An indie award-winner when it debuted on the PC and Xbox Live Arcade (and most recently, as a Chrome browser game), the iPad edition of Bastion has touch controls that are minimal and elegantly suited for the gameplay. Wear headphones for this one: the soundtrack and continual, supercool narration are a huge part of the experience.
Cute, colorful, simple to control, Bean Dreams feels like a retro platform game from the Nintendo era reinvented for phones and tablets. There are plenty of games like this on the App Store, but the multiple in-stage goals and weirdly challenging premise (control a constantly jumping bean with a hat) make this one stand out.
Already a classic board game in its own right, the iPhone adaptation of this tile-based strategy game Carcassone was one of the most beautifully executed in the App Store. A new update has added native iPad compatibility, thus it's earned a spot on our list. Online and local multiplayer and a weekly solitaire puzzle challenge add up to a ton of replay value, and in-app expansions mirror more expensive sets available for the actual board game. If you're board-game apprehensive, don't worry: while Carcassone can take a little getting used to, it's a more worthwhile iPad game to own than Catan -- and it's great for pass-and-play multiplayer.
A PC cult hit, indie game FTL has made it onto the iPad with all the trimmings and bonus content of the PC versions, plus a perfect set of touch controls. Manage your ship across various missions, all randomly generated. It’s strategy, not action, and the graphics are as simple as they come, but it’s endlessly addicting.
Originally a physical board game, this tablet adaptation starts as a timed battle to build your own ship out of interconnecting puzzle pieces, then you "battle" against other players in card-based missions across the galaxy...trucking cargo. Online play, tons of missions, and it still feels like a board game. Try it.
Back in 2004, PlayStation 2 owners lost weeks of their lives to Rockstar's Southland epic Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Somehow, the game's been miniaturized for iOS and offered up for a pittance. The entire game's there, along with the fantastic soundtrack and touched-up graphics. It works with iPad-compatible game controllers, too: excellently, we might add.
Hearthstone, a free-to-play game from Blizzard and a hit on PC, is a game worth paying money for. You may do that via in-app purchases, but you don’t need to; keep playing endless matches of this collectible card game online to earn extras instead. And don’t be surprised to see hours melt away from your life…as long as you’re online.
It’s a puzzle game, Hitman GO is based on the Hitman series of stealth games. And even weirder, it’s designed to look like a retro board game. But the many puzzle challenges are excellent and still involve stealth. It’s just stealth with sliding pieces.
You know the routine: swipe, swipe, tap, tap, knock the immense and awesome-looking bad guy to the ground. Infinity Blade's formula hasn't changed much, but the third version has a ton of content, and graphics that still stun. It's a classic.
Tower defense games are a dime a dozen in the App Store, but Kindgom Rush HD (a paid version of an extremely popular free browser-based game) is wonderfully animated, incredibly addictive, and assembled into a series of quest-like challenges. Plenty of upgrades and coin collecting will hook even the most jaded iPad player, slowly but surely. A sequel and a prequel are out there, too, once you finish -- but start with this one.
Fans of point-and-click adventures, hand-drawn graphics, and artistically adventurous indie games, look no further: Machinarium is a gorgeously rendered journey through a slightly ominous universe where the answers to the puzzles presented aren't immediately obvious. Previously a PC/Mac game, it's even better on a touchscreen device like an iPad.
Incredibly beautiful optical illusions that feel like M.C. Escher or the old PSP game Echochrome are actually puzzles in Monument Valley, a game that you won’t want to end, but will…and faster than you think. Extra levels can be purchased in-game: get those, too.
A favorite of ours for years, Olo is a great little table-top multiplayer kid-friendly game, with a kinetic twist: try to stay in bounds while knocking the other player's pieces off. Two- or four-player modes plus online play, and it's equally great on iPhone.
Another award-winning indie PC game hits the iPad, and loses nothing in translation. You’re a passport-processing drone in a totalitarian state. Endless people pass in front of you. Why do you do this? The story unfolds as you play. The unnerving retro-PC style and soundtrack work perfectly.
The title may sound grim, but who knew that decimating the world with some horrible disease would be so fun -- and addicting?
Plague Inc. is one of two hit strategy games in the App Store that challenge you to wipe out the human race (Pandemic 2.5, a port of the Flash game, is the other), and there are a few different ways to go about achieving your objective, though it's harder than it seems. Do you try to spread your disease rapidly but hold back its potency so it can fly under the radar? Or do you spend your points on making it more lethal and kill faster, thus slowing a cure, but potentially wiping out your hosts before it infects everyone? Ah, the choices.
You’re a ball, racing along a rail through abstract worlds, avoiding obstacles. Tap to move or tilt your iPad to steer. Sounds similar to the fluid, fantastic Unpossible, but Proun+ is better and deeper as a game. It’s also beautiful to play: full of funky art, with plenty of tracks and challenges. And it’s mesmerizing.
Created by former Metal Gear Solid 4 producer and Halo 4 creative director Ryan Payton and originally launched via a Kickstarter campaign, Republique is a five-part serial stealth adventure with console-level graphics, a surveillance-state theme, and A-level voice acting. It's an episodic pay-per-episode game: the second episode is now available, but you save money with a season pass.
The much-anticipated sequel to last year's fantastic and creepy The Room (which you should buy, too) plays a little like the old Myst and Riven games. Use multitouch to spin, examine, and unlock secrets in a series of haunted puzzle boxes, uncovering a disturbing storyline along the way. Great use of the iPad's graphics and touch interface.
Somewhere between tower defense and Tetris, the simple laying down of territory, building facilities, and surviving wave after wave of attacking creatures makes Rymdkapsel an arcade-like experience that’ll suck an hour from your evening faster than you'd possibly expect. The minimalist look is equally effective on larger or smaller iPads.
The newest "game" from Simogo, makers of Year Walk and Device 6, The Sailor’s Dream is more of a meditative, unfolding story that you explore and swipe through. Where does it go? What does it mean? It involves islands, memory, and to say more would ruin the beautiful experience.
It may not have the fancy graphics of Tiger Woods Golf, but Super Stickman Golf is simple yet challenging to play -- and highly addictive. The sequel sports the same basic look, but adds spruced-up artwork, plus additional power-ups, and two multiplayer modes. Even better, it's now free (with some optional in-app purchases).
Yes, we love board games on the iPad. In the tradition of Settlers of Catan and Carcassone, Ticket to Ride is an award-winning board game that's actually easier to learn, but offers endless replay value. Online multiplayer is fast and a breeze to set up, and additional board game expansion packs are available for when you tire of the main game, which will likely be never. Newly added pass-and-play multiplayer -- and the ability to use the iPhone version of the game in local matches -- makes living-room play far more fun.
It’s free, though you may be tempted to pay for extras. But like good freemium games, this online game (a MOBA, aka Multiplayer Online Battle Arena games, if you’re not familiar with the genre) will let you play to your heart’s content without costing a dime...if you’re patient. It pits teams against other teams to battle across large maps. It’s touch-optimized, so you’ll play with it on your lap...possibly for hours at a time. Like Hearthstone, another free game on this list, you could end up playing forever.
Price:Free, with in-game purchases that can be gotten with real money or earned in-game currency
Take a Super Nintendo RPG and make it a randomly-generated dungeon-exploration action-RPG that’s surprising, tough, and brings death constantly. Now you understand Wayward Souls. Fans of Spelunky and 16-bit adventure games, don’t hesitate.
There isn't a turn-based strategy game as deep and impressive on the iPad: it has invading aliens and a global squad-based war, but it unfolds with the brainy decision-making of Civilization. Gamers with a long vacation ahead, rejoice. Read our deeper impressions of XCOM here. The sequel, now available as well, offers even more of the same.
Zen Pinball makes dozens of pinball tables, many of them fantastic: Star Wars, Marvel, and many, many more. Pinball nuts could lose themselves for weeks. The app comes with a free table to start you off, but be sure to get a Star Wars table and maybe the Avengers one, too.
Price:Free, extra tables $0.99 to $1.99 (universal app)