50 best iPad games: the greatest free and paid-for games around
15th May 2014 | 15:28
The best apps for you iPad revealed
The 50 best iPad games: 1-25
No-one predicted the meteoric rise of gaming on iOS, and we're not sure anyone knew what the iPad was for at all when it first appeared.
However, Apple's tablet has become a very able gaming platform. With more screen space than the iPhone, games have the means to be more immersive. The iPad's therefore a perfect platform for adventure games, strategy titles and puzzlers.
But, just like the iPhone, there are so many iPad games that it's tough to unearth the gems and avoid the dross. That's our mission here - to bring you 50 of the very best iPad games, mixing traditional fare with titles that could only have appeared on a capable and modern multi-touch device.
1. Asphalt 8: Airborne (free)
At some point, a total buffoon decreed that racing games should be dull and grey, on grey tracks, with grey controls. Gameloft's Asphalt series dispenses with such foolish notions, along with quite a bit of reality. Here, in Asphalt 8, you zoom along at ludicrous speeds, drifting for miles through exciting city courses, occasionally being hurled into the air to perform stunts that absolutely aren't acceptable according to the car manufacturer's warranty.
2. Badland ($3.99/£2.49)
At its core, Badland echoes copter-style games, in that you prod the screen to make your avatar fly. But the hazards and traps are devious and plentiful: imaginative and deadly contraptions in silhouette, ready to eliminate any passing creature. Your retaliation comes in cloning your flying monster, and figuring out how to manipulate the environment to bring as many clones home as possible.
3. Bejeweled HD (free)
We've lost count of how many gem-swappers exist for iOS, but PopCap's Bejeweled has a long history, which brings a maturity that's reflected in this iPad release. Along with a polished standard mode, where you match three or more gems with each swap, there's Diamond Mine (dig into the ground), Butterflies (save insects from spider-ronch doom), and Poker (make 'hands' of gems).
4. Beyond Ynth HD ($2.99/£1.99)
This fantastic platform puzzler stars a bug who's oddly averse to flying. Instead, he gets about 2D levels by rolling around in boxes full of platforms. Beyond Ynth HD hangs on a quest, but each level forms a devious test, where you must figure out precisely how to reach the end via careful use of boxes, switches and even environmental hazards.
5. Bit Pilot ($1.99/£1.49)
A pilot finds himself trapped inside a tiny area of space frequented by an alarming number of deadly asteroids. You must stave off death for as long as possible. Bit Pilot is the best of the iOS avoid 'em ups, with precise one- and two-thumb controls guiding your tiny ship, effortlessly dodging between rocky foes — until the inevitable collision.
6. Blackbar ($2.99/£1.99)
As much a warning about digital surveillance as a word-based puzzler, Blackbar is a unique and compelling iOS classic. The game comprises single screens of communications, many involving your friend who's gone to work in the city, which you soon learn is part of a worryingly oppressive society. Your job is to literally fill in the blanks, while becoming immersed in a stark dystopian reality that's fortunately still peppered with warmth, humour and humanity.
7. Blek ($0.99/69p)
Blek is akin to shepherding semi-sentient calligraphy through a series of dexterity tests. Each sparse screen has one or more dots that need collecting, which is achieved by drawing a squiggle that's then set in motion. To say the game can be opaque is putting it lightly, but as a voyage of discovery, there are few touchscreen games that come close.
8. Boson X ($2.99/£1.99)
In what we assume is a totally accurate representation of what boffins in Geneva get up to, Boson X finds scientists sprinting inside colliders, running over energy panels and then discovering particles by leaping into the abyss. It's equal parts Super Hexagon, Tempest and Canabalt, and it's very addictive indeed.
9. Botanicula ($4.99/£2.99)
Botanicula is another excellent adventure from the brains behind Machinarium, this time featuring a little group of tree creatures on a quest to save the last seed from their home, which is infested with parasites. Puzzles abound as you keep the seed safe while marvelling at the gorgeous environments. Although the point-and-click-style mechanics might be familiar, Botanicula is nonetheless a unique and joyful gaming experience.
10. CRUSH! ($1.99/£1.49)
CRUSH! is deceptive. At first, it appears to be little more than a collapse game, where you prod a coloured tile, only for the rest to collapse into the now empty space. But subtle changes to the formula elevate this title to greatness: the tiles wrap around, and each removal sees your pile jump towards a line of death. So even when tiles are moving at speed, you must carefully consider each tap.
12. Device 6 ($3.99/£2.49)
Device 6 is first and foremost a story — a mystery into which protagonist Anna finds herself propelled. She awakes on an island, but where is she? How did she get there? Why can't she remember anything? The game fuses literature with adventuring, the very words forming corridors you travel along, integrated puzzles being dotted about for you to investigate. It's a truly inspiring experience, an imaginative, ambitious and brilliantly realised creation that showcases how iOS can be the home for something unique and wonderful.
11. Death Ray Manta ($0.99/69p)
Akin to what Robotron might have looked like had its developer managed to recreate a 24-hour sherbet binge on-screen, Death Ray Manta is a wonderful, eye-searing twin-stick shooter. But whereas you initially think KILL ALL THE THINGS, each level contains a collectable 'tiffin'. Death Ray Manta therefore becomes both shooter and puzzler as you attempt to score the maximum 64 — and with only one life.
13. Eliss Infinity ($2.99/£1.99)
Eliss was the first game to truly take advantage of iOS's multi-touch capabilities, with you combining and tearing apart planets to fling into like-coloured and suitably-sized wormholes. This semi-sequel brings the original's levels into glorious Retina and adds a totally bonkers endless mode. Unique, challenging and fun, this is a game that defines the platform.
14. First Strike ($3.99/£2.49)
First Strike bills itself as the fun side of nuclear war, but there's a sting in its tail. The game mixes Risk-like land-grabs, a Civ-style tech-tree, and defence akin to Missile Command, your missiles aiming to intercept incoming strikes. Sooner or later, though, you realise the only way to win is to go all-out, sacrificing territory and obliterating your opponents. Just like the classic Missile Command, First Strike remains a playable game, but it's one with a chilling message that comes through loud and clear — at least when it's not buried under radioactive crackles.
15. Forget-Me-Not ($1.99/£1.49)
Forget-Me-Not is like one of those ice creams you get with every kind of candy imaginable, but instead of sugary treats, the sprinkles here are all the best arcade games of old. There's Pac-Man dot-munching, Rogue dungeon-roaming, nods to Caterpillar, Wizard of Wor and more. It's a glorious, madcap neon-drenched slice of perfect arcade fare, deserving a lofty position in gaming's history alongside the more famous games that inspired it.
16. Frisbee Forever 2 (free)
We loved the original Frisbee Forever and 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.
17. Gridrunner Free (free)
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 video game equivalent of a shoebox. Oh, and you get only 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).
18. Hitman GO ($4.99/£2.99)
It's great to see Square Enix do something entirely different with Hitman GO, rather than simply converting its free-roaming £D game to touchscreens. Although still echoing the original series, this touchscreen title is presented as a board game of sorts, with turn-based actions against clockwork opposition. You must figure out your way to the prize, without getting knocked off (the board). It's an oddly adorable take on assassination, and one of the best iOS puzzlers.
19. Icebreaker: A Viking Voyage HD ($2.99/£1.99)
There are other famous swiping games on iOS — Cut the Rope and Fruit Ninja spring to mind — but Icebreaker has oodles more charm, loads more character and, importantly, better puzzles. The animated, cartoon-like world feels alive under your fingers as you cut ice blocks, rope, slime and more to return helmeted chums to a waiting boat.
20. Impossible Road ($1.99/£1.49)
A roller-coaster ribbon of road winds through space, and your only aim is to stay on it and reach the highest-numbered gate. But Impossible Road is sneaky: the winding track is one you can leave and rejoin, if you've enough skill, 'cheating' your way to higher scores. It's like the distillation of Super Monkey Ball, Rainbow Road and queue-jumping, all bundled up in a stark, razor-sharp package.
21. Kiwanuka ($1.99/£1.49)
There is a hint of Lemmings in Kiwanuku, this sweet-natured action puzzler.. You must guide a little tribe to freedom, using a magical staff to make bridges from the citizens themselves. They're left behind as you bolt for each level's exit, presumably thrilled at their assisting your escape, if less thrilled that they're now forever fused into an unused pathway across a yawning chasm.
22. Letterpress (free)
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).
23. Limbo ($4.99/£2.99)
A boy awakens in hell, and must work his way through a deadly forest. Gruesome deaths and trial and error gradually lead to progress, as he forces his way deeper into the gloom and greater mystery. Originating on the Xbox, this Limbo fares surprisingly well on iOS, with smartly designed controls. Its eerie beauty and intriguing environments remain hypnotic throughout.
24. Magnetic Billiards (free)
A game that could have been called Reverse Pool For Show-Offs, Magnetic Billiards lacks pockets. Instead, the aim is to join like-coloured balls that cling together on colliding. Along the way, you get more points for trick shots and 'buzzing' other balls that must otherwise be avoided. 20 diverse tables are provided for free, and many more can be unlocked for $1.99/£1.49.
25. Minotron: 2112 ($1.99/£1.49)
Jeff Minter's gaming pedigree is very long indeed, and he went all out on this update of his own Llamatron, which itself was a tribute to Robotron, the original twin-stick blaster. In Minotron, the levels are populated by all manner of oddball foes, and the action comes thick and fast. A smart scoring system enables you to tackle the game in 'pure' fashion or pick up from your best score at any level previously reached.
The 50 best iPad games: 26-50
26. Monument Valley ($3.99/£2.49)
In Monument Valley, you journey through delightful Escher-like landscapes, manipulating the very architecture to build impossible paths along which to explore. It's not the most challenging of games (nor does it have the most coherent of storylines), but each scene is a gorgeous and mesmerising bite-sized experience that showcases how important great craft is in the best iOS titles.
27. Need For Speed Most Wanted ($6.99/£2.99)
Racing games are all very well, but too many aim for simulation rather than evoking the glorious feeling of speeding along like a maniac. Most Wanted absolutely nails the fun side of arcade racing, and is reminiscent of classic console title OutRun 2 in enabling you to drift effortlessly for miles. Add to that varied city streets on which to best rivals and avoid (or smash) the cops, and you've got a tremendous iOS racer.
28. Osmos HD ($4.99/£2.99)
This superb arcade puzzler is at times microscopic and at others galactic in nature, as you use the power of physics and time to move your 'mote' about. Some levels in Osmos are primordial soup, the mote propelled by ejecting bits of itself, all the while aiming to absorb everything around it. Elsewhere, motes circle sun-like 'Attractors', and your challenge becomes one of understanding the intersecting trajectories of orbital paths.
29. Pinball Arcade ($0.99/69p)
The iPhone's a bit small for pinball, but the larger iPad screen is perfect for a bit of ball-spanging. Pinball Arcade is the go-to app for realistic pinball, because it lovingly and accurately recreates a huge number of classic tables. Tales of the Arabian Nights is bundled for free, and the likes of Twilight Zone, Black Knight, Bride of PinBot and Star Trek: The Next Generation are available via in-app purchase.
50 best iPad games: 26-50
30. Plants vs Zombies HD ($0.99/69p)
Yes, we know there's a Plants vs. Zombies 2, but some dolt infected that with a pointless time-travel gimmick and a freemium business model. The charming, amusing, silly and sweet original remains where it's at. For the uninitiated, in Plants vs Zombies you repel zombies with the power of hostile plants. Countless other defence titles exist for iOS, but PopCap's classic is still the best.
31. QatQi (free)
QatQi starts off a bit like Scrabble in the dark, until you figure out that you're really immersed in a kind of Roguelike mash-up. So although the aim is to make crosswords from a selection of letters, you're also tasked with exploring dungeons to find score-boosting stars and special tiles.
32. Royal Revolt (free)
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.
33. Slydris ($1.99/£1.49)
This sort-of-Tetris has you drop sets of coloured blocks into a well. Tactics are of paramount importance, since you can move only one block for each new line of junk that's introduced. Slydris therefore becomes an ongoing challenge, a deceptively deep slice of strategy, gravity, block management and combos.
34. Smash Hit (free)
If you find catharsis in smashing things, Smash Hit will leave you in a totally blissed-out state. You float through the void, lobbing metal balls at glass objects, clearing a path and chaining collisions. Over time, the paths become increasingly complex, the camera begins to whirl, and the shots get very demanding, depleting your meagre resources. A single one-time 'premium' IAP upgrade exists should you want to start out on any sections of the journey you've managed to already reach.
35. SpellTower ($1.99/£1.49)
This fantastic word game starts off easy. You get a grid of letters and remove them by dragging out words. Your only foe in SpellTower is gravity, letters falling into empty space as completed words disappear. But then come new modes, with ferocious timers and numbered letters that won't vanish unless you craft long enough words. And there always seem to be too many Vs!
36. Splice: Tree of Life ($3.99/£2.49)
A regimented game set in a world of microbes, Splice is all about arranging said microbes to fit within predefined outlines. Restrictions abound, based on binary trees, forcing you to think ahead regarding where to drop your microbes and when to splice them. Grasp the basic mechanics and the game opens up, but it never relinquishes its devious edge, later introducing freeform microbes, and those that grow and vaporise.
37. Super Hexagon ($2.99/£1.99)
Ah, Super Hexagon. We remember that first game, which must have lasted all of three seconds. Much like the next — and the next. But then we recognised patterns in the walls that closed in on our tiny ship, and learned to react and dodge. Then you threw increasingly tough difficulty levels at us, and we've been smitten ever since.
38. Super Monsters Ate My Condo (free)
The original Monsters Ate My Condo was like Jenga and a match-three game shoved into a blender with a massive dollop of crazy. Super Monsters Ate My Condo is a semi-sequel which takes a time-attack approach, shoe-horning the bizarre tower-building/floor-matching/monster-feeding into a tiny amount of time, breaking your brain in the process.
39. Super Stickman Golf 2 ($0.99/69p)
If you've often thought golf would be much better if it was played on Mars, or in a giant castle, or in dank caverns with glue-like surfaces, Super Stickman Golf 2 is the game for you. Its side-on charms echo Angry Birds in its artillery core, but this is a far smarter and more polished game. It also boasts two equally brilliant but different multiplayer modes: one-on-one asynchronous play and frantic multiplayer racing.
40. Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP ($4.99/£2.99)
Apple's mobile platform has become an unlikely home for traditional point-and-click adventures. Sword & Sworcery has long been a favourite, with its sense of mystery, palpable atmosphere, gorgeous pixel art and an evocative soundtrack. Exploratory in nature, this is a true adventure in the real sense of the word, and it's not to be missed.
41. The Room ($0.99/69p)
There's something wonderfully old-school about The Room, in its Myst-like exploration and sense of mystery. But this is a truly touchscreen experience, with you investigating inexplicable boxes with seemingly infinite nooks and crannies, which unlock to present yet more secrets and routes to explore. An obscure narrative is woven throughout, along with plenty of scares. Devour it greedily, preferably at night, in a dark room, and then take on its more expansive sequel.
42. Threes! ($1.99/£1.49)
Threes! is all about matching numbered cards. 1s and 2s merge to make 3s, and then pairs of identical cards can subsequently be merged, doubling their face value. With each swipe, a new card enters the tiny grid, forcing you to carefully manage your growing collection and think many moves ahead. The ingenious mix of risk and reward makes it hugely frustrating when you're a fraction from an elusive 1536 card, but so addictive you'll immediately want another go.
43. Trainyard (3.99/£2.49)
Trainyard is another devious puzzler that at first seems a cinch. Initially, you merely drag tracks to lead trains between stations of the same colour. But then rocks enter the fray, along with colour-mixing and train-splitting. Before you know it, you've 14 stations, seven trains, hazards aplenty and an aching brain from figuring out how to get all the trains home safely.
44. Tiny Wings HD ($2.99/£1.99)
This sweet, endless title stars a bird who loves to fly but doesn't have the wings for it. Instead, she uses gravity, sliding down hills and then propelling herself into the air from the top of adjacent slopes. Meanwhile, in another mode, her offspring are happily racing, bounding over lakes, eager to earn the biggest fish from their mother. Whichever route you take, Tiny Wings is a vibrant, warm and friendly experience.
45. Touchgrind Skate 2 ($4.99/£2.99)
You can almost see the development process behind this one: "Hey, fingers look a bit like legs, so if we put a skateboard underneath…" And so arrived one of the finest iOS sports titles, with you using your fingers to roam urban locations and perform gnarly stunts. Admittedly, this game is tricky to master, but it's hugely rewarding when you do so, and video highlights can be shared with your friends. The game's also a great example of touchscreen-oriented innovation — Touchgrind Skate just wouldn't be the same with a traditional controller.
46. Walking Dead (free)
We do like a good zombie yarn, as long as we're not the subject matter, having just had our brains eaten. Walking Dead successfully jumped from comic to TV screen, and it's just as good in its interactive incarnation. The first part of the story is free, and you can then buy new episodes; if you survive, season 2 is also available.
47. World of Goo HD ($4.99/£2.99)
It didn't begin life on the iPad, but World of Goo certainly makes sense on it. A bewitching game of physics puzzles and bridge building, the title also has real heart at its core. Through powerful imagery, haunting audio and the odd moment of poignancy, you find yourself actually caring about little blobs of goo, rather than merely storming through the game's many levels.
48. XCOM ($9.99/£6.99)
This game feels almost like a brazen slap in the face to iPad detractors who claim Apple's tablet can't handle AAA titles. Showing up only eight months after its release on high-powered consoles, the iOS version of XCOM loses little of the original's brilliance. Earth has been invaded, and troops under your command must fight back, in tense turn-based battles. Tough, terrifying and suitably deep, this smart, sophisticated title feels perfectly at home on an iPad, despite its PC/console origins.
49. Year Walk ($3.99/£2.49)
Year Walk preceded the same developer's iOS masterpiece Device 6, but is equally daring. It's a first-person adventure of sorts, with more than a nod towards horror literature and, frankly, the just plain weird. It's unsettling, clever, distinctive and beautifully crafted — another unmissable and original touchscreen creation.
50. Zen Pinball (free)
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 in-app purchase, including some Marvel-themed and surprisingly great Star Wars efforts, but the sole freebie should keep pinball addicts happily sated for a while.