Whether you prefer your sports games realistic or full of arcade larks, our selection has you covered
Sports! We’re all for them, especially if we can do sports while sitting in an armchair, tapping away at our iPhone in a frenzy. But which sports games are best? That depends on whether you like your games doffing their hat to realism or boarding the crazy arcade express.
Fortunately, our selection takes into account both. Read on!
Madden Mobile (free + IAP)
If you live for NFL, Madden lets you fill the rest of your life with virtual gridiron. The game looks superb on the small screen, with crisp players and smooth animation. Controls range from traditional console-oriented fare to touch-smart tapping. The latter tends to work best on iPhone, so you can avoid regularly covering the screen with your digits when trying to make a pass. Being that this is an EA game, there’s a tendency towards freemium horror by way of energy timers and having you buy virtual cash with actual cash, in order to boost your team. But there are plenty of modes, from full seasons through to online skirmishes, and the initial tutorials provide a neat way in for football newcomers.
Touchdown Hero (free)
For some, much of the excitement of football comes from seeing someone clutching a ball and snaking their way through the opposition, weaving their way to a touchdown. That’s all there is in Touchdown Hero. You drag your player left or right, lifting a finger occasionally to go all Matrix slow-mo, scoring a point whenever you reach the end zone. And so it goes until you’re inevitably bundled to the ground. This is a simple, samey game, but it’s entertaining and there’s a bunch of stuff to unlock, including teams and boosts.
NBA 2K16 ($7.99/£5.99)
2K’s aim here was a ‘true to life’ NBA experience, and you certainly get that with a full career mode and the kind of visuals that would make console owners double take. The game itself both looks and feels like basketball when you’re in the middle of a match — for better or worse. For newcomers, it’s a bewildering and humbling experience at first, trying to figure out what’s going on and wrestle with the on-screen buttons. But resign yourself to losing a bunch of times, and you’ll gradually improve, feeling like a champ when you start getting three-pointers.
NBA Jam ($4.99/£3.99)
This unique take on basketball is based on an old arcade game that plays fast and loose with the rules. It positively encourages you to shove opponents to the ground, and looks comical as goofy opponents with massive heads run about and soar into the air to sink baskets. But if you fancy a silly take on the sport, or consider the likes of NBA 2K16 a bit overwhelming, NBA Jam will scratch your basketball itch, providing many hours of satisfying — if decidedly unsportsmanlike — boomshakalaka.
FIFA 16 Ultimate Team (free + IAP)
You may have noticed the words ‘ultimate team’ lurking in FIFA 16’s name, and that’s because the game now is the Ultimate Team mode. This is a combination of card collecting and soccer, with you building a team through trading and, unsurprisingly, potentially spending a ton of money on virtual cards. The matches boast a console-style TV realism, with loads of moves and some great animation, although everything feels a touch laggy, even on the most recent iPhones. But there’s plenty of depth here, despite the game initially feeling a bit impenetrable, due to the varied requirements for entering certain competitions. Here’s hoping FIFA 17 at least enables you to play one-off friendlies again.
Active Soccer 2 ($3.99/£2.99)
This game harks back to the era of classic 16-bit games like Sensible Soccer/SWOS and Kick Off. Its fast pace initially feels as much like pinball as soccer, but it manages to recreate the kind of exciting game you imagine in your mind rather than the one you see on the TV. The controls are simple, but the game offers a huge range of experiences, from one-off matches to entire international or domestic campaigns. It’s a bit rough and ready at times, but a superb choice if you want a more traditional structure than FIFA offers, but with the kind of enjoyable arcade-style gameplay that’s a good fit for mobile.
WGT: World Gour Tour (free + IAP)
There are quite a few entries aiming for realism in this round-up, but it’s WGT that gets a hole-in-one. It actually feels like you’re playing a round of golf, in part due to the game’s stunning photographic recreations of real-world courses, and also because it’s a pig to play. We mean that positively — this is not a game where you can sneakily swipe across the screen to cunningly change your shot in mid-air. Here, aim wrong and you’ll be punished, ending up in the rough, and then limping to the hole way over par. But practice makes perfect, and you’ll soon find yourself refining your technique on empty courses before trying your hand at tournaments and online real-time two-player challenges.
Super Stickman Golf 2 (free + IAP)
Golf as reimagined by a crazed cartoonist, Super Stickman Golf 2 dumps a stickman and his sticklike clubs in a range of larger-than-life side-on courses. You’re not aiming for the green so much as trying to avoid massive saw blades, smack a ball through a space station, or use the power of gigantic magnets to deflect the ball in strange ways. Via magic hats, you can bestow your golfer with super powers, and you’ll need them when playing the demented multiplayer online racing mode, or slower, more thoughtful (but still decidedly odd) two-player turn-by-turn challenges.
Patrick Kane’s Hockey Classic ($2.99/£2.29)
Until someone at 2K fixes NHL 2K so it actually works on modern iPhones, Patrick Kane’s Hockey Classic is as good as it gets for iOS ice hockey. It looks a bit basic and we reckon it’s a tad easy at times, but the crunching tackles and frenetic end-to-end nature of ice hockey remain intact. Additionally, you get a range of modes to try, and the controls are nicely intuitive, especially the way you swipe back and forth to shoot.
Ice Rage ($1.99/£1.49)
Heavily inspired by ancient arcade game Hat Trick, Ice Rage’s cartoonish take on ice hockey pits two players against each other on a tiny rink. You speed about, tripping up the other player, and smashing insanely hard shots into the corner of the goal. (Hint: hold the shoot button for more power!) Two players can face-off on one device, or solo players can take on computer players in single matches, a tournament, or a survival-based rage-off where the ‘death’ bit of ‘deathmatch’ is perhaps taken a touch too literally.
Table Tennis Touch ($2.99/£2.29)
OK, so we’re going for table tennis rather than actual tennis here, largely because even the best iOS tennis game, Virtua Tennis, is only OK and not a patch on its console-based ancestors. Table Tennis Touch, though, is very much designed for mobile, revelling in fast-paced swipe-oriented action. There are mini-games, a packed career mode, and some really lovely graphics. Never before will you have been so excited to see a tiny white ball whizz across the screen and past a strangely levitating bat.
Part tennis, part air hockey, part Pong, PKTBALL is an endless racket game that’s had an injection of rocket fuel. It’s a test of your reflexes as you swipe to return rallies, trying to grab coins and power-ups as you do so. You’ll loose — often — but gradually figure out how to get more than a handful of points, mostly by mastering power shots. The only snag is a lack of variety, but that’s countered by same-device multiplayer, and being able to purchase new characters, each of which changes not only your player but also the court’s appearance and background music.
Touchgrind Skate 2 ($4.99/£3.99)
When creating a realistic skateboarding game, you could be boring and show some bloke on a skateboard, performing stunts as you frenziedly tap away on a panel of virtual buttons. Touchgrind Skate 2 thumbs its nose at such ideas and instead has your fingers become tiny legs controlling an on-screen board. It’s a slice of genius, but demands perseverance — it turns out deft control of a skateboard isn’t a great deal easier on your iPhone than in real life. But stick with it, and Touchgrind Skate 2 becomes rewarding, opening up new parks to try as you hone your skills.
Rat on a Skateboard ($1.99/£1.49)
You can tell this one’s not shooting for realism, because there’s a rodent on the skateboard — something that only happens when someone’s being decidedly mean with their pet. Fortunately, this rodent is both gnarly and rad, traversing horizontally scrolling courses by performing all manner of stunts. It’s one-thumbtastic — you simply time jumps to not have the rat tumble to a grisly doom. But whether battling the two endless courses or 70 finite challenges, this one’s a great game for fans of skateboarding. Or rats. Or skateboarding rats.
Real Boxing 2 (free + IAP)
If the magical sport of punching someone repeatedly until they’re unconscious appeals, Real Boxing gets you into the ring without any chance of a black eye. In this virtual take on boxing, you must train and punch your way through the ranks. Smartly, Real Boxing emphasizes timing and strategy over mashing the screen, forcing you to suss out your opponent and sneak in a jab when his guard’s down. The energy system is a bit of a grind — you can tell when Real Boxing wants you to fling money at it — but it nonetheless gives its competitors a knockout blow.
This game is utterly stupid — fortunately intentionally. You’re dropped into a ring that visually appears to have escaped from a Commodore 64. You then need to survive as long as possible, bounding about, swinging your arms around, and flinging all-comers out of the ring, in order to win a precious point. If you can do all that while wearing a collectable hat, Wrassling rewards you further. The bouncy physics makes this one borderline uncontrollable, but constantly teetering on the edge of defeat makes you feel like a boss when you somehow burst forth from a four-deep pile and hurl everyone into the inky black.
Best of the rest
EA Sports UFC (free + IAP)
If punching people isn’t enough, UFC brings mixed martial arts to your device. It’s typical EA: looks nice, has plenty of depth, and offers truckloads of IAP.
Flick Kick Field Goal (free)
This one distills American Football to flicking a ball at a goal. It’s oddly compelling, not least when you’re ten kicks in, many yards away, and hoofing balls into a crosswind.
Flick Golf! (£0.99/79p)
Golf simplified to the max, Flick Golf! has you ping a ball into the air, and swipe to direct it to hit a bullseye. The higher your scores, the more holes you’ll get to play.
Magnetic Billiards (free + IAP)
Billiards minus pockets plus magnetic balls and loads of showing off. This is a superb iOS sports puzzler. A one-off $1.99/£1.49 ’skeleton key’ IAP opens up dozens of tables.
9 Innings (free + IAP)
The best iOS take on baseball merges a card system and a decent game engine. You can play one-off friendlies or immerse yourself in a league; just beware of the IAP monster.
Motorsport Manager ($1.99/£1.99)
Motorsport management made manageable, this game gives you just enough depth to feel like you’re in control but is approachable enough for anyone. Within minutes, you’ll be urging on little colored dots on rain-lashed circuits.
New Star Soccer (free + IAP)
Football management in miniature, New Star Soccer has you take a footballer through the leagues, scoring goals and buying bling. It’s a bit IAP-heavy but hugely compelling.
Score World Goals (free + IAP)
This interesting take on the beautiful game has you draw lines to play out some of the most famous goals ever scored. It’s novel, fun and — we reckon — better than sequel Score! Hero.
Touchgrind BMX ($4.99/£3.99)
More or less Touchgrind Skate 2 on a bike. There’s less of a tactile feel here, what with the lack of fingers for legs, but the courses look great, and you get loads of stunts to learn.