Our favorite free iPad games where you sprint, jump, drive, hoverboard, dig, or pinball to victory – or your doom.
Mitoza starts with a single seed on the screen and two buttons: a plant pot and a bird. Tap one and something happens, whereupon you get two more choices. Eventually, Mitoza cycles back to that single seed. The aim is to collect all the 72 icons displayed on the buttons.
Simple stuff, then, and you do see a lot of the early parts of the pathways again and again. But the upside is, well, everything else, because Mitoza is a surreal game fueled by a warped imagination on the brink of insanity.
So you’ll see a rabbit ‘fishing’ with a carrot, a tiny elephant atop a flower in a hamster wheel, and a Venus flytrap being chomped by a terrifyingly massive fly. The experience might be short-lived, but you’ll experience nothing else like it on iPad – or anywhere else, for that matter.
Saily Seas is a one-thumb endless game for iPad where you battle all manner of seriously aggressive sea life, and the kind of waves that would even make champion surfers retire to the beach.
There’s a day/night cycle that recalls the Alto’s games, and mountainous terrain that brings to mind Tiny Wings. But Saily Seas feels very much its own beast, with intuitive tap/hold/swipe controls that provide nuance as you soar above sharks and dive for fish.
Checkpoints exist, too – unusual for this sort of game. Although you can choose to start from scratch, you’re instead invited to continue on discovering landmarks. The aim is to continue striving to get as far as possible into the virtual sea, and this friendly progression system makes heading into Saily Seas’ depths far more likely.
Magic Bridge! finds the heroes from moggie-infused iPad platformer Super Cat Tales 2 in markedly different surroundings. Instead of a side-scrolling Mario-style effort, this game takes place on a rickety bridge. You prod left and right arrows to tip it, causing the cat to slide or run, aiming to avoid the enemies and spikes raining down the screen.
It’s simple stuff, which initially seems to have the ferocity of a Flappy Bird. But once you stop wrenching the bridge to its extremes, you realize the game has nuance. You can subtly shift your kitty, and grab the odd power-up to blaze through levels, knocking foes aside like Superman. If Superman was a cat. Good stuff, then, not least for squeezing into odd moments when you lack the time for a Super Cat Tales 2 session.
Race the Sun Challenge Edition
Race the Sun Challenge Edition isn’t so much about racing the sun. That would not only be ludicrous, but also impossible. Instead, you’re actually racing the sunset – although Race the Sunset sounds more noodly than cool, and so here we are.
Anyway, you’re in a ship, blazing along, trying to zip through minimalist cities without smashing into a wall. Because your craft is solar powered, it needs to stay out of the shadows, and also grab power-ups that reverse the sun’s direction for a few moments, thereby giving you a few precious extra seconds of daylight.
This one looks gorgeous on the iPad’s large display. And there’s plenty of longevity here, too, from gradually powering up your craft over time, to partaking in each day’s new and unique challenge.
Pigeon Wings Strike
Pigeon Wings Strike is an endless flyer. It’s set in a world that – for whatever reason – has decided the best way to defeat evil bad guys with deadly drones and massive flying fortresses is to kit out birds and other tiny critters with biplanes that shoot massive lasers.
Prior to your inevitable meeting with a brick wall or a bullet, you zip about the place, zig-zagging through tunnels and buildings, before getting all shooty, in order to down some adversaries.
The game’s vertical tilt controls are a tad more unwieldy on iPad than iPhone, although the weight of the device adds some tactile solidity to proceedings as you escape death by the skin of your beak. In all, this is a fast, fluid, high-octane arcade game of the very best kind.
Dream-Walker is a timing-based auto-runner. Your character walks along a pathway, with perilous drops either side. Whenever they’re at a corner, you prod the screen to ensure they don’t fall to their doom. Over time, things speed up, making prolonged success tricky.
So far, so familiar. But where Dream-Walker vastly betters its contemporaries is with visuals and atmosphere. As you progress, the game tries to distract you, abruptly opening new pathways, spinning blocks around, and sometimes going a bit Monument Valley with Escher-like constructions.
On iPad, the lush visuals really get a chance to shine, and the game’s ambience is further augmented by excellent audio. So although you might have had your fill of the genre, this one should not be missed, because it plays, well, like a dream.
Power Hover: Cruise
Power Hover: Cruise is an endless arcade treat loosely based on the boss levels from the superb Power Hover. Your little robot gets to tackle four distinct environments on his hovering board, weaving between hazards. The aim is to last as long as possible before being smashed into scrap metal when you inevitably mess up and fly head-on into an obstacle at insane speed.
The game is visually stunning on the iPad’s large display, whether descending into Dive’s hazardous underwater tunnel, or zooming along Air’s tubular road that winds snake-like through the clouds.
But controls make or break this kind of game, and Power Hover: Cruise is blessed with a simple left/right system with plenty of inertia. Initially, it feels unresponsive, but before long you’ll be scything through levels like nobody’s business, in one of the most beguiling endless games on iPad.
With Dashy Crashy, the iPad shows bigger (as in, the screen) really can be better. The basics involve swiping to avoid traffic while hurtling along a road. New vehicles are periodically won, each of which has a special skill (such as the UFO abducting traffic, and the taxi picking up fares); and there are also random events to respond to, such as huge dinosaurs barreling along.
On iPad, the gorgeous visuals are more dazzling than on the smaller iPhone, and in landscape or portrait, it’s easier to see what’s in front of you, potentially leading to higher scores.
Also, the game’s multi-touch aware, so you can multi-finger-swipe to change several lanes at once – fiddly on an iPhone but a cinch on a tablet, making for an addictive, just-one-more-go experience.
There’s a delightful and elegant simplicity at the heart of Mars: Mars. The game echoes iPad classic Desert Golfing, in providing a seemingly endless course to explore. But rather than smacking a ball, you’re blasting a little astronaut between landing pads.
The controls also hark back to another game – the ancient Lunar Lander. After blast-off, you tap the sides of the screen to emit little jets of air, attempting to nudge your astronaut in the right direction and break their fall before a collision breaks them.
Smartly, you can have endless tries without penalty, but the game also tots up streaks without death. Repeat play is further rewarded by unlocking characters (also available via IAP), many of which dramatically alter the environment you’re immersed in.
The BAFTA-winning INKS rethought pinball for mobile, breaking it down into bite-sized simple tables that were more like puzzles. Precision shots – and few of them – were the key to victory. PinOut! thinks similarly, while simultaneously transforming the genre into an against-the-clock endless runner.
The idea is to always move forwards, shooting the ball up ramps that send it to the next miniature table. Along the way, you grab dots to replenish the relentlessly ticking down timer, find and use power-ups, and play the odd mini-game, in a game that recalls basic but compelling fare once found on the LED displays of real-life tables.
PinOut! is gorgeous – all neon-infused tables and silky smooth synth-pop soundtrack. And while the seemingly simplified physics might nag pinball aficionados, it makes for an accessible and playable game for everyone else.
Disney Crossy Road
Tie-ins between indie game companies and major movie houses often end badly, but Disney Crossy Road bucks the trend. It starts off like the original Crossy Road — an endless take on Frogger. Only here, Mickey Mouse picks his way across motorways, train lines and rivers, trying to avoid death by drowning or being splattered across a windscreen.
But unlock new characters (you'll have several for free within a few games) and you open up further Disney worlds, each with unique visuals and challenges.
In Toy Story, Woody and Buzz dodge tumbling building blocks, whereas the inhabitants of Haunted Mansion are tasked with keeping the lights on and avoiding a decidedly violent suit of armour.
Elsewhere, Inside Out has you dart about collecting memories, which are sucked up for bonus points. And on the iPad, the gorgeous chunky visuals of these worlds really get a chance to shine.
At first glance, Looty Dungeon comes across like a Crossy Road wannabe. But you soon realise it's actually a very smartly designed endless dungeon crawler that just happens to pilfer Crossy Road's control method, chunky visual style, and sense of urgency.
You begin as a tiny stabby knight, scooting through algorithmically generated isometric rooms. You must avoid spikes and chopping axes, outrun a collapsing floor, and dispatch monsters. The action is fast-paced, lots of fun, and challenges your dexterity and ability to think on the move.
As is seemingly law in today's mobile gaming landscape, Looty Dungeon also nags at the collector in you, offering characters to unlock. But these aren't just decorative in nature — they have unique weapons, which alter how you play. For example, an archer has better range than the knight, but no defensive shield when up against an angry witch or ravenous zombie.