All the best iPad games to play in 2021

Posted by Ryan Mai on

Searching for a new game to while away the weekend hours? Look no further than your beloved iPad, iPad Pro or iPad Mini. You see, the iPad is now 11 years old, and iOS offers a wealth of tablet-centric games. There's way more out there than Angry Birds and Candy Crush. In fact, fans of iOS gaming will find a games library comparable to any gaming console. And with the latest M1-powered iPad Pro update, unveiled at Apple's spring product launch event Tuesday, games will look even better, as Apple promises console-quality graphics and support for the latest PlayStation and Xbox controllers once iOS 14.5 is available next week. 

We've got a list of some of the best games to get you started, whether you've got a new iPad recently or you've had one for years. Regardless of whether you're looking for an educational game, a card game, an adventure game, strategy game, word game or just challenging puzzles, there's an iPad game out there for you. Also, some, but not all, iPad games are available as part of Apple's gaming subscription service, Apple Arcade. Others are available to download free or for a price to your iOS device in the App Store. We update this list periodically.

The best iPad games to play in 2021

Gone Home

Price: $5

Annapurna Interactive

Gone Home will suck you in from the very start. You play as Katie Greenbriar, home from a year long trip in Europe. When you arrive home (in the middle of a thunderstorm no less), your family has seemingly vanished.

Explore all the nooks and crannies of the sprawling house. Collect clues and unravel what happened to your family while you were gone. This game is immersive, engrossing and emotional. I found myself turning on all the lights to stave off the unnerving feeling of being in this deserted house. I felt sadness and frustration as I opened doors and found no one behind them, but the emotional payoff at the end is well worth it and so satisfying. 

See at App Store


Price: $7


Minecraft hasn't lost much steam since its 2011 debut. The blocky world-building game lets players explore, gather resources, craft tools and engage in some mild combat. The game has different modes -- survival, creative, adventure, spectator and multiplayer -- so you have flexibility in how you play. 

For younger players, Minecraft teaches teamwork and the motivation to improve reading and math skills on top of creativity and self-direction. Minecraft's educational benefits have also been packaged for the classroom. 

Among Us

Price: Free


Among Us/Screenshot by Shelby Brown/CNET

Among Us is an online multiplayer game that's gone viral over the last year. You can play online with strangers or friends, in groups of four to 10 people. In the game, you and other players spawn as crew members on a spaceship. You must keep the ship in operation as you return to Earth, but one of the players is a shape-shifting alien attempting to kill off the crew before you reach home. The twist? The alien, or the imposter, looks just like everyone else.

If you're the imposter, your goal is to be sneaky -- sabotage the ship, frame others and kill the crew. If you're a regular crew member, you're trying to fix the ship and figure out who the imposter is with the rest of your teammates. Crew members can vote on who they think the imposter is and that person can be eliminated -- even if they're not the true imposter.

Stardew Valley

Price: $5


Stardew Valley is a pretty well-known mobile game. In the Super Nintendo-style simulation RPG, you've inherited your grandfather's farm plot in Stardew Valley. Start out with little money and old tools, then work your way up from there. You'll farm, live off the land as you see fit, explore Pelican Town and befriend its residents, search for treasure, decorate your home and maybe even fall in love! 

Stardew Valley is a comfort classic in the vein of Animal Crossing. If you've gotten tired of KK Slider concerts, definitely check this one out next.

Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm

Price: Apple Arcade subscription ($5 a month)

Apple/Screenshot by Shelby Brown/CNET

Oceanhorn 2: Knights of the Lost Realm is an open-world action fantasy RPG similar to Zelda. Of the Apple Arcade lineup, this is one of the first with a console feel, and it looks absolutely gorgeous on the iPad. 

Oceanhorn 2 tells the story of a young knight on a quest with his friends, Trin, the granddaughter of Arcadia's leader Archimedes, and Gen, a robot armed with a Samurai weapon. All three are controllable as you journey across Gaia to defend Arcadia against Warlock Mesmeroth's Dark Army. 

Oceanhorn 2 is a prequel to Monster of the Uncharted Sea, but playing the original isn't a must.

Dear Esther

Price: $2

Screenshot by Mark Serrels/CNET

This is one of the most gorgeous games I've ever played. Dear Esther has similar underpinnings to Gone Home, but it's more of an interactive narrative. As you explore an island, the narrator will "read" you fragments of letters written to the mysterious Esther. Where you venture triggers different parts of the narrative, so the more times you play, the more you'll understand the whole story. 

If you play, go into it with an open mind and just let yourself be immersed in the environment. 

Price: $5

Night School Studio

Oxenfree stayed with me long after the credits rolled. A group of friends hanging out on a beach take a turn for the worse when the teens accidentally open a ghostly rift. Soon the group is fighting for survival, struggling through time loops, and doubting if everyone is truly who they say they are. 

I can't speak highly enough of this choice-based game. The characters have depth and the plot is fascinating. It's a quick game you could play in one sitting, but there's multiple endings so you can always go back. 


Price: $5

Devolver Digital

Gris is a beautiful game about dealing with traumatic experiences in life. It's a stunning platformer with remarkable color and hand-drawn detail. It tells the story of a young woman struggling after a painful experience. The developers use color, music, light, even the woman's clothing, to convey emotion and further the story -- which is intentionally left ambiguous. 

Gris is a must-play about resilience, strength, recovery and hope. You don't "die" in the game -- it's more about trying again, which speaks to the larger theme. This was one of the first games I tried when I bought an iPad. It's a must-play.


Price: $3

Eloh/Screenshot by Shelby Brown/CNET

Eloh is somehow relaxing and educational at the same time. It's perfect for adults, or for teaching your kids without them knowing they're being taught. Eloh is a visually stunning musical puzzle game that teases your brain without stressing you out. Each level features island spirits that you can move. Once you get them into the right spot, tap the red speaker and music will start. The goal is to bounce the "sound waves" off the spirits and hit the spiral icon -- kind of like banking a shot in billiards. It's also ultra satisfying when you get the pattern right and the new song plays.

Beyond a Steel Sky

Apple Arcade subscription ($5 a month)


Beyond a Steel Sky is one of the biggest titles to hit Apple Arcade. The long-awaited sequel to 1994's Beneath a Steel Sky features the talented duo of Revolution Software co-founder Charles Cecil and comic book artist Dave Gibbons (Watchmen). 

Beyond a Steel Sky picks up 10 years after the original cyberpunk science-fiction point-and-click adventure game left off. Our hero, Robert Foster, returns to Union City when he learns a child has been abducted. The new game is styled like a comic book, down to the closed captions and Foster's narration. This is another console-style game if you're looking for something more traditional to play on mobile.

Sayonara Wild Hearts

Price: Apple Arcade subscription ($5 a month)


Sayonara Wild Hearts was one of the most popular games on Apple Arcade when it first launched. The game was named Apple Arcade's Game of the Year for 2019 and won an Apple Design Award in 2020. It centers on a woman who's had her heart broken. Every level gets more challenging as you face lasers, motorcycle battles and the woman's "other self" -- The Fool. It's all set to an amazing pop soundtrack. 

Monument Valley

Price: $4


Monument Valley is a pretty popular mobile game, so you've likely heard of it, if not played it on your phone. The game is absolutely lovely, with artwork that reminded me a bit of Gris. In the game, you must help Princess Ida on a mission through Monument Valley -- a world of mazes, crow people and strange, impossible structures. The game uses the way you interact with the environment to play with perspective (like Possessions on Apple Arcade) and reveal pathways. 

Ustwo is probably one of my favorite game developers. From the Monument Valley games to Assemble With Care on Apple Arcade, its stuff is always a home run. 

You can also find Monument Valley on Apple Arcade.

Monument Valley 2

Price: $5

Gabriel Sama/CNET

Of course I have to include Monument Valley 2! It has all the stuff you loved about the first game, but stands on its own as an original story and takes a step forward as a more sophisticated narrative and style. In this game, you must guide Ro and her child through Monument Valley. 


Price: Apple Arcade subscription ($5 a month)


In Creaks, you're spending a quiet evening in your room when the light starts flickering and the ground trembles. The wallpaper pulls back to reveal a secret door, and someone, or something, is making noise in there. Grab your flashlight and explore a mysterious subterranean world of bird people. Lurking in the shadows are deadly, shape-shifting monsters. When you shine a light on them, they transform into furniture. The level of detail in this game is extraordinary. If you're a fan of haunted houses, check this one out.

Creaks joined the developer's other game, Pilgrims, on Apple's subscription mobile gaming service Apple Arcade.

Collage Atlas

Price: Apple Arcade subscription ($5 a month)

Apple/Screenshot by Shelby Brown/CNET

The Collage Atlas is a dreamy, meditation on hope disguised as a unique spin on a walking simulator. There's a sparse narrative, but seemingly no rush to get anywhere or accomplish anything (which is wonderful.) Birds chirp, a gentle soundtrack plays, and pinwheels spin and make beautiful sounds when you walk through them. 

It seems like the past year has been a time of adjustment, stress and uncertainty for everyone. Games like The Collage Atlas can be particularly helpful with quiet ambience and encouraging words. 

Life is Strange

Price: Each episode is $1-$5. Season pass is $7

Life is Strange

Life is Strange offers mystery and suspense in a choice-based game. Max is a girl who starts having visions and soon learns she can bend time. With her newfound powers, she might be able to save the town from impending disaster. 

When a student goes missing, Max and her friend Chloe start investigating and discover the dark side of their hometown. As Max changes the past, it impacts the future.

The visuals in Life is Strange are beautiful, especially on an iPad screen. The plot is intricate and accompanied by a great soundtrack. There's also a second installment to check out, and Life is Strange: Before the Storm, a three-part standalone story. 

Where Cards Fall

Price: Apple Arcade subscription ($5 a month)



Apple/Screenshot by Shelby Brown/CNET

Where Cards Fall is a narrative-driven coming-of-age puzzle game that uses cards to convey what it's like to be a teenager (despite this, it's still relaxing, I promise). You navigate each dreamy level by building and collapsing card houses. The iPad's large touchscreen is perfect for this. Levels become more challenging as the levels progress -- pinch the screen to collapse cards and spread your fingers on a deck to build a house. Some cards become doors that let you glimpse various memories. There's no rush to complete any levels and hints are there if you want them.

Sonic Racing

Price: Apple Arcade subscription ($5 a month)

Sonic Stadium

Sonic is a classic. There's a good chance you know who the speedy little hedgehog is, even if you've never played the games. Sonic Racing is fun and the controls aren't hard to pick up on. You'll race on teams with Sonic, Tails and Knuckles. As you level up, you can change your team to other characters like Shadow, Amy and others. Maneuver your car to grab as many rings as possible, avoid traps and win. 

Jenny LeClue

Price: Apple Arcade subscription ($5 a month)


As a kid, I was obsessed with Harriet the Spy, so I love this game. Jenny LeClue is set in the seemingly idyllic town of Arthurton, where you play as Jenny, a kid sleuth who is eager to prove her worth as a detective. When your mother is accused of murder, you set out to prove the truth. As you seek answers you quickly realize nothing, and no one, is what it seems. 

Papers, Please

Price: $8

Screenshot by Scott Stein/CNET

Papers, Please is a dark, yet surprisingly fun, dystopian game that casts you as a border guard in the fictional communist state of Arstotzka in 1982. Outside your office, a long line of citizens from a war-torn country are waiting for you to look at their papers and make a judgment call about whether they'll be allowed into the country. 

Your job starts out simple, but as more people come into Arstotzka, restrictions tighten and there are more qualifications to meet. On top of that, not everyone's papers are legit. Difficult ethical decisions await you and potential uprisings at the gate. The game is an interesting commentary on immigration.

Neo Cab

Price: Apple Arcade subscription ($5 a month)

Neo Cab/Twitter

Neo Cab is a survival game for the digital age embroiled in a mystery. You play as Lina, the last human taxi driver in a world overcome by automation. When you move to Los Ojos to reconnect with your best friend, Savy, things don't go as planned when she vanishes. 

With no other options, you must keep taking passengers to earn money and get information about Savy's disappearance. Be careful what you say (or don't say) and keep an eye on your Feelgrid bracelet to stay in tune with your emotions. Too many bad reviews and you'll be out of a job. No pressure!

The Pathless

Price: Apple Arcade subscription ($5 a month)

Annapurna Interactive

In The Pathless, you play as the last Hunter, tasked with traveling to a mysterious, cursed island inhabited by corrupt spirits. Along with your eagle companion, you must defeat the evil to bring back the light. This task is just as big as it sounds, but you get to do it in a gorgeous open world. Flowers and grass sway in the breeze, and mist hovers in the trees as beams of sunlight cut through. 

The Enchanted World

Price: Apple Arcade subscription ($5 a month)

Apple Arcade

The Enchanted World centers on a young fairy whose world is wrecked by dark forces. You'll help her on a journey to repair and heal what's been damaged. With guidance from a red songbird along the way, you'll get help from a web-spinning spider, quirky robots, a hungry frog and others. Redirect rivers, mend tree roots and save your world from the darkness. Some of the puzzles stumped me for quite a bit and I had to take to YouTube to figure them out, but the game is still a good time.  

Very Little Nightmares

Price: $7

Very Little Nightmares/Screenshot by Shelby Brown/CNET

Very Little Nightmares is the mobile version of the suspense-adventure console game series Little Nightmares. The mobile puzzle adventure game tells an original story featuring The Girl in the Yellow Raincoat. Keep your wits about you as you explore a mysterious mansion filled with traps. Solve puzzles and avoid enemies to help her make her escape.

Valiant Hearts: The Great War

Price: Free to download, episodes are $4 each or $8 for all four


Due to the subject matter, this is a more mature game, but nonetheless worth playing. Valiant Hearts: The Great War was inspired by real letters written during World War I. The game is a playable graphic novel that centers on five characters -- Emile, Freddy, Karl, Anna and Walt the medic dog. The group is helping a young German soldier find his loved ones. Each character can interact with objects but has a special tool that they use for tasks. Walt also has a few tricks to help during the game.

Elder Scrolls: Blades

Price: Free


Elder Scrolls: Blades is a stunning game from Bethesda that Apple used to show off its iPhone XS back in 2018. It works on iPad too, of course. Blades is an RPG, like Skyrim, but not a fully open-world experience. In the game, you're a member of an ancient order known as the Blades. After you're forced into exile, you seek out your hometown for refuge. When you find it destroyed, you're tasked with its restoration. Of course, there's quests, dungeon adventures, arena battles and more to experience along the way.

Alto's Adventure

Price: $5

Screenshot by Sarah Mitroff/CNET

Alto's Adventure is to endless runners what Monument Valley is to puzzle games. The game puts a new twist on sports adventure as you -- as Alto -- snowboard across scenic hills, down gorgeous mountainsides, and through villages with day-to-night transitions. It's all set to a lovely soundtrack as well. Rescue animals, collect coins, outsmart mountain elders, and brave the weather along the way.

Alto's Odyssey

Price: $5

Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

If you liked Alto's Adventure, Snowman put out a follow-up standalone game. This time, Alto and his friends embark on a sandboarding adventure in the desert. Everything you loved about the first game is still there, just in a different environment.

What the Golf

Price: Apple Arcade subscription ($5 a month)


When Apple Arcade launched, I immediately started hearing reviews about how hilarious What the Golf was. After I played, I can completely confirm. It's absolutely the most off-the-wall parody game you could imagine. And you definitely don't have to like golf to play (in fact, it might be better if you don't). The physics-based game continues to ramp up the strangeness from the first tee-off. Players will rarely (if ever) hit a golf ball. Instead, you'll "golf" horses, cars, cats, trees, safety cones and anything else (in any location) you could imagine. It's a laugh.


Down in Bermuda

Price: Apple Arcade subscription ($5 a month)


A pilot named Milton crashes on a seemingly deserted island in Bermuda, where you must help him discover the island's secrets, solve puzzles and crack codes to find a way home. It's a cute, colorful game that's perfect for just about everyone. I liked that there was just enough mystery and story mixed in with puzzle-solving. 


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