The 20 best free iPhone games (2009)

No farts or Lite versions allowed!

The 20 best free iPhone games (2009)

There are many, many free iPhone games, but how many of them are any good? Once you discount the increasing number of Lite demo versions of paid-for titles, not so many.

Yet there's clear proof that iPhone gamers love a bargain, and all the more so if it's free. With that in mind, we've been trawling the App Store for fun, innovative and intriguing free games, and produced a list of the top 20.

There've been some impressive new releases since we last did this kind of roundup. No Lite demos are included, although some of these games (Live Poker and Space Monkey for example) do have versions available that you pay for - they get in here because the free versions are full games in their own right.

Enjoy! Oh, and the list is in no particular order...

1. iMob Online (Addmired)

Ever watched The Sopranos and thought you could do better? As a real mafia boss, I mean, not as an actor in a popular TV drama. iMob Online is one of the emerging breed of mob-themed games, which all essentially nick the same idea from Facebook game Mob Wars. In short: you’re a wannabe mafia kingpin who has to do jobs, buy weapons and bling, and work your way up the ranks.

Except those ranks are made up of your fellow players, because iMob Online is a massively multiplayer online game, where the people you’re rubbing out (or trying to rub out) are real humans. What’s more, you can recruit your friends to join your mob to beef up your firepower. A game with bags of potential. Get it

2. TapDefense (TapJoy)

Tower defence games are an increasingly popular genre on the App Store, fuelled by their original popularity as work-wrecking casual web games. You have to pay for most of the iPhone ones though, but not TapDefense - which besides being free is also one of the most polished examples.

Your job, as ever in this genre, is to fend off waves of enemies by building towers, which repel them with various weapons. This game has 42 levels, six types of tower, seven different enemies and an impressive six game modes to play. If you’re looking for an introduction to the genre without risking your cash, this is the perfect game to start with. Get it

3. Topple (ngmoco)

ngmoco has been gathering critical garlands for its premium game Rolando, but the publisher also has a couple of enticing freebie games to offer. Topple went free just before Christmas, and has stayed at that price. It’s a colourful stacking game with a twist in its tail.

You have to balance an increasingly wobbly stack of colourful shapes, sliding them into place using the touchscreen controls, while tilting your iPhone to keep them from toppling (hence the name). Their facial expressions will crack you up (while also providing clues for your strategy). It’s full of character, and while the lack-of-price lasts, an essential download. Get it

4. GPS Mission (Orbster)

Something different now: GPS Mission promises to let you “explore your world in a playful way”. What that means is an ambitious location-based gaming platform that lets you play scavenger hunts, crime stories and time travelling adventures in more than 50 real-world locations.

It’s an intriguing concept for sure, bolstered by the fact that whenever you try (and then complete) a new mission, you unlock digital trophies and souvenirs. Meanwhile, if you really want to get hands-on, you can go to the GPS Mission website and create your own adventures for other people to play. It’s the iPhone’s equivalent of the JOYity app that’s been released on Android, and well worth a look. Get it

5. Space Monkey: Free (Glu Mobile)

We said we weren’t including Lite versions, but that’s not what this game is. Glu has made a free version of its Space Monkey game, but rather than cut down the levels or features, it’s simply included ads in the freebie version. In other words, it’s the full game, funded by some unintrusive ads.

And it’s a pretty decent game too. You control a monkey floating through space, using the touchscreen to spin him round in order to catch space rubbish while avoiding noxious chemicals. It’s very simple, but also very addictive, as the levels gradually build up the pace and difficulty. With more than 60 to play through, it’ll provide plenty of fun. Get it

6. iBowl (SGN)

When it came out, iBowl seemed like a relatively simple attempt to take the Wii Sports bowling formula and translate it to iPhone. In other words, you swung your precious handset like a bowling ball to see how well you scored. It had all the makings of a short-lived novelty, or so you might have thought.

That’s not the case, though. Publisher SGN recently updated the game in a major way, adding live over-the-network multiplayer, with the ability to watch your opponent’s bowls to see how well they’re doing. It’s a sign of what could be possible with these kinds of social games – which SGN has been focusing on for some time on Facebook. Get it

7. Tap Tap Revenge (Tapulous)

We wish Tapulous had released Tap Tap Revenge II by the time we wrote this article - it’s due out any day now, and will supercede its predecessor in both visuals and content. Still, it’s not out, so Tap Tap Revenge makes it into this list.
Not that it’s old-hat, mind.

The basic game sees you tapping the screen in time to music, racking up the points faster for unbroken runs of well-timed taps. Yet there’s also the option to download new tracks for the game from a range of big artists, including Katy Perry, the Kaiser Chiefs and some others who don’t begin with ‘K’. Get it

8. Scramboni (ByteClub)

Word games might not be the sexiest genre, but they’re often the most addictive - particularly on mobile. Scramboni is one of the most impressive on iPhone, both in terms of playability and innovation. It sees you unscrambling words by tapping on tiles that appear on the screen, scoring more points if you guess the words correctly and faster than other players.

Other players? Yep, this is another multiplayer iPhone game that lets you play against other gamers over the network – in this case via EDGE, 3G or wi-fi. Although given the speed element, we wouldn’t recommend EDGE... Get it

9. Live Poker (Zynga)

Zynga is the other big social games firm (besides SGN) training its sights on iPhone, with Live Poker its flagship title. It’s a multiplayer poker game that ties in with the Facebook version, letting you play cards against your friends and complete strangers alike.

There are paid-for versions available on the App Store, but the freebie edition is a full game in its own right, rather than a Lite demo. You get 1,000 poker chips to play with every day, and can chat and even buy virtual beers for your fellow players during hands. Meanwhile, Zynga is releasing new updates regularly – next up will be a feature to hook it in with the Facebook version. Get it

10. MazeFinger (ngmoco)

Another free iPhone game from ngmoco, who clearly have a philanthropic side. MazeFinger is an all-action puzzler that has you swiping your finger along a series of mazes, with the aim of reaching the exit before your energy runs out.

How many mazes? Glad you asked – 1,000. That’s right, one thousand mazes, spread across 200 levels. It’s got connected features too, with the ability to send your high scores to other players, while you unlock achievements as you play the game, presumably to keep you playing through all those mazes. Spiffing casual fun. Get it

11. Advent (Pi-Soft)

We’re going old-skool now – back to the earliest days of gaming in fact. The 1970s. We’re going back to a game with various names, including Colossal Cave Adventure, Advent, Colossal Cave and Adventure. But whatever it was called, the content was the same – pure text adventuring.

Yep, as in a GO NORTH, PICK UP AXE, HIT TROLL way. It’s been painstakingly reconstructed for iPhone, offering all the monsters and puzzles you’ll remember from first time round. Well, your dad will remember from first time round, anyway. Get it

12. Aurora Feint: The Beginning (Cassley / Citron)

It was one of the best games full stop when the App Store launched last year, and has since spawned several premium spin-offs. However, if you want an introduction to the world of Aurora Feint, this freebie is still a download that won’t leave you disappointed.

The basic game is a match-three puzzler, where you move and match lines of three blocks with similar symbols. However, around that there are RPG-style character development elements, giving you an incentive to keep playing. It might lack the multiplayer elements of Aurora Feint: The Arena, but even so, this is an excellent and innovative puzzle game in its own right. Get it

13. JellyCar (Walaber)

JellyCar recently won an award for being the best children’s iPhone game - which is crazy, given that it’s possibly the most ninja-hard title on the App Store. Which, yes, is code for saying we’re not very good at it. But we’d like to be, since it’s a charmer.

You control a squashy jellycar (hence the name), which has to drive through a succession of squashy levels, relying on The Power Of Physics to speed you to your goal. The visuals are colourful with a hand-drawn style, and the developer has been constantly adding new levels with every update, to keep the appeal fresh. Get it

14. Chess with Friends (NewToy)

We’ve banged on about Chess with Friends a bit in the past, but it’s well worth its inclusion here. At heart, it’s a chess game with neat but relatively basic graphics. However, the big appeal is hinted at in the ‘with Friends’ part of the title.

See, this is a social game, which lets you play turn-based chess over the network, and have multiple games running at once. In that sense, it follows the template set out by Scrabulous on Facebook (although chess buffs have been playing this way through the snail mail for decades). If you don’t have actual friends playing, there’s a random opponent finder feature too. Get it

15. iMafia (PlayMesh)

This list isn’t in order, remember - it’s too early to tell whether iMafia or iMob Online is the best massively multiplayer mafia game on iPhone. But both clearly have the right idea: to help iPhone gamers meet new people (and then rub them out at a moment’s notice).

So, you have to get street cred for your mob by completing quests, while buying weapons, armour and vehicles - it’s the same Mob War formula as iMob Online. There’s a global high-score table to work your way up, with email and texting features to keep in touch with your mates you are playing. Your mates are playing, right? Get it

16. Trace (Kevin Calderone)

We’ll be blunt: Trace doesn’t look very good. The graphics look like something knocked up in 1983 on a Spectrum, in fact. But that’s part of its very unique charm. The game is a platform title where you have to draw your own path through the levels – shades of Line Rider here.

Your little stick man can walk left and right, so you have to draw a path for him, avoiding the many enemies and obstacles standing between you and the exit. There are 120 levels spread across six worlds, and once you get into the spirit of things you’ll have great fun with it. Get it

17. iBasketball (SGN)

Yep, there’s more in SGN’s sports locker than iBowl - iBasketball is one of its other freebie sports games for iPhone. It uses a similar motion-sensing principle too, as to fling the basketball you make a throwing motion with your handset. The aim is to make as many baskets as possible.

However, this also features SGN’s suite of social features, so you can play one-on-one live matches over the network to see who can score most baskets in a timed game. It’s ultra-simple, like a lot of free iPhone games, but addictive nonetheless. Get it

18. Cube Runner (Andy Qua)

Cube Runner was another early entrant to the App Store, letting you fly a ship through a 3D landscape avoiding - can you guess? - cubes. And yes, as you’d expect, you fly said ship by tilting your iPhone from side to side.

It looks and sounds quite simple, but has picked up quite a following for its playability. What’s more, you can create your own levels and make them available as downloadable level packs - an early example of user-generated content in iPhone games. Get it

19. iSplume (Flashbang Studios)

There’s something about games featuring round coloured things with eyes. iSplume is based on a popular web casual game, which takes the now-famous Puzzle Bobble formula of firing objects upwards at other objects to make matches.

However, in this game’s case, the iPhone’s accelerometer is brought into play, letting you swing the iSplumes from side to side so you can get a better shot off. It’s got bags of character – impressive for a game where the main characters are effectively pool balls with eyes – and offers a fun take on a much-loved genre. Get it

20. iBall3D (StoneTrip)

We couldn’t let this roundup pass without having a ‘roll a ball around some levels by tilting alone’ game. Super Monkey Ball Lite may attract casual gamers, but they should also be looking at iBall3D, a remake of a famous old game called Labyrinth.

So, you tilt your iPhone to move a ball around the levels, avoiding holes along the way. There are three maps and three modes to play through, with a global rankings thrown in to see how your rolling skills compare to the rest of the world. Get it

That's our top 20, but have we missed one of your free favourites? Post a comment to let us know about it (remember, this list doesn't include Lite demos).
Stuart Dredge
Stuart Dredge
Stuart is a freelance journalist and blogger who's been getting paid to write stuff since 1998. In that time, he's focused on topics ranging from Sega's Dreamcast console to robots. That's what you call versatility. (Or a short attention span.)