Best free Android games
As Android phones and tablets have increased in popularity, the number of apps available for the platform has rocketed.
And that means more free Android games. There's a lot of junk out there but, fortunately, there are gems among the junk.
We've worked our way through a whole load of Android games to reveal the ones you should download to your phone.
So without delay, here is our pick of the best free Android games available.
New this week: Cubed Rally World
More or less an auto-runner on a five-lane road, is all about belting along, steering left and right to avoid anything in your path. Survive long enough in this isometric landscape and you hit the checkered flag, where cube-oriented fame and fortune awaits.
But things get really interesting when you grab coins en-route and start buying new vehicles on the game’s home screen. Each vehicle shakes up the visuals and the manner in which you race - the dune buggy, for example, can leap majestically over sandy hills where the UFO bothers farmyard cows to add some variety into a older game format.
More importantly, for every vehicle you buy, a new track section is added to the rally, the vehicle you control automatically switching when you reach that point.
Amass a suitably large collection and there’s the potential for colossal scores – but completing the rally becomes significantly harder, which helps prolong longetivity.
This one-thumb arcade game combines classic slalom fare with the checkpoint racing and branching maps seen in the likes of OutRun. Using a single digit, you direct a little red boat through the waters of , aiming to collect ancient artifacts. At the end of each short stage, you head left or right to determine the next location.
Obstacles are a major foe – blunder into one and your boat is robbed of momentum – not great when playing against the clock. But you must also be mindful of the arrow at the top of the screen. This points towards the next checkpoint – miss one and it’s ‘game over’.
This feels harsh (a time penalty would have been better), but encourages repeat play. After all, the map never changes, so learn it and master the controls and you’ll one day be able to scythe towards the finish line.
Namco’s arcade classic hardly needs any introduction. But just in case you’ve been locked in a cave since the late 1970s, features the titular protagonist, a rotund yellow mouth who munches dots in a maze patrolled by ghost-like monsters.
The aim is to eat the dots and avoid the ghosts. Grab flashing power pills and you can briefly turn the tables on your pursuers – by eating them when they turn blue and try to flee.
Despite being over 30 years old, Pac-Man remains a fun game, and the simple controls (basically, swipe in the direction you next want to turn) work very nicely on Android, as do the crisp old-school visuals.
For free, you get the original maze and several plays per day. More mazes can be unlocked using saved up play tokens – or you can buy more (and remove the ads) with various IAPs.
The Battle of Polytopia
World-building turn-based strategy series Civilization is a classic, but mobile versions have on the whole been a bit poor, offering neither the scope of their computer-based cousins nor the accessibility on-the-go mobile titles demand.
Polytopia isn’t the most immediate game – you need to experiment a bit to figure out how everything works. But the cartoon stylings are approachable, and the mix of entertainment and depth provides a hook and staying power.
Smartly, there are also multiple ways to play: old-school ‘kill everyone else’ domination, a limited 30-turn ‘Perfection’ mode, and, if the AI’s not doing it for you, pass-and-play. And all for free – for which Polytopia deserves to dominate your Android game time for a good long while.
This vertically scrolling shooter plays with convention in a manner that messes with your head. The basics are familiar – you’re dumped within a vertically scrolling environment and must shoot ALL OF THE THINGS.
Occasionally, obliterated foes drop bonus items that boost your weaponry, providing the means to unleash major destruction while yelling YEEE-HAA – if that’s your sort of thing.
However – and this is a big ‘however’ – everything in only moves when you do. The temptation is to blaze ahead, due to bonus points being won for covering greater distances, and because you’re being pursued by the sole thing that doesn’t freeze when you do – an all-devouring nothingness.
But careening on isn’t always a good strategy, because blundering into a single foe or projectile ends your game. Risk versus reward, then, in this fresh and great-looking blaster that dares to try something different.
Does Not Commute
This superb arcade puzzler finds you directing traffic about a small town. A vehicle enters the screen, and you’re told where it needs to leave, steering it by way of directional arrows. Easy.
Only, this town is afflicted with strange temporal oddness that means subsequent journeys overlap previous ones. Before long, you’re making all kinds of detours to avoid collisions with cars you’d a minute ago driven to safety, which would otherwise wipe seconds off the timer as you wait for damaged vehicles to limp towards their exit.
Adding to its smarts, includes a storyline with multiple characters, playing out across its varied environments. The only snag on mobile: you must complete the entire game in a single sitting. If that sounds like too much, a one-off IAP unlocks checkpoints.
The protagonist in isn’t having an especially great day, having tumbled into a strange videogame world where he’s apparently lost his arms and been painted purple. Still, he makes the most of it, bounding along, grabbing gems, leaping on monsters, and reaching checkpoints.
So far, so standard (for a platform game), but Hop Swap has a trick up its sleeve, in having you regularly leap below the ground. At that point, you flip upside down, jumping downwards to potentially finding more bling and new secrets.
Hop Swap is a fun, breezy game, even if it feels a touch stodgy and unresponsive compared to the likes of Mario. It’s also a generous freebie, in giving you the entire game – you just need to spend collected bling on checkpoints if you want to avoid watching ads to save progress.
Super Stickman Golf 3
This third entry in the Super Stickman Golf series is perhaps feeling a bit too familiar, but the game remains the best side-on golf to be found on Android.
As ever, your little stickman is charged with smacking balls about courses comprising floating islands, laser-infested bases, and space stations. You set your direction and strength, hit the ball, and hope for the best – although this time you can also add spin.
Power-ups eventually enter the mix, providing opportunities to discover new ways to lower your scores. There are also two multiplayer modes – a deranged real-time race and a more sedate turn-based affair.
Super Cat Bros
Although looks like a retro title, it doesn’t play like one. Sure, there’s leapy platform action, like in Mario games, and a smattering of Alex Kidd exploration, but the controls are distinctly modern mobile fare.
You tap the left or right of your display to make your cat move (or wall jump when clinging to a wall), or double tap to dash (which finds the ktitie hurling itself into the air on reaching an edge).
At first, it’s disorienting, but soon Super Cat Bros becomes second nature, and you start noticing the smart design of the dinky levels, and how keenly observed the cat protagonists are.
Also, Android owners get one key benefit over people lumbered with an iPhone: the game’s proper name. (On iOS, it’s Super Cat Tales, because Apple apparently thinks its users might confuse a game about cats for one featuring Nintendo’s famous plumber.)
He scoots about the edge of each disc, leaps into it, and then must jump to the outer edge of the next circle, which bobs about in the air. All the while, massive teeth-like daggers close in, and demons march back and forth, waiting for you to blunder into them.
Games are initially short, and Circle Affinity almost taunts you on death, as you try to master the inherently-disorienting nature. Over time, you'll begin to survive a little longer, whereupon you'll be rewarded with new eye-searing color schemes and additional play modes.
A crunchy chip-tune plays and you're presented with three waveforms. The music dulls, as if you're underwater, and that's your signal to start manipulating two of the waveforms so they combine to form the third.
Achieving this goal is straightforward, and you can initially blaze through the game's levels – even if a more leisurely pace is perhaps more rewarding. Before long, though, any complacency about Kerflux's apparent ease evaporates when additional waves appear and you're juggling four of them, trying to find the perfect combination that unlocks the next challenge.
Although it visually and conceptually resembles a reverse Tetris, with you removing blocks from a tower, is really all about a hexagon. It lurks atop the blocks, and must not fall over the tower's edges.
A few taps in and Six! appears like it might last for hours, but shapes combine in odd ways, and you can only remove one at a time. This leads to hairy situations where your hexagon wheels and threatens to hurl itself into oblivion.
The physics are a touch suspect, but then this isn't a game aiming for console-style realism. Instead, you must master Six!'s weirdly floaty nature and attempt to take advantage. Rather neatly, the game's also not quite done when your hexagon's gone – you get a few seconds during a 'last call' to frantically tap away at remaining blocks and add to your score.
Although you play games, few of them are about play itself, in the sense of experimenting with a set-up or situation and seeing what happens. , though, while presenting itself as a puzzle game, is more a minimalist sandbox where you immerse yourself in the delights of creating tiny solar systems.
The game is played by slingshotting celestial bodies around black holes. They then proceed to leave colored trails in their wake, while gravity does its thing. Soon, you have planets clustering together, wheeling around one or more black holes, creating minimalist modern art while they do so.
It's all rather gorgeous and mesmerizing. The only snag is ads periodically wrecking the mood, although they can be eradicated with a single IAP.
Magic Touch: Wizard for Hire
Even now, years after Android proved itself as a major gaming platform, some developers seem to barely remember the touchscreen exists. If you reckon trudging through games with virtual D-pads and buttons can be a chore, will be a little slice of magic.
You’re a wizard, defending a castle from interlopers attached to balloons. Cast spells by scribbling gestures to match symbols on the balloons and said flotation devices explode – much to the surprise of their owners, who then rapidly plummet towards a squishy end. Miss just one of them and your wizarding days are done.
From the off, this is a fresh, frantic survival game, especially when trying your hand at the super-fast extreme mode. Stick around for long enough and you’ll be able to utilize super spells too, turning enemies into frogs, and summoning a dragon. Which we all need to do on the odd Thursday here and there.
If you’re of the opinion gaming takes itself a tad too seriously at times, is a perfect antidote. This amusingly over-the-top racer has you barrel along winding roads, blowing up rival racers, and driving like a maniac.
Smash the same kind of car up enough across multiple races and you can buy it in the shop, using coins acquired by terrorizing other road users.
It all feels a bit like someone stripped down Burnout, added a slice of OutRun, and shoved the lot through a Lego-like visual filter.
Along with a brainless commentator (“I’ve got a reading age of six!”) growling at regular intervals as you use your ice cream van to smash an unfortunate convertible to smithereens, this all makes for a suitably silly and entertaining blast of speed that’s great in small doses.
One More Jump
From the developer behind psychotic endless games One More Dash and One More Line comes . Initially, it seems a mite friendlier than the previously brutish titles – although still existing within a universe of abstract shapes and vivid colors, the protagonist now at least wears a massive grin. But make no mistake: this is hard-nosed platforming of the one-thumb kind.
Each level simply tasks you with reaching the exit, which requires sticking to white platforms. But with your grinning square automatically speeding along, all you can do to stave off disaster is time your jumps.
Should you also want to grab the bonuses along the way – necessary for unlocking new levels – you may need to leap over the exit and tackle the entire level multiple times. The tension is palpable when going for those final few leaps.
With its chunky graphics, angled viewpoint, and tap-to-jump controls, initially comes across as yet another me-too Crossy Road clone. And that’s a pity, because this game is a very different – yet equally as entertaining – proposition.
It’s still an endless game, but rather than scrolling, Looty Dungeon tasks you with offing any lurking enemies within static, single-screen dungeons before making for the exit.
Even early on, each tiny dungeon is filled with spikes, walls, flying arrows, and all manner of other obstacles. Dawdle too long and the floor will collapse from underneath you, survive long enough and you’ll eventually encounter bosses, which require unique tactics to defeat.
Grab enough bling before your inevitable demise and you can buy new heroes, some of which hold weapons that shake up how you approach the game, adding to its longevity.
Coming across like a Flappy Bird game designed in Terry Gilliam's brain, Steamkraft is an amusingly knowing oddball take on the genre. Each level has you navigate a world of deadly obstacles by way of a fantastical contraption that requires more than a prod to the screen to head skywards.
In a submarine, you yank a lever to move up or down; and a level with a bike hanging from a miniature airship has you frantically rotate a mechanism to avoid crashing into the ground or terrifying mechanical ravens.
During play, everything is, in all honesty, a bit simple and sometimes a tad unfair (projectiles being flung your way with merry abandon, often leaving little hope of avoiding them), but the novelty factor - in terms of both visuals and controls - shines through to ensure Steamkraft is nonetheless a worthy freebie.
Easy Joe World
We're not sure what's going on in Easy Joe World, which marries a kind of cartoon logic with the sensibilities of old-school gaming. It features the journey of a mischievous cartoon rabbit, rampaging his way through over 100 screens of basic puzzling, getting up to all manner of naughty deeds.
Taken on its merits as a puzzler, Easy Joe World is lightweight. Most scenes are defeated by prodding at the screen until something happens, or flicking a few switches; only occasionally are you really tested.
But as an interactive cartoon brimming with character, and with a hint of gaming on the side, Easy Joe World's worth an hour or two of your time.
Flash game Gimme Friction Baby heavily influenced a number of mobile titles, each featuring a little oscillating gun that fires balls into a single-screen arena, said balls then having to be destroyed by subsequent shots.
Hue Ball presents its own spin on the theme, which is respectful to the original source but smart enough to succeed on its own merits.
Here, balls don't expand to fill space but instead grow another layer when a pulsing disc retreats to the center of the screen. When balls have too many layers, they're converted to indestructible skulls that take up valuable screen space.
You must therefore quickly destroy any on-screen balls, while also taking care not to return one over the 'line of doom' that depletes your small selection of lives.
We've heard Perchang called a mix of Lemmings and Marble Madness. That's a touch ambitious, but this is nonetheless a smart puzzler to test your brainpower and reactions.
The idea is to lead a stream of ball bearings to various exits placed within contraption-filled levels. Your only means of control is two buttons, used to trigger colored items such as flippers, magnets and fans. At first, bridging gaps is simple, but Perchang quickly ramps up the complexity, turning the game into a kind of frantic juggling act, balls flying all over the place as you struggle to contain the chaos.
Every few challenges, an ad roundly flings ball-bearings in the face of Perchang's minimal ambiance, but you can be rid of them with a cheap one-off IAP.
Final Freeway 2R (Ad Edition)
In 1986, Sega released a racing game called Out Run. Being that this was in the days before boring, gray 'realism' became mandatory for a number of years, the visuals were colorful, the controls were simple, and the traffic tore along at insane speeds, suspiciously all heading in the same direction.
Final Freeway 2R is a loving tribute to Sega's title. You get the same breakneck arcade racing, forks in the road, cheesy music, and a car flip when you crash. (You also, in this free version, get ads, but they're not intrusive, and are easily ignored.)
If you're old, you'll be in gaming heaven; if not, the speed and carefree nature of Final Freeway 2R will finally make you understand what retro gamers are always wittering on about.
Train Conductor World
You might moan about trains when you're - again - waiting for a late arrival during your daily commute, but play this game and you'll thank your lucky stars that you're not in Train Conductor World. Here, trains rocket along, and mostly towards head-on collisions.
It's your job to drag out temporary bridges to avoid calamity while simultaneously sending each train to its proper destination - it's exhausting.
From the off, Train Conductor World is demanding, and before long a kind of 'blink and everything will be smashed to bits' mentality pervades. For a path-finding action-puzzler - Flight Control on tracks, if you will - it's an engaging and exciting experience.
We do wonder when light-fingered archaeologists will learn. No sooner has the hero of Raider Rushgrabbed a massive hunk of bling than the ancient temple he's in starts filling with lava.
To escape, he must bound from wall to wall, like a hyperactive flea, making his way towards beautiful daylight, before realising he's merely stuck in the next tower to escape from.
With 30 bespoke levels and an endless mode, there's lots of leaping to be done in Raider Rush, and the two-thumb controls (for hurling the hero left or right) make for a pleasingly frantic arcade experience, akin to juggling your little explorer to the surface (while presumably scolding the idiot for not leaving other people's possessions alone).
Although a far cry from classic Pokémon titles, there's no getting away from the sheer impact of Pokémon GO. It's resulted in swarms of smartphone users roaming the streets and countryside, searching for tiny creatures they can only see through their screens.
In all honesty, the game is simplistic: find a Pokémon, lob balls at it, amble about for a while to hatch eggs, and use your collection of critters to take over and guard virtual gyms.
But despite basic combat and the game's tendency to clobber your Android's battery, it taps into the collector mentality; and it's a rare example of successfully integrating a game into the real world, getting people physically outside and - shock - interacting with each other.
Bad news! It turns out the Axis of Evil needs overthrowing immediately, on account of having access to a ridiculous number of planes and tanks, some of which are the size of small villages. Sadly, we've had some cutbacks, which means our air force is now, er, you.
Still, we're sure you're going to love your time in AirAttack 2, cooing at gorgeous scenery shortly before bombing it, surviving bullet-hell, and puffing your chest to a thumping orchestral soundtrack.
Sure, you might have to turn down the graphic effects a bit on older hardware, and it's a bit of a grind to reach later levels, but you're not going to get better freebie shooting action this side of World War III.
Take an early 1990s FPS, smash it into an auto-runner, add a dash of Pac-Man, and you'd end up with Hammer Bomb. You're dumped in dank mazes and dungeons full of hideous beasts and must stomp along, finding keys, loot, weapons and the way out.
Levels are randomised, adding a Roguelike quality to proceedings, and the entire game's underpinned by a levelling up system. This means XP being awarded for killing loads of monsters, rapidly finding the exit, or performing other tasks, such as completing quests (which, in a nod to Ms. Pac-Man, involves hunting down roaming foodstuff).
Every few levels, you face off against a massive screen-high boss, darting towards it with whatever weapon you have to hand, before fleeing like a coward. Survive long enough and you can swap coins for upgrades.
Top tip: as soon as you've 150 coins and level 3 status, grab the radar, because Hammer Bomb is much friendlier when you can spot monsters on the top-down map.
Like an escapee from Super Hexagon, but now stuck traversing endlessly shifting flat terrain, the heroic ship in Sparkwave only wants to survive. You veer left and right, attempting to remain on an evolving and disintegrating path, avoiding obstacles, and keeping your lunch down as the screen lurches and shifts.
The dazzling art style and thumping soundtrack add to the game's dizzying but engaging nature; and although Sparkwave lacks Super Hexagon's elegant simplicity (there are multiple tracks, unlocks and customizable options), it also lacks its price-tag, making it a no-brainer download.
One Tap Tennis
The best of tennis is about the rallies, and in One Tap Tennis that's all there is. Matches are won by you prodding the screen when a returned ball moves over an orange line. Successful thwackage builds your power bar, enabling you to hit a smash when it's full and win the match.
This is an oddly compelling title, and surprisingly tricky once you've won a few cups and everything's moving at breakneck speed. To keep you interested, there are loads of characters to unlock, and you can restart part-way through any cup by saving your spot in return for watching (read: ignoring) an ad.
Touchscreens should be a poor fit for platform games, which typically require the kind of precision that only comes from a physical controller. This is why so many mobile titles opt for auto-running, distilling platform gaming to its core essence of timing jumps.
In Leap Day, your little yellow character is tasked with getting to the top of a tall tower. You can jump, double jump and slide down walls, but that's it. You must therefore carefully leap past cartoon foes and gigantic spikes, grabbing fruit along the way.
At various points on your climb are checkpoints, which can be bought with 20 fruit or by watching an ad. This means you don't have to start from scratch on coming a cropper. And when you do reach the summit, you can come back the next day for an entirely new level to try.
There are a lot of Android puzzle games that involve you sliding blocks about, but Imago is one of the best, even giving Threes! a run for its money.
You drag numbered tiles around a grid, merging those of the same colour and shape. On doing so, their numbers combine, but when merged groups reach a certain size, they split into smaller tiles, each retaining the score of the larger piece. Successful games require careful forward planning, with only a few moves it can be possible to ramp up scores dramatically, into the millions or even billions!
The game's relative complexity is countered by a smart modes system that gradually introduces you to Imago's intricacies. There's also a Daily Flight mode that provides a regular influx of new challenges, for when the standard modes begin to pall. On Android, we noticed a few minor visual glitches here and there, but otherwise this is a must-download puzzle game that's among the best on the platform.
Ridge Racer Slipstream
Asphalt 8 is arguably king of arcade racers on mobile, with its breezy and often ludicrous take on driving recklessly through famous cities. But Ridge Racer used to rule the arcades, and Ridge Racer Slipstream makes a decent stab for the chequered flag on Android.
This is a much more involved test than Asphalt, initially feeling stiffer and even a touch pedestrian. But as you get to grips with the handling model and gawp at the gorgeous scenery, it soon becomes clear Ridge Racer is a first-class mobile racer, and one that provides a stiff challenge at every step of the way.
As you might expect, there's some IAP whiffing the place up, but you can play through for nothing if you're willing to persevere and grind a bit; and with courses as great looking as the ones found in this game, re-racing them isn't exactly a hardship.
Disney Crossy Road
We're big fans of Crossy Road, which is both a lesson in how to update a classic arcade game (Frogger), and create a free-to-play business model that isn't hateful. (In short, throw free coins at players, don't make anything pay to win, and add loads of tempting but entirely optional characters to buy.)
With Disney Crossy Road, anything could have happened, but this is far from a cheap cash-in. Sure, it starts off very much like Crossy Road - just starring Mickey Mouse. But unlock a few characters (you'll have at least three within ten minutes) and you suddenly find yourself immersed in chunky takes on famous movies, such as Toy Story, Wreck-It Ralph, and The Lion King.
Even better, these aren't mere skins on the original. Each world has unique features, from tiny graphical details that will thrill fans, through to subtle shifts in how the game is played that force you to dramatically change your approach.
You might think there's little new in Alto's Adventure, which is essentially endless leapy game Canabalt on ice. But refined visuals best even Monument Valley, with an eye-popping day/night cycle and gorgeous weather effects; additionally, there's a delightful soundtrack, and a kind of effortless elegance that permeates throughout, propelling Alto's Adventure beyond its contemporaries.
Ostensibly, Alto's Adventure is a game about collecting escaped llamas, but mostly Alto is keen on mucking about on snowy slopes. You zoom down hills, catapult yourself into the air, and try to somersault before face-planting. Extra challenge arrives in the form of chaining stunts to increase your speed, and outrunning elders, angry you're having fun rather than sitting in a stinky llama pen.
Having been mercilessly ripped off by a pretender (who cynically thanked the original's developer for "inspiration"), Sage Solitaire finally made it to Android. It rethinks solitaire for mobile, mostly by smashing it into poker. Cards are removed using poker hands, with the added complication each hand must use cards from at least two different rows.
Clearing the deck and amassing points requires careful strategy and a little luck, not least given how rapidly the lower stacks empty. Win three times and you unlock Vegas mode, where you can try your luck making bets on your skills (and, in all likelihood, lose a boatload of virtual money). Regardless of the mode you favour, Sage Solitaire's one of those seemingly throwaway casual games that manages to take hold to the point of obsession.
In RGB Express, your aim is to build up a delivery company from scratch, all by dropping off little coloured boxes at buildings of the same colour. Sounds simple, doesn't it? Only this is a puzzler that takes place on tiny islands with streets laid out in a strict grid pattern, and decidedly oddball rules regarding road use.
Presumably to keep down on tarmac wear, roads are blocked the second a vehicle drives over them. Once you're past the early levels, making all your deliveries often requires fashioning convoluted snake-like paths across the entire map, not least when bridge switches come into play. Despite its cute graphics, then, RGB Express is in reality a devious and tricky puzzle game, which will have you swearing later levels simply aren't possible, before cracking one, feeling chuffed and then staring in disbelief at what follows.
In Threes! Free, you slide numbered cards around a tiny grid, merging pairs to increase their values and make room for new cards. Strategy comes from the cards all moving simultaneously, along with you needing to keep space free to make subsequent merges, forcing you to think ahead.
On launch, it was a rare example of a new and furiously compulsive puzzle-game mechanic. Within days, it was mercilessly ripped off, free clones flooding Google Play.
Now, though, you can get authentic Threes! action entirely for free, and discover why it's 2048 times better than every freebie 2048 game (personality; attention to detail; music; small elements of game design that make a big difference).
You get 12 free games to start. Add groups of three more by watching a video ad. And you can always upgrade to the paid version if you get suitably hooked.
There are loads of freebie Bejeweled knock-offs on Google Play, and so if you fancy a bit of gem-swapping, you may as well download the original. For reasons beyond us, Android owners don't get the multitude of modes available on some other platforms, but there's the original match-three 'classic', the can't-lose 'zen', and the superb 'diamond mine'.
In the last of those, matches smash a hole into the ground. You're playing against the clock, and over time uncover harder rock that needs special moves to obliterate. It's a frenetic, intense experience considering this is a match-three title, although high-score chasers might cast a suspicious eye over the offer to extend the time limit by watching an advert.
Although there are exceptions, traditional platform games rarely work on touchscreens. Fortunately, canny developers have rethought the genre, stripping it back to its very essence. In Bean Dreams, you help a jumping bean traverse all kinds of hazards, by sending the bouncing hatted seed left or right.
Each level is cleverly designed to offer optimum paths, boosting your points tally when hitting the goal having made the fewest bounces. Timing is everything, then, but there are further challenges that reward exploration. To find the pet axolotls spread across the map, or collect all the fruit, you must use different approaches, which adds plenty of replay value.
Nitrome's fashioning quite the collection of smart Android games, which subvert existing genres in interesting ways. Platform Panic initially comes across as a vastly simplified platform game. You swipe to move and leap, and it's game over the second your little character comes a cropper.
But really every screen is a tiny puzzle that you must learn how to solve; and then every game becomes a memory test, with you in an instant having to draw on your experience as each challenge — sometimes mirrored — is sent your way.
In Rust Bucket, a cartoon helmet with a sword dodders about a vibrant dungeon, offing all manner of cute but deadly adversaries — skittering skulls, angry armoured pigs, and spooky ghosts. This is a turn-based affair, echoing classic RPGs, but its endless dungeon and savage nature transform it into a puzzle game perfect for quickfire mobile sessions. You must learn how foes move and react, plan every step and always keep in mind a single error can spell doom.
In its current incarnation, Rust Bucket cleverly balances enough depth to keep you coming back with the brevity that makes it ideal for on-the-go roguelike larks. Future plans include finite puzzle modes and expanded endless content.
Miserable people will tell you that Battle Golf is stupid and that you should go and play a proper sports game instead. Pay them no heed, because this title might be very silly, but it's also a blast. Two rivals stand at the edge of a lake, from which tiny greens periodically emerge. They must then land a hole in one to take a point. Occasionally, a whale or huge octopus will be the 'hole', and you can bean your opponent with the ball. Just don't bean them with their Android device if they sneak a win with a jammy shot.
Fast like a Fox
Although it's yet another auto-runner, Fast like a Fox has plenty going for it. The game looks gorgeous, with atmospheric low-poly artwork providing an artsy take on chilly frozen hills and dark urban haunts.
There's also some smart level design, with each of the short challenges demanding you learn every pathway, and understanding the speed with which you approach the many jumps, in order to not send your furry friend to its doom.
But mostly we were taken by the control method, which involves drumming your fingers on the back of your device to speed up the fox. Sure, it's a gimmick, but this approach gives you a much greater sense of connection with the sprinting mammal, although grumpy traditionalists can instead opt for a much more boring two-button system.
We've seen several mobile games put a new spin on chess, but Chess Runner amusingly turns the age-old favourite into a frantic arcade battle. You take on the role of a white knight, darting about in L-shaped bounds. Your aim: to fight your way through black pieces and capture a golden king.
Different twists are peppered throughout the game's levels. The most basic mode involves ensuring you don't end up in a position to be taken by static or patrolling black pieces. But sometimes you must fend off a barrage of attacks from pawns or rooks, or quickly get to the king during a speed-run test. It's particularly in those against-the-clock challenges that Chess Runner bares its teeth, temporarily making you forget everything you ever knew about chess, before blundering into a bishop.
There's always a whiff of unease on recommending a game from a developer nestled deep in the bosom of freemium gaming, but Clash Royale largely manages to be a lot of fun however much money you lob at it. The game is more or less a mash-up of card collecting and real-time strategy. Cards are used to drop units on to a single-screen playfield, and they march about and duff up enemy units, before taking on your opponent's towers.
The battles are short and suited to quick on-the-go play, and although Clash Royale is designed for online scraps, you can also hone your strategies against training units if you're regularly getting pulverised. There are the usual timers and gates for upgrades, but the game largely does a good job of matching you against players of fairly similar skill levels, meaning it's usually a blast and only rarely a drag.
Road to be King
This endless survival game eschews typical side-on leapy shenanigans or an overhead land-based approach. Instead, Road to be King has you drag the royal protagonist around the screen, attempting to avoid all manner of foul creatures and deadly traps. Along the way, crystals are there for grabbing, as are power-ups for a temporary reprieve against your foes. Mostly, it's the control method and design that ensure Road to be King is worth sticking with. Both oddly echo bullet-hell shooters as much as endless runners, and as you begin to recognise patterns in the challenges you pass, the game becomes a kind of zen-like experience.
In the world of Splash Cars, it appears everyone's a miserable grump apart from you. Their world is dull and grey, but your magical vehicle brings colour to anything it goes near. The police aren't happy about this and aim to bring your hue-based shenanigans to a close, by ramming your car into oblivion. There's also the tiny snag of a petrol tank that runs dry alarmingly quickly.
Splash Cars therefore becomes a fun game of fleeing from the fuzz, zooming past buildings by a hair's breadth, grabbing petrol and coins carelessly left lying about, and trying to hit an amount-painted target before the timer runs out. Succeed and you go on to bigger and better locations, with increasingly powerful cars.
The amazingly popular iOS game earned over two million downloads during its first weekend of availability on Android and despite myriad sequels and spinoffs, it is still a great game to play.
The Android version of Angry Birds is free, unlike the Apple release, with maker Rovio opting to stick a few adverts on it rather than charge an upfront fee. The result is a massive and very challenging physics puzzler that's incredibly polished and professional. For free. It defies all the laws of modern retail.
We're pretty sure this one's going to confuse a bunch of people, but if you're of a certain vintage, Heist will have you squee with nostalgia. It's essentially a Nintendo Game & Watch for your Android device, featuring a little chap robbing a bank. The visuals perfectly evoke those ancient handhelds, and although the game is very simple — move left and right, avoid falling objects, load pilfered cash into a balloon — getting high-scores requires serious concentration and thumb dexterity.
On a suitably sized smartphone, you'll almost think you're playing the real thing. (And if anyone from Nintendo is reading, how about some official Game & Watch on Android? Better that than any number of dodgy freemium games based loosely on Nintendo's famous characters.)
Objectively, Flappy Bird was a bit rubbish, but it did kick off a ton of 'tributes'. Most of them were rubbish too, but Flappy Golf very much isn't. It started off as a joke — the developer fusing the excellent Super Stickman Golf 2 and Flappy Bird mechanics. Instead of aiming your ball, it has wings and you flap it towards the hole by tapping 'left' and 'right' buttons.
Somehow, this all comes together and Flappy Golf equals the game it's based on — it's fast, funny and challenging, with loads of courses and multiplayer. The on-screen ads are a bit intrusive, mind, but otherwise this is one of the best free games you're ever likely to find for Android, despite 'Flappy' being in its name.
No More Kings
It's probably fair to say that No More Kings is on the basic side regarding aesthetics, but then that merely puts you in mind of those chess puzzles you find lurking in newspapers. The difference here is you capture the king by taking pieces and immediately becoming that piece. By way of example, grab a bishop with a rook and it's 'diagonals only' for your next move.
Finding your way to the crown is easy at first, but gets much trickier in later levels, when the board becomes littered with pieces and the pathfinding is no longer obvious. The masterstroke: tying the stars awarded for completing levels to the speed in which you reach a solution. Speed chess players will have nothing on your deft digits in this game.
Down The Mountain
With its cute isometric visual style, hoppy instadeath mechanics, and a range of characters to win in a semi-randomised lottery, you might be forgiven for thinking Down The Mountain is Crossy Road upended. While there are similarities, it quickly becomes clear Down The Mountain is a very different game to play. Borrowing from Q*Bert rather than Frogger, it has you tackle leaping down an endless mountain, on which hazards come thick and fast. Even on the easy mode, you must think quickly, leaping left or right to avoid TNT, bounding cars, and vicious spikes. On hard mode, it's not so much Down The Mountain as Down T— Oh. Dead again.
Dream of Pixels
We all love a bit of Tetris, but Tetris doesn't love mobile — previous and current incarnations for Android are mostly hideous IAP-infused abominations. Fortunately, then, Dream of Pixels exists, more or less flipping Tetris upside-down, having you use those very familiar shapes to take chunks out of an endless cloud bank.
The game's floaty and slightly hippyish vibe hides an endless puzzler with serious bite. Once the cloud's moving at speed and you have a few 'orphaned' bits that need reconnecting with the main body, Dream of Pixels becomes a frantic speed test of shape-matching abilities. If it all gets a bit much, there's a static 'zen' mode, where you fill static shapes with pre-defined tetromino sets. And when you're ready for action again, a one-off IAP unlocks three tougher variations on the main game.
Cally's Caves 3
Poor Cally. It's like she can't go for five minutes without her parents being kidnapped. It's third time unlucky for her in Cally's Caves 3, but lucky for you, because you get an excellent old-school platformer that costs nothing at all. Cally leaps about, shooting and stabbing enemies in a gleeful manner you might consider unusual for a young girl with pigtails.
The game's brutal, too, with a checkpoint system that will have you gnashing teeth when you die a few steps before a restart point. But the weapon upgrade system is clever (keep shooting things to power up guns!), there are loads of items to discover, and unlike on iOS, the free Android version has several extra unlocked modes.
We're always a bit twitchy about recommending first-person shooters on mobile, because pawing at a glass screen is no substitute for having a gamepad in your mitts. Neon Shadow, though, has a good crack at providing high-octane shooty action on Android, mostly through smart level design, simple controls, and having a protagonist that's surprisingly robust.
The story finds you aboard a sentient space station that's gone nuts and turned all its on-board mechanoids evil. Somehow (and we're really not sure how), this has placed the entire galaxy in jeopardy. So you need to go about blowing everything up, and not get horribly killed. It's quite old-school, looks fab, and never lets up. Only occasionally will the on-screen controls make you swear at your thumbs.
There'll probably come a point when cute video game animals will gain sentience and revolt against the appalling situations they find themselves in. Until then, we have Sling Kong. From the off, you'll know what to do: stretch your little critter and let go, to ping them from peg to peg. All the while, avoid the hazards (saw blades; exploding pegs; blocks of wood smashing together) and a sticky end (quite literally in the case of the octopus when it's squished).
The graphics are cheerful, with the animals looking amusingly shocked at their circumstances and surroundings; the gameplay is challenging and compulsive; and there's even originality evident when winning new characters, involving bouncing your animal around a pachinko machine, rather than played-out Crossy Road-style gift boxes
Flow Free is free up to a point. You get a ton of levels that you can play without having to pay anything, then it will start costing you once you get more than a little addicted. And you will. You will.
The object of the game is to pair all colours that come flying at you and cover the entire board. Do this and you win the level - it's that simple. You can play on a level up system or against the clock. Both are fun - just don't let the pipes overlap!
The Path to Luma
The 'eco' side of things is a bit on the nose in The Path To Luma, and there are points where you wonder whether the energy company that paid for it only just stopped short of having the protagonist yell "Solar and wind power are amazing!" every few seconds.
But along with being quite right-on, Luma is a beautiful and thoughtful puzzler, with a decidedly tactile feel. Your aim is to explore tiny planetoids, unlocking sources of energy that will bring life to otherwise barren environments.
There's quite a lot of hand-holding from the game's companion AI, but spinning tiny worlds beneath your fingers and watching explosions of sunlight transform landscapes never gets old.
A stunning little retro game, Meganoid plays and looks like something that ought to be running on a Nintendo emulator. But it isn't. It's new and on Android.
It's a speed-based challenge, using on-screen or accelerometer controls to jump and bounce through ever-hardening levels. Developer Orange Pixel is aggressively supporting it, too, with constant map packs, characters and more regularly appearing for download.
Grave Defense Holidays
As with Angry Birds, the maker of this superb tower defence game has spun out a separate version it fills with seasonal levels.
Recently updated with an Easter map, this free version of the game also includes Valentine, Christmas and St Patrick's Day themed maps. Grave Defense Holidays is easily one of the best examples of the tactical genre.
Pac-Man 256 - Endless Maze
If you've played Pac-Man before, the goal of Pac-Man 256 should seem pretty familiar: eat as many pellets as possible without being caught by a ghost. This time, however, it never ends. You'll get power-ups along the way, and it actually has a reasonable approach to in-app purchases.
Very similar in style and concept to Xbox and Xbox 360 retro classic Geometry Wars. In fact, one might legally be able to get away with calling it a right old rip-off. Android PewPew is a rock-hard 2D shooting game packed with alternate game modes.
It's a bit rough around the edges and requires a powerful phone to run smoothly, but when it does it's a fantastic thing.
It's far from the most sophisticated pinball effort on Google Play, but we're nonetheless very fond of Vector Pinball. It has a kind of old-school sensibility regarding the straightforward table designs, and each of the four layouts requires you to learn its intricacies and basic missions, in order to score big points.
Aesthetically, it also tries something different from its contemporaries. Instead of aping real tables, Vector Pinball is all skinny lines and bright colours — as if someone's squeezed a decent pinball simulator into a Vectrex — and pleasing electronic effects and music accompany your ball-smacking.
Vector Pinball's laudably open, too — it's an open source game, and there's even an experimental editor for creating your own tables.
Winter Walk is madness. You play the part of a gentleman, out for an evening walk. From time to time the wind picks up, so you have to hold on to his hat to stop it blowing away.
While this is happening, the chap's internal monologue appears on screen, giving you an entertaining and distracting read in the process, too. Very simple, but a perfect little high score challenge game for the touchscreen era.
At its core, Crossy Road is an endless take on Frogger. The little protagonist hops about, weaving in-between traffic, and carefully navigating rivers by way of floating logs.
Adding to your problems: train tracks, where you can catch the 10:47 to Waterloo in a rather more abrupt and splattery way than you might hope, and a giant eagle that strikes should you dawdle.
Really, it's nothing particularly innovative, but where Crossy Road shines is in its implementation. The graphics are gorgeous (and have subsequently been frequently aped); the F2P system is fair — even generous; and the characters you can win or buy often transform the game, the most overt example being 'Crossy Pac-Man', a tie-in with the similarly excellent Pac-Man 256.
Dead on Arrival
Dead on Arrival is a very impressive looking 3D survival horror game, which dumps you in a hospital infested with zombies. You then try to not get eaten by buying new weapons, boarding up doors to keep the brain-eaters at bay and using wall-mounted weaponry to quicken the zombie mincing process.
As with many of today's Android titles, there's the option to pay for stuff within the game to unlock features and remove ads - but you don't have to.
Stick Cricket is a fantastically simple little game that reduces cricket to its core values - you just smash every ball as hard as you can. There's no worrying about field positioning, just a bat and a ball coming at you very quickly.
Initially it seems impossible to do anything other than make a complete mess of things and having your little man smashed upside-down, but it soon clicks.
Draw Something Free
Draw Something Free was a phenomenon that's taking the world by storm. Now four people play it. It's basically a mobile version of Pictionary, where you're given a choice of three words of varying difficulty, then tasked with drawing them so someone can tell what it is.
Syncs with Facebook, too, for easy cross-platform play. If you like the free trial, there's a paid accompaniment with more content.
The popular web-based Flash game Fragger is now on Android. It's pretty much a clone of Angry Birds, mind, offering simple physics-based challenges based around chucking grenades all over the place to make stuff blow up. It comes with some rather intrusive ads, but that's the price you (don't) pay for sticking with the free version.
Super Bit Dash
Super Bit Dash is a retro-style 2D platform game, with controls as simple as its pixel art design. The game runs at a constant pace, so all the player has to do is jump and super-special-jump at the right time in order to avoid smashing into the scenery. Obviously it's a lot harder than that makes it sound.
Chrono And Cash Free
Chrono&Cash Free is very hard and sweet little one-screen platform game, where players jump about collecting bags of cash while avoiding enemies.
And that's all there is to it, aside from some mini challenges to boost your score multiplier and online sharing of your scores to goad friends into trying to beat you. Looks cool, is a tiny download and a great laugh to play.
A weird little gem, Autumn Walk sees players controlling a man and his dog as they stroll through a Victorian park landscape. The challenge here is dog management, with the hound either running ahead or hanging back - both precarious scenarios that could cause the lead to snap. It's basically a high score challenge, to see how long you can stand the weird experience. Worth it for the awesome comic dialogue that accompanies your stroll.
After making a splash on iOS, Fallout Shelter is now available on Android for all you Wasteland nuts. In Shelter, you 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.
A shock move from developer Rovio, in that this one isn't a simple take on the Angry Birds style. Bad Piggies is a clever building game, which dumps you at the beginning of a big map with a pile of component parts. You then build a flying machine using the given elements, then try to fly it to the end of the level. A really nice, original little idea from the physics game specialists.
The creators of Crossy Road turn their hands to vertically scrolling shooters in the aptly named Shooty Skies. Your little biplane fends off endless attacks from all manner of deranged enemies, mostly comprising arcade cabinets spewing joysticks, angry robots, cuboid bats, and laptops running video loops of oddball pets.
You can pick up wingmen along the way and power up homing missiles by remaining stationary for a bit (not often a smart move, given the number of projectiles typically heading your way). Every now and again, you get to face off against a huge and bizarre boss, such as an American Eagle flinging missiles and 'patriotism' in your general direction. It's all very strange, compelling and surprisingly challenging; beat three bosses and you're doing better than us.
Whale Trail Frenzy
Whale Trail Frenzy is an updated version of the iOS original, with the developer heaping in more levels for the Android release of its bonkers flying game. You just fly a little whale around the sky (for reasons never explained), collecting things, avoiding bad clouds, building up a multiplier and generally being wowed by its unique and gorgeous style. A really sweet experience.
Radiant Defense is a fantastic tower defence game, given a dazzling modern look. You do all the usual tower defence stuff like building up your weapon strengths and deciding how best to stop the endless marching enemy, with some "super weapons" to unlock and hundreds upon hundreds of waves to beat. And it all looks astonishingly pretty on a big screened device.
In this age of austerity and scrimping, we've all long since sold our last set of dominoes and melted down our Monopoly counters for scrap.
Temple Run 2
That zombie shooter Dead Trigger is set in the dystopian future of 2012 is testament to its lasting appeal. Frantic first-person missions set in realistic 3D environments are sure to get your heart racing (unless you're a zombie), even on smaller screens.
Cut the Rope Full Free
Cute critter Om-Nom in Cut the Rope is the Daniel Day-Lewis of puzzle games, with a BAFTA amid his haul of gaming awards. The simple premise (cut the ropes to release Om-Nom's lunch) sustains over 400 well-pitched levels, packed with character and cartoonish charm.
Yes, the insanely popular online card game Hearthstone has been squashed down to fit your phone or tablet screen - and it works surprisingly well. With less space to play with, the creators have rejigged the design slightly; it's still the same game, just a bit more considerate to your thumbs.
It's also still compatible with the tablet and desktop versions so you'll be able to play against your friends on the move.
Yes, the proper Scrabble, not some copyright-infringing clone that'll be pulled by the time you read these words. EA bought the license, tidied it up and stuck it out on Android, where it's a remarkably advert and in-app purchase free experience.
It's been beefed up with a few new modes, but stuff like the ability to sync with Facebook and play multiple matches is actually exactly what you need. A classic that's not been ruined. Hooray.
Blip Blup is the kind of original little idea we love stumbling across. It's a sort of geometry-based puzzle game that has you pressing squares on the screen to fill in areas of colour.
Your light beams are limited in the directions they can travel, so, once you're through the troublingly simple tutorial levels, it soon becomes insanely tough and will soon have you scratching through your skull's skin and bone until you actually itch your BRAIN in confusion.
Real Racing 3
Extremely controversial thanks to its use of in-app purchases to buy your way to better cars, quicker play time and much more, there's one reason you really ought to give Real Racing 3 a go - it's the best looking 3D racer on Android by a mile.
If you want something that gives both, all four, or even the full eight of your phone's cores a full workout, this is the one. And you don't have to pay for anything, as long as you don't mind staring at timers and waiting a lot.
Another awesome little 2D pixel art classic from developer OrangePixel, Gunslugs is your standard sort of action platformer given a gorgeous old fashioned retro look.
It's been optimised for play on Sony's old-but-popular Xperia Play buttoned Android model, plus the Moga controller and Green Throttle systems will also let you experience it with proper, physical buttons. A random level generator makes it different every time, too.
Nun Attack: Run and Gun
Frima Studios' popular battling nun series has been transformed into the modern trend that is the "runner" game in Nun Attack: Run & Gun where your favourite of the four available nuns smash though levels, equip weaponry and, inevitably, earn the gold coins that can be used to unlock extra features. Or you can pay real money to buy coins. Real nuns wouldn't approve of that.
One More Dash
This one should be absurdly easy. All you have to do is tap the screen at the right moment, so you dash to the next safe zone. The trouble is, there's a timer — lurk too long and you explode. And safe zones are often surrounded by rotating spikes, or shields that deflect you into the deadly void.
One More Dash therefore becomes a steely test of nerves and reactions, where a single mis-timed tap can spell the end of even the most impressive feat of dashing.
Pocket League Story 2
Mobile developer Kairosoft went down the "freemium" route with this sequel to its superb man-managing football business sim, so Pocket League Story 2 is playable for free if you don't mind suffering a little more than those who pay for upgrades.
It's still a great little game, in which you take charge of managing the ground, scouting for players, coaching matches, building facilities and much more.
GYRO is exactly the sort of thing we like - a clever new idea that makes the most out of today's touchable devices. It's a bit abstract. You are the circle thing in the middle, and you rotate yourself to absorb the incoming spheres, matching the balls with the right coloured segment.
Shields and score multipliers then fire in, and, inevitably, it all gets quicker and harder. Perfect even on older phones and tablets of modest performance.
Galaxy on Fire 2 HD
Galaxy on Fire 2 HD is one of the most visually impressive 3D shooters to be found on Android, Galaxy on Fire 2 also chucks in some trading and exploration play to add a little more depth to the combat, making it into something similar to having your own little portable Eve Online. You also get to play as a lead character called Keith, which is quite an exciting rarity.
New Star Soccer
New Star Soccer is a previously paid-for game that has undergone a complete refresh, with the developer making it a freebie - but adding in the scourge of modern software in the form of "stars" to buy with real money instead. If you can tolerate the effort needed to bypass the new emphasis on paying to progress quicker, it's still a staggeringly good game, offering a mega-deep football management sim for mobile.
This is a right old gem. Badland is an abstract physics platformer kind of thing, where you play a flapping monster that has to navigate some gorgeous maps while listening to bird song. Power-ups and power-downs increase and decrease the size of your blob, also multiplying it until you control several of the things. Weird and dark and interesting. Definitely try it.
Angry Birds Star Wars II
The original was so beneficial to furthering consumer recognition of both major brands that they made another one - aptly titled Angry Birds Star Wars II. It's really free thanks to being ad-supported, which, it turns out, is nicer than being asked to buy imaginary space money every 30 seconds. Loads of levels and stupid Star Wars references galore make this a no-brainer for fans of either enormous super-franchise.
A charming little undersea adventure, in which your little chap dives to hunt for treasure. It does feature in-app purchases, but it's dead simple to grind a little to collect treasure and unlock most of the game's content manually, although the £2.49 coin doubler starts to look tempting after a while. It's a lovely little game, though, so grinding its quirky maps is really quite a joy anyway.
Daddy Long Legs
This is weird and initially feels like a physics puzzler someone knocked up in three minutes or so, but stick with it and it becomes a one-more-go addiction you'll be throwing hours of your life into. It's simple -- tap the screen to make the monster walk.
Only he's gangly and awkward, so it's actually quite a timing and precision masterclass. Download Daddy Long Legs here.
Batman Arkham Origins
A big name franchise for free? Yes, of course it's packed with in-app purchases, but still. Critical feedback to this has been superb, with Arkham Origins combining your standard fighting business with a bit of RPG depth to help pad it out via the need to level up -- and provide more of a reason to pay for stuff inside the game.
The Silent Age
You're a man and you walk around. Thing is, humanity's been virtually wiped out, so it's quite a grim experience, made all the more bizarre thanks to its abstract soundtrack.
The Silent Age is a touchscreen puzzle game at its core, one that's much more interesting in approach than the thousands of other adventure games that clog up the Play shop. Note that the second part is a $5 (or equivalent) in-app purchase — but you'll know by then if you want to discover how the story ends!
A super-minimalist strategy game, in which the warring factions are portrayed as neon shapes and assorted beams of light. It's the sort of "game" you might expect Ensign Wesley Crusher to be seen playing in Star Trek: The Next Generation, were he given to wasting his valuable time and the ship's immense-but-finite computing power on such frivolous pursuits.
In which the Angry Birds developer has a go at pulling off a Flappy Bird style game. Retry is more than a simple clone, though, introducing plane piloting, wobbly terrain to navigate and simple landing missions. It's very, very hard, but you do at least get more of a sense of progression and reward than was present in the interminable Flappy.
Up, Down, Left, Right
Literally utterly infuriating. The concept is simple. You press up, down, left and right continuously, but there's a scrolling set of alternative patterns on the screen. These ask you to substitute one direction for another, requiring your eyes to speak to your brain and fingers in a manner that's bordering on the impossible. An extreme test of your mental problem solving skills.