Gaming on iOS is so big that the platform is becoming dominant enough to threaten the likes of Nintendo and Sony, long-reigning kings of the mobile gaming hill.
Yet for all iOS's gaming prowess, there's no escaping the fact the App Store has a lot of dross. Apple's relative openness, in enabling anyone to develop for the system, means there's almost no meaningful quality control. The flip-side is that previously undiscovered indie talent can find an outlet for frequently innovative fare.
Too often, though, people focus only on the negative, mistaking stories about in-app purchases and low-quality clones for evidence that there are no good games on iOS. But there are. In fact, the best games on iOS are among the very best on any platform, mixing traditional fare with titles that could only have appeared on a capable multi-touch device. Here are our current favourites…
1. Asphalt 8 (free)
Some time long ago, the gaming gods apparently decreed that racing games should be dull and grey, on grey tracks, with grey controls. Thankfully Gameloft chose to ignore their foolish omniscient notions - along with a large chunk of real-world physics - with Asphalt 8: Airborne. Here, then, you zoom along at ludicrous speeds, drifting for miles through exciting city courses, occasionally being hurled into the air to perform stunts that absolutely aren't acceptable according to the car manufacturer's warranty.
2. Badland ($3.99/£2.49)
This darkly humorous title at its core echoes copter-style games, in you prodding the screen to make your avatar fly. But the hazards and traps are devious and plentiful, imaginative and deadly contraptions in silhouette, ready to eliminate any passing creature. Your retaliation in Badland comes via cloning your flying monster, and figuring out how to manipulate the environment to bring as many clones home as possible.
3. Beat Sneak Bandit ($2.99/£1.99)
One thumb is plenty when a game's so cleverly designed. Beat Sneak Bandit is part rhythm-action, part platformer and part stealth game, with the titular hero aiming to steal back the world's clocks from the nefarious Duke Clockface. You move on the beat, rebounding off walls, and avoiding guards and alarms. It's clever, charming and brilliant.
4. Bejeweled (free)
We've lost count of how many gem-swappers exist for iOS, but PopCap's Bejeweled has a long history, its maturity reflected in this iPhone release. Along with a polished standard mode, where you match three or more gems with each swap, there's Diamond Mine (dig into the ground), Butterflies (save insects from spider-ronch doom), and Poker (make 'hands' of gems).
5. Beyond Ynth ($1.99/£1.49)
This fantastic platform puzzler stars a bug who's oddly averse to flying. Instead, he gets about 2D levels by rolling around in boxes full of platforms. Beyond Ynth hangs on a quest, but each level forms a devious test, where you must figure out precisely how to reach the end via careful use of boxes, switches and even environmental hazards.
6. Bit Pilot ($1.99/£1.49)
A pilot finds himself trapped inside a tiny area of space frequented by an alarming number of deadly asteroids. You must stave off death for as long as possible. Bit Pilot is the best of the iOS avoid 'em ups, with precise one- and two-thumb controls guiding your tiny ship, effortlessly dodging between rocky foes — until the inevitable collision.
7. Blackbar ($2.99/£1.99)
As much a warning about digital surveillance as a word-based puzzler, Blackbar is a unique and compelling iOS classic. The game comprises single screens of communications, many involving your friend who's gone to work in the city, which you soon learn is part of a worryingly oppressive society. You literally fill in the blanks, while becoming immersed in a stark dystopian reality that's fortunately still peppered with warmth, humour and humanity.
8. Blek ($0.99/69p)
Blek is akin to shepherding semi-sentient calligraphy through a series of dexterity tests. Each sparse screen has one or more dots that needs collecting, which is achieved by drawing a squiggle that's then set in motion. To say the game can be opaque is putting it lightly, but as a voyage of discovery, there are few touchscreen games that come close.
9. Boson X ($2.99/£1.99)
In what we can only assume is a totally accurate representation of what boffins in Geneva get up to, Boson X finds scientists sprinting inside colliders, running over energy panels and then discovering particles by leaping into the abyss. It's equal parts Super Hexagon, Tempest and Canabalt, and it's very addictive indeed.
10. Coolson's Pocket Pack ($0.99/69p)
This word puzzler's all about chaining. You drag tiles from the bottom of the well and make short words; do so without swapping any letters from the well's bottom row or the area you create the words and you start amassing huge points. Coolson's Pocket Pack is then a test of nerve, and your ability to not forget every single short word in the dictionary when under pressure.
11. CRUSH! ($1.99/£1.49)
CRUSH! is deceptive. At first, it appears to be little more than a collapse game, where you prod a coloured tile, only for the rest to collapse into the now empty space. But subtle changes to the formula elevate this title to greatness: the tiles wrap around, and each removal sees your pile jump towards a line of death. So even when tiles are moving at speed, you must carefully consider each tap.
12. Dark Nebula 2 HD ($2.99/£1.99)
One of the first titles to truly make use of the iPhone gyro, Dark Nebula was a beautiful tilt-based steampunk adventure and dexterity test, with you leading a strange craft through maze-like levels. Dark Nebula 2 ramped up the beauty and complexity, and the HD reissue added iPad and Retina support. The title still feels fresh and is perfectly suited to mobile, rewarding speed-runs and careful exploration of each level alike.
13. David. ($1.99/£1.49)
David. is a game that flirts with the conventional but comes across as half art piece, half brutally difficult action game. The eponymous hero is a simple square, charged with ridding the world of evil shapes. The controls broadly align with platform games, but David. goes all slow-motion when held, whereupon you can unleash colourful blobs of death on multi-angled foes. Tricky level design tests your ability to move, leap, plan, and tackle encroaching enemies while everyone's floating about as if immersed in water.
14. Death Ray Manta ($0.99/69p)
Akin to what Robotron might have looked like had its developer managed to recreate a 24-hour sherbet binge on-screen, Death Ray Manta is a wonderful, eye-searing twin-stick shooter. But whereas you initially think KILL ALL THE THINGS, each level contains a collectable 'tiffin'. Death Ray Manta therefore becomes both shooter and puzzler as you attempt to score the maximum 64 — and you've only got one life.
15. Device 6 ($3.99/£2.49)
Device 6 is first and foremost a story — a mystery into which protagonist Anna finds herself propelled. She awakes on an island, but where is she? How did she get there? Why can't she remember anything? The game fuses literature with adventuring, the very words forming corridors you travel along, integrated puzzles being dotted about for you to investigate. It's a truly inspiring experience, an imaginative, ambitious and brilliantly realised creation that showcases how iOS can be the home for something unique and wonderful.
16. Devil's Attorney ($1.99/£1.49)
A satirical take on 1980s lawyering, this turn-based strategy has you battling in court by using your legal skills on the opposition, who then fight back after you've exhausted your action points. Wins result in cash that can be spent on goods that boost your materialism, decadence and vanity, which results in new skills. Our verdict? Devil's Attorney is a very silly (or, depending on your outlook, entirely accurate) and compelling take on court-based sparring.
17. Eliss Infinity ($2.99/£1.99)
Eliss was the first game to truly take advantage of iOS's multitouch capabilities, with you combining and tearing apart planets to fling into like-coloured and suitably sized wormholes. Eliss Infinity, a semi-sequel, brings the original's levels into glorious Retina and adds a totally bonkers endless mode. Unique, challenging and fun, this is a game that defines the platform.
18. Frisbee Forever 2 (Free)
We were big fans of the original Frisbee Forever, with its Nintendo-like fling-a-plastic-disc about larks. Frisbee Forever 2's essentially more of the same, but prettier, smoother and with wilder locations in which to fly through hoops and collect stars. It's lovely and costs precisely zero pence, so download it.
19. Gridrunner (Free)
Jeff Minter is a shoot 'em up genius, and his Gridrunner series has a long history, starting out on the VIC-20, at the dawn of home gaming. This update riffs off classic Namco arcade machines but also shoves modern bullet-hell mechanics into a claustrophobic single screen. And in this version's survival mode, you have just one life. Argh! The 69p/99c 'Oxtended Mode' in-app purchase adds the rest of the standard game.
20. Hitman GO ($4.99/£2.99)
Square Enix would have been on a hiding to nothing converting its free-roaming 3D game to touchscreens, and so it's great to see the company do something entirely different with Hitman GO. Although still echoing the original series, this touchscreen title is presented as a board game of sorts, with turn-based actions against clockwork opposition. You must figure out your way to the prize, without getting knocked off (the board). It's an oddly adorable take on assassination, and one of the best iOS puzzlers.
21. Impossible Road ($1.99/£1.49)
A roller-coaster ribbon of road winds through space, and your only aim is to stay on it and reach the highest-numbered gate. But Impossible Road is sneaky: the winding track is one you can leave and rejoin, if you've enough skill, 'cheating' your way to higher scores. It's like the distillation of Super Monkey Ball, Rainbow Road and queue-skipping, all bundled up in a stark, razor-sharp package.
22. Leo's Fortune ($4.99/£2.99)
Leo's Fortune finds gruff hairball Leo in search of his gold, which has been dropped in a suspiciously trail-like manner across typically platform-game environments. As he scoops up coins, he finds himself whizzing round Sonic-style loops, solving puzzles by manipulating the environment, and negotiating increasingly complex and deadly pathways. It's a beautiful game, full of character, and well-suited to quick bursts on your iPhone.
23. Letterpress (Free)
What mad fool welds Boggle to tug o' war Risk-style land-grabbing? The kind who doesn't want anyone to get any work done again, ever, that's who. Letterpress is, simply, the best word game on the App Store. You make words to win points and temporarily 'lock' letters from your opponent by surrounding them. The result is a tense asynchronous two-player game with plenty of last-move wins and general gnashing of teeth when you realise 'qin' is in fact an acceptable word.
24. Limbo ($4.99/£2.99)
A boy awakens in hell, and must work his way through a deadly forest. Gruesome deaths and trial and error gradually lead to progress, as he forces his way deeper into the gloom and greater mystery. Originating on the Xbox, Limbo fares surprisingly well on iOS, with smartly designed controls; and its eerie beauty and intriguing environments remain hypnotic.
25. Magnetic Billiards (free)
A game that could have been called Reverse Pool For Show-Offs, Magnetic Billiards lacks pockets. Instead, the aim is to join like-coloured balls that cling together on colliding. Along the way, you get more points for trick shots and 'buzzing' other balls that must otherwise be avoided. 20 diverse tables are provided for free, and many more can be unlocked for $1.99/£1.49.
50 best iPhone games: 26-50.
26. Micro Miners ($1.99/£1.49)
Marrying the elegance of digging games like Where's My Water? with the semi-controllable critters from Lemmings, Micro Miners is a superb real-time puzzler. Initially simple, the game is soon complicated by the need to switch the colour of miners, collect objects, and avoid or utilise deadly gas and lava. It's extremely tough later on, but you'll see it through to the bitter end.
27. Mikey Hooks ($1.99/£1.49)
If iOS is supposed to be no good for traditional 2D platform games, it's a good job no-one told the developer of Mikey Hooks. The mechanics aren't a million miles away from Nintendo titles starring a certain plumber, but Mikey's also armed with a rope that can attach to hooks dotted about the levels, enabling him to speedily swing to glory. An emphasis on time-attack racing and surprisingly solid controls round out a first-rate title.
28. Monument Valley ($3.99/£2.49)
In Monument Valley, you journey through delightful Escher-like landscapes, manipulating the very architecture to build impossible paths along which to explore. It's not the most challenging of games (nor one with the most coherent of storylines), but each scene is a gorgeous and mesmerising bite-sized experience that showcases how important great craft is in the best iOS titles.
29. Need For Speed Most Wanted ($6.99/£2.99)
Racing games are all very well, but too many aim for simulation rather than evoking the glorious feeling of speeding along like a maniac. Most Wanted absolutely nails the fun side of arcade racing, and is reminiscent of classic console title OutRun 2 in enabling you to effortlessly drift for miles. Add to that varied city streets on which to best rivals and avoid (or smash) the cops, and you've a tremendous iOS racer.
30. New Star Soccer (Free)
Starting out as a fresh-faced teen in a lowly non-league side, your aim in New Star Soccer is to make your way to a top-flight club. Along the way, you get chances in each match to win balls and score goals. It's management-lite with fun playable highlights, and although there's a whiff of freemium in the energy model, New Star Soccer's top-of-the-table, if you're willing to put in a few bucks here and there.
31. Osmos ($2.99/£1.99)
This superb arcade puzzler is at times microscopic and at others galactic in nature, as you use the power of physics and time to move your 'mote' about. Some levels in Osmos are primordial soup, the mote propelled by ejecting bits of itself, all the while aiming to absorb everything around it; elsewhere, motes circle sun-like 'Attractors', and your challenge becomes one of understanding the intersecting trajectories of orbital paths.
32. Plants vs Zombies ($0.99/69p)
Yes, we know there's a Plants vs. Zombies 2, but some dolt infected that with a pointless time-travel gimmick and a freemium business model. The charming, amusing, silly and sweet original remains where it's at. For the uninitiated, you repel zombies with the power of hostile plants. Countless other defence titles exist for iOS, but PopCap's classic, Plants vs Zombies, is still the best.
33. PUK ($1.99/£1.49)
PUK reminds us of what someone with a minimalism fetish might make of Angry Birds, before speeding everything up to manic levels. Here, each level lasts mere seconds, as you frantically fling discs at portals; and then just as you've got into the groove, deadly black levels aim to throw you off balance. There are no cartoon squawks here — just pure, adrenaline-fuelled arcade action.
34. Rayman Fiesta Run ($2.99/£1.99)
The iOS Rayman games are considered by some to be reductive, overly simplifying console-style platforming to an instant runner with bells on. We instead consider Ubisoft's games distilled: they take the essence of platforming action — running, jumping, timing — and make it truly fit for mobile. Smart, varied level and character design, along with a well-considered unlock mechanism, ensure Rayman Fiesta Run's an iOS classic.
35. Ridiculous Fishing ($2.99/£1.99)
If Ridiculous Fishing is what fishing's really like, we've been missing out all these years. An angular fisherman casts his line into the inky gloom, where you cunningly avoid fish by tilting your device. Snag one and the hero reels the line back in, and you jerk your iPhone from side to side, aiming to catch as many fish as possible. At the surface, the catch is flung into the sky, to be blasted to pieces by powerful weaponry. Longevity's secured by an amusing in-game store and social network parody, along with several fishing spots to visit.
36. Rocket Robo ($0.99/69p)
It's not the most innovative game around, but Rocket Robo makes up for it with bags of character, smart level design, and tight controls. You guide your little floating droid about the place, collecting stars and swiping in and out of the screen. The first few levels are extremely simple, but you're soon introduced to complex, cunning layouts and plenty of gimmicks that add some real bite to the cutesy proceedings.
37. Smash Hit (free)
If you find catharsis in smashing things, Smash Hit will leave you in a totally blissed-out state. You float through the void, lobbing metal balls at glass objects, clearing a path and chaining collisions. Over time, the paths become increasingly complex, the camera begins to whirl, and the shots get very demanding, depleting your meagre resources. A single one-time 'premium' in app purchase upgrade exists should you want to start out on any sections of the journey you've managed to already reach.
38. SpellTower ($1.99/£1.49)
SpellTower is a fantastic word game that starts off easy. You get a grid of letters and remove them by dragging out words. Your only foe is gravity, letters falling into empty space as completed words disappear. But then come new modes, with ferocious timers and numbered letters that won't vanish unless you craft long enough words. And there always seem to be too many Vs!
39. Super Hexagon ($2.99/£1.99)
Ah, Super Hexagon. We remember that punishing first game, which must have lasted all of three seconds. Much like the next — and the next. But then we recognised patterns in the walls that closed in on our tiny ship, and learned to react and dodge. Then you threw increasingly tough difficulty levels at us, and we've been smitten ever since.
40. Super Monsters Ate My Condo
Logic? Pah! Sanity? Pfft! We care not for such things, yells Super Monsters Ate My Condo. It then gets on with turning the match-three genre and Jenga-style tower-building into a relentless time-attack cartoon fest of apartment-munching, explosions, giant tantrums and opera. No, really.
41. Super Stickman Golf 2 ($0.99/69p)
If you've often thought golf would be much better if it was played on Mars, or in a giant castle, or in dank caverns with glue-like surfaces, Super Stickman Golf 2 is the game for you. Its side-on charms echo Angry Birds in its artillery core, but this is a far smarter and more polished game. It also boasts two equally brilliant but different multiplayer modes: one-on-one asynchronous play and frantic multiplayer racing.
42. Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP ($4.99/£2.99)
Apple's mobile platform has become an unlikely home for traditional point-and-click adventures. Sword & Sworcery has long been a favourite, with its sense of mystery, palpable atmosphere, gorgeous pixel art and evocative soundtrack. Exploratory in nature, this is a true /adventure/ in the real sense of the word, and it's absolutely not to be missed.
43. Threes! ($1.99/£1.49)
Threes! is all about matching numbered cards. 1s and 2s merge to make 3s, and then pairs of identical cards can subsequently be merged, doubling their face value. With each swipe, a new card enters the tiny grid, forcing you to carefully manage your growing collection, and think many moves ahead. The ingenious mix of risk and reward makes it hugely frustrating when you're a fraction from an elusive 1536 card, but so addictive you'll immediately want another go.
44. Tiny Wings ($0.99/69p)
This sweet endless title stars a bird who loves to fly but doesn't have the wings for it. Instead, she uses gravity, sliding down hills and then propelling herself into the air from the top of adjacent slopes. Meanwhile, in another mode, her offspring are happily racing, bounding over lakes, eager to earn the biggest fish from their mother. Whichever route you take, Tiny Wings is a vibrant, warm and friendly experience.
45. Trainyard ($3.99/£2.49)
Trainyard is another devious puzzler that at first seems a cinch. Initially, you merely drag tracks to lead trains between stations of the same colour. But then rocks enter the fray, along with colour-mixing and train-splitting. Before you know it, you've 14 stations, seven trains, hazards aplenty and an aching brain from figuring out how to get all the trains home safely.
46. Monument Valley ($3.99/£2.99)
It might not be the most challenging game in the world, but Monument Valley is a short, sweet platformer that everyone should play through at least once. Its beautiful style is very Escher-esque, but even he'd have a hard time making his way through some of these labyrinths. More than worth its price.
47. Walking Dead (Free)
We do like a good zombie yarn, as long as we're not the subject matter, having just had our brains eaten. Walking Dead successfully jumped from comic to TV screen, and it's just as good in its interactive incarnation. The first part of the story is free, and you can then buy new episodes; if you survive, season 2 is also available.
48. WaveWave ($2.99/£1.99)
Wave Wave is cut from similar cloth as Super Hexagon. If anything, though, this demanding survival game is simpler and tougher than its forebear. It's a one-thumb affair, with you tapping to alter the direction of your line that zig-zags its way through a gauntlet of triangles as the screen lurches and spins. It's a mesmerising but utterly ferocious experience.
49. Year Walk ($3.99/£2.49)
Year Walk preceded the same developer's iOS masterpiece Device 6, but is equally daring. It's a first-person adventure of sorts, with more than a nod towards horror literature and, frankly, the just plain weird. It's unsettling, clever, distinctive and beautifully crafted — another unmissable and original touchscreen creation.
50. Zen Bound 2 ($2.99/£1.99)
One of the most tactile puzzlers around, Zen Bound 2 doesn't sound terribly exciting, in that you're wrapping sculptures in rope. But the atmosphere and polish combine with a nagging percentage bar, urging you to perfect each level. With no time limit, it's one of the more soothing puzzlers in this round-up, but it also never drifts towards the noodly.