32 free big-name games for iPhone or Android
I wrote this round-up in March last year, at the start of the first national lockdown. But with each part of the UK now back in some form of lockdown, and many of us struggling to keep ourselves entertained, it feels like a good time to remind you of some of the best free games you can download for an iOS or an Android device.
There are tons we could include, but I've decided to focus mainly on big names with a mainstream following, and to keep it genuinely free I've avoided apps where it seemed you'd need to spend real cash to get full functionality out of the game (though many do include optional in-app purchases – see below).
To help keen gamers find their favourites, we've split the list into popular Nintendo hits such as Mario Kart Tour and Pokémon Masters, Classic Sega games such as Sonic the Hedgehog and Crazy Taxi, and PC & console classics such as Call of Duty and The Sims. Plus for film and TV buffs, we've included some of the top spin-off titles from TV shows & films, including Harry Potter and Game of Thrones.
Important. Two things before you start...
- Watch out for 'in-app purchases'. Many free games offer purchases to enhance the experience or help speed the story along. This means gamers need patience and self-control to avoid paying to play, and if the kids are playing you need to set up parental controls (see 'My child spent £150 on Fortnite' –how to avoid an unexpected bill). If you have an iPhone you can disable in-app purchases in your settings. If you're an Android user, you can set up authentication for purchases.
- Keep an eye on data usage & storage space. Most of these games use the internet, and some can't be played offline, so unless you have a generous data allowance, make sure you're connected to Wi-Fi before downloading or playing. You'll also need a decent amount of storage space on your phone if you want to download new apps. If you're struggling, see How to increase phone storage.
A new Nintendo Switch console costs about £280, and games aren't cheap either, with some new games as much as £50. But there are completely free games you can play on your phone, based on Nintendo favourites such as Pokémon and Super Mario. Here are some of the most popular:
Mario Kart Tour
Mario Kart is a mega-popular racing game, originally designed for Nintendo consoles but launched as a free app in 2019. It's popular with gamers on the MSE team, and is highly rated on Google Play and in the App Store. It's worth noting the Nintendo Switch version, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, is currently selling for about £40, so this is a great MoneySaving alternative.
Another hugely popular gaming franchise. Pokémon Masters is the most recent free app in the Pokémon series, after the huge success of Pokémon Go in 2016. The aim is to team up with other 'trainers' and become champion of the Pokémon Masters League.
This augmented reality app gets Pokémon fans running around trying to catch 'em all in real-life locations. You hunt the Pokémon using GPS, then catch them and do battle against other players. The game cleverly uses your phone's camera to make it appear as though the Pokémon are right in front of you.
Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp
Another popular Nintendo series, Animal Crossing is a 'social simulation' game, where you can interact with various animal characters, performing tasks and activities such as collecting items or planting seeds. The latest Switch game which was released last year can still cost up to £40 – so a much more MoneySaving option is this free app.
Super Mario Run
Unfortunately only a portion of this app is free, but as it's popular we've included it anyway – see it as a free trial to take advantage of, but don't be lured into parting with your cash unless you think it's really worth it. In this game Mario constantly runs forward and you control him by tapping the screen. If you time it right you can perform jumps and spins to gather coins, just like in the original Super Mario games.
If like me, you're missing the Sega Mega Drive games of your childhood, there's good news – you can get loads of completely free mobile app games based on classics such as Sonic the Hedgehog, Crazy Taxi and more. See the full selection of free games here, but below are a few you may remember fondly:
This was one of my favourite games as a teen. Originally an arcade game, it proved so popular it was adapted for PC and consoles. You play a taxi driver, and your aim is to get passengers to their destinations as quickly as possible – you'll earn bigger tips for taking shortcuts and performing stunts with your car.
A surprising number of popular PC and console games have accompanying free apps meaning you can play a version of them on mobile. Keen gamers may already have the Call of Duty app, but did you know you can also get a version of The Sims and even Lemmings on your phone?
Call of Duty: Mobile
Call of Duty, or 'COD', is a first-person shooter, and one of the most popular games for PC and consoles. In 2019, a mobile version came out allowing fans to play on the go for the first time. It's had millions of downloads and has since won a number of awards, as well as being well-rated in the App Store and on Google Play.
Another childhood favourite of mine. I was very excited to discover there was a free app to recreate the experience, though it's not as highly-rated as some of the other apps in this list. This is a puzzle game where you have to save your lemmings by guiding them through various levels filled with hazards and traps.
The Sims Mobile
The Sims is HUGELY popular, even with the most casual of players who wouldn't normally class themselves as gamers. You create and control virtual people or 'Sims' – building their homes and fulfilling their needs (hunger, social etc). This app brings the experience to mobile, and follows on from The Sims Freeplay app below.
Although an older app, I've included it because it provides a different experience to The Sims Mobile, and is available to play on Kindle Fire as well as on mobile. In this version, you use your Sims to complete quests and earn rewards.
Dissidia Final Fantasy: Opera Omnia
Final Fantasy is another popular role-playing video game series. In this app, you can build parties of characters from across the different games in the series, and prepare them for battle, which involves turn-based combat.
I personally found this one very addictive (you've been warned), and it's available on a whole host of devices and consoles. Based on the Fallout series, in this free version you're in charge of an underground vault full of 'dwellers'. You have to keep them happy and protect them from the dangers of the nuclear wasteland above.
Even if you're not an avid gamer, there are plenty of free apps based around popular films and TV shows, such as Game of Thrones, Star Wars and Harry Potter.
Harry Potter: Wizards Unite
The Harry Potter franchise needs no introduction. And this free game is by the same makers as the mega-popular Pokémon Go – it uses augmented reality to make the game appear all around you. Your job is to find magical artefacts, creatures, people and more, which have been mysteriously appearing in the Muggle world.
Yu Gi Oh: Duel Links
Yu Gi Oh was originally a Japanese manga (comic) series, which spawned a huge franchise – it's been adapted as a TV show, trading card game and video game series. This free app brings the trading card game to your phone, and is also available to play on PC.
Other popular game apps
While these don't fit as neatly into the categories above, we can't forget some of the big free apps from recent years that have been created specifically for the modern gaming world.
This game has become popular during the pandemic as you can play with your friends (or with random people). You have to work as a team to complete tasks on your spaceship, but one of you is an imposter who can sabotage the ship and do away with the crew. The team has to work out who it is before you all get eliminated...
Fortnite is a massively popular shoot 'em up, particularly with young people. It was originally launched for PC and consoles but then launched as a mobile app. You can play Battle Royale, where up to 100 players fight to be the last one standing, or there's Fortnite Creative, where you create your own worlds and battle arenas. Unusually, the game is available for free across all major consoles.
Plague Inc. is a strategy simulation where you essentially create a virus and try to use it to destroy the world. Uncomfortable subject matter at the moment, perhaps, but the game's been around years, and has been downloaded millions of times.
A lot like the classic Sim City, in this game you're the mayor of a city, which you have to build up, eg, creating residential, commercial and industrial zones. You'll also need to help it survive natural disasters such as volcanoes and tornadoes.