Updated: August 19, 2022
Love mobile gaming but don’t love advertisements or irritating in-app purchases? We feel you. That’s why we’ve rounded up our favorite pay-once-and-play premium iOS games to share.
There are thousands of games on Apple’s App Store, which we can split into roughly two categories: games you pay for, and free-to-play games you “don’t” pay for. The latter, of course, will cost you time as your cup runneth over with ad breaks, and money (which is equal to time) for in-app purchases. Nobody likes ads or constantly being solicited to pay to unlock game features, so put these free-to-play games out of your mind.
Pay-to-play games cost money up front, but they follow the time-tested mercantile method of buying a thing you want for money, and then the transaction is over forever. If it was good enough for ancient Mesopotamians, then it’s good enough for you.
So, which premium games should you spend your hard-earned shekels on right upfront, thus avoiding any and all in-app purchases and ad breaks? Here are five of some of the best bets, in no particular order.
Reigns: Game of Thrones ($4)
This riff on the original Reigns game isn’t just on this list because Game of Thrones is hot right now—it’s on this list because Game of Thrones is hot right now and because Reigns: Game of Thrones is a good little game. It’s more a game of choices than thrones, per se, with gameplay that’s reminiscent of going down a Tinder-hole.
During each turn, a character mugshot pops up (rendered in a simplified art style), and you swipe left for one decision, or right for another. Much like in the show, every decision carries benefits and consequences, so you have to chase political moderation to keep things in balance and win, rather than die.
OK, when described that way, it doesn’t sound much like real-world politics today. Still, it’s more fun than Tinder, since losing in Reigns: Game of Thrones probably won’t make you feel as bad as losing at Tinder. And besides, this game is far more cute and fun than most Tinder interactions.
Escapists 2: Pocket Breakout ($7)
This is just about the only way to perform a totally Apple-certified and -sanctioned jailbreak on your iPhone. That’s because you’ll be jailbreaking little spritely, isometric prisoners out of a digital prison, and not your phone out of its mandated operating system experience. You will steal things. You will beat other prisoners up. You will accidentally take a swing at a guard and wind up in the infirmary. If you’re smart, you will break out of prison.
Escapists 2: Pocket Breakout is an abridged port of a game originally released for computers and consoles, so it’s more of a real game than an idle time killer. It’s also another example of how something very stressful in real life—like breaking out of prison, or getting into a shower fight, or purposefully clogging and overflowing a toilet—somehow becomes fun once it’s a game and there are no consequences.
But this ain’t Club Fed. Your easiest go of it will be in a minimum security facility, though you can ratchet the difficulty up by sending yourself away to a gulag in not-North Korea, a Wild West prison, and more. No matter where you choose to incarcerate yourself, you’ll have to keep up appearances by showing up for roll call, shower time, meals, and labor, among other things. Fun little game prison is still prison, and the guards will beat you mercilessly if you step too far out of line.
Stardew Valley ($8)
If being a prisoner of a prison isn’t your cup of Italian roast, how about being a prisoner of the land? This little farming RPG is actually a huge and wildly popular game made by one guy, originally for PC. Much like with real farming, there is an overwhelming amount of things you can do in Stardew Valley—growing things, killing things, and talking to people—it’s like a microcosm of agricultural life itself. You may also go fishing and spelunk through monster-infested caves, makes friends with the townsfolk, or, conversely, be the weird fishmonger who lives on the outskirts of town and doesn’t talk much.
Don’t Starve: Pocket Edition ($5)
Not just a game, but also great advice, Don’t Starve: Pocket Edition is another entry on this list that’s an adaptation of a PC and console game, scaled down to fit on your mobile device, so that you may never have to not play it again, no matter where you are.
This beautifully illustrated and animated little game emerged from the survival games boom a few years back, but outlasted much of it’s fancier competition. It’s tight, fun, and really hard, and it’s got a gothic horror / Lovecraftian vibe to it. See, it’s not just about eating things to not starve—it’s also about not going mad and letting the shadow monsters manifest and kill you. Which is also good real-world advice.
Donut County ($5)
Do you like raccoons? Of course you do. Do you like holes? Maybe, maybe not. But you need them. In donuts (and bagels). In your body. Though, you must take care not to question the fundamental nature of holes; whether they are things, or the absence thereof. This is dangerous thinking, and it will not lead you to happiness.
Keep that in mind as you play Donut County, for in this game, you are the hole—or rather, raccoons operating remote-controlled holes, probably looking for grubs. You will move the void and grow it, swallowing objects and sending them, presumably, to Hell. As you, the hole, grow, you will face greater challenges in sending all the things down, deep down, to the new, subterranean society you have created. This, in turn, fuels a quirky story about the under-dwellers you’ve banished to the darkness with your madness, and who want to know one thing: why?
But there is no why. There is only the void.