Love iPhone games? Love free things? Great! As you’ll see in our roundup of the finest zero-cost driving games, sports sims, puzzles and shooters, some of the best mobile gaming experiences don’t cost anything whatsoever.

This feature outlines the 40 free iPhone games we consider the very best. If you don’t love freebie gaming after tackling these gems, seek help (or dig out your wallet and take a look at our list of the best iOS games).

New in our list this month: Rocket League Sideswipe, Jump Jerboa, Linia super and Crust Crusaders.

A quick note on IAP: Many free games make their money through the use of IAPs (in-app purchases). Sometimes these unlock cosmetic changes; sometimes it’s almost impossible to play without them. Needless to say our 40 picks are all good citizens in this regard, but our reviews provide more detail.

Best free iPhone games

1. The Battle of Polytopia

At the start of The Battle of Polytopia, you find yourself in a little town, surrounded by the unknown, with a single warrior unit under your command. The game gives you 30 turns to explore, locate and ally with or attack other miniature empires, research technologies, and advance your civilisation.

Much of the game is based around strategising, making the best use of limited resource allowances. Would it be beneficial this turn to research hunting and utilise nearby (and tasty) wildlife? Or would the smart move be getting the technology to forge huge swords, subsequently enabling you to gleefully conquer rival cities?

In essence, then, this is Civilization in microcosm – a brilliantly conceived mobile take on 4X gaming (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate) that betters actual Civ games that have appeared on iPhone. In limiting your turns and giving you a score at the end, the game also feels puzzlish, since you must figure out how to better your lot with very limited resources and time.

For more bloodthirsty players, there’s also a ‘domination’ mode, where you play until only one tribe remains standing. However you play, it’s an astonishing achievement, huge fun, and the best freebie game on iPhone.

IAPs: Extra tribes cost between 99p/99c and £3.99/$3.99. The more you have, the more you can take on in any one game – and on larger maps, too.

For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download The Battle of Polytopia

Best free iPhone games: The Battle of Polytopia

Best free iPhone games: The Battle of Polytopia

2. Rocket League Sideswipe

If you think the infamous ‘car football’ game once broadcast on a British TV motoring show was absurd, it’s got nothing on Rocket League Sideswipe. Here, matches consist of head-to-head skirmishes between individuals or teams of two, with everyone attempting to use rocket-powered flying vehicles to direct a huge ball into gigantic goalmouths.

Although the cars are more controllable than, say, protagonists in a Colin Lane brawler (Rowdy Wrestling; Knight Brawl), bouts initially feel like free-for-alls as your car blasts all over the shop, the ball careening around until seemingly randomly ending up in a goal.

However, Rocket League Sideswipe rewards mastery. Single-player training modes let you get to grips with your car, so you can learn how to make it flip and smash the ball goalwards while you soar through the air. And when stuck in a deeply one-sided match, a forfeit option lets you escape and try to find opponents more on your level.

That said, even when you’re getting a kicking, the game remains fun. And when you nail a perfect shot across half the pitch, you’ll feel like a gaming god. The only downside is once you’re done, real-world sports feel comparatively dull. Still, all the more reason for another game of Rocket League Sideswipe – or ten!

IAPs: Amazingly, there are none at all at the time of writing.

For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Rocket League Sideswipe

Best free iPhone games: Rocket League Sideswipe

Best free iPhone games: Rocket League Sideswipe

3. Super Mombo Quest

Celebrated platform game stars have unique characteristics that help them stand out. Sonic can blaze along at breakneck speed. Mario has a plethora of power-ups to call on. Super Mombo has… a really big tongue. And we can guarantee the last of those wasn’t in the minds of Subrosa’s citizens when praying for a saviour to deliver them from the evil King of Nightmares. Still, it’s now your lot as the purple, bouncy, big-tongued Mombo to give your foes a thorough licking. So to speak.

The game’s exploration elements feel very Metroid, but there are dollops of Super Meat Boy too as you barrel around, leaping off walls and jumping on enemies. Although you don’t have to zoom around like a maniac, dispatching a level’s entire quotient of foes before a timer ticks down nets you a coveted combo award. Get enough of those and more areas are unlocked.

There’s a lot more going on too: quests; characters to chat to; the means to use gems you collect to kit out Mombo with special abilities. Although this game is tough, it’s fair. Mastery reaps rewards as you gradually crack how to control Mombo at speed and dig further into the game. Assuming your thumbs can take the strain, you won’t find a better freebie platformer on iPhone.

IAPs: Tap the trunk button for payment options. £2.49/$2.99 removes the ads, but the £4.49/$4.99 premium tier is better, because it adds offline play and gives you other goodies. You can also spend 89p/$0.99 on 5000 crystals to speed along upgrades if you wish.

For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Super Mombo Quest

Best free iPhone games: Super Mombo Quest

Best free iPhone games: Super Mombo Quest

4. Super Fowlst 2

Demons have broken through the barriers between worlds, but all the action heroes are busy. It therefore falls to a chicken to stop them all. (Hey, Hollywood: it turns out that not all ideas have yet been committed to film!)

You are that chicken, in a game that is a demented mash-up of Flappy Bird, procedurally generated maze-like levels, shooty action, coin collection, and an awful lot of headbutting evil critters into oblivion.

The controls are simple: tap the left or right of the screen to arc in that direction. The trick is in the timing, getting it right so you smack into an enemy rather than their fiery demon breath. Fortunately, there are things to aid you: power-ups activated by an upwards swipe; between-game chicken upgrades like missiles you fire from your bottom; occasional mech suits, with which you can get all stompy.

The last of those proves particularly useful when it comes to the boss battles punctuating the game. Initially, you’ll grin at the absurdity of battling foes like a sentient avocado that hurls his brother (the stone) your way – before you realise how quickly they can smash you into a fillet.

It’s all great stuff – a superb slice of arcade action for iPhone, cleverly updated for the touchscreen.

IAPs: For an entirely reasonable £3.99/$3.99, you can smash the ads like an egg.

For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Super Fowlst 2

Best free iPhone games: Super Fowlst 2

Best free iPhone games: Super Fowlst 2

5. Pigeon Wings Strike

Evil minions have taken over the city, and only pigeons in biplanes can save us. This is what budget cuts get you. Fortunately, these aviator avians are the business, zig-zagging through buildings, subways, and tunnels, and blasting drones and flying fortresses to bits. At least, when they’re not flying into walls. Which happens quite often…

Yep, Pigeon Wings Strike has a beak firmly planted in ‘absurdly fast endless arcade game’ territory. You belt along at insane speeds, wiggling your iPhone up and down to adjust altitude, holding the left of the screen to keep the throttle down, and prodding the right to boost when slipstreaming other pigeons – or unleash laser death when facing adversaries.

The tilt controls are pitch perfect, which given that they are, well, tilt controls is a bit of a shock. But then this is a freebie take on the already-confirmed-excellent Pigeon Wings, and so no-one should have expected anything different.

The only downside is the game’s a touch one-note, but that doesn’t really matter when it’s as fabulous as this. And as an added bonus, do well and you can unlock all manner of critters for your hangar – a boost-happy frog; a speed freak skunk; a rabbit that encourages nearby pigeons to get all shooty. How can you say no?

IAPs: 99p/99c removes the ads forever, which, frankly, is a bit of a bargain.

For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Pigeon Wings Strike

Best free iPhone games: Pigeon Wings Strike

Best free iPhone games: Pigeon Wings Strike

6. Disc Drivin’ 2

When you imagine a racing game, turn-based play probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But Disc Drivin’ 2 mashes shove ha’penny into futuristic racing fare like Wipeout, somehow creating something that’s furiously compelling rather than ridiculous.

OK, it is a little bit ridiculous, but, most importantly, the game is huge fun. You select a track, kick off a race against a randomly selected online opponent, and flick your little disc onwards. Your aim is to hit speed-up pads and build boost, and to not end up hurling your disc into the abyss or getting it impaled.

Naturally, just as in traditional racing fare, a solid grasp of the tracks helps. Fortunately, you can spend as much time on them as you like in the speedrun mode, mastering every turn, and committing to memory jump and trap locations. But the actual racing bit is pleasingly unique, with its mix of snooker-like aiming, speed, and split-second decision making.

With 15 tracks, up to ten online races on the go at once, and a slew of unlockables to collect, Disc Drivin’ 2 should keep you flicking for months. Moreover, it cements itself as being the best freebie iPhone racer, despite omitting many of the conventions you’d expect from the genre.

IAPs: You can buy stacks of coins to speed up unlocking cards. IAPs vary from £1.99/$1.99 for 100 coins to £38.99/$39.99 for 3,600. A better bet is the one-off £4.99/$4.99 ‘Premium’ IAP that removes ads, ups your online race count to 25 (from 10), and gives you as many goes as you like on the daily challenge.

For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Disc Drivin’ 2

Best free iPhone games: Disc Drivin' 2

Best free iPhone games: Disc Drivin' 2

7. Data Wing

First impressions of Data Wing are essentially “this is a quite nice top-down racer”. You guide a little triangular ship about a minimal track, battling inertia in a manner similar to controlling the spaceship in classic arcade blaster Asteroids. But, unusually, your ship doesn’t explode when it hits something; instead, Data Wing encourages you to grind track edges for boost, which flings you along at sometimes irrational speeds.

If that was all you got, Data Wing would still impress, but this game is far more than a basic racer. Sure, there are time trials, races where you must hit checkpoints before the clock runs out, and skirmishes against opponents. But some levels flip the game on its side and have you battle gravity. In these adventure-oriented mini-quests, you explore caverns, find keys, and figure out how to use the environment to clamber towards a distant – and very high-up – exit.

While all this is going on, there’s a narrative playing out on the level-select screen, involving your job as a ‘data wing’, working for Mother, the AI at the heart of a machine. This becomes almost as engaging as the arcade action, delving into hacking, and affording you glimpses of life beyond the screen.

On paper, it’s a strange mash-up that probably shouldn’t work, and yet it does. In short, Data Wing’s an iOS classic that’s not to be missed.

IAPs: Data Wing has no IAPs or ads – it’s totally free. Bargain of the year? We think so.

For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Data Wing

Best free iPhone games: Data Wing

Best free iPhone games: Data Wing

8. SpellTower+

The original SpellTower remains one of the finest word games on any platform. Drawing from traditional paper-based word searches and crosswords, SpellTower subverted the genre by bolting on bits of Tetris. This mash-up provided lashings of word-based strategy, and appealed to a wide range of puzzle fans.

In its free form, SpellTower+ more or less is the original SpellTower, spruced up a bit visually, made free (with ads), and with the odd extra rule. It’s still marvellous.

Your journey begins in Tower mode, facing a stack of letters and black squares in a well. You tap out words that can be formed from snake-like pathways – there’s no ‘straight line’ limitation here! When they are submitted, gravity plays its part, and tiles left floating fall. Finding the longest word isn’t always a high-score strategy – instead, you must make best use of what’s on the grid.

Beyond Tower, you venture into modes that borrow from Tetris-like arcade puzzlers, growing the stack after each move or against the clock. You also get a daily crack at a Tower mode, and the new Search. The latter has you manipulate a square board packed with double-score tiles, and you only get one attempt to submit a high-scoring word.

Pay up and you get a lot more, but even for free, SpellTower+ is a must-have for iPhone.

IAPs: The full game unlock IAP costs £4.99/$4.99. This removes the ads, enables you to peruse statistics, and provides access to Search, Zen, ExPuzzle, Double Puzzle, Bubble Puzzle, and Blitz modes.

For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download SpellTower+

Best free iPhone games: SpellTower+

Best free iPhone games: SpellTower+

9. Touchgrind Scooter

If you’re unfamiliar with Touchgrind, the series emulates extreme sports (dude), in a manner that uses two of your digits to control whatever’s transporting you through the game world. In other words, your fingers become like little arms and legs. It’s best not to think about it too much.

This latest entry moves on from skateboards and BMX bikes to scooters, having you control a board that features handles and two tiny wheels, attempting to not break your virtual neck when performing show-off stunts.

Initially, it’s tricky; you might wonder whether it’d be quicker to learn how to perform a backflip on a real scooter. But then this series has always demanded a certain amount of dedication. So work through the tutorial until you’ve nailed the handling, and only then set out for runs through the first unlocked course.

Soon, the physics, viewpoint and brilliant (if odd) control method will click. You’ll start grinding on rails and spinning your deck while in the air. Then you can venture into the how-to section and discover ever-more dangerous stunts to try. On iPhone, it all works wonderfully, offering a rewarding experience – if you’re prepared to put in the effort.

IAPs: You could spend a lot of money on virtual avatars and kit, but probably don’t. However, if you like the game, £8.99/$8.99 unlocks four new city areas that you can’t get through standard play. They’re worth it if you hanker for new places to strut your scooter stuff.

For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Touchgrind Scooter

Best free iPhone games: Touchgrind Scooter

Best free iPhone games: Touchgrind Scooter

10. PewPew Live

In 1982, seminal coin-op Robotron: 2084 exploded on to the scene, defining the twin-stick shooter. Its claustrophobic environment and countless enemies made for intense bouts of blasting action. Swap two sticks for two thumbs and you’ve the ideal ingredients for iPhone/iPad arcade fare, and yet many of the best twin-stick shooters on Apple mobile hardware – Minotron: 2112; Geometry Wars 3; Darkside; Infinity Field; Mutant Storm – have long since departed the App Store.

Luckily, PewPew Live gives us a taste of frenetic blasting action, across five distinct modes. Some echo Geometry Wars, having you survive waves of hazards heading your way in the gaming environment equivalent of a shoebox. Others have you dart about, avoiding obstacles and collecting score pick-ups while desperately trying to fend off adversaries. Our favourite is a souped-up Asteroids, which lulls you into a false sense of security with its seeming acres of space – until you realise anything you blow up rapidly shows up on the other side of the screen.

The game’s hard as nails. You will die, often. The ‘medal’ score targets are tantalisingly low, but it’ll take many attempts to meet them. But PewPew Live is also polished, with a jaunty tune and gorgeous visuals that recall classic vector arcade games. If it cost a fiver, we’d lob it a recommendation. For free, it’s a hugely generous treat.

IAPs: The app’s creator went PEW PEW PEW at the concept of IAPs, leaving his game properly free. There aren’t even any ads.

For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download PewPew Live

Best free iPhone games: PewPew Live

Best free iPhone games: PewPew Live

11. Peak’s Edge

Game creator Kenny Sun appears to be obsessed with triangles if his previous efforts, Yankai’s Triangle and Yankai’s Peak, are anything to go by. Peak’s Edge is also packed full of pointy critters, in a game that’s a decidedly claustrophobic take on a semi-randomised turn-based strategy title.

The aim in each tiny procedurally generated level is to trundle your little pyramid to a glowing white goal. Evil pyramids block your way, but your pyramid is armoured. Smack into your foes and they disappear. But if they hit you first, that side of your pyramid loses its armour and becomes vulnerable. One additional hit there and your game’s over.

Fortunately, you can apply new armour – and also gain new skills – by rolling on to a pick-up square. Eventually, you’ll be blazing about, meting out all kinds of pointy justice, and digging deeper into the game’s seemingly endless hexagonal dungeons.

Before that point, you’ll probably be a bit baffled. Peak’s Edge looks abstract and alien; its slew of power-ups is initially hard to keep in your head. But persevere and Peak’s Edge takes hold, providing you with essentially unlimited replay value, and one of the iPhone’s smartest slices of focused handheld strategy.

IAPs: Go premium for $2.99/£2.99 and you remove ads, get unlimited undos, and unlock all armour and skills.

For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Peak’s Edge

Best free iPhone games: Peak's Edge

Best free iPhone games: Peak's Edge

12. Knight Brawl

Although occasionally veering into sensible (Undisputed Champ) and hyper-casual (Golfing Around) gaming, Colin Lane’s best known for deranged sports titles featuring absurdist physics and barely controllable protagonists. Whether wrestling in Rowdy Wrestling or playing basketball in Dunkers 2, you battle how your player moves, rather than just the opposition. That line of thinking now comes to gladiator battles – and it’s superb.

You start off with basic one-on-one matches, to get to grips with not horribly dying. A double-tap on an arrow button has your fighter lunge towards an opponent, potentially knocking away their shield or armour – assuming your weapon’s pointing in the right direction. Deliver a killing blow, and you presumably get serious bragging rights offscreen at the videogame characters inn.

Where Knight Brawl shifts from amusing curiosity to essential download is in offering you so much to do. Beyond the basic battles, there are free-for-all scraps, and missions that edge into platform game territory. The odd design decision is questionable – you can quite often win multi-fighter skirmishes by hanging around on the sidelines and letting everyone else duff each-other up; nonetheless, Knight Brawl is buckets of fun and not to be missed.

IAPs: For £1.99/$1.99, you can remove the reasonably frequent but not horribly intrusive pop-up ads. Given how much game you get, that seems like a bargain.

For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Knight Brawl

Best free iPhone games: Knight Brawl

Best free iPhone games: Knight Brawl

13. Shadowgun Legends

In this first-person shooter, stone-cold killers are treated like rockstars. There’s a confidence and swagger here that’s rare for this genre on mobile; but this isn’t misplaced, because with its dazzling visuals, accessibility and depth, Shadowgun Legends is a first-rate mobile title.

It controls well, with your left and right thumbs, respectively, moving and aiming. Autofire takes care of any aliens dumb enough to get in front of your sights. Buttons then trigger special kit you’re lucky enough to own, such as sentry guns.

The fast-paced missions are linear in nature, but have a sense of pace and rhythm that’s invigorating and compelling. And because progression happens rapidly, it feels like the game rewards you for your time, even when you only dip into it for a few minutes.

There are downsides. The storyline is forgettable, and you’ll eventually need to splash out on at least one IAP to unlock enough inventory slots for upgrades, without you otherwise having to be mired in busywork after missions. But other than those niggles, Shadowgun Legends has all you need from a solid mobile FPS: loads of shooty action; visuals to coo at; smartly conceived multiplayer; and adoring fans clamouring to build a massive statue of you in the game’s central hub. (OK, so that last one’s a bit odd, but do you really want to say no to them?)

IAPs: This one’s stuffed full of IAP with heroic-sounding names, like Alien Hunter Pile (£4.99/$4.99) and Legendary Treasure (with a legendary £99.99/$99.99 price-tag). Once you’re heavily into the game, you’ll need to splash out on at least the cheapest IAP, to unlock dozens of extra inventory slots. Ongoing payments aren’t necessary, though.

For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Shadowgun Legends

Best free iPhone games: Shadowgun Legends

Best free iPhone games: Shadowgun Legends

14. PinOut!

The iPhone has seen radical reworkings of pinball, from Zen‘s highly animated tables through to puzzle-like precision flipper INKS. PinOut!, though, rethinks pinball as an endless runner of sorts. You face off against a single massive table, with the aim of getting as far as possible before the timer runs out.

This is a gorgeous game. The visuals are all glowing neon, like what we imagine the Tron bikers play during their downtime. Throughout, your ears are bathed in a fantastic synth-pop soundtrack. But this would all be for nothing if the game disappointed – but it’s one of the best pinball titles on the iPhone.

Like the aforementioned INKS, PinOut! is best thought of as a precision shooter. Whereas a lot of classic pinball tables are all about combos and speed, PinOut! demands you figure out the most efficient route to the next miniature table, which usually involves hitting a specific ramp. If you can grab dots along the way, to replenish the clock, that’s a bonus.

It sounds simple – reductive, even, compared to ‘proper’ pinball – but PinOut! proves a frequently exciting, tense game, not least when you’re running low on time and your ball hits a wall at precisely the wrong angle, costing you precious seconds. However, eight varied themes and a small selection of mini-games keep you interested and boost replay value. And the varied tables and slightly simplified physics make PinOut! very suitable for iPhone – unlike traditional pinball titles, which feel fiddly on a smaller screen.

IAPs: PinOut! has a single £2.99/$2.99 IAP that unlocks checkpoints. In the free version, you have to start from the beginning every time.

For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download PinOut!

Best free iPhone games: PinOut!

Best free iPhone games: PinOut!

15. Jump Jerboa

Humans of a certain inclination appear to enjoy placing tiny rodents in tricky situations, just to see how they fare. If that’s not your thing, Jump Jerboa could appeal as you help a leapy and furry protagonist to freedom rather than trapping it.

At least, we assume that’s on the cards. If not, the game’s an exercise in brutal sadism. It kicks off with you having the titular critter scoop up gold on the way to an exit that leads to the next challenge. However, the star of the show automatically sprints along, and so all you can do is tap to time its jumps.

This mechanic isn’t new, but Jump Jerboa instantly clicks. It’s fast-paced, and the single-screen levels are brilliantly designed, coming across like little puzzles to be solved. You’ll need to master nuances in the controls – hold for longer to jump higher; slide down walls to reach the perfect point before jumping – to best hazards that include marching enemies, portals, cannons and keys.

Death is never the end in Jump Jerboa. Failure resets the current level, so you can have another go. The result is a platform game in miniature that turns into an obsession. And even if you somehow make it to the last few rounds, you’ll want to head back to prior screens and ensure you’ve grabbed all of that gold.

IAPs: You can buy out the relatively infrequent but momentum-sapping ads for £1.79/£1.99.

For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Jump Jerboa

Best free iPhone games: Jump Jerboa

Best free iPhone games: Jump Jerboa

16. Asphalt 9: Legends

If you’ve played a reasonably recent Asphalt game, you’ll know the series left reality behind some time ago. What you get instead is unhinged arcade racing, where cars are hungry for nitro, drift for miles around corners, and regularly soar into the air, cartwheeling and spinning like a baton thrown by a particularly furious parade leader.

But Asphalt 9 breaks from traditional racers in another way: there’s a system called TouchDrive, which means you don’t have to steer. That nugget of information probably sent shivers down the spines of traditionalists – and now has them ranting about how mobile doesn’t have proper games. The thing is, it really works.

While your car rockets along, you swipe to target obstacles (boost; ramps; entrances to skyscrapers you totally shouldn’t drive through), and tap to nitro, drift, and perform crazy stunts. This doesn’t remove the thrill of racing – instead, it’s honed down to its purest essence. The game becomes the racing equivalent of those fab one-thumb platformers that taught gamers you don’t need directional controls if the rest of the game is pitch-perfect.

That said, you can revert to standard controls if you wish. Either way, Asphalt 9’s an exhilarating ride, whether you’re in a smashy high-octane race against similarly nutcase drivers, or fleeing from the fuzz in exciting escape scenarios.

IAPs: It’s an Asphalt game, so has a boat-load of IAP. In short, you’re paying to avoid grind, and some (entirely optional) car packs are ludicrously expensive. However, the £1.99/$1.99 starter pack – some cash and a Porsche – isn’t a bad buy.

For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Asphalt 9: Legends

Best free iPhone games: Asphalt 9: Legends

Best free iPhone games: Asphalt 9: Legends

17. Super Cat Tales 2

The original Super Cat Tales felt like someone had shoved a classic old-school platform game inside your iPhone. Only instead of a dungaree-clad plumber doddering about, it starred a rag-tag bunch of moggies. In this sequel, the cats are back, to thwart the invasion plans of a mysterious tin soldier army.

Super Cat Tales 2’s pacy, breezy platforming action, packed with secrets, urgency and excitement, ensures it grabs hold from the off. A nicely written slice of backstory draws you in, and before you know it your cat is leaping about, grabbing the suspiciously large number of levitating gold coins that appear in this kind of game, and hopping into the occasional massive yellow tank for robot-smashing action.

Although the bright, chunky visuals might feel like a throwback to the SNES, the controls in Super Cat Tales 2 are thoroughly modern. One thumb at each side of the screen is enough to let you run, dash, clamber up walls (and scrabble down them like a terrified kitten when holding on a second too long), and wall-jump like a feline ninja.

At first, it all feels alien as you rewire your thumbs; but the game soon beds in as a near-perfect iPhone platformer. Frankly, we’d be recommending this one for a tenner; for free – or five quid if you go premium – it’s a bargain.

IAPs: The £4.99/$4.99 premium mode removes the ads. You can also pay to unlock levels if you haven’t found the objects you need to progress.

For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Super Cat Tales 2

Best free iPhone games: Super Cat Tales 2

Best free iPhone games: Super Cat Tales 2

18. Super Arcade Football

At the height of the 16-bit era, consoles and computers didn’t have the grunt to power football games that resembled something you’d see on the telly. Instead, they were fast-paced and frenetic affairs: pinball-like to the observer, but to the player, exactly the way football feels in your head.

Super Arcade Football is the closest thing to overhead footie classic Sensible Soccer you’re going to find on an iPhone. Dinky players scoot about a pitch, and straightforward controls make it a cinch to pass the ball between players, commit to bone-crunching slide tackles, and bend shots in the most unlikely manner.

But exaggerated banana kicks aren’t the most unlikely of things in this footie game. That’s because alongside a slew of modes, you can also mess about with modifiers. Although a few of these are reasonable and sensible – indoor pitches; changes to game length – it’s possible to play on the equivalent of an ice rink splattered with oil and mud, and on to which huge meteorites regularly smash.

For anyone looking for the realism (or, really, pseudo-realism) of a FIFA or a PES, Super Arcade Football might not click. But if you want to recreate the excitement of a thrilling knockout cup, in a manner that’s immediate, accessible and endlessly replayable, this game’s top of the league.

IAPs: £2.49/$2.99 removes ads that otherwise appear at the end of each half.

For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Super Arcade Football

Best free iPhone games: Super Arcade Football

Best free iPhone games: Super Arcade Football

19. Fancade

If you ever get that nagging sense there’s no longer any ambition in iPhone gaming, Fancade squashes such thoughts in style. However, it’s not in the games themselves that the ambition really lies.

Yes, we said games, because Fancade is a collection of simple titles you dip in and out of on an overriding quest to reach the end of a pathway that zig-zags through floating isometric islands. What you’re served is often familiar: two-button bouncy physics driving fare; path-finding and building twiddling, like a stripped-back Monument Valley; fleet-of-foot one-thumb platforming. But what initially drives interest is Fancade’s bite-sized nature. Blow through a few levels of one thing, and you’re on to another. It’s gaming for the short attention span generation – the App Store reimagined as WarioWare.

This on its own would be quite impressive. Even if Fancade’s mini-games aren’t brimming with imagination, they are fun and polished. But Fancade also invites you to make your own games. If you’re especially driven, you can do so from a blank canvas; alternatively, mere mortals can grab a pre-made kit and experiment with components to see what happens.

Even if you don’t delve into making your own tiny worlds, Fancade is a must; and if you do, it’ll likely stay welded to your iPhone indefinitely.

IAPs: There are non-recurring monthly (99p/99c) and annual (£9.99/$9.99) options, primarily to keep the Fancade servers running. But spend some cash and all wait timers are removed as a thank you.

For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Fancade

Best free iPhone games: Fancade

Best free iPhone games: Fancade

20. Linia super

In stills, Linia super resembles minimalist art, with simple shapes and bold colours that, if they were painted on canvas, could hang in any number of galleries. In the hand, though, it’s more like a precision training aid for a samurai.

Each of its 100 or so levels finds the aforementioned art animating. Shapes morph and shift. Sometimes, boxes march back and forth. In other cases, elements disappear and pop up elsewhere. Your aim is to scythe a line across the screen, in such a way that the colours it intersects match a sequence above the pattern.

Well, we say simply, but success in Linia super can be tricky. You must get the timing and placement of your swipe just right, or you’ll fractionally miss one or more targets. Fail too often and your energy will be used up, forcing you to restart the current set of levels – unless you replenish your energy with in-game ‘Liniacoins’.

Although occasionally a touch fiddly on the smaller display of an iPhone, Linia super is an intriguing and compelling mix of arcade game and observational challenge. Roll in some chill-out audio and gorgeous visual textures and you’ve a game that demands skill and clarity and yet can help you relax due to its underlying meditative feel.

IAPs: For £1.79/$1.99, you can be rid of the ads and drop how many Liniacoins it costs to retry a level. For £4.49/$4.99, paid chapters are unlocked and you get 5,000 coins. You can also top up your Liniacoins, maxing out at £4.49/$4.99 for 10,000.

For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Linia super

Best free iPhone games: Linia super

Best free iPhone games: Linia super

21. Deep Golf

An endless golfing game, akin to a zen-like experience, where your score doesn’t matter so much as just playing? If that sounds an awful lot like iOS classic Desert Golfing, you’re not wrong. Fortunately, Deep Golf does enough to differentiate itself from being “Desert Golfing, but underground”, not least in terms of its character and the nature of the challenges.

The basics, however, are broadly the same as the game that acted as its inspiration. You drag to set your shot’s power and direction, and then let go and watch your ball sail through the air. With luck, you’ll get a hole-in-one – which in Deep Golf unlocks alternate balls. If not… well, you’ll need to have another shot (or 10).

Unlike Desert Golfing’s austere minimalism, Deep Golf has a distinctly cartoonish vibe. Eyeballs peer out from underground caverns, and courses are littered with old bones that crumble when hit, pools of water, sticky purple goo, and mushrooms that endearingly catapult your ball back into the air with a sproing. Beyond adding spin by tilting your device, there’s not much in the way of depth here (bar the being deep underground thing), but this game doesn’t need it, on account of being such relentlessly breezy fun.

IAPs: There are two entirely optional IAPs, each costing £1.99/$1.99. One unlocks all of the balls (including odd-shaped ones); the other provides you with alternate physics modes.

For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Deep Golf

Best free iPhone games: Deep Golf

Best free iPhone games: Deep Golf

22. pink (game)

This one kicks off with intense electronic music and a small flock of flamingos moving their heads back and forth in time to the beat. Hit the play button and you’re faced with a big number one and no indication of what to do next.

Tap the screen and the one fills slightly – but then immediately empties. Hold the screen, though, and it fills entirely. You then find yourself on the second screen, which suitably displays a number two – and again challenges you to flood the screen with colour.

This is pink throughout its entire length, and although the first few levels are straightforward, the game subsequently stretches logic to breaking point. Towards the end of its 50 levels, you’ll be straining for the tips button, only to stop yourself at the last second. After all, you don’t want to let a cryptic puzzle game beat you.

Having previously treated us to yellow, red, black, blue and green, you do wonder what pink creator Bart Bonte’s going to do when he runs out of colours. The only niggle is that pink is arguably more of the same. Still, that same has been great from day one and with pink being the best yet in the series, it’s a must-download.

IAPs: Only one IAP here: £1.99/$1.99 gets rid of the adverts. Seems like a bargain to us.

For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download pink (game)

Best free iPhone games: Pink

Best free iPhone games: Pink

23. Beach Buggy Racing 2

For reasons we’ve never fully understood at Macworld HQ, the iPhone has always suffered a dearth of decent kart racers – so we’re suckers for a good one when it comes along. And Beach Buggy Racing 2 blasts past that particular barrier.

If you’ve played kart racers before, you’ll know the score. You zoom along larger-than-life tracks in tiny cars, race positions changing more often than the British weather whenever you decide to take a holiday. Periodically, you can grab power-ups to unsportingly use against opponents. Hit the chequered flag first and glory awaits.

With balanced controls, lovely visuals, and interesting course design, Beach Buggy Racing 2 ticks every box. Its upgrade and unlock path is fair, meaning if you don’t splash out on IAP, you’ll still regularly get new goodies (tracks; cars; drivers) – at least if you play often.

There’s also plenty of track and weapons variation. You’ll bomb past a medieval castle with fire-breathing dragon, blasting fireworks at all and sundry; the next race may find you bouncing atop giant turtles in a prehistoric wilderness, waiting for the optimum moment to encase your rivals in blocks of ice. It’s a pity there are no cups – you at any point only have two races to choose from – but the compulsion cycle here is nonetheless rock solid.

IAPs: Coins upgrade weapons, gems buy coins, and you can buy gems – 99p for 90, up to £99.99 for 15,000. Or just grind for free. Now and again, limited offers appear, which are fairly good value if you need a boost.

For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Beach Buggy Racing 2

Best free iPhone games: Beach Buggy Racing 2

Best free iPhone games: Beach Buggy Racing 2

24. Sticky Terms

Philipp Stollenmayer has form in creating weird games, such as artsy puzzler Song of Bloom, surrealist bacon flipper Bacon – The Game, and acrobatic letter puzzler supertype. Sticky Terms veers towards the last of those, and although the letters here don’t flip about, they need moving around for each of the game’s puzzles to be completed.

In fact, what you see at first rarely resembles text. Often, the initial construction is akin to abstract geometric modern art. These puzzle pieces are pulled apart with a meaty pop, spun with a tap, and then rearranged in a manner that creates full words.

The twist is the words are untranslatable and distinctly weird. This is a game that has you recreate the likes of neko-neko (an Indonesian term for a well-meant idea that makes everything worse). Short of you having a dictionary in your head, success therefore relies on you recognising letterforms, and gradually piecing them together.

It’s a simple concept, and it works superbly, from initial layouts that look like random symbols sprayed across your display to the little drumbeat that signifies success. Short of you hating word games and puzzlers, Sticky Terms should remain glued to your Home screen until you’ve worked your way through its dozens of handcrafted challenges.

IAPs: The game has no IAPs, but you need to watch an ad to unlock each set of words.

For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Sticky Terms

Best free iPhone games: Sticky Terms

Best free iPhone games: Sticky Terms

25. Crust Crusaders

Never quite sure what to put on your pizza? At least that’s not potentially a life-or-death decision – unlike in Crust Crusaders. In this world of violent food, you take on the role of a shooty pizza slice. Your mission is to defeat evil mobs comprising a cross between the local supermarket vegetable counter, angry emoji, and a Japanese bullet-hell shooter.

This all takes place in claustrophobic single-screen arenas and starts off in a fairly relaxed manner. You drag your auto-shooting pizza slice around, which helpfully rotates to blast its calorie-heavy ordinance in the direction of a foe. Once the veggies are vanquished, you grab the coins they leave behind and move on. Soon enough, you get the option to add toppings that bestow your pizza slice with new powers that include guns, shields and drones.

You’ll need them. Before long, you’ll get splattered by a furiously angry gigantic tomato that bounces around the screen at speed. Manage to survive that encounter and you’ll face increasingly dangerous foes, such as an expanding potato that fills a quarter of the arena in an instant. It’s tasty stuff, at least in smallish doses, and the semi-randomised nature of the arenas and upgrades means every game is unique.

IAPs: Unlike in the real world, toppings and pizza alike are entirely free.

For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Crust Crusaders

Best free iPhone games: Crust Crusaders

Best free iPhone games: Crust Crusaders

26. Prestige Solitaire

Solitaire games have been a mainstay of computing systems for decades – to the point where vanilla recreations of the game on iPhone can feel overly familiar. (It’s not so much that you’ve seen it all before, but that you’ve played it over and over and over before.) But Prestige Solitaire is another great example of how using an old favourite as a foundation and adding a twist can make something special.

In this game, the deck has been overhauled. The cards are numbered from one to 50 and there are ten suits. There are new rules as well. Cards can be stacked by suit or by number, mixing and matching in any column. Cards can be returned to the draw pile if they’re of the same suit and a lower value. You also get a limited number of opportunities to open up the three-card draw and grab any card from it.

Even for solitaire pros, these changes initially make for a disarming yet fresh experience. You must figure out new tactics to work through a game and emerge victorious. And should you find this variant a breeze, there are sterner modes and a 100-card deck variant to pit your wits against.

IAPs: £2.49/$2.99 rids you of ads before each game and a mildly annoying in-game adverts bar towards the top of the screen.

For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Prestige Solitaire

Best free iPhone games: Prestige Solitaire

Best free iPhone games: Prestige Solitaire

27. 10™

Like many puzzle games, 10™ makes more sense to play than explain, but we’ll have a go. You start with numbered discs at the edge of a three-by-three field. Tap a disc and it’s blasted into the field, stopping when it reaches the opposite edge. Any edge discs next to the fired tile are blocked. A new, random disc appears in the spot you fired from.

Should discs of matching numbers end up next to each other, they link. If the linked disc count matches their numbers, they disappear, freeing up space. With us so far? Good. We’re not done.

At the top of the screen is a level-up bar. When that fills, the screen expands and you end up contending with larger numbers. Eventually, you must string together chains of eights, nines and tens – which is an awful lot harder than getting threes and fours together.

10™ would be easy to dismiss, but it warrants a closer look. Although it’s a touch reliant on luck – despite the inclusion of a ‘next disc’ display – you can work up strategies to increase your score, such as building towards the centre to keep the edges all free. In all, it’s a cracking freebie puzzler that shouldn’t be missed.

IAPs: There are three IAPs, ranging from 99p/$0.99 to £4.99/$4.99, solely to support the game’s creator. So if you like 10™, you know what to do.

For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download 10™

Best free iPhone games: 10TM

Best free iPhone games: 10TM

28. Kitty Letter

When you hear a word game has been unleashed by the unhinged minds behind Exploding Kittens, you should expect the unorthodox. And, sure enough, Kitty Letter smacks conventional with an angry paw, and then throws you into the maw of deeply weird battles that combine Boggle, tower defence, detonating moggies and a dysenteric deer.

Bar a whirling colourful vortex, the bottom of the screen at least borders on normal. You drag between letter tiles to make words. However, on completing a word (of at least two characters), your cats march up the screen. Should they reach your opponent’s house, they explode, robbing your foe of health.

The other player’s trying to do the same to you – and you can’t just make words as quickly as possible either, because the route cats take is based on the first letter of the word that spawned them. That’s not ideal when a dozen are stomping your way with a floating J above them and you’re all out of J words.

All this plays out in a deranged story mode, a solo arcade game that quickly ramps up in difficulty, or in online two-player. And that deer? It poops power-ups you can collect, because of course it does.

IAPs: A bunch of avatars (99p/$0.99 each) are hidden behind a house button, almost like the creators are embarrassed about charging money. They’re not essential to play.

For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Kitty Letter

Best free iPhone games: Kitty Letter

Best free iPhone games: Kitty Letter

29. Downwordly

You know those games where you make words from a grid of letter tiles? This is one of those. Yawn. Only this isn’t Boggle – it’s like Boggle if you subsequently had to dig down through multiple layers of letters by using the ones on top. And this transforms everything, upping the strategy in a manner that proves compelling in all of the game’s main modes.

In Endless, you keep going, potentially forever, attempting to up your game by tapping out lengthier words. Puzzle, though, is a more strategic test, which tasks you with removing specific words. Do so in the wrong order and you won’t have enough letters remaining to remove the layers of tiles needed to get at the rest. It’s a bit trial and error, but short enough to keep your interest. And then there’s a daily challenge, which has a limited number of layers: that’s all about gaining show-off scores. Beyond that trio, there’s online turn-based multiplayer.

Along with the aforementioned Boggle, there’s a smattering of Mahjong here, with letters being locked until those flanking them are removed. With the addition of meditative audio and floaty backgrounds, Downwordly comes across as a relaxing, contemplative word game that’s ideal for downtime, whether digging further into an endless game or spending a few spare moments tackling the daily challenge.

IAPs: For £1.99/$1.99, you can unlock Multiplayer+, which lets you play more than one multiplayer game at once.

For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Downwordly

Best free iPhone games: Downwordly

Best free iPhone games: Downwordly

30. Code Racer

Time-attack racers and stunt games usually pit your feeble reactions against snake-like courses that would make even Lewis Hamilton sweat. Not Code Racer. Here, success instead relies on basic programming skills.

You examine your course and add commands (forward; turn right; brake) to a list, stating how long you want each to run and how powerful it should be. Then you prod the Run Simulation button and hope for the best.

It’s likely your pristine car will end up a smoking wreck, due to you sending it flying off an overpass or smashing into a wall. There’s a timer to contend with as well, so even if your car reaches the end in one piece, you won’t be drowning in plaudits.

At first, this results in busywork as you tweak settings to see how they affect the outcome. That might sound tedious, but it always feels like an achievement when you complete a level within the allotted time and moves limit.

As things become more complex – performing stunts or taking down a fleeing criminal with a cop car – you’ll begin to master the game’s physics, take risks, and grasp how alternative vehicles can aid success. In all, this is a smashing mobile title – in more ways than one!

IAPs: Extra level packs are available for 99p/$0.99. Individual vehicles can be purchased and are priced from 99p/$0.99 up to £2.99/$2.99. Each vehicle is unique, yet none are essential. However, any purchase removes the ads – which makes the cheapest one a bargain.

For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Code Racer

Best free iPhone games: Code Racer

Best free iPhone games: Code Racer

31. Golf Skies

Golfers hope for clear blue skies, to remain dry when tackling the back nine. Golf Skies instead has you direct balls in the sky, having decided traditional courses are boring. Here, they’re deconstructed and wrapped around tiny floating planetoids, each exerting its own gravitational pull.

Fortunately, you gain control over your ball in a manner that would make golfing pros green with envy. After smacking your ball skywards by dragging an arrow to set power and direction, left and right buttons allow you to steer it, aiming for tiny spots of fairway dotted about the hovering orbs.

The twisty-turny nature of your path obliterates any realism left in the game, and yet the soul of golf remains at the heart of Golf Skies. Despite its surreal presentation, the game’s challenge still centres on committing courses to memory, figuring out the best route, and not messing up shots.

You get six courses, bought using collectable coins; these can also net you more powerful balls with which to hack away at your scores. In all, something of a hole-in-one, then, even if Golf Skies makes you think real-world golf would be a lot more fun if participants had to weave balls through windmills poking out of tiny planets hanging in the air.

IAPs: Smack the adverts into the rough and out of sight forever for £2.99/$2.99. You can also buy coins to speed up unlocks: 100 for 99p/$0.99; 500 for £2.99/$2.99; 1000 for £3.99/$3.99.

For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Golf Skies

Best free iPhone games: Golf Skies

Best free iPhone games: Golf Skies

32. Froglike: The Frog Roguelike

Remember the leapy green hero in Frogger? That amphibian had it easy, crossing a road and jumping from log to log, avoiding the odd hungry crocodile. By contrast, the protagonist in Froglike is tasked with surviving “until the end of time itself”. No pressure, then.

The basic gameplay nonetheless echoes the aforementioned arcade classic. Each level is a single-screen effort, with bits you can safely jump on (semi-randomly placed lily pads; logs that lazily move back and forth) and areas you cannot (water, because, for some reason, this frog cannot swim). But instead of your frog trying to get home, here its aim is to power up a massive lily pad – the Lily of Time – by plonking its green bottom on it for a number of seconds.

The tiny snag is everything is dead set on turning you into an ex-frog. Various nasties fly or slither about the place, while projectiles telegraph their intentions mere moments before attempting to kill you. The contrast between what you need to do (stay still for a bit) and what you have to do (leap about in a desperate bid to stay alive) is quite something. Fortunately, survive long enough and you gain some clobber to help you last a little longer; but it appears the passing of 40 years has made a frog’s life in video gaming a whole lot tougher!

IAPs: Hop to it and remove the ads for £2.99/$2.99.

For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Froglike: The Frog Roguelike

Best free iPhone games: Froglike

Best free iPhone games: Froglike

33. Doodle Jump 2

If you’re an iPhone gaming veteran, you might recall how the original Doodle Jump took over countless iPhones in 2009 as people grappled with helping its strange four-legged protagonist leap into the infinite. This sequel is more of the same, spruced up for modern high-res devices.

The aim is to bound ever upwards, until your inevitable demise. You tilt your device left and right, directing the hopping hero to floating platforms. Along the way, you grab collectables that include a temporary shield and various contraptions that give you a handy boost of speed.

In your path are various hazards, such as spiked traps and lurking enemies. The latter can be blasted by tapping the screen, or bonked on the head, Mario-style. There are also stars to collect, which unlock new levels, each with unique features.

The first is a prehistoric world, full of angry dinosaurs. Then there’s a desert-themed level, where sandy platforms disintegrate as soon as you jump off them. The variety is welcome, although the grind necessary to unlock the later stages is not. Still, it’s notable that Doodle Jump doesn’t come across as a relic – despite merely polishing up an idea that’s more than a decade old, the game remains as annoyingly compelling as ever.

IAPs: There’s only one IAP – £4.99/$4.99 removes the ads forever.

For iPhone only | Download Doodle Jump 2

Best free iPhone games: Doodle Jump 2

Best free iPhone games: Doodle Jump 2

34. Rowdy City Wrestling

If you’re reading this list in order, you’ll have earlier spotted Knight Brawl, Colin Lane’s bonkers take on medieval sword fighting. He’s arguably best known for demented brawlers, though, including Wrassling and Rowdy Wrestling. These games ramp up the absurdist nature of the sport, featuring wrestlers with whirling arms battling each other in a world of bouncy physics.

Rowdy City Wrestling takes the latter title and plays it straight – or as straight as it’s possible for a Colin Lane game to be. The wrestlers are still cartoonish and hurl themselves about with merry abandon. But you now feel like you’re in full control, with the crazy physics dialled down to something more manageable.

As with Knight Brawl, there’s plenty of silliness here, too, in the visuals and script – and also plenty of depth. Career mode features your newbie wrestler trying to earn the cash needed to improve their stats and become world champion. But to get there requires everything from dodgy fights at the nearby docks to lugging chairs around. If there’s a downside, it’s that the endless mode is insanely tough until you’ve worked your way through a good chunk of career mode; still, the original always exists for one-off brawls until you make it that far.

IAPs: You can hurl pop-up ads out of the ring for a one-off and very reasonable £1.99/$1.99.

For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Rowdy City Wrestling

Best free iPhone games: Rowdy City Wrestling

Best free iPhone games: Rowdy City Wrestling

35. Look, Your Loot!

If you’ve played Arnold Rauers’s superb Card Thief, you’ll know a ‘living’ grid of cards and a smattering of role-playing elements makes for a tense and exciting gaming experience. But if you’re emptier of wallet than the bling-hunting heroes in that kind of title, Look, Your Loot! represents an excellent alternative.

The hero this time is a mouse keener on gold than cheese, and armed with spear and shield alongside disarmingly cute whiskers. The game takes place on a grid, most slots of which are filled with something dangerous and violent. The remainder then contain the odd power-up, or barrels you hack to bits, in order to see what’s inside.

You slide your tile to move, and the mouse’s life force depletes on attacking foes, but can be replenished with elixirs, or defended with shields. As you duff up monsters, new cards enter the grid. You must force an optimum path to stay alive. Best the boss that appears after a set number of turns and you get to choose a permanent skill before continuing your quest.

It’s simple stuff, but captivating – and nerve-racking when you know everything can go wrong on a careless swipe. Varied modes will further cement the game to your Home screen, ensuring the rodent hero can get all stabby for many months to come.

IAPs: Three £1.99 IAPs exist – one removes the ads (and gives you a free booster per game), and is well worth grabbing. The others are a bling starter kit (100,000 gold and 60 gems) and a 50 per cent price cut for boosters. Either’s fine for big fans but not necessary for enjoyment.

For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Look, Your Loot!

Best free iPhone games: Look, Your Loot!

Best free iPhone games: Look, Your Loot!

36. Threes! Free

Every platform needs its perfect puzzle game, and on release Threes! made its claim to be the iPhone’s. As with all brilliant examples of the genre, Threes! has at its heart a simple mechanic, which in this case involves merging cards within a tiny four-by-four board. But it’s the details that propel Threes! beyond the competition.

The idea is to match numbers. Slide a blue ‘1’ into a red ‘2’ and they combine to become a single ‘3’ card. Two 3s make a 6. Two 6s make a 12. And so on. The snag is every move you make slides every non-blocked tile on the board as well. If you’re fortunate or have planned ahead, this can result in several merges in one move; if not, you end up with a mess to clear up. And since after every turn a new card enters the board in a random spot on the edge you swiped from, planning is key.

It takes a few games for Threes! to click, but once it does, it never lets go. You’ll be dying to see new cards (each is infused with a unique personality), and will soon spot how reaching higher-numbered cards boosts your score substantially. The free-to-play aspect is also generous: watch a video ad and you get three more games in the bank, which can be built up into a substantial reserve.

This gives the game a fighting chance against a raft of inferior Threes! clones (most of which have 1024 or 2048 in their names) that litter the App Store, and sucked life out of the paid version of Threes! Our advice: stick with the original; you’ve no excuse now you can play for free.

IAPs: Threes! Free has no IAPs.

For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Threes! Free

Best free iPhone games: Threes Free

Best free iPhone games: Threes Free

37. Sky: Children of the Light

The aim in Sky is for the titular children to spread hope through a desolate kingdom by returning fallen stars to the heavens. A big ask for a kid, you might think, but you’re not alone. And that’s because Sky plays out as a massive multiplayer adventure, where you and others tackle puzzles together – while also spending quite a bit of time just larking about in the seven dreamlike realms.

If you’ve ever played Journey, you should be right at home, as you control an impish character who darts through beautiful 3D environments, occasionally launches into the air, and skids down hillsides in a manner that makes your feet wince. Progress typically involves poking around, unlocking doors, and finding elements that reveal new realms.

Often, you’ll meet others, communicating through a limited range of parps and gestures. Sometimes, several players must work together to beat an obstacle. And occasionally, someone will take your hand and you’ll both soar towards the clouds. During those moments, Sky is something else. Conversely, it can be trying when you get stuck, unsure what to do next or where to go. Nonetheless, for free this is a unique and beautiful gaming experience.

IAPs: You can buy candle packs, which start at 99p for three, and go all the way up to a gargantuan £48.99 for 150. A starter pack of 15 for £4.99 adds wing upgrades, and you can spend £19.99 on a winter musical pack. Our advice? Just play the game and avoid using IAP to blaze through it – and your bank account.

For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Sky: Children of the Light

Best free iPhone games: Sky: Children of the Light

Best free iPhone games: Sky: Children of the Light

38. Tiler More

Word games based around grids tend to have you line up your plays like a crossword. But Tiler More’s grid is rather more compact. Because it’s a three-by-three space, the only way is up (baby). The game therefore tasks you with stacking letters, in order to gradually complete a list of words presented at the bottom of the screen.

The main challenge comes from limitations imposed by the game. One new single-letter tile is provided at any one time, randomly chosen from remaining letters in the words you’ve yet to complete. Up to three letters can be compressed into a single stack, and three stacks can be placed on any one space.

With ‘easy’ games, none of this matters too much. You can shuffle a few letters around, stack short words, and then make demands they should name dictionaries and even entire cities after your genius. Then you try the ‘brutal’ mode and your ego is crushed, as if under a thousand Scrabble sets.

You must take great care to manage stacks, ensuring you’ve always got space to rearrange existing ones. You’ll often almost complete a word but lack one letter, forcing a rethink. Even then, the game’s never onerous or arduous: there are no timers nor other kinds of pressure. In all, this is a free word game that really stacks up against the competition.

IAPs: It’s a case of Tiler Fewer when it comes to IAPs, because there aren’t any.

For iPhone only | Download Tiler More

Best free iPhone games: Tiler More

Best free iPhone games: Tiler More

39. re:bounder

Breakout isn’t a complex game – you move a bat back and forth to deflect a ball towards a wall of bricks. The notion of simplifying it might suggest a game so reduced it would wink out of existence altogether. But here’s re:bounder, a one-button brick-buster.

In re:bounder, there’s no bat – just a wiggly blue bounce line. There are lots of bricks, though – and they unhelpfully march towards you, speeding up as your score increases. When your ball enters the zone near the bounce line, you must tap the screen to send it brickwards.

Timing is everything. If you tap and there’s no ball in the zone, your bounce powers are temporarily disabled, which is usually enough to see a ball or two sail past and into the void. Perfect timing powers up your ball, increasing its smashy capabilities. There are items lurking in some bricks, too, including extra balls, fire balls, explosive balls, and rare mirage balls that obliterate everything nearby.

Beyond that, there’s no further depth. This is a game that deflects such concepts away with glee. But as a free high-score chaser, there’s plenty of fun to be had pinging balls around – even if you’ll rapidly discover your sense of timing isn’t as deft as you’d thought.

IAPs: There’s no IAP, although that also means you can’t buy out the ads. Tsk.

For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download re:bounder

Best free iPhone games: re:bounder

Best free iPhone games: re:bounder

40. High Rise

Some match games are simple to understand. Bejeweled, for example, has you swap two gems, and if you line up three or more, they explode to make more space on the screen. Easy. High Rise, by contrast, has a ruleset that’s a mite more complicated – but the upside is this creates a match title with a surprising amount of depth. Or height, given that your aim is to build towering cityscapes.

The game begins with a five-by-five grid and a scattering of coloured blocks. At the foot of the screen, you’ll see upcoming blocks you’ll have to place on the grid. When blocks of the same colour are positioned adjacently, they merge – if various rules relating to building heights are adhered to. The aim is to ensure there’s always somewhere to build, by merging buildings until they reach for the sky, or removing them with a power-up that appears every 500 points.

At first, High Rise baffles. You’ll need to watch the tutorial to fully understand what’s going on – and even then might need to (horrors) take some notes and spend a few games figuring out the mechanics. But once it clicks and you become immersed in taking tiny cities to new heights, you’ll appreciate this match game daring to do something different.

IAPs: Want to demolish those ads to crack on with building your cityscape? That’ll cost you 99p/$0.99.

For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download High Rise

Best free iPhone games: High Rise

Best free iPhone games: High Rise