6 mobile games that prove not all Free-to-Play is evil (seriously)

Free-to-Play isnt a dirty phrase

You ever noticed that the less money you have, the more you want to buy something? It doesnt have to be anything specific, you just want to buyanything. Just because youve got the money burning a hole in your pockets. Well, you wont have to worry about that problem today, because were here to talk about games you can download for free.

Now, I know what youre thinking. Free-to-play? Doesnt that mean terrible gameplay, artificial limits on progress, and persistent exploitation? Well, my friend, youre not wrong but youre not exactly right, either. Its possible to have a decent free-to-play game on mobile without having to wall everything off from the players. Dont believe me? Ive got 6 lined up for you right here.

Magic: the Gathering 2014

Sometimes you just cant make it to your local Friday Night Magic. Its okay. I understand. I can help you…with a pretty awesome little simulator. Magic 2014 is a free-to-try sequel to 2013s Magic: Duels of the Planeswalkers, and it is great. Part of Magic 2014s greatness lies in the elegance of the game itself–by this point, M:tG is essentially the loving grandfather of collectable card games–but also in the slick presentation and generous free options.

When I say generous, I do mean generous. Magic 2014 offers a pretty good amount of content in its free version, including a satisfying (if a bit too easy) campaign, multiplayer, and sealed events like drafting. Users looking for a bit more can always upgrade to the full version or unlock a few new cards or decks. Its not perfect–in fact its a bit too buggy for my liking–but if you just need to get your fix of blue/black control or red deck wins, Magic 2014 is a solid choice.


Magic: the Gathering is one of the oldest collectible card games, but the genre seems to have found new life on mobile platforms. Calculords is one of the newest batch, and Im pleased to say that its far more fun than the kitschy pixel graphics would have you believe. Rather than playing lands or generating mana, players have to solve simple (and not so simple) math problems to put creatures into the battlefield. Once involved in the fray, creatures attack each other or other players until one players health reaches zero. It sounds complicated, but Ninja Crime, the studio developing Calculords, do an excellent job teaching you to the mechanics in the intro tutorial.

As with any other Collectable Card Game (CCG), Calculords is pretty well adapted to free-to-play. Once youre in the game, the only purchasable items are–what else?–booster packs of cards. Paid cards are fairly powerful, but not so overtly powerful as to be gamebreaking. Of course, it can require a bit of grinding to get past certain levels, but nothing like the brick walls youd expect to find in, say, Candy Crush.

Asphalt 8: Airborne

Do you like Burnout? Of course you do. Now imagine playing burnout on your phone. Sounds pretty good, right? Now imagine it was free. No, youre not dreaming–youre just playing Asphalt 8. Considered to be one of the best racing games available on iOS, Asphalt 8 has it all: speed, beauty, and a pay model that respects the player.

Thats not to say Asphalt 8 isnt out for your money, but Gameloft is fairly nice about asking for it. The game itself is free–it wouldnt be on this list otherwise–but there are a few in-app purchases you can make. The most obvious trophies are, of course, new cars. You should be able to upgrade your car regularly for the first few hours, but youll eventually notice a slowing of the rate at which new cars are unlocked. That looming wall might scare some, but youre still able to enjoy yourself with a quality racer in the mean time.

Jetpack Joyride

Jetpack Joyride is deliciously simple. You guide a blue-clad everyman named Barry Steakfries in his attempt to escape from a secret laboratory. Tap the screen to go up, release to go down. Thats it. Thats all you need to know to play Jetpack Joyride. Well, that and the expectation of piloting gravity suits, flying robot dragons, and stompy power armor!

Open the store and youll find another pleasant surprise–nearly all of the items available are mere cosmetic upgrades. The standard jetpack not doing it for you? Youre now piloting a flying christmas tree. Think Barry needs a new look? Congrats, now Goku is your pilot. Yes, Goku. Complete with a super saiyans pointy blonde hair. There are some real cheat items, but the game never puts much pressure on you to buy them. After all, its not like youre going to reach the end of an infinite runner–Jetpack Joyride is about the journey, not the destination.

Solstice Arena

Solstice Arena is, for all intents and purposes, a dumbed down version of your traditional Mobile Online Battle Arena (MOBA). The thing is, making something simpler isnt always a bad thing. Full scale PC MOBAs like League of Legends or DotA 2 are complex, draining affairs. Solstice Arena simplifies many of the familiar MOBA tropes by removing the creeps and limiting each team to three players each. the simplified mechanics and touch controls make Solstice Arena all but ideal for players looking for an intro into the genre.

Solstice Arena adopts the familiar League system of free-to-play, rotating heroes in and out of use for non-paying players. Have a hero that you absolutely love? You can use in-game currency or real money to unlock it for good. Its a tried-and-true system that wont punish free players with drudgery.

Marvel Puzzle Quest

In the cluttered world of mobile-friendly bejeweled clones, Ive always had a special soft spot for the Puzzle Quest series. Ive always found the addition of HP and spells to traditional match-3 puzzle solving nigh irresistible, but when I learned that D3 swapped the generic fantasy setting for the Marvel Universe? Well, it was love at first spider bite. Marvel Puzzle Quest: Dark Reign combines two of my favorite things to create a very solid puzzle game, as well as a free-to-play title you dont have to be ashamed to play.

You’d probably expect that D3 puts all of the best characters behind paywalls, but youd only be partly correct. Marvel Puzzle Quest is actually fairly generous with hero characters, giving you early access to some fan favorites like Iron Man or Thor. In addition, every match you win gives you a decent shot at unlocking your enemy for your own team. Marvel Puzzle Quest can be a bit grindy, but thats nothing new to fans of the series, so its hard to blame that on the transition to free-to-play.

Theyre six in a million

So there you have it: six great games that wont cost you a dime and wont ruin themselves just because youre a bit strapped for cash. Its a nice change of pace to see mobile games that are treated like actual games, rather than just a hollow shell for an in-app store. Reward the games that monetize well, and others will follow suit!

Looking for other great games to play? Well, theres this one game you really need to give a shot…

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