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36 best free iPhone games: Brilliant iOS games that cost nothing

36 best free iPhone games: Brilliant iOS games that cost nothing

Looking for the best free iPhone games? We've rounded up 36 of our favourites: from driving games to sports sims, from puzzle games to shooters, these are the best free iPhone games available to humanity.

What are the best free iPhone games? I'm sick of freemium games that spend the whole time trying to grab your money via in-app purchases.

Great free iPhone games? You've come to the right place. Freemium can be an unpleasant business model but there are some fantastic free iPhone games out there if you know where to look. In this article we've rounded up the 36 best free iPhone games for your delectation, from fighting and sports games to puzzles and RPGs.

It's worth mentioning first of all, mind you, that free games aren't always the bargain they seem - beware of scam games, games crammed with annoying in-app payments and adverts, and various other irritations that often beset free games. We discuss some of these issues in 'Freemium is the worst thing in the history of gaming: a rant' and 'Why apps need to be more expensive'.

And if you're looking for games for kids, make sure they know about the dangers and expenses of in-app purchases. We'd recommend the judicious use of parental controls to avoid an unpleasant bill.

But that's quite enough fear-mongering. There are some excellent free iPhone games out there that earn their money fair and square: with comparatively unobtrusive adverts, or genuinely optional in-app payments that simply expand on the existing gameplay. Let's get on to the games reviews: here are the 36 free iPhone games we're most impressed with.

Read next: Best iPad & iPhone games | App Store sale - Apple offers cheap apps for limited time

The 36 best free iPhone games

Alphabear

Another word game? Yes, but this one stars bears! Even better, it's really, really good, and dead easy to get into. You start out with a board with some letters on. Tap out a word and the space the letters took up is immediately replaced by bears, which are instantly surrounded by more letters.

Added complications arrive in the form of countdown timers. Letters start out as green, and then if unused over subsequent goes turn yellow, orange and then red. Ignore red letters at your peril, because they transform into rocks, blocking bears from expanding.

You might wonder about the use of 'expanding' and 'bears' in that previous sentence, but we haven't erred - the bears in Alphabear really do stretch to fill available space. So you'll get tall and thin bears, weirdly wide and squat bears, and there's the holy grail of the 'filling the entire screen' bear if you clear all of the letters. At the end of a round, such giant beasts result in huge scores and immense satisfaction.

There are some minor drawbacks to the bear-oriented antics. The game requires a constant internet connection for online sync, and there are in-game currencies - one essentially for 'energy' to enter new rounds and the other to skip ahead by more rapidly accessing treasure events. It's there you discover especially rare bears with special powers that seriously boost your score in various ways when selected before a new round; but this mechanic serves more to over-complicate the game than improve it.

Still, for free, you can play a couple of really fun rounds per day, and there's always an 'infinite honey' IAP (£3.99) if you can't stand to wait for your next furry fix. Craig Grannell

FREE | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | App Store link

Battle Golf

Developer Colin Lane appears to be attempting to corner the market in ridiculous sports games. First, there was Golf is Hard, a side-on ball-thwacker that required you to hit a hole-in-one every time, because it's clearly wrong and evil to walk on the grass. Then came Wrassling, a demented wrestling (of sorts) game that looked like it had fallen out of a Commodore 64. Now, Lane's returned to hitting tiny balls with sticks in Battle Golf.

Again, this one's all about holes-in-one, but putting greens now emerge from a huge expanse of water. You must therefore tap twice (to set angle and then power) and hope for the best. Hazards include hole-blocking seagulls and occasionally having to carefully aim for the top of a giant octopus. Although perfectly fine in its single-player time-attack incarnation, Battle Golf really comes into its own when the 'battle' bit is added via the same-device two-player mode. Players face off at opposite edges of the water, and frantically race to five points. As a bonus, you can cheekily temporarily knock out your rival by smacking them in the head with a ball, giving you a few precious seconds to win a point without them interfering.

There's only one IAP - £1.49/$1.99 gets rid of the ads, although these are unobtrusive and don't interrupt your games. Only flinging your (ex) friend's iPhone out of the window when they get a last-gasp fluky shot to win 5-4 can do that. Craig Grannell

FREE | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | App Store link

Bejeweled Blitz

This ultra-moreish puzzle game takes the 'match three' mechanic and squashes it into minute-long blasts of dazzling colours and crazy point tallies. It's astonishingly addictive.

You have to swap coloured jewels within a grid, using simple finger swipes, so that three or more line up; the matched jewels will disappear and more will replace them. The tense gameplay, drip-feed of rewards and social-media integration combine to make a game that will expand to fill any time period available.

FREE | Read the full Bejeweled Blitz review | Download Bejeweled Blitz

Read next: How to make an iOS game: Tips & resources you will need

Blocky Highway

Ah, the open road. In this case, the open road that stretches on forever, with nary a bend in sight. Still, it's rather a busy road, with countless vehicles you must deftly avoid, because a single collision spells the end of your go. To drive the message home, even the slightest prang finds your truck hurled into the air, returning to the ground as a heap of twisted and blackened pixels. Dramatic!

There's not much originality here and the chunky visual style is overly familiar, but Blocky Highway is nonetheless compelling. You get a choice of touch or tilt controls, with the latter being a bit slippy and unwieldy, yet this oddly makes for a more exciting game. It's quite something for your chunky vehicle to zig-zag along a busy freeway, avoiding collisions by a hair's breadth.

Over time, the game adds to the challenge through various means. Roadwork occasionally and abruptly blocks your way, and train tracks cross your path; in the latter case, the game offers a novel means to avoid speeding locomotives: huge pads that bounce you into the air. Other helpers infrequently appear, too - there's a helicopter that for a short while lifts you above the busy road, and a truck you can drive on top of that gleefully bulldozes traffic out of your way. And when your game finally comes to its smashy end, you get a chance to grab a few extra points by landing your bouncing wreck on other cars presumably driven by significantly more careful road users. Craig Grannell

FREE | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | App Store link

Cally's Caves 3

You'll probably be some way into Cally's Caves 3 when you start to wonder what the catch is. "Surely," you'll say, "the developers haven't given me an expansive and beautifully designed - if frequently frustrating and challenging in an old-school kind of way - platform game with oodles of blasting." At least that's what we said, cursing our thumbs whenever we died, and wondering at what point the game would lock up and start demanding money.

As it turns out, the developers are hardcore gamers and have no truck with terrible monetisation. Therefore, you get unobtrusive ads on static screens, and are otherwise left to your own devices. And the game is excellent.

The backstory involves Cally's parents being kidnapped for a third time by an evil scientist. She therefore resolves to rescue them, primarily by leaping about the place and blowing away all manner of adversaries using the kind of high-powered weaponry not usually associated with a young girl with pig-tails. Level layouts are varied, and weapon power-ups are cleverly designed, based around how much you use each item. The one niggle is the map, which is checkpoint-based - it's a bit too easy to find yourself replaying a trio of levels again and again to get to a place further along in your journey where you can restart.

Still, that merely forces you to take a little more care, rather than blundering about the place, and to breathe in the delicately designed pixellated landscapes. And should you decide you want to throw money at the developers, there are optional IAPs that unlock new game modes, or a load of coins if you want to splurge in the in-game store without working for your money. Craig Grannell

FREE | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | App Store link

Capitals

We do like a good word game, and Capitals is a very good word game. There are echoes here of Letterpress (mentioned further down in this alphabetically ordered feature), in the sense that Capitals combines Risk-style land-grabbing with the need to create words from a jumble of letters. However, while Letterpress for the most part benefits players able to fashion lengthy words, Capitals is more about where the letters you choose to use are located.

The game plays out on a hexagonal grid, either with two players using the same device or battling it out online thanks to a Game Center match-up. All letters on the board can be used to create a word, but only those attached to your territory flip to your colour on submitting a move. The important thing is to keep your capital surrounded by territory rather than letters. If you don't and your rival's move includes letters adjacent to your capital, it's captured. They then get a free turn, and since the objective of the game is total and utter annihilation, that extra move is often enough to gift victory.

For no money at all, Capitals is one of the best games around for word-game nuts, although we'll admit to being a smidgeon miffed about the ad model; in miserly fashion, it only gives up a solitary game for every advert watched. Still, since a game can often play out as a days-long tug o' war, the ads are hardly a huge drain on your time for what you get in return. Craig Grannell

FREE | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Capitals

Crossy Road

You've probably already installed smash hit Crossy Road. If not, do so immediately; and while you're waiting, have a quick read of why it's one of the finest freebies on mobile.

First, it's dead simple and entirely intuitive. Imagine Frogger with isometric graphics and a single level that goes on forever. That's perhaps not fun for the game's protagonist, who must hop across endless busy highways, train-lines, and rivers full of floating logs, before inevitably being squashed/drowning/ending up on the front of the 8:24 to Paddington. But it's great for you, because it's an endless, infinitely replayable challenge. And the controls - tap to jump forward or swipe to move in any direction - are pitch-perfect.

Secondly, it looks gorgeous. The visuals are bright and cheery, to the point you won't be too annoyed when your critter gets splattered, or grabbed by a terrifying bird of prey when you dawdle a second too long.

Finally, Crossy Road is the least obnoxious free-to-play title around, despite being packed full of collectables. Sure, you can pay IAP to get a new character (of which there are many), but alternatively you can grab coins as you play, view an ad to swell your wallet, or even just do nothing at all and grin as the game generously lobs a bunch of virtual cash in your general direction anyway.

You can then try your luck on a one-armed bandit that will reward you with anything from a vampire that turns Crossy Road into a bleak landscape bathed in red, to 'Doge', whose antics are accompanied by lurid Comic Sans phrases. Much hop! Very car! Craig Grannell

FREE | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Crossy Road

Does Not Commute

Does Not Commute starts with a simple driving challenge: get from point A to point B before the timer runs out. (The car runs automatically: you just tap the left or right side of the screen to steer.) But as soon as you achieve this, the game rewinds time and asks you to repeat the trick, driving a second vehicle on the same course. Only this time you need to contend with another driver on the road: yourself, following whatever route you just took in the first car. This repeats until the screen is dangerously and hilariously full.

There are lots of neat touches: the funny snapshots of each commuter's life and why they're in a hurry; the reckless jumps and shortcuts that you're heavily encouraged to use in order to avoid traffic, but which nearly always end in disaster; the desperate rush to beat the clock and pick up the timer-boosting powerups; and, best of all, the challenge of adapting to a vehicle that handles completely differently to the previous one, all within a space of seconds.

This is a free game, but but you can't save at any of the checkpoints until you upgrade to the Premium version, which costs £1.49.

FREE (£1.49 in-app purchase to unlock Premium mode, which adds save checkpoints) | iPhone and iPad (Universal) | App Store link | Read our full Does Not Commute review

Down The Mountain

You might detect a whiff of Crossy Road (above) when first laying eyes on Down The Mountain. It has similar cartoonish, cuboid, colourful characters. There's instadeath when you mess up. And there's a hint of Crossy Road's collector mentality, in you gradually amassing a bunch of misfits to guide down the seemingly infinitely high hill from hell. But there any similarity ends, because Down The Mountain is simultaneously much simpler and far trickier than Crossy Road.

It's much easier in the sense of the controls. Like Crossy Road, there's old arcade game DNA in Down The Mountain, but it's a Q*bert playfield of isometric cubes, rather than endless Frogger. But whereas other characters on the mountain have free movement, you don't - you can only bound downwards, to your left or right. The tough bit is everything else. The mountain is chock full of deadly hazards, such as bounding cars, stabby spikes, lava blocks and ravenous beasts. Some tiles temporarily reverse the controls, while others poison you, leaving mere seconds to find an antidote.

Down The Mountain, then, swiftly becomes a bit overwhelming, with you having to juggle all kinds of tasks and dangers. Games are short. Yet if you persevere and get yourself into 'the zone', it becomes a thoroughly addictive experience; and even if you get frustrated, the game's hugely charming nature always draws you back for one more go.

(There's IAP here, but it's all avoidable. If you'd like to reward the devs, though, 79p removes the unobtrusive ads, or gets you four keys that can be used to unlock crates that award you new characters. Keys are otherwise found on the mountain.) Craig Grannell

FREE | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | App Store link

Hill Climb Racing

Hill Climb Racing is an excellent time filler which you can pick up and put down at a moment's notice. Better still, it's an excellent free time filler.

You spend the game driving a 4x4 up hills, across bridges, down hills and then up more hills. Along the way you collect coins and fuel. Drive too slowly and you'll run out of petrol; drive too quick and you'll flip the vehicle over. There's just a brake and accelerator, but you must use these controls carefully - and mastering them is tremendously rewarding. Before long you'll be beating the steep hills you previously thought impossible.

Using coins you can upgrade your starting vehicle and unlock new ones. You'll quickly realise that to unlock most of the levels and vehicles you'll have to use the in-app purchases to buy coins rather than earning them, but it's perfectly possible to play Hill Climb Racing without spending any money at all. Jim Martin

FREE (contains in-app purchases - see above) | iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Read our full Hill Climb Racing review | View Hill Climb Racing on the App Store | How to win at Hill Climb Racing

Jetpack Joyride

In this delightful cave flyer, your disgruntled lab-assistant character steals a machine-gun-powered jetpack (don't ask) and takes flight through the lab's never-ending string of long, tunnel-like rooms. As you jet or run along, you need to avoid electrified barriers, lasers and missiles while collecting coins. The mix of responsiveness and acceleration is just about perfect, the comical graphics raise it above most offerings in the genre, and the extras - including a superb array of vehicles - make Jetpack Joyride a true standout. Dan Frakes

FREE | Read the full Jetpack Joyride review | App Store link

See also: Best free iPad games

KANO

We've played KANO a bunch of times and still have absolutely no idea what's going on. We know what we have to do, but this is otherwise a game of strangeness.

The gameplay, then, involves colour-matching. You control a platform at the foot of the screen, which has four coloured tiles. It can be spun with a finger, and stops with a prod, in a pleasingly tactile manner. The aim is to match the colour of a bouncing and endlessly transforming gurning 3D being when it lands.

At first, KANO is mind-numbingly easy, but that doesn't last long. Within a minute or so, the bouncing increases to manic pace, and you'll eventually miss a match. At that point, the tile disappears, leaving a hole into a lava pit; you'll then meet a furious fireball, which when it appears must be steered into the lava rather than allowing it to collide with any remaining coloured tiles. Now and again, there's a little bonus section, where you grab coins in space, boosting your points tally.

The game continues until you've only one tile left, at which point you're awarded with a score and get to have a bit of a breather. Rather amusingly, the sole IAP (£2.29 for 'premium') adds a 'turbo mode' at double speed. Frankly, we're not sure we'd be able to cope. Craig Grannell

FREE | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | App Store link

Letterpress

In this alarmingly addictive puzzle game, you and your opponent take turns to use the letters in a five-by-five grid to build a word, thereby causing the tiles you use to change into your colour. At game end, whichever player has turned more tiles to his or her colour emerges the victor. Serious fun for word game fans. Lex Friedman

FREE | Read the full Letterpress review | Download Letterpress now

Read next: iPhone 6s review | iPhone 6s Plus review | All iPhone reviews

Los Aliens

The little critters in Los Aliens know how to make things hard for themselves. They're very much into exploring new worlds, but also create rigid rules about how to do so. For some reason, they can only move about like knights on a chessboard, working their way around grid sectors by way of L-shaped leaps. As they go, they dump fuel required to power their spaceship. Should a complete line be built vertically or horizontally across the current zone, the ship blasts forwards; do this enough times, and it heads into orbit, ready to zoom to a new planet.

As you work your way through the game, it merrily lobs new curveballs in your direction: limited moves or limited time; the requirement to collect native species; teleporters; and more. The visuals are vibrant, and the game's mechanics feel quite fresh, even if this is fairly standard puzzle fare. There are ads and timers lurking, as you might imagine. But if you play a little every day, the former won't irk, and the ads can be blasted into space by way of a single £1.49/$1.99 IAP if they begin to grate. Craig Grannell

FREE | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | App Store lin

New Star Soccer

It's a testament to the brilliant gameplay that even football haters will get something out of this.

You're a striker starting out in non-league football and aiming for the big time. On the pitch, you're tasked with setting up and scoring wonder goals. But the game also deals with non-match activities: training, selecting clothes and kitting out your house in a load of tat. Alan Martin

FREE | Read the full New Star Soccer review | Download New Star Soccer

Nono Islands

With its 3D viewpoint and tap-based controls for hopping about, Nono Games initially feels a bit like Crossy Road got mashed into Temple Run with a fork. But you soon realise that this jungle expedition is something else entirely, and it has more in common with old-school platform games that demanded you to memorise a course and zoom through it as fast as possible.

Each of the shortish levels has you navigating a small patch of wilderness on a 'clockwork' island, along narrow paths surrounded by death. You tap to move forward one step, swipe left or right to move forwards and in the relevant direction, and swipe back to move backwards. You must take care to avoid getting eaten by a leaping shark, poisoned by a scuttling spider, or falling into the fetid swamp water. Timing is key.

What's especially smart about Nono Islands, though, is how it can be approached in various ways. If you like, it's possible to carefully pick your way through each level - and doing so is relatively simple. But really it's all about time-attack scores, especially if your friends are playing. You'll want to get to the end of each stage as rapidly as possible, and that means implementing a precise series of taps and swipes to shave fractions of a second off of your time.

For free, you rather generously get access to everything. You can also buy five checkpoint tokens for 79p or unlock all checkpoints for £2.29. Checkpoints mean you don't have to replay previous levels should you fail, although tokens can also be found within the game itself, and Nono Islands gives you one free attempt, and another after a few more minutes. Craig Grannell

FREE | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | App Store link

Only One

Why not give this slice of retro sword and sorcery a try?

It's a fantasy brawler, in which you (a sword-wielding maniac) have to defend a clifftop from all-comers, whether similarly armed warriors, archers, fireball-pumping wizards or coloured slimes. Bursting with personality, funny and so addictive that your iPhone screen will soon have a neat little sweat circle where the onscreen joystick appears.

FREE | Read our full Only One review | Download Only One

Pangolin

A physics-based puzzler in which you bounce a cute little creature around a level and try to get him to the goal with as few shots as possible. Sort of like crazy golf played in mid-air with a scaly animal instead of a ball. We like this a lot, and the basic game is free. It's probably worth shelling out for the extra levels, though.

FREE | Read the full Pangolin review | Download Pangolin

The Path To Luma

It's not hard to spot the underlying message here, what with this game being sponsored by a US energy company big on selling green energy: clean energy is a very good thing. In fact, in Path to Luma, clean energy is so good that it's capable of bringing back to life seemingly dead, abandoned planetoids.

Planetoid-saving isn't quite as simple as flicking a switch, though. You must direct SAM - a Sustainability Augmentation Model - about the place, finding and repositioning solar batteries, utilising wind power and so on, manipulating the very planet with your fingertips.

There's quite a lot of hand-holding, and we can't imagine it'll take that long for most players to blaze through the 20 levels on offer. It's also a title that doesn't at any point meet its haughty description of being "a memorable story of heroism and the revitalisation of a civilisation".

What it is, though, is a really fab little puzzle game with a lovely soundtrack and some great visuals. We admit to going "ooh" the first time sun beams exploded down to clean up one of the game's tiny worlds. And perhaps we are now thinking a bit more about installing solar. Still, that's got to be better than a game trying very hard to get you to gorge yourself on chocolate. Craig Grannell

FREE | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | App Store lin

Platform Panic

Platform Panic certainly has a lot of platforms in it, but you'll be doing the panicking. The premise is something something heroes abducted something, which ultimately results in you taking on some kind of quest that involves inevitable death after valiantly navigating your way through a number of dangerous rooms.

Movement is swipe-based - your little hero auto-runs and you swipe left or right to head that way or up to jump. For the most part, timing is crucial, because if you collide with a single hazard, game over.

What makes Platform Panic a cut above, though, is the huge number of rooms and hazards, their smart design, and how they're fired your way. Each room on your journey acts as a miniature puzzle to be bested and committed to memory. On encountering something new - pipes that suck you in and blow you out elsewhere; hero-frying lasers; huge spiked wheels - you'll likely be horribly killed. But the next time you face the room, you'll be ready for it and add a point to your tally - well, unless it's flipped the other way round, in which case you'll probably die again.

With rooms being presented broadly randomly, Platform Panic is endlessly replayable. It's also mobile-friendly, given that games are typically over inside a minute or so (unless you're a platform-game genius, in which case two minutes).

IAPs are lurking, but they're of the non-hateful variety. £1.49/$1.99 nukes the ads, and you can also buy coins, which can be spent on continues or characters. Three quid nets you 5,000, which is enough to buy every single character and still have change for a handful of continues. Alternatively, you can collect coins as you play, since each room has at least one. Craig Grannell

FREE | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | App Store link

Run Sackboy! Run!

Run, Sackboy! Run! (free) is a mobile spinoff from the Sony game LittleBigPlanet, a four-player side-scrolling affair that builds upon the approachable Super Mario run-and-jump formula while also allowing players to build their own levels. It's certainly streamlined by comparison: it's a strictly single-player affair, lacks in-depth character customisation and level creation, and does away with manual player movement. In other words, it's an endless runner on a platform that has loads of them.

But Run, Sackboy! Run! has an ace in the hole: being ridiculously charming. Even a simplified, free-to-play take on the LBP series can bring wide smiles to your face as you leap across colourful chasms, collect bubbles and avoid the goofy-looking monster on your tail.

And despite the silly tone, it actually proves to be pretty challenging. You can jump and dash forward via taps and swipes, respectively, and you'll need to use both at times to overcome long stretches of spikes, or to recover when you're about to hit an enemy. As the speed picks up, it becomes harder to anticipate obstacles ahead, which amps up the difficulty level.

And it's free, of course. And and so long as you're cool with probably never unlocking some of the pricier costumes - which cost an extravagant amount of in-game currency - there's plenty of entertainment to be had here without spending a penny. Andrew Hayward

FREE | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Read our full Run Sackboy! Run! review | Download Run Sackboy! Run

Sage Solitaire

Plenty of developers have played with the conventions of solitaire, although mostly by hanging basic card-sorting games on free-to-play titles full of cartoon characters. Sage Solitaire is a much more minimal affair, but one specifically designed for your iPhone in portrait orientation. Developer Zach Gage asked why, when you have a phone that's not the size of a table, most traditional solitaire efforts ape the typical Klondike and FreeCell layouts, using tiny cards (in order to fit them all on the screen) and overly familiar strategies. His answer: a three-by-three grid, quite a bit of poker, and a virtual trip to Vegas.

In the basic Sage Solitaire game, you score by removing poker hands. The better the hand, the more points you get. Strategy comes by way of a rule that states you must use cards from multiple rows for each hand. With the stacks at the top of the screen being taller than those at the bottom, the latter's cards are best used sparingly. In addition, a randomly allocated suit is set as a multiplier, bestowing double points when one or more of its cards is used in a hand, and two 'trashes' exist to remove individual cards; one is replenished after each successful hand.

The Vegas mode, unlocked on clearing the entire board three times, gives you a virtual bank account, awards cash prizes only when using the multiplier hand, and ups your overall payout multiplier on clearing piles from the top two rows. Subtly different strategies are required for success, hence the initial lockdown - it's very easy to otherwise burn through your limited funds. But once you crack Vegas and hit $800, you can try your hand at True Grit. There, once your in-game money's gone, it's gone for good.

Note that there's no horrible IAP to refill your virtual coffers. The game's sole IAP (£2.29/$2.99) exists purely to unlock two further modes (Double Deck and Fifteens), remove the (unobtrusive) ads, provide stats tracking, and give you some achievements to aim for. Craig Grannell

FREE | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | App Store link

Seashine

There's a disconnect between the aesthetics of Seashine and its gameplay - and this initially makes for a rather strange experience. The game takes place in the inky depths of an unnamed ocean. Your tiny luminescent jellyfish has a glow that offers the only light to penetrate its surroundings. But the light is fragile and in constant danger of being extinguished.

Every flick you make propels the gelatinous protagonist in the relevant direction. But as soon as you're beyond the cosy starting point, a life bar rapidly depletes. The jellyfish must seek out plants or creatures to eat, which keep the lights on for a few extra precious seconds, thereby enabling further searching. There's naturally a food chain in operation, though, and so you're both predator and prey; you're never far into your journey before being pursued by a fish with a mouth full of extremely nasty-looking razor-sharp teeth.

Games therefore tend to be fraught, stressful experiences, at odds with the tranquil underwater burblings, tinkly soundtrack and gorgeous visuals. But there's a palpable sense of excitement when you manage to escape through a tiny tunnel a fish cannot squeeze through, or grab a morsel to eke out a few extra seconds of life.

Seashine does enable you to cheat death through the use of life-extending stars; unsurprisingly, these can be bought using IAPs. We're unconvinced about this part of the game, though - it feels like cheating, and quickfire visits to the abyss work more nicely on mobile. We might have been convinced to part with cash for a noodly endless 'zen' mode, however Craig Grannell

FREE | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | App Store link

Shibuya Grandmaster

Shibuya Grandmaster feels a bit like someone thought Tetris was a bit too complicated and then smashed the resulting stripped-down well puzzler into a match-three game. Consequently, you're tasked with managing slabs of colour as they float down from the top of the screen, and placing them into a very limited number of boxes.

The aim is at the very least to create matches. If two matching slabs are touching, they'll acquire a diagonal line and a tap removes them from the well, leaving more space. But doing this and no more results in a rubbish score - Shibuya Grandmaster wants you to strategise and take risks.

Over time, then, you must figure out how to rack up bonus points by managing blocks so you can create larger towers of the same colour, or remove a bunch of combos at once. It's a smart juggling act made all the more devious through the game's rank-based reward system. If you want to progress, you'll need to practise and you'll fail often; but Shibuya Grandmaster is oh so satisfying once it clicks.

In fact, we'd argue the original Shibuya (from way back in 2010) was a cruelly overlooked App Store classic, and so we're delighted to see this follow-up, in all its beautiful high-res glory. From an IAP standpoint, it's almost absurdly generous: you can play as much as you like, forever; but if you want to support the dev, buy a new background (79p/$0.99 each) or 'everything forever' (£3.99/$4.99). Craig Grannell

FREE | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | App Store link

Shooty Skies

"A giant beaver is approaching!" warns Shooty Skies, as your DJ cat in a biplane prepares for battle alongside temporary wingman Rocket Pug.

The beaver begins spewing spinning axes and giant acorns, any of which would bring instant death on colliding with your plane. You drag your finger to make your craft deftly weave between these projectiles, admiring the beaver's surprisingly awesome firepower - and, frankly, its ability to fly in the first place. Occasionally, you pause to charge your super-weapon, which lets rip the second you move. The beaver defeated, you mull over the fact that this strange scene isn't even close to the weirdest you've experienced within this very flight.

Shooty Skies, then, is a shooty game set in the sky. Think: old-school vertically scrolling blasters. But this one has a decidedly oddball bent. Strange cartoon characters in biplanes are attacked by memes and angry technology (arcade games that fire joysticks; enraged cassette decks; demented robots), until a single bullet spells death. The aforementioned super-weapon mechanism adds a dash of risk-versus-reward (you're vulnerable when stationary, but can clear the screen with the weapon's superior firepower). And everything's wrapped in a gorgeous if familiar visual style you'll recall from Crossy Road. (The teams for both games had lots of crossover, note - this isn't some third-rate knock-off!)

As in Crossy Road, you can unlock characters using a prize system or real cash. But there's nothing at all here that will ever pressure you into spending money. Shooty Skies is a generous and instantly playable game, albeit one you'll soon discover requires mastery if you ever want to make it past more than a couple of levels. Craig Grannell

FREE | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | App Store lin

Skiing Yeti Mountain

Slalom games are as old as the hills - snowy or otherwise. They existed on the earliest home computer systems, and so Skiing Yeti Mountain is hardly a rolling snowball of innovation. Nonetheless, through some great design and humour, developer Featherweight Games has managed to craft an essential mobile freebie.

The basics of the game are much as you'd expect: zig-zag your way down wintry slopes, passing on the correct side of gates (left of red and right of blue), and try very hard not to embed yourself in a tree. The controls only require a single finger, which you move horizontally to adjust how far to weave. Initial ham-fisted attempts at progress gradually give way to elegant swooshing about, along with heart-in-stomach moments as you zoom, inch-perfect, between a couple of trees.

Throughout, a cast of misfits adds some personality to proceedings, telling tall tales, getting surprise-eaten by Yetis, and in one case providing the only example on iOS of an in-app ad sting we've ever laughed at. (Thanks, Larry the 'guerrilla marketing expert', and your little jab that you're 'on commission'!) Craig Grannell

FREE | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Skiing Yeti Mountain

Sky

Typically on seeing the name Ketchapp, you know what you're in for: simplistic endless fare that's like a cheap snack - briefly satisfying but ultimately throwaway. Sky is different. The basic premise is nothing new, but everything's put together so well that it becomes surprisingly compelling.

In Sky's minimal isometric world, a yellow square moves along a zigzag track, gobbling dots. In its way: grey squares that must be avoided. A tap sends the yellow square into the air. A second tap while airborne results in a double-jump, for avoiding larger sets of grey squares.

Where things become interesting is on entering green tents that are dotted about. These 'clone' your square, which results in multiple iterations working their way along several tracks. All jump as one, but in combination they hoover up dots far more quickly than a solitary square. Sky therefore becomes a tense juggling act to ensure as many squares survive for as long as possible, before they again merge.

As you play, there's a pleasant noodly piano-based soundtrack, and the visuals look so polished you imagine they'd squeak on dragging a finger over them. A single IAP lurks (£1.49/$1.99), for turning off the ads (which appear as a strip across the bottom of the screen). Craig Grannell

FREE | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | App Store link

Sling Kong

We should be having a good old grumble about Sling Kong. Fundamentally, it does nothing especially original. It borrows the 'catapult something across the screen' mechanism from a dozen iOS mega-hits and then welds that to an endless vertical climber. Angry Doodle Fling, perhaps. The thing is, we can't stay remotely mad at Sling Kong, because it does everything so well.

Its little characters have this oddly bewildered look about them, as if they're as surprised as you that they've suddenly been dumped in an absurdly dangerous endless deathtrap. Their demise is always gleefully cartoonish and icky - fur flying when a monkey meets a saw blade, or an octopus splattering across the screen on suddenly finding itself between two large pieces of wood that have a particularly violent meeting.

The controls are superb, feeling nicely tactile as you drag back your little animal and let go to ping it across the screen. And the environment is the kind of chaotic nightmare that keeps you on your toes, ensures games are suitably short, but doesn't hit you so hard that you won't want to immediately have another go.

One of our favourite moments in Sling Kong is its prizes section. Gather enough coins and you send your little critter to get a serious headache, bouncing around a pachinko machine. Given that most other developers have had an imagination failure since clocking Crossy Road's 'random gift' model, it's great to see something a bit different when trying to win a new character. Craig Grannell

FREE | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | App Store link

Spaceteam

Glorious multiplayer fun, this - and the multiplayer part is essential. It's one of the few iOS games out there that you cannot play on your own.

Each member of the team sees a wonky-looking sci-fi dashboard on their screen, with a variety of read-outs and bizarrely labelled dials, buttons and levers. The screen will tell you to do something - "Set sprocket to 6", to take a random example. If the sprocket dial is on your screen, all well and good; but most of the time, it'll be on someone else's, meaning you need to tell them what to do. In no time at all you're all shouting nonsense at each other, and the world is a wonderful place.

FREE | Read the full Spaceteam review | Download Spaceteam

Temple Run 2

Temple Run 2 is an auto- or endless runner: your character, a fleeing Indiana Jones-alike, is propelled forwards towards a series of obstacles - fatal drops, spikey boulders, walls - and you have to swipe at the right moment and in the right direction to dodge them. Death is inevitable, as is having 'just one more go.' Alec Meer

FREE | Read the full Temple Run 2 review | Download Temple Run 2

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 involve 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 that 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 properly 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. Craig Grannell

FREE | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Download Threes! Free

Tiny Heroes

In this appealing fantasy-themed take on the tower defence game, you take the role of the mad architect who sets out to shred and perforate any would-be adventurer who dares to loot his dungeon's precious treasures. Waves of cartoonish heroes wander in, then meet a swift end by spinning blade, concealed spike or caged monster. You'll have to plan for several kinds of heroes, from tough knights to crafty thieves, and balance between planning ahead and spontaneous fire-fighting. Jason Tocci

FREE | Read the full Tiny Heroes review | Download Tiny Heroes

Triple Town

Triple Town is a 'match three' game with a look and feel all its own. You're building a town on a grid filled with bushes and trees. Grouping items into threes makes them transform: three trees become a hut, three huts become a house and so on. There are even enemies (bears), although these are actually rather adorable. They wander about, getting in the way, but if you trap them into a single square they, um, die, turning into grave stones. Inevitably, you can match three of these, making a church.

The whole thing is fresh, addictive and challenging. Alan Martin

FREE | Read the full Triple Town review | Download Triple Town

Two Dots

Two Dots is a cunning one for encouraging real-money spending, and those with weak self-control should be wary.

Like Watercolors (discussed later in this article), it asks you to trace lines between coloured dots, but in this case you're making the linked dots disappear, Bejeweled-style. If you can't clear the stipulated number of dots within the stated number of moves, you'll lose a life, and the only way to get these back is to wait... or pay up.

FREE | Read the full Two Dots review | Download Two Dots

Vainglory

Vainglory offers some of the best visuals seen on the App Store. It was used as a showcase for the iPhone 6 handsets' power - not to mention the power of iOS 8's Metal graphics tech - when they were first unveiled, and you should bear this in mind when considering what hardware to run it on: it's compatible with iPhone 5s and up on the smartphone side, although it goes back as far as iPad 2 on the tablet.

Read next: 5 top Metal games for the iPad/iPhone

The game spotlights three-on-three team-based action with (and against) fellow online players, and each squad must work together to take down enemy turrets and destroy the crystal at their opponents' base.

The free-to-play design thankfully puts no limits on gameplay: you can play as much as you want, but only with the certain free characters offered at any given time. If you want to use a non-free warrior, you'll have to pay a one-time fee with in-game currency. It's a remarkably fair and fun free game that doesn't penalise players who opt not to shell out.

FREE | For iPad & iPhone (Universal) | Read our full Vainglory review | Download Vainglory

Watercolors

If simple, attractive puzzles are your thing, take a look at Watercolors. You have to swipe across various blobs of coloured 'paint', moving them around the level and mixing them with other colours where necessary. The idea is to colour all the nodes in the correct colour with the lowest number of 'brush strokes' possible.

It's a relaxing, neatly realised game and there's very little pressure to spend money on additional level packs - although you may well choose to do so once you've completed the free offerings.

FREE | Download Watercolors

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Read next: 6 iOS games you need to have played | Best Mac games | Best iPad & iPhone games | Best Apple Watch games | The 10 best shooting games for iPhone and iPad

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