Game

The holidays are a time to relax and have some fun – here are 10 great ways to do just that…

The iPhone remains one of the greatest games systems ever created and the beautiful multitouch display has allowed developers to come up with countless unusual and engaging games. In this round-up we’ve collected our favorite 10 from 2014 that cost under $5/£3 – any one (or more) of which would make a perfect digital stocking-filler for an iPhone-owning friend.

Sending gifts is a simple process using your iOS device:

If you prefer, you can use iTunes to gift a game. On the product page, click the downward arrow on the Buy button under the app’s icon, then select “Gift This App.” The process is then essentially the same as that outlined above.

Note that you can only send a gift to someone who uses the same App Store location that you’re signed into. (So you can’t use a US account to gift an app or game to someone with a UK account.)

All the games recommended here are optimized for at least the iPhone 5, but some have been specifically updated for the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. You can check which apps this applies to in the compatibility details (in the Information section) of the game’s App Store page. On the iPhone, find this by selecting the Details tab and scrolling down.

1. Monument Valley

ustwo • $3.99/£2.49

Monument Valley demonstrates beyond doubt that games can also be art. The stunning single-screen puzzles are set in a series of Escher-like miniature worlds, allowing you to revel in the delights of optical illusion. Depending on how you manipulate the impossible structures, you can explore areas you simply shouldn’t be able to reach. All the while, a surreal narrative is slowly revealed, providing a glimmer of insight into one of the most beautiful video-game universes ever created.

Buy Monument Valley

monument-valley-wall-walking

OK, we’re pretty sure walking on walls like that is impossible.

2. Leo’s Fortune

1337 & Senri LLC • $4.99/£2.99

Poor Leo. He had a fortune and now it’s been stolen. Or, more accurately, it’s been dotted rather suspiciously along a route that takes Leo through all kinds of crazy pathways and underground passageways. This is a platform game in which you essentially try to collect gold without getting impaled on a spike, but it’s also an absolute beauty – one of the most stunning games ever to grace an iPhone. Platformers often fare poorly on iOS, but Leo’s Fortune has smartly judged controls, endless lives and plenty of restart points, making its dizzying Sonic-style loops suitable for any gamer.

Buy Leo’s Fortune

leo's-fortune

We’d probably just let your fortune go, Leo. Those spikes look nasty!

3. Threes!

Sirvo LLC • $2.99/£1.99

Every platform needs “its” puzzle game, and just as the Game Boy had Tetris, so the iPhone has Threes! This little puzzle game, in which you slide and merge cards to create ever-higher numbers, really is that good. Gift it to someone and they will love and hate you in equal measure, as they spend hours honing their technique and wondering if they’ll ever see the elusive 6144 card. You may have played something similar with freebie game 2048, but Threes! is the original, has buckets more charm, smarter rules, and is at least 2048 times better.

Buy Threes!

threes

Threes! for iPhone: more addictive than a very addictive thing.

4. The Sailor’s Dream

Simogo AB • $3.99/£2.49

Described by its creators as a “narrative experience,” The Sailor’s Dream plays with the conventions of video games and storytelling, streamlining the former and reconfiguring the latter. The result is an atmospheric and immersive dreamlike ocean world. You visit tiny islands, finding fragments of memories within, piecing together a tale as you go. There’s no challenge beyond figuring out the course of events that (possibly) once occurred; the joy is in exploration for its own sake. This is an evocative experience that you’ll want to savor, delighting in the imagery, interactive objects and text before your eyes.

Buy The Sailor’s Dream

the-saillor's-dream

Tiny secrets in lost corners of The Sailor’s Dream.

5. 80 Days

inkle • $4.99/£2.99

80 Days is another mash-up of game and story, albeit one that’s rather more conventional than The Sailor’s Dream. Here, you assist Phileas Fogg in winning a wager that he can circumnavigate the globe in 80 days. The 1872 in which you find yourself is one of submersible trains and moving cities – a fantastical take on history that’s rooted in reality but which pushes the boundaries of the imagination. The tale is mostly told as an interactive novel, with regular decisions taking you along branching text routes that provide plenty of scope for repeat play; but this isn’t a traditional book, since animation and soundtrack alike provide a palpable sense of urgency throughout.

Buy 80 Days

80-days

Two days into the journey, and already we’re waiting for a train. Sigh.

6. Hitman GO

Square Enix Inc • $4.99/£2.99

Assassination may not be the most appropriate subject-matter for the festive period (unless, of course, someone just stole the last roast potato), but Hitman GO isn’t an ordinary game about sneaking around and offing someone before anyone notices. It entirely reimagines an immersive 3D console game series as an oddly adorable clockwork board game. Each scene is a miniature turn-based puzzle, and when characters are bumped off, they’re literally bumped off the board. The diorama-like graphics are gorgeous, and the challenges will keep any puzzle fan going long after the last of the turkey’s disappeared.

Buy Hitman GO

hitman-go

We never thought we’d call a hitman game adorable, but here we are.

7. Eliss Infinity

Little Eyes LLC • $2.99/£1.99

The original version of Eliss was among the earliest iPhone games that really took on the idea of a multitouch display. This latest version brings the game up to date for new devices and adds an infinite challenge alongside a set of finite levels. The premise is to tear apart and combine planets, regularly dropping them into fragile wormholes of the same color and a suitable size. Your task is complicated by furious space storms and a limited energy supply, which depletes when planets of different colors combine. As levels increase in complexity, Eliss Infinity becomes a game of finger gymnastics, and aficionados will find an even sterner test in the crazed, brilliant “Endless” mode.

Buy Eliss Infinity

eliss-infinity

When worlds collide. Things aren’t looking good in this game of Eliss.

8. Traps n’ Gemstones

Donut Games • $4.99/£2.99

There’s old-school platforming charm at the heart of Traps n’ Gemstones, which marries a little Spelunky to some Metroid, and sprinkles a touch of Indiana Jones on top. As ever, the kind of freelance archaeologist that’s the star of the show constantly finds himself in perilous situations as he explores an enormous pyramid full of chambers, weapons, and deadly critters. One of the smartest aspects of the game is its score system. Progress is continual, but your score is wiped on death. This means that casual gamers can leisurely work their way through the entire game, while score-chasers can try (and probably fail) to collect every gold coin without losing a single life.

Buy Traps n’ Gemstones

traps

The things an archaeologist has to do to, er, ‘secure’ gems to ‘research’.

9. Reckless Racing 3

Pixelbite • $2.99/£1.99

If you’re fed up with dull, shiny and overly professional racing, this game veers drastically towards the down and dirty end of the spectrum. You zoom and smash your way round eye-popping and downright unsafe environments. One moment you’re skidding round a corner, your car inches away from a cliff edge that offers a vertigo-inducing drop to a roaring ocean; one race later, you’re thumbing your nose at health and safety by plowing your way through rivers of nuclear waste at an abandoned power station. Drift and Gymkhana modes add further longevity to the best top-down racer on iOS.

Buy Reckless Racing 3

reckless-racing-3

A deserted nuclear plant. Probably not part of next year’s Formula 1 calendar.

10. Twelve a Dozen

Bossa Studios Ltd • $4.99/£2.99

In Twelve a Dozen, math lurks beneath a compelling platform game. Twelve is a cute humanoid critter with an old-fashioned TV set for a head. She lives in Dozenopolis – and so did all the other numbers until a recent cataclysmic event. You have to help Twelve find out why everyone vanished, which mostly involves exploration by way of leaping across platforms, collecting floating “numbles,” and using machines to change your “face value,” thereby gaining powers to traverse hazards. It’s all very sweet-natured and straightforward, lifted further by some jolly narration and vibrant graphics. One for the kids, perhaps, even if they’re in their teens. Or 20s. Or 30s. Or 40s…

Twelve a Dozen

twelve-a-dozen

Maths disguised as a videogame! Kids will love it — if you’ll just stop playing yourself.