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Best iPad games: the top free and paid-for titles around
Posted by Craig Grannell on 17th August 2018
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This post was originally posted on TECHRADAR TECH NEWS

No-one predicted the meteoric rise of gaming on iOS, and we’re not sure anyone knew what the iPad was for at all when it first appeared.

However, Apple’s tablet has become a very able gaming platform. With more screen space than the iPhone, games have the means to be more immersive. The iPad’s therefore a perfect platform for adventure games, strategy titles and puzzlers. 

  • Not sure which iPad is best? We’ve got them listed on our best iPad ranking – or you can check out the best tablets list to see the full range available now.

But, just like the iPhone, there are so many iPad games that it’s tough to unearth the gems and avoid the dross. That’s our mission here – to bring you the very best iPad games, mixing traditional fare with titles that could only have appeared on a capable and modern multi-touch device.

New: Scalak (US$1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99)

Scalak is all about matching shapes, finding patterns in objects, and spatial awareness. It begins easily enough: you’re asked to drag a square piece to a square hole – hardly the toughest challenge you’ll have faced on iPad!

But across Scalak’s dozens of levels, the game gradually increases the complexity of the objects you face, which eventually resemble exploded 3D jigsaws. You start rotating and moving the central section, and must place pieces that have been bent across multiple planes. Elsewhere, you construct frameworks on to which other pieces connect.

With no score nor timers, Scalak becomes all about interaction – a tactile, stress-free game of exploration and puzzle solving that’s ideal on the iPad’s large display.

Watch the video below for our 48hr review of the new iPad (2018)

Motorsport Manager Mobile 3 is a racing game that has you holding the purse strings rather than the steering wheel. So instead of coaxing your car around complex turns, and blasting along straights, you manage your drivers (and their egos), plan HQ and car upgrades, and figure out when during races they should push their engines or change their tires.

The game’s sense of balance is very smart. It’s immediate and intuitive enough for newcomers, with a gentle first season, but gradually unlocks complexity, depth, and challenge to make you stick around for the long term.

And although races merely feature colored discs whizzing round diorama-like circuits, they are nonetheless tense, exciting affairs – not least when one of your drivers is vying for a podium finish.

Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit [US store] | [non-US stores] is an old-school high-octane racer that echoes pursue-and-smash classic Chase HQ. You tear along in your police car, aiming to batter nasty criminals into submission. Then, during your downtime, you and your cop chums partake in dangerous high-speed races.

Visually, Hot Pursuit is sometimes a touch crude, with background pop-up betraying the original game’s age, but the cars and roadside objects still look nice enough on a Retina iPad. Most importantly, the game feels really good – not least during moments when you fire up the nitro, drift round a bend, and smash the baddie into a roadblock. And if you don’t fancy being the fuzz? You can leap into your sports car in a parallel storyline and become mouse rather than cat.

Suzy Cube is a platform game set in a world with a thing for straight edges. Assuming you’ve played a platformer before, you know the drill: explore; grab gold; unsportingly jump on the heads of enemies to obliterate them.

But Suzy Cube goes beyond the stripped-back 2D fare we often see on iOS for something akin to Super Mario 3D Land. This means you may find yourself quickly swapping between skidding down icy mountains in 3D, following Suzy Cube as she runs side-on around a tower, and then delicately leaping between floating platforms, as seen from above.

Bar some duff boss battles, it’s ambitious, entertaining fare, with tight touchscreen controls, and a great sense of pace and variety as you delve into the world and discover its many hidden secrets.

Helix has the appearance of a rough-and-ready 1980s arcade game. Your character, a chunky blinking eye, scoots about as adversaries rapidly appear from screen edges. The aim is survival, but fortunately you can do more than dodge (albeit less than shoot).

Move around an enemy and a line begins to encircle them. If the line is closed, the enemy explodes, giving you some breathing space. Some enemies require more orbits, or for you to encircle them in a specific direction, and that’s about it.

But Helix’s simplicity isn’t to its detriment. This is a focused, brilliantly conceived arcade blast that’s ideal fodder for iPad. The touchscreen controls are responsive, the lurid visuals are captivating, and the hard-as-nails gameplay has that one-more-go factor that will have you clamoring for more.

Trick Shot 2 at its core is a game that has you lob a ball into a box. At first, despite its ultra-chic minimalist visuals, it all seems a bit simple – even dull. But this game’s charms win you over rapidly.

In part, this happens as the levels become increasingly ridiculous. You end up bouncing the ball off of giant bananas, or figuring out how to get it into one box within a sea of the things – all, of course, positioned at awkward angles.

Each time you think you’ve cracked it, something new arrives to test your lobbing abilities: levers; teleporters; power connectors. And even when you emerge victorious from the final challenge, that’s not the end of it, since Trick Shot 2 has its own built-in level editor.

Jydge plonks you in a grubby, neon-lit dystopia, with nasty ideas about law enforcement. As the titular ‘jydge’, you go on missions that largely involve shooting bad guys, ‘confiscating’ loot, and rescuing the odd hostage.

The anything-goes nature of Jydge initially wrong-foots, because the viewpoint and setup scream stealth shooter. You think you’ll be sneaking about, like a ninja with a gun. In reality, it’s often more like a brains-free twin-stick blaster.

That said, Jydge does have some tactical nous when it comes to challenges that are initially impossible. Actions can affect levels permanently, meaning with a little thought – and quite a lot of violence – you can by way of a few ‘stacked’ attempts in fact clear a tricky scene in 20 seconds, assuming your thumbs can keep up as you revel in the mayhem.

Oddmar is a Viking who’s not good at being a Viking, but he’s forced into action when his village vanishes and an evil takes over the land. Cue: swiftly munching a magic mushroom to get some special powers, followed by quite a lot of platforming action.

And what platforming action! Oddmar looks and feels like nothing else on iPad. Although the gameplay mechanics are familiar (leap about, explore, collect bling, hack up enemies, don’t get killed), the production values here are something else. Oddmar’s world feels alive, and each level has been painstakingly constructed, imbuing the game with smarts and pace.

Peppered with set pieces, survival-oriented ‘dream’ levels, and varied challenges, and blessed with pitch-perfect touchscreen controls, Oddmar is only to be missed if you can’t stand this kind of game. And even then, we suggest taking a look anyway – just in case.

VVVVVV is an old-school twitch platformer. It strings a bunch of single-screen challenges together, gives them silly names, peppers restart points about, and then sits back with an evil grin as you blunder into traps time and time again.

The main twist is VVVVVV’s use of gravity. Instead of jumping, your running man can switch between ceiling and floor. Most rooms within the game cleverly play with this gravity mechanic. There are bounce pads, roaming enemies, and columns of screens where you weave your way down through columns of spikes, and then head back, all because some nutcase didn’t think to install a small bridge.

Visually, the game is odd – 1980s-style graphics, which also look blurry on iPad. The virtual controls are occasionally slippy too. Mostly, though, it’s a joy (albeit sometimes a head-bangingly frustrating one), with smart writing and clever puzzle-infused level design.

Bridge Constructor Portal pairs Bridge Constructor and classic PC game Portal. Sort of. Really, it’s classic Bridge Constructor larks, hosted by a snarky AI, and where vehicles are regularly hurled through teleportation portals.

If you’re already baffled and haven’t played either game, the basics are simple. You need to get your vehicle from A to B and have limited resources with which to build bridges. With a firm grasp of basic physics, your structures won’t collapse. Probably.

Before long, though, the game goes bonkers with sci-fi. Along with the portals, which have vehicles vanish from one point and appear elsewhere, there are various other elements to grapple with – all while wondering why, if these people can create portals, do they need bridges in the first place? Other than to be evil and drive you nuts figuring out how to make them, obviously.

Infinite West casts you as a cowboy in the wilderness, taking down a gang that murdered his family. That hackneyed scenario might put you in mind of a shoot ’em up, and so it’s a surprise to find Infinite West is more like chess – only with pieces shooting each other.

The turn-based play across semi-randomized levels forces you to consider every action. Your gunslinger can only move one space horizontally or vertically at a time, and each foe has unique weaponry ranges. Further complexity comes from a health counter, a ‘dash’ power and an ongoing upgrades system.

There are echoes of Square Enix’s GO games, but if anything Infinite West has more depth and brains. You’ll certainly need your wits about you when, many levels into a mission, you suddenly find yourself faced with a dozen gang members intent on your untimely demise.

.projekt is a puzzle game about silhouettes. Its distinctly minimal world features an isometric platform on which you build structures by placing blocks with a finger. The shadows it projects must match the patterns on two nearby walls.

At first, this is child’s play, but .projekt soon livens things up by gleefully providing minimum and maximum cube targets. In the former case, you must chip away at your creation, fashioning impossible structures with levitating components. In the latter, you need to learn how to cleverly ‘hide’ blocks behind others.

In forcing you to simultaneously think in 2D and 3D, .projekt provides a unique puzzling experience. Although its rigid viewpoints sometimes prove awkward when you can’t easily access where you want to place a block, the lack of scores, timers and advertising make for a thoughtful, relaxing experience on iPad.

Thomas Was Alone is a platform adventure that tells the tale of a self-aware artificial intelligence. Said AI is represented as a little red rectangle, charged with leaping about blocky environments, and reaching the exit. Along the way, other AIs appear, each with its own distinct abilities, which you must make best use of to get everyone to their goals.

What sets Thomas Was Alone apart is its storytelling. The little rectangles are imbued with big personalities, and a voiceover gives you a window into their thoughts, which is often meta and frequently entertaining. After all, it’s hard not to love a game that finds the hero peering at certain doom, before the voiceover notes: “Something about the boiling, toxic, glowing water intimidated Thomas. He didn’t like it, and he certainly didn’t want to swim in it.”

Still, you’ll want to swim in this game, because it’s a beautifully realized production.

Alto’s Odyssey is a one-thumb side-on endless survival game. It features the titular Alto, who has a thing for sandboarding on huge dunes, hurling himself into the air, performing all manner of tricks, and then trying to not land (i.e. crash) in a manner that results in a face full of sand.

This is perfect iPhone fodder, and perhaps not the kind of game you’d usually associate with iPad. But like its predecessor – the similarly impressive Alto’s Adventure – Alto’s Odyssey is a gorgeous game that’s deeper than it first appears.

Visually, it’s a treat, with arresting weather effects and day/night cycles. As you complete challenges, you slowly unlock new goals, environments, and abilities, but if at any point it all feels too much, you can switch off with the zero-risk Zen Mode, which leaves you with a serene soundtrack and endless desert.

Mushroom 11 finds you controlling a living pile of green gunge that gloops its way around a post-apocalyptic world. Its mission appears to be hoovering up whatever life is desperately clinging on in this harsh landscape, from tiny spiders to mutated plants that spit fire.

If you had to label it, Mushroom 11 is a fairly traditional side-on platform puzzler, but the manner in which it’s controlled proves transformative. There’s no virtual joystick here – instead, you touch to ‘erase’ bits of the green blob, which then rapidly grows back.

This mechanic is used inventively throughout the game, whether you’re figuring out how to zoom through tunnels, make the blob ‘jump’, or split it in two, so one part can trigger a switch while the rest moves onward. On iPad, the game is one of a kind and a tactile joy.

Bring You Home is a puzzler featuring rotund alien, Polo, who’s on a mission to rescue a kidnapped pet. The snag: the ‘petnappers’ have a habit of darting through portals.

What follows are dozens of single-screen scenes where you figure out how to reach an exit, but instead of controlling Polo, you rearrange and swap out sections of the scene, before pressing a button to see how things then play out.

If you’ve played Framed, Bring You Home is in similar territory, but is far more varied – Polo at various points ends up in living paintings, a bizarre alien circus, and a graveyard where you deal with spooky adversaries.

It’s adorable, silly, and relentlessly imaginative, and the failure animations are entertaining to the point you’ll want to go back and screw things up should you chance upon the correct solution first time round.

Sid Meier’s Civilization VI properly showcases the iPad’s potential as a gaming device. Previous takes on Civilization for iPad have been weirdly cartoonish and simplified. Not Civilization VI – this is the game you get on PC, with all its inherent depth and complexity.

This means you get one of the finest 4X (eXplore; eXpand; eXploit; eXterminate) games around. You aim to make your civilization dominant by becoming a trading giant, heading to the stars, or getting all stabby/shooty until no-one else is left standing.

The game demands time and attention, is hugely rewarding, and should keep you going for months. Just as well, given its price tag. Still, you get 60 moves for free, and ‘proper’ games cost real money.

Bar some slightly blurry visuals on iPad Pro, this is the real deal – one of the best games in existence, carefully optimized for the touchscreen.

The Room: Old Sins pits you against devious puzzle boxes. Like previous games in the series, Old Sins is obsessed with the impossible. This time, you’re investigating the disappearance of an engineer and his wife. You spot what appears to be a corpse in a gloomy attic and are abruptly swept inside a doll house.

At this point, it’s all tap, swipe and drag, manipulating objects using your very best logical deduction until things happen. At one point you’ll discover a seemingly unending number of hidden compartments in a tiny model train. Elsewhere, something horrific and otherworldly will scream before forcibly ejecting you from a room.

If you’re a newcomer and puzzle fan, Old Sins is a no-brainer – a superb, coherent title with multiple-location challenges and none of the tedious walking around found in the likes of Myst. As for existing fans, you’ve probably already bought and finished the game anyway. If not, what are you waiting for?

INSIDE is a puzzle-heavy platform game that charts a boy’s adventures in a chilling dystopia. It begins with him fleeing from armed men. You must duck behind trees and flee from ferocious dogs or end up dead, face-down in the dirt.

But death is not the end; like INSIDE’s predecessor, the equally disturbing LIMBO, the hero here seems doomed to repeat every failure until it becomes a victory.

It’s trial and error time, then. You run through a building, get horribly killed, take some mental notes, and then try again. Occasionally, this gets old; some sequences in the game are too long, and a couple have a margin of error that’s too tight.

For the most part, though, this is a game of intriguing puzzles and a mesmerizing – if extremely dark – world, packed full of surprises, horror and tiny victories.

Gorogoa is a perplexing puzzle game that plays with your perception of space, and challenges you to find links between images that aren’t remotely obvious on an initial glance.

The entire thing takes place in a two-by-two grid, within which comic-book panes can be opened up and manipulated. Often, part of an image can be separated and overlaid on another.

For example, a stairs overlay may enable the protagonist to reach a previously inaccessible space, or what appears to be a star-like decorative element might be a cog in an impromptu machine.

Occasionally, Gorogoa baffles; later on, you may hit mental dead-ends, juggling various components, locations and possibilities in your head. But as a tactile, novel, engaging puzzler, there’s little else like Gorogoa on iPad – and you’ll feel like a genius when you reach its conclusion.

GNOG is bonkers. It features nine floating heads, which are gateways to miniature worlds of interactive animated madness that you poke, prod, tap and swipe to make things happen.

Your tasks are often quite mundane: fix a spaceship; feed some birds; recover chests from the ocean depths. But the presentation disarms – all bold shapes, primary colors and bloopy audio, like a children’s toy hopped up on sugar. It goes even more psychedelic when you complete a level and the head starts mooing.

If you’re making a face yourself at that particular thought, just grab GNOG and delve deep into an entertainingly madcap game of exploration that revels in the joy of discovery. Fire up the AR mode, plonk GNOG’s strange toys on a table, and you’ll wish real toys were even half as much fun to play with.

Thimbleweed Park is a love letter to classic point-and-click adventures, designed by two of the industry’s most devious minds. Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick were the brains behind classics Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island, and Thimbleweed Park is no less tricksy as you ostensibly attempt to solve a murder mystery.

We say ‘ostensibly’ because the dead body you quickly find is the least of your problems. Over the game’s length, you end up playing several characters, including feds, an aspiring game developer and a vulgar, down-on-his-luck clown.

The interface is a bit of a 1980s throwback, as is the difficulty level. Thimbleweed Park can be absurdly obtuse, and a little awkward. But there are few iPad adventures that match this one’s humor, heart and cunning – and no others that feature plumbers who happen to be paranormal investigators who dress as pigeons.

Grid Autosport feels like the first of a new breed of iPad games, where a claim of ‘console quality’ isn’t hyperbole. This really is a pretty much direct conversion of the hit PC and PlayStation racer, squeezed into your iPad.

There’s no messing about with grinding and currencies here – you can immediately delve into everything the app has to offer, choosing from its huge range of challenges, cars, and circuits. Everything from a quick race in an open-top to a full Touring Cars season is just a few taps away.

With a range of control options and difficulty settings, the game manages to cater to arcade fans and simulation nuts alike; and when armed with an iPad and an MFi controller, the only thing betraying the fact you’re not playing on a console is the size of the screen.

Subsurface Circular exists in a gray area between novella, short film and videogame. Set in a single carriage within an automated transit system, it features a cast of Teks – androids that have replaced humans in many of society’s roles.

You play a detective Tek, which spends its life interrogating other robots on the Subsurface Circular, and are immediately embroiled in a mystery. To say more would spoil things, so take it from us that the story entrances, twists and turns over its few hours.

Despite the single-scene setup, the game looks superb, with a cast of varied Teks and a familiar messaging-style interface that has a distinctly futuristic sheen. And if you’re concerned about the game’s brevity, be mindful you’d spend as much renting a film, and probably wouldn’t have nearly as much fun.

Adventures of Poco Eco – Lost Sounds is as much an exploratory experience as a game. The hero discovers a ‘lost cassette’, which enables him to speak with spirit guides. They charge him with a musical quest: to bring sounds back to the land.

That might sound pretentious and ‘worthy’, but Poco Eco is more like a cartoon. One of your early guides is a massive bear, and Poco Eco jauntily scoots about the larger-than-life landscapes packed full of color and giant musical kit, bobbing his head to a soundtrack that evolves as puzzles are solved.

Said puzzles are, admittedly, dead simple. Poco Eco isn’t a game to fire up if you want your brain smashed in with a stiff challenge. It is, however, perfect for when you want to relax and immerse yourself in an album reimagined as an explorable world.

Starman is an atmospheric adventure featuring a little astronaut trying to bring light to a monochromatic world. Its composed, unassuming air at times echoes Monument Valley. But the puzzles and slow, considered movement recall classic 1980s isometric puzzlers like Head Over Heels.

Regardless of its influences, Starman is a treat. Every puzzle you try offers something new – and some of them are really clever. The mechanics are never complex, but how they’re combined will often trip you up. Yet Starman is never unfair – when you hit upon a solution, it will seem so obvious.

The only real downside is there’s a chance the slothful pace will put off some players. It can be tiresome in some puzzles to watch the astronaut trudge back and forth. But for players who aren’t in a tearing hurry to blaze through every game, Starman’s a reflective, smart, memorable experience.

Campfire Cooking seems to simulate the joy of cooking around a campfire – if everyone wanted to make the process as awkward as possible. Fires are set about a grid. Move your stick left or right and your marshmallow flips upside down. You must toast both sides just once – burnt treats will not be tolerated.

The campfire’s set-up rapidly increases in complexity, too, giving you multiple sticks that can nudge others, sticks that spin, meals in pots that must also be cooked, and magnets to drag the metal pots around.

It’s totally ridiculous but hugely compelling, and the game looks superb on the iPad’s display. The larger device also works well with Campfire Cooking’s ‘physicality’ – although you will at times want to yell: “Just point your stupid marshmallow at the fire already.”

A Boy and his Blob is a platform game with roots that go right back to the NES in the 1980s – although this version is based on 2009’s Wii reimagining. The backstory, though, remains the same: the titular blob flees to Earth, seeking help to topple a tyrant. One crash-landing later and he teams up with a boy.

The twist is the blob has a sort-of superpower: on snarfing a jellybean, he can transform. You get several abilities per level, which include parachutes to slow the boy’s fall, anvils to unsportingly drop on enemies, and the blob turning into a massive stompy robot.

Sometimes, the game’s console roots are a bit too clear – the controls don’t quite gel on the touchscreen, the visuals are a tad pixelated, and it can all be a bit fiddly. But mostly this is a sweet-natured and entertaining adventure that’s a bit different from anything else on iPad.

Fluid SE appears to have arrived from the unholy union of Pac-Man and a brutally difficult time-trial racer set in a hostile underwater world of black fish and deadly red ghosts.

Each test has you zoom about, scooping up dots, and attempting to beat time targets. If you’re fast enough, you get the stars needed to unlock new levels; if not, you’ll need to work on shaving fractions of a second off of your best times.

The snag is levels rapidly increase in complexity, and dots you eat spawn the aforementioned ghosts, which relentlessly chase you around the screen. There are ways of dealing with them, but often that involves slowing down.

Fluid SE therefore becomes a thrilling game of risk versus reward, where everything plays out at breakneck speed – right up until you’re devoured by an angry ghost.

Flower is a game that revels in bombing along as a petal on the wind, scything your way through fields of lush grassland, and soaring into the air above mountains and windmills.

Each environment starts with you playing as an individual petal. As you collide with other flowers, they bloom and offer a petal of their own to join yours, which soon becomes a spinning, swooping conga of color, wheeling above Flower’s tiny, beautiful worlds.

There’s a smattering of exploration and light puzzling in Flower, primarily to unlock more parts of each level, and discover secrets. But mostly this game is about enjoying an immediate, accessible, beautiful journey that has an emotional core and an exhilarating edge.

PUSH comes across a bit like a set of logic tests plonked in front of you by aliens aboard a minimalist UFO. Each of the game’s challenges takes the form of a small device that hovers before you. Each of these devices has a number of buttons, and some have other features, too, such as the ability to rotate when a glowing pink button is prodded.

Every puzzle’s objective is identical: all of the buttons must be pushed. The trick is in figuring out precisely how this is achieved. It’s hardly a spoiler to note that in the earliest levels, you’re mostly finding pairs.

But later on, the game’s sense of logic becomes a mite more complex as it develops a playfulness that nicely contrasts with the rigid visual forms of the puzzles themselves.

FROST is a thoughtful, tactile game that feels like a living piece of art. Across dozens of scenes, sparks and barriers scythe across the screen while you direct flocking neon creatures towards orbs. Once the orbs fill, you can move on to the next challenge.

Ultimately, FROST is a path-finding puzzler. You use logic to understand the conditions before you, and how to meet your goal. But FROST feels very different from its contemporaries. The abstract visuals are exciting and fresh, but also it really wants you to play, experiment and discover.

Most of the puzzles tend to be simple, and you could probably blaze through the entire game in a few hours. But doing so would miss the point, because FROST is an iPad experience to bask in and savor.

cityglitch is a puzzle game set in a world of haunted cities. These are ‘glitching out’, and need the powers of a flying witch. She scoots about, avoiding spooks and skittering things, and lighting the runes that release the glitch.

This all plays out in turn-based fashion on a five-by-five grid. Success in solving any given puzzle often depends on figuring out how obstacles and foes behave, and countering their effects by moving appropriately. An optional moves indicator helps – it’s especially handy when you realize you’ve made 47 moves on a puzzle that’s beatable in five.

Given the diminutive size of the play area and its overtly old-school CRT stylings, you’d think cityglitch an ideal iPhone game. But somehow it works better on iPad, with a fantastic mix of bold, brash visuals, tactile puzzling, and the way it regularly shakes up the complexity of the challenges you face.

Freeways explores interchange design for autonomous vehicles, which sounds deathly dull. It isn’t. Just as Mini Metro coaxed something gorgeous and essential from underground railway maps, so too does Freeways create a hugely entertaining game from the drudgery of urban planning.

Each map sector provides you with highways that must be connected to each other. Hold a sign and you get an idea of traffic flow and the links you must make. You then scribble roads down, adding overpasses and increasingly complex routes when the realization dawns about how tough this task can be.

The drawing tools and visuals are crude, and there’s no undo – mess up and you must start that particular section of the map from scratch. But the underlying gameplay is enthralling, not least when you tap ‘simulate’ to watch your layout’s traffic move in fast forward, hoping to avoid a dreaded traffic jam.

Active Soccer 2 DX is a love letter to classic soccer videogames. Eschewing photo-realism and semi-scripted canned goals, this one’s all about pitting the dexterity of your thumbs against a tough computer AI, with tiny players darting about a massive pitch.

At first, it can feel a bit like pinball, as you’re mercilessly thrashed again and again. But spend time mastering the controls and tweaking the setup to your liking (there are several viewpoints, for example), and there’s a lot to like here.

You can play quick one-off games, or immerse yourself in an expansive career mode. And while it all feels a bit rough and ready compared to the games playing in the big leagues, it’s an awful lot more fun on iPad than mobile takes on FIFA or PES, providing a lovely level of replay-ability even after multiple sessions.

Space Junk is what happens when someone rethinks classic arcade blaster Asteroids and goes all-out, souping it up for the iPad. The basics remain: you’re floating in space, blowing everything around you to smithereens. Big things, when blasted, split into smaller things. UFOs take occasional pot-shots. Anything that hits you kills you.

But everything’s handled with such grace and good humor that you can’t help but be enthralled. The controls – despite being dreaded virtual buttons – work nicely, aided by subtle inertia on your little spaceman.

For those who prefer precision over random blasting, there’s a bonus for careful shots. And even the varied level names and themes raise a smile, such as ‘So Long, Space Shuttle’ (blowing NASA’s finest to bits) and ‘Victorians Got Here’, with its steampunk space stations.

Neo Angle is an engaging puzzle game set in a minimal world of neon grids suspended in space. The aim is to reach a goal, but because you’re moving a triangle, the pivot point shifts depending on the direction you’re moving in.

At first, this makes little odds – early challenges are essentially tutorials to help you understand the basics. But the game then lobs fuel cells, switches, and gates into the mix – along with a twist that when you reach a milestone, you can’t backtrack.

Because you also can’t cross tiles you’ve already trundled over, Neo Angle quickly shifts from casual noodly puzzler to brain-teaser. You’ll end up staring at the screen, several restarts later, swearing blind you can’t thread your way around a particular level peppered with teleporters and switches. As ever, it’s all about finding the right angle.

Standby is a brutally tough yet rewarding platform game. Your little hero darts about angular levels, sliding along while shooting doors, and bounding about like a hyperactive flea.

You’ll die many times before reaching your goal, and then learn the entire successful journey took a mere handful of seconds. To add insult to injury, the game will point out even that was way beyond the target.

This one’s an ego-checker, then, and just – barely – on the right side of the maddeningly frustrating/‘one more go’ divide.

Mostly, it’s the breakneck pace combined with short levels that make Standby ideal fodder for picking up at any point, to take another crack at a level that’s killed you dozens of times already. But it also looks and sounds great, and boasts smart, finger-twisting level design.

An iPad’s a must, too – given the split-second timing required, Standby really isn’t a game to be squinting at on a tiny screen.

Motorsport Manager Mobile 2 is a racing management game without boring bits. Whereas many management simulations tend to be glorified spreadsheets, this game gives you just enough control, before hurling you into the action – surprisingly tense and exciting top-down races. (This being surprising because you’re essentially watching numbered discs scoot about circuits.)

You can get a feel for how things work in one-off races, where you fiddle with car set-ups during qualifying, and then strategize regarding pit-stops and tyre types in the main race. But the meat of the game is a full-on championship, where you’re juggling cars and drivers, sponsors and money, and sporadic problems that crop up.

Like the cars it features, Motorsport Manager Mobile 2 is streamlined and slick. There’s admittedly not too much depth, but if you fancy delving into an accessible, immediately rewarding management sim, this game takes the checkered flag.

Reckless Racing HD is a top-down racer that first graced the App Store way back in 2012. It’s different from its contemporaries in having you coax battered vehicles around ramshackle tracks.

There’s no slick tarmac – bar a mall parking lot that forms part of a course. More often, you’re zooming about the likes of a wrecker’s yard, or dirt roads near an old church that rises majestically out of the screen like it’s about to poke you in the eye.

Given a 64-bit reprieve in mid-2017, Reckless Racing HD is a fantastic blast from the past. The cars have a great sense of weight – the physics when racing is just about perfect. And although it now looks a bit rough and ready, it’s decidedly more reckless (and fun) than its overly polished sequel, and includes the online multiplayer that the most recent entry in the series lacks.

Osmos for iPad is an ‘ambient’ arcade game, and although it started life on PC, it’s a game that only really makes sense on a touchscreen.

Across eight distinct worlds, you control a tiny ‘mote’, propelled by ejecting pieces of itself, its direction of travel determined by your taps. Collide with a smaller mote and it’s absorbed. Your aim is to ‘become the biggest’.

When other motes are stationary, victory’s relatively easy – although very crowded levels require careful taps and judicious use of a time-warp slow-down feature.

But when levels feature ferocious motes intent on your demise, or the game shifts from microscopic warfare to motes speeding around a central giant – like celestial bodies orbiting a sun – brains and fingers alike will suddenly find Osmos a much sterner test.

At every point in the journey, Osmos is magnificent. Convince a friend to buy the game and engaging multiplayer arenas await too.

Mos Speedrun is an engaging speed-run Mario-ish platform game, featuring a little bug zooming through 25 hand-crafted levels. The crude visuals feel decidedly old-school, featuring the usual floating platforms and patrolling enemies that mostly lack even the slightest hint of intelligence.

But Mos Speedrun turns out to be one of the finest games of its kind on iPad.

First, the level design is really smart, forcing you to learn the precise position of every platform, gap, and enemy, if you want to beat the speed-run target. Secondly, each level has alternate targets – finding a hidden skull, and collecting all the loot – that boost replay value, but also force you to shake up your approach.

Finally, Mos Speedrun amusingly subverts the idea of ‘ghost’ replays. Die a lot and you end up battling your way through a level alongside the spirits of the fallen from your previous failures. It’s bonkers – and humbling – when dozens of the things are skittering about.

Fowlst is a high-octane two-thumb arcade game featuring an owl cast into hell. Quite what the owl did to deserve such a fate, we’ve no idea (and the game’s not telling), but the result is a deliriously ridiculous and frenetic smash ’em up.

You control the damned bird by tapping the left or right of the screen. Each tap has the bird perform a brief upwards thrust, before gravity does its thing. Your aim: smash into angry red demons, avoiding both their projectiles, and also local hazards (deadly saw blades; speed-sapping water).

Defeat all demons in one room, and you can move on to the next – while hoping it won’t house a gigantic owl-killing boss.

A special power button is annoyingly placed at the top-right of the screen, but otherwise this game feels well suited to iPad, because your thumbs don’t cover the action. And, believe us, there’s a lot of action to be had here – and an awful lot of owl death. Turns out it’s not easy to survive in hell.

Kalimba is an inventive and compelling platform game for people bored with controlling just one character at once. Here, you help two colored totem pieces avoid deadly pits and roaming enemies – and you control both simultaneously.

Initially, you’re eased in by way of a split-screen set-up where the totems don’t meet. At all times, you must be mindful that when one totem’s on safe ground, the other may be seconds from doom. And then the game really starts shaking things up.

You’re soon faced with color barriers that force you to repeatedly swap the totems around, the prospect of ‘stacking’ and double-jumping to reach gems, gravity flipping, totems that fly through the air while their partners very much don’t, and chase sequences featuring massive, terrifying bosses.

If it’s all a bit much alone, there’s a superb two-player single-device mode – although how much actual co-operation there’ll be when you’re juggling four totems and your friend hurls you into a lava pit, it’s hard to say.

Mobile gaming’s early days featured all manner of straightforward shooters that had you desperately fending off hordes of aggressors coming from above. No Stick Shooter recalls Space Invaders, in enemies heading downwards towards your defenses, but also Missile Command, in that your weapon’s rooted to the spot, and success depends on precision shooting.

However, unlike those games, No Stick Shooter is a resolutely modern affair. On selecting a weapon, shots are unleashed by tapping the display. For a very brief period, this is quite a leisurely process, picking off asteroids.

But the game soon bares its teeth, flinging all manner of neon foes your way, which must be defeated by deft fingerwork and tactical weapon selection, including crackling lightning and gigantic red laser beams.

On an iPhone this is a terrible game because it’s too fiddly; but on an iPad, No Stick Shooter is a wonderful, vibrant, thrilling shoot ’em up that’s not to be missed.

The iPad’s no stranger to multiplayer gaming, but more often than not, modern multiplayer happens online. The idea with Bloop is not only to get several participants in the same room, but also crowded round a single device, and then – horrors – invading each other’s personal space.

The game itself is extremely simple. Up to four players select a color, and they then seek out and tap ‘their’ squares as quickly as they can. Across several rounds, the squares gradually get smaller, and the tapping gets more frenzied, with hand collisions aplenty. At the end of the game, Bloop tots up the score and that’s your lot.

It’s simple, but that’s the point – Bloop is a game anyone can learn in seconds. But its straightforward nature combined with bold colors and retro sound effects makes for a fast-paced and amusing party game.

Steredenn is an endless horizontal shooter, infused with the beating heart of the best retro blasters around, topped off with a head-nodding guitar-laden soundtrack.

Unlike most games of its ilk, it works brilliantly on iPad. The responsive controls have you drag the left of the screen to move your ship, and tap the right to fire at incoming waves of enemies. A flick of your right thumb switches weapons, and if your ship darts beneath a digit, crosshairs pinpoint its position.

And you’ll need that knowledge at all times, because enemies come thick and fast in all their chunky-pixel glory. But so too do power-ups – and learning the effectiveness of weapons against specific opponents boosts your long(er)-term survival.

Well, that and sometimes bolting a massive whirling saw blade to your ship, like some kind of space lunatic. It’s superb, raucous, shooty fun.

It takes quite a lot to make a solitaire game tense, but Card Thief manages, mostly by smashing dealing out cards into turn-based stealth-oriented puzzling.

As the titular villain, you map out pathways across the cards on the screen, figuring out how to grab loot without losing too many stealth points, which are depleted on battling adversaries.

Repeat play is rewarded by improving your strategies, unlocking new kit to help increase your score, and eventually finding your way to new missions with different foes.

Like any take on solitaire, Card Thief does get a bit repetitive, but this is also a game you’ll be able to happily play a round of a day for many weeks, gradually improving your ability to sneak about and become a master pickpocket.

Online multiplayer is increasingly commonplace, whether battling a live opponent, or playing against a recorded ‘ghost’ lurking in the system. But Mucho Party reasons it’s a lot of fun to play a game against someone in the same room as you – and in this case, on the same device.

After setting things up with a few mug-shots (which then appear within your on-screen avatar), you partake in a randomized selection of mini-games. These range from fairly typical sports efforts, such as hurdles, to wackier battles where you must rapidly silence a pile of blaring cellphones.

It all comes across like a colorful multiplayer take on WarioWare, and is a perfect fit for iPad – at least if you pay the IAP to unlock all 44 games rather than being stuck with the miserly 5 you get for free.

This fast-paced platform game is brutal and brilliant. Your little pixelated hero auto-runs through vibrantly colored environments, which you must learn how to traverse by way of jump and action buttons.

The difficulty level recalls the sadistic beating hearts of Super Hexagon and RunGunJumpGun, but Miles & Kilo’s charm is such you’ll keep returning for more, even as the game constantly showcases your lack of gaming prowess.

Much of this is down to the sheer variety on offer. This is a game that never sits still, whether having you leap about colorful islands, careen along in a minecart, perform Sonic-style targeted attacks, or hold onto your dog’s lead as he belts after a fleeing cat.

But also, each level is brief – just 30 seconds long. You therefore always think you’re within spitting distance of the finish line, even when that line may take dozens of attempts to reach.

If you’ve played a game based on just clicking before, you’ll be aware they’re barely games. You click (or tap) away, earning points to spend on upgrades that automatically click on your behalf – until you end up with an absurd number of clicks per second, to pay for yet more upgrades.

Through minimal imagery, a gorgeous soundtrack, and quite a lot of madness, Spaceplan just about manages to subvert the genre and become something different… something better.

Really, Spaceplan is a semi-interactive story; the clicker bit’s an excuse to string things out for pacing purposes. To say too much would spoil things, but it involves a planet, a “total misunderstanding of Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time”, and quite a lot of technology powered by potatoes.

It also has an ending. Have it run on your screen over a few days for a rewarding – if brief – take on a gaming genre that’s usually entirely forgettable.

Monument Valley 2 echoes its predecessor in having you explore isometric Escher-like worlds packed full of optical illusions. The aim in each level is to reach a goal, which is often achieved by manipulating the landscape, creating pathways that in the real world simply could not exist.

It’s a visually stunning game, with tiny levels crammed with vibrancy and details, making it ideal for the iPad’s larger display. The narrative featuring a mother and daughter also satisfies, but is careful to leave the experience with a sense of mystery. The levels are diverse in feel, demands, and structure.

If there’s any downside it’s that Monument Valley 2 is short and largely bereft of challenge. But treat it as a couple of hours immersed in a unique and beautiful universe and you’ll find it’s well worth the outlay.

It says something about Euclidean Lands that it feels like a proper turn-based quest, despite taking place on the faces of minimal cubes suspended in space.

You must plan ahead, responding to enemy movements and the squares they defend. Carefully position yourself to bump them off, much like in Hitman GO. Rinse and repeat.

Only here, the entire game world shifts and changes as you rearrange the landscape, as if it were a giant Rubik’s Cube. Also, the puzzles are frequently deviously clever, and they vary throughout the game’s five chapters.

No sooner do you think you’ve got the game sussed than it hurls another brain-twister your way, or shakes things up with a boss battle where you no longer have control over the cube.

The game’s sheer quality is also evident when you consider that although it riffs off of Hitman GO and Monument Valley, it doesn’t come off as a pastiche; at the very least, Euclidean Lands is the equal to either of those classic titles. Buy it.

Zombies have taken over the USA, and so it’s road trip time in Death Road to Canada, the aim being to flee to the safety of the land of the moose. The tiny snag: the aforementioned zombies, and the fact you start out in Florida.

The game itself is an action-oriented role-playing title, switching between top-down shooting/scavenging scenes, choose-your-own-adventure text sections, and claustrophobic and downright terrifying sieges that lock you for a set time in a confined space with hundreds of the undead.

Actually, it’s not that terrifying, given that Death Road to Canada looks like a game from the 1990s. But it is excellent fun, despite some slightly slippy virtual controls. (If you’ve an Made for iPhone controller, use that to boost your zombie-killing prowess.)

In the inky blackness of space, humans have started mining massive space rocks, and it turns out aliens have a big problem with that.

Enter: the hero of Darkside, who has to blow up said aliens and, for some reason, all the rocks the humans are supposed to be mining. Videogame logic!

It all comes across like someone gleefully mashed together two classic arcade titles – Asteroids (shoot rocks until they’re tiny enough to obliterate) and Robotron (the original twin-stick shooter) – and wrapped the result around beautifully rendered planetoids.

Although there’s a free version, splash out for the paid release and you get smart bombs in the arcade mode, and two extra modes to try: one being mission-based, and the other being a tough endless mode for cocky veterans.

The end result is tons of shooty fun that’s accessible enough for newcomers, but that provides a stern test for even the swiftest of trigger fingers.

The notion of mashing up golf with a side-on platform game might seem odd. But with Golf Zero, the end result is positively psychotic, given that the platforming bit echoes super-tricky twitch titles like Super Meat Boy.

Each side-on course finds you majestically leaping about tiny islands, trying hard to not end up in the water or impaled on a spike. On finding the hole, you smack your balls in its general direction, hoping for the best.

Mercifully, it goes all slo-mo – Matrix-style – when you’ve got your club out. Even so, success can be elusive, and you’ll likely keep hitting restart in a frenzied manner until you nail a hole.

At least that’s the case if you pay the one-off IAP to nuke the ads, which derail momentum in what’s otherwise a compelling and fun – if sometimes murderously challenging – slice of arcade craziness.

In The Big Journey, rotund cat Mr. Whiskers is on a mission to locate the maker of the dumplings he loves to scoff. His journey takes place across colorful landscapes packed with hills and tunnels to traverse, bugs to munch, hostile critters to avoid, and dumplings that make him instantly fatter.

The game plays out as a sort-of platformer. It brings to mind lost iOS classic Rolando and PSP hit LocoRoco, in utilizing a tilt-based mechanic to make the protagonist move, and then prodding the touchscreen to make him leap into the air.

But The Big Journey is a comparatively sedate affair compared to many of its contemporaries – a pleasant title that encourages exploration and drinking in its visuals rather than a breakneck dash to the finish line.

It turns out the way to make sliding puzzles interesting again is to combine them with 1980s horror flicks – and then combine that with chunky Crossy Road-style visuals.

In Slayaway Camp, then, the mechanics are familiar: swipe to make your character slide until it hits something; repeat (tactically) to hit several targets and then finally reach a goal. But the way everything’s portrayed is decidedly oddball, with lashings of chunky retro gore.

The combination of ‘twisted’ and ‘oddly adorable’ provides a great hook, but it’s the puzzles that keep you playing. Well, unless you get a bit too much into the blood-curdling screams – in which case, please seek help.

Many path-finding puzzlers have you use arrow tiles to direct auto-running critters to goals. (Long-time gamers may fondly remember ChuChu Rocket! as a shining example).

Causality is in similar territory, only you also get to control time itself, by dragging up and down the screen.

Early on, this primarily allows you to fix errors – going back to try again when a sprinting astronaut is eaten, or when you run out of your limited number of steps. Before long, though, you’re hurling people through time portals, so they can assist their past selves.

It’s mind-bending stuff, but also one of the finest puzzle games of modern times. It’s also perfect for iPad, due to its visually dazzling and tactile nature.

Evergrow is one of those rare titles that can only really work on the iPad. It stars a grinning square floating in space whose only goal in life is to grow. In the void, other squares lurk. Like-colored ones can be attached; collisions with wrong-colored ones cause damage. Grow enough and you head to the next level.

When things get hectic, multi-touch allows you to manage several squares simultaneously. But the game’s well-suited to the iPad in other areas, too: the large display is ideal for interaction, and the squarish aspect ratio allows you to see incoming hazards more easily than on a widescreen iPhone.

It’s a simple idea, well-executed. And what might have been a gimmicky game has plenty of staying power, too, since Evernote regularly lobs new ideas, weapons and foes into the mix.

There’s something gleefully classic about SpellTower. It marries very old-school word games – in the sense of paper-based crosswords and word searches – with much-loved arcade puzzlers. The result is the best word game on iOS.

Tower mode has you face a stack of letters, tapping out snaking words that disappear when submitted, the tiles above then falling into the gaps. A keen sense of planning is required to balance letter stacks and ensure tiles aren’t left stranded.

Additional modes soon open up: Puzzle adds a new row of letters for every word you submit; Rush throws in a timer; and Debate pits two players against each other. iPad Pro owners also get Super Tower mode, offering a colossal 432 tiles and the potential for blockbuster scores – if you can find the right words lurking within the jumble.

Described by its creator as a literary RPG, Voyageur mixes text adventure with space trading. Imagine seminal classic Elite combined with Lifeline and you’re on the right track.

The story begins with you having bolted an alien ‘Descent Device’ to your ship, enabling faster-than-light travel – but only towards the center of the galaxy. You embark on a one-way journey, stopping off on planets to trade, explore, and become embroiled in side quests.

With the game being text-oriented and algorithmically generated, descriptions and events tend to repeat quite often. Still, if you at any point feel you’ve seen a planet before, you can leave with a few taps – and there are always new things waiting to be found. For anyone armed with an imagination, Voyageur becomes a unique, captivating experience.

Hidden object games are often dull and can be heavy on the pocket, demanding you spend lots of money on IAP. Hidden Folks isn’t either of those things, and has the added bonus of being hugely charming.

You’re presented with hand-drawn scenes, each of which has a strip across the bottom, depicting objects to find. You can tap any of them for a clue, but the scene can also be interacted with, for example to rustle bushes to find someone lurking behind them.

Cute mouth-originated sound effects pepper proceedings, and the pace is varied with differing map sizes, and the odd playable scene, such as helping someone to a destination by adjusting the landscape.

Thus, with its wit and smarts, Hidden Folks very much stands out from the crowd – unlike some of the tiny critters it tasks you with locating.

The basic mechanics of Splitter Critters resemble 1990s arcade puzzler Lemmings, in that you guide marching creatures to a goal. But whereas you armed lemmings with tools, Splitter Critters has you slice up the screen with a finger, so you can adjust the landscape to create new pathways.

This is clever, but Splitter Critters isn’t done. The undo button reverts your last cut, but not the position of critters. Undo therefore becomes a device vital for completing levels, rather than merely a means of reverting errors.

Throughout its length, the game keeps adding new elements, such as ocean worlds and a grim underground base full of critter-frying lasers. And although the challenge never rises above slight, the charm and tactile nature of Splitter Critters makes it a joyful journey, especially on the iPad’s larger display.

Twisted Lines is another great iOS puzzler with simple rules, but also level design seemingly created to drive you to despair. Each of the 100 levels involves you directing a little colored block that leaves a trail of two colors, but should you cross over the trail, your block changes color to match the first line it hits.

This is pretty important, given that your task is to scoop up colored blocks littered about claustrophobic, deviously designed single-screen puzzles. From the start, Twisted Lines is a pleasingly tricky challenge, and it keeps adding further complications – trail erasers; teleporters – to keep you on your toes.

If there’s any drawback to the game, it’s the strict linear unlock of levels (presumably, this is designed to urge you to grab hint IAPs if you get stuck). But other than that niggle, Twisted Lines is a brain-teaser among the very best on iPad.

This old-school adventure game is all the more impressive when you realize it’s the work of one man. From the delicate pixel art to the smart story – all delivered in rhyme – you’d think a team of clever people had beavered away on Milkmaid of the Milky Way rather than a sole individual.

The star of the show is Ruth. Her tools have vanished in a storm, and she needs to make cheese and butter to sell. It’s all very slow and relaxing – until a spaceship abruptly shows up and rudely steals her cows, propelling her into a rather more out-of-this-world experience.

If you’ve played this kind of game before, you’ll know what to expect – explore your surroundings, find objects, and figure out where to use them. 

But the difficulty curve is gentle enough to snare newcomers, while the feel and polish of the game should help it appeal to anyone who spent years taking on Lucasfilm fare on a PC.

There are games that scream for attention and then there are creations like Klocki. This somewhat minimal puzzler is as relaxed as they come, with its lack of a time limit and serene soundtrack that bubbles away as you play. The tasks also – initially at least – border on the meditative, early puzzles being very simple to complete.

The basic aim is to fashion complete lines, which is achieved by manipulating tiles on the surfaces of 3D shapes. At first, this is just a case of swapping a few tiles around, but later levels become quite devious in adding new ideas and challenges to trip you up.

Even so, Klocki never becomes frustrating. This is a no-stress puzzler, ideal for winding down rather than being a game that will wind you up. But even if you typically prefer tougher fare, give Klocki a go, because its tiny isometric worlds prove rewarding and mesmerizing in equal measure.

You might balk at Pac-Man appearing in a best-of list for iPad games, but this isn’t your father’s arcade game. Sure, the basics remain: scoot about a maze, eating dots, avoiding ghosts, and turning the tables on them on eating a power pill. But Pac-Man Championship Edition DX is significantly faster, has neon-clad mazes and a thumping soundtrack, and the gameplay’s evolved in key areas.

First, the maze is split in two. Clear one side and a special object appears on the other, which refills the cleared side when eaten. Secondly, snoozing ghosts can be brushed past to fashion a spectral conga to shepherd, contain, and not blunder into –  until you eat a power pill, reverse course, and eat your pursuers to amass huge points.

In short, this game is superb, transforming an ancient classic into something fresh and exciting. And importantly, it works best on the large iPad display, because your fingers don’t get in the way of your frenetic dot-gobbling.

In the future, it turns out people have tired of racers zooming about circuits on the ground. In AG Drive, tracks soar into the air – akin to massive roller-coasters along which daredevil racers of the day speed, gunning for the checkered flag.

This is a pure racing game – all about learning the twists and turns of every circuit, and the thrill of breakneck speed. The only weapons you have available are strategy and skill. And this suits the kind of stripped-back controls that work best on iPad – tilting to steer, and using thumbs to accelerate, brake, and trigger a turbo.

Also, while some slightly irksome IAP lurks, there’s little need to splash out. The game’s difficulty curve is such that you can gradually improve your skills and ship, working your way through varied events until you become an out-of-this-world racing legend. (Or, if you’re a bit rubbish, an ugly stain on the side of a massive metal building.)

Most city building games are about micro-management – juggling budgets, people’s demands, and limited space. But Concrete Jungle rethinks the genre as a brilliant brain-bending puzzler. And here, restrictions regarding where you can build are of paramount importance.

At any point, you have seven rows with six lots where you can place a building. Said buildings are served semi-randomly from a card deck. Each column needs to have enough housing points for it to vanish and unlock more space on which to build. The snag: other buildings boost or reduce the points allocated to adjacent lots.

You must therefore take great care to place your factories (bad) and parks (good), realizing that any complacency may be severely punished several moves down the line, when you suddenly find yourself faced with a slum of your own making.
 

Treasure Buster comes from the Angry Birds school of game design – at least in terms of its insanely simple controls. You drag back on a little dungeoneer, who upon release bounces about the screen, scooping up loot and smashing into enemies. Clear a room and you venture further into the dungeon, unearthing new adversaries that try to kill you in excitingly varied ways.

Chances are your tactics won’t vary a great deal – these kinds of titles (which take influence from Japanese pachinko, a style of mechanical arcade game) often devolve into firing at maximum strength and hoping for the best.

But there is at least some nuance here, in locating or buying new powers, and defeating bosses by way of amazing pool-like rebound shots.

And at any rate, Treasure Hunter looks superb on the iPad screen, with an immediacy and energy that’s compelling enough to counter any lack of depth.

Although it’s almost 13 years old, Rome: Total War is one of the best games of 2017 thanks to its re-release on iPad.

You can now rule an empire from your Apple slate in this strategy game that defined the genre. You start the game as one of six factions, aiming to throttle enemies and conquer the known world. This historical simulator will force you to wield your tactical brain, as well as demonstrating your diplomatic and fighting skills.

You may not think this complicated battle simulator would work on iPad, but Feral Interactive have reworked the game enough that it works brilliantly with a touchscreen. You’ll want a larger iPad to play this though, as you’ll need to do a lot of reading within the menus.

But if you have a sizeable slate this is essential, and the Barbarian Invasion expansion is coming to iPad very soon as well, so there’s a lot of life in this game.

It’s ‘maniacally yet methodically skidding through dirt tracks time’ in Go Rally, an overhead arcade-oriented take on zooming along like a lunatic, against the clock.

Aside from some nicely rendered courses, Go Rally’s a winner through its controls, solid physics, and relatively short tracks. Playing doesn’t feel like an ordeal to be overcome – instead, the brevity of the courses makes Go Rally akin to a Trials title, where you can conceivably master every turn.

The career mode eases you in gently, gradually unlocking access to new cars and tougher races. And if you get fed up with what the game throws at you, it’s even possible to scribble on your iPad’s screen to fashion new tracks of your own. The tracks of your dreams – and everyone else’s nightmares – can then be inflicted on the world at large.
 

Coming across like the mutant offspring of ALONE… and Jetpack Joyride, RunGunJumpGun is a murderously difficult yet gripping auto runner/shooter.

You blast your way through 120 levels set across three unique worlds, but even endless ammunition and lives don’t help, because every level is packed full of spikes, projectiles and massive saw blades – plus, the protagonist is a massive idiot.

Instead of carefully picking his way through the carnage, he belts along, using his gun to blast ahead (whereupon he loses altitude) or downwards (in order to gain height). You’re therefore charged with juggling these minimal controls while figuring out a route, getting the timing precisely right so you’re not killed and catapulted back to the start – repeatedly.

If that’s not quite enough for you, each level includes collectables, designed as a “gift to self-hating completionists” by the game’s creator. Masochistic? Quite possibly. Ingenious fun-infused havoc? Definitely.

Traveling on underground railways can be a fairly hideous experience, which is perhaps why Mini Metro is such a pleasant surprise. The game is all about designing and managing a subway, using an interface akin to a minimal take on the schematics usually found hanging on subway walls. And it’s glorious.

Periodically, new stations appear. You drag lines between them, and position trains on them, in order to shepherd passengers to their stops. All the while, movement generates a hypnotic, ambient soundtrack.

Over time, things admittedly become more fraught than during these relaxing beginnings. The demands of an increasing number of passengers forces you to juggle trains and rearrange lines until you’re inevitably overwhelmed. But the nature of the game is such that this never frustrates – instead, you’ll want to take another journey – hugely unlike when suffering the real thing.
 

From the creators of Machinarium and Botanicula, Samorost 3 is an eye-dazzlingly gorgeous old-school point-and-tap puzzler.

It follows the adventures of a gnome who sets out to search the cosmos and defeat a deranged monk who’s smashed up a load of planets by attacking them with a steampunk hydra.

The wordless tale primarily involves poking about the landscape, revealing snatches of audio that transform into dreamlike animations hinting at what you should do next.

Although occasionally opaque, the puzzles are frequently clever, and the game revels in the joy of exploration and play. It’s also full of heart – a rare enchanting title that gives your soul a little lift.

RPG combat games usually involve doddering about dungeons with a massive stick, walloping goblins. But in Solitairica, cards are your weapon; or, more accurately, cards are the means by which you come by weapons.

Your aim is to trudge to a castle, defeating enemies along the way. You do so in a simplified solitaire, where you string together combos by removing cards one higher or lower than your current card. Doing so collects energies used to unleash defensive or offensive spells.

Unfortunately, your enemies also have skills, and survival requires a mix of luck and planning to defeat them.

This involves managing your inventory so you’re always armed with the best capabilities, while probably simultaneously wondering why the hero didn’t arm themselves with a bloody great sword rather than a deck of cards.

High-octane card games don’t seem the greatest fit for iPad gaming, but Exploding Kittens perfectly captures the manic chaos of the Oatmeal-illustrated original. As per that version, this is Russian roulette with detonating cats.

Players take turns to grab a card, and if they get an exploding kitten, they must defuse it or very abruptly find themselves out of the game.

Strategy comes by way of action cards, which enable you to peek at the deck, skip a turn, steal cards from an opponent, and draw from the bottom of the deck “like the baby you are”.

Local and online multiplayer is supported, timers stop people from dawdling, and a ‘chance of kitten’ meter helps everyone keep track of the odds. Large hands of cards rather irritatingly require quite a bit of swiping to peruse (although cards can be reordered), but otherwise this is first-rate and amusingly deranged multiplayer mayhem.
 

There’s a strangeness at the core of Road Not Taken that will be familiar to anyone who’s experienced Spry Fox’s other top-notch mobile puzzler Triple Town. Road Not Taken is a more expansive title than its forebear, featuring a ranger attempting to rescue children lost in the woods during a harsh winter. Said younglings must be reunited with their parents, but that’s easier said than done.

The frosty woods are full of horrors, and you have limited energy, sapped by moving when holding items, or when blasted by a blizzard.

You must therefore figure out the most efficient way to get the kids back to safety, making use of the game’s quirky way of manipulating objects: tap and you hurl everything you’re holding in a straight line away from you, until it hits something; combine several of a specific item and you’ll sometimes be nicely surprised by what they transform into.

There is something of a take-no-prisoners aspect to Road Not Taken – it’ll be a while before you fully understand its many nuances. But if you’re after a game with depth, charm, and intrigue, this snowy puzzler won’t leave you cold.

When playing Linia, you feel like a hunter, waiting to strike. Only instead of lobbing a spear at a wild beast, your prey is abstract shapes that shift and morph in cycles.

Your target is displayed at the top of the screen as a row of colored discs. You must then drag a line through shapes that match the provided series of target colors. Hit a wrong color – even if you only slice a bit too far – and you’ll need to try again.

The mechanic is, of course, Fruit Ninja – and every other slicing game you’ve ever played; but the stark visuals and rhythmic nature of the targets results in something fresh and vibrant. And you’ll need a strong sense of observation along with excellent timing and reactions to succeed, not least when shapes start revolving, pulsating, hiding, overlapping and changing before your very eyes.

From the minds behind World of Goo and Little Inferno comes this decidedly oddball puzzler. Human Resource Machine, in a non-too-subtle satirical dig at workers, finds a little employee as a cog in a corporate machine.

Actions (moving and sorting boxes) are ‘automated’ by way of programming inputs – loops and routines constructed by dragging and dropping commands.

This might seem daunting, but the learning curve isn’t too harsh, and a distinct sense of personality permeates the entire production, smoothing things over when the mechanics are threatening to make your brain steam.

If there’s a criticism, the story seems slight compared to the team’s previous work, but it is nonetheless oddly affecting to see your little automaton age as you work your way through the game.

For people of a certain age, Day of the Tentacle will need no introduction. This pioneering work set the standard for point-and-click adventures in the early 1990s, through its mix of smart scripting, eye-popping visuals and devious puzzles.

On iPad, you get the original title more or less intact, along with a remastered edition, with all-new high-res art and audio. (You can instantly switch between the two using pinch gestures.)

Chances are the puzzles and pace might initially throw newcomers, but players old and new will find much to love trying to stop the nefarious purple tentacle taking over the world, along with delving into the importance of hamsters, and figuring out how to best utilize items to assist people stuck in three different time zones.

(And if you’re very old and wondering if they included Maniac Mansion in the PC, it’s there, in full!)

If you find golf a bit dull, Super Stickman Golf 3 offers a decidedly different take on the sport. Instead of rolling greens, a sprinkling of trees and the odd sandpit, golfers in this bizarre world pit their wits against gravity-free space-stations, floating islands, and dank caverns with glue-like surfaces.

The game’s side-on charms echo Angry Birds in its artillery core, in the sense that careful aiming is the order of the day. But this is a far smarter and more polished title, with some excellent and imaginative level design.

With this third entry, you also get the chance to spin the ball, opening up the possibility of otherwise impossible shots. And once you’re done with the solo mode, you can go online with asynchronous turn-based play and frenetic live races.

In Telepaint, a semi-sentient wandering paint pot wants nothing more than to be reunited with a brush. The tiny snag: it appears to be stuck in a world of brain-bending maze-like tests, comprising single screens of platforms and teleporters. Your goal is to figure out a route, avoiding pot-puncturing spikes and a clingy magnetic ‘friend’ – a task that becomes increasingly baffling and complex.

You’re helped along a little by VCR-style controls that let you pause for breath, and these often become key to solving puzzles, enabling you to switch teleport triggers while everything else on-screen remains static. Even then, the going’s tough.

Still, while Telepaint has the propensity to make your head hurt like having a paint can dropped on it, this is a colorful, unique and enjoyable iOS puzzling classic that’s not to be missed.

One of the earliest 3D games was Battlezone, a tank warfare title at the time so realistic the US military commissioned a version from Atari to train gunners. iOS tribute Vector Tanks was subsequently gunned down by Atari lawyers, but its DNA survives in Tanks! – Seek & Destroy.

Like Battlezone, Tanks pits you against an endless number of vector tanks, on a sparse battlefield. But this is a much faster, tougher game, with tilt-and-tap controls that put you more in mind of console racing games than a stodgy tank ’em up. The result is a relentlessly thrilling 3D shooter that marries the best of old-school smarts and modern mobile gaming.

Pinball games tend to either ape real-world tables or go full-on videogame, with highly animated content that would be impossible on a real table. INKS. tries something different, boasting a modern ‘flat design’ aesthetic, and having coloured targets on each table that emit an ink explosion when hit with the ball.

Each of the dozens of tables therefore becomes a mix of canvas and puzzle as you try to hit targets while simultaneously creating a work of art. Neatly, as the ball rolls through ink splats, it creates paths across the table, which is visually appealing and also shows when your aim is off.

Because each level is short — usually possible to complete in a minute or so — INKS. manages to be both approachable enough for newcomers and different enough for experts to get some enjoyment out of.

Nintendo fans probably wonder why the big N hasn’t yet brought the superb Advance Wars to iPad, but Warbits now scratches that particular itch. However, although Warbits is influenced by Nintendo’s turn-based strategy title, it isn’t a copy — the iOS game brings plenty of new thinking to the table and is very much optimised for the iPad.

Working with 16 varied units, you conquer a series of battlefields by directing your troops, making careful note of your strengths and the enemy’s relevant weaknesses. All the while, Warbits merrily has you and your opponent trading barbs, often about subjects such as whether tomatoes are fruit, because that’s the kind of thing you’d go to war over.

Finish the 20-mission campaign and you’ll have a decent grasp of Warbits, and can then venture online to take on other human players across dozens of different maps. With superb visuals, enough new ideas over the game that inspired it, and a single one-off price-tag, Warbits is a must-buy for any iPad-owning strategy nut.

Traditional platform games often fare poorly on iPad, but Traps n’ Gemstones bucks the trend. Its approach is resolutely old-school, from the on-screen controls to the Metroid-style gameplay that involves exploring a huge interconnected world, opening up new passageways by finding and correctly using objects.

The theme, though, is more Indiana Jones. A little chap, armed with a whip and with a fedora on his head, leaps about a pyramid, grabs loot, and gives mummies and snakes a good whipping. Interestingly, the game simultaneously manages to appeal to casual and hardcore gamers.

Progress doesn’t reset, meaning you can keep getting killed but gradually work your way into the bowels of the pyramid. But your score reverts to zero when you come a cropper; getting into the thousands is therefore a big challenge for those who want to take it.

Love You to Bits has a heart as big as a thousand iPads. It’s a tap-based adventure that finds a little space explorer trying to retrieve pieces of his android girlfriend that have been scattered across the galaxy.

The mechanics are right out of classic point-and-click gaming, essentially having you amble about 2D locations, unearth items and then drop them in the right spot.

But the game is so relentlessly creative and inventive with its environments — full of dazzling visuals, references to movies and other games, and increasingly clever mechanics and ideas — that you can’t help but love it to bits yourself.

The little monster at the heart of A Good Snowman Is Hard To Build, wants some friends, and so sets about making them from crisp snow covering the ground. But as the game’s title states, making snowman is hard — largely because of strict rules governing the monster’s universe. Snowmen must comprise precisely three balls of gradually decreasing size, and any snowball rolled in the snow quickly grows. A Good Snowman therefore becomes a series of brain-bending puzzles – part Soko-Ban, part Towers of Hanoi – as you figure out how to manipulate balls of snow to build icy friends for a monster to hug.

You get the feeling creators of classic vertically scrolling shooters would sit in front of AirAttack 2 in a daze, dumbfounded at what’s possible on modern home-computing devices. That’s not down to the gameplay, though: like its predecessor, AirAttack 2 is a straightforward shooter – you’re piloting a fighter in World War II, downing enemies while optionally yelling “tally ho” at an annoyingly loud volume.

But this World War II is decidedly different from the one that occurred in our reality: Germans own limitless squadrons and building-sized tanks (versus the Allies, seemingly relying on a single nutcase in a plane to win the war). It’s the jaw-dropping visuals that really dazzle, effortlessly displaying swarms of enemies to down, colossal bosses to defeat, and a destructible environment to take out your frustrations on. For the low price (not least given that there’s no IAP whatsoever), it’s an insane bargain.

The first Badland combined the simplicity of one-thumb ‘copter’/flappy games with the repeating hell of Limbo. It was a stunning, compelling title, pitting a little winged protagonist against all kinds of crazy ordeals in a forest that had clearly gone very wrong.

In Badland 2, the wrongness has been amplified considerably. Now, levels scroll in all directions, traps are deadlier, puzzles are tougher, and the cruelty meted out on the little winged beast is beyond compare. Still, all is not lost – the hero can now flap left and right. We’re sure that comes as a huge consolation when it’s sawn in half for the hundredth time.

This single-screen platformer initially resembles a tribute to arcade classics Bubble Bobble and Snow Bros., but Drop Wizard is a very different beast. It’s part auto-runner, which might infuriate retro-gamers, but this proves to be a brilliant limitation in practice. Your little wizard never stops running, and emits a blast of magic each time he lands. You must therefore time leaps to blast roaming foes, and then boot the dazed creatures during a second pass. It’s vibrant, fast-paced, engaging, and — since you only need to move left or right — nicely optimised for iPad play.

Since it rebooted Robotron-style twin-stick blasting, the Geometry Wars series has been the go-to game for a session of duffing up hordes of neon ships. Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions Evolved takes the basic concept and wraps it around 3D shapes lurching and spinning in space.

It disorients but brings a new dimension (pun intended) to the genre, and is one of the prettiest and noisiest games on the system. If you’re armed with an iPad Pro, you even get a co-op mode, where two people play on the same screen.

A murder mystery inside a rickety old PC, itself inside your iPad, Her Story is one of the most intriguing titles around. It plonks you in front of the L.O.G.I.C. Database, a creaky old system that returns snippets of police interviews in relation to search terms. Helpfully, you can only access five at once, even if there are many more results (the joys of 1990s interface design!), but this forces you to delve deeper. Before long, you’ll be scribbling notes, eking out clues from every other sentence, and realising there’s more to every mystery than meets the eye.

One of the most beautiful games we’ve ever seen, Icycle: On Thin Ice also has a penchant for the surreal. It features naked hero Dennis, peddling through a strange and deadly post-apocalyptic frozen wonderland. Each level feels like a scene from a Gilliamesque animation, but on venturing further into madness, you’ll note how tight the level design is — any failures are down to your fingers rather than the game. At the tail end of 2015, seven new locations arrived, so you could discover what happens at the end of the end of the world.

Much in the same way Hitman GO reworked a much-loved franchise for mobile, Lara Croft GO transforms Tomb Raider into a dinky turn-based boardgame of sorts. It shouldn’t work, but the result is wonderful — all minimal, breathtaking visuals, and smart puzzles that present a challenge but rarely stop you for too long in continuing your journey. Most amazingly, it feels like a proper Tomb Raider game, with moments of wonder, and palpable tension when you mull over whether your next move will send Lara tumbling into the abyss.

Because of the nature of touchscreen controls, there’s a tendency to slow things down on iOS. ALONE… throws such caution to the wind, flinging you along at Retina-searing speed as you try in vain to save a little ship hurtling through rocky caverns of doom.

This is a game that’s properly exciting, and where every narrow escape feels like a victory; that all you’re doing is dragging a finger up and down, trying in vain to avoid the many projectiles sent your way, is testament to you not needing a gamepad and complex controls to create a game that genuinely thrills.

It turns out the future will involve hoverboards, only it’ll be robots piloting them. In Power Hover, all the humans are gone, but so too are the batteries that power your robot village. So you hop on your flying board and pursue a thief through 30 varied and visually stunning levels.

Whether scything curved paths across a gorgeous sun-drenched sea or picking your way through a grey and dead human city, Power Hover will have you glued to the screen until you reach the end of the journey. And although it’s initially tricky to get to grips with, you’ll soon discover the board’s floaty physics and controls are perfectly balanced.

A love letter to trees. A game about the beauty and joy of cultivation. These aren’t words that would usually scream ‘amazing game’. But Prune is a unique and frequently remarkable experience. It starts simply, teaching you how to prune a tiny branch, so a plant can grow to reach the sunlight and blossom. Before long, you’re responsible for cultivating huge trees that arc past poisonous floating orbs, dealing with fragile foliage in unforgiving cities, and coaxing unruly underground weeds towards their prize.

This fantastic platform puzzler stars a bug who’s oddly averse to flying. Instead, he gets about 2D levels by rolling around in boxes full of platforms. Beyond Ynth HD hangs on a quest, but each level forms a devious test, where you must figure out precisely how to reach the end via careful use of boxes, switches and even environmental hazards.

And for anyone wanting an even sterner test, cunningly placed jewels are there to find in each stage, requiring all kinds of trickery and box manipulation to reach.

CRUSH! is deceptive. At first, it appears to be little more than a collapse game, where you prod a coloured tile, only for the rest to collapse into the now empty space. But subtle changes to the formula elevate this title to greatness: the tiles wrap around, and each removal sees your pile jump towards a line of death. So even when tiles are moving at speed, you must carefully consider each tap.

Some variation is provided by the three different modes (which affect block speed and surges), and power-ups, which blast away colors and blocks in specific ways you can take advantage of.

Device 6 is first and foremost a story — a mystery into which protagonist Anna finds herself propelled. She awakes on an island, but where is she? How did she get there? Why can’t she remember anything? The game fuses literature with adventuring, the very words forming corridors you travel along, integrated puzzles being dotted about for you to investigate.

It’s a truly inspiring experience, an imaginative, ambitious and brilliantly realised creation that showcases how iOS can be the home for something unique and wonderful. It’s also extremely tough at times. Our advice: pay attention, jot down notes, and mull away from the screen if you get stuck.

It’s great to see Square Enix do something entirely different with Hitman GO, rather than simply converting its free-roaming 3D game to touchscreens. Although still echoing the original series, this touchscreen title is presented as a board game of sorts, with turn-based actions against clockwork opposition.

You must figure out your way to the prize, without getting knocked off (the board). It’s an oddly adorable take on assassination, and one of the best iOS puzzlers. There’s also extra replay value in the various challenges (such as grabbing a briefcase or not killing guards), each of which requires an alternate solution to be found.

A boy awakens in hell, and must work his way through a deadly forest. Gruesome deaths and trial and error gradually lead to progress, as he forces his way deeper into the gloom and greater mystery.

Originating on the Xbox, Limbo fares surprisingly well on iOS, with smartly designed controls that feel entirely at home on the iPad. But mostly it’s Limbo’s eerie beauty and intriguing environments that captivate, ensuring the game remains hypnotic throughout.

Racing games are all very well, but too many aim for simulation rather than evoking the glorious feeling of speeding along like a maniac. Most Wanted absolutely nails the fun side of arcade racing, and is reminiscent of classic console title OutRun 2 in enabling you to drift effortlessly for miles. Add to that varied city streets on which to best rivals and avoid (or smash) the cops, and you’ve got a tremendous iOS racer.

The iPhone’s a bit small for pinball, but the larger iPad screen is perfect for a bit of ball-spanging. Pinball Arcade is the go-to app for realistic pinball, because it lovingly and accurately recreates a huge number of classic tables.

Tales of the Arabian Nights is bundled for free, and the likes of Twilight Zone, Black Knight, Bride of PinBot and Star Trek: The Next Generation are available via in-app purchase. On exploring the various tables (you can demo all of them for free), it rapidly becomes apparent just how diverse and deep pinball games can be.

Apple’s mobile platform has become an unlikely home for traditional point-and-click adventures. Sword & Sworcery has long been a favourite, with its sense of mystery, palpable atmosphere, gorgeous pixel art and an evocative soundtrack.

Exploratory in nature, this is a true adventure in the real sense of the word, and it’s not to be missed. (To say anything more would spoil the many surprises within. Just trust us on this one, grab a copy, don some headphones, and immerse yourself in a gorgeous virtual world.)

You can almost see the development process behind this one: “Hey, fingers look a bit like legs, so if we put a skateboard underneath…” And so arrived one of the finest iOS sports titles, with you using your fingers to roam urban locations and perform gnarly stunts. Admittedly, this game is tricky to master, but it’s hugely rewarding when you do so, and video highlights can be shared with your friends. The game’s also a great example of touchscreen-oriented innovation — Touchgrind Skate just wouldn’t be the same with a traditional controller.

Ever since cop-in-a-coma Rick awoke to find himself in a post-apocalyptic world filled with the undead, Walking Dead has captured the imagination of comic-book readers and TV viewers alike. The interactive version follows a new set of characters, but the threats facing them are no less terrifying.

As with creator Telltale’s other titles, Walking Dead comes across like a mash-up of comic strip and adventure, with palpable moments of tension, and a game experience that changes depending on your actions. The first part of the story is free, and you can then buy new episodes; if you survive, season 2 is also available.

It didn’t begin life on the iPad, but World of Goo certainly makes sense on it. A bewitching game of physics puzzles and bridge building, the title also has real heart at its core. The basics are disarmingly simple: use semi-sentient blobs to create structures that enable unused goo to access ‘goo heaven’ (by way of an industrial-looking pipe).

But through powerful and frequently surreal imagery, haunting audio and the odd moment of poignancy, you find yourself actually caring about little blobs of goo, rather than merely storming through the game’s many levels.

At the heart of Year Walk is something dark and horrifying. This daring game is a first-person adventure of sorts, but it presents itself as a kind of living picture book. You begin in a sparse forest, snow crunching underfoot.

Gradually, a story is revealed that is unsettling, clever, distinctive and beautifully crafted — much like the game itself. You won’t rest until the story’s told, but getting to the end will mean facing many moments of horror in one of the iPad’s most unmissable and original creations.

Pinball games tend to be divided into two camps. One aims for a kind of realism, aping real-world tables. The other takes a more arcade-oriented approach. Zen Pinball is somewhere in-between, marrying realistic physics with tables that come to life with animated 3D figures.

Loads of tables are available via IAP, including some excellent Star Wars and Marvel efforts. But for free you get access to the bright and breezy Sorcerer’s Lair, which, aside from some dodgy voice acting, is a hugely compelling and fast-paced table with plenty of missions and challenges to discover.