Rob Leane introduces some wonderful time killers, and not one of them uses in-app purchases…
There aren’t that many totally free mobile games on the market any more, thanks to the rise of in-app purchases. These micro transactions made within the game app can be really irritating: if you don’t have the dosh to pay for them, the game becomes a difficult slog, and if you can afford them, you can wind up splurging far more than you’d originally intended.
It may be a free-to-play game that you downloaded, but it sure doesn’t seem that way after a few hours of gameplay.
App developers need to be paid for their hard work, though, so it’s hard to lament in-app purchases all that much.
But if you’re low on cash at the moment and looking for something to play on your phone, we compiled this list of highly addictive mobile games that won’t cost you a penny…
(N.B. At the time of writing all of these games were completely free, but there’s every chance they could be monetised via in-app purchases a little ways down the road. Fill your boots now, folks!)
Firstly, a totally free game that I really love:QuizUp. Once you’ve chosen a topic to test yourself on from the sprawling database on offer (I tend to opt for Star Wars or Marvel movies), the app will pair you up with someone else who boasts the same specialist subject.
You’ll answer the same questions as your opponent, against the clock. If you’re both true experts who get every single question right, it’ll come down to whoever answered quickest. As you prove yourself in the quizzes, you’ll level up and gain bespoke badges relevant to your field (I’m labelled ‘Ant-Man’ at the moment). Becoming the very best is the goal, and trying to reach that status can easily lose you entire evenings.
Bombing Bastards: Touch!
Blowing stuff up, of course, is always fun. And now you can do it on your smart phone. In all but name, Bombing Bastards: Touch! is essentially Bomberman for your mobile, revamped with touchscreen controls and modern graphics. Across five worlds, five bosses and 30 mazes, you’ll be tasked with strategically placing bombs around maps in order to blow your enemies to smithereens.
Bombing Bastards offers enough game time to get you hooked, and will surely leave you wanting more when you reach the end.
The difficulty is pitched just right, too, treading the line between challenging and infuriating remarkably well. The adverts that pop up from time to time are a small price to pay.
PewPew is a handheld reimagining of the iconic Atari game Asteroids, that classic space-based shooter which once dominated arcades around the world. PewPew takes Asteroids’ central idea and really runs with it, expanding the basic premise with five different game modes.
So if you want to relive an arcade giant in the palm of your hand, this is the way to do it. You can play in the classic Asteroids style, or try one of the harder challenges: these include larger waves of enemies, items you have to dodge, spaceships that spin instead of exploding and – my personal favourite – colour-coded groups of adversaries, only one of which you’re meant to shoot at a time.
LEGO NinjaGo Tournament
LEGO is great at producing free mobile games, with no whiff of an in-app purchase– presumably because keeping the brand alive across all formats is more important to the company than money at this stage. One of my favourites from its vast collection is LEGO Ninjago Tournament, a fighting game built around its popular martial arts-themed range. You’ll battle other ninjas. You’ll battle fantastical things such as skeletons. You’ll battle ‘elemental masters.
’ You’ll battle for a good few hours, because the cute graphics and simple gameplay are highly addictive. There is also a large collection of new characters you can unlock along the way, adding another incentive to keep playing.
Ancient Empires: Thorin Battle
Enter the fantasy mediaeval world of Thorin with this fun little top-down role-playing game (and its sequel Ancient Empire: Strike Back), made in the vein of such classics as Final Fantasy II. This is a port of an old Nokia game, which adds a second layer of retro charm to proceedings.
The story picks up after a coup, and you’re given a range of battle scenarios to progress through over the course of the game. The combat is simple, turn-based fare and the graphics are delightfully old hat. Thorin Battle may lack some of the inventiveness of modern games, but fans of the 2D RPG subgenre will find this an enjoyable addition to the grand old pantheon.
Mekorama is a truly beautiful puzzle game developed by Martin Magni. There are no in-app purchases, but there is an option to send him a donation at the end if you enjoyed the experience, which you probably will if you’re a fan of brainteasers and cute little robots.
The aim of the game is to complete 50 3D puzzles, controlling a small robot that looks like an eyeball with arms and legs to do so. The levels get trickier as you go, and you’ll soon find yourself whiling away hours rotating maps and searching for solutions.
N.O.V.A. 3: Freedom Edition
N.O.V.A. 3: Freedom Edition is a real treat: a sci-fi shoot-‘em-up with very snazzy graphics which you can play for free on your phone. It’s the third game in its series (as you might’ve guessed from the number in the title), which follows a future version of mankind who abandoned Earth and left it to angry aliens called ‘xenos’.
It’s not an altogether different set-up to Metroid and Halo, but that derivativeness doesn’t detract from the fun on offer. It’s worth checking out the whole series, but N.O.V.A. 3 is the best of the bunch so far. It sees the human race returning to Earth and fighting to reclaim it, with plentiful hours of gameplay and a few really tricky bits to challenge you.
Escaping from rooms is fast becoming a cultural phenomenon: in most major cities you can find at least one real-life ‘escape room’ advertised as a way to kill time on a rainy afternoon. Cube Escape saves you some effort, though, allowing you to escape from rooms without ever having to leave the sofa.
Across a decent-length period of gameplay, Cube Escape encourages you to unravel an overarching mystery narrative. The story starts in 1964, with your character’s first memory. From there, you’ll traverse years of story as you search for items and hidden clues in a variety of enclosed spaces. Trust me, it’s trickier than it sounds.
Buff Knight! – RPG Runner
Pixelated graphics, an RPG story and a side-scrolling format combine to make Buff Knight a hugely entertaining gaming throwback. It’s like Sonic crossed with Final Fantasy as you constantly run from left to right picking up items, casting spells and dispatching fantastical baddies as you go.
The goal is to ‘buff up’ your character by collecting artefacts, weapons and other items in order to take down an evil dragon that’s taken over the kingdom, stolen a bunch of artefacts and kidnapped a princess. Okay, so it’s Sonic meets Final Fantasy meets Super Mario.
This one’s among the most addictive time-killers on this list, not least thanks to the ‘endless version’ that you can play instead of the main story if you’re really into running and fighting things.
Dumb Ways To Die
Speaking of never-ending games, here’s an oldie but a goodie: Dumb Ways To Die. Yes, this is the companion app to that famous ‘don’t walk on the train tracks’ PSA which made a huge splash in 2014 with its catchy song and a hilarious video combo.
The game is incredibly simple and entirely free. It consists of 14 mini games, and your aim in all of these is to prevent your character from dying, be it through flicking away piranhas, wiping puke off your screen or avoiding psycho killers. The game can go on forever, in theory, but the time limits for the tasks reduce as you go, causing the difficulty to continuously increase.
GameStart 2015 was a tie-in app to promote a big gaming convention of the same name. The event has been and gone, but the game lives on. It’s 100% free and hugely enjoyable, not just because of the gameplay, but also due to a bevvy of nods and references to other corners of gaming culture.
The story is strong, too: a mysterious menace has caused all the fun to be sucked from games, so your character is deployed to enter the world of videogames and sort things out. Side-scrolling platform action, lots of jumping and shooting and a string of tough boss battles follow.
It’s A Space Thing
This one lets you take over a character at the bottom of the screen that can only move left or right and shoot directly upwards to take down angry spacefaring enemies. Yep, you guessed it: It’s A Space Thing is essentially just Space Invaders under a different name.
And that’s why it’s so good.
A concept this classic needs no improvement, so developer Brad Erkkila wisely hasn’t made any major changes to the formula. The graphics are still pixelated and the soundtrack is still retro. The action is just in portrait rather than landscape now with a colorful coat of paint on top of the gaming experience you know and love.
Trainyard Express is beautifully simplistic yet achingly difficult to master. Your mission is always to connect the colour-coded stations on the screen using train tracks, but across 60 unique levels the question of how to achieve that becomes tougher and tougher. You have to pick the right track pieces, put them in the right places and make sure you don’t block any other important routes.
If you get hooked on the formula of this one, we’d advise you to check out Trainyard, the bigger version of the game which offers 40 extra puzzles and a collection of different tools for just 79p.
LEGO City My City
My City is another brilliant free app from LEGO, which ties into its LEGO City toy range. A bit like Dumb Ways To Die, My City is more of a collection of mini games than a beast of its own, but that doesn’t lessen the fun at all.
It’s a perfect one for kids, this, offering 15 simple games which allow the user to explore a variety of jobs. These include deep-sea exploration, police work, airport luggage handling and even space missions. Mastering each tiny task is tricky, which will have you coming back time and again in a bid to beat your best score.
Where’s My Water?
Free Here’s another free version of an otherwise-paid-for puzzle game. Where’s My Water? would set you back £1.49, but Where’s My Water? Free lets you sample the game free of charge. After finishing the free one, I wouldn’t be surprised if you opted to pay for the full thing and gain access to hundreds more levels.
Indeed, this is another of those really addictive puzzle formats, which grab your attention with their seeming simplicity but hook you for life with their true tricky nature. The aim of the game is the funnel water to Swampy the crocodile (using physics!) so he can have a shower.
Manuganu 2 Lite
Manuganu – focused on a small boy in a dangerous outdoor landscape – was heralded as one of the best new platformers in years upon its arrival on the scene in 2013, so it’s no surprise that a sequel was ordered. And handily for the writing of this article, part 2 of the franchise came with a freebie version that lets you try out the product without shelling out 79p.
Manuganu is an endless runner game crossed with an old school side-scroller, where the skill is in knowing when to run and when to stand still. Its sequel – even the Lite version – adds swimming and flying to the equation, but upholds the franchise’s unique selling point: timing is everything.
300: Seize Your Glory
As with GameStart 2015, this one started life as a tie-in game but went on to outlive the thing it was promoting. Although the 2014 film 300: Rise Of An Empire is long gone in cinemas and the public consciousness, you can still download its spin-off game Seize Your Glory for free on iOS and Android.
You get to play on the side of the goodies from the film, commanding the forces of Greek general Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton’s serious hero character) in a series of battles against the evil forces of Artemisia (Eva Green’s femme fatale). The game’s not particularly long, but it’s certainly action-packed.
18. Fighting Tiger
Fighting Tiger is the closest you’ll get to Tekken on your phone without spending any money. It’s an impressive display of how far mobile graphics have come: what was only available through major developers and chunky consoles a few years ago is now matched by indies on your phone.
Your player character is Gin, a kung fu fighter battling for his life, his girlfriend and his desire to break out of gang culture. The environments are all 3D, and if you can master the on-screen controls there are some awesome combo moves to be dished out.
19. Jewels Star Candy
Crush Saga may be the king in the world of match-three puzzle games, but between the in-app purchases and the limited number of plays per day it can be very frustrating. Jewels Star is the Android-exclusive alternative that we’d recommend if you’ve had enough of Candy Crush.
You get unlimited plays per day and there are no in-app purchases. It’s just a good, old fashioned, back-to-basics match-three game offering hundreds of different levels. There are rather a lot of adverts, but the developers have to make their cash somehow.
On iOS, there’s Jewel Star (note the lack of pluralization on ‘Jewel’), a very similar game from a different developer. Again, if matching things up and gaining points for it is your thing, you might find this to be a highly enjoyable addition to your mobile.
20. Slice It!
FREE And finally, a game with a premise so simple it’s a marvel that nobody made it earlier. In Slice It, your goal is to cut a shape into a perfect half using your fingertip. The longer you play, the weirder the shapes become and the trickier it is to work out how to divide them up.
There are plenty of levels on the free version of the game, and even more in the paid version (79p). If, like me, you’re easily hooked by tasks that look like they should be easy but actually take a lot of brainpower, I’m convinced you’ll love this one.
There you are, then: 20 free games that won’t ask for in-app purchases. Have fun!