The best iPhone and iPad games in the world right now
How we scoffed when people suggested the iPhone would one day be a leading games platform. Had they not seen how rubbish mobile phone games were? Had they not noticed the iPhone was bereft of a D-pad and buttons? The fools!
Only things didn’t turn out as expected. Enterprising developers flipped everything on its head – shortcomings regarding tactile controls became benefits in terms of using new touch and tilt capabilities. Games became increasingly immersive as you interacted directly with content, ushering in new experiences through no longer being able to rely on traditional controls. And then the iPad did it all again – only bigger!
Today’s market is mired somewhat in freemium grindy hell, but gems nonetheless abound. Our list includes the very best premium titles the iPhone and iPad have to offer, handily grouped into sections, starting with racers, ending with arcade games, and taking in everything else you can imagine on the way.
Best racing game for iPhone and iPad: GRID Autosport
You hear the term ‘console quality’ quite a lot with mobile games, but GRID Autosport actually is the Codemasters AAA hit shoved into your iPhone or iPad.
This means you get 100 cars, 100 circuits, and a ton of options to adjust how everything works. If you’re a beginner, keep all the driving aids on and tootle around in a Touring Car, until you get to grips with everything. A veteran? Go for the toughest difficulty and get your cockiness handed to you by losing control and driving your shiny race car into a wall.
With tons of depth, great visuals, and decent controls, there’s nothing else quite like this on iOS.
Need For Speed Most Wanted
Fortunately, Most Wanted’s gameplay isn’t nearly as grey as the tracks that you find yourself zooming along for street-racer glory. Fairhaven would be better named Greyandverydrabville, but the arcade racing you get up to is of the gloriously breezy kind found in the likes of Sega’s OutRun 2.
You find yourself hurling your car recklessly off of clifftops (having, naturally, crashed through an advertising hoarding first), drifting around bends, or smashing up the Fuzz, if they’re stupid enough to get in the way of your race-winning ambitions while partaking in high-octane thrills.
Beaming in from the future, Repulze recalls Wipeout with its gleaming metal tracks that fling you about like a furious rollercoaster. At first, the challenge is slight, merely pitting you against coloured gates, but eventually you find yourself boosting through futuristic worlds while trying very hard to not be blasted into so much space dust.
Like the best gravity racers, the sense of speed here is nearly overwhelming, setting this futuristic offering far apart from relatively staid racers that plonk you in a car on boring tarmac. And although the controls are twitchy, they can be fine-tuned to your liking as you wrestle with them on your way to glory.
Reckless Racing 3
The original Reckless Racing was an amusingly ramshackle affair, with rickety trucks and cars screeching around car parks and scrapyards. The sequel added depth but also too much polish, losing the series’ sense of character.
This third entry gets the balance right, enabling you to power-slide through a wide range of settings, including an airport, a charming European hilltop village and, worryingly, an abandoned and very clearly leaking nuclear plant.
The physics is a bit light, and the AI a touch aggressive, but this is as fun a top-down racer as you’ll find on mobile. It also clearly doesn’t take itself too seriously, adding a ‘gymkhana’ mode where you rack up points for ‘precision stunt driving’ in a beat-up old truck.
Imagine a blazingly fast side-on racer that marries the twitch instadeath appeal of ALONE… with the slipstreaming of MarioKart, and adds an awful lot of pigeons. That’s Pigeon Wings.
Your heroic bird is charged with saving the city from an evil person with too much money, and trains by racing other pigeons between tower blocks and through subway tunnels. Naturally, they all pilot tiny planes rather than use their own wings.
When the feathered hero is deemed ready, he’s flung headlong into an intense dogfight with an enemy craft that dwarfs his plane and spews an endless stream of bullets. With pitch-perfect tilt controls and an oddball sense of humour, Pigeon Wings will make you as happy as a lark.
The best sports game for iPhone and iPad: Motorsport Manager Mobile 3
Football management’s fine, but do you really want to spend your time micro-managing entitled pig-skin hoofers? How about delving into motor racing instead, watching egotistical nutcases blaze around circuits at breakneck speed? That’s more like it!
In Motorsport Manager Mobile 3, you run a team, juggling drivers, sponsors, cash, buildings, research, and kit, before heading to the track for race weekends. Despite depicting discs zipping about a top-down circuit, races are tense and exciting – unless you lose, in which case they’re of course rubbish.
Put in the hours, and you’ll gradually improve your lot, take pole positions, partake in increasingly lucrative championships, and acrue a cash pile you’ll wish you could extract from your device’s Lightning port.
Touchgrind BMX 2
We remember our BMX days, where the most daring thing most people tried was an ‘endo’ shortly before being hurled over the handlebars. Such stunts are deemed pathetic in Touchgrind BMX 2 which instead has you barrel along absurdly dangerous courses, performing all manner of stomach-flipping stunts whenever you’re flung into the air.
The two-finger controls are what make the game – instead of a traditional gamepad, you have one finger on the handlebars and another on the seat. Flicks result in stunts, which when chained get you massive points, shortly before you get all cocky and crash into a bin down an alley.
A game that doesn’t suffer fools, then, but one that’s tactile, immediate and fun, and that properly rewards perseverance and mastery.
Super Stickman Golf 3
Super Stickman Golf 3’s ancestor is the same Apple II Artillery game Angry Birds has at its core, but Noodlecake’s title is a lot more fun than catapulting birds around.
It’s a larger-than-life side-on mini-golf extravaganza, with you thwacking balls about giant forests, space stations distinctly lacking in gravity, and strange fortresses with a suspiciously high deadly laser count.
The single-player game’s fun, but SSMG 3 comes into its own in multiplayer, whether you’re taking the more sedate turn-by-turn route or ball-smacking at speed in the frenetic race mode. Note that the free version has some restrictions (limited courses; fewer simultaneous turn-based games), but there’s still plenty of genuinely crazy golf here to take a swing at.
Touchgrind Skate 2
This one takes a rather literal stance regarding controlling a sports game with your fingers. The board appears on the screen and your fingers become tiny legs, enabling you to perform gnarly and rad tricks, man! Irksome lingo aside, this is a fantastic title that’s initially demanding but hugely rewarding once mastered.
You can also upload videos of your best moves and show off to your friends, and there’s fortunately no way you can skin your knees, unless you trip over while obsessively performing ollies, powerslides and heelflips while walking down the street.
If you fancy some fantasy golf, but the frenetic nature of Super Stickman Golf 3 doesn’t appeal, try this out-of-this-world effort. Recalling Desert Golfing in terms of its chill-out nature, Astro Golf has you belt balls between planets, gravity enabling you to perform all kinds of fancy slingshots.
In its standard mode, there’s no risk and zero stress. Instead, you just work your way deeper into an endless number of algorithmically generated levels. If you at some point want a stiffer test, delve into Hard Mode, which challenges you to get a hole in one to progress. Even then, you’ll be able to see your previous effort’s path, so that each subsequent shot should guide you closer to that magic putt.
Strategy and word games
The best strategy and word game for iPhone and iPad: Mini Metro
For anyone immersed in the daily hell of a commute involving an underground, the notion of designing such a system – and for that to begin as a chill-out session – might seem unlikely. But Mini Metro is captivating from the first train you unleash.
It builds slowly. You connect a few stations by drawing a line, and passengers are ferried about, alighting at the first station that matches their shape. All along, your ears are serenaded by a tinkly generative soundtrack formed by the actions taking place on-screen.
The calm doesn’t last. As time passes, new passengers and stations appear, ramping up the tension and forcing you to juggle scant resources. Eventually, you’ll be overwhelmed and your subway will close. Still, a new one’s only a tap away. Just don’t lose yourself for too many hours in this minimal interactive underground.
You don’t get ‘proper’ games on an iPad, apparently. Which probably comes as a shock to anyone who’s installed Civilization VI. They’re probably also a bit gobsmacked that this really is the full 4X (eXplore; eXpand; eXploit; eXterminate) PC game shoved into Apple’s tablet.
It works really nicely, too, with smartly designed controls, and the kind of depth that can feasibly have a single game last for days. (Which might be a concern to Civ obsessives, now it’s on a properly mobile device.)
There are snags – no online multiplayer, some slightly fuzzy graphics on iPad Pros, and that whopping price tag (although the game is very regularly discounted). Still, if you want ‘proper’ games, you’d best get used to paying for them.
It turns out the newspaper crossword was ripe for subversion in the digital realm. TypeShift uses this ancient puzzle formula but reimagines it for mobile play. Instead of a static grid, you get columns of letters that move, the aim being to make a word in the central row. When all letters have been used, the puzzle is complete.
The tactile nature of TypeShift makes it perfectly suited to mobile play, and moves it beyond more traditional fare. And although there’s sometimes a temptation to brute-force solutions, the game rewards a lean-back, thoughtful approach – not least in the puzzle packs that twin the base game with brain-smashing cryptic crossword-style clues.
Although it’s since departed this particular list, we at Stuff remain big fans of Hitman GO, which cleverly reimagined stealth as turn-based puzzling. Card Thief does much the same, but adds Solitaire to the mix. This means all your sneaking about involves figuring out pathways across a three-by-three grid of cards dealt on to the table.
It seems reductive and can get repetitive, but there’s plenty of nuance here. You must take care to conserve your stealth points, depleted when tackling guards, while simultaneously looting everything within reach. Escaping with your life isn’t too tricky – doing so with a bag of swag is much tougher.
Ah, the classic Western: someone’s wronged by a gang, and they set out for revenge but then find themselves in a turn-based strategy title. OK, maybe not that last bit – but fortunately Infinite West’s chess-like shenanigans make for a compelling bout of Wild West-themed tension.
Everything takes place on an isometric grid, and you must get to the exit to survive. The snag: gang-members surround you, each with unique ranges for their weapons.
You must figure out the optimum route through them, making use of power-ups, and bumping them off the board Hitman GO-style. It’s top stuff, and procedurally generated levels mean when you end up in Boot Hill, your next game will be unique.
The best platform game for iPhone and iPad: Drop Wizard: Oddmar
The beardy Viking hero of this breezy platformer was an oafish layabout until acquiring special powers on munching a magic mushroom. Just as well, because his tribe’s vanished, and he must find out why, mostly by way of cut scenes played between levels of leaping, hacking at enemies with swords, and grabbing lots of bling.
That might all sound formulaic, but Oddmar builds on familiar platform game tropes with gorgeous cartoonish animation, lush and varied worlds, tons of secret levels, and multiple challenges per stage that boost replay value.
Even the touchscreen controls are top-notch in this mobile classic, whether you’re blazing through the forest to escape a furious screen-high troll, or riding a pig in a manner that totally wouldn’t be OK with the RSPCA.
The jolly tunes, pixelated graphics and single-screen action here bring to mind 1980s platform games Bubble Bobble and Snow Bros. However, Drop Wizard is a thoroughly modern creation, perfectly suited to mobile. It boasts a bite-sized pick-up-and-play structure, short level sets ending with battles against ginormous bosses.
Most importantly, the controls are pitch-perfect. Instead of run/jump/fire, you can only auto-run left or right and fall down holes. On landing on a platform below, you emit a magic blast, used to stun roaming enemies. Boot them and they tumble about for a bit, potentially collecting fellow stunned foes, eventually turning into a tasty piece of collectable fruit.
This combination of controls and attack methods is a masterstroke, forcing you to strategise, and making the entire product feel chaotic, fresh and exciting.
Most platform games on iOS tend to be resolutely 2D affairs, even if some of them are eye-poppingly gorgeous (such as Oddmar, featured above). But Suzy Cube takes a very different approach. Riffing off of Super Mario 3D Land, the game regularly switches up the viewpoint, keeping it fresh, if a touch dizzying.
On iOS, this could have been a recipe for disaster, but tight controls and level design ensure only your thumbs are to blame if you fluff it when zooming down a snowy mountainside in 3D, or sprinting through a trap-filled side-on pyramid of doom like a blocky breakneck Lara Croft with bunny ears.
Described as ‘Portal meets Lemmings’, Telepaint finds you helping clockwork automaton paintpots reach their paintbrush pals.
Each single-screen test involves figuring out how to utilise teleporters to blast your pot in the right direction, simultaneously splattering the otherwise gloomy industrial surroundings with vibrant colour. Early levels are just simple enough for you to get cocky, whereupon Telepaint gleefully smacks your brains out with a Dulux catalogue wrapped around a brick.
On-screen VHS controls soften the blow a little, enabling you to pause the action, take a breath, and set up subsequent teleports. It’s a clever move, and one that stops you seeing red a little too often. Regardless, you’ll never quite look at a can of paint in the same way again after playing.
A sentient eyeball emerges from the goop, into a colourful minimal world. What could possibly go wrong? Oh, yes – everything wants to kill and eat you, and possibly not in that order.
So you climb, pinging yourself between surfaces like a combination of cycloptic wingless angry gird and pinball, avoiding predators, and grabbing bling. Make your escape and there are 29 more journeys.
Ultimately, there’s little here you haven’t seen before, but Ordia is more about execution and polish than innovation. It feels perfect on the touchscreen, looks superb, and smartly keeps levels short while welding to them several challenges that reward repeat play.
Adventure games and stories
The best adventure game for iPhone and iPad: Year Walk
Rich in Swedish folklore, Year Walk has you venture into the cold, dark woods, where strange creatures lurk and terrible events blur reality and fiction, past and present.
With an interface that resembles a creepy, twisted picture book, you must discern clues, unravelling the dark secrets of the forest. Literal horror awaits, along with one of the finest conclusions of any modern adventure title. The journey there will keep you transfixed, not least during those moments it’s scaring the pants off of you.
You know you’re in for a treat as soon as Device 6 launches, unleashing a ballsy credits sequence any classic spy show would be proud to call its own. It then dumps you on a remote island with a name (Anna) and absolutely no idea of how you got there or what to do next.
You navigate the story — literally, since words form corridors you travel along — trying to make sense of what you see and hear, to complete cryptic puzzles and unravel the island’s secrets. To say more would spoil the surprises within, but suffice to say this is a modern gaming classic, and was one of 2013’s finest titles on any platform.
Death Road to Canada
This game is like if someone had made The Walking Dead on the SNES, fashioning a home conversion lacking in gore but laced with black humour.
The randomly generated road trip has you travel from Florida to the reported safety of Canada. One moment, you’ll be scavenging for supplies with your little crew, smacking zombies with brooms, and finding a surprising amount of petrol hidden in toilets. Elsewhere, your fortunes are driven by multiple-choice narratives, and intense ‘siege’ scenes where you’re dumped in a claustrophobic space and told to survive.
The randomness can irk when one of your team loses half your supplies through having a hole in their bag, but it’s hard to remain mad at a game that lets you recruit dogs – and those dogs then out of the blue suggest making Molotov cocktails from fuel at an abandoned petrol station.
Love you to bits
Love You to Bits is an old-school point-and-click adventure reimagined for touchscreen. Rookie space explorer Kosmo searches planets for parts of his robot girlfriend (don’t think too hard about that), regularly finding himself immersed in challenges littered with pop-culture references.
The charm offensive never lets up, from a 2D Monument Valley to a certain famous space cantina. And although the puzzles are typically quite simple and sometimes require crazy leaps of logic, the game’s ceaselessly clever nature, warmth and smarts means you’re going to love it to bits in return.
In Her Story, your device is temporarily transformed into an ancient desktop PC. As it whirrs and clanks into life, you see a window for the L.O.G.I.C. Database, ominously pre-populated with a search term: MURDER. Hit ‘Search’ and video fragments appear, all of a woman being interviewed by police.
If you’re a remotely inquisitive sort, that’ll be it for you. Hours will be spent eking out clues from everything the woman says, and trying to unravel mysteries within mysteries. The database itself intentionally hampers you, limiting access to five videos (although listing how many were actually found). The contrivance is obviously designed to force you to delve deeper, but anyone who lived through the 1990s PC era will probably grin, remembering when software really was that user-hostile.
Puzzle and match games
The best puzzle and match game on iPhone and iPad: Euclidean Skies
This game’s predecessor, the sublime Euclidean Lands, wrapped Hitman GO’s turn-based stealth puzzling around a Rubik’s Cube. You twisted and turned planes to reach your foes, prior to getting all stabby. Euclidean Skies, though, enables you to break up the levels, while they get to work breaking your mind.
Now, increasingly complex 3D architecture can effectively be unravelled, so you can simultaneously prod switches and reach doors, or use a spinning rocky outcrop to obliterate unwary enemies. Like the original, it’s a tactile joy, marrying the best of dazzling visuals and deviously designed brain-smashing challenges.
Each level of Dissembler begins as a tiny slice of digital abstract art – coloured squares that might in another life have found themselves on a gallery wall. But here, pairs of squares can be flipped, like in Bejeweled. As in that game, the aim is to make matches of three or more.
The twist is that in Dissembler, matched elements vanish, and nothing replaces them. You must therefore figure out the exact chain of swaps that will enable you to remove every square, rather than leaving some isolated.
Endless undos and simple early levels lull you into a false sense of security, but this game eventually becomes brain-smashingly tough. Still, you’ll feel like a genius every time you crack one of its later levels.
The main thing you need to be aware of with Evergarden is it’s deeper than you initially realise. The basic gameplay finds you flicking seeds out of flowers on a hexagonal grid, and then merging them, like a horticultural take on Threes!
But as you work your way through the game, new mechanics are gradually revealed, such as demanding animal companion Fen bestowing you with big points should you match its favourite patterns.
With gorgeous visuals, lovely audio, and a smartly conceived narrative foundation, this is a lean-back puzzler that manages to hit you in the brain and in the feels.
Bring You Home
Polo the alien’s having a bad day. His pet’s been pilfered, but on giving chase he falls out of an upstairs window. Fortunately, someone up there loves him, allowing you to change the future by swiping and swapping panels until he survives.
In that first scene, a barrel of hay breaks Polo’s fall rather than his face. But before long you find yourself confronted by absurdly complex, surreal set-ups involving unicycling aliens, enraged clowns, and adorable mix-and-match giant animals.
Sometimes logic is strained, and there’s more than a hint of trial and error. But Bring You Home is so brilliantly scripted that you’ll replay every level you beat, to see all the entertaining ways in which Polo can come a cropper.
FROST doesn’t feel like a conventional puzzle game. Instead, it’s more like several dozen sandboxes, which allow you to play with living works of art composed of flitting swarms and neon streams that scythe their way across the screen.
But there is a point behind the beauty: to guide the swarms to orbs. This largely involves carving pathways that interact with on-screen elements in different ways. Some swarms obediently follow the trail. Others do not. Elsewhere, some orbs only accept creatures fashioned by ‘mixing’ multiple swarms, some of which are protected by shields.
Throughout, there’s no handholding – which is a good thing. The joy of FROST is in the discovery – and its sense of play.
The best shooting game for iPhone and iPad: Steredenn
A retro-infused shooter with attitude, Steredenn is all raucous rock guitar soundtrack and chunky graphics. As the riffs are squealing in your ear, you pit your ship against waves of aliens, randomly hurled your way. Some are massive bosses, which when you defeat them replenish your shields. Others are nippy little buggers with giant chainsaws welded to their cockpits.
Fortunately, you can respond in kind. At any point, you can hold two weapons, which vary from huge lasers and guns that spew bullet casings to a giant saw blade and a set of jaws. Not exactly Star Trek’s boring torpedoes, then – and all the better for it.
Another blaster with old-school leanings, Super Crossfighter (£2.99) has you zip back and forth along a rail, blasting aliens that dodder about like their ancestors in Space Invaders. The twist: you can leap to the top of the screen and unsportingly shoot them from behind before they realise. Bet they weren’t expecting that!
Fancy seeing the sights of the universe? Want to blow up lots of nasty alien scumbags while doing so? Got a strong stomach when you find yourself in a ship whirling about the heavens, making you feel as if you’re in a washing machine being attacked by elite fighter squadrons? Congratulations: you’re hired!
In Interloper, you get a full six degrees of freedom as you whirl about asteroids, dog-fighting for your life, going PEW PEW PEW like you’re a combination of Han Solo and Starbuck. It’s exhilarating stuff, with plenty of customisation options and a smart interface that adapts for landscape, portrait and different screen sizes.
This one should never have worked. It’s a premium take on that game where you spang a bunch of balls about, gradually depleting the numbers on bricks, until they explode and let you dig even deeper. But whereas most such games are after your wallet, Holedown merely eats away at your time.
Like its IAP-happy chums, Holedown is grindy and repetitive – but in a manner that’s compelling and hypnotic rather than annoying. This is down to its mix of polished visuals, amusing sound effects, and a smartly conceived upgrade cycle. Plus you’ll feel like a pool wizard on nailing tough shots that take down really high-numbered bricks with a dozen balls bouncing around like angry wasps.
In this freaky game, you’re on a mission to cleanse an ancient curse. This means your tiny green ship must survive arenas surrounded by goop that knackers you should you touch it, but from which vicious horrors emerge.
As they dart towards you, growling like dogs possessed by demons, your instinct – rightly – will be to run away. This is a good tactic, given that – for some reason – your ship only shoots out of its bottom.
This unconventional set-up wrongfoots at first, but rapidly becomes compelling. And even though the first boss will tear your face off several times before you have a chance of giving it a thorough kicking, you’ll keep coming back until you beat the game – short of it leaving you a gibbering wreck in the corner.
It’s the future, and instead of looking stern and wearing wigs, judges – or, rather, jydges, take law to the lawless, and sentence them with a bullet in the megacity of Edenbyrg. (Presumably, they long ago sentenced champions of the letter U.)
The actual gameplay is a curious mix of stealth and speedrun, with a big dollop of twin-stick blasting. So you’re dropped at missions where you blow away perps and rescue a bunch of happy hostages, aiming to do so in a manner where you don’t get killed yourself, and get out before the timer runs down.
The stealth and timer alike both ramp up the tension, and Jydge’s varied levels and scope for player configurations provide long term appeal – creep.
The best arcade game for iPhone and iPad: Jumpgrid
In Jumpgrid, all you have to do is hop between nodes on a three-by-three grid, munching spinning cubes, before escaping through a teleporter. Easy. Except it isn’t. And that’s because this stripped-back mash-up of Frogger and Pac-Man has been fused to the screaming vortex of a Super Hexagon.
This means it’s fast. Shapes wheel and whirl before your eyes, like a combination of modern art and sadism, only too keen to smash your craft to oblivion. Discover the wraparound nature of the grid and you’ll feel smug for about half a second – right before Jumpgrid punches you again and again, on repeat, until you succeed.
It sounds like punishment. It’s actually brilliant.
Beat Sneak Bandit
We’ve bunged Beat Sneak Bandit in our arcade section, but it’s really a combination of arcade, stealth, rhythm action, platformer, and path-finding game, all controlled by a single thumb tapping the screen. Ambitious? You bet. But one of the best games on iOS? Undoubtedly.
You play as the titular thief, sneaking about single-screen levels, trying to grab all the clocks and not get spotted by guards and spotlights. The snag: you can only move on the beat. The other snag: so can everything else. The result is a unique, great-looking, and hugely entertaining game of clockwork madness.
When Eliss arrived in 2009, it was a game that defined the iPhone, fully taking advantage of multitouch. You had to contain and manipulate planets, which could be torn apart or merged before being dragged to portals of appropriate size and colour. Letting planets of different colour collide would deplete limited energy reserves, and matters were further complicated by space storms and other hazards.
Years later, this semi-sequel still feels fresh, and in later levels success demands intricate yet speedy finger gymnastics. Beyond the original game, there’s also a truly crazed endless mode to master.
Originally dubbed RunGunJumpGun, this deranged arcade test subsequently gained an Atomik and dialled down the difficulty level from psychopathic to merely brain-smashingly hard. It features a lone hero, out to obliterate evil aliens; the tiny snag is the hero is a massive idiot.
Rather than strapping on a jetpack and arming himself to the teeth, he only thought to do the latter. So you can stay aloft by shooting downwards with a massive gun – thereby leaving yourself open to being horribly killed by what’s in front of you; or you can shoot ahead and plummet.
Dozens of levels of finger-juggling madness follow. And if that isn’t tough enough, masochists can opt to grab every glowing orb en route.
Plenty of games have rhythm, but few evoke the feeling of dancing. But that’s where Vectronom heads, even if its minimalist visuals put you in mind of mobile classic Edge.
The challenge is broadly the same as in that game – get to each level’s exit; but here, the landscape and hazards are in thrall to the beat. Only by recognising patterns (such as when a path inconveniently turns into a deadly drop on beats two and four) can you swipe your way to victory.
Vectronom is a pulse-pounding triumph. The odd overly tricky bit aside, it brilliantly marries its varied soundtrack with expert level design, for a challenge that’s immediate yet fresh.