Best iPhone & iPad games 2021
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: Far: Lone Sails, There Is No Game: WD, XCOM 2 Collection and Up Spell.
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, point-and-click & story games
From old-school point-and-click to thoroughly modern touchscreen adventures, these interactive stories will keep you engrossed for days.
Banner Saga blends ingredients from adventure-style text-based decision-making and turn-based grid combat. In any given skirmish, you command a squad of up to six fighters, selected from a larger caravan of personnel that ebbs and flows in response to your decisions and performance. The battles play out like Final Fantasy Tactics or games of that ilk, with each turn providing the ability to move a hero a certain number of squares and then perform an action, whether it’s a melee or weapon attack or a magic/support interaction.
Outside of combat, things are just as dangerous. You make decisions about almost everything, and you’ll pay for slip-ups. Even dialogue selections feed into how the storyline twists and turns on the road ahead.
The world-building is breathtaking, drawing inspiration and more than a little of the bleak outlook from Scandinavian mythology and Viking storytelling, to create a set of characters that are totally unlike anything else in gaming – yet surprisingly easy to care about. And once you’ve replayed the game to death, you’ll be delighted to know an equally impressive sequel exists.
£9.99/$9.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Banner Saga
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
Don’t Starve: Pocket Edition
This is an odd game, in that victory is non-existent and death both inevitable and frequent. You’re dumped in a hostile wilderness and expected to get on with it. All the while, the game’s more interested in killing you than exploring your creativity. At least everything looks great while this is happening – all endearingly whimsical, faintly steampunk, Tim Burton-esque hand-drawn scribbles.
You must survive, then, against all possible odds and the continually encroaching hazards of (in usual order of priority) darkness, hunger, insanity, man-eating animals and bad weather. At first, you scrabble together berries and fungi from the undergrowth, and then build tools, fell trees and mine metals from the earth, build a shelter, till the soil and keep livestock.
Every game offers a different map, resources, weather, and creatures that wander bloodthirstily into your path. And there are many different deaths – which are permanent, of course, because things weren’t cruel enough already.
Don’t Starve can be a painful and time-consuming obsession, but it’s one that we don’t hesitate to recommend.
£4.99/$4.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Don’t Starve: Pocket Edition
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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
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
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
The White Door
You are Robert Hill, and you’re in what appears to be a hospital or asylum. That much is obvious; little else is. You’ve no idea how you got here, and your memories remain frustratingly out of reach. Your only option is to explore your claustrophobic monochrome confines.
Almost immediately, you’ll discover a routine pinned to the wall. By obediently following along, the day progresses. You go to the toilet and brush your teeth. Physical touchscreen interactions you make echo iPhone darling Florence – although The White Door has no truck with that title’s sense of hope, instead giving you a feel of unease.
Over time, the routine shifts and changes. Making the clock turn requires you to poke around in every nook and cranny, gradually immersing yourself in increasingly obscure mental tests. All the while, a narrative plays out that’s in equal parts weird, sinister, and gut-wrenchingly sad.
If you’ve played Rusty Lake games before, this will feel like another building block in that universe, albeit with very different mechanics and presentation. Newcomers may miss some of the details, but nonetheless get a window into a mesmerising, convincing game world that frequently and effortlessly shifts between mundane reality and dreamlike peculiarity.
With stylish presentation – part comic book; part point-and-click; solid voiceover work – The White Door is a title you may blaze through in a matter of hours, but won’t forget in a hurry.
£2.99/$2.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download The White Door