Our favorite free iPad logic tests, path-finding challenges, bridge builders, and turn-based puzzlers.
Tile Snap is a match game. But unlike in Bejeweled, matched elements are never replaced. Each level is therefore a puzzle, to be completed in a strict order, working your brain rather than only your swiping digit.
Said levels are constructed from tiles that pleasingly flip when dragged. This will be familiar to players of Dissembler (by the same creator) – although that app’s austere minimalism has in Tile Snap seemingly been replaced by vibrant digital takes on 1970s wallpaper.
What’s most surprising about Tile Snap, though, is its generosity. This is a premium experience, with beautifully responsive, tactile controls, and cleverly designed, hand-crafted levels. Yet there are no ads, and IAPs only exist for optional hints. So grab it now – and if you like it, buy one of the creator’s other games as a thank-you.
Dream Detective is all about hidden objects. You’re presented with an animated illustration and a set of items to find, and must scroll about the screen and tap objects accordingly. This often plays out against the clock, and errant presses are punished, so you can’t just poke the screen with merry abandon.
Underpinning Dream Detective is quite a lot of complexity in terms of its interface and IAP. But do your best to ignore all that and you’ll find an entertaining, interesting example of this kind of game. The scenes are varied, with early examples including riffs on famous movies, and comic book pages.
The game might lack the elegance and chill-out vibe of the likes of Hidden Folks, but as a free alternative with time-based incentives, it’s a decent download – especially when you play on the iPad’s large display.
Kubrix sits part way between puzzler, meditative experience, and plain weird. First, the puzzling: this involves linking the center of the puzzle to square nodes, often (although not always) situated towards its edges. To achieve your goal, you rotate patterned sections of the puzzle, aiming to create unbroken pathways.
The meditative side comes from is free iPad game’s zero-stress nature. It’s the sort of thing you can play in a state of zoned-out bliss, working your way to a solution by fiddling around with what’s in front of you.
What really sells the game is its strange presentation. The center of the puzzle creepily beats like a heart, and other sound effects include mechanical scrapes and gruesome squelches. You work through each level feeling like you’re manipulating a techno-organic construct – some kind of living being, even if Kubrix is of course never anything other than abstract.
Total Party Kill
Total Party Kill upends any gaming conventions you’d expect when a heroic party enters a dungeon. Usually, each member would help the others survive. But here, the knight, mage, and ranger use their powers to ‘sacrifice’ team-mates, and use their corpses as stepping stones to tricky-to-reach exits.
Early on, it’s simple enough to figure out what to do. But as you reach the later dungeons, figuring out the precise order in which to dispatch your colleagues – and precisely how to do so – can be a serious challenge.
The black humor is appealing, as your ranger leaps on a cross-eyed mage pinned to the wall, before doing a little dance on reaching the exit. But the mechanic also freshens up what could otherwise have just been yet another entry in the single-screen puzzler sub-genre.
Sky: Children of the Light
Sky: Children of the Light is a multiplayer online adventure. Created by the brains behind console classic Journey, Sky is a visually dazzling game, which often finds your winged protagonist gliding above lush landscapes and skidding down hillsides.
Your aim is to spread hope through a kingdom by returning fallen stars to the skies. This means plenty of exploration to find objects that unlock further progress. Most puzzles barring your way are quite simple, but they often require the help of friends – temporary or permanent – you can make in-game.
From the eye-popping visuals to the smartly conceived social interactions, Sky is a must-install. There are odd moments of frustration, but these are easily forgotten when you’re reveling in the experience, lost to one of the most beautiful game worlds imaginable.
XOB is a precision platform game that’s heavy on the path-finding and puzzling – and even heavier on the psychedelics. The gameplay primarily involves tilting a play area comprising square blocks. The aim is to nurse a trundling square to an exit, grabbing pick-ups along the way.
Fall over an edge and the entire level flips accordingly. Similarly, you can leap to a ceiling to turn everything upside down. As you progress, routes become increasingly labyrinthine.
All this plays out alongside a gorgeous old-school CRT aesthetic, which feels perfectly at home on the TV-like display of an iPad. As a freebie, the game’s also got the kind of business model we wish others would steal – you’ll only ever see 24 ads, and if you want, you can watch them all at once. Top stuff.
Ilu is a puzzler that wants you to illuminate the darkness with a combination of lights and logic.
A light can be placed anywhere on the board, at which point beams head vertically and horizontally until they reach a wall. What complicates matters is, in a ruleset vaguely reminiscent of Minesweeper, the board has nodes that indicate how many lights must be placed next to that point.
Put too many lights by a node, or shine two lights into each other, and a yellow energy bar starts turning red. Too much red and all your lights fizzle out. Your best bet, then, is to think your way methodically towards the single unique solution for each board, in what’s an engaging and, yes, illuminating slice of iPad puzzling.
Friday the 13th: Killer Puzzle
Friday the 13th: Killer Puzzle is a sliding puzzler with lashings of gore. That’s not a combination you hear too often, but Killer Puzzle is unique. Set broadly in the world of Friday the 13th, it features horror icon Jason Voorhees on a mission to chop up anyone in his immediate vicinity.
That might sound horrific, but Killer Puzzle is more South Park than splatter flick. The chunky visuals present everyone as colorful but gormless cartoon characters, and the more bloody (and ridiculous) cut scenes can be skipped entirely.
Really, it’s the puzzling bits that will make you stick around. Across the game’s many levels, your brains are given a beating as you figure out labyrinthine routes to get to your final targets. (Still, that’s a nicer ‘brain beating’ than the targets end up getting…)
A Way To Slay – Bloody Fight
A Way To Slay – Bloody Fight is a series of epic sword fights reimagined as turn-based strategy. You start each bout surrounded by weapon-wielding foes eager to take your head off. Double-tap one and you almost instantly appear before them, for a swift bit of ultra-violence. But then enemies get their turn. End up too near one of them and it’s curtains for you.
Assuming you can deal with liberal amounts of videogame blood being sprayed about, A Way To Slay is an excellent puzzler. Parked halfway between action and strategy, it feels fresh; and it’s enhanced further by the clever way you can adjust the zoom and panning of what you see before you, as if directing a very stabby movie.
There's not a lot of originality in King Rabbit, but it's one of those simple and endearing puzzle games that sucks you in and refuses to let go until you've worked your way through the entire thing.
The premise is hackneyed — bunnies have been kidnapped, and a sole hero must save them. And the gameplay is familiar too, where you leap about a grid-like landscape, manipulating objects, avoiding hazards, finding keys, unlocking doors, and reaching a goal.
But the execution is such that King Rabbit is immediately engaging, while new ideas keep coming as you work through the dozens of puzzles. Pleasingly, the game also increases the challenge so subtly that you barely notice — until you realise you've been figuring out a royal bunny's next moves into the wee small hours.
Does Not Commute
Time travel weirdness meets the morning rush hour in Does Not Commute. You get a short story about a character, and guide their car to the right road. Easy! Only the next character's car must be dealt with while avoiding the previous one. And the next. Before long, you're a dozen cars in and weaving about like a lunatic, desperately trying to avoid a pile-up.
For free, you get the entire game, but with the snag that you must always start from scratch, rather than being able to use checkpoints that appear after each zone. (You can unlock these for a one-off payment of $2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49.)