Game

We scoured the App Store to find some great free games where in-app purchases are nowhere to be found

These days, there’s free and there’s ‘free’ when it comes to the App Store. More often than not, download a free game and it’ll be infused with in-app purchases. Sometimes, these are perfectly justifiable (extra level packs, demo unlocks and the like), but we’re increasingly seeing games that are more like ‘pay to play’, gouging you for money at every opportunity.

In this round-up, we therefore decided to find games that don’t — and will never — cost you a penny. Every one of them is free and entirely bereft of IAP, yet all of them are very much worth your time. And in case you’re thinking we’ve turned into a bunch of skinflints, have no fear — we’ll soon be delving into our favorite paid titles that are also blissfully lacking in IAP.

1. Critter Panic

5.4 MB • v1.0.6 • Chaotic Box

App Store Download button

The genius with Critter Panic is that it’s so insanely simple. A string of cute critters appears at the centre of the screen, and you simply tap left or right to make a match with characters you’ve already unlocked. This is fine when you’ve only two ready for matching, but any bluster evaporates when the timer’s relentlessly ticking down and your brain helpfully believes the grinning cactus is on the right when it’s clearly on the left. Gah!

Note: a legacy paid edition of Critter Panic also exists on the App Store. This free one is supported with unobtrusive advertising.

Left! No, RIGHT! ARGH!

Left! No, RIGHT! ARGH!

2. Coolson’s Pocket Pack

13.3 MB • v1.0.1 • Things Made Out Of Other Things Ltd.

App Store Download button

In this tiny word game, chocolate letters fall into a well. You pack them into boxes, and because your boss is an obsessive nutcase, your letters must form a word. At first, the game’s quite noodly, but once you understand the chaining mechanics, it becomes a frantic challenge. You soon find yourself swiping for your life, desperate to avoid errors, getting angry at yourself for suddenly forgetting every three-letter word you’ve ever known.

And HUE next for a six-chain! Hurrah!

And HUE next for a six-chain! Hurrah!

3. Gridrunner

5.0 MB • v0001.02.00 • Llamasoft

App Store Download button

A love letter to 1980s arcade games, Gridrunner plonks your tiny ship in a single-screen grid, surrounded by waves of hostile enemies. Strings of caterpillar-like drones snake down from the top of the screen, while roaming guns take pot-shots from the edges. As you progress through the levels, ships, bombs and other hostiles attempt to blow you away. Occasional respite arrives in the form of very temporary and eye-dazzling power-ups, in iOS’s most thrilling arcade shooter.

About to die at the hands of five bombs. (Do bombs have hands?)

About to die at the hands of five bombs. (Do bombs have hands?)

4. Gridland

Size/version unknown • Doublespeak Games

Open the game

It’s hard to say too much about Gridland without spoiling everything, so we’ll merely note that it isn’t entirely what you think it is on first launch. The game clearly has a lot in common with match-three puzzlers, but there’s a lot more lurking under the surface, in terms of strategy and a kind of unwritten story that underpins everything. One hint we will offer: take care at night. Speed is not the path to victory.

Note that Gridland is a web game. To install it, visit the link below on your iPhone, tap the Share button and then ‘Add to Home Screen’. An icon will appear on your Home screen and behave like a standard app.

It looks like a match puzzler, but Gridland is something else entirely.

It looks like a match puzzler, but Gridland is something else entirely.

5. HungryMaster

7.0 MB • v1.18 • xionchannel

App Store Download button

One of the more baffling entries in this round-up, HungryMaster appears to be a knowing take on oddly translated Japanese NES titles, but with thoroughly modern touchscreen controls. You explore a forest, scrubbing pixie dust across enemies to convert them into food and drink that you subsequently feed to ravenous houses dotted about the map. The cut-scenes are deranged and brilliant (mostly involving arguments between protagonist Delica and her cat, ‘Saten’), and the game itself is original and entertaining.

Feed thirsty houses drinks made by nuking ambling creatures with pixie dust. Mad.

Feed thirsty houses drinks made by nuking ambling creatures with pixie dust. Mad.

6. Trainyard Express

8.1 MB • v1.66 • Matt Rix

App Store Download button

We’re big fans of Trainyard, which, despite sadly never getting an iPhone 5 update (let alone one for more recent devices), remains one of the best puzzlers on the App Store. It involves drawing tracks to get colored trains to their goal stations. Over time, the mechanics gradually become more complex, forcing you to route around stones and merge trains. Trainyard Express is effectively a demo for the full title, but one that generously gives you 60 puzzles to battle through.

We’re sorry to announce the 16:08 is delayed due to a lack of purple on the line.

We’re sorry to announce the 16:08 is delayed due to a lack of purple on the line.

7. PewPew

11.6 MB • v1.9.3 • Jean-Francois Geyelin

App Store Download button

“Don’t expect a story,” says the developer of PewPew, which is a game purely and unashamedly about blowing things up. Your ship finds itself in an enclosed arena, fending off endless waves of enemies. If you tire of the standard mode, you can pit yourself against Dodge (no weapons — just avoid everything), a color-matching test, and Asteroids, with huge space rocks getting in your way. The sedate soundtrack’s rather oddly placed, but otherwise this game excels, with its mix of glowing vector graphics, tight controls and hectic shooting action.

Pew pew! Pew! Pew pew pew! Pew! (Pew.)

Pew pew! Pew! Pew pew pew! Pew! (Pew.)

8. Grim Joggers Freestyle

28.8 MB • v1.2.8 • 10tons Ltd

App Store Download button

In the full version of this endless running game, a group of 15 exercise nuts presumably heavily regrets their choice of course. They leap and double-jump their way through deadly jungles, mines, glaciers, battlefields and alien landscapes. In Freestyle, all five environments are combined into a single crazed landscape of exercise hell that might actually be more fun than those in the main title. It’s certainly significantly more surreal!

Top tip: have your jogging route avoid angry polar bears, psychotic aliens and spikes.

Top tip: have your jogging route avoid angry polar bears, psychotic aliens and spikes.

9. Hot Mess

16.2 MB • v1.1 • Nicholas Ralabate

App Store Download button

In Hot Mess, you control a little firefighting robot as it goes about its business, dousing flames in a building with a suspicious number of fires and amorous couples. Two buttons rotate the little metal scamp, and you press them both to blast some water. But a few levels in and the robot gets electrocuted, goes nuts and instead decides to quench ‘fires of the heart’. Cue: levels of an unhinged droid zooming about, blazing through walls, soaking snogging couples, and trying not to fall down elevator shafts.

Don’t worry — the amorous couple’s not really on fire. Not that the mad robot cares.

Don’t worry — the amorous couple’s not really on fire. Not that the mad robot cares.

10. AUX B

33.4 MB • v1.0.5 • Christian Schnellmann

App Store Download button

A puzzle game about cabling might not seem like the best use of your time, but AUX B is a really smart logic test. You’re faced with making sense of increasingly complex stacks of audio equipment, routing ‘outs’ to ‘ins’, in order to make music blare forth. Get it wrong and it’s silence forever. 80 levels await, and before long they’ll be causing headaches, leading to you needing some nice music and a little lie down, just to ease your mind.

If only sorting the cabling nightmare in our office was this much fun.

If only sorting the cabling nightmare in our office was this much fun.

Honourable mentions

Another eleven excellent iPhone games that we couldn’t omit, and that you should download immediately…

11. Winter Walk

12.2 MB • v2.2 • Monster and Monster

A gent on his evening constitutional finds it’s a bit windy out. As gusts threaten his hat, help it stay firmly on his head in this one-thumb charmer.

Download Winter Walk

12. Cool Pizza

28.6 MB • v1.4 • Nicholas Ralabate

This stylish and strange arcade game finds a girl speeding through the underworld on her haunted skateboard. Survival depends on getting her airborne, so she can slash flying devils.

Download Cool Pizza

13. BaconBaconBacon

7.2 MB • v1.1 • Shane McCafferty

In this sweet-natured puzzler, you match pigs in order to make bacon. Each level is a score-attack challenge, providing endless replayability.

Download BaconBaconBacon

14. Trace

29.7 MB • v1.4 • Kevin Calderone

In theory, a platform game should be easier if you can draw new things to leap on. Trace shows otherwise, with deviously designed single-screen levels.

Download Trace

15. Cube Runner

7.5 MB • v2.4 • Andy Qua

Cubes are to be avoided in this 3D endless survival game, which has you tilting your device to pilot your little ship onwards.

Download Cube Runner

16. Solitaire Free

28.4 MB • v5.5.1 • Solebon LLC

Yes, we know: Solitaire! Yawn! But this one’s really nice, with loads of games to try and a fab interface. If you like it, consider the paid version.

Download Solitaire Free

17. ElectroMaster

7.5 MB • v3.00 • xionchannel

More craziness from the HungryMaster dev. This time, you fire up an electro-weapon to fend off swarms of foes. It’s a mite fiddly on iPhone but nonetheless compelling.

Download ElectroMaster

18. Dropship

9.1 MB • v1.3 • ngmoco, LLC

Sadly not updated since 2009, this early App Store classic remains a gorgeous mix of shooting, exploration and dexterity, as you rescue prisoners and swag from enemy bases.

Download Dropship

19. Dumb Ways to Die

38.9 MB • v1.6 • Metro Trains Melbourne Pty Ltd

A bit like a stripped-down WarioWare, Dumb Ways to Die randomly flings one of 18 mini-games at your face until your thumbs and reactions fail you.

Download Dumb Ways to Die

20. Alice in the Secret Castle

1.4 MB • v1.1 • yamagame

This single-screen platform-puzzler is insanely hard, but intriguing. Hold A and the floors vanish. Time movements right to grab gems and keys, and avoid a horrible death.

Download Alice in the Secret Castle

21. LEGO Ninjago Tournament

584 MB • v1.1.70250 • The LEGO Group

Unlock your inner LEGO ninja as you fend off endless waves of opponents, scattering them into their component parts.

Download LEGO Ninjago Tournament