Regular viewers of WoSblog will know that there are dozens of temporary promotions every day on the App Store in which games which normally cost money temporarily go free. But we're not going to talk about those today.
Because there are also thousands of games which are always free. We're NOT talking about Lite versions or limited demos, but full complete games which, for one reason or another, their developers have decided to make free – WITHOUT stuffing them full of irritating AdMob adverts. (Unless specifically mentioned, all these games are totally ad-free.)
Here, then, in no particular order, are 50 of the best. If you've just bought an iPod Touch or an iPhone or an iPad, start here.
Formerly a paid game, this brilliant and gorgeous-looking Thrust derivative has been free for almost a year now. No ads, no restrictions, no in-app purchases, just a fantastic game for no money.
There are loads of "Copter" games available, quite a few of them free, but this is my favourite. Fast but fair and with a nice chopper sound, you can play it with original-style graphics or collect coins in "Fun" mode to unlock some rather pretty new themes.
There are ads, but only on the menu screen between games – nothing while you play.
Terrific lightning-paced Risk game. Plays the boardgame you know and love against CPU opponents, as a taster for a separate £2.99 game (Lux DLX 2) with 80 new maps, multiple difficulty levels and multiplayer. But in itself Lux Touch is a complete game, and perfect if you feel like a Risk session and only have five minutes to spare.
We're making an exception to the rule here, because Real Racing GTi is a Lite version of the proper Real Racing (£2.99). But what a Lite version it is – you get six exclusive Volkswagen cars and three tracks from the full game, with quick-race, time trial and a three-race championship.
Clearing the championship with all gold cups and with driving aids switched off will occupy you for longer than a lot of complete games, and you only have to put up with some very mild and unintrusive menu-screen ads nagging you about buying the full version.
I love this unusual entry in the popular running-man genre. The screen scrolls from right to left automatically, and the only control is a giant "RUN" button that makes your otherwise-static chicken peg it in one direction in order to negotiate moving platforms and collect eggs while dodging flame pits and crushers. Cute and highly addictive.
Plot-heavy American Football-themed fun with clever and punchy minigames moving the narrative along. Great production values, you can zip through the text as fast as you like, and the teen-angst story is funny too.
Two variants on the same thing here, reminiscent of the prize game you've probably seen in arcades and shopping malls where you have to press a button to stop fast-moving lights in the right place.
Driftz is my favourite of the two, with a clever scoring system that lavishly rewards extra-fine accuracy (and online leaderboards to show it off) and a swift pace that makes for a sky-high "one more go" factor, but Stopz (in which the lights travel in an inward spiral) is an interesting twist on the theme from the same developer.
It might look like one of the millions of "Same Game" clones that plague the App Store, but Gem Ninja is in fact an object-finder game. You have to locate the block shown at the top right in the colour grid, a task that gets more and more brain-wounding as the blocks get more complex and your time limit ticks away.
The Chinese game of Five-In-A-Row, also known as Gomuku or Gomoku depending on which spelling you want to believe. Perhaps my favourite classic two-player board game ever, and this is a very nice rendition, entirely complete in itself. The Lite version does everything the 59p full one does (three difficulty levels, three board sizes), with the sole exception of being able to play against another human.
Does what it looks like it does. Very nicely-made, and has both touch-shooting and tilt-aiming modes to cater for people who do and don't like to wave their iPod around. One instantly-skippable ad when you load it up, but is pester-free from then on.
Ingenious shoot-'em-up where your finger both targets enemies with your homing missiles and controls your ship. With just one life you can't afford any mistakes as you aim for a new high score, and it's really pleasant to play.
The beautiful block-stacking game Topple and its sequel are both free, though in the latter case you'll have to sign up for a (free) Plus+ highscore account. Both games are slick, nicely-animated likeable tower-builders where your own greed and haste to reach the extra bonus markers before your time runs out are your worst enemies.
If you're an old Spectrum fan, this game is best described as Deathchase with the visual style of Knot In 3D. Playable in either landscape or portrait mode, it's a simple dodge racer where you fly into the screen and have to navigate an oncoming forest of blocks, but it's smooth and hypnotic and accompanied by the sort of music you'd expect from an episode of Micro Live in 1983. You can also download free user-created level packs.
The iPod version of the immortal Crazygame. Dodge the bullets by tilting your iPod, get a highscore, compare it with the global leaderboards. There's a little ad in the corner of the between-games screen, but none during play.
Terrific co-ordination and mental agility tester where you have to draw a line from the start to the exit going through all the numbers onscreen in sequence. The time limits are increasingly tight but there are big bonuses for going through extra squares, so if you want to make an impression on the global leaderboards it's a question of how much you trust your own skill. Ads on the title screen, but none ingame.
Lovely time-trial racing game, covered in detail here.
Despite the title, this isn't a demo or Lite version – it's the full and complete officially-approved iPod port of Kenta Cho's classic PC freeware bullet-hell shooter, named to distinguish it from another completely different iPod version. One static ad on the title screen, but none during the game.
Another Kenta Cho port, and while rRootage looks initially like another Noiz2sa-style shooting game (and is styled in that manner), it's really more of a racer under the skin, since your only task is to avoid all the oncoming obstacles until your laser has destroyed the boss.
With 40 stages, each playable in one of four modes (which are based on classic shmups like Ikaruga and Giga Wing), and separate online leaderboards for every variant, you'll get many hours out of this without even having to play the same level twice.
On a platform full of really simple games, Dactyl is about as simple as it gets. Bombs flash on the screen and you have to tap on them to defuse them. It's all about speed and memory and finding a rhythm, sort of like a version of Simon that has a single infinite level and isn't completely tedious.
Object-colliding game that reminded me of one of the minigames from Super Mario DS which I spent hours and hours playing. The fun of just smashing things into other things is obvious, but there's some subtlety in the scoring, especially at the end, that makes it very replayable.
Probably the pick of the free Doodle Jump clones that litter every corner of the App Store, and certainly the one that's kept my attention for longest, thanks in large part to the fact that it's brimming with character. Strictly speaking it's a "freemium" release, with the chance to buy upgrades for real money, but if you get high enough scores or play the game for long enough you can earn gems and get them all for free, and the basic game is more fun anyway. (Since the upgrades are basically just cheats.)
If you don't pay for the upgrade there's one little ad banner at the bottom of the screen when you start a new game – which you'll only see for about a second – and nothing else.
Not happy getting just one game for free at a time? How about seven? PicoPicoGames offers a whole collection of miniature NES-style games, ranging from racing to maze-running to logic-puzzles to three random mini-RPGs. (You can also buy two larger ones via in-app purchases.) My favourite is the dirt-simple Crystal Boy, but most of these would stand up on their own at 59p a pop, so seven for nothing is quite the bargain.
Boggle, basically. Packed with options (including two sizes of grid and different time limits), and online connectivity, such as leaderboards and special challenges you have to earn points to enter. One small ad on the between-games screen.
Pure addictive genius, this one. You start with a white square, and a black line moving along the inside edge. Hit the Turn button and the line makes a 90-degree clockwise turn. Your job is to paint the entire square black, but if you turn too early you'll leave part of it unpainted, and if you turn too late you'll crash into the wall or your own trail and die. Online leaderboards provide extra motivation. One ad on the title screen, none in play.
Straightforward Asteroids clone, which would have been ruined by the update which replaced the retro graphics with ugly new ones, except that they left the old ones in as an option. Phew!
Looks like a match-three game but isn't – in fact, Cell Splat is more closely related to the spot-the-difference genre. Blocks appear at the top and you have to swiftly tap however many identical ones you can find in the grid below. The pace is fast, the production values are lovely, and in Hard mode you'll do well to last a minute.
See if you can work it out from the title.
A very comprehensive and challenging chess game with loads of options including playing by email. Um, it's chess. Nothing more to see here. Move along.
Four variants on noughts-and-crosses here – normal, 4×4 (four in a row to win), 3x3x3 and 4x4x4, each available in four graphical themes. You get three levels of CPU opponent, two-player games, and "Standard" and "Scored" modes, the latter of which gives you bonus points for fast moves and keeps on throwing opponents at you until you lose. Without a doubt the most comprehensive noughts-and-crosses game I've ever seen.
Hugely stylish action game where you have to make your little man scamper left and right to find the safe spots as a jagged roof crashes down onto an uneven floor. It's all about speed and lightning visual judgement, and you'll always be certain you could do better next time.
Ingenious logic puzzle, in which levels appear bafflingly impossible until you alight on the solution. Very basic, with infinite randomly-generated stages, this isn't a game you work through to complete, but one you fire up when you've got two minutes to kill and you want a bit of mental exercise.
Another pure-logic puzzler, where you have to eliminate all the bricks by drawing straight lines through groups of them according to the instructions (eg three at a time). Four difficulty levels and lots of stages make for hours of challenge, and you'll need all your forward-planning skills.
Donut Games have a reputation for perfectly-crafted little arcade minigames, and Traffic Rush is one of their most stripped-down and elegant. Vehicles approach a crossroads from four directions and you have to get them across without collisions, by either swiping to speed them up, or tapping to stop them (until drivers behind them honk them back into life). It seems so easy that every time you fail you can't help but start again.
There are eight different versions of unusual object-matching game Zepi available, all of them identical except for their graphical themes. Each release has three different graphic sets, and the free version offers the "Graveyard" theme from Zepi: Dark. The game itself is complete in every way, and the only reason to upgrade is if you'd rather play with pretty butterflies or flowers than eyeballs and skulls.
A light-cycles game where you're equipped with the ability to jump sounds like it should be easy, but LightBike 2 is anything but, even with the benefit of a very accurate radar screen as well as the beautiful 3D main environment. Plenty challenging against CPU racers, but also offers online deathmatch.
No ads, but stupidly you'll need internet access to sign in even for offline play, although all you're asked for is a username (no tiresome typing email addresses on the iThing's keypad).
A match-three with a bit more to it than most, and a rather different play mechanic. Here you're not limited to swapping adjacent blocks, but can shunt entire rows and columns around to get one to the desired location, opening up a lot more scope for tactical play. (Especially as you're not restricted to connecting blocks in a straight line, but can join them in any formation vertically and/or horizontally.) Much more demanding than the average match-three too, most of which can take hours for a single game.
Slightly reminiscent of brilliant Xbox Indie game Decimation X, this is a great little micro-Invaders. Tilt to move, tap to fire, one hit means Game Over. At least the invaders don't actually invade, though – they're happy to just stay in the sky and rain down bombs until you succumb, rather than fight it out toe-to-tentacle with you like men.
More closely related to Paper Toss than anything to do with gambling, this is a neat little game where you have to flick cards into static or moving targets in the fastest possible time. Comes in the form of a Lite version with in-app purchasing, but you can actually unlock all the DLC levels for free just by playing the game, and it should only take you a few minutes.
It's in 3D! It's Checkers! It's in 3D and it's Checkers! You know how this joke goes, right? Lovely graphics, traditional and modern graphics options, Bluetooth or pass-the-iPod multiplayer, and three levels of CPU difficulty. In other words, everything you could reasonably ask for from a Checkers game.
One of the many things the App Store is well blessed with is games where you have to fall down a series of platforms. Bouncedown is one of the more professional efforts, with Yoshi's Island-esque graphics (except for the main character being Amiga hero Blob), several control options and a decent level of challenge as you jump down various platforms to escape a descending spiked roof, encountering springs and conveyor belts and all the sorts of things you'd expect in these circumstances. One small advert on menu screen, nothing ingame.
Your basic bird-with-rocket-strapped-to-back-hurtles-through-farmland sort of affair. Levels seem to be the same every time, so you can learn them, but you can also take radically different routes through them to see which is best. Tiny ads on title screen and high-score screen, none during gameplay.
Squirrel on parachute plummets from high orbit, avoids toxic waste barrels sitting on grassy platforms inexplicably hanging in the sky, destroys UFOs and Zeppelins by throwing acorns. And yet, I can guarantee you not a single videogame player ever looked at it and so much as paused for a second to think "Hang on, that's a bit of an implausible plot, isn't it?"
One of a million (approx) Diner Dash-inspired time-management games on the App Store, this is one of the most enjoyable, and not just because it involves making delicious-looking ice creams. No, it's because it involves making delicious-looking ice creams and selling them to bears.
Basically a variant on the well-known "Lights Out" type of game, where you tap on a square (or in this case a circle) to toggle its binary state and those of the directly adjacent positions.
Unkichi stands out thanks to its lovely visual style and a ferociously unforgiving Arcade mode in which a single misplaced flip means death, and is the first time I've ever found a Lights Out game enjoyable.
Talking of ferocious, Route-Rageous! (which is essentially a simplified version of Chu Chu Rocket) is one of the toughest logic puzzlers I've ever come across. I haven't even managed a perfect completion of the first level yet, but fortunately you can play and replay the 10 stages in any order you like as you search for better and better solutions to get higher and higher scores.
"Free" in a title normally means a full version strewn with ads, but TR Free seems to be identical to the Pro Edition other than the warm feeling of giving the author money for a job well done.
In addition to the standard VS CPU game (with five difficulty levels) and a pass-the-iPod two-player game, Tournament Reversi Free even offers live internet play, where you can have a game against random opponents or arrange to meet a friend. What more do you want, blood?
Part of a whole suite of free VW-based driving games covered in fuller detail here, Think Blue is my pick of the bunch for its compelling just-a-bit-further design and unique atmosphere of a pleasant, leisurely afternoon cruise through the countryside.
And a little indulgence to finish on. Coin Dozer has constant in-play adverts (rather cheekily not shown in screenshots – they appear in the prize chute area), and barely counts as a game at all, given that it has no final victory and also no way to fail. When you run out of coins, all you have to do it wait a while (or sell some of your prizes) and you'll get more, forever. There's no high-score, and while you can earn bonuses by collecting complete sets of prizes, they make very little difference to anything.
And yet, once you start dropping the nicely-rendered gold coins onto the playfield, see if you can stop. It's the ultimate in completely pointless timewasting, and that probably makes it some sort of art statement. (Particularly as there's also a version available with biscuits instead of coins.) You should have it. Over 2 million people can't be wrong, can they?