Finding good, free iPad games can be a chore. There are tons of free iPad games in the App Store making it difficult to find good ones. Many free games also have in-app purchases so the game requires you to buy something before you can even play.
However, there are many good free iPad games that you should try. The following list feature some of my favorite free iPad games, with everything from arcade racers to zombie shooters.
Here are my top picks of the best free iPad games in no particular order.
Plants vs. Zombies 2
The first Plants vs. Zombies game was so good, I was worried that making the sequel free-to-play would ruin the game. Fortunately, that was not the case and Plants vs. Zombies 2 is actually a very well balanced game, even if you don’t want to pay money.
There are still in-app purchases to buy to make things easier. There are just a handful of plants and upgrades that can only be purchased, not earned. But if you’re decent at the game, you’ll never have to spend a dollar.
There’s a ton of free content available and a ton of variation between levels to keep you coming back for more over and over again.
The concept of Smash Hit is extremely simple: break glass objects by throwing metal balls at them. The gameplay, however, is not as simple as you’ll have to adapt to constantly moving environments and changing gravitational forces. The game is challenging but rewarding since you need to maintain your combo to keep your upgraded balls.
The game is free-to-play but you’ll have to purchase the premium version to unlock checkpoints. If you don’t mind playing the game over from the beginning every time you die, then the free version will be enough. However, if you want to unlock endless mode or want to reach the harder levels, you’ll have to pony up for the premium version.
Warning: older iPads may find Smash Hit running with noticeable lag. The game is very graphically intensive, especially when there are a lot of balls and shards of glass flying everywhere.
For more on Smash Hit, check out my interview with the developers at GDC.
If you need to kill a few minutes, the quick gameplay of Punch Quest is perfect. You play as a guy or girl punching his or her way through a monster-filled dungeon. There are only two buttons to control your character: punch and uppercut. There are no movement buttons because throwing punches or uppercutting will propel you forward naturally. This makes it difficult to have precise control over movement but keeps the gameplay moving.
There’s a ton of content for you to unlock like new abilities and cosmetic items like hats. The premium currency inside the game is called “Punchos” and you can purchase them with real money.
But if you’re patient and skilled, you can earn upgrades without spending money. The game is addictive and you’ll keep coming back trying to keep your combo meter going for as long as possible. It may be frustrating to control at times but its difficulty is what keeps me coming back for more.
Jetpack Joyride is a classic from Halfbrick Studios, developers of Fruit Ninja. You play as an unnamed man trying to break out of an evil lair with a jetpack. Not just any ordinary jetpack though. It shoots bullets and you can upgrade it to shoot other things as well like cash or rainbows.
There’s a ton of achievements and upgrades for you to unlock. You collect coins throughout the level which you can use to purchase these upgrades. If you’re impatient, you can spend real money to unlock them.
What makes Jetpack Joyride fun is the increased speed gameplay (speed is increased the higher the distance)) and the inventive upgrades. I found myself saving up all my coins just to see what that next jetpack would feel like.
Angry Birds HD Free
You can’t have a list of best free mobile games without including Angry Birds. The game has been around for years and there are dozens of variations out but the original is still fun.
Slingshot birds at pigs and the structures they’re hiding in to score stars. There are a ton of levels in Angry Birds HD Free and absolutely no in-app purchases. However, you’ll have to put up with ads throughout the game. If you get sick of the advertisements, you can buy the paid version to get rid of them.
Developer Rovio has been adding new levels to the game since its launch so new players will be treated to an insane amount of content. There’s enough variation in gameplay from the differing environments to the types of birds to keep you playing for hours.
Candy Crush Saga
This deceptively simple Bejeweled clone will consume your life if you’re not too careful. The game starts off easy enough with a tutorial about combing three or more of the same candy type to eliminate them. Combining four of more of the same candy will create a “special” candy, when combined with other candies has various effects like exploding the surrounding area or eliminating candies in a horizontal or vertical line.
While the game is free-to-play, there are microtransactions in the game. You start off with five lives and will lose a life for every level you fail. It takes thirty minutes to gain back one life so you’ll be waiting for hours to play again if you run out of lives. You can speed up the process by buying in-game currency (no surprise here). Like a good drug dealer, Candy Crush gives you your first 50 gold bars, the game’s currency, for free after passing level 10. You can also buy special candy boosters to help you pass challenging levels.
The gameplay gets challenging very quickly and you’ll find it difficult to win without boosters. It’s frustrating and that’s what developer King hopes will fuel your purchase of in-game currency and special items.
This game is addicting and you’ll either give into the microtransactions or rage quit and uninstall it.
Dumb Ways To Die
Dumb Ways To Die is a dark, but hilarious game where you’ll die repeatedly but you won’t want to stop playing. You’re tasked with random challenges like swatting wasps away or tilting an astronaut to retrieve his helmet. The game gets progressively quicker until you inevitably die a gruesome death.
There’s no goal to the game except to chase your highest score. You can share your score with your friends for bragging rights.
Gameplay is quick and fun, but may get repetitive after a while since you’ll repeat challenges over and over again. There are different characters you can unlock to keep you coming back for more abuse.
TwoDots is the sequel to the popular Dots game. While the first game was a simple high score chase, TwoDots adds objectives and a whole ton of new challenges. It’s a much better game than the first and its challenging puzzle kept me coming back for more.
It’s free-to-play but you can pay for more lives or power ups. If you run out of lives, you’ll have to wait a while before your lives automatically replenish.
The puzzles get increasingly harder with objectives to eliminate a certain number of colors or to sink anchors all the way to the bottom. It’s this varying gameplay that keeps the game fresh, but it may take several tries to get through some of the harder levels.
The Simpsons: Tapped Out
EA’s town-builder is fun on a phone but even better on a tablet. Moving around Springfield feels so much better on a bigger screen.
The Simpsons: Tapped Out has been out for a long time, but remains fun because of the constant updates. There are also special events going on in-game and tons of content for you to unlock. They even spoofed Clash of Clans in one update.
Tapped Out is a free-to-play game so there are a ton of in-app purchases to help you speed up tasks or to purchase items. If you’re patient, you don’t need to spend any money but the gameplay might get grating if you’re stuck waiting around.
Still, there’s just so much content in the game that it’s worth checking out.
Asphalt 8: Airborne
Let’s be honest for a second. You’re not playing a racing simulator on your iPad because touch and accelerometer controls aren’t that accurate. There are a ton of fun arcade-style racing games for the iPad and the best free one is Asphalt 8: Airborne. Even though the game is free-to-play, you can race an indefinite amount of times without waiting for a silly gas gauge to fill up.
There are still plenty of in-app purchases and playing for free means you’ll be working hard to unlock cars, upgrades, and powerups. Still, Airborne is fun due to its varied gameplay modes like Infection, which turns one car into a “zombie” that gets points for infecting other players. Speaking of other players, you can go online to race in multiplayer challenges and there’s a global leader board to see how you compare to other racers around the world.
Zombie Catchers is a goofy game about an alien who comes to Earth to catch zombies to turn them into delicious desserts to sell to humans. The story is ridiculous, but its artwork and gameplay kept me coming back for more.
The game is part platformer and part restaurant manager. You send out robot drones to scan the surrounding areas for zombies to catch. Once zombies are found, you jump around the level luring zombies out of their hiding places with brains. You bring back the ones you catch to turn into various juices, ice creams, and other snacks.
The game is free-to-play so everything is time-based. It takes time to juice a zombie and time for your drones to find more zombies. You can speed things up by using the game’s premium currency, plutonium. You earn plutonium by leveling up and catching zombie so you don’t need to pay, but you’ll be waiting around for a long time if you run out of plutonium.
Despicable Me: Minion Rush
Minion Rush may be just another endless running game, but its beautiful level design and frequent updates make it the one you should be playing. You play as one of Gru’s minions from the movie Despicable Me. Your objective is to complete tasks like boss fights or running a required distance. Completing objectives helps you level up and collecting bananas in the levels help you purchase new costumes.
There’s a ton of content in the game and Gameloft frequently updates Minion Rush with seasonal levels and events. They’re constantly adding more levels, minions, and challenges to the game so there’s a lot to see.
The game is free and there’s no limit on how many times you can play, which is nice. You’ll have to spend real money to get some costumes but they don’t impact the gameplay that much.
Soccer fans already know that FIFA is a great game on consoles but the iPad game isn’t bad either. It’s free-to-play but you’ll have to spend money to unlock all the game modes.
There are some limitations in the control scheme, but the game is polished and remains fun after playing for hours. Tap to pass, swipe to shoot, and hold and drag a player to move. There are over 500 licensed teams, 30 leagues, and real soccer players for you to add to your team.
The graphics are good for a mobile but console players will be unimpressed. Still, FIFA 14 is a great way to play a few matches on the go.
Fairway Solitare HD
There’s no better way to waste some time than playing solitaire. The centuries old game has taken many forms over the years and there are quite a few to choose from.
Fairway Solitare HD doesn’t play like your traditional solitaire game. Instead of just having a stack of cards you have organize, you’re not playing on a golf course and you need to meet par by getting rid of all your cards as efficiently as possible.
You can stack cards that are one number lower or higher, making you rethink what you know about solitaire. The game is challenging and I like that Big Fish Games put a golfing spin on it. The only bad thing is that the game isn’t Retina Display optimized and looks fuzzy on high resolution iPads.
Live out your fantasies about being a train conductor in Pocket Trains. Developed by NimbleBit, the creators of Tiny Tower, Pocket Trains takes the same style of gameplay and transplants it into the world of trains. You start off with a couple of trains, delivering resources and people from destinations around Europe. You’ll soon unlock more trains and different types of freighters to make your job more efficient.
The gameplay of Pocket Trains is nuanced and layered, so you’ll keep trying to make your train empire more and more efficient. As your empire grows, you’ll expand across Europe and you can unlock different parts of the world by purchasing a license with in-game money.
Although Pocket Trains is free-to-play, you’re not pressured into buying the game’s premium currency called “Bux.” In fact, NimbleBit randomly throws premium currency at players who watch their trains roll through the countryside. Without using any Bux, you’ll be waiting around for things like refueling but it’s bearable. You can also increase the capacity of each city’s train station with Bux.