The 12 Best Games for the iPad

Stop watching movies on your iPad. Stop browsing the web.

Well, okay. You don't have to stop. But while you do all that stuff, don't forget that your iPad can play some great games. Which games do are best? Read on.

The 12 Best Games for the iPad

The iPad really needed its own Dystopian Teen Fiction game, and now with République, it's got one. Camoflaj's stealth/surveillance game may only be on its first episode, but it's already a snap to recommend, largely for the smart ways it makes a stealth game (a genre known for requiring precision controls) work on a touchscreen device. Ever want to hop into the surveillance cameras of a dystopian military school and help a young woman sneak her way to freedom? Well, this is your game.

A Good Match For: Stealth fans, voyeurs, those looking for a story-heavy experience, people who like innovative games.

Not a Good Match For: Action fans, cameraphobes, anyone looking for a game that's easy to just sit down and immediately play.

Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Purchase From: The App Store

The 12 Best Games for the iPad

If you've ever wondered how you'd do as a starship captain, FTL: Faster Than Light is your game. Though heads-up: You'd probably be a pretty lousy starship captain. As you assume control of your wee little in-game spaceship, your fingers will dance around the touch screen, adjusting your power systems, assigning tasks to your crew, and targeting pirate space cruisers with ease, almost as though the game was originally designed with a touchscreen in mind. As good as it was on PC, FTL: Faster Than Light might be even better on the iPad, all while retaining everything that made it special on PC. You'll man your ship through countless space battles, explore countless sectors of deep space, and watch your crew die countless deaths in the vast and pitiless void of space. Oh, well.

A Good Match For: People who like deep simulations and challenging games, anyone who likes Firefly and Star Trek, people who like renaming their crew members after popular 90s teen idols.

Not a Good Match For: Those looking for a casual video-game fling, people who like to win, anyone who doesn't care for randomly generated challenges that can sometimes seem unfair.

Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Purchase From: The App Store.

The 12 Best Games for the iPad

Boy, would it suck to have to survive a zombie apocalypse. Every choice would be a bad one, and every alliance you made would be a temporary one. Who's going to betray you? Whom should you betray? What if you had a child to protect? Ugh. Worst. At this point, most people are familiar with the critically celebrated first season of Telltale's The Walking Dead adventure game, which feels right at home on the iPad's touch screen. If you haven't played, this is the way to do it. It's like an animated comic book where you make all the tough decisions.

A Good Match For: Fans of adventure games or Robert Kirkman's graphic novels, those who like the Walking Dead TV show but wish the characters were more interesting or likable, misery addicts, Georgians.

Not a Good Match For: Those looking for a coherent action game, anyone who can't abide technical rough edges, the faint of heart.

Read our reviews of a few episodes.

Watch it in action.

Purchase From: The App Store

The 12 Best Games for the iPad

Chair Entertainment's iOS showpiece is now on its third installment now, and the series has evolved from gorgeous one-on-one slashing battles to gorgeous one-on-one slashing battles with a deep story, skill perks, crafting, and an additional playable character. This is the ultimate evolution of an amazing game.

A Good Match for: Console game players. Infinity Blade raised the bar on the level of persistent visual detail developers could accomplish on iOS and its swipe-and-tap controls make each swordfight immersive in way that button-pressing on a gamepad can't match. Infinity Blade III raises the bar higher, and it's one of the first games to take advantage of the increased power of the new iPhone 5S.

Not a Good Match For: Those hoping for something casual. Infinity Blade has overcome the lack of variety seen in the past two games, but it hasn't skimped at all on challenge. It will test your perception, reflexes, and at times your patience.

Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Purchase From: The App Store.

The 12 Best Games for the iPad

This tower-defense title initially distinguishes itself with a cartoony renaissance faire motif that makes identifying your units easy and eye-pleasing. Its more crucial improvement is in offering permanent incremental upgrades that you can carry over from session to session, making it so that you get persistent rewards from dedicated play. That's how you build a relationship that lasts, my liege.

A Good Match for: Folks addicted to upgrades. Players just don't get better structures as in loads of other similar games. Kingdom Rush also delivers stronger spells for your buffed-up emplacements, too. And you know what? You can level up those spells, too.

Not a Good Match For: Those who want quiet strategy sessions. The characters who war with each other blurt out corny catchphrases that will annoy you really quickly. It's enough to make you wish death on your own soldiers.

Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Purchase From: The App Store.

The 12 Best Games for the iPad

Monument Valley is a profoundly relaxing game. It will occupy only an hour or so of your time, but it'll be a really nice hour. As the princess Ida makes her way through a lonesome and troubled kingdom, you'll flip and rotate Escher-esque perspective puzzles to allow her to pass through beautiful, mysterious structures. In its brief runtime, Monument Valley manages to combine aspects of games like Fez, The Unfinished Swan and even Journey, while wrapping it all up in art that's, well… look at the gif, man.

A Good Match For: Anyone looking for a unique, memorable experience, people who like relaxing games.

Not a Good Match For: Those who want a challenge or a long game. Monument Valley is a brief experience, and it's all pretty straightforward.

Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Purchase From: The App Store.

The 12 Best Games for the iPad

"You're tearing me apart, Lisa!"

Oh… wrong The Room? Okay. Well. Um.

If the many whirring, gear-laden puzzleboxes of The Room Two could be made real, we'd gladly decorate our houses with them. Fireproof's Room games seem custom made for the iPad's touch screen, letting you easily flick and zoom your way around its many intricate contraptions. Come for the often vexing puzzles, stay for the weird atmosphere and increasingly creepy ambience. Okay, guy with no face. I'll solve the puzzle if you really want me to.

Read Stephen's NYT write-up.

Watch it in action.

A Good Match For: Puzzle maniacs, Myst fans, collectors, machinists, occultists.

Not a Good Match For: The easily frustrated, people looking for an action game, those who would rather Lisa didn't tear them apart.

Purchase From: The App Store

The 12 Best Games for the iPad

You'll need to turn atoms into molecules in this scaled-down version of Zachtronics Industries' PC hit, which turns controlling the building blocks of all matter into unexpected fun. Yep, it's a game about science, and it's fun.

A Good Match for: Middle management. Sorta like a manufacturing chain employee, SpaceChem tasks you with drawing supply routes and juggling resources in order to reach each level's required quota. But there's no people to yell at, so it's better than reality

Not a Good Match For: Those hoping for a wealth of resources. The margin for mistakes is very low in SpaceChem and you'll do a lot of trial-and-error runs to figure out ways to win.

Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Purchase From: The App Store.

The 12 Best Games for the iPad

Word games proliferate on the App Store like mushrooms after a rainstorm, but SpellTower stands out because its acrobatic spin on the word-find model. Nouns, verbs and other parts of speech wind sinuously throughout a vertical grid and each move shifts the game board, making you the architect of your own fate.

A Good Match for: Scrabble fanatics. Playing SpellTower feels less like being at the mercy of letters doled out to you and more like you're fighting your own perception of the game board.

Not for Those Who Want: Multiplayer competition. Zach Gage's alphabet assemblage is a one-player-at-a-time affair and the only bragging rights come from notching a higher score when a session ends. (SpellTower has added multiplayer since this list was last updated, see below for a new complaint.) Roadblocks. It's maddening how the combinations of blackout squares and numerical requisites—gotta have six letters to use this letter, buddy—can stop you just short of nabbing an awesome scoring word.

Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Purchase From: The App Store.

The 12 Best Games for the iPad

A retro-styled adventure that pays homage in equal parts to Robert E. Howard and Shigeru Miyamoto, this indie release uses a grainy impressionistic art style to draw players into a lo-fi fantasy quest.

A Good Match for: Folks whose last gaming hardware was the Atari 2600. Not only will Sworcery's visuals ping their nostalgia, the ease of the game invites lapsed gamers back and its clever presentation shows off how sophisticated gaming's become.

Not a Good Match For: Those who want fast-paced action. You're encouraged to meander and explore in this game and soaking up its decompressed experience matters more than winning out its battles.

Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Purchase From: The App Store.

The 12 Best Games for the iPad

Remember Magic: The Gathering? Sure you do. Blizzard's new card game Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is a lot like that, albeit streamlined and easier to pick up and play... and way more addictive. Like FTL, Hearthstone is another game that began on PC but seemed destined for tablets, and boy oh boy does it fit right in. After an hour or two you'll be building your own custom decks and challenging your friends and strangers to matches, either online or, if you've both got iPads in the same room, in person. Each match is over in a matter of minutes, making it easy to fit into your everyday life. And while eventually you might feel tempted to start paying for the random card booster packs, you can wring a whole lot of enjoyment out of Hearthstone without paying a nickel.

A Good Match For: Fans of card games like Magic: The Gathering, people who like Blizzard games, anyone looking for a fun (free!) online multiplayer game for iPad.

Not a Good Match For: High-level perfectionists who don't want to pay extra, people hoping for an offline option. Hearthstone will do a good job of matching you up against random online players of a similar level, but if you want to build a deck full of rare, powerful cards, you'll have to sink in some cash.

Read our thoughts on the iPad version.

Watch it in action.

Download From: The App Store.

The 12 Best Games for the iPad

There it is: proof that a multiplatform game released in 2012 can recapture the glories of a 1994 PC classic. The re-imagined XCOM delivers graphical upgrades and interface refinements like you might expect but what really makes it sing is the added attachment that you feel to the battles and the soldiers who fight them. Touch screen controls—pinch to zoom, sliding for camera control and movement and commands done by tapping or double-tapping—feel great on the mobile version, making it feel like very little was sacrificed to bring this accomplished re-imagining to your fingertips.

A Good Match for: Efficiency lovers. This version of human-vs-aliens warfare streamlines gameplay when compared to its predecessor. And the importance of cover in combat and clever deployment of perks makes you consider every decision intensely.

Not for Those Who Want: Quick skirmishes. The combat in 2012 XCOM can stretch on way longer than is necessary. Because the battles require active engagement, you can feel chained to a session.

Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Study our tips for the game.

Purchase From: The App Store.

The 12 Best Games for the iPad

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

Update 4/23/2014: The iPad has had a hell of a couple of months, with three new games earning a place on this list. Newcomers FTL: Faster Than Light, Monument Valley and Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft push Device 6, World of Goo and Blek off the list.

Update 2/04/14: With a new design comes an opportunity to overhaul our list, adding some games that should've been on here while making room for some new ones. Hundreds, Beat Sneak Bandit, Knightmare Tower and The Room all clear out for The Walking Dead, République, Blek and The Room Two.

Update 11/01/13: Two new iPad models come out today. Maybe you're getting one. Good for you! In the spirit of new stuff, we're adding some recently released games to the list of games that we think are best for Apple's tablets. Simogo's excellent Device 6 takes the spot of Ghost Trick and Infinity Blade III bumps off predecessor Infinity Blade.

Update 08/13/13: Mirrors of Albion and Mirror's Edge shatter in a billion pieces to make way for the simple, addictive fun of Knightmare Tower and the complex strategy of XCOM: Enemy Unknown.

Update 11/16/2012: Osmos HD gives way to The Room and Mirrors of Albion knocks off Quarrel Deluxe in this latest revision of our list of Bests for the iPad.

The 12 Best Games for the iPad

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