One of the most common complaints from hardcore gamers is the perceived evil of free games. Structuring a game around ads or in app payments (IAPs) invariably leads to compromises with the core experience, so they say.
We're not going to pretend that there isn't some merit to this argument, but 2016 hasn't been a particularly good year in which to make it. We've played some absolutely cracking free iOS and Android games over the past 12 months.
Each of these games scored very highly on PG, and you don't need to spend a penny to play them. It's hard to argue with numbers like that.Pokemon GO
There was a spell in 2016 where it seemed every person under 40 was playing Pokemon GO on their mobile. You could spot them a mile off, propped suspiciously close to public monuments, pretending to check their messages. Niantic's location-based collect-'em-up was the runaway smash hit of the year.PinOut
As we've noted elsewhere, there was a slight case of endless runner fatigue in 2016, but the genre manifested itself in new and interesting ways. Take PinOut, a slick pinball game with a never-ending, constantly morphing table.Clash Royale
You might have doubted that there was life beyond Clash of Clans, but Supercell clearly knew what it was doing. Clash Royale is a brilliant spinoff that pulls in elements of MOBA, tower defence, and card battling games.Rust Bucket
Nitrome was the undisputed master of free games in 2016, so it should come as no surprise to see it represented three times on this list. Rust Bucket is first up with its typically honed take on roguelike dungeon-crawling.Super Stickman Golf 3
Super Stickman Golf 3 is one of those impossibly generous free games, full to the brim of twisty courses and and unlockable bonus balls. Not that we're complaining.Super Cat Tales
In a year when Mario himself turned up on mobile phones (albeit rather late in the day), it took a brave game to crib so blatantly from Nintendo's sheet. Super Cat Tales is a lot cleverer and fresher than it looks, though, with a truly fresh approach to mobile platformer controls.Redungeon
Here's the second Nitrome game of this list, and once again it has something of a dungeon crawler flavour. However, Redungeon pulls the Pinout trick of applying endless runner rules to the formula.Gear.Club
I reviewed Gear.Club for PG, yet I still did a double take when I saw that it was on the 'free games' list. It's such a generously proportioned, console-quality racing game that its free status seems faintly ludicrous.Six!
Playing Six! is up there with popping bubble wrap or peeling labels off a beer bottle - one of those deliciously tactile, almost sub-conscious things to busy your hands with. It's a bit like Jenga, but much easier to start playing and way harder to stop.Hop Swap
Our final Nitrome game arrived quite late in 2016, but it made an instant impact. Hop Swap is an autorunning platformer with an ingenious palette and orientation-swap mechanic, as well as loads of that unmistakable Nitrome charm.