Apple fanboys may go on and on about how the iPad will change the world of computing forever, but we know why you really bought an iPad: games. Racing games, strategy games, MMORPGs, they’re all lining the virtual shelves of the iTunes App Store, waiting to be downloaded. How do you choose from a virtual marketplace brimming with so many choices — some good and some horrible? With a little help from your friends, of course. And by that, we mean us. Below are our constantly evolving picks for best iPad games.
Device 6 ($4)
The text-based Device 6 isn’t your typical adventure tale. You play as Anna, an amnesiac who must unravel the truth after waking up on an enigmatic island in the middle of nowhere. The mystery is both clever and rewarding, showcasing fantastic visuals and sound design that propel you through a story built upon smart puzzles and an overwhelming sense of intrigue. It’s more of a linear novella than anything else, but its uniquely satisfying if taken in a few installments.
This is a blast from the past for many Apple users, and the iPad version doesn’t disappoint. Find the pages of the book to solve the mystery of the surreal island. This is definitely a puzzle game and the story line will keep you moving through. If you beat the game and find yourself wanting more, you can download the sequel, Riven.
You’re Scythian, an exotic warrior monk guided by the fabled Archetype. Your mission isn’t clear at first, but the offbeat story and your heroic task is revealed as the game rolls on. Your romp through the lively world may only push a few hours, but the 8-bit visuals and emotional writing make it one of the best adventures out there.
Minecraft is kind of a big deal. The defining title of the sandbox-survival genre allows you to transform your auto-generated world into just about anything you can imagine, that is, so long as you can fend off the mobs of monsters that attack when the sun goes down. The mobile version isn’t the complete package, but it’s enough.
Year Walk ($4)
The point-and-click Year Walk beautifully combines Swedish folklore with a sleek minimal design. It’s terrifying and stylized (though frustrating at times), with a mature plot that that drives the nameless protagonist through ominous woods in search of his true love. The title’s short duration only heightens its emotion.
Walking Dead: The Game (Free)
Like most Telltale titles, The Walking Dead revels more so in refined character development and stylish artwork than it does button-mashing violence. It’s centered in the same universe as Robert Kirkman’s award-winning comic series of the same name, and being the case, it’s a gripping narrative with frantic bouts of action.
A beautiful, hand-drawn game, Botanicula follows five tree creatures as they set out to find the last seed of a dying tree. The controls are straightforward and intuitive, and though some of the puzzles can be somewhat dull and frustrating at times, they remain just as charming as the moody soundtrack and visuals.
80 Days ($5)
As you might expect, 80 Days is based on Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days. You take on the role of Jean Passepartou, the valet of Phileaus Fogg, who wagers he can circumnavigate the globe in 80-days. The thrilling, ever-changing narrative allows for ample approaches, as do the the eye-catching visuals and bevy of vehicles.
Some kind of evil has entered the forest. This side-scroller from Frogmind slowly transforms your benign forest environs into a vicious industrial landscape filled with spinning saws. Your task is to keep a little forest creature safe while he navigates through a gruesome, but innovative world with 80 unique levels to traverse.
Like most sandbox-survival games, Terraria begins when your customized character drops into a randomly-generated world. However, the game’s world is broader than most, and your character will encounter some of the most terrifying boss battles in existence — not to mention a super crafting system, a plethora of enticing rewards, and a techno-esque soundtrack that fits the old-school visuals to a tee. Just be prepared for navigational woes and a general lack of explanation.
Mobile games will never be on par with console titles. N.O.V.A. 3 comes close, though, offering optimized gameplay similar to that of the Halo franchise. You fight to protect Earth as Kal Wardin, an ex-officer of the Near Orbital Vanguard Alliance. You blast your way through an extensive campaign consisting of 10 gorgeously-rendered levels and a barrage of chaotic, 12-player battles. Plus, you earn weapon upgrades, pilot all-terrain vehicles, and so much more.
Geometry Dash ($2)
Play as a square and bounce, slide, and jump over obstacles in different worlds. You can even make your own level once you get tired of the ones they provide. Level up to get different sizes and colors of squares. Unlike most game music that gets repetitive, each level has its own soundtrack.
Alto’s Adventure ($2)
Alto is going on a snowboarding journey around the world. Slide down roofs, bounce off trees, and go over mountaintops, saving llamas along the way. Controls are easy, but it takes awhile to master them and get really good. Interact and play with the weather.
Jetpack Joyride (Free)
Basically, the object of the Jetpack Joyride is to escape a lab with a stolen jetpack, while gathering coins and avoiding fireballs. Controls are dead simple, requiring you to do little more than press the screen, and the arsenal of surprising extras give it even greater replay value.
Draw Rider (Free)
Realistic, ragdoll physics make Draw Rider hilarious. You attempt to navigate the jagged edges of the game’s bike courses without losing your head, while trekking over various perils depicted as black lines on a white background. The cartoon blood may not be gruesome, but it is graphic.
Tiny Wings ($3)
Bird-themed games are very popular these days, but thankfully, Tiny Wings doesn’t see you hurling birds at distant obstacles. Instead, you guide a small bird through a series of hills while collecting coins and ramping up for the next launch. It’s all about timing, as you need to beat the sun.
Street Fighter IV is back, and it is just as awesome as you remembered. The latest revamp features many of the series’ long-running hallmarks, right down to the mesh of 2D and 3D graphics, along with three additional characters and an online mode for battling others using a Wi-Fi network.
LEGO Star Wars (Free)
Spanning all six films, the developers built the latest LEGO compilation with brick-by-brick detail. The stylized gameplay appeals to gamers of all ages. You can play iconic scenes as one of 120 different characters. The polished graphics and classic soundtrack don’t hurt, either.
Metal Slug 3 ($3)
The Metal Slug 3 port for iOS feels like its 8-bit brethren for the Neo Geo Pocket. Its still a difficult side-scroller, ushering you through a myriad of environments and boss battles, but ability to select specific missions and play alongside friends via Bluetooth make it something more.
Micro Battles (Free)
Micro Battles requires two players and a single device — no exceptions. Developers randomly choose one of four simplistic games every day, each of which offer 8-bit graphics and minimalist controls, whether you opt for axe-wielding viking matches or an overhead game of one-on-one soccer. It offers nothing more than what it showcases on the surface.
Table Tennis Touch ($4)
Table Tennis Touch is the new standard for tennis games. You can battle through career mode, arcade mode, or several imaginative mini games, using stellar controls with options to slice or backspin with a swipe of a finger. The graphics are also spectacular, and moreover, Retina-ready.
First Touch Soccer 15 (Free)
Frankly, FTS offers more intuitive controls and features less in-app purchases than FIFA 2015. You can either opt for the role of a soccer player or team manager, the latter of which allows you to sign new players, negotiate contracts, and customize your own stadium. Just try to overlook the soundtrack.
Ridiculous Fishing ($3)
Ridiculous Fishing is an 8-bit-esque title that follows Billy as he looks to catch and kill sea creatures with a variety of weapons, from shotguns to toasters, in order to redeem his “uncertain past.” It is indeed ridiculous, yet the memorable visuals, sound design, and poignant conclusion only add to the effect.
Super Stickman Golf 2 (Free)
It may not evoke memories of your vacation to Pebble Beach, but this casual physics flicker will certainly kill time. SSG2 shines with its real-time multiplayer and wealth of content, not to mention its excellent soundtrack and the girth of unlockable achievements to take on during lunch.
Asphalt 8: Airborne (Free)
A hybrid of sorts, this classic driving game utilizes both the “tilt-to-steer” and a virtual steering wheel. A lengthy campaign and new levels let you race through terrific locations, including Dubai and French Guiana, while offering gameplay that’s far more stylish than it is realistic.
Real Racing 3 (Free)
Real Racing 3 may revel in a “freemium” format, but it doesn’t prevent players who just want a free racing game from exploring the 11 levels and dozens of supercars. It’s far more realistic than past iterations in the series, with detailed car models and spot-on simulation mechanics to match the visuals.
NFL Kicker 15 ($1)
NFL Kicker 15 is more a casual flicker than anything else. The game offers two different modes, In the Zone and Coffin Corner, each of which requires you to kick or punt the ball either through the uprights, or as close to the end zone as possible without kicking it out of bounds. That’s all there is to it.
Impossible Road ($2)
The objective: Guide a ball down a winding road for as long as possible, while skirting hair-pin turns at an insane speed. The simple title is more difficult than even the name might imply. It also showcases minimalist artwork, a techno soundtrack, and a learning curve for the books.
Touch Grind Skate 2 ($5)
The developers of Touch Grind Skate 2 have made some big changes since the initial release of the game. For instance, the new view perspective lets you better spot upcoming features, while smaller finger swipes allow you to stick flip tricks with ease, whether you’re competing or training.
Football Heroes 2015 (Free)
Football Heroes 2015 is simply the best, over-the-top football game for the iPad. The intuitive touchscreen controls let you spin, punch, and bomb your way to the end zone. Your best-performing players will also level-up, making your team more successful, while the retirement feature adds a strategic element rarely offered elsewhere. Essentially, players have an expiration date, and you’ll have to drop them from the team once they pass their retirement date.
KOTOR remains a sprawling epic even a decade after its debut, offering phenomenal RPG mechanics and touchscreen controls that still manage to belie the game’s awkward movement and outdated visuals. It’s engulfing, with questions of morality and character at the ready.
100 Rogues ($3)
The unforgiving 100 Rogues isn’t just a dungeon crawler. The unique player classes perfectly compliment the arcade-style action, as does the robust collection of enemies, items, and original artwork.
Beautiful, clever, and unique, Bastion is a knockout. You traverse a crumbling world as “the Kid,” leveling your character through hack-n-slash gameplay as an excellent narrator lays down the story’s foundation.
Final Fantasy IV ($16)
A tale of legendary crystals and swordplay, FFIV pioneered the active battle system and refined RPG drama. Moreover, the latest release sports overhauled visuals and audio, along with a wealth of great features.
Banner Saga ($10)
Banner Saga shatters modern conventions with its Norse-inspired art and audio, only to further back it up with challenging combat where every choice matters. The element of permanent death is rarely as enticing.
Mage Gauntlet ($3)
With Mage Gauntlet, the golden age of 16-bit gaming is never far off. The eccentric title is lined with a quick leveling system and a staggering 84 levels, all of which offer responsive controls and trove of secrets.
A Dark Room ($1)
The text-based A Dark Room is the Cormac McCarthy of iPhone games. It’s dark and troublesome, built with patience in mind, and relies on your ability to acquire simple goods. Just remember to stoke that fire.
Dark Meadow ($2)
Dark Meadow begins when you awake in a decrepit sanitarium with no clue how you got there. You spend the rest of the game traversing the surrounding area, bombastically hacking away at monsters that materialize before your eyes. Thankfully, the well-written dialogue and voice acting belies the tedious combat.
Castle of Illusion ($10)
So, this game is essentially a reboot of the Sega Genesis version from the early ’90s. The goal of the delightful, kid-friendly platformer is to save Minnie from an evil witch, and as such, the short title catapults you through a world of magic in mysteries. The boss battles are infuriating, sure, but the nostalgia is sublime.
Infinity Blade III ($7)
Infinity Blade III is a captivating end to the franchise, one that expands upon the story and skills of past installments with updated visuals to match. It’s a touch-sensitive brawler of the highest caliber, and though exploration is hindered, the complex leveling and simple nav drive it home.
The text-based Blackbar tells the tale of dystopian future, complete with ingenious puzzles and an intriguing narrative that unfolds as you uncensor content displayed upon the screen with the surrounding context. There’s no menu or credits, but it does showcase political undercurrents within its intellectual prose, giving you a certain sense of satisfaction when you finally solve it.
Frogger remains one of the top-selling video games of all times, even after 30 years. The mobile version of the title even touts a slew of game modes, control options, and achievements, along with social media integration and the ability to switch between classic and remastered graphics. Still, turtles, alligators, and all other Frogger foes remain the same.
Simply put, Autumn Dynasty is one of the most fully-featured real-time strategy titles on the iPad. The stunning visuals and campaign take a cue from traditional Asian artwork and customs, while the core gameplay mechanics refine troop movement, online play, and more.
Plague Inc. ($1)
Games in which you work to eradicate the population with a lethal disease shouldn’t be fun. Plague Inc. is, though, encouraging you to balance your plague’s severity and hardiness in equal measure as you work to curb the human race from discovering a cure for the encroaching pandemic.
XCOM: Enemy Within ($13)
A standalone expansion to last year’s Enemy Unknown, the newly-released Within expanded on all the hallmarks of its predecessor. The expanded research tree and map variety now compliment the tactical variety and rigid atmosphere surrounding the title, even if it is tough.
Spaceteam puts you at the helm of a spacecraft, and urges you to shout technobabble at your peers, as you work to prevent the craft from exploding. You’re assigned your own panel of switches and buttons alongside your peers, however, everything must be done in unison.
The simple goal of the meditative rymdkaspel is to build the best base possible and explore the outer regions of space. You do so with unique minions and proper resource management, fending off increasing waves of enemies as you rush to gather energy, raw materials, and food.
Clash of Clans (Free)
With more than 30,000 reviews, this is the paramount strategy game for the iPad. You build and defend your base from other players online, making use of more than 18 distinct units (dragons, wizards, barbarians, etc.) with multiple levels of upgrades in tow. Its utter simplicity is its appeal, though.
Anomaly 2 ($5)
Few games shake up the tower-defense genre quite like Anomaly 2. The unoriginal campaign is still challenging, placing you in charge of a convey amid a slew of post-apocalyptic locales, but the game’s true merit lies within the impressive production value and innovative multiplayer matches.
Developer Scott Cawthon’s lauded point-and-click title sees you securing a pizza parlor from a horde of malfunctioning, animatronic animals. In the third installment, Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza has been closed for 30 years, but people are trying to revive the legend in a horror attraction. The game’s mechanics and underlying tension are top-notch, but at times feel a bit rushed.
Visually fascinating and incredibly eerie, Limbo takes you on a harrowing adventure you won’t soon forget. It lacks a storyline, yet still manages to establish an emotional connection through its ambiance. And with so many hidden traps and complex puzzles, you’d best be prepared to die.
Sonic CD ($3)
Though a port of a 1993 Sega CD release, Sonic CD makes the transition to iOS with flying colors. The platformer pits Sonic against Dr. Robotnik in an epic battle that transcends time, and the mobile version adds the ability to play as Tails, as well as multiple soundtracks.
Rayman Jungle Run ($3)
With vibrant scenery, clever level design, and zany action, Rayman Jungle Run not only looks beautiful on an iPad, it plays beautifully too. It’s easy to pick up and play, yet tough to master, especially given the sporadic spikes in difficultly and the sprawling number of rewarding stages.
Super Crate Box ($2)
Super Crate Box perfectly blends frenetic, fast-paced action with classic, arcade-style platforming. You collect weapon crates and blast endless waves of aliens as you attempt to best your high score again and again. Sadly, virtual controls don’t always mesh well with the idea of instant death.
Mikey Shorts ($2)
Run, jump, and slide your way through Mikey Shorts‘ 84 impressive levels, while trying to collect as many coins and gold shorts as possible. It’s perfect for the speed-run gamer in us all, with plenty of branching paths and rewards for players who achieve the fastest possible time.
Thomas Was Alone ($5)
Thomas Was Alone is a simple run-and-jump game, but its emotional storyline and clever puzzle design allow it to stand atop the platforming crowd. British comedian Danny Wallace also lent his voice as the narrator, giving the minimalist title even more depth than its distinct shapes.
Leo’s Fortune ($3)
Easily the most beautiful game of the bunch, Leo’s Fortune tasks players with navigating the game’s incredible array of physics-based challenges and obstacles to help recover the protagonist’s stolen loot. The driving narrative is key, but the refined platforming mechanics bring it all home.
Using a combination of light and shadows, players attempt to free Penumbear from the grips of a mysterious castle. With 100 levels to explore and skip entirely, Penumbear has no shortage of clever and exciting gameplay, especially given the girth of unlockable content at your disposal.
Mutant Mudds ($9)
Armed with nothing more than a jetpack and a water cannon, players run, jump, and shoot their way through Mutant Mudds‘ 60 uniquely designed levels as Max. It’s a genuine homage to the 8-bit generation, one showcasing the ability to move between the foreground and background.
NyxQuest HD ($1)
A platformer set against the gorgeous backdrop of Greek mythology, NyxQuest HD finds players controlling the winged Nyx who flies, glides, and uses the powers of Greek Gods to find her pal Icarus. It’s short, but the tricky puzzles and simple controls render it more than memorable.
Monument Valley ($4)
A puzzle that plays with the interaction of 2D and 3D spaces, Monument Valley challenges you to rotate and change perspectives across a number of beautiful stages. You play as Ida, a silent princess, guiding her through hidden pathways and optical illusions in a pastel-hued world.
Draw a shape and watch it continue forever, as you attempt to collect the melange of colored circles while avoiding the game-ending black holes. It’s a simple premise for a puzzle game, but the complexity lies within the the sheer number of solutions there are to each of the title’s 60 puzzles.
Peggle Classic HD ($1)
A delightfully colorful and exciting version of plinko, the iPad port of Peggle brings the ball-bouncing fun with you wherever you can take your tablet. It’s simplistic, requiring you to clear the orange bubbles on every stage, but the special abilities grant even more precision and gameplay options.
Being a turn-based single player title comprised of board game-esque levels, the beauty of Ending lies within its minimalist design. The goal of the game is to carefully guide a “@” symbol through a host of enemy-laden mazes, ones that become progressively harder as you go on. It also features a rogue mode, but the thoughtful design of the main game alone is more than enough.
The zen-esque KAMI boasts original and creative puzzle gameplay, prompting you to unfurl colored paper until you fill the screen in as few moves as possible. However, the real draw are the gorgeous visuals and a Japanese-inspired interface that looks and responds like real craft paper.
Adventure Xpress (Free)
There are a few games on the iOS App Store that blend RPG and puzzle elements, but nobody does tongue-in-cheek like Adult Swim. Adventure Xpress is as fun as it is weird, putting you on nearly 300 stages where you must rely on your ability to match multiple runes in order to create lengthy combos.
World of Goo ($3)
In World of Goo, you’ll build massive structures of goo that reach from the start of the map to the pipe at the end. It’s unique and offbeat, though lacking in the story department, with each stage sporting its own ambiance and tight controls to accompany the sleek gameplay.
Pocket Planes (Free)
Building an airline isn’t as simple as it seems — it involves setting routes and deciding when and what to fly. Pocket Planes lets you make all the decisions, though. You manage your own fleet, unlock additional aircraft, and swap parts among friends as you traverse the globe.
This digital trading card game pulls its characters from the massively popular Warcraft series, challenging players to build a deck and battle other players or complete dangerous dungeons. It’s incredibly strategic, yet accessible, with an impeccable sense of balance and detail.
FTL: Faster Than Light ($10)
FTL is a complex game, and sadly, your crew will suffocate. You manage all facets from your spaceship, from the crew to power distribution, fighting enemies and exploring a randomly-generated world. It offers endless replay value, stellar combat, and a lot of unpredictability.
Article originally published on 01/01/2015. Emily Schiola contributed to this article. Updated on 03/18/2015: Added Botanicula, Dark Meadow, Castle of Illusion, and four other titles.
- The best iPhone apps (August 2020)
- The best walkie-talkie apps for Android and iOS
- The best productivity apps for Android and iOS
- The best meditation apps for 2020
- The best weather apps for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch