Pfizer says COVID vaccine is safe for kids ages 5 to 11 iOS 15's best features BTS at the United Nations Emmys 2021 memes PS5 restock updates
CNET editors pick the products and services we write about. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.

Best iPad games for 2021

If you're not playing these games on your iPad yet, you're seriously missing out.

elder-scrolls-blades-2

You can play Elder Scrolls: Blades on iPad for free. 

Screenshot by CNET

I'm a fan of a larger screen when gaming, so when I'm not on a console or PC, I like to play games on my iPad. More mobile games are taking on console-like qualities, especially with new hardware updates like Apple's A14 Bionic chip, which majorly improves graphics speed. The latest model, the iPad Pro, sports Apple's M1 chip, which is also used in MacBooks and the new iMac, allowing for smoother game performance. 

Don't fear for your wallet just yet. While newer iPad models can have a hefty price tag, there are multiple models that will still meet your gaming needs. If you're bargain hunting, check out CNET's back-to-school sales lists.

Whether you just got a new iPad or you've had one for years, we've got a list of some of the best games for you to check out on your tablet. Regardless of whether you're looking for an educational game, a card game, an adventure game, or something else, there's an iPad game out there for you. Some, but not all, iPad games are available as part of Apple's gaming subscription service, Apple Arcade. Others are available to download free or for a price to your iOS device in the App Store. We update this list periodically. 

Annapurna Interactive

Gone Home will suck you in from the very start. You play as Katie Greenbriar, home from a year long trip in Europe. When you arrive home (in the middle of a thunderstorm no less), your family has seemingly vanished. Explore all the nooks and crannies of the sprawling house. Collect clues and unravel what happened to your family while you were gone. 

The tension created in the game through sheer mystery is almost more frightening than if there were jump scares. As a diehard mystery game fan, I found Gone Home immersive, engrossing and emotional. While playing, I found myself turning on all the lights to stave off the unnerving feeling of being in this deserted house. I felt sadness and frustration as I opened doors and found no one behind them, but the emotional payoff was so bittersweet and satisfying. 

It's a bit cumbersome sometimes to play it on iPad and could benefit from adding controller support in the future. Definitely still worth a play though.

InnerSloth

Online multiplayer game Among Us went viral during the pandemic and reported nearly half a billion users towards the end of 2020. It's even inspired a few knock-offs, like Goose Goose Duck.

In Among Us, you can play online with strangers or friends, in groups of four to 10 people. In the game, you and other players spawn as crew members on a spaceship. You must keep the ship in operation as you return to Earth, but one of the players is a shape-shifting alien attempting to kill off the crew before you reach home. The twist? The alien, or the imposter, looks just like everyone else.

If you're the imposter, your goal is to be sneaky -- sabotage the ship, frame others and kill the crew. If you're a regular crew member, you're trying to fix the ship and figure out who the imposter is with the rest of your teammates. Crew members can vote on who they think the imposter is and that person can be eliminated -- even if they're not the true imposter.

Shelby Brown/CNET

When The Pathless hit Apple Arcade, I couldn't put it down. In the game, you play as the last Hunter, a veiled young woman with archery skills tasked with traveling to a mysterious, cursed island inhabited by corrupt spirits. Alongside an eagle companion (yes, you can pet the eagle) you must defeat the evil to bring back the light. This task is just as big as it sounds.

You can go from boss fight to boss fight for a speed run, but taking the time to explore each world, gather collectibles and find secrets will experience the full breadth of the game's narrative.

There's a nice consistency to the game without crossing the line into tedious repetition. The controls take a bit of time to get used to, but finding a rhythm is key to seamlessly running, jumping and firing arrows. Also, if the touch controls aren't your thing, The Pathless supports a controller.

Nintendo

Stardew Valley is a pretty well-known mobile game. In the country-life RPG. In the game, you inherit your grandfather's farm and are tasked with running the place -- fix up your house, plant seeds, and clear out weeds. Explore Pelican Town and meet new friends. Townspeople will sometimes have items to share, like a fishing pole, or side quests to go on. There's a handy menu system that helps you keep track of your inventory, funds, skills, relationships, and how your farm is doing. 

It's a cute game that mixes the nostalgia of early Nintendo games with the comfort gameplay people sought from Animal Crossings during the pandemic.

Apple/ Screenshot by Shelby Brown/ CNET

Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm is a gorgeous open-world action fantasy RPG similar to Zelda or Kingdom Hearts. Oceanhorn 2 tells the story of a young knight on a quest with his friends, Trin, the granddaughter of Arcadia's leader Archimedes, and Gen, a robot armed with a Samurai weapon. All three are controllable as you journey across Gaia to defend Arcadia against Warlock Mesmeroth's Dark Army. 

Oceanhorn 2 is packed with collectibles, puzzles, boss fights, as well as a stunning world to just explore. The game is a prequel to Monster of the Uncharted Sea, but playing the original isn't a must. You can also check out Oceanhorn: Chronos Dungeon on Apple Arcade as well. 

When Oceanhorn 2 arrived on Apple Arcade, it felt the most like a console game out of the subscription service's lineup. The game supports a controller as well, if you don't want to navigate the touch controls. 

Nightschool

It's been over a year since I first played Oxenfree and I still find myself thinking about it. A group of friends hanging out on a beach take a turn for the worse when the teens accidentally open a ghostly rift. Soon the group is fighting for survival, struggling through time loops, and doubting if everyone is truly who they say they are. 

I can't speak highly enough of this choice-based game. Oxenfree calls itself a "supernatural teen thriller," but deftly avoids tropes and cliches, providing characters with depth and a fascinating, eerie plot. It's a quick game you could play in one sitting, but there's multiple endings so you can always go back.

Plus, Oxenfree 2: Lost Signals is coming in 2022, so now is a perfect time to play (or replay!) the original game. 

Devolver Digital

Gris is a beautiful game about dealing with traumatic experiences in life. It's a stunning platformer with remarkable color and hand-drawn detail. It tells the story of a young woman struggling after a painful experience to find redemption, understanding and forgiveness. 

Gris' landscapes and gameplay bring to mind the Alto series (Snowman) and Monument Valley (UsTwo). Developers at Nomada Studios use color, music, light, even the woman's clothing, to convey emotion and further the story -- which is intentionally left ambiguous. As you progress in the game, the woman picks up new abilities to help her along the journey through forests, underwater caverns, deserts and towering buildings.

Gris uses stunning visuals to talk about resilience, strength, recovery and hope. You don't "die" in the game -- it's more about trying again, which speaks to the larger theme. This was one of the first games I tried when I bought an iPad. It's a must-play.

Screenshot/ Google Play

Eloh is somehow addicting, relaxing and educational at the same time. It's a visually stunning musical puzzle game that teases your brain without stressing you out. Eloh is perfect for adults, or for teaching your kids without them knowing they're being taught. 

Each level features island spirits that you can move. Once you get them into the right spot, tap the red speaker and music will start. The goal is to bounce the "sound waves" off the spirits and hit the spiral icon -- kind of like banking a shot in billiards. It's also ultra satisfying when you get the pattern right and the new song plays.

ustwo

The Monument Valley series is absolutely lovely. In the game, you must help Princess Ida on a mission through Monument Valley -- a world of mazes, crow people and strange, impossible structures. The environment is interactive, requiring you to twist, drag and turn the buildings to find paths for Ida. 

Monument Valley 2 has all the stuff you loved about the first game, but stands on its own as an original story and takes a step forward as a more sophisticated narrative and style. In this game, you must guide Ro and her child through Monument Valley. Both games are simultaneously challenging and relaxing. 

You can buy Monument Valley and Monument Valley 2 in the App Store, or you can check out Monument Valley Plus on Apple Arcade. Monument Valley Plus provides a fully unlocked version of the original game with an extra level.

Ustwo is probably one of my favorite game developers. From the Monument Valley games to Assemble With Care on Apple Arcade, its stuff is always a home run. 

Screenshot by Jason Hiner/CNET

Alto's Adventure is to endless runners what Monument Valley is to puzzle games. The game puts a new twist on sports adventure as you -- as Alto -- snowboard across scenic hills, down gorgeous mountainsides, and through villages with day-to-night transitions. It's all set to a lovely soundtrack as well. 

If you liked Alto's Adventure, Snowman put out a follow-up standalone game. This time, Alto and his friends embark on a sandboarding adventure in the desert. Everything you loved about the first game is still there, just in a different environment.

Collect coins, avoid obstacles, and time and land your jumps to gain speed boosts. The more tricks you land, the longer your scarf grows.

You can purchase Alto's Adventure and Alto's Odyssey separately in the App Store, or you can check out Alto's Odyssey: The Lost City, a fully unlocked version of the game with a bonus level, on Apple Arcade.

Giant Sparrow

What Remains of Edith Finch is a dark, emotional journey through the seemingly cursed Finch family tree. Edith Finch, the last living member of her family, travels back home to explore her family's massive home. The house seems to go on forever and is packed with rooms and secret passages to explore. 

The game plays out like a series of short stories, giving the player a snapshot of Edith's ancestors. As you progress, Edith maps out her family tree in a notebook. What Remains of Edith Finch is a walking simulator, mystery puzzle game and it's engrossing enough to play in one sitting. 

Without giving too much away, the game is dark -- it contains themes of human and animal death, suicide, mental illness, and more. It's a good game, but if you're triggered by any of these topics (or topics that could be related), I might think twice about playing this one. 

Apple

I've always loved Solitaire, whether it was the built-in PC game or an actual deck of cards. When Solitaire Stories landed on Apple Arcade, I was excited to play digital Solitaire without ads, as well as see Red Games' fresh take on the classic. 

Solitaire Stories weaves a narrative into the card game. There are eight stories to unlock with different deck themes and points to earn. The more you play, the more difficult the stories and hands become. You can also opt for the quick play option if you've already played the story through, or just want a round of Solitaire. My favorite story to play was the Maestro story, which dealt with a musician's journey and presented a gorgeous purple aesthetic. 

In addition, Solitaire Stories says every hand is beatable, which keeps me trying the same deal over and over until I beat it. Stories are added monthly as well, so you can always experience something new.

Screenshot by CNET

The Simon's Cat franchise -- which began as short animations about a man and his ever-hungry feline friend -- has blossomed since it's 2008 origins. You can find a number of Simon's Cat games in the App Store, but my favorite is Simon's Cat: Story Time on Apple Arcade.

Simon's Cat: Story Time keeps with the well-loved match-three gameplay that lets players unlock chapters of a story. In Story Time, a building site project threatens to shatter the tranquility of Simon and Cat's neighborhood. Simon, Cat, and their friends -- some four-legged -- begin restoring a wasteland of historic parks nearby to protect the community. 

Story Time provides a fun narrative and soothing tasks of cleaning up and designing a garden (without breaking a sweat or getting dirty) alongside casual, easy-to-pick-up Candy Crush-style gameplay. 

Screenshot by CNET

I'd never picked up any of the Elder Scrolls video games, despite their popularity. When Elder Scrolls: Blades arrived on mobile for free, it felt like the perfect opportunity to try out the series risk free. 

Blades is a (mostly) open-world RPG full of adventuring, spells, collecting, crafting and sword fighting. The graphics -- even for mobile -- are just as stunning now as they were in 2018. In the game, you return to your home village and find it all but demolished. Your task is to rebuild the town and defeat the enemies that caused the destruction. Quests are rewarded with gold and other items for crafting. 

Your character is customizable, weapons and spells can be upgraded, you can level up and unlock spells, perks and abilities in the skill tree, and the battle gameplay mechanics are simple enough for mobile. There are optional in-app purchases, but I think   As someone new to the series, Elder Scroll: Blades is fun to play on its own, but also made me interested in the console games.

Screenshot by CNET

Neo Cab is a choice-based survival game for the digital age embroiled in a mystery. You play as Lina, the last human taxi driver in a world overcome by Capra's corporate plans for a fully automated city. When you move to Los Ojos to reconnect with your best friend, Savy, things don't go as planned when she vanishes. 

With no other options, you must keep taking passengers and earn coin to keep your car running and have a place to sleep at night. Riders can also have information about Savy's disappearance. You can use the phone on your dashboard to pan around the in-game map, monitor your emotions and cash balance, driver rating and ride history, keep notes, and search for folks who need rides.

Be careful what you say (or don't say) and keep an eye on your Feelgrid bracelet to stay in tune with your emotions. The bracelet reports a spectrum of emotions by color and color intensity (i.e. angry is red, green is calm, dark red is furious, etc.) The longer you drive, the more difficult it becomes to please every passenger, get paid enough and land a good review. Too many bad reviews and you'll be out of a job. No pressure!

For more gaming news, check out our list of the best Nintendo Switch games to play this year and 24 incredible video games you can knock out in one night.