choice text adventure, akin to an extremely stripped-back RPG, this game is an amusing romp that perhaps lacks replay value, but you'll enjoy it while it lasts.
25. Lux Touch (universal)
There are several Lux games on the App Store, but the original is now free and works very nicely on the iPad. Essentially, this is Risk, and while the computer AI isn't terribly bright, Lux Touch should nonetheless keep fans of the original board game quiet for a short while.
Best free iPad games 26 - 60
26. New York 3D Rollercoaster Rush HD Free
25 of the full game's tracks are on offer in New York 3D Rollercoaster Rush HD Free. The game's a simple arcade title: tilt your iPad to control the coaster's speed, aiming to keep it on the track, and take risks to ensure the crazy riders have a great time (and, presumably, give the health-and-safety guy a heart attack).
27. iLifeGame (universal)
John Horton Conway's famous Game of Life cellular automaton exists for practically every platform, and this simple iOS version, iLifeGame, gets things right with clear graphics, the ability to draw your own starting points, and a small collection of predefined patterns.
28. Pukk HD
Given that it's another Pong clone, Pukk HD isn't the best game to play if you've no friends, because the single-player mode is extremely dull. However, with another player, it becomes an exciting battle of digital tennis - and it looks a lot nicer than Tap Blaster HD, too.
29. Grim Joggers Freestyle (universal)
When we think of extreme sports, jogging isn't the first that comes to mind, although it might be now we've experienced Grim Joggers Freestyle. The game's essentially Canabalt, but instead of one guy leaping across grey rooftops, you get a string of joggers trying desperately to survive in a surreal alien world.
30. Pilot Winds (universal)
With Tiny Wings having spent a large amount of time troubling the App Store charts, we're surprised it took so long to make it to the iPad. All along, Pilot Winds was the next best thing, and it's still free. Instead of a fat bird sliding down hills, you're a daredevil penguin skier, and while the game's inspiration is clear, it has plenty of tricks of its own.
Best free iPad games 31 - 60
31. Drop7 Free (universal)
Drop7 is one of the finest puzzle games on iOS. You drop numbered discs into a grid, and if the number matches the number of discs in its column or row, it vanishes. Grey discs are destroyed by twice removing discs next to them. Three modes are on offer, each demanding a different strategy. And now the game's owned by Zynga, it's free, with only the occasional unobtrusive advert.
Myriad physics puzzlers exist for iOS, but most are twitch-oriented games where you fling objects around, and repeat with slight variation until you succeed. TinkerBox is different, because it demands you carefully consider the task at hand and then construct machines and tools using engineering concepts. It's great for educating kids and also perfect for anyone who used to love the likes of Meccano.
33. Trainyard Express (universal)
Trainyard Express is a puzzle game which tasks you with getting trains to stations by laying track. It starts simple, but the logic puzzles soon test you, with colour theory and other complications. In all, you get 60 puzzles, and there's no overlap with the app's commercial sibling Trainyard.
34. Doodle Jump: HOP The Movie (universal)
Lima Sky's Doodle Jump is one of the most recognisable games on iOS, with a strange hopping creature bounding ever upwards, avoiding foes and trying not to plummet to his death. This kid-friendly movie tie-in instead has you control a bunny, and the levels are finite, although there is an endless mode available via in-app purchase.
35. Paper Toss: World Tour HD
The original Paper Toss was pretty dry and throwaway, but in dumping the wastebasket in absurd surroundings (within a volcanic pool, in the desert, by the Taj Mahal), it gets a second wind as Paper Toss: World Tour HD and is a far more satisfying flick-based arcade game.
36. NinJump - HD
NinJump is a quickfire one-thumb game which has your ninja rapidly climbing, leaping between two endless towers. As he leaps, he knocks obstacles from the air, dispatching killer squirrels, deadly birds and throwing stars lobbed by enemy ninjas. Simple, addictive fun.
37. Chuck's Challenge (universal)
Chuck's Challenge has a long pedigree, being heavily based on ancient Atari Lynx game Chips Challenge. The idea is to use your brain and swiping skills to solve tile-oriented puzzles, keeping your strange purple-haired avatar alive. For no money, you get 25 puzzles, but more are available to buy.
38. Parsec (universal)
On playing Parsec, we had to check a couple of times that it was free, because it's one of the best shooters on the App Store. The game boasts retro-style neon visuals, slick touch controls, and an exciting 20-level time-attack structure that begs you to regularly attempt to beat your high score.
39. Flick Kick Field Goal Kickoff (universal-ish)
Flick the football in precision or sudden-death mode, taking into account wind speed and direction before you belt the ball goalwards. Flick Kick Field Goal Kickoff is a simple game, but the stadium looks great, and it's always a fine title to waste a few minutes with.
40. BIT.TRIP Beat Blitz (universal)
The love-child of Pong and a drug-fuelled hallucination, BIT.TRIP Beat Blitz has you deflecting hundreds of balls, in time to crunchy industrial-style dance beats. This is dazzling and pure but demanding arcade gaming, with long, tough levels. Miss too many beats and you're plunged into Nether, a soulless black-and-white realm where you must chain multiple beats to escape from.
41. Triple Town (universal)
In Triple Town, you have to think many moves ahead to succeed. It's a match game where trios of things combine to make other things, thereby giving you more space on the board to evolve your town. At times surreal, Triple Town is also brain-bending and thoroughly addictive. Free moves slowly replenish, but you can also unlock unlimited moves via IAP.
42. Pinball HD Collection
If you're a fan of spanging a metal ball about, Gameprom's iPad pinball tables are as good as they come. Pinball HD Collection is the freemium incarnation of the company's output, and you get the simple but playable Wild West entirely for free. Yee-haw!
43. Temple Run (universal)
There are many endless running games for the iPad, but this is the only one where you're being chased by deadly evil demon monkeys. But then you did nick a priceless trinket from a temple. Tsk! The tilty swipey gameplay's perhaps a tad tiring after a while of holding up an iPad, but Temple Run is great in short bursts on the larger screen.
44. Candy Train (universal)
Leaves on the line? Pfft! Here, you're more likely to find candy and giant cherries. Not that such hazards stop the little train—but broken tracks will. Your job is therefore to plan out a route for the cartoon chuffer, until your brain seizes up and your Candy Train journey comes to a sticky end.
45. Bejeweled Blitz (universal)
Bejeweled Blitz is the online incarnation of PopCap's hugely popular gem-swap game, and it looks fab on the iPad's screen. As a freemium title, there's a whiff of IAP (either grind or buy coins to unlock power-ups, or you've no chance of topping the high-score tables), but you'll still be addicted all the same.
46. Jetpack Joyride (universal)
Another endless game, Jetpack Joyride is a witty, polished take on the iCopter format, with one-thumb controls dictating the hero's attempts to avoid death that comes increasingly rapidly from the side of the screen. The real gems here are the power-ups, including the amusing Profit Bird (depicted), which isn't at all a swipe at Angry Birds and Tiny Wings.
47. Fairway Solitaire HD
Fairway Solitaire HD is a perfect example of what happens when you marry simple gameplay with a bit of character. On its own, the basic card system would be fine: unlock face-down cards by selecting those one higher or lower than the current one in the draw pile. But the addition of golf scoring and a crazed gopher out for blood turns this into a surprisingly enjoyable and original title. You get nine courses for free.
48. X-Motorcycle (universal)
X-Motorcycle happily offers two videogame cliches for the price of none: the speeding hero (this time on a motorbike), who cannot slow down, and inexplicably giant fruit that appears to be an immensely important currency. The result is a fast, playable game reminiscent of old-school thrills filtered down to their essence and squirted into your iPad.
One thumb per person and one glowing neon ship is the premise behind Orbit1. You grab points, aim to destroy your opponents, and just hope someone doesn't flip out, grab the iPad and fling it out of the window in a huff.
50. Zen Pinball (universal)
More pinball! This one's a bit less realistic than Gameprom's efforts, but Zen Pinball is very pretty, with a bright and exciting free table, Sorcerer's Lair. Further tables are available via IAP, including some Marvel-themed efforts, but the sole freebie should have pinball addicts happily sated for a while.
51. The Big Big Castle
A crazy king is demanding you build crazy castles for him in The Big Big Castle. He's provided the bits, presumably from some kind of medieval branch of IKEA, but there's no glue. Instead, you precariously stack each new piece, until a wobbly castle is soaring towards the heavens. Amusingly, you can smash your friends' efforts to bits via Game Center.
52. Royal Revolt (universal)
Another game with regal overtones, but in Royal Revolt the king is dead and his siblings have stolen his kingdom while the prince was at school. Unfortunately for them, he was studying magic and is now out for revenge. The game itself is a real-time-strategy effort with some seriously cute and well-animated graphics.
53. Letterpress (universal)
Who knew you could have such fun with a five-by-five grid of letters? In Letterpress, you play friends via Game Center, making words to colour lettered squares. Surround any and they're out of reach from your friend's tally. Cue: word-tug-o'-war, last-minute reversals of fortune, and arguments about whether 'qat' is a real word or not. (It is.)
54. Snuggle Truck HD
This one had a dubious start, initially named Smuggle Truck and featuring immigrants being smuggled across the US border. One swift rejection by Apple later and the game swapped immigrants for cuddly toys, which is significantly funnier anyway. The trials-oriented gameplay isn't bad either.
55. Frisbee Forever 2 (universal)
As noted elsewhere in this list, we love Frisbee Forever. This sequel is essentially more of the same: fling your plastic disc away, guide it through hoops, collect stars, and make it to the finish line. What makes Frisbee Forever 2 really stand out is the lush locations you get to fly through, including ancient ruins and beautiful snowy hillsides.
56. Gridrunner Free (universal)
Gridrunner Free has the look of a lost 1980s arcade game, with hints of Caterpillar and Space Invaders. But this is really a thoroughly modern affair, with perfect touch controls and bullet-hell-style gameplay, albeit bullet-hell in the videogame equivalent of a shoebox. Oh, and you only get one life in survival mode, making every game a frantic bid to stay alive. (More modes can be unlocked via the 69p In-App Purchase.)
57. Hero Academy (universal)
There's a point in chess where you sometimes wish your knight would just give your opponent's bishop a thoroughly good trampling. Sadly, few chess games do such things (the ancient Battlechess being an exception), but Hero Academy takes the idea and runs with it. On specially designed boards, wizards attack knights, and demons defend their turf against samurais. It's an engaging turn-based effort with plenty of depth.
58. Rinth Island (universal)
Rinth Island is what would happen if you propped block-shifter Soko-Ban up against a wall and wrapped it around a tube. The puzzles soon become notoriously devious, as you figure out how to reach each tube's summit, but its novelty factor combined with great design will ensure you stick around.
59. Outwitters (universal)
Another chessish two-player effort, Outwitters has teams of angry sea creatures battling to the death, first helpfully arming them with surprisingly dangerous weapons. (It turns out crabs eschew claws when they've a mortar cannon to hand.) Unlike Hero Academy, Outwitters has a 'fog of war', meaning units cannot see any further than they can move. This makes the game tougher to master but perhaps more rewarding on doing so.
60. Shadow Era (universal)
Proving that great ideas never die, Shadow Era brings trading cards to life on the iPad. What you lose in not being able to smell the ink and manually shuffle the deck, you gain in not being able to lose the cards or have them eaten by the dog. It's all very swords-and-fantasy oriented, and just like in real life you can also buy extra cards if you feel the need.
If you liked this, then make sure you check out our best free iPad apps roundup!