18 best free iPhone games: Brilliant smartphone gaming apps that cost nothing

If you're keen on iPhone games but haven't got cash to spare, you've come to the right place: we've rounded up the 18 best free iPhone games for your delectation, running the gamut from fighting and sports games to puzzles and RPGs. Updated, 2nd July, 2015

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

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

But that's quite enough fear-mongering. There are some excellent free iPhone games out there if you know where to look. Let's get on to the games reviews: here are the 14 free iPhone games we're most impressed with.

1. Crossy Road

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

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

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

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

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

2. Capitals

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

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

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

3. Threes! Free

Every platform needs its perfect puzzle game, and on release Threes! made its claim to be the iPhone's. As with all brilliant examples of the genre, Threes! has at its heart simple mechanics, which in this case involve merging cards within a tiny four-by-four board. But it's the details that propel Threes! beyond the competition.

The idea is to match numbers. Slide a blue '1' into a red '2' and they combine to become a single '3' card. Two 3s make a 6. Two 6s make a 12. And so on. The snag is that every move you make slides every non-blocked tile on the board as well. If you're fortunate or have planned ahead, this can result in several merges in one move; if not, you end up with a mess to clear up. And since after every turn a new card enters the board in a random spot on the edge you swiped from, planning is key.

It takes a few games for Threes! to properly click, but once it does, it never lets go. You'll be dying to see new cards (each is infused with a unique personality), and will soon spot how reaching higher-numbered cards boosts your score substantially. The free-to-play aspect is also generous: watch a video ad and you get three more games in the bank, which can be built up into a substantial reserve.

This gives the game a fighting chance against a raft of inferior Threes! clones (most of which have 1024 or 2048 in their names) that litter the App Store, and sucked life out of the paid version of Threes!. Our advice: stick with the original; you've no excuse now you can play for free.

4. Skiing Yeti Mountain

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

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

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

5. Vainglory

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

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

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

6. Run Sackboy! Run!

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

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

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

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

7. Watercolors

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

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

8. Two Dots

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

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

9. Spaceteam

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

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

10. Only One

Talking of nonsense, why not give this slice of retro sword and sorcery a try

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

11. Temple Run 2

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

12. Pangolin

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

13. Letterpress

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

14. Bejeweled Blitz

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

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

15. Tiny Heroes

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

16. New Star Soccer

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

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

17. Jetpack Joyride

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

18. Triple Town

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

The whole thing is fresh, addictive and challenging.


David Price

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