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The Best 15 iPhone and iPad Games... For Free
A Brief Intro
If you are new to the the world of Gaming on either your iPad or iPhone, you are probably excited to jump in... just not quite sure where. The Apple App Store has a number of games featured as it's TOP FREE APPS, but are these really the best games available? Maybe you've heard Angry Birds is great (and it is), but is that really the one and only game you will ever want?
If you are a veteran to the iPad/iPhone Gaming scene, you probably have come to find that the App store is actually not all that helpful in finding and organizing the games you really want to be playing. And when you turn to the web for suggestions, you may have found quite a few lists (admittedly similar to this one) that claim to have found the best iPad or iPhone games, but turn out to recommend Angry Birds, and nine other games that look to have been made by a 12 year-old.
Well, be you newbie or veteran, look no further. After over a year of unending search, I have done it... Here are 15 games for your iPad or iPhone that I guarantee, will not disappoint, and are (for the most part) FREE.
When I say mostly free, that is because the majority of the game is totally free. But iPad and iPhone games, like any business, do have methods of making money. For example, they might sell items more powerful than the standard available items, or they might sell additional maps, etc. etc. The big difference between this and "Lite" (demo) versions, is that in Lite versions, the vast majority of the game is not available. Lite versions are not included in this article.
Lastly, the games are in no particular order. I stand behind all of them, and different people will enjoy different genres more than others.
That being said... onto the games!
Yeehaw! We're off to the races Lil'Lady.
Genre: (tower) Defense
Money can buy: Expansion Missions
If you're familiar with the concept of tower defense games, this is a brilliant variation on that model set in the Old West.
If you're unfamiliar, Tower Defense is a very popular style of game in which waves of increasingly powerful enemies try to navigate across a map and reach an end point. Your goal is to build towers that shoot at the waves as they pass. As you earn kills, you also earn money with which you can buy upgrades and additional towers.
The towers in this game are not actually towers, but cartoonish versions of Western characters. And because they are not planted to the ground, you can move them around. However, they will not fire and move at the same time, so move them proactively, and try not to get caught chasing. While this welcome innovation on a popular genre is enough to make it worth looking at, its only the beginning of what makes it great.
What really puts it into the category of 'must-have game' is the overall presentation. When you see the quality of artwork and music, you are going to feel like you don't deserve to be playing this for free. There are at least ten different units (tower types), each with completely distinct gameplay functions, and also distinct personalities. They are the nastiest, dumbest, ugliest host of villains you'll ever take control of in a video game... Oh wait, did I forget to mention you play as the bad guy?
Because that's the real nail in the coffin. Every kill becomes ironically fun and a little twisted when you embrace the fact that you are murdering defenseless settlers, and using their money to grow and strengthen your posse. It's done in a very innocent, non-gruesome manner, but the humorous dialogue never lets you forget what you are really doing to these poor people.
Beep! Beep! ...Crash
Genre: Top down traffic controller
Device: Both (emphasis on iPad)
Money can buy: More maps
Bring the boats in. Empty the cargo. Lead them back out to sea.
If you're new to gaming on Apple touch-screen devices, this is a fantastic game to start with because of the emphasis on touch/drag controls. It feels so clean you'll wonder why people still use a mouse and keyboard to play games. This is also why I indicate that this is a better game for iPad than iPhone. The added screen space allows for range of motion and map size that the iPhone just can't offer. Don't worry iPhoners. There's a game or two coming up just for you.
The free version only comes with one map, so I was hesitant to list it due to my 'no Lite or demo versions' rule. But the full experience is there in that 1 map (minus some minor map features like pirate attacks, etc that are featured in buy-able maps). Also with the iPad version, you can buy each new map individually, so you only pay for the ones you want.
If you've heard of Flight Control you might be wondering how it compares to Harbor Master (as they are nearly identical, just planes rather than boats). Well... Flight Control is a little better, but Harbor Master is free. That's all there is to it really.
Touch Tanks 2: Europe
If you want a free-for-all...
Genre: Top-Down Shooter, Multiplayer
Money can buy: Tank upgrades
This is tank driven chaos, plain and simple. If you are looking for a thought provoking experience, keep looking.
Let's break it down:
Step 1: Choose a tank.
Step 2: Choose a map.
Step 3: Roll around and kill every last thing that moves until you yourself are killed.
Step 4: Respawn and repeat Step 3 until time has expired.
So why do I consider this game good enough for the list? Because the graphics are good, the maps are well made, and the multiplayer is nearly seamless. Frankly if this were not a multiplayer game, it wouldn't be worth playing. But such a tight, well-functioning multiplayer experience is somewhat rare (for free anyway) on iPad/iPhone. And somehow mindlessly blasting some poor chap a thousand miles away is far more entertaining than mindlessly blasting away an AI.
Be warned that people can use money to buy super-tanks, but if you put enough hours into the game you can become a dangerous force yourself. I never spent a dime and would usually come in either first or second after a few levels and spending my in-game fake money wisely.
Let's Golf 3
Let's golf... but only for a little while
Money can buy: Powerful items, Costume items, Gameplay time extension
This is another great example of the kind of graphic quality possible on Apple devices, even in a free app. If you are not a fan of golf games, you may consider installing it just to marvel at the landscapes, some of which include Ireland, Egypt, and China (yes, there is a course on the Great Wall).
So what's the catch? Well the game enforces a pesky 'energy system'. This means you can only play several holes before the game forces you to stop playing for awhile. The reason they do this, is because they charge money for energy replenishment. So if you fall absolutely in love, you will be compelled to fork over some cash in order to keep playing.
If you aren't thrilled with this, you can just let your energy replenish (which takes something like 8 hours) at no cost. This can be frustrating, but if you start with full energy you can play for about an hour- and if you are playing the other games on this list, enjoy your hour and move on to one of the other great games available for free.
The title says it all.
Genre: Card Game
Money can buy: Nothing
Solitaire is and always will be the ultimate time wasting experience- and I say that with love. I've spent more time playing this version of Solitaire than most of the other games on this list.
You might be saying to yourself "Duh, I know what Solitaire is. I could find that with a basic search in the app store." But I've included it for a specific reason. There are plenty of free Solitare apps in the app store. I strongly suggest this one because it is simply prettier and more customizable than any of it's competitors. Yet if you type the word "solitaire" into the App store, Simply Solitaire doesn't even make the first page.
So don't sell yourself short. Waste your time in style, and get Simply Solitaire.
The game that just keeps on going
Genre: City builder/Real time
Money can buy: Additional buildings, Additional decorations, More workers, Instant work completion
This is another common game type. So why this one and not the others? Because this one is better than the others, and its free.
This genre lets players build up cities over long periods of time. A single structure may take 48 hours or more to build, and may only be possible after gaining enough resources and levels for it to even be available.
Games like this fall into two major categories: war and non-war. Trade Nations is non-war. The war versions are notoriously bad about giving pay players a significant advantage over free players, and being so time consuming that real life will suffer. Also, I've yet to see a war version of any quality on iPad or iPhone.
The fun of these kinds of games is in designing your city, and seeing it steadily grow over time. Its not action packed, and if you don't intend to continue to play, you may find it unrewarding. However if you are the patient type and you do stick with it, you may find it more enjoyable than any other game on this list.
*Update: Of course a week after I write this article, Z2Live (the developers of this game) release a new game that may be ever better than Trade Nations, called Battle Nations.
For my review and guide on Battle Nations, go here:
Words With Friends
Honor among friends required
Genre: Board Game (internet multiplayer)
Money can buy: Ad removal
There are plenty of board games now available on iProducts. Words with friends is special for two reasons:
1. It's free
2. It CAN be even better than playing in person
Words With Friends btw, is a generic version of Scrabble. The reason I say it can be better than in person, is because there is no time pressure over the internet. The game is expected to be played over the course of days, whenever you so-happen to have time to check it.
If you've played much Scrabble, you probably know that it can quickly become lame when Uncle Leo spends 15 minutes coming up with the word "ARE". In Words With Friends, Uncle Leo can spend as much time as he wants. Because you can live your life as he takes his turn.
The unfortunate downside to playing over the internet, is that Scrabble has important rules. Like "No browsing through the Dictionary"... or for that matter, "No using an internet database specifically designed for cheating at Scrabble". And when you can't be there to watch each other, that temptation will exist. So don't do it, and be clear with your opponents ahead of time what is and isn't allowed.
Because after all, Scrabble is a game played by upstanding gentlemen and ladies. If we can not abide by honor, then who can?
For the sophisticated gamer
Genre: Top-Down Shooter, Co-op Multiplayer
Money can buy: Better guns, armor, and usable items
Big guns, countless enemies, and babes. What more could you ask for?
You control your Bro much like your tank in Touch Tanks, with a significant difference. In TT the goal is to rack up as many kills as possible in the available time. In Gun Bros, you are fighting to survive the waves of AI.
Whether you choose to go it alone or hop online to recruit the help of a Bro, you'll find that with ever increasing waves of difficulty, survival is eventually going to get tough. For for this reason, the game does ask you to consider things like strategy and stats. Don't get me wrong, the game is 90% mindless shooting, but that final 10% will challenge you to think a little and come up with a battle plan.
And with the arsenal of weapons and armor available, the variety of maps, the ever changing daily missions, and numerous images of impossibly proportioned women in tiny clothes, there's a lot to keep you coming back.
Hunt or be hunted
Device: iPhone (2x graphics still play great on iPad)
Money can buy: Various items- most importantly a bigger item bag
I can't explain it, but for some reason I rarely feel compelled to play an RPG on my iPad or iPhone. Somehow though, this one captured my attention.
If you've ever played Monster Hunter, you'll find this game very similar. While this does have all the core elements of an RPG, with the long story, stat progression, etc, it's the Monster Hunter elements that really draw you in.
Whenever you kill an enemy you can loot them like in most RPGs. However most of the items you get are pretty realistic. For example, a turtle might drop a shell and turtle meat. With the shell, combined with some other parts found on other creatures, you might be able to construct a shield. With the turtle meat and other ingredients, you could cook up some turtle soup. Not only is the realism of this cool on it's own, it also turns the game into a kind of scavenger hunt (emphasis on the hunt).
Some of the comments on the app store complain about being forced to buy the real-money items to succeed in the game. I havn't found this to be the case. The item bag IS very nice, and I bought it since it was only .99c, but you could continue to delete unneeded items if you were determined to keep playing for free. If you have trouble staying alive and don't want to pay for potions, I recommend playing as the Defender (the shield user) class. Be sure to get the skill that slowly regenerates health.
Fantastic 4 in a Row
Keep it simple
Genre: Board Game
Money can buy: Game Center integration, themes, music
The easiest way to get your friends to play a game with you, is to present them a game they already know the rules to. So when you hand your iPhone to your friend with this app open, you don't even have to say a word. They take their move and hand it back. With Fantastic 4 in a Row, that's exactly what you have.
Unlike most of the other 4 in a row apps, Fantastic 4 in a Row has a very clean, colorful interface and the menus are simple. In a game like this, what more could you want?
Ludo board game
Speaking of simple multiplayer...
Genre: Board Game
Device: iPad only
Money can buy: 3D dice, different board themes
This is another board game designed to be played with friends in the room (add some adult beverages and it could easily become a drinking game). It will seem familiar if you've ever played Trouble or Sorry!. If you have not, the rules are incredibly simple to figure out.
Remember to search for "Ludo board game" because the other versions I've seen don't look as good and charge money for the full game.
Up, up, and away!
Genre: Scrolling Platformer
Money can buy: Things you normally can earn... without having to earn them
Gather coins to propel yourself up into the air. Again, not a complex concept, but it is the kind of fun that will keep you coming back. Its fast paced and you control your little dinosaur creature by tilting your phone back and forth for an overall intense experience.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: There's plenty of games out there like this one. So why choose this one? Because its free and its well made.
warning: I recommend a lot of iPhone games for iPad because the 2x image distortion isn't that bad. However, because of the controls requiring the movement of the device, I do not recommend this one on iPad. Technically it works, it's just annoying. Try NinJump instead...
Speaking of jumping...
Genre: Scrolling platformer
Money can buy: Ad removal, more maps and enemies
NinJump shares quite a few things in common with Mega Jump. In both games, the goal is to travel upward. However, there's also quite a bit that makes them different.
First, NinJump uses tap controls, so if tilting your device was making you disoriented, you may prefer NinJump. Also because you don't have to move your device, it plays just as well if not better on iPad than it does on iPhone.
I think Mega Jump has more depth in terms of items, maps, character, and overall replayability. But if you are using an iPad, NinJump is your best bet for this genre of game.
The holy grail of iPhone gaming
Genre: First Person Shooter, 1v1 Multiplayer
Money can buy: Better guns, Powerful items, Costume items
I saw this game around on a few websites, and was convinced it was garbage. The graphics didn't impress me (and they still don't) from the pictures I had seen, and it looked like the only aspect of the game was gun duels (and I was right).
But damn was I wrong. Part of it has to do with the sound quality, which is great. But no picture or description can properly describe to you what it is like to hold your iPhone at your hip like it's in a holster, then draw at the sound of a church bell, firing off rounds by aiming your phone at your opponent, and reloading by lowering your gun, and tapping at the exposed chamber.
^That is immersion. Every developer should play this game, to understand how incredible it can be to immerse your player. The world of gaming would become a better place.
The one down side is that like Lets Golf 3, this game uses an energy system to limit play. However, it somehow seems to fit better in this game, as it makes each duel that much more important to win.
Baseball Superstars II
The best for last
Device: iPhone (2x graphics still play great on iPad)
Money can buy: Players, Items, Increased chance at player trades, Advanced player training
I can't stop playing this game. My girlfriend has come to hate it, and she knows nothing about it other than I spend so much time on it. I mean, I can't think of a better indicator of a great game.
There's a million and one things to know about this game that will improve your experience, and at some point I am going to write a whole separate article just to talk about them.
One thing I will say here, is do not let the menus discourage you when you first start playing: Stay on the 'Ball and Bat' icon. Choose 'Homerun Race' if you just want to try batting out. Choose 'My League' if you want to play the game as if you were a single player. Choose 'Season' if you want to play like a manager in control of a whole team.
If you enjoy baseball games, you need this one. There is nothing else close that compares on the App Store, let alone for free. Don't let the anime characters and artwork scare you away if you aren't into that kind of thing. They emphasize it in the advertising, but in actuality it plays only a small part.
And make sure you get the newest free one! There's like a million different versions of this on the app store.
If you have any recommendations for free games that aren't on my list, please say so in the comment list below! If you're right, I'll be sure to add suggestions to the list, or include them in a follow-up article.