iPad reviews of the week: Dark Meadow, Fruit Ninja: Puss in Boots, Forever Drive, Steambirds: Survival

Game: Forever Drive
Price: Free
Size: 112MB
Buy it now from the iTunes store: US / UK

Forever Drive isn't a racing game in the traditional sense – it's a driving game, and that's an important distinction here. Rather than face four-wheeled competition or take part in individual races with clear stakes, the goal here is simply to drive for as long as you can across futuristic roads. It's free, but unlike many games that have turned "freemium" into a dirty word, Forever Drive is fully playable without spending a dime, and it's rather enthralling at times. With meaningful micro-transaction perks, fans don't have to feel bad about dropping some coin into an otherwise free game.

The neon-coated roads and backdrops immediately recall Tron, but you won't be manning light cycles here; in fact, the vehicles look rather pedestrian, but they'll do the trick in this arcade-centric affair. Forever Drive sticks you on one of the glossy, winding paths, many of which can be traversed in a minute or less – and then automatically swaps in another track to continue your progress. However, you're limited on time, plus hazards like traffic and obstructed views lie in your path, so you'll need to drive carefully to zip through checkpoints and keep moving. The goal here is to drive forever – or for as long as you can.

Most of the tracks come from other users via the in-app track editor, which means back-to-back courses may offer wildly distinct styles and approaches. Each completed round grants experience, which unlocks better vehicles, making it easier to last longer on the track. Forever Drive is enjoyable on its own, but the in-app purchases let you tap into massive experience boosts or access cars and bonuses without the grind. Unlike a lot of free-to-play games, Forever Drive's design doesn't diminish the free experience – it just improves the paid one. Cheers for that.

Game: Steambirds: Survival HD
Price: Free
Size: 18.8MB
Buy it now from the iTunes store: US / UK

We were high on the original iPad version of Flash hit Steambirds. Steambirds: Survival doesn't muck with the core turn-based approach in which you set paths for well-armed planes and let them duke it out in simply-animated dogfights, but now it takes the form of a wave-based endurance test with a considerably larger amount of content. It's all free, assuming you take your time with the game - otherwise a quick $2.99 in-app purchase removes the ads and unlocks all locations.

The play mechanics might seem similar to the Bungie-published Crimson: Steam Pirates, which delivered a naval take on the formula. You must survive waves of enemy planes via smart actions and power-up usage, as well as utilizing funds (earned by downing planes) to recruit controllable allies. Each city features several missions – whether it's lasting a certain number of waves or killing an indicated amount of foes – which offer defined goals and help you earn more coins. Beyond allies, coins are also used to purchase access to further cities.

More than 60 missions spread across eight cities are currently included, with another seven cities coming via updates. It's possible to unlock everything through play, though considering the cheap access fee for the full version, serious fans may want to upgrade from the start. Steambirds: Survival's strategic design delivers engaging aerial battles that are a perfect fit for a portable device, and with input from Halfbrick (the studio behind Fruit Ninja and Jetpack Joyride), it also looks better than ever. It's easily one of the best free-to-play options on the App Store, so don't overthink the download – just grab it and give it a whirl.