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 69p, 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 the last of your cash 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 best ignored?
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 70 free iPod touch and iPhone games.
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.
It's probably also worth noting Real Racing 3 is a free-to-play game. It's far more advanced than GTi, but it's also rather IAP-happy, so be warned.
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. Solomon's Keep
Reminiscent of a twin-stick shooter mashed into an RPG with a really big wand, Solomon's Keep has your wizard battle endless hordes of supernatural foes, with the help of your thumbs and some in-game spells. It's a bit like an overhead Diablo, or, if you're getting on a bit, a powered-up Gauntlet.
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, 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.
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. Alice in the Secret Castle
If brutally difficult old-school games are your thing, Alice in the Secret Castle will appeal. The game boasts 64 rooms of NES-style hell, with a curious game mechanic that hides walls when you hold the 'A' button. Progression therefore becomes a case of mastering taxing and relentless (but rewarding) puzzle-oriented platforming.
25. Fairway Solitaire
In this game, golf met solitaire and they decided to elope while leaving Mr. Puzzle Game to fill the void. What's left is an entertaining bout of higher-or-lower, draped over a loose framework of golf scores, with a crazed gopher attempting to scupper everything. You get a few courses for free with Fairway Solitaire and can use IAP to buy more.
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!
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 140+ MB footprint on your device. Galaga fanatics can unlock other remakes in the series via IAP.
Best free iPhone games: 36-70
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. Chuck's Challenge
Chuck's Challenge is a sweet puzzle game that challenges you to solve a few dozen overhead levels, which are essentially tightly designed logic puzzles. Mooch about, find keys, open doors, and try very hard not to get killed. If your spiky-haired character manages to survive, more level packs are available via IAP.
41. Draw Something Free
"No drawing skills required!," boasts the App Store description for Draw Something Free. You might argue otherwise when this app demands you draw something suitably tricky for your friends to guess, but can merely manage a red blob. Still, Pictionary plus iPhone plus social gaming equals 'must have' in gaming maths.
42. Temple Run
Top tip for any budding Indiana Jones types reading this: do not steal shiny things from temples guarded by demon monkeys, otherwise you will die. Still, if you're too stubborn to take our advice, use Temple Run for training, swiping and tilting your device until your on screen hero meets his inevitable demise.
We've no idea what's going on in ElectroMaster, beyond a bored girl trying to avoid responsibility by killing everything in sight with electro-blasts. The game's sort of like a twin-stick shooter but you tap-hold to charge and then release to let rip, dragging your finger about to fry your foes.
Games are short, but this is one of the most thrilling blasters on the system, despite it costing nothing at all.
44. Grim Joggers Freestyle
The original Grim Joggers was odd enough: 15 joggers jog for their lives in oddball environments, including a warzone, the Arctic, and an alien world. In the free Grim Joggers Freestyle, you get just one world, but it mashes up everything from the paid game into a surreal (but thoroughly enjoyable) endless survival game.
45. Frisbee Forever
Flinging a plastic disc can be dull in the real world, but in this whimsical game the classic toy gets to soar over desert canyons, through Ferris wheels and alongside pirate ships moored in sandy bays. Frisbee Forever is a flying disc game as Nintendo might have crafted it, with vibrant graphics, jolly music and simple but engaging gameplay.
46. Wind-Up Knight
Kings in fairytale lands have a screw lose, or perhaps just an odd desire to create the conditions for a tough videogame. In Wind-Up Knight, a princess has been kidnapped. Horrors! But rather than send an army, the king tasks a knight with rescuing her. Only he's fragile. And clockwork. And can't turn around.
Really, it's an excuse for puzzle-oriented swipe-based thrills, which demand near-perfect timing as the quest nears its end.
47. Hero Academy
Most developers create games from code, but we're pretty sure Hero Academy's composed of the most addictive substances known to man all smushed together and shoved on to the App Store.
The game's sort-of chess with fantasy characters, but the flexibility within the rule-set provides limitless scope for asynchronous one-on-one encounters. For free, you have to put up with ads and only get the 'human' team, but that'll be more than enough to get you hooked.
48. Greedy Bankers: Bailout!
A nod to our current financial woes, Greedy Bankers: Bailout! is all about greed. You swipe coloured gems together, to make bigger gems; tap and they explode in a shower of gold coins. Avoid the thief and beat the time limit to succeed. Extra modes are available via IAP, but the original—Arcade—should keep dollar signs in your eyes for a long while.
49. Tiny Tower
Social management games are big business, but are often stuffed full of cynical wallet-grabbing mechanics. While Tiny Tower does have the whiff of IAP to speed things along a bit, its tower-building and management remains enjoyable even if you pay nothing at all, and the pixel graphics are lovely.
50. Triple Town
Three bushes make a tree! Three gravestones make a church! OK, so logic might not be Triple Town's strong suit, but the match-three gameplay is addictive. Match to build things and trap bears, rapidly run out of space, gaze in wonder at your town and start all over again. The free-to-play version has limited moves that are gradually replenished, but you can unlock unlimited moves via IAP.
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.
52. Bejeweled Blitz
Before we played Bejeweled Blitz, we never knew precious gems were so 'explodey'. Still, here's the frantic member of the match-tree/gem-swap family, giving you one minute to obliterate as much shiny as possible, and then discover via online leaderboards that your chums are gem-smashing wizards.
53. Cool Pizza
Cool Pizza isn't so much endless running as endless weirdness. In a world of stark black, white and neon, a skateboarder catches air to hack oddball enemies (laser-spewing mini Cthulhus; rotating pyramids of doom) to death. The crunchy soundtrack adds to the sensory overload, resulting in one of the finest freebies on the platform.
54. Frisbee Forever 2
We already covered Frisbee Forever on this list, 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.
55. 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 'Oxtended Mode' IAP adds the rest of the standard game.
56. Subway Surfers
It looks a lot like Temple Run mashed into a children's cartoon show, but Subway Surfers plays a lot more like Run!, with its primarily linear leaping and sliding action. There are also plenty of power-ups to keep your graffiti-spraying hoodlum away from the chasing lawman and his faithful mutt. Just don't try this at home, kids, unless you want to redecorate a train with your innards.
The hero from the insane ElectroMaster returns, but this time she appears to be tasked with feeding sentient houses roaring "HUNGRY!" in a fairly rude manner.
Local monsters amble about, which can be snared by swiping over them with a surprisingly deadly pixie dust trail, whereupon they're handily converted into food to be collected. Much like ElectroMaster, HungryMaster feels like someone found a lost classic arcade game and squirted it into your iPhone, but forgot to charge you for it.
58. Temple Run 2
We have no sympathy for the heroes of Temple Run 2. Having presumably escaped from the demon monkeys in Temple Run, they steal more ancient and shiny goodies. This time, they're pursued by only one undead ape - but it's massive. Cue: more running/jumping/hopefully not falling over, and some new mine-cart and zip-line sections. Wheeee!
59. Jetpack Joyride
We're pretty certain if there's one thing you shouldn't be using for a joyride, it's a jetpack that's kept aloft by firing bullets at the floor. But that's the score in this endless survival game with decidedly tongue-in-cheek humour, not least the profit bird power-up, a rather unsubtle dig at certain App Store chart-toppers.
60. Chip Chain
This combo-oriented match game has a casino feel, and there is a certain amount of luck evident, not least in the way new chips are added to the table. But in carefully laying your own chips in Chip Chain, merging sets of three to increment their number, and wisely playing cards, you can amass high scores while simultaneously wondering why real casino games are rarely as much fun.
61. Score! World Goals
Take dozens of classic goals and introduce them to path-drawing and you've got the oddly addictive game of Score! World Goals. As you recreate stunning moments of soccer greatness, the game pauses for you to get the ball to its next spot. Accuracy rewards you with stars; failure presumably means you're compelled to take an early bath.
62. Groove Coaster Zero
Tap! Tap! Swipe! Rub! Argh! That's the way this intoxicating rhythm action game plays out. Groove Coaster Zero is all on rails, and chock full of dizzying roller-coaster-style paths and exciting tunes. All the while, you aim for prodding perfection, chaining hits and other movements as symbols appear on the screen. Simple, stylish and brilliant.
What's a 'priceberg'? It's the market value on a large floating mass of ice! We agree that's not the best pun in the world, but Frankenword is a really good word game, challenging you to create so-called 'frankenwords' from a selection of letters.
64. Snuggle Truck
For reasons unknown, cuddly toys are making a break for it, trying to get away from… something. We dread to think what cuddly toys are scared of, but we're willing to help them flee. The aim in Snuggle Truck, then: trials-like side-on hill-jumping with a truck, trying not to spill your cute chums along the way.
65. 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.
66. Cubed Rally Redline
The endless rally game Cubed Rally Redline is devious. On the surface, it looks simple: move left or right in five clearly-defined lanes, and use the 'emergency time brake' to navigate tricky bits. But the brake needs time to recharge and the road soon becomes chock full of trees, cows, cruise liners and dinosaurs. And you thought your local motorway had problems!
67. Whale Trail
There's something delightfully trippy and dreamy about Whale Trail, which features a giant mammal from the sea traversing the heavens, powered by rainbow bubbles, collecting stars with which to attack menacing angry clouds. The game's sweet nature disguises a challenging edge, though - it takes plenty of practice before your whale stays aloft for any length of time.
Games don't come any simpler than 1800. You try to stop a cursor in the dead centre of the screen, which rewards you with the maximum score. Any deviation and you'll be awarded with a lower number and have to try again… and again. This one might be insanely minimal but it's absurdly addictive.
All you have to do in ON/OFF is connect the switches using solid strings of coloured tiles. The problem is, you can't just draw the colours on - instead, you slide tiles around, thereby messing up connections you've already made. Within just a dozen levels, this one will trigger the switch that makes steam shoot out of your ears.
70. Clowns in the Face
Tennis in the Face had a racket-wielding hero saving a city from an evil energy drink corporation, mostly through smacking enemies in the face with tennis balls. This freebie version comes across like the protagonist's fever dream, placing him in a clown-filled hell, with only his fuzzy balls to save him.