The 12 Best Games on the iPhone

You’ve got yourself an iPhone and you want to play some games on it. You might not want to just plunge into the App Store—it’s a jungle, full of deadly spiders, wild animals, and bad games. Here, let us help you.

Below, we’ve listed the 12 games we feel are a great starting point for iPhone gaming. You can also watch the video above for a rundown.

Hitman games are famous for their open-ended sandboxes. At their best, they let you creep around a party or a museum, find your target, and creatively take them out. Hitman GO… doesn’t really do that. What it does do, however, is offer a bunch of smart, tightly designed puzzles that gradually become more complicated as you go, but are never too complicated to finish off in the space of a single bus ride. With its stripped down board-game aesthetic and abstract violence, it may not look much like a Hitman game, but it still manages to capture the series’ meticulous, satisfying nature.

A Good Match For: Hitman fans, puzzle fiends, people who like imagining what it means when one board game piece “assassinates” another board game piece.

Not A Good Match For: Those looking for an actual portable Hitman game.

Watch it in action.

Purchase From: The App Store

It’s right there in the name: You jump down a well. You have guns in your boots, because of course you do, and as you plummet from level to level, you use those gun-boots to shoot as many enemies as possible. Live long enough, collect enough gems, and you’ll earn all manner of power ups. Die, and you start over. It sounds simple enough, but like the best action roguelikes, Downwell is as deep as the bottomless pit in the title.

A Good Match For: Fans of tricky platformers like Spelunky and Super Meat Boy, anyone looking for an addictive challenge.

Not A Good Match For: Those who have played the PC version and prefer the superior handling of an actual game controller. Downwell’s touch controls are very good, but they can’t measure up to the real thing.

Read our review.

Purchase from: The App Store

AreaCode’s numerical puzzle game may be the most perfect short-session game ever created. As falling numbers land on a 7×7 grid, you need to make them disappear by matching the number of vertical or horizontal spaces match the digit. Yes, it sounds tedious but when the rules finally click in your head, it’s a lifetime addiction.

A Good Match For: Anyone who spends a lot of time waiting for things or people. Whether it’s stuck in traffic or waiting on a queue at the bank, a few quick levels of Drop7 will make any kind of stationary drudgery more bearable.

Not a Good Match For: Those hoping to stay productive. It take superhuman willpower to resist the siren call of Drop7 and if you want to get anything done after installing it, make sure your iPhone’s out of reach.

Watch it in action.

Purchase From: the App Store.

You could call Device 6 a text adventure, but that would be selling the game short. What it is, rather, is one of the strangest, most mysterious and downright elegant games made for touchscreen devices… and it just happens to involve a lot of reading. Call it multimedia-enhanced interactive fiction. As you rotate and flip your device, chasing the winding map of description and design, you’ll find yourself drawn into a strange and sinister adventure complete with one of the catchiest pop tunes ever included in a game.

A Good Match For: Spy fiction buffs, Lost fans, mystery novel readers, anyone with even a passing interest in typography or visual design.

Not a Good Match For: Those who want a lot of action or replayability, people who hate reading.

Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Purchase from: The App Store.

By boat, by land, by airship, by giant mechanized city with legs, do you have what it takes to make it… Around the World in 80 Days? That’s the question at the heart of 80 Days, a fantastical re-imagining of Jules Verne’s famous novel that casts you as Passepartout, manservant to the gentleman Phileas Fogg. As a valet, you are responsible for packing the bags, negotiating at markets, and planning the itinerary on your journey ‘round the globe. Each trip will be different from the one before it, and thanks to the game’s peppy writing and frequent surprise detours, each trip will be great deal of fun. 80 Days captures the joy and melancholy of travel with unusual wit and humanity.

A Good Match For: People who like interactive stories, geography buffs, fans of travel.

Not a Good Match For: Anyone looking for a low-investment, pick up/put down action game. Also, those who hate to read—the majority of 80 Days is text-based interactive fiction.

Watch it in action.

Purchase from: The App Store.

Threes is basically a game about kissing. And math. You slide a bunch of little numbers around a tiled pad, trying to get two like numbers next to each other. If you can do that, they’ll get friendly and combine to form a new, bigger number. Keep on moving, keep on combining, and your score will climb and climb. Threes is an immaculately designed game made all the more winning for its aesthetics. Charming, musical, and deviously addictive, it’ll become your new iPhone obsession.

A Good Match For: People looking for a simple puzzle game to play on a commute, anyone who likes competing with their friends for high scores.

Not a Good Match For: People hoping for a deep story, those who prefer sub-standard clones.

Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Study our tips for the game.

Purchase From: The App Store

Final Fantasy VI and VII are great and everything, but Final Fantasy IX is one of the most charming and underrated games in the series. The story of Zidane, Dagger, Vivi and Steiner makes the transition to mobile devices with surprising grace; not only do the touch controls work well, but you can now opt to turn off random encounters if you just want to explore. If you haven’t played this one, give it a spin on the go. It’ll keep you occupied for many, many bus rides to come.

A Good Match For: JRPG fans, lovers of deep role-playing games, anyone who’s ever wanted to actually beat the jump-roping game (it’s way easier in this version).

Not a Good Match For: Anyone looking for a quick, casual mobile game: This is a core FInal Fantasy game, and will take many dozens of hours to complete.

Watch it in action.

Read our take on how the little things make it great.

Purchase From: The App Store

Endless snowboarder Alto’s Adventure defies whatever fatigue we might feel for the endless runner genre, stripping away layers of gaudy mobile paint to rediscover an elegant core. It’s a simple, fun game about floating, sliding, and jumping endlessly forward, through rain, snow, and darkest night.

A Good Match For: Fans of quality endless runners like Canabalt and Time Surfer, or the mechanically similar Ski Safari.

Not A Good Match For: People who don’t like endless runners, people who hate snowboarding.

Read our review.

Purchase From: The App Store.

You’re in a cold, dark room. First, you get a fire going. Then, you head out in search of wood. After that… well, things develop. To say more would be to spoil what makes A Dark Room special, but suffice it to say: This game grows far beyond its humble origins, and the journey from here to there is an engrossing one.

A Good Match For: Fans of management/RTS games, anyone who likes a little mystery in their games.

Not a Good Match For: Anyone hoping for cutting-edge visuals or production values. A Dark Room is text-only, with no audio or visuals to distract you.

Purchase from: The App Store.

You wouldn’t think that a game that stitches together fishing and firearms would be a sublime mobile experience. Well, maybe you would think that… but anyway, if you think that you’re right, so good for you. Everything about Ridiculous Fishing: A Tale of Redemption is both as ridiculous and as great as the title suggests. You’ll be playing, fishing, and shooting for many hours to come.

A Good Match For: Anyone who’s ever been bored with real-world fishing. All that quiet and waiting and patience that usually comes with the ol’ bait-and-line pastime gets thrown overboard in Ridiculous Fishing. Thank God.

Not a Good Match For: Those who want tilt-free gameplay. You’re going to look a little silly with all the turning and twisting your 21st century smartphone in pursuit of crazy levels of fish death. But it’s worth it, by God.

Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Purchase From: The App Store.

Super Hexagon is a game that will kill you in seconds. A pattern of geometric shapes flow towards the center of the screen to the beat of the music, and your task is to dodge them. You won’t. You’ll die. If you get really good, you’ll die in minutes. And you’ll love every one.

A Good Match for: Eye-hand coordination masters. Seeing the path your little dot needs to be in is one thing. Getting there is another thing entirely.

Not a Good Match For: Those looking for lengthy gameplay sessions.

Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Purchase From: The App Store.

Framed tells a comic-book tale of espionage, intrigue, and death-defying escapes, with a twist: You, the player, can re-arrange the frames of the story to change the outcome of a given page. That usually means figuring out the best way to set things so that the protagonist sneaks past their pursuers undetected, but it can mean a lot of other things, as well. Framed is a great deal of fun, with style to spare.

A Good Match For: Puzzle fans, comics fans, saxophone solo fans.

Not a Good Match For: Anyone looking for a substantive mystery or adventure. Framed is a pure puzzle game, with little actual story or character development.

Watch it in action.

Purchase from: The App Store.

How has this list changed? Read back through our update history:

Update 3/24/2016: We’ve added Final Fantasy IX and taken off Hoplite, and made a video version of this list.

Update 1/6/2016: We’ve added Downwell and Alto’s Adventure to the list, and bumped off Asphalt 8 and Knightmare Tower.

Update 10/7/2015: We’ve added Hitman GO to the list, since it had been absent for far too long. It replaces Angry Birds Star Wars II.

Update 1/12/2015: Our list gets an overdue update as Framed, 80 Days, and A Dark Room bump off Infinity Blade III, Plants vs. Zombies, and Rayman: Fiesta Run.

Update 6/04/2014: Hoplite and Threes make their way onto the list as 868-HACK and Oceanhorn say goodbye.

Update 2/18/2014: With a new design comes an opportunity to totally overhaul the list. We’ve made a bunch of additions and subtractions: Goodbye Bad Hotel, Ghost Trick, Horn, Hero Academy, Need For Speed Most Wanted, and Temple Run 2. (All good games!) Hello Knightmare Tower, Device 6, Rayman Fiesta Run, Oceanhorn, 868-HACK, and Asphalt 8.

Update 09/20/13: There’s yet another new iteration of the iPhone out today so why not update the list of games that we think are best for Apple’s smartphone. Infinity Blade gets replaced by sequel Infinity Blade III and the same thing happens with Angry Birds Star Wars, as Angry Birds Star Wars II builds on its successes. If you have any money after getting a 5S, these games should be on your must-try list.

Update 04/18/2013: So long, Letterpress! You warmed our word-loving hearts but Ridiculous Fishing’s outdoor mayhem cannot be denied. Lock and load, everyone!

Update 01/28/2013: This time, Temple Run 2 bumps off Lili from the iPhone charts.

Update 11/16/2012: Angry Birds Star Wars unseats Angry Birds Space, Letterpress writes Bejeweled out of favor and Need for Speed Most Wanted passes Jetpack Joyride in this change to our list of the most attractive games on Apple’s mobile phone.

Update 09/21/2012: Ready for the iPhone 5? We’ve added two more Unreal Engine 3 games — Lili and Horn; the joyous frustration of Super Hexagon; the artsy and musical Bad Hotel; and the unique strategy stylings of Hero Academy. Apps dropped to make way for the new ones include Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor, Edge, Eliss, Groove Coaster and Where’s My Water.

Want more of the best games on each system? Check out our complete directory:

The Best PC GamesThe Best PS4 GamesThe Best Xbox One GamesThe Best Wii U GamesThe Best 3DS GamesThe Best PS Vita GamesThe Best Xbox 360 GamesThe Best PS3 GamesThe Best Wii GamesThe Best iPhone GamesThe Best iPad GamesThe Best Android GamesThe Best PSP GamesThe Best Facebook GamesThe Best DS GamesThe Best Mac GamesThe Best Browser GamesThe Best PC Mods

Note: If you buy any of these games through the links in this post, our parent company may get a small share of the sale through the retailers’ affiliates program.

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