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. There are also sequels, too.
Already a classic board game in its own right, this port is still one of the best board game adaptations on a tablet, period. Online and local multiplayer and a weekly solitaire puzzle challenge add up to a ton of replay value, and in-app expansions offer tons of extra modes. If you're board-game apprehensive, don't worry: Carcassone is a must-buy, and it's great for pass-and-play multiplayer.
It feels like an arcade racing game, but the puzzles unfold as you realize you're controlling multiple drivers at the same time, trying not to crash or run out of time. It's free, or you can pay for the ad-free unlock.
Fallout 4 is an epic post-apocalyptic adventure, but Fallout Shelter is its free to play phone cousin, and it's much more adorable. Let people into your fallout shelter. Raise them carefully. Then hope they don't die.
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.
Back in 2004, PlayStation 2 owners lost weeks of their lives to Rockstar's Southland epic Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. 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 looks like an old, curved computer monitor. You can search for archived video clips about a murder investigation. As you follow a tangled story, you realize this is a really clever type of film in puzzle form. It looks perfect on the iPad screen, too.
It’s a puzzle game: don't get confused by the branding. Hitman GO is based on a series of violent games, but this version's done up like a retro board game. The many puzzle challenges are excellent and still involve stealth...but with sliding pieces.
Tower defense games are a dime a dozen in the App Store, but Kindgom Rush HD is part of a franchise of games, all of them pretty great. Plenty of upgrades and missions will hook even the most jaded iPad player, and you don't need to worry about freemium grinding.
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 point-and-click 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 short but mesmerizing puzzler. 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.
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.
You’re a ball, racing along a rail through abstract worlds, avoiding obstacles. Tap to move or tilt your iPad to steer. It’s also beautiful to play: full of funky art, with plenty of tracks and challenges. And it’s mesmerizing.
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 -- 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 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 purchased with real money or earned via 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 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 you'll want to buy at least one more...or two.
Price:Free, can purchase extra tables (universal app)