The iPad is great for on-the-go productivity, but it also shines as a gaming device. The big screen plus multi-touch feature has given developers free rein to make some truly stunning games. To save you the trouble of navigating the thousands of games on the App Store, here are eight of my favorites that you should definitely snag before your next two-hour layover on a business trip.
Note: This article is also available as an image gallery.
This devilishly clever game, which costs $3.99 (USD), won a prestigious Apple Design Award this year. The player guides a silent princess through an Escheresque world with strange physics, hidden passageways, and more (Figure A). Monument Valley may sound strange, but it's one of the most beautiful and challenging games ever to hit the App Store.
Monument Valley on an iPad.
It uses the iPad's touchscreen perfectly, with an elegant soundtrack that deserves headphones. The game isn't particularly long, lasting a little more than an hour, but it is one of the best games ever released on the iPad.
2. Tiny Wings
Tiny Wings ($0.99) and Tiny Wings HD ($2.99) were named Game of the Year by Apple. It's deceptively simple, but — like Tetris — it's a little different every time. The player controls a bird that can't fly on its own. Instead, it slides down hills gathering speed before slingshotting into the air. By linking flights, the bird can fly faster and farther (Figure B).
Tiny Wings on an iPad.
There is only one control: the player taps the screen to make the bird plummet, timing it just right to maximize the hills. Each game lasts only a couple of minutes, but replays can be nearly endless.
This tricky puzzle game, which costs $4.99 (USD), requires players to increase the size of circles to total 100. It sounds simple, but advanced levels are filled with spinning gears that can destroy the bubbles (Figure C) — oh, and everything is constantly bouncing around, and if the bubbles touch while growing, the level is over.
Hundreds on an iPad.
Hundreds is difficult to describe, but is quick to learn and exceptionally challenging in the later levels. It's a fantastic use of the iPad's multi-touch display and highly recommended for puzzle lovers.
This game, which costs $2.99 (USD), is aptly named. An Apple Design Award winner in 2013, Ridiculous Fishing drops a lure into a nearly endless sea, dodging jellyfish and eels before hitting the bottom and running back up, catching as many fish as possible along the way (Figure D). Then, when the lure (now loaded with fish) hits the surface, the fish explode in the air and the fisherman must shoot them out of the sky with machine guns.
Ridiculous Fishing on an iPad.
Powerups like chainsaws and a bowling ball make it easier to catch more fish, sending Billy the fisherman on to bigger and badder oceans. Yes, it's ridiculous, but it's incredibly fun and one of the best games on the iPad. Absurdity has never felt so good.
This puzzler game, which costs $2.99 (USD), has the player attempt to strategically layer ribbons into a grid so that ribbons of the proper color are on top when it's finished (Figure E). It may sound boring, but Strata is actually one of the most challenging games around. With tons of unique puzzles, but with levels that only take a minute or so to play (well, at least in the early stages), Strata is a great game to pick up when you only have a short amount of time to kill.
Strata on an iPad.
That said, Strata can easily take up hours of time with dozens of puzzles. It starts with straightforward levels, but it gets incredibly difficult later on. Great fun.
This platform adventure game, which costs $4.99 (USD), is another Apple Design Award winner. The premise of this game is to help a character named Leo find the thief that stole his gold (Figure F).
Leo's Fortune on an iPad.
With glowing reviews from gamers and critics alike, Leo's Fortune has players solving puzzles and moving through an incredibly beautiful game world from forests to deserts and cities to mountains.
This game, which costs $1.99 (USD), is yet another Apple Design Award winner. It's been unceremoniously ripped off by the also-very-popular 2048, but the original is the game to play.
With a near perfect design, Threes! has players shuffling numbered playing card monsters around a 4x4 grid. 1 and 2 cards can be combined, but after that, cards can only be combined with themselves — 3s with 3s to make a 6, 6s to make a 12, and so on (Figure G). The larger the numbers that are combined, the more points you get.
Threes! on an iPad.
It sounds simple, and (for a while) it is. But once you get into larger numbers (768 is as high as I've gotten), the game gets exceptionally challenging. Wicked fun, Threes! is the best $2 you can spend on an iOS game.
8. Plague Inc.
This game, which costs $0.99 (USD), is filled with black humor. Users control a pandemic that's attempting to infect and kill every human on Earth. Gamers can choose which symptoms they wish to evolve, balancing infectivity, severity, and lethality to wipe out the planet before the world's doctors and researchers attempt to devise a cure (Figure H).
Plague Inc. on an iPad.
In-app purchases unlock additional game types (including Zombies!), but hours of fun can be had just progressing through the levels included for $1. Mass extinction has never been so fun.
All these games are available on both the iPhone and iPad, and — with the exception of Tiny Wings — you get both platforms for one price. Enjoy, and let us know your favorite iPad games in the comments below.
Jordan Golson is an Apple Columnist for TechRepublic. He also writes about technology and automobiles for WIRED and MacRumors. He has worked for Apple Retail twice and has been writing about technology since 2007.