Best Android games introduction
While the 'free-to-play' market has taken a bit of a beating of late due to gamers falling out of love with the use of in-app payments, the world of mobile gaming is still an exciting one.
Whether you want games that will last the length of a commute, or want to be lost in a port of GTA where you spend hours mowing down pedestrians and making money out of murder, there is a game on here for you.
This constantly updated list is a mixture of free and paid for games, and also that one in between - some in-app payments aren't really that bad. Honest! If by the end you think we have missed something special off of the list, let us know and we will see if it is worthy of inclusion further down the line.
Oh, and just so you know, we do play the games we test - so you can have confidence in our selection.
Blown Away: First Try (free demo + IAP unlock)
Poor Hendrik: an ill wind blew away his brand-new house and his hair, and the only thing he has left is a pair of teleporting shoes. You must find the scattered remains of his home, along with uncovering the mystery of the wind. This means using the power of a single digit to teleport your way through 120 levels set across four different worlds.
Yes, we're in one-thumb platform-game territory again, but Blown Away's elegant teleport mechanic (essentially, tap where you want to go) feels fresh and exciting. Each level is a carefully crafted puzzle to solve, requiring precision movement and timing as you teleport about and quickly recharge your shoes' batteries by marching along for a bit. Note that you get 30 stages for free, and can buy the rest of the game with a single $2.49/£2.14 IAP.
The Executive (£2.41/$2.99/AU$4.10)
If you're having a bad day at the office, spare a thought for the CEO in The Executive. He's just watched his employees transform into werewolves, and now it's his job to save the world from their dastardly schemes. Having apparently been to CEO Fight Club, he's fortunately well-versed in beating up scary creatures, and so he zooms about 120 quickfire levels, kicking werewolves in the face, leaping from floor to floor, and pausing only to invest in a mining company that over time rewards the world's most punchy businessman with new skills. It's all utterly ludicrous, but loads of fun.
Pro Pinball (£2.49/$2.99/AU$3.99)
If you're of a certain age, the words 'Pro Pinball' will bring a huge grin to your face. In the 1990s, it was the pinball simulation series for your PC, featuring amazing physics, great table designs, and stunning visuals. Pro Pinball for Android is a remastered take on Timeshock!, bringing the original table bang up to date with high-quality graphics and lighting, touchscreen controls, and a top-notch soundtrack. It still plays wonderfully, and we can only hope loads of people buy it, enabling the developer to bring other Pro Pinball tables to mobile.
The term 'masterpiece' is perhaps bandied about too often in gaming circles, but Limbo undoubtedly deserves such high praise. It features a boy picking his way through a creepy monochrome world, looking for his sister. At its core, Limbo is a fairly simple platform game with a smattering of puzzles, but its stark visuals, eerie ambience, and superb level design transforms it into something else entirely.
You'll get a chill the first time a chittering figure sneaks off in the distance, and your heart will pump when being chased by a giant arachnid, intent on spearing your tiny frame with one of its colossal spiked legs. That death is never the end — each scene can be played unlimited times until you progress — only adds to Limbo's disturbing nature.
The Room (69p, $0.99, AU$0.99).
One of the more negative aspects of touchscreen gaming is the lack of tactile controls. The Room, though, is a surprisingly tactile game, despite you spending your time pawing at glass. This is because it involves you sitting there, trying to unravel the mysteries of a box. Each dial or switch you fiddle with might cause something to spring to life elsewhere.
Before you know it, you're immersed in the videogame equivalent of Russian dolls meets carpentry, as breathed into life by a crazed inventor. There are hints of horror lurking within, too, and a fragmented and haunting narrative to discover. Play this game in a dark room with rain pouring down outside for best effect; and when you're done, immediately install and play the similarly excellent sequel.
ALONE... (£1.49, $1.99, $2.63)
People who today play mobile classic Canabalt and consider it lacking due to its simplicity don't understand what the game is trying to do. Canabalt is all about speed — the thrill of being barely in control, and of affording the player only the simplest controls for survival. ALONE… takes that basic premise and straps a rocket booster to it.
Instead of leaping between buildings, you're flying through deadly caverns, a single digit nudging your tiny craft up and down. Occasional moments of generosity — warnings about incoming projectiles; your ship surviving minor collisions and slowly regenerating — are offset by the relentlessly demanding pressure of simply staying alive and not slamming into a wall. It's an intoxicating combination, and one that, unlike most games in this genre, matches Canabalt in being genuinely exciting to play.
Framed (£1.79, $2.99, AU$3.23)
From a gaming perspective, the most important aspect of touchscreen devices is that they give you new ways to play, but relatively few developers take full advantage, instead choosing to ape traditional controls. Framed is an exception, flinging you headlong into an animated comic of sorts. Your aim is to improve the fortunes of a spy, fleeing from the cops — and worse. Panels are dragged about and rotated, and new ideas regularly appear, including you having to carefully shift scenes on the page at exactly the right moment. This is a stylish and finite affair that ends before it gets old, leaving you satisfied but nonetheless hoping for more.
Angry Birds Space (free)
Developer Rovio has done quite a lot of aggressive whoring of the Angry Birds franchise, but this space-based fork of the simplistic physics game series is really worth a try. For one, it introduces some new play concepts, with the planet-based levels requiring different tactics, plus the puzzles generally need a bit more of a thoughtful approach than the chuck-it-and-see of the originals.
Has a bit of an 'indie' vibe about it this one, with Badland offering a weird, dark and gloomy world, in which you fly about in control of a… blob thing. Your blob gets bigger and smaller, splits into loads of mini clones, and generally baffles you about what might lie around the next corner. We like a bit of a surprise, and this is full of them.
Prune (£3.10, $3.99, AUS $5.53)
It's not often you see a game about the "joy of cultivation", and Prune is unlike anything you've ever played before. Apparently evolving from an experimental tree-generation script, the game has you swipe to shape and grow a plant towards sunlight by tactically cutting off specific branches.
That sounds easy, but the trees, shrubs and weeds in Prune don't hang around. When they're growing at speed and you find yourself faced with poisonous red orbs to avoid, or structures that damage fragile branches, you'll be swiping in a frantic race towards sunlight. And all it takes is one dodgy swipe from a sausage finger to see your carefully managed plant very suddenly find itself being sliced in two.
Monument Valley (£2.49, $3.99, $AU4.90)
A very, very pretty game, this. Monument Valley is based around the weird sort of impossible geometric shapes popularised by artist M. C. Escher, with its colourful maps bending and rotating in ways that appear to defy the laws of nature. You walk on walls, flip them, turn them into floors, avoid crows and marvel at how beautiful it all looks. A short game with only 10 multi-layered levels, but a joyful ride.
The developer calls this a "multidirectional shoot 'em up" presumably because describing it as a "Geometry Wars clone" might have got him in a bit of legal trouble. Regardless of its origin, it's a superb shooter with some bizarre game modes and controls that work exceptionally well on touch devices.
MC 5: Blackout (£4.99, $6.99,AU$8.99)
We get moaned at a lot for putting too many silly, quirky little games about shapes and animals and organising letters of the alphabet in this list. So here's one about men with guns shooting each other in 3D. Modern Combat 5 the latest in Gameloft's mobile homage to grown-up home console FPS franchises, in which you gun about the place alone or in online multiplayer matches. Nice to see Gameloft offering everything in a one-off install here, rather than packing it with in-app purchases.
Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft (free)
If you're not already familiar with Blizzard's Hearthstone then consider this a warning: it gets very, very addictive. A card game from the makers of World of Warcraft, Hearthstone sees you building decks from won or purchased cards to then battle against friends and strangers. It's a surprisingly complex game that demands meticulous strategy. You can play and enjoy without paying a penny, but there are options to buy booster packs and add-on quests should you want to.
Whale Trail Frenzy (free)
No one dies of disease in Whale Trail. It's a sweet flying sim, which sees you float about in the clouds having a lovely time, collecting things, boosting and generally being quite happy about it. The cheery vibe is broken a bit when adverts and in-app purchase requests pop up, but it's happy enough before the money men turn up.
Thomas Was Alone (£3.99, $5.99, $AUD9.99)
One of the PC "indie" world's big name smashes has arrived on Android, with the existential platform game yours to... enjoy. Or at least attempt to understand. You could call Thomas Was Alone a "platform game" if you wanted to be mean and disrespectful, but it's more about offering an atmospheric and thoughtful journey through an abstract world. A bit like a piece of art, but let's not get into that debate here. I'm not being paid by the word.
Bad Piggies (free)
Angry Birds maker Rovio proves it's not a one-trick bird-pony with this, a bizarre and quirky physics game. You have a toolbox at your disposal, used to build a flying and/or driving machine, which then has to trundle its way through a level. It's silly, but at least attempts to shove out some new ideas.
Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions (£3.82, $4.99,AU$6.47)
This is the good stuff. So many mobile games make the claim of being console-quality, but Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions is a rare title that fully delivers. Like its predecessors, this is a twin-stick shooter, a fight for survival against waves of deadly neon foes. But as its name alludes to, Dimensions dispenses with flat arenas, instead wrapping play areas around geometric shapes. It's disorienting as a cube in space you're traversing lurches about, and exhilarating as you barely avoid the legions of ships lurking beyond an edge. With 15 grids and 12 modes, along with an extensive single-player quest, Dimensions easily manages to be the finest game of its kind on mobile.
Radiant Defense (free)
The tower defense genre is heaving on Android, thanks to the poke and press play mechanics being ideally suited to touchscreen play. Radiant Defense is a great example of the simplified strategy concept, presenting its war action in a futuristic neon style that looks awesome on any phone with the grunt to do it justice.
Pocket League Story 2 (free)
Kariosoft's made a big thing for itself by using its management style of game across various scenarios, with this sporting event being one of the best. You take control of a club, then stress about signings, money, tactics and more. It's slightly robbed of some fun via a desire to use in-app purchases to squeeze money out of players, ironically mirroring the state of the game it takes inspiration from.
80 Days (£3, $5, AU$5.50)
Of all the attempts to play with the conventions of novels and story-led gaming on mobile, 80 Days is the most fun. It takes place in an 1872 with a decidedly steampunk twist, but where Phileas Fogg remains the same old braggart. As his trusty valet, you must help Fogg make good on a wager to circumnavigate the globe in 80 days. This involves managing/trading belongings and carefully selecting routes.
Mostly, though, interaction comes by way of a pacey, frequently exciting branched narrative, like a Choose Your Own Adventure book on fast-forward. A late-2015 content update added 150,000 words, two new plots and 30 cities to an adventure that already boasted plenty of replay value — not least when you've experienced the joys of underwater trains and colossal mechanical elephants in India, and wonder what other marvels await discovery in this world of wonders.
Tiny Thief (free)
As accessible as it is charming, Tiny Thief is a perfect fit for mobile, with a simple tap used to both move and interact with objects as you navigate increasingly intricate levels trying to complete objectives (which as the name suggests usually involve stealing things), while staying hidden and solving puzzles.
The gameplay might be simple but the humour and imagination should keep a smile on your face for the duration. Better yet, you can play half the game for free...though the remaining levels will cost you.
Lara Croft GO (£3.99, $4.99, AU$6.49).
Lara Croft games have landed on Android to rather variable results. The original Tomb Raider just doesn't work on touchscreens, and although Lara Croft: Relic Run is enjoyable enough, it's essentially a reskinned Temple Run. Lara Croft GO is far more ambitious and seriously impressive. It rethinks Tomb Raider in much the same way Hitman GO reimagined the Hitman series.
Croft's adventures become turn-based puzzles, set in a world half-way between board game and gorgeous isometric minimalism. It shouldn't really work, but somehow Lara Croft GO feels like a Tomb Raider game, not least because of the wonderful sense of atmosphere, regular moments of tension, and superb level design.
Cut the Rope: Time Travel (free)
The weird little physics game is one of Android's most popular franchises, with this update introducing a few new tricks and weapons. It's the same sort of experience as its earlier chapters, though, with players swinging ropes to throw sweeties around its colourful screens. Masses of levels and a mid-to-high fun level.
Piloteer (76p, $0.99, AU$1.35).
Piloteer teaches you to be careful what you wish for. If you thought a cool future would be blasting about on a jetpack, be mindful of the heroine of this game, who spends most of her time crashing head-first into the scenery. To be fair, her jetpack controls are more than a touch twitchy, which combined with the ragdoll physics may well make you want to send your device for a quick flying lesson itself. But perseverance reaps rewards as you gain at least some modicum of control. Seldom will you have been so excited about making a gaming character take off and successfully land a few steps to the right.
HoPiKo (£2.99, $3.99, AU$4.99)
If you've played Laser Dog's previous efforts, PUK and ALONE…, you'll know what you're in for with HoPiKo. This game takes no prisoners. If it did take them, it'd repeatedly punch them in the face before casually discarding them. HoPiKo, then, is not a game to be messed with. Instead, it feels more like a fight. In each of the dozens of hand-crafted tiny levels, you leap from platform to platform via deft drags and taps, attempting to avoid death.
Only, death is everywhere and very easy to meet. The five-stage level sets are designed to be completed in mere seconds, but also to break your brain and trouble your fingers. It's just on the right side of hellishly frustrating, meaning you'll stop short of flinging your device at the wall, emerging from your temporary red rage foolishly determined that you can in fact beat the game on your next go.
Voxel Rush (free)
A very pretty and minimalist racer, where the usual beach/mountain/lava environments have been binned in favour of bold slabs of colour. It's stylish, motion controlled, ready for multiplayer action and integrates Google Play Game support for solo achievements and leaderboards.
Nightbird Trigger X (free)
What the developer calls a "point shooting game," Nightbird Trigger X is a one-button pony where your little man has to shoot a point in the screen to progress. But there's stuff in the way. Annoying moving stuff, that means you score less and take longer if you can't find the target with your first bullet. Simple, but free and a little bit original.
Re-Volt 2: Multiplayer (free)
Old-ish people who played the original Re-Volt race series on the games hardware of yesteryear will be bang up for this, even though it looks a little rough around the edges. Re-Volt 2: Multiplayer is a refresh of the radio-controlled car racer, now updated with multiplayer options for the sociable modern player. Free to download and get going, with only some unlockables masked by an in-app purchase requirement.
This is bonkers. Spaceteam uses the Android hardware to the max to build a properly innovative multiplayer-only game, where between two and four players come together to shout exciting space terminology at each other while battling the control panel of an exploding ship. It's very silly, like something that only came out on the Wii in Japan.
Toast Time (£1.99, US$2.99, AU$1.28)
If it needs pigeon-holing, Toast Time is best described as a combat platform game. Thing is, you're only a toaster, and your weapon is… toast. So it's sort of a toast-based physics simulation as well, with the kickback from the toast knocking the toaster around the screen and requiring constant compensation. Because there's a clock that needs protecting and… it's best you play it. It's good.
Ridiculous Fishing (£1.99, US$2.99, AU$3.68)
Quite possibly one of the best uses of the mobile phone accelerometer tech there's ever been, this, with motion control sending your fishing line down to the depths of the sea while you avoid fish. Then, on the way up, it's how you catch them. That's when it goes ridiculous, as the fisherman chucks them up in the air -- and you shoot them to bank the money. Silly, but a must play.
Super Hexagon (£1.99, US$2.99, AU$3.68)
Another mobile classic. Super Hexagon has two controls -- rotate left and rotate right. That's all you need to navigate the endless maze that spins out of the screen, in one of the mobile world's hardest, coolest, best-sounding and most moreish games. We order you to buy it. You literally have to.
Threes! (£1.20, US$1.99, AU$2.40)
The sort of silly maths game you might've played in your head before mobile phones emerged to absorb all our thought processes, Threes! really does take less than 30 seconds to learn. You bash numbers about until they form multiples of three and disappear. That's it. There are stacks of free clones available, but if you won't spare the price of one massive bar of chocolate to pay for a lovely little game like this that'll amuse you for week, you're part of the problem and deserve to rot in a freemium hell where it costs 50p to do a wee.
Minecraft Pocket Edition (£4.99, US$6.99,AU$9.25)
The build 'em up phenomenon works brilliantly well on Android, thanks to the creator of the desktop original taking the time to do it justice. It's a slimmed down interface you see here with on-screen buttons, but the basics are all in and the Survival and Creative modes are ready for play -- as is multiplayer mode over Wi-Fi.
Heroes of Loot (£1.72, US$1.99, AU$3.30)
The entire back catalogue of solo indie creator OrangePixel is worth exploring, but his latest is the best yet. It's a stylish 2D dungeon explorer, with masses of quests, classes and secret areas to unlock. Plus it supports a wide range of Bluetooth controllers, for easier play if you've got a compatible lump of buttoned plastic.
Flight Control (£0.60, US$0.99, AU$1.20)
An exciting new genre all of its own when it appeared, Flight Control created the world of the top-down air traffic control simulator. Literally three million times more exciting than it sounds, it's played by swiping 2D aeroplanes into runway landing slots, avoiding collisions and scoring for successful landings. Perfectly suited to touchscreen play.
Pac-Man CE DX (£3.84, $4.99, AU$4.99).
Since Pac-Man graced arcades in the early 1980s, titles featuring the rotund dot-muncher have typically been split between careful iterations on the original, and mostly duff attempts to shoe-horn the character into other genres. CE DX is ostensibly the former, although the changes made from the original radically transform the game, making it easily the best Pac-Man to date.
Here, the maze is split in two. Eat all the dots from one half and a special object appears on the other; eat that and the original half's dots are refilled in a new configuration. All the while, dozing ghosts you brush past join a spectral conga that follows your every move. The result is an intoxicating speedrun take on a seminal arcade classic, combined with the even more ancient Snake; somehow, this combination ends up being fresh, exciting and essential.
Game Dev Story (£1.60, US$2.50, AU$3.00)
The "Story" that started Kairosoft's domination of the simplistic business world sim, Game Dev Story sees you take charge of a software house and attempt to create a smash game. The sweet pixel-art characters then battle with the complexities of design and the stresses of arbitrary internet reviews from people who haven't even played it (ahem), in the pursuit of a money-making smash.
Raiden Legacy (£4.45, US$4.99, AU$10.00)
Quite possibly the greatest 2D shoot 'em up of all time, the Android conversion of Radien is every bit as impressive as the original. A choice of control schemes, display and difficulty settings make it a little more manageable on touchscreens, plus, seeing as this is the Legacy edition, you get Raiden, Raiden Fighters, Raiden Fighters 2 and Raiden Fighters Jet.
Fallout Shelter (free)
After making a splash on iOS, Fallout Shelter is now available on Android for all you Wasteland nuts. Create a vault and fill it with post-nuclear-war survivors, expanding your underground property, levelling up your dwellers, and sending them out to explore the surface left behind.
Football Manager Handheld 2014 (£6.99, US$9.99,
Explodes through the usual Android game price ceiling by charging £6.99, but, in this case, it's worth it. The full app offers a superb, stats-heavy mobile take on the classic management series, hardly skimping on any minute detail in the transition to mobile. Manage transfers, the media, match days and more in one of the sporting gamers' must-get titles.
Canabalt HD (£1.99, US$2.99, AU$3.68)
The newer, slightly posher version of the original game, the one that pretty much invented the "endless runner" genre that now clogs up the gaming sections of the app stores of the world. You are a man. You run along rooftops to a techno soundtrack. That's about it, only it's much more enjoyable than it sounds.
Another World (£1.70, US$1.99, AU$3.49)
The classic 2D puzzle platformer that wowed the simpler folk of the 1990s with the very occasional bit of 3D, has arrived in perfect form on Android. This 20th anniversary edition has the original graphics plus the option of an HD refresh, but what's really about is getting to play one of gaming's most loved classics. On your phone. For a couple of quid. Madness.
GTA Vice City (£2.99, US$4.99, AU$5.53)
Seem to remember people thought this was quite good. For the price of a pint (if you're somewhere northern) you can own one of the largest and most highly-rated video games of all time, to pop in and out of on your mobile phone. On-screen controls are never going to suit a game like this, but they are at least fully customisable -- so you can get it how you like it.
Terraria (£3.14, US$4.99, AU$5.70)
Sort of a Minecraft… platform… puzzle 'em up, Terraria players dig and mine and fight their way through randomly generated worlds. Resources make weapons and houses, weapons and houses mean you stay alive, plus there's Wi-Fi multiplayer support that has it nearing parity with the version sold on desktops.
Sonic The Hedgehog 2 (£1.99, US$2.99, AU$3.68)
Not the easiest thing to play using on-screen buttons, but the fact this exists at all is a marvel. It's also a glorious conversion, with Sega finally taking the time to do the best Sonic justice. It's been remastered into widescreen and supports a wide range of Bluetooth controllers so, even if you don't yet own one, you'll be able to enjoy it fully when you eventually do.
Scribblenauts Remix (£0.64, US$0.99)
The 3DS game made its way to mobile some time ago with Scribblenauts Remix, and was later joined by Scribblenauts Unlimited. Remix, however, comes at a lower price, making it a perfect entry point for newcomers. The premise is this: think of something, type it into the text editor, and there's a good chance it will appear.
Scribbnauts is half platformer, half dictionary, and it's up to your imagination to solve a series of puzzles.
Colin McRae Rally (£1.49, US$1.99, AU$2.80)
Cars. Cars going round corners and sometimes down straight bits. That's what you get here, in this nice looking recreation of the old PlayStation race favourite. On Android, Colin McRae lets users race four cars including Colin's classic Ford Focus, cars you get to smash around 30 separate race stages. Based on the beloved Colin McRae Rally 2.0 from the PS2, you really can't go wrong.
Broken Sword: Director's Cut (£3.99, US$4.99,
This cult classic from an earlier wave of the big home consoles has been converted beautifully to Android, capturing the slightly odd and amusing adventure perfectly - and with an interface that really works on today's touchscreens. It's an "indie" game from before there were indie games, silly and with some excellent and challenging puzzles.
Worms 2: Armageddon (£2.99, US$4.99, AU$0.99)
Very old and very good, the Worms series led the way when it came to making strategy games fun. The comedy combat action is turn-based, with players alternating at having pop shots at each other with their weaponry. This slower pace means it's ideal for online and local multiplayer, as the odd glitch doesn't ruin the experience.
Baldur's Gate Enhanced Edition (£6.99, US$9.99,
The strategy titan has a hefty price tag attached to it on Android, but that's OK as the immense challenge it contains is likely to burn for longer than the sun. The first Baldur's game, this faithful reworking of the 1998 classic also includes several of the PC game's post-release expansion packs, just in case the standard 60-hour marathon quest isn't hardcore enough for you.
The Wolf Among Us (£9.59, $14.99, around $17.99)
Telltale has made a name for itself with story-driven episodic games and The Wolf Among Us is one of its best. Essentially a hard boiled fairy tale, you control the big bad wolf as he hunts a murderer through the mean streets of Fabletown.
Don't let the fairy tale setting fool you, this is a violent, mature game and it's one where your decisions have consequences, impacting not only what the other characters think of you but also who lives and who dies. Episode One is free but the remaining four will set you back a steep £9.59 / $14.99 / around AU$18. Trust us though, you'll want to see how this story ends.
The Banner Saga (£3.49, $4.99, around AU$5.99)
Large, deep games are still relatively rare on Android, but you can add one more to the list with The Banner Saga. This Viking-inspired tactical RPG gives you control of over 25 different characters across 7 different classes as you battle your way through beautiful hand drawn environments and make decisions both in and out of combat which affect the story.
There's a lot to it, but its turn-based nature means controls are never a problem and you can take it at your own pace.