It's safe to say that Apple's given the gaming industry a square kick in the tender regions.
Despite their bluster, dismissing Apple in every way possible, Sony and Nintendo are both clearly concerned by the meteoric rise of iPod touch and iPhone as handheld gaming devices.
Although great games are the driving force behind the success of Apple gaming, low prices have also helped. Most 'premium' titles cost six quid or less, and many developers end up in a race to 59p, thereby providing games that'd cost 20 quid on a rival platform for the price of a Kit-Kat.
But what if you've spent your last penny on your shiny Apple object of desire? Can you get great games for nothing at all, or is the 'free' section of the App Store full of the kind of games that would make a ZX81 blush?
The answer is, of course, both, and the trick is finding the gems amongst the dross. What follows is our pick of the bunch - our top 40 free iPod touch and iPhone games.
You can also check out the run down in video form:
brightcove : 968441163001
This wonderful ngmoco title used to cost a few quid, but Dropship is now free and is one of the App Store's biggest bargains. The game is a modern take on Gravitar or Thrust, with your ship battling gravity and shooting gun emplacements while searching complex vector-based cave formations for marooned allies.
The 'touch anywhere' dual-thumb controls take some getting used to, but the game feels fluid and exciting once they're mastered.
2. Dr. Awesome Plus
Another ngmoco game, Dr. Awesome uses a hateful forced Plus+ account sign-up, but get past that and you find a compulsive title that smashes together ancient arcade classic Qix and surgery game Trauma Centre. Dr. Awesome's gameplay centres around removing viruses by tilting your device to 'cut out' infections.
Gameplay is fast and furious and, oddly, your Address Book contacts are used for patient names, so you can always choose to sacrifice your high score and off your boss in the virtual world.
3. Flood-It! 2
Flood-It! 2 meets the rules of great puzzlers: keep things simple, but make the game so challenging that your brains start to dribble out of your ears. In Flood-It!, you tap colours to 'flood' the board from the top-left, aiming to make the entire board one colour using a limited number of taps.
This release offers additional modes over the original Flood-It! (timers, obstacles, finishing with a defined colour), and offers schemes for colour-blind players.
From the moment you first launch the game, the level of polish and attention to detail is obvious. In all of the six included games, the graphics are clean and clear, the controls are intuitive and responsive, and the built-in help is informative.
5. Cube Runner
The accelerometers in Apple handhelds have driven development of myriad tilt-based racing games, but tilt controls can be finicky. Cube Runner, however, feels just right as you pilot your craft left and right through cube-littered landscapes, aiming to survive for as long as possible.
The game doesn't look like much, but it plays well, and longevity is extended by Cube Runner enabling you to create and download new levels.
Hornet Smash includes a level from that game, but its main draw is the frenetic arcade minigame. Still controlling our eight-legged hero, the aim is to fend off attacks by swarms of angry hornets, while weaving webs and munching tasty lacewings for health boosts. Three environments are included in this compelling and innovative title.
7. Real Racing GTi
Firemint's Real Racing is one of the best racing games for Apple handhelds, but it's also demanding, requiring a lot of time investment. Real Racing GTi dispenses with much of the depth, but retains its parent's fun gameplay, user-friendly controls and great graphics.
Three modes are on offer - time trial, quick race, and a cup championship over three tracks—ensuring this game is the best free arcade racer on the App Store.
8. MazeFinger Plus
Again, the forced Plus+ account sign-up is hateful, but it's worth persevering to get to this addictive game, where you "unleash the awesome power of your finger," according to the App Store blurb.
The aim is to drag your finger from the start to the finish of each simple maze. The problem is you're against the clock and obstacles litter your path. Great graphics and 200 levels of compelling gameplay ensure you'll be glued to your screen.
Almost entirely lacking in depth, Dactyl is nonetheless one of the most furiously addictive games on the App Store. A gloriously demented Whack-A-Mole-style effort, Dactyl merely tasks you with tapping red bombs to stop them exploding.
Almost immediately, though, red bombs arrive thick and fast, forcing you to keep track and tap them in order, to avoid the inevitable 'game over'.
Trace is a sweet, inventive platform game which has you navigating hand-drawn obstacles to reach the star-shaped exit. The twist is that you can draw and erase your own platforms, to assist your progress.
With an emphasis on time-based scores rather than lives and the ability to skip levels, Trace is very much a 'casual' platform game, but it's none the worse because of it.
11. 3D Checkers
This game's title tells you most of what you need to know: it's checkers—in 3D! What it doesn't say is that 3D Checkers is a really great recreation of the popular board game, with two board types (traditional and metal), three levels of AI, and multiplayer (single-device or Bluetooth).
Buganoids resembles a NES game where the author decided to mash together random bits from various arcade classics. You patrol tiny planets, blasting 'across' them to kill nasty bugs. The gameplay's reminiscent of Gyruss and Tempest, and although the controls sometimes feel a little off, the game's always fun for a quick blast.
13. You Cruise by Mazda MX-5
This game has no right to be any good. You Cruise is essentially an advert for Mazda, and ad-oriented games are usually rubbish and play it safe. But here you get to hurtle round eight courses in a sports car, with the gameplay resembling a mini Sega Rally. It also helps that the controls—auto-acceleration, steering at each edge, and a brake pedal at each corner - are some of the best of any iOS racer.
One for pool sharks, Bankshot tasks you with sending your orb to a goal by bouncing it off of at least one wall. A few different modes are on offer in this attractive neon-style game, but the best is Blitz, a high-octane time-attack affair.
15. 10 Pin Shuffle (Bowling) Lite
A curious mix of ten-pin bowling, shuffleboard and poker, 10 Pin Shuffle proves surprisingly addictive. You get two cards for each strike and one for each spare, and whoever has the best hand at the end of the tenth frame wins.
16. Lux Touch
Quickfire Risk clone Lux Touch isn't exactly a champion in the smarts department - the AI's pretty easy to outfox - but it's perfect ten-minute fodder for Risk fanatics. The graphics are clear, the board is responsive, and the game's also universal, for if you want to install it on your iPad.
17. iCopter Classic
There are loads of one-thumb copter games on the App Store, and while this isn't the best (Super Turbo Action Pig and Pudge fight for that honour), iCopter Classic is without doubt the finest free variant. It's also fast and responsive as you go about helping your helicopter (or—in the unlockable themes—bee, submarine, spaceship or football) survive for as long as possible without smashing into something.
18. Cell Splat
So you think you're observant? Cell Splat will test that claim to the limit. The game distills 'match' games to their purest form. You get a target shape or colour, and, against the clock, must tap all matching items in the well. Quite why this frantic, great-looking, fun, addictive game is free, we don't know; we just suggest you download it immediately.
Like Cell Splat, InvaderR streamlines and hones a popular game, but this time it's Space Invaders. Like Taito's original, aliens are out to get you, but in InvaderR you have it tough. While the invaders are content to stay out of reach, it's 'game over' the second you're hit by a projectile. This turns InvaderR into a compelling and exciting score-attack game.
20. Whacksy Taxi
Although it looks like a 1980s racer, Whacksy Taxi also has much in common with platform games. You belt along absurdly straight highways, avoiding traffic by dodging or leaping it. Variety's added by power-ups, new background graphics when you reach a stage's end, and several bonus zones that also provide extra challenge.
Best free iPhone and iPod touch games: 21-40
21. Volkswagen Think Blue Challenge
Most racing games are about tearing round corners at high speed, your only concern being to not smash into things. Think Blue turns the genre on its head, providing you with limited fuel. The game becomes a unique and intriguing survival-based challenge as you try to eke out an extra few metres each go.
Hoggy resembles VVVVVV smashed into Nintendo's Kirby, combining platforming and puzzles. The game tasks you with grabbing fruit within jars that are peppered around a maze. Complete a jar and you get a key; with a certain number of keys, new maze areas open up. Although occasionally a mite frustrating, Hoggy's a great-looking, fun and innovative freebie.
23. Bam Bam Dash
Imagine Monster Dash with the cast of The Flintstones and you've got Bam Bam Dash. Your auto-running caveman has to avoid plummeting to his death and being eaten by things with sharp teeth. Nice graphics and helpful dinosaurs you can ride add extra flavour to the game.
24. Poker Race
To say Poker Race is somewhat lacking would be an understatement - it's bereft of sound, options, polish and online scores. It is, however, oddly addictive. You and 'the computer' take turns choosing a hand from cards that randomly appear; the better the hand, the further your car moves. The first to the finish line wins.
25. Minimalist Shooter
Tilt to Live took the twin-stick format pioneered by Robotron: 2084 and subverted it, removing your weapon and having you rely on colliding with contact-based explosives to destroy lethal foes. Minimalist Shooter is along the same lines, but it's free and resembles a pyrotechnic abstract art display.
It's clear you'll never see Nintendo games on iOS, but PicoPicoGames is the next best thing: a collection of tiny, addictive NES-like minigames. Frankly, we'd happily pay for scrolling shooter GunDiver and the Denki Blocks-like Puzzle; that they're free and joined by several other great games is astonishing.
27. Escape from NOM
Another entry in the physics game genre, Escape from NOM differentiates itself by lacking a price-tag but nonetheless rolling in nice graphics and gameplay. The aim is to drop 'Alan' and use obstacles and bumpers to get him safely into coloured goo at the bottom of the screen. However, he must be the same colour as said goo when he reaches it and avoid hungry NOMs.
28. Need For Cheese
This tilt-based avoid 'em up has you steering clear of cats (especially red ones that home in on you), munching cheese and grabbing power-ups to smash evil cats off the screen. Need For Cheese is simple, but a first-rate quickfire highscore game that rivals Bit Pilot for best-in-class.
29. Froggy Jump
At first, Froggy Jump seems like Doodle Jump, starring a frog. That's probably because Froggy Jump pretty much is Doodle Jump, starring a frog. However, its character, unique items, themes and lack of price-tag makes it worth a download, especially if you're a fan of vertically scrolling platform games.
Another game showing that simplicity often works wonders on mobile titles, SlamDunk is a straightforward side-on basketball game. The time-attack nature of the title gives it oomph, though, and there's also the option for online competition against players worldwide.
31. Trainyard Express
Developer Matt Rix is bonkers. That's the only explanation for Trainyard Express, which isn't so much a demo version of the wonderful Trainyard as an entirely separate edition.
The mechanics are great: draw tracks to lead trains to like-coloured stations, combining or crossing them on the way, as necessary. It starts out easy, but soon hurts your brain, and the 60 puzzles aren't repeated in the paid-for version. Bargain.
32. Putt Golf
Anyone can whack a ball with a stick - real skill comes from putting. (Cue: enraged golfers attacking TechRadar Towers with pimped-out golf carts.) In Putt Golf, you get an oscillating targeting system, prod to putt, and then use tilting to amend the ball's path with digital Jedi-mind skills as it trundles towards the hole. Three game modes; hugely addictive.
33. Top Trumps Collection
If you spent a good part of your childhood wondering if the length of a Triceratops was enough to defeat your opponent's hidden dinosaur card, Top Trumps Collection will inject nostalgia directly into your brain. The AI can be a tad suspect, but this is nonetheless a decent reworking of the classic card game, with multiple modes of play and additional packs available via IAP.
What do you get if you cross Drop7 with Zynga? A free version of Drop7! Luckily, the game's far more entertaining than that attempt at a joke: drop numbered discs into a grid and watch them explode when the number of discs in a column or row matches numbers on the discs. Drive yourself mad trying to boost your score by chaining! Forget to eat! (Also: ignore the bugs!)
35. Galaga 30th Collection
In the old days, invaders from space were strange, remaining in a holding pattern and slowly descending, enabling you to shoot them. By the time of Galaxian, the aliens realised they could swoop down and get you, and Galaga 30th Collection is the game you get here, with minor updates that improve its graphics and pace, albeit for a weighty 135 MB footprint on your device. Galaga fanatics can unlock other remakes in the series via IAP.
36. Candy Train
The cute little train is out of Control! Eek! Rotate pieces of track in Candy Train to help the chuffing hero collide with gigantic sweets, which results in points rather than a candy-based derailing disaster on the 6 o' clock news.
It's a little-known fact that baseball mostly involves trying to hit colourful birds flying overhead and bananas lobbed in your direction by a mischievous fan. But X-Baseball provides a perfect, accurate one-thumb iOS recreation of America's favourite banana-thwacking pastime. (What?)
38. Rogue Runner
Rogue Runner is another one of those endless games, where you leap over gaps and shoot things until you fall down a chasm and ponder why your in-game avatar doesn't learn to stop once in a while. Rogue Runner stands out by offering a ton of skins and a smart overhead dodge-and-shoot variation, which is a bit like Spy Hunter if someone knocked the original arcade cabinet on its side - the vandal.
39. Road Hog
It's another one of those endless games, but this one has you… moving into the screen. Actually, Road Hog's a bit more than that, because you can move left and right, jump, use power-ups and grab stars to boost your score. Therefore, the game's a bit closer to a 3D Mario, if he was in a car that he drove recklessly along an endless road. Which we're pretty sure is what he does on his day off.
40. Vector Tanks (Classic Version)
In 1980, Ed Rotberg and some chums at Atari created Battlezone, the earliest 3D viewpoint shoot 'em up. Vector Tanks nicely recreates its glowing neon tank battles and tread controls, along with chucking some power-ups into the mix for extra destruction.
If you want to go Extreme! (voiceovers, more power-ups, an extra - totally mental - game mode), there's a 69p commercial version too.