Perhaps you've just bought an iPad, or just been given one for the first time. Or maybe you're thinking that your Apple tablet is old and boring and there's nothing fun left that it can do.
Well, friend, you're entirely wrong. Fortunately, the App Store offers loads of gaming greats for you, even if you've forked out your last bit of cash to buy the iPad itself.
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Our lists cover the best free iPad puzzle games, racers, platform games, and more, split into categories (one on each page) for your perusing pleasure.
Plus, check back every two weeks for our latest favorite free iPad app, which you'll find below.
Free iPad game of the week: Dream Detective
Dream Detective is all about hidden objects. You’re presented with an animated illustration and a set of items to find, and must scroll about the screen and tap objects accordingly. This often plays out against the clock, and errant presses are punished, so you can’t just poke the screen with merry abandon.
Underpinning Dream Detective is quite a lot of complexity in terms of its interface and IAP. But do your best to ignore all that and you’ll find an entertaining, interesting example of this kind of game. The scenes are varied, with early examples including riffs on famous movies, and comic book pages.
The game might lack the elegance and chill-out vibe of the likes of Hidden Folks, but as a free alternative with time-based incentives, it’s a decent download – especially when you play on the iPad’s large display.
Best free iPad arcade games
Our favorite iPad arcade games, including brawlers and fighting games, auto-runners, party games, pinball, and retro classics.
The King of Fighters ALLSTAR
Free iPad game The King of Fighters ALLSTAR comes across like a restless take on Double Dragon or Final Fight. This means you mostly duff up all manner of bad guys along side-scrolling streets, prior to laying into a big bad.
Like other King of Fighters titles, you have a team, so you can tag in others from your trio during battles. The game includes arena-style modes as well, unlocked when you’ve worked through enough of the story.
On iPhone, this game’s button-mashing is fiddly, but it works well on the iPad’s larger display, which also lets the lovely visuals shine. Newbies are catered for with ‘auto’ movement, but veterans can opt for ‘manual’, which echoes console fighting games, and provides far more nuance than the comparatively canned fare found in the Marvel and Transformers mobile brawlers.
Snake Rivals comes across like classic mobile title Snake got smashed into Fortnite. Dozens of reptiles are dumped into an arena, and the last snake standing – er, slithering – wins.
There are three modes to pit your tubular terror against: Classic allows endless respawns so you can learn the ropes and build tactics; Gold Rush is all about obliterating other snakes to turn them into gold to grab; and Battle Royale has you take out the opposition while the arena gradually shrinks to a tiny island surrounded by lava.
Although a simple arcade game, Snake Rivals works particularly well with an iPad flat on a table, giving you the space to spot rivals, without your fingers obscuring the display. Its freemium aspects aren’t too venomous either – largely being limited to optional snake customization.
Knight Brawl is to 2D fighters what Anchorman is to journalism. That is, Knight Brawl is absurd, silly, and entertaining, but it’s very knowingly not trying to be realistic – and it’s all the better for it.
Side-on battles have knights attempt to relieve opponents of their armor before delivering the final blow. Only the controls and physics – like in Colin Lane’s other games – make for an anarchic experience where characters bounce around like they’re on trampolines.
If that was all you got, this would have been fun – a medieval take on Rowdy Wrestling, with pointy weapons. But along with multiple battle modes, there are also missions where you raid castles and steal bling. This isn’t just a throwaway gag, then, but a game for the long-term – a serious slice of iPad comedy.
Williams Pinball brings a selection of classic pinball tables to your iPad, and then adds animated remastering – at least, if you’re prepared to work for it.
Initially, you just get to unlock one table for unlimited play. (Pick a good one – Attack from Mars, The Getaway, or Medieval Madness – because you’ll be playing it a lot.) Through daily challenges, you’ll then slowly acquire the parts to gradually unlock other tables – unless you fancy splashing out on IAP to buy them outright.
This probably sounds a bit awful, but the truth is you’re ‘grinding’ by playing pinball. Also, the challenges often give you unlimited balls, so you can learn the tables. Stay the course, and eventually you can boost these already top-notch recreations with tough pro-level physics and animated components.
Fly THIS! echoes early App Store hit Flight Control, having you draw paths for planes to follow. But whereas the older title was an endless test that relentlessly ramped up the panic, this newer game feels more strategic and bite-sized.
The planes are fewer in number, but the maps are more claustrophobic. Also, you’re not just making planes land – instead, you ferry passengers between airports. Further complications come in the form of weather, and massive mountains you really don’t want to fly planes into.
Because each level has a set points target, Fly THIS! is great for playing in short bursts as well. In all, it’s a smart reimagining of a long-lost iPad favorite, which in many ways is more appealing than the game that presumably inspired it.
Skullgirls is an impressive tappy brawler – akin to Street Fighter II reimagined for touch, by someone very much against the concept of virtual joypads.
This means swipes and taps are the order of the day, swift finger movements being used to duff up opponents. Buttons merely exist to fire off special moves, or tag in a team-mate when you’ve been punched in the face one time too many. It all works very well for the game’s fast pace.
Visually, Skullgirls dazzles, too, recalling an amped-up take on classic 1940s cartoons and manga. Character design – bar questionably skimpy clothing choices here and there – is especially impressive: one fighter’s Lovecraftian hair has a life of its own; another is a humanoid brass instrument that transforms into a massive French horn that mows down foes. Parp!
Beat Street is a love letter to classic scrolling brawlers, where a single, determined hero pummels gangs of evil-doers and saves the day. In Beat Street, giant vermin are terrorizing Toko City, and will only stop when you’ve repeatedly punched them in the face.
On iPhone, Beat Street is a surprisingly successful one-thumb effort, but on iPad you’re better off playing in landscape. With your left thumb, you can dance about, and then use your right to hammer the screen (and the opposition).
The iPad’s large display shows off the great pixel art, but the fighty gameplay’s the real star – from you taking on far too many opponents at once to gleefully beating one about the head with a baseball bat. It turns out they do make ’em like they used to after all.
Up the Wall
Up the Wall is an auto-runner with an edge. Or rather, lots of edges. Because instead of being played on a single plane, Up the Wall regularly has you abruptly turn 90-degree corners, some of which find you zooming up vertical walls.
The speed and snap twists make for a disorienting experience, but the game’s design is extremely smart where, most notably, each challenge is finite and predefined. Up the Wall isn’t about randomness and luck, but mastering layouts, and aiming for that perfect run.
It nails everything else, too. The game sounds great, and has sharp, vibrant visuals, with imaginative environments. It’s not often you’re frantically directing a burger in an abstract fever dream of milkshakes and ketchup bottles, nor a skull in a world of flames, lava, and guitars.
Silly Walks is a one-thumb arcade game, featuring wobbling foodstuffs braving the hell of nightmarish kitchens (and, later, gardens and gyms), in order to free fruity chums who’ve been cruelly caged.
The hero of the hour – initially a pineapple cocktail – rotates on one foot. Tapping the screen plants a foot, causing him to rotate on the other foot and changing the direction of rotation. Charitably, this could be called a step, and with practice, it’s possible to put together a reasonable dodder.
And you’ll need to. Although early levels only require you to not fall off of tables, pretty soon you’re dealing with meat pulverizers, hero-slicing knives, and psychotic kitchenware in hot pursuit.
It’s admittedly all a little one-level – Silly Walks reveals almost all in its initial levels – but smart design, superb visuals, and a unique control method make it well worth a download.
Silly Sausage: Doggy Dessert
The world’s stretchiest canine’s found himself in a world full of sticky desserts and a surprising number of saw blades. His aim: get to the other end of this deadly yet yummy horizontally scrolling world. The snag: the aforementioned blades, a smattering of puzzles, and the way this particular pooch moves.
In Silly Sausage: Doggy Dessert, the canine hero doesn’t pootle along on tiny legs – instead, you swipe to make his body stretch like an angular snake until he reaches another surface, whereupon his hind quarters catch up.
The result is an impressive side-scroller that’s more sedate puzzler than frantic platformer – aside from in adrenaline-fueled time-based challenge rooms, which even Silly Sausage veterans will be hard-pressed to master.