It’s safe to say that Apple’s given the gaming industry a square kick in the tender regions.
Despite their bluster, dismissing Apple in every way possible, Sony and Nintendo are both clearly concerned by the meteoric rise of iPod touch and iPhone as handheld gaming devices.
Although great games are the driving force behind the success of Apple gaming, low prices have also helped. Most ‘premium’ titles cost six quid or less, and many developers end up in a race to 59p, thereby providing games that’d cost 20 quid on a rival platform for the price of a Kit-Kat.
But what if you’ve spent your last penny on your shiny Apple object of desire? Can you get great games for nothing at all, or is the ‘free’ section of the App Store full of the kind of games that would make a ZX81 blush?
The answer is, of course, both, and the trick is finding the gems amongst the dross. What follows is our pick of the bunch – our favourite 10 free iPod touch and iPhone games.
This wonderful ngmoco title used to cost a few quid, but Dropship is now free and is one of the App Store’s biggest bargains. The game is a modern take on Gravitar or Thrust, with your ship battling gravity and shooting gun emplacements while searching complex vector-based cave formations for marooned allies.
The ‘touch anywhere’ dual-thumb controls take some getting used to, but the game feels fluid and exciting once they’re mastered.
2. Dr. Awesome Plus
Another ngmoco game, Dr. Awesome uses a hateful forced Plus+ account sign-up, but get past that and you find a compulsive title that smashes together ancient arcade classic Qix and surgery game Trauma Centre. Dr. Awesome‘s gameplay centres around removing viruses by tilting your device to ‘cut out’ infections.
Gameplay is fast and furious and, oddly, your Address Book contacts are used for patient names, so you can always choose to sacrifice your high score and off your boss in the virtual world.
3. Flood-It! 2
Flood-It! 2 meets the rules of great puzzlers: keep things simple, but make the game so challenging that your brains start to dribble out of your ears. In Flood-It!, you tap colours to ‘flood’ the board from the top-left, aiming to make the entire board one colour using a limited number of taps.
This release offers additional modes over the original Flood-It! (timers, obstacles, finishing with a defined colour), and offers schemes for colour-blind players.
4. Sol Free Solitaire
From the moment you first launch the game, the level of polish and attention to detail is obvious. In all of the six included games, the graphics are clean and clear, the controls are intuitive and responsive, and the built-in help is informative.
5. Cube Runner
The accelerometers in Apple handhelds have driven development of myriad tilt-based racing games, but tilt controls can be finicky. Cube Runner, however, feels just right as you pilot your craft left and right through cube-littered landscapes, aiming to survive for as long as possible.
The game doesn’t look like much, but it plays well, and longevity is extended by Cube Runner enabling you to create and download new levels.
6. Spider: Hornet Smash
Tiger Style’s Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor is an App Store classic, combining arcade adventuring and platforming action, with you playing the role of a roaming arachnid.
Hornet Smash includes a level from that game, but its main draw is the frenetic arcade minigame. Still controlling our eight-legged hero, the aim is to fend off attacks by swarms of angry hornets, while weaving webs and munching tasty lacewings for health boosts. Three environments are included in this compelling and innovative title.
7. Real Racing GTi
Firemint’s Real Racing is one of the best racing games for Apple handhelds, but it’s also demanding, requiring a lot of time investment. Real Racing GTi dispenses with much of the depth, but retains its parent’s fun gameplay, user-friendly controls and great graphics.
Three modes are on offer – time trial, quick race, and a cup championship over three tracks—ensuring this game is the best free arcade racer on the App Store.
8. MazeFinger Plus
Again, the forced Plus+ account sign-up is hateful, but it’s worth persevering to get to this addictive game, where you “unleash the awesome power of your finger,” according to the App Store blurb.
The aim is to drag your finger from the start to the finish of each simple maze. The problem is you’re against the clock and obstacles litter your path. Great graphics and 200 levels of compelling gameplay ensure you’ll be glued to your screen.
Almost entirely lacking in depth, Dactyl is nonetheless one of the most furiously addictive games on the App Store. A gloriously demented Whack-A-Mole-style effort, Dactyl merely tasks you with tapping red bombs to stop them exploding.
Almost immediately, though, red bombs arrive thick and fast, forcing you to keep track and tap them in order, to avoid the inevitable ‘game over’.
Trace is a sweet, inventive platform game which has you navigating hand-drawn obstacles to reach the star-shaped exit. The twist is that you can draw and erase your own platforms, to assist your progress.
With an emphasis on time-based scores rather than lives and the ability to skip levels, Trace is very much a ‘casual’ platform game, but it’s none the worse because of it.