The iPad (and iPad 2) comes off as a serious little piece of machinery. After all, it’s a tablet computer, and most people who carry one are business-like themselves, with seemingly little time for fun outside of the hours they spend on the go, answering emails and pecking out reports. But the iPad is in fact an excellent gaming machine. While it’s not as portable as the iPhone, its screen is much bigger and affords lots more room to accurately control on-screen characters and objects.
If you blew your week’s pay purchasing your iPad, don’t worry. Here are the five best free iPad games, sorted by genre: Action/Arcade, Adventure/Role-Playing, and Board/Card Games.
TOP 5 FREE IPAD ACTION/ARCADE GAMES
Air Hockey Gold — Playing air hockey on an iPad may not be as satisfying as playing it on a real table, but at least the puck won’t smash into your fingers. Either way, you can’t go wrong with air hockey in any form, and Air Hockey Gold is a must-have for the iPad. Play single player or against a friend, with up to two pucks at once.
Carnivores: Dinosaur Hunter LE — This lite version of Carnivores: Dinosaur Hunter still offers a nice hunk of content for dino-hunting enthusiasts. The games’ 3D graphics are smooth and detailed, and there are 16 different species of dinosaur to track down. Don’t get cornered by raptors.
Harbor Master HD — The iPhone classic, enlarged for the iPad. Manage ships as they dock, and draw routes for them to pass each other safely. The challenge ramps up quickly as the shipping routes become more crowded. If you fail, though, take heart: you get to see shipwrecks in glorious HD! (Okay, maybe not.)
Angry Birds Rio Free — This version of Angry Birds features a tie-in with Dreamworks’ animated bird movie, Rio. When the feathery cast of Angry Birds is caged and smuggled away to Rio de Janeiro, they react in the manner suggested by their species name (hint: angry). Lots of classic Angry Birds-style destruction ensues.
Star Blitz — A classic space-shooter game. A race of evil aliens is determined to take over the galaxy, as evil aliens tend to do. You must drive them back. Best of all, you can recruit your Game Center and Facebook friends to help you with your daunting task.
TOP 5 FREE IPAD RPG/ADVENTURE GAMES
Pocket Legends iPad — A celebrated 3D massively multiplayer online RPG (MMORPG) with millions of players already online. Explore mountains, dungeons, and caves as a burly Ursan warrior, a keen-eyed Avian archer, or (yawn) an elf.
Nethack — Nethack is a monster of a roguelike RPG that demands every bit of skill you have–and a heck of a lot of luck, too. The original version of Nethack and its ASCII visuals is available on the iPad adaptation of the game, but you can also opt for a full graphical interface if you want to watch as your first meeting with a cockatrice goes badly.
Frotz — Frotz recalls the glory days of the text adventure, back in a time when butter-thick storytelling took precedence over graphics. With the iPad’s screen, reading through Frotz is a breeze. Not to say that’s a guarantee that you’ll see any kind of an ending.
Aurora Feint 3 — Aurora Feint 3 combines role-playing with puzzles. When enemies engage you in battle, you must best them at a match-3 puzzle game. When you win, you level up. If only world conflicts could be settled so easily. The game’s detailed graphics look gorgeous on the iPad’s high-resolution screen.
Rimelands: Hammer of Thor Lite — Rimelands is a turn-based RPG that mixes magic with steampunk. The game stars Rose, a treasure huntress with hair as red as her namesake. The Lite version of Rimelands lets you experience the first levels of the game, which is still enough to keep you busy for a while.
TOP 5 FREE IPAD BOARD/CARD GAMES
Checkers Free HD — If you want a traditional game of checkers on your iPad, Checkers Free HD is as far as you need to look. The app supports one or two players, and even an undo function. Face it, there aren’t any takebacks when you play real checkers with a picky relative.
Words With Friends HD — A high-definition version of the iPhone’s classic word game, Words With Friends. Spell out words for points and glory with your family and friends, or show off your vocabulary to a complete stranger.
Mahjong — Remove matching tiles two-by-two until the board is empty. The iPhone has dozens of Mahjong apps up for download, but the game really shines on the iPad; the high-definition screen makes it easy to see the pictures on each tile, and you won’t accidentally poke at the wrong piece.
Orbit1 — An easy-to-learn “board game” that is at its best when four players play simultaneously. One button controls your ship, which collects orbs while avoiding enemies. With multiple players competing for orbs, well, things get pretty heated pretty fast.
Sudoku — Ditch that pen and burn that newspaper; Sudoku for the iPad is all you need for Sudoku fun. Play this classic number game at one of four difficulty levels. Note-taking options make it easy for you to place and erase tentative numbers as necessary.