Game

We delve into gaming’s past and find out which renowned titles and series are fit for a future on your phone

The history of gaming is filled with genuine classics. But unlike with albums and movies of old, playing pioneering games on your iPhone isn’t easy.

Apple abhors emulation – iDOS 2 ($5/£5) being a notable exception. Even if it didn’t, a touchscreen isn’t always suited to twitchy old-school games that rely on fast reactions – nor more modern fare that expects your hands to be clamped around a gamepad.

So how have famous gaming faces and brands fared on iPhone and iPad? Which are tied to the past and which have evolved? And – most importantly – which are still worth playing? Let’s find out!

A brief note about games controllers

If you want to play classic games on your iPhone or iPad but with traditional controls, some support external controllers – as do most Apple Arcade games and many hundreds of other titles on the App Store.

The Backbone controller, wrapped around an iPhone.

If you’ve an iPhone, we recommend the Backbone and Razer Kishi, both of which ‘stretch’ to fit your iPhone and are powered by it. On iPad, connect a PS4/PS5/Xbox One/Xbox Series X/S controller.

Space Invaders

It’s 1978. Invaders from space are (slowly) descending while marching back and forth. Humanity’s defense: a single tank. Cutbacks, eh?

On iPhone, Space Invaders ($2/£2) is a straight port of the arcade game you can unwisely play using the accelerometer or, better, with responsive on-screen controls. Fun, if limited.

Pac-Man

The yellow dot-muncher is gaming’s most famous character. Pac-Man (free + IAP) includes the original arcade effort and has solid swipe-controls – but also IAP and freemium gunk.

Pac-Man Party Royale (Apple Arcade) is a modern cartoonish take that’s fun in multiplayer. Pac-Man Geo (free) attempts to transplant Pac-Man to real-world maps – but loses itself along the way.

Missile Command

The original 1980 Missile Command arcade cabinet finds you fending off a nuclear attack by firing missiles from three bases. Missile Command: Recharged (free or $3/£3) simplifies everything, automating launches via touchscreen taps.

Veterans might grumble, but this neon-infused update remains intense, has a single-purchase ads buyout, and keeps the original’s chilling ‘the end’ message after your inevitable demise.

Galaga

Galaga Wars (free) also breaks from the game’s past. The 1981 Galaga coin-op was Space Invaders with dive-bombing aliens. This update includes echos of the original, but is faster and more varied.

The freemium grind and single-life mechanic can grate. (Even hard-as-nails classic games usually gave you three!) But mastery reaps rewards as you learn to tackle attack waves and beat colossal bosses.

Ms. Pac-Man

Ms. Pac-Man ($3/£3) gets her own entry, for two reasons. First, the original game is better than Pac-Man, with smarter enemies and varied mazes.

Secondly, this is a premium game on iPhone, free from the grind and garbage that afflicts Pac-Man. If you want an authentic Pac-Man with responsive touchscreen controls, this is the one to go for.

Tetris

The original Tetris was a marvel – a game created in Russia, on an obscure computer no-one elsewhere had heard of. It later conquered the world. But iPhone Tetris (free + IAP) is terrible.

It’s been packed with freemium trappings – the worst being an abhorrent subscription payment for removing adverts. A pity, since the basic game and the online ‘battle royale’ mode are otherwise great fun.

Mario

Nintendo’s most famous face came to iPhone in Super Mario Run (free or $10/£10). But unlike Super Mario Bros, this game’s an auto-runner – you only tap the screen to make Mario jump.

This might sound reductive, but the combination of carefully crafted levels and familiar characters makes for an enjoyable romp – far more so than the micro-transaction/loot box-heavy racing game that is Mario Kart Tour (free + IAP).

Sonic the Hedgehog

Sega’s blue hedgehog appears in many iPhone games, but ignore throwaway 3D-based efforts and last year’s risible Olympics cash-in. Instead, try Sonic the Hedgehog Classic (free or $2/£2), Sonic the Hedgehog 2 Classic (free or $2/£2) and Sonic CD Classic (free or $2/£2).

These remastered console titles look great and play well – especially if you’ve a controller. Fancy something designed for the touchscreen instead? Sonic Runners Adventure ($3/£3) does for Sonic what Super Mario Run did for Mario.

Doom

There were 3D blasters before Doom, but Id Software’s horror-tinged entry defined a genre – and one that’s poorly catered for on iPhone, which makes Doom ($5/£5) and Doom 2 ($5/£5) worth revisiting all the more.

Both games are present and correct, with solid attempts at touchscreen controls – although, again, a controller is beneficial. Be mindful the tougher difficulty levels are tricky to the point it won’t just be the hideous enemies giving you nightmares.

The Need for Speed

This popular racing franchise has had several remakes for iPhone, two of which remain on the App Store: The Need for Speed Most Wanted ($5/£5) and Need for Speed No Limits (free + IAP).

The former is a superb, exciting, drift-happy blast through a grimy racing underworld, with pitch-perfect touchscreen controls. No Limits, meanwhile, has many limits imposed by IAP, and is best avoided.

Rayman

Although Rayman lacks the notoriety of Mario and Sonic, his exploits from the PlayStation era onward captivated millions of players. On iPhone, Rayman games have all been auto-runners, tasking you with cracking each level’s choreography and timing.

Rayman Adventures (free + IAP) is playable, but is stuffed with micro-transactions. Rayman Mini (Apple Arcade) offers Apple Arcade subscribers a quality alternative as the hero traverses a varied landscape – having first been shrunk to the size of an ant.

Lara Croft

The classic Tomb Raider games long ago vanished from the App Store, but Lara Croft can still perform touchscreen adventuring in the form of Lara Croft GO ($5/£5).

Like the equally impressive Hitman GO ($5/£5), the Lara Croft game reimagines the console original in turn-based fashion. It’s effective, visually stunning and surprisingly intense. Avoid Relic Run (free), though, which is nothing more than a poor Temple Run clone.

Grand Theft Auto

This iconic series dates back to a 1997 top-down perspective game where you play a criminal, performing status-boosting missions. On iPhone, you get access to a trio of 3D sequels: Grand Theft Auto III ($5/£5), Vice City ($5/£5) and San Andreas ($7/£7).

These games were originally released for consoles between 2001 and 2004, but have had visual improvements for mobile. Their free-roaming nature remains compelling, but the complexity of the controls means you’ll need a gamepad or controller.

Crazy Taxi Classic

During the 1990s, racing games became oh-so-serious and very gray. Sega’s Crazy Taxi brought color back to the genre, and finds you blazing around a city, battling a relentlessly ticking timer.

Crazy Taxi Classic (free or $2/£2) is a port of the Dreamcast version, which looks crude to modern eyes. But it plays wonderfully – and even the touchscreen controls don’t compromise the fun factor.

Street Fighter

Finally, many classic games involve punching someone squarely in the face while wearing a karategi. Street Fighter II, from 1991, is the most famous, but Street Fighter IV CE ($5/£5) is instead based on a 2008 sequel.

It looks dated, but offers plenty of high-octane one-on-one brawling. That said, unless you’ve a controller, the on-screen buttons will force your thumbs to cover half the screen and result in your on-screen character being punched into oblivion.