iMore’s authoritative guide to the very best, absolutely free games for your iPhone and iPod touch
Looking for even more free games for your iPhone or iPod touch? It goes without saying that the iPhone and iPod touch are a massively popular gaming platform -- and you told us they deserve more than a small mention in our top free iPhone apps post. So, we dove back into the App Store and found the very best free strategy games, free shooter games, free sports games, free casual games, free physics games, free action games, free role-playing games, and free racing games for iPhone and iPod touch!
Expect regular updates and fresh category additions down the road as well. Keep in mind that most titles listed here thrive on in-app purchases. You can absolutely play them for free, but you may get annoyed by "freemium" up-sells. Others are "lite" versions with limited content, and while they're also completely free, you'll be limited in what you can do. Still, they're a great way to test the waters and have some fun before deciding to buy (or unlock) full versions.
Without further ado, here are our favorite free games for iPhone.
- Best free strategy games for iPhone
- Best free shooter games for iPhone
- Best free sports games for iPhone
- Best free casual games for iPhone
- Best free physics games for iPhone
- Best free action games for iPhone
- Best free role-playing games for iPhone
- Best free racing games for iPhone
Hero Academy is a turn-based, multiplayer-only tactical combat game that pits cartoony armies against one another. Each side gets five actions points every turn to move their troops, kit them out with gear, cast spells and otherwise attack opposing units on the board. Each player (online, either random or a designated buddy) has one or more crystals they must defend while trying to destroy the other side's. You can also win by running your opponent out of reinforcements, as each side only gets so many of each type every game.
Hero Academy includes The Council army (humans) for free, but charges for the others, such as Dwarves, Dark Elves and The Tribe (orcs). You can also pay for fancy army-themed avatars as well as taunts to make your soldiers jeer after a turn.
Spice Bandits is probably the best tower defense game I've ever played. You take on the of an adorable little space pirate, plundering various locations on Earth to gather up as much spice as possible. Of course, pesky humans aren't interested in letting you get away with that, and attack your various strongholds in waves, while you have to defend with various kinds of towers. Maps have a variety of themes and terrain qualities, making every round a new experience. Over time, you gather spice which can be spent on new kinds of turrets (provided you're a high enough level and have the prerequisite turrets purchased). Spice can also be used to deck out your alien avatar in some swanky threads.
As you level up, you get upgrade points (which can also be bought with spice) to customize your play style as you see fit - cheaper turrets, faster rate of fire or more mesmerizing disco music are just a few options. Spice Bandits lets you buy spice through in-app purchases, which also eliminates ads between levels.
Triple Town is a simple puzzle game where you place various kinds of greenery on a small grid so that you can line up three of a kind and have them merge into another object. For example, three patches of grass make a shrub, three shrubs make a tree, three trees make a house, and so on. Occasionally, you'll have to put down bears, which block building on squares until you're able to corral them into a confined area. You keep building until you run out of squares to build on, which actually takes awhile since the board is continually shifting with sets merging together and opening up space.
Triple Town is monetized by providing only a limited number of placements. Your move count regenerates over time, but you can pay for more turns, or simply buy unlimited turns for $3.99. The coins you earn through gameplay can also be spent on buying particular items, like bots, which can eliminate pesky bears with a single tap.
Gun Bros is a run-and-gun dual-stick shoot-em-up where you and your bro (either AI or through online multiplayer) blast through waves of incoming enemies. Each level you earn coins to spend on guns and gear to change your damage output, speed, health, and other characteristics. You also gather up a mineral called Xplodium, which can be refined into coins; higher grades of refineries can provide a higher coin output. A recent update added the ability to turn on your bro and go head-to-head in deathmatch mode, if you're feeling less than friendly.
Warbucks are a separate type of currency used to buy particularly high-end gear. You can earn them through in-app purchases, watching video ads, or converting a ton of the regular coins at the bank.
MetalStorm: Wingman is a flight combat game with full multiplayer support, AirPlay compatibility and accelerometer and swipe controls. As you play through the campaign mode, head-to-head multiplayer dogfight mode, or endless survival mode, you earn credits which can be used to buy various types of missiles, cannons, and new jets focusing on defense, agility, or firepower. Don't get too trigger-happy, since your ammunition is limited. If you're not into shooting down your buddies, you can also invite Game Center wingmen to play through the campaign levels co-operatively.
A lot of the hardware upgrades require you to use premium coins, which are sold in batches for $0.99 and up or earned through regular gameplay.
Frontline Commando is an on-rails third-person shooter about a gung-ho military man left behind enemy lines. You dodge behind cover with single taps, and pop out to take aim and eliminate nonspecific middle eastern insurgents. Don't get too attached to that wall you're hiding behind though, since it can be destroyed as a firefight drags on, and grenades can quickly flush you out into the open. When you level up, new weapons are unlocked for purchase, plus you get a few bars of gold, which can be used to buy premium items. Weapon upgrades span assault weapons, sniper rifles, shotguns, and grenade launchers, each with their own set of damage, clip size, reload speed, and accuracy attributes.
You can also increase survivability with medkit purchases and body armor upgrades. When things get too hot, you can buy airstrikes to clear out the immediate area. Both "war cash" and gold can be bought through in-app purchases.
Baseball Superstars 2012
Baseball Superstars 2012 is a whimsically exaggerated baseball game with Japanese-style characters and dialog. While the game keeps tabs on minute details, such as batting averages, running speed, stamina, and confidence levels, there are some more cartoony encounters with "super players", with ridiculous anime costumes and powers. As a batter, you can control where you swing by tilting the iPhone, but don't worry, you won't actually have to swing it like a bat - just tap the screen at the right moment. Pitching is done through a series of swipes within a box. You'll encounter plenty of challenges, including injuries which require recuperation in a hospital, managing your team roster, and playing against friends online. Personally, I found this game impossibly hard when set on normal difficulty, but I'm not a sports guy. Baseball fans will love it, though. For more baseball-themed apps, check out our ballgame roundup over here.
Through in-app purchases, you can get G points, which are spent on character items, training sessions to improve your stats, or even buy levels for your batter or pitcher.
NFL Pro 2012
NFL Pro 2012 is a full-fledged football game complete with leagues, playbooks, and extensive rosters based on real players and teams. Your players gain experience and level up as you go, letting you improve their stats in a number of areas, like run blocking, catching, awareness, and agility. Every down, you pick a play available (either offensive or defensive), and while you manually control one player, the AI handles the rest. Controls during play are dead simple, but most of your time will be spent flipping through and picking plays. Unfortunately, your selection is really limited to start, and it takes an obscene number of credits to permanently keep playbooks.
Every game you play uses up energy, which you can replenish or time or through in-app purchases. Experience points to level up your players can also be bought, along with credits to buy new playbooks, stadiums, gain access to new teams, divisions, and conferences, and extend quarter lengths.
Real Soccer 2012
Real Soccer 2012 offers a wide variety of gameplay types in a fast-paced, realstic package. The core controls are laid out with a standard virtual joystick and sprint, pass and shoot buttons, but progresses in complexity with fancy gesture-based maneuvers. You can unlock a variety of different cups, starting with International, and working your way to Asian, African, American, and European cups, plus there's regional league play unlocked as you play and level up. Just remember that you're limited by how many matches you can play by a stamina rating, which recovers over time. Loading screens have bits of trivia, and occasionally test your own football, err, soccer knowledge with a multiple choice quiz.
Playing Real Soccer 2012 earns you coins which can be used to purchase new soccer balls that provide a variety of different bonuses, like extra XP per match. "Cash" is Real Soccer 2012's premium currency, which can be traded in for international teams, additional stamina, team stat boosts, access a few select stadiums, and even the ability to clear all yellow cards.
Tiny Tower is a really simple social management game with 8-bit-style graphics. Your job is to populate a tower with bitizens, assign them jobs relevent to their skills, keep their respective businesses stocked, and build more floors on top of your building. Over time, your bitizens earn you money which can be spent on purchasing new stock for various types of stores, or for putting the next storey onto your tower. You'll need to ferry bitizens from the ground floor with the elevator if you'll ever want to move new people in, plus once in awhile VIPs will provide you extra bonuses, like knocking off a few hours from your restocking time.
Tiny Tower occasionally gives you Towerbucks for handling the elevator, which can be used to hurry restocking, construction, or elevator upgrades. Towerbucks can also be bought through in-app purchases.
Draw Something is a hugely popular Pictionary-style game. You pair up with a friend, and one gets a word which they have to draw out, while the other tries to guess what it is. The one doing the drawing gets to pick one of three words offered to them, each with a different difficulty rating. The higher the difficulty, the more stars both players earn when successfully guessed. The guessing player has a limited number of letters to play with, which actually makes a Draw Something a bit of a word game, too. The funnest part is that you get to watch the replay of the other side struggling to guess or draw. Recently the game's been updated with the option to undo brushstrokes and the ability to share your painstakingly-drawn creations.
As is, Draw Something provides only a limited palette of colors, but you can buy more through in-app purchases. You can also buy bombs, which are used to offer a fresh selection of words if you're drawing, or eliminate letters to chose from if you're guessing.
GodFinger is a fun little world control game where you tend to a little planet full of villagers. By spinning around a cross-section view, you make sure they're happy and productive, and check in on them time to time to collect the gold they generate. That gold goes to upgrading their homes which can house more people, who then, in turn, produce more money. Of course, you have to tend to their needs, like providing rain and sun for the farms, as well as altars to worship you from. To accomplish all of this, you do these gesture-based miracles, but they burn up Awe points, which regenerate over time, or can be bought through the app store.
Over time, you complete missions, gain experience points, and expand the surface area of your planet. You can have a lot of fun around your world by raising and lowering the ground, decorating the planet with appropriate and flinging your hapless devotees beyond the horizon.
Cut the Rope Free
Cut the Rope is a popular game that involves dropping a piece of candy into a hungry green creature's mouth by slicing rope with swipe gestures. While the candy's dangling and swinging, you use nearby tools such as magic hats and air puffers to avoid obstacles, like candy-devouring spiders and destructive spikes. If you can get the candy to pass through any of the three stars on the level, you gain bonus points and bragging rights, but they're strictly optional.
Though you only get 18 levels in the free version, the full version with 250 levels is only $0.99.
Fruit Ninja Lite
Fruit Ninja is a well-known slice-and-dice game where you swipe through various kinds of fruit as they sail through the air. You get bonus points for chopping through four or more fruit at once, but you have to make sure to avoid the bombs that get tossed in every now and then. Different kinds of bonus fruit can really help out, such as the freeze banana, which slows the movement of everything the screen, making for easy targets.
In the free version, you get Classic mode in which you only get to let three fruit hit the ground, but the paid version, available for $0.99, includes a Zen mode where you cut up as much fruit as you can within a limited time frame, among other game modes.
Angry Birds Free
Angry Birds is the quintessential physics game for iPhone, wherein a group a birds suicidally fling themselves into rickety buildings so that the pigs inside that stole their eggs can suffer a terrible, terrible demise. Every level you get a selection of birds that you slingshot towards structures at varying angles and velocities. The birds available each level can have different properties - for example, the yellow one dive-bombs when you tap the screen while it's in mid-flight, while the blue one splits into three. You're scored based on how few birds you use to clear the level, as well as how much destruction you cause in the process.
The free version of Angry Birds gives you a total of 24 levels, but you'll need to drop $0.99 in order to get tons more. Keep mind that there are a lot of different free versions of Angry Birds available, including a seasonal one, a space-themed game, and one based on the Disney movie Rio. Try 'em all if you're looking for variety.
Jetpack Joyride is a side-scrolling evasion game with simple one-button controls and a great sense of style. You play as a rebellious bureaucrat named Barry who's tired of the work at his top-secret military lab, and decides to snag the company's experimental jetpack for a jaunt through the facilities. Holding your finger on the screen puts the gas on the jetpack, letting you elevate over obstacles such as laser security systems and incoming missiles. Along the way, you'll also be able to snag other experimental vehicles, including the Crazy Freaking Teleporter, and the Profit Bird which is powered by concentrated satire.
You earn coins based on how far you make it through, but can also pick up loose coins through the level. You even earn more through completing missions, like high-fiving the scrambling scientists on the ground floor. Those coins are spent on new jetpacks, outfits, and soon gadgets, all available through in-app purchases stored in The Stash. Of course, you can buy more coins through in-app purchases, too.
Temple Run is a dead-simple platform game where you sprint through ancient ruins while being chased by displeased spirits. You turn corners, duck under obstacles, and leap over pits with swipe gestures while collecting coins along the way. There's a bit of accelerometer control, so you can snag coins in the middle or to the left or right side of corridors by tilting the iPhone, but for the most part, you're just relying on twitch reflexes. Gameplay can be extremely bite-sized, but still amply rewarding.
The coins you collect while temple-running (or in-app purchasing) can earn you power-ups like speed boosts, new unlockable characters, and even exclusive wallpapers.
Cordy Sky is a jumping game where you're an adorable little robot trying to get from the ground of an alien planet to a docked spaceship so you can continue on your intergalactic mission. Small bouncy platforms aid your ascension, but be careful, otherwise you drop down to the bottom and have to start all over. Luckily, you have a fellow robot called Volt that can grab you if you drop too far, but only if you've collected the appropriate token while climbing skyward. Your trip is split up into five sections, the end of each being marked by a fuel cell you need to get the spaceship running again. Controls are are either through virtual buttons, tilt, or swiping.
As you go, you collect gears, which can buy one-time boosts, permanent power-ups, or vanity costumes. Of course, you can always just buy gears through in-app purchases, but you can get by perfectly well on your own. Despite the kiddy graphics, the game is actually pretty challenging at points.
Six-Guns is an open-world multiplayer western. You embark on missions for beleaguered commonfolk, handling the likes of bandits and supernatural nasties to bring some iotum of peace to the wild west. Combat is straightforward revolver shooting with a virtual joystick and a few buttons. You're rewarded for your deeds, of course, and can use the coin you earn to equip new weapons, fresh threads, and buy new horses to expedite your trips between towns.
In addition to being able to buy in-game currency through in-app purchases, you can also get Sheriff Stars, which access high-end gear and auto-complete missions, though you can also earn them through watching ads. You're even able to buy experience points and health boosts, if you're having trouble getting through a particular quest.
Star Legends is a free-to-play massively multiplayer online sci-fi game where you partner up with fellow intergalactic travelers to take on a variety of space menaces. You build an avatar with a few basic options, like hair style and face type, then embark on quests to earn experience points, level up, gain new abilities, and earn equipment. The social element is very rich, with full support for guilds, and plenty of common spaces. Every mission you play is automatically instanced, so others people freely spawn in to help you out. Daily missions, implant crafting, and a ton of people to chat with insure you'll always have a reason to come back for more.
Platinum is the premium in-game currency, and is shared across accounts if you happen to play Pocket Legends as well. You can spend it on vanity items, like fancy jetpacks and robot pets, but you can also spend the the coins you earn through regular gameplay to keep your equipment in good repair and up-to-date.
Zenonia 4 is a classic role-playing game with an ongoing over-arching plot from previous titles, top-down 2D perspective, and sharp anime-style graphics. Although it's missing the tried-and-true turn-based fighting you see in a lot of RPGs, the real-time combat keeps the pace fast and furious - especially in player versus player situations. There are plenty of quests to grind through, progressively earning you more experience points, cash, and gear, though dying reduces equipment durability and experience points, which pushes players into preventative in-app purchases.
Zen and gold can both be bought with real cash. Zen points are used to purchase expanded inventory space and special power-boosting gems (among other things), while gold buys more mundane gear. Some kinds of armor can only be acquired through player versus player battles, but it's entirely possible to stick solely with the single-player campaign.
Forever Drive is a sharp, polygonal top-down racing game with a cool abstract art style. The controls are simple and fluid, with options for tilt, tap, or d-pad. You're scored based on how many stars you pick up and how tightly you hug highlighted shoulders, but don't get too wild; you have a limited amount of time to get through as many tracks as possible. That means you need to drive smart and avoid the civilian traffic that explode in a Tron-esque display if you so much as nudge them.
One of the core elements of Forever Drive is the track builder. It's pretty simple - you draw a line from one end of a square to the other, pepper some scenery along the sides, and the highlighted turns, varied elevation, stars, and extra traffic are added in automatically. You then have the option to share these tracks online, which then randomly compose the arcade mode of other players. When you play, you get fed a series of user-built tracks which you can rate up or down after you're done driving them.
There are also weekly leagues where you have a chance to win in-game currency, with which you can buy a few unlocks, but the vast majority of car bodies, variations, and paint jobs are earned by gaining experience points throughout gameplay. I was really happy with Forever Drive, and I'd go so far as to say it's one of the better games I found when hunting for the best free iPhone games out there. Definitely check it out.
Snuggle Truck is a simple side-scrolling racing game where you're trying to drive a bunch of stuffed animals to the zoo in a pick-up truck without having them bounce out of the back along the way. It sounds like it's for kids, but the game was originally called Smuggle Truck, where the premise was to get Mexicans to America where a better life awaited them. Obviously Apple wasn't a fan, so the developer changed it up, though the core gameplay remained the same. You tap left or right to put your foot on the gas or back up, and tilt your iPhone to make sure your truck lands evenly when sailing through the air. Like Forever Drive, there's a treasure trove of user-generated courses, all ripe for the downloading and rating. You can build your own courses, complete with power-ups, obstacles, and waypoints where new fuzzy animals are tossed at you to catch in mid-transit.
Through in-app purchases, you can drive flashier pick-up trucks, but the vast majority of content is thankfully available for free.
GT Racing: Motor Academy Free+
Motor Academy Free is a more down-to-earth, mostly-realistic racing game. You earn coins by completing tours, special invitation events, and completing contracts. Starting off, there are a bunch of levels where you earn various licenses, which help you learn how to drive different classes of cars. Coins let you buy a variety of recognized brand-name cars, like Bugatti, BMW, Bentley, Jaguar, Ford, Chevrolet, and Audi. They even kindly give you the option to rent the car for a round if you don't have enough to buy it outright. Even this racing game has some RPG mechanics in it, including quests which you complete, and leveling up to unlock new cars and courses.
Coins are earned through regular gameplay, while in-game cash is mostly bought through in-app purchases, which you can trade in for new cars.
Your favorite free iPhone games?
Of course, there's an insane number of free iPhone games out there, and we're always looking for more. Feel free to leave a comment with your favorites, as we'll be updating this list regularly. We'll be including some of our top free real-time strategy, rhythm, word, simulation, location, and drawing games down the line.
Rene Ritchie and Leanna Lofte contributed photos for this post