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Best iPhone and iPad games of 2017

The best iPhone game apps of the year offer bloodthirsty onions, cats with swords, and walking on ceilings.

Apps in this Guide

Are iPhones and iPads capable enough to be full-fledged gaming platforms? After all, your phone is usually with you all day long, and processing power gets cheaper every year. And when you dive intomore

Are iPhones and iPads capable enough to be full-fledged gaming platforms? After all, your phone is usually with you all day long, and processing power gets cheaper every year. And when you dive into the best games that iOS has to offer, you'll quickly see that there's a lot more going on here than Candy Crush and free-to-play strategy games. How about onion gardening as a full-contact sport that makes you wonder if someone's slipped you LSD? Or a puzzle game built around devilishly mind-bending optical illusions? We've scooped up the cream of this year's crop, now just a few taps away from running on your favorite iPhone or iPad.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are any of these games inappropriate for kids?
Thimbleweed Park is rated T for Teen by the ESRB for "fantasy violence, sexual themes, drug reference, language, crude humor, use of alcohol and tobacco." There is a dead body at a crime scene near the beginning of the game. All the other games should be fine for kids of all ages.
If I decide I don't like one of these games, can I get a refund?
Officially, all of Apple's App Store sales are final, but you can still request a refund, which they will approve or deny on a case-by-case basis.

Best iPhone and iPad games of 2017

Cat Quest

Cat Quest

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Cat Quest is a legit role playing game (RPG). There's high-quality art, animation, and sound wrapped around a delicious nougat of monster bashing, treasure chest, and ability upgrades. The story of this top-down game may be basic, but the open world offers a bevy of dungeons to crawl through, fireballs to cast, loot to accessorize your character, and cat puns to enjoy (or endure). The whole game costs only five bucks and has no ads or in-app purchases.

​Flipping Legend

​Flipping Legend

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Flipping Legend has a few unique twists on the endless runner concept, such as letting you pause briefly to choose a direction and letting you teleport from one side of the screen to the other. You also move diagonally, making it feel like a tense game of checkers. Flipping Legend also separates itself with a charming retro art style, a system of upgrades to add new abilities to your character, multiple character classes that have their own special abilities, and a low-key microtransaction system.

You can choose from one of three classes at the beginning of the game. Once you've made your choice, you'll need to collect coins to unlock the other two, then there are five more to unlock by completing a variety of challenges. As you progress through the game, you'll also unlock portals that give you shortcuts to more distant areas of the game, and daily challenges can keep things fresh.

Flipping Legend is free with ads, which you can pay $4 to remove; you can also pay $1 to $3 to unlock different numbers of loot chests, whose contents are character outfits (which are only cosmetic), in-game currency, and temporary experience point multipliers. You also get a free chest every six minutes, and you can sometimes acquire them in the game world. Real money is not required to unlock the characters themselves, and the in-app transactions are low-pressure.

​Million Onion Hotel

​Million Onion Hotel

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Million Onion Hotel offers a neat twist on Match-3 games by combining the concept with whack-a-mole. Your job is to whack onions as they pop out of the ground randomly, in a way that eventually creates a line of whacks that crosses the whole game grid. However, the real rewards come from setting up two lines that intersect at the same time. The thing is, this takes more time than a single line, and the clock is always ticking, and the only way to add more time is to complete a line. This creates a constant tension of high risk and high reward, where you must not only navigate this clock gauntlet but eventually save up enough bonus time to survive a boss fight. Yep, it's a Match-3 game with boss fights, and instead of a health bar, you have a time bar; the boss's attacks take chunks out of the clock. This lively game design is also wrapped up in equally lively pixel art, jazzy music, and silly voices that respond to your actions.

Million Onion Hotel is $4, with no ads or in-app transactions.

​Monument Valley 2

​Monument Valley 2

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Everybody likes optical illusions -- how would you like a game based around them? In Monument Valley 2, you'll navigate seemingly impossible puzzles by rotating platforms and sliding walkways up and down. This sequel adds a new wrinkle with a second character who you don't directly control, which opens up some fresh challenges that wouldn't have been available in the first game. There's also some understated upgrades to the minimalist art style, like more color gradients and the occasional sparkly effects, plus you get a new set of immersive music and sounds to enjoy. (This game definitely benefits from a pair of earbuds or headphones.)

Monument Valley 2 is $5, with no ads or in-app transactions. You don't need to play the previous game to enjoy this one -- but we recommend you check that one out, too.

​Splitter Critters

​Splitter Critters

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This very charming puzzle game received top honors, and it's easy to see why. Your quest to herd cute, helpless aliens from one obstacle course to another isn't just optimized for a touchscreen -- it's hard to imagine playing it any other way. You cut the course with a slice of your finger, then drag the freshly cut pieces around to create a pathway. The game is also set up for augmented reality (AR), so you can use an empty desk or a blank sheet of paper to project the game onto, and your little critters escape off this surface if you can herd them into their little spaceship. We'd recommend a tablet screen for AR mode, though, since it effectively shrinks your game space. Splitter Critters is $2.99 and has no ads and no in-app transactions.

​Stranger Things: The Game

​Stranger Things: The Game

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With the release of season 2 of the blockbuster Netflix show came the surprise release of a surprisingly good Zelda-like adventure game. For a free game containing no ads, it's one of the most fun we've played, period. The concept is easy enough: You play Sheriff Jim Hopper, and your job is to brave the dangerous streets of Hawkins, Indiana and find Eleven, Lucas, Dustin, and all the other kids, who are in danger because Hawkins has become a deadly battleground.

Each kid has a unique skill, which you can switch to for solving certain puzzles, fighting certain bad guys, and accessing certain sections of the town. And while there are a lot of puzzles, they're generally good at balancing challenge and frustration.

While the show may not be appropriate for little kids, the game, itself, isn't scary or gory. It would be right at home on a Nintendo console from the '80s or '90s.

​Thimbleweed Park

​Thimbleweed Park

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Back in the late '80s and early '90s, game designers like Ron Gilbert, Gary Winnick, David Fox, and Roberta Williams were defining the point-and-click adventure genre. Well, the three guys on that list are back with Thimbleweed Park, which deliberately looks like it comes straight out of that golden age. You get the familiar set of onscreen commands, like

"Open, "Close," and "Talk to." You'll collect items over the course of the game and inevitably try combining them to solve puzzles. And there's a funky, eerie town right out of "The X-Files" or "Twin Peaks," to benevolently satirize.

$10 is relatively pricey for a mobile game, but you don't have to deal with loot boxes or other in-app transactions, and it's ad-free. If you miss vintage LucasArts games like Monkey Island, Indiana Jones, and Day of the Tentacle, Thimbleweed Park feels like an unexpected new chapter in that story.

The Witness

The Witness

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It's impossible to play The Witness and not be reminded of Myst, with its eerie, depopulated stillness and strange mechanical structures. And the questions it makes you ask remind us of the TV show "Lost": What happened to this curious island? Who are you, what part did you play in this seeming experiment gone wrong, and how do you escape to freedom?

Thankfully, the puzzles are not freighted with mystery, though they do get increasingly complex. Not just within the grid of lines and dots, but in the physical context of the way a puzzle is positioned in a room, or even the way that light falls on it.

The iOS version of the Witness costs $10, but you do get the full experience from the PC and consoles, ported over to a mobile platform, with no ads or in-app transactions. The art design alone is arguably worth the entry fee, with vivid palettes and tastefully minimalistic 3D objects.