Best Android games introduction
It's been ten years since Android was first announced and in that time we've seen hundreds of thousands of games hit the Google Play Store, but obviously not all of them are high quality, and with so many available it can be tricky to make sure you're putting your cash in the right place.
Some titles are expensive and nothing more than just poor ports of a console game. Others are only a meagre amount but are genuinely more entertaining and enthralling than anything found on a console a few years ago.
When deciding what Android game is best for you, well... you've got a few choices to consider.
Firstly, remember that you won't have just one game on the go at any one time. You might have a title that's great for playing on the sofa or commute, and one when queuing at the bank.
Some work better with headphones, others don't - and we thoroughly recommend playing through a few regularly to find the games that work the best for you. Nothing better than finding something you just can't wait to play again and again!
- Want to improve your Android phone in other ways? Check out the best Android apps in 2018
Unlike the iPhone, the amount of dedicated gaming controllers for Android phones is a bit more bland, as there aren't as many for specific phone models... and the games that support them can be varied too.
That doesn't mean you shouldn't have a good look at what's out there, and many controllers aren't overly expensive.
Back to the games: have a think about the variety of titles to check out, whether you want something that taxes you, is a quick-fire frenzy or an RPG that you can play locally with friends.
That's why we're here - telling you the games that you need to play because we've tried them out ourselves. We head through the new and bubbling lists of titles each week, have a look at what's good and let you know.
We try to keep this list as fresh as possible, so if your favorite falls off the chart then it's not a bad game... there's just more out there to try.
So get ready to get clicking through our gallery... we guarantee you'll have found something to play before you know it.
New: Boson X (US$2.99/£1.92/AU$3.66)
Boson X is an endless runner that features scientists sprinting at insane speeds inside particle accelerators in order to generate the high-speed collisions required to discover strange new particles. And if you’re thinking that’s probably not entirely scientifically accurate, that’s true; fortunately, Boson X gets away with this by virtue of being breezy and intoxicating fun.
It comes across like Canabalt in 3D, mixed with Super Hexagon, as you leap between platforms, rotating the collider to ensure you don’t plunge into the void or smack into a wall. From the off, this isn’t exactly easy, but later colliders are truly bonkers – abstract and terrifying contraptions that shift and morph before your very eyes. Brilliant stuff.
Super Crossfighter (US$0.99/89p/AU$1.49)
Super Crossfighter is essentially a neon Space Invaders played at breakneck pace. Your little craft sits at the foot of the screen, darting left and right, blasting the aliens above. But the foes you face aren’t doddering critters from 1970s gaming – they come armed to the teeth, hurling all manner of instant laser death and bullet hell your way.
Fortunately, you’re not wanting for firepower either. Your speedy craft can leap from the bottom to the top of the screen, scooping up gems that can subsequently be used to upgrade the ship in an in-game shop. There’s no IAP, note, for extra cash – this intense blaster is all about the skill you have in your thumbs, and your ability to survive wave after wave of neon-infused shooty action.
ELOH is a puzzle game that wants you to experiment. It’s based around a strict grid that features masks, loudspeakers that emit colored blobs, and goals. The idea is to get the blobs to the goals, ensuring they’re the right color by bouncing them off of relevant masks along the way.
That might sound chaotic, but ELOH has a clockwork setup. Everything bounces at precise right angles, and shots are fired to the rhythm of a background soundtrack. But your approach to solving challenges can be like sculpting: set the blobs on their way and you can move puzzle pieces live, just to see what happens.
ELOH is therefore a pressure-free but engaging title – there’s no clock, and there are no ads. It’s just you, over 80 puzzles, and some cracking visuals and audio.
Reigns: Game of Thrones (US$3.99/£3.79/AU$5.99)
Reigns: Game of Thrones follows Reigns and Reigns: Her Majesty in marrying kingdom management with swipe-based interaction borrowed from Tinder. Only this time, there’s a massively popular TV show fused to its core.
You plonk your behind on the Iron Throne, as one of several major characters from the TV series, and set about imposing your will on the Seven Kingdoms. As you swipe left and right to make decisions, your fortunes with the people, army, church and bank fluctuate. Fill or deplete any one meter, and your reign will come to an abrupt – and likely bloody – end.
Given the basic interface, Reigns: Game of Thrones has surprising depth. It also has great writing, loads of content to find, and plenty of puzzles to solve, making it ideal mobile gaming fodder.
Layton: Curious Village in HD (US$9.99/£9.99/AU$14.99)
Layton: Curious Village in HD (US/RoW) is a slice of gaming history. Originally released for the Nintendo DS, Curious Village was the first Layton game; it sold over 17 million copies, and launched what’s since become a beloved series.
Lesser developers would have done a straight port to mobile and be done with it, but Level-5 acknowledges technology has moved on – and the clue is in the title. All of the game’s visuals have been spruced up for modern displays, and augmented with new animations.
Of course, the puzzles remain the real draw – and even some of the early ones are proper brain-thumpers. Add to this an engaging story (despite the iffy voice work) and Curious Village is a superb update, one that you should take time with and savor.
Jydge riffs off of Robocop and Judge Dredd, having you control the titular cybernetic law enforcer, eradicating crime in the megacity of Edenbyrg.
The game’s no-nonsense approach is typified by the ‘Gavel’ in this case being a massive gun. Jydge’s approach to dealing with bad guys mostly involves stomping about, shooting enemies, pilfering bling, and rescuing unfortunate hostages caught in the crossfire.
Initially, something about the game’s visuals and approach may make you play as if entering a neon-soaked outing that’s escaped from stealth shooter master and X-Com creator Julian Gollop’s brain, but really Jydge mostly plays out like a frantic twin-stick shooter. Tactics only really enter the equation when you realize you can nip back to earlier missions and tackle them again with new kit or approaches, in order to meet tricky challenges. Either way, it’s ballsy fun.
Pumped BMX 3 (US$3.99/£3.49/AU$5.49)
Pumped BMX 3 might initially give you the wrong impression. Colorful visuals and basic controls have it initially come across as a casual take on a BMX trials outing. But pretty rapidly, it bucks any complacency from the saddle and leaves it a shattered mess on the floor.
Whereas Pumped BMX 2 (also recommended) went for a more relaxed take on hurling a BMX into the air with merry abandon, this sequel is all about mastery. Try to wing it and you’ll be crushed, but properly learn course layouts and timings, and you’ll gradually work your way through each level.
That’s rewarding enough, but with confidence you can start peppering your runs with stunts to boost your scores, with routines that would make even seasoned BMX pros break out in hearty applause.
Implosion - Never Lose Hope (free + US$9.99/£9.99/AU$14.99)
Implosion finds Earth having been given a beating by nasty aliens, leaving humans on the brink of extinction. As this is a video game, humans have pinned all their hopes on you and your natty battlesuit.
Fortunately, said suit can dish out serious damage. As you stomp about Implosion’s gleaming environments, you blast, slash, and dash your way through hordes of identikit alien drones. Occasional boss battles then shake things up in terms of pacing and challenge. Between levels, you customize your suit, to unlock new combos.
The game’s creators call Implosion a AAA console-style title, and it looks superb and feels the part. Even the complex controls (for a touchscreen game) work well. A sticking point for some might be the price, but you can play six missions for nothing. If you then balk at a one-off IAP for a premium title, don’t subsequently wonder why we can’t have nice things.
In The Dog House (US$3.99/£2.99/AU$5.49)
In The Dog House is a sweet-natured puzzler featuring a ravenous pooch and a bizarre house with moving rooms, floors, and corridors. Unfortunately for the dog, its dinner’s on the other side of said house, and you need to figure out how to get over there.
The mechanics of the game are a classic sliding puzzler, with a few twists. The house’s components can be slid and sometimes rotated, but you also need to use a bone to urge the dog toward the goal. The snag is any room the pooch is planted in cannot be moved.
In The Dog House rapidly becomes quite the brain-smasher, and it’s irritating that there’s no level-skip option when you’re stuck. Still, perseverance reaps rewards, because after the more arduous tests you’ll feel like a champ when you reach that bowl.
Holedown is an arcade shooter that has you blast strings of balls at numbered blocks. When blocks are hit enough times, they blow up, allowing you to dig deeper. Some blocks hold up others, and should be prioritized – as should grabbing gems that allow you to upgrade your kit (more balls; new levels; a bigger gem bag) when you run out of shots and return to the surface.
The mechanics are nothing new on Android – there are loads of similar ball bouncers. What is new is the sense of personality, polish and fun Holedown brings to this style of game. This is a premium title and a labor of love. There’s still repetition at its core, but Holedown feels hypnotic and encouraging, rather than giving you the feeling that it’s digging into your wallet – in contrast to its freebie contemporaries.
Osmos HD ($2.49/£2.19/AU$3.39)
Osmos HD is a rare arcade game about patience and subtlety. Each unique level has you guide a ‘mote’, which moves by expelling tiny pieces of itself. Initially, it moves within microscopic goop, eating smaller motes, to expand and reign supreme.
At first, other motes don’t fight back, but the game soon immerses you in petri dish warfare, as motes tear whatever amounts to each-other's faces off. Then there’s the odd curveball, as challenges find you dealing with gravity as planet-like motes orbit deadly floating 'stars'.
It’s a beautiful, captivating game, with perfect touchscreen controls. And if you can convince a friend to join in, you can battle it out over Wi-Fi across six distinct arenas.
Kevin Toms Football * Manager ($3.49/£2.99/AU$4.89)
Kevin Toms Football * Manager is what happens when the man who created the original Football Manager game (the one released in 1982 for computers with 16k of RAM) brings the same pick-up-and-play ethos to Android. It’s crude. It’s simplistic. It’s also – as it turns out – an awful lot of fun.
Ultimately, the game mostly involves basic team selection/management, a smattering of tactics, and tense match highlights. It might seem prehistoric to anyone who cut their teeth on modern football management games, but it’s a delight for anyone hankering after immediacy from a management game, rather than something with so much depth it threatens to take over their life.
Motorsport Manager Mobile 3 ($3.99/£3.99/AU$6.49)
Motorsport Manager Mobile 3 is a racing management game without the boring bits. Rather than sitting you in front of a glorified spreadsheet, the game is a well-balanced mix of accessibility and depth, enabling you to delve into the nitty gritty of teams, sponsors, mechanics, and even livery.
When you’re all set, you get to watch surprisingly tense and exciting top-down racing. (This being surprising because you’re largely watching numbered discs zoom around circuits.) One-off races give you a feel for things, but the real meat is starting from the bottom of the pile in the career mode, with the ultimate aim of becoming a winner.
It’s all streamlined, slick, and mobile-friendly, and a big leap on from the relatively simplistic original Motorsport Manager Mobile.
Supertype is a word game more concerned with the shape of letters than the words they might create. Each hand-designed level finds you staring at a setup of lines, dots, and empty spaces in which to type. Tap out some letters, press the tick mark, and everything starts to move.
The aim is to get the letters you type to the dots. In some cases, the solution may be fairly obvious – for example, placing a lowercase l on each ‘step’ towards an out of reach dot at the top of a staircase, then having a p at the start tip over to set everything in motion. More often, you’ll be scratching your head, experimenting, trying new approaches, and then grinning ear to ear on cracking a solution.
Typeshift (free + IAP)
Typeshift rethinks word searches and crosswords. You get a tactile interface of jumbled letters within draggable columns. Your aim is to change the color of every tile – and tiles only change when they’re part of a word you make in the central row.
The game occasionally heads further into traditional crossword territory, adding clues to the mix, which you must match to the words you find. Either way, it’s a brain-smashing touch-optimized word-game experience.
There are joyful animated and audio touches throughout, too, and everything feels hand-crafted, rather than you being sent endless algorithmically generated puzzles. Naturally, such polish costs money – beyond the free download, you pay for packs of puzzles. But they’re worth every penny.
AR Smash Tanks (US$2.99/£2.39/AU$3.99)
AR Smash Tanks comes across like a one-on-one Angry Birds, only you’re pinging tanks about rather than furious avians, and the entire thing plays out in augmented reality.
You take on a friend or AI opponent, on a battlefield that can be squeezed on to a table or conceivably resized to fill a big chunk of a lawn. Your mission is to smash your opposite number’s three tanks using your own, or by cunningly toppling buildings and making use of power-ups.
Although AR Smash Tanks could have worked without AR, it’s far better with it. You can consider shots from every angle, like you’re playing a decidedly surreal game of pool. The lack of online play is a pity, but for local multiplayer this one’s – as Brits say in praise – smashing!
Lichtspeer is a trippy take on tower defense – like a single-lane Plants vs Zombies, only you’re fending off deranged futuristic Nordic and Germanic foes, are armed with an endless supply of glowing javelins (the titular Lichtspeer), and act under the watchful eye of an angry, demanding heavy metal god.
So, yes, this one has a veneer of weird, but the underlying mechanics are straightforward enough: aim your spear Angry Birds-style, lob and repeat. Get in some headshots, and the game rewards you. Miss too often and the god’s wrath briefly freezes you, making you temporarily vulnerable.
The main downsides to the game are repetition and brevity. However, gradually acquired special moves shake things up (and are a godsend on packed levels), and when you’re in the neon Lichtspeer zone, it has a focused, hypnotic quality – along with a pleasing dash of madness.
Dissembler is a match-three game with a difference. Instead of presenting you with a wall of gems that’s replenished when you make matches, Dissembler levels are akin to modern art – abstract creations comprising colored tiles.
You still swap two elements to try and match three (or more), but here matches vanish. The idea is to end up with a blank canvas. At first, this is easy, but Dissembler soon serves up challenges where you end up isolating tiles unless you’re very careful.
This shifts the game more heavily into strategic puzzling territory – and it’s all the better for it. You’ll feel like the smartest person around on figuring out the precise sequence of moves to clear the later levels. And even when you’ve finished them all, there’s a daily puzzle and endless mode to keep you occupied.
The Room: Old Sins (US$4.99/£4.99/AU$8.49)
The Room: Old Sins finds you investigating the disappearance of an engineer and his wife. The trail leads you to a spooky attic. On getting the lights working, you see a strange dollhouse, which then sucks you inside.
You discover the toy is in fact a full reconstruction of a mansion, with a side order of Lovecraftian horror. Unraveling the mystery at the heart of the game and its impossible world then happens by way of devious, complex, tactile logic puzzles.
Old Sins looks and sounds great, and moving around is swift – there’s none of the dull trudging you find in the likes of Myst. Of course, if you’ve played The Room, The Room Two, and The Room Three, you’ll know all this already. If you haven’t, grab Old Sins immediately – and its predecessors, too. They’re some of the finest games on Android.
SiNKR is a puzzle game based around pucks, hooks and holes (or, if you like, hooks, lines, and sinkers). It dispenses with timers, scores, text and IAP – it’s just your brain against its challenges.
The game’s abstract visuals are striking, and the way it plays feels fresh. Pucks are dotted about, and you must drag them to holes by using hooks that are retracted by you pressing hexagonal buttons.
The clever bit is how SiNKR works with such basic elements to create puzzles that have you staring at the screen, baffled as to the correct order in which to retract the hooks, and when to flip them over.
It gets more complicated later on, with new ideas and obstacles, but you’ll nonetheless likely be done within a few hours. Still, this kind of premium ad-free experience is to be encouraged on Android, and SiNKR is easily worth the tiny outlay.
.projekt is a relaxing and brilliantly designed minimal puzzler that twists your brain by forcing you to think in two and three dimensions simultaneously. At the center of the screen is a five-by-five grid, which you tap to build blocky structures from cubes. The aim is to have the shadows they project match patterns on two visible walls.
At first, this is simple stuff, but .projekt subtly ramps up the challenge as you move through its levels. You’re forced to spin the canvas multiple times, and often to destroy your structure and rebuild as an approach turns out to be a dead end.
Never does .projekt become a frustrating experience, however. You’re not on the clock, there are no move limits, and there are no IAP lurking. It’s just about you and the blocks, and imagining how an object looks from two points of view.
Super Hexagon (US$2.99/£2.39/AU$3.79)
Super Hexagon is an endless survival game that mercilessly laughs at your incompetence. It begins with a tiny spaceship at the center of the screen, and walls rapidly closing in. All you need to do is move left and right to nip through the gaps.
Unfortunately for you, the walls keep shifting and changing, the screen pulses to the chiptune soundtrack, and the entire experience whirls and jolts like you’re inside a particularly violent washing machine. It seems impossible, but you soon start to recognize patterns in the walls.
String together some deft moves, survive a minute by the skin of your teeth, and you briefly feel like a boss as new arenas are unlocked. And although complacency is wiped from your face the instant you venture near them, Super Hexagon has an intoxicating, compelling nature to offset its mile-long sadistic streak.
Florence is an interactive experience at the fringes of gaming – a short-form illustrated storybook peppered with game-like elements. These are designed to help you empathize with the protagonist – the titular Florence – and move the story onward.
There’s little challenge here, more an invitation to delve into the life of a young woman as she moves from the drudgery of the everyday to the dizzying thrills of experiencing her first love. Your input is slight and sporadic, but cleverly conceived, whether you’re mindlessly tapping figures in a spreadsheet or arranging puzzle pieces in speech balloons, the pieces decreasing in number as the conversation becomes easier.
The story is short, and there’s perhaps little replay value, but Florence should please anyone looking for a heartwarming way to spend an hour with their Android device that’s a bit different from typical gaming fare.
ATOMIK: RunGunJumpGun (US$2.99/£3.19/AU$4.29)
ATOMIK: RunGunJumpGun finds a nutcase blasting his way through corridors of extremely angry, heavily armed aliens, while he himself is only armed with a really big gun. That might sound fine, until you realize the gun is also his means of staying aloft.
This means to go higher, he must blast downward, temporarily becoming vulnerable to incoming fire. If he shoots forward, he starts to plummet towards the hard, deadly ground. ATOMIK therefore becomes a manic, high-octane balancing act of finger gymnastics, with the potential to get killed very frequently.
On every death, the game rewinds the level so you can try again, and wallow in your failure to complete challenges that are a mere 20 seconds long without dying dozens of times first. But when you crack one, you really do feel like a boss.
Superbrothers Sword & Sworcery (US$3.99/£3.49/AU$5.49)
Superbrothers Sword & Sworcery is an adventure game that’s about discovery and exploration. It’s a relentlessly beautiful experience, with rich retro-infused artwork and a lush soundtrack. The game encourages you to breathe everything in, take your time, and work at your own pace.
Unlike most adventures, which tend to be obsessed with inventories, Sworcery is mostly concerned with puzzles that are confined to one screen. Solutions are frequently abstract, involving manipulating your environment or even time itself. You may free woodland spirits with musical prowess, or discover a solution requires playing at set points during the lunar calendar.
It might come across as a bit worthy at times, and there are some missteps, such as the awkward, ungainly combat, but Sworcery is evocative and expressive, and full of pay-offs that tend towards the magical, unless you happen to be dead inside.
Part Time UFO (US$3.99/£3.99/AU$5.99)
Part Time UFO is a physics-based stacking game featuring a cute UFO that has crash-landed on Earth and now has to eke out a living. That’s right – in this era, aliens aren’t sent to Area 51, and instead scour job ads to earn some cash.
Fortunately, this little UFO is made of stern stuff and has a massive claw to pick things up. This proves handy for part time jobs, doing everything from stacking deliveries on a truck, to assisting a circus elephant’s grand finale – balancing on a tightrope, with five animals precariously plonked on a pole.
Since Part Time UFO embraces the frustration of claw machines, it can infuriate – not least when you topple a structure as the clock ticks down. Mostly, though, this is a charming and very silly game that’s loads of fun.
Meteorfall is a ‘roguelike’ role-playing adventure masquerading as a card game. You choose a hero, and then set out on a semi-randomized journey, which largely involves hacking your way through a horde of monsters. Only instead of swiping a trusty sword, or moving about a turn-based grid, your actions, attacks and strategy all revolve around cards.
With each card you’re dealt, you choose, Tinder-style, to swipe left or right. Each direction has its own outcome, which may involve smacking your foe in the face, or replenishing energy. Over time, you build up your deck, gradually increasing your strength and skills – until the moment you overstretch and are horribly killed.
Given the simple interface, there’s loads of depth here. And with every game being unique, Meteorfall is an Android title that should keep you playing for months.
Warlock’s Tower (US$1.99/£1.99/AU$2.69)
Warlock’s Tower is a turn-based puzzler that finds you on a quest to convince the titular warlock – about to destroy the world – that actually everyone quite likes him and would really appreciate it if he calmed down a bit.
As you enter each tiny single-screen dungeon, you make for the exit, knowing that every step you take depletes your life force. Regeneration gems are dotted about, which means your route is typically along serpentine lines.
If that was it, Warlock’s Tower would still come recommended, but it doesn’t rest on its laurels. Work your way through the levels and there’s more than a moves limit to contend with, as the game introduces moving walkways, character-switching, and slowly advancing zombies, eager to tear your face off.
Sonic Runners Adventure (US$2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49)
Sonic Runners Adventure tries to pull the same trick as Super Mario Run, distilling the essence of a much-loved traditional console platform game into a one-thumb auto-runner. The difference with Sonic is that he blazes along at breakneck pace, resulting in a colorful effort that has more in common with Canabalt than the precision leapy nature of Nintendo’s game.
That’s not to say there’s no case for care and accuracy though. Sonic Runners Adventure features carefully designed multi-level landscapes, each with its own rhythm.
Crack the choreography and you’ll grab the rings, bonk the monsters on the head and give the evil Dr Eggman a serious kicking. If not, you can at least take solace that this game’s mobile-friendly levels aren’t terribly expansive, and so are geared towards immediately having another go.
60 Seconds! Atomic Adventure ($3.99/£3.69/AU$5.49)
60 Seconds! Atomic Adventure is an initially jovial take on the apocalypse. The first – short – part of the game gives you one minute to dash around your house, picking up supplies and family members, and lobbing them into a shelter.
The second part has you making decisions regarding dishing out supplies and searching for more in the hope of surviving long enough to be rescued – assuming anyone’s left to do so.
The arcade section could do with dialing down the nuttiness in the controls. It’s too easy to end up randomly smacking into walls, nudging a chaotic feel into outright frustration. Still, take time to master the weird physics and you’ll do okay.
The strategy section has more legs for repeat play (and you can skip the arcade part if you’d rather go straight there). It offers many unexpected events, and a bleak, darkly comic edge that contrasts nicely with the bumbling arcade section that comes before it.
Vignettes sits at the extreme ‘arty’ edge of gaming, at times feeling more like an interactive toy. But there is a game lurking within – it’s just a decidedly abstract one.
You’re initially invited to interact with the game’s name. Spin it through a flat edge and this object suddenly becomes a chest, within which is a telephone that – when appropriately manipulated – becomes several other items in quick succession.
The ultimate aim is discovery – to figure out how to access each of the objects within the game. There are also plentiful secrets to discover, such as a moon landing featuring tiny cartoon astronauts, and a suitcase into which you can hurl an endless succession of socks.
It’s all very odd, but a compelling and stress-free experience that feels suitably different from anything else on the platform.
Hidden Folks ($3.49/£2.99/AU$6.49)
Hidden Folks is a hidden object game with a soul. It’s reminiscent of those mass-produced posters where you scour a massive, cluttered scene, trying to find the one person with a silly hat. The difference is that everything here has been made with love and care, from the hand-drawn interactive illustrations to the amusing oral sound effects.
The basics are admittedly much as you’d expect: scour the screen to find specific objects or characters, and move on when complete.
We realize that might not sound like much, but there’s a charm and humor to Hidden Folks that sets it apart from any of its contemporaries. On a larger Android phone or a tablet, this is a particularly relaxing, absorbing game to lose yourself in for a few hours.
Reigns: Her Majesty ($2.99/£2.79/AU$4.09)
Reigns: Her Majesty is the follow-up to the well-received Reigns, which was more or less a mash-up of kingdom management and Tinder. Again, the sequel has you perform regal duties, swiping left and right to make decisions, responding to demands from your subjects.
Throughout, you must balance the church, army, people and treasury. Should any one become too powerful or angry, your reign is over. At that point, you’re then reincarnated for another go.
Like its predecessor, this is a clever game with recurring themes, along with plots and achievements that weave their way through the ages. But the writing’s tighter this time, there’s an inventory to work with, and you’re playing the Queen – and she has a much harder time of it than a man.
Zenge is a sliding puzzle game whose early levels almost insult your intelligence, merely asking you to slide a few shapes into place. Don’t be fooled, though – Zenge is devious in a way that should make even the most jaded puzzle game fan grin.
At first, it’s just the cut of the shapes that thwarts efforts to shove them into place, but every now and again, new mechanics enter the mix, such as pieces that stick to each other, or buttons that flip shapes over.
All this plays out within a no-stress environment. There are no timers, move limits, shops, points or stars - it’s just you and the puzzles. Zenge’s purity alone would make it interesting, but the quality of the puzzles makes it a must-have.
Million Onion Hotel ($4.49/£3.89/AU$5.99)
Million Onion Hotel is a deceptively simple match game. At first, it appears you merely hammer onions the second they appear on a five-by-five grid, aiming to make complete lines and boost your score. But Million Onion Hotel is full of secrets, leaving you to figure out how its mysterious world works.
This extends to game and backstory alike. You soon realize a combination of speed and strategy is vital - as is an eye to prioritizing actions when the screen’s being bombarded by surreal, crazed animated vegetables.
Then there are the cutscenes, which seem to involve a hotel, a wormhole into a distant galaxy, and quite a lot of (cartoon) sex and violence.
Million Onion Hotel’s certainly not your average gem-swapper – it’s much, much more.
Framed 2 ($4.99/£4.49/AU$7.49)
The story features a mysterious ship, smuggling, and quite a lot of sneaky spies. As you play a scene, something inevitably goes horribly wrong for the protagonist and you must swap frames around to make things play out differently. Like the original, this is all wonderfully tactile, but the puzzles are better this time around, with more emphasis on reusing panels.
It’s even fun when it goes wrong. You don’t often get to be entertained when failing in a puzzle game, but here you’ll want to fail each level if you succeed first time, just to see what amusing japes Framed 2’s cast would have got into otherwise.
Bury Me, My Love ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.99)
What’s different is this game’s narrative draws from the real-life stories of Syrian refugees. You play Majd, whose wife Nour is trying to reach Europe. She contacts you via a messaging app, and you respond with advice – which may have a very big impact.
This kind of adventure can be tense, leaking into your real life as you await responses, but Bury Me, My Love takes this to the extreme – for example, when it’s been 24 hours since you heard from Nour, who was heading to a heavily armed border.
This kind of topical subject matter won’t be for everyone, but if you want a game that will make you think a bit, it comes recommended.
Monument Valley 2 ($4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99)
Monument Valley 2 is the follow-up to landscape-bending puzzler Monument Valley. As in its predecessor, you fashion impossible pathways by manipulating Escher-like constructions in order to reach goals.
This is a gorgeous game. The minimalist architecture is dotted with optical illusions. Imagination abounds throughout, and the color palette dazzles, half making you wish you could print every level out as a massive poster to stick on the wall.
The actual puzzles are slight and the game itself has been criticized for being short, but thoughts of brevity evaporate when you’re confronted by one of Monument Valley 2’s many spectacular, beautiful moments, such as a side-on level that resembles modern art and a section where trees explode from pots when bathed in sunlight. In short, this is a mobile experience to savor.
Thimbleweed Park ($9.99/£8.99/AU$13.99)
Thimbleweed Park is an adventure that sends you back to the halcyon days of 1987. Mainly because that’s when it’s set, in the titular Thimbleweed Park, and there’s been a murder. But also, this game recalls classic PC point-and-clicker Maniac Mansion, in everything from visual style to interface.
That doesn’t mean this is a crusty old relic. Industry veterans Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick have written a winning script (which gets increasingly weird as you play), and come up with dozens of cunning, tricky puzzles to keep your brain fizzing throughout the game’s 15-to-20-hour length.
Now and again, it perhaps gets a bit too obtuse. But mostly, this is a game that knows it’s a game - and that also wants you to know it’s a take-no-prisoners puzzle title. One that features plumbers who are also paranormal investigators, dressed as pigeons. (We did say it was weird.)
Death Road to Canada ($9.99/£9.49/AU$13.99)
Death Road to Canada is a zombie movie smashed into a classic retro game. Little pixelated heroes dodder about a dystopian world, bashing zombies with whatever comes to hand, looting houses, and trying to not get eaten.
The road trip is staccato in nature. The game constantly tries to derail your rhythm and momentum. In Choose Your Own Adventure-style text bits, the wrong decision may find you savaged by a moose. Elsewhere, intense ‘siege’ challenges dump you in a confined space with zombie hordes, often armed only with a stick. Handy.
These abrupt elements can grate – as can the slightly slippy controls that aren’t always quite tight enough; but otherwise this is an ambitious mash-up of RPG and arcade gaming, with generous dollops of black humor – and BRAIINNZZZ.
Love You To Bits ($3.99/£3.79/AU$5.99)
Love You To Bits is a visually dazzling and relentlessly inventive point-and-click puzzler. It features Kosmo, a space explorer searching for the scattered pieces of his robot girlfriend, bar the lifeless head that’s still in his clutches. Which is a bit icky.
Don’t think about that too much, though, because this game is gorgeous. Through its many varied scenes, it plays fast and loose with pop culture references, challenging you to beat a 2D Monument Valley, sending up Star Wars, and at one point dumping you on a planet of apes.
Now and again, you’ll need to make a leap of logic to complete a task, and puzzles mostly involve picking things up and using them in the right place – hardly the height of innovation. But this game’s so endearing and smartly designed you’d have to be lifeless yourself to fail to love it at least a little.
Run A Whale ($0.99/99p/AU$1.49)
Run-A-Whale is a sweet-natured endless runner. Well, endless swimmer, given that its protagonist is a friendly whale giving a lift/thrill ride to a shipwrecked pirate.
There’s no tapping to leap here, though; in Run-A-Whale, you hold the screen to make the whale dive. When you let go and he breaks the surface, he soars (very) briefly into the air, before returning to the water with a splash.
As ever, the aim in Run-A-Whale is survival – and that in itself isn’t simple. The game’s one failing is it sometimes makes it really tough to avoid hazards, which can include whale-stopping walls someone’s carelessly built beneath the waves.
Mostly, though, this one’s a gorgeous romp through beautiful landscapes, grabbing coins, occasionally being fired into the sky by a cannon, and regularly fending off giant crabs and octopodes.
Sidewords is a rare word game that isn’t ripping off Scrabble or crosswords. Instead, you get blank grids with words along two edges. You must use at least one letter from each edge to make new words of three or more letters. Each selected letter blasts a line across the grid; where lines meet become solid areas filled with your word. The aim is to fill the grid.
On smaller levels, this is simple, but larger grids can be challenging – especially when you realize a massive word (that on discovery made you feel like a genius) leaves spaces that are impossible to fill. Fortunately, Sidewords encourages experimentation, and so you can remove/replace words at will.
It’s clever and a bit different; and if you tire of the main game, you can fire up mini-game Quads, which marries word-building and Threes!-style sliding tiles. Two for the price of one, then – and both games alone are worth the outlay.
Freeways is one of those games that doesn’t look like much in stills, but proves ridiculously compelling from the moment you fire it up. In short, it’s all about designing roadways for autonomous vehicles.
It comes across a bit like a mash-up of Mini Metro and Flight Control. You link roads together, often by designing monstrous spaghetti junctions, only you’re armed with tools that make you feel like an urban planner drawing with chunky crayons while wearing boxing gloves.
The game’s crude nature is part of its charm. It’s more about speed and immediacy than precision, a feeling cemented when you realize there’s no undo. When your road system gets jammed, your only option is to start from scratch and try something new.
In truth, the inability to remove even tiny errors can irk, not least when roads don’t connect as you’d expect. Otherwise, Freeways is a blast.
Card Crawl (free + $2.99/£2.99/AU$4.39 IAP)
Card Crawl mixes solitaire and dungeon crawling, and does an awful lot with a four-by-two grid of cards.
In each round, an armor-clad ogre deals four cards, which may include monsters, weaponry, potions, and spells. Beneath sits your adventurer’s card, two spots for items to hold, and one to stash a card for later.
To progress to the next draw, you must use three of the cards dealt to you. For example, you might grab a sword, use that to kill a demonic crow, and then quaff a potion.
Getting through the entire deck requires strategy more than luck. For example, down health potions when you don’t need to, and you may not survive later when weaponless and battling multiple enemies.
Generously, the basic game is free; but we recommend buying the one-off IAP to unlock the full set of cards and game modes.
Miracle Merchant (free + $1.99/£1.69/AU$2.59 IAP)
Miracle Merchant has you mix potions for thirsty adventurers, fashioned from stacks of colored cards. Each customer asks for a specific ingredient, and mentions another they like. Across 13 rounds, you must manage your deck to ensure everyone goes away happy. Fail once and your game ends.
Decisions must be made carefully, because once cards are placed, they can’t be moved. Combinations prove vital for success: pairs of cards boost your score, as does matching cards to the colored icons found on those already in play. There are also ‘evil’ cards with negative values to overcome.
The game doesn’t feel as refined as the developer’s own Card Thief, but we enjoyed its elegance. There’s no messing about with special powers and leveling up – it’s just you, cards, and a set of rules. There’s perhaps a touch too much reliance on card counting and luck, but Miracle Merchant’s nonetheless a simple, engaging, unique stab on solitaire.
Linelight is a gorgeous, minimal puzzler that pits you against the rhythmic denizens of a network of lines levitating above a colored haze. Your aim is simply to progress, inching your way along the network, triggering gates and switches, and collecting golden gems.
Early puzzles are content to let you get to grips with the virtual stick (one of the best on Android). Soon, you’re faced with adversaries that kill with a single touch. But these foes aren’t merely to be avoided – they must also be manipulated into position to trigger switches that open pathways that enable you to continue.
Now and again, new mechanics keep things fresh, as do abrupt changes in pace, such as a memorable several-screens-long pursuit/dance with an enemy towards the end of the game’s first section. In all, Linelight’s an enchanting, vibrant, superbly designed experience – an essential purchase for your Android device.
is a playable, immediate old-school arcade game featuring an owl who’s trapped in hell “for some reason”. As you tap the left or right of the screen, he briefly flaps in that direction before gravity does its thing. Your aim: survival – easier said than done in endless rooms of angry demons.
Fortunately, you can fight back. Smacking into a demon destroys it. (Note: this really doesn’t work with massive whirling buzz-saws.) Some demons spit out loot when they expire, enabling you to power-up your owl in its subsequent lives.
And it turns out you’ll be grateful for rockets that shoot out of your behind when tackling giant (and oddly goofy) caterpillar-like bosses and the huge flame-spewing demons determined to make your time in hell, well, hell.
No Stick Shooter ($1.99/£1.99/AU$2.89)
As its name suggests, there are no virtual D-pads to contend with. Instead, as the aliens menacingly descend towards your planet, you tap their general location to fling something destructive their way.
The key to victory doesn’t involve tapping the screen like a lunatic, though. Your weapons need time to recharge, and specific armaments work well against certain foes. In a sense, it all plays out like a strategy-laced precision shooter on fast-forward, with you clocking incoming hostiles, quickly switching to the best weapon, and tapping or swiping to blow them away.
There are just 30 levels in all, but only the very best arcade veterans are likely to blaze through them at any speed – and even then, getting all the achievements is a tough ask.
Super Samurai Rampage ($1.99/£1.69/AU$2.79)
Said rampage is dependent on you swiping. Swipe left and you lunge in that direction, slicing your sword through the air. Swipe up and you majestically leap, whereupon you can repeatedly swipe every which way, fashioning a flurry of airborne destruction akin to the most outlandish of martial arts movies.
Along with dishing out death, you must ensure you don’t come a cropper yourself. And attack is your only form of defense, because when you’re moving, you’re also deflecting incoming projectiles. You’re also likely racking up quite the body count, which accumulates in bloody retro-pixel form at the foot of the screen.
It’s of course entirely absurd, and without much nuance; but Super Samurai Rampage is an arcade thrill that’s entertaining, and where repeat play is rewarded with gradual mastery – or at least lasting a few seconds longer before your inevitable demise.
Yankai’s Peak ($2.99/£2.79/AU$3.99)
The basics are simple: each level plays out atop a triangular grid. Your blue pyramid must nudge colored pyramids onto matching triangular spaces. Movement and nudges come by way of flipping your pyramid in one of three directions, or ‘pinning’ one of its corners and having it spin, taking along anything it touches for the ride.
The manner in which pyramids interact is far more complex than the square boxes found in Sokoban, and that’s what transforms Yankai’s Peak into a truly testing challenge. Even early levels can stump, until you hit upon the precise combination of moves required to achieve your goal.
Deep into the game, it may take days to crack a particularly tough challenge, although you’re at least aided by unlimited undos, and a level map that gives you access to several puzzles at once.
First Strike 1.3 ($1.99/£1.99/AU$2.69)
is an oddball combination of territory-snagging board game Risk, and classic defense arcade title Missile Command. You pick a nuclear power and set about building missiles, researching technologies, annexing adjacent states, and – when it comes to it – blowing the living daylights out of your enemies.
The high-tech interface balances speed and accessibility, although games tend to be surprisingly lengthy – and initially sedate, as you gradually increase your arsenal, and shore up your defenses.
Eventually, all hell breaks lose, including terrifying first strikes, where enemies lob their entire cache of missiles at an unlucky target. If that’s you and your defenses aren’t strong enough, prepare more for ‘the end’ than ‘game over’ as the screen shakes amid all the destruction.
It’s thoughtful and clever (and often chilling), but First Strike never forgets it’s a game – and a really good one for real-time strategy fans.
Riptide GP: Renegade ($2.99/£2.99/AU$3.99)
The first two Riptide games had you zoom along undulating watery circuits surrounded by gleaming metal towers. offers another slice of splashy futuristic racing, but this time finds you immersed in the seedy underbelly of the sport.
As with the previous games, you’re still piloting a hydrofoil, and racing involves not only going very, very fast, but also being a massive show-off at every available opportunity.
If you hit a ramp or wave that hurls you into the air, you’d best fling your ride about or do a handstand, in order to get turbo-boost on landing. Sensible racers get nothing.
The career mode finds you earning cash, upgrading your ride, and probably ignoring the slightly tiresome story bits. The racing, though, is superb – an exhilarating mix of old-school arcade thrills and modern mobile touchscreen smarts.
Samorost 3 ($4.99/£3.99/AU$6.49)
is a love letter to classic point-and-click adventure games. You explore your surroundings, unearth objects, and then figure out where best to use them. Straightforward stuff, then (at least in theory – many puzzles are decidedly cryptic), but what sets Samorost 3 apart is that it’s unrelentingly gorgeous, and full of heart.
The storyline is bonkers, involving a mad monk who used a massive mechanical hydra to smash up a load of planetoids. You, as an ambitious space-obsessed gnome, must figure out how to set things right.
The game is packed with gorgeous details that delight, from the twitch of an insect’s antennae to a scene where the protagonist successfully encourages nearby creatures to sing, and starts fist-punching the air while dancing with glee. Just two magical moments among many in one of the finest examples of adventuring on Android.
Mushroom 11 ($4.99/£4.89/AU$6.49)
finds you exploring the decaying ruins of a devastated world. And you do so as a blob of green goo. Movement comes by way of you ‘erasing’ chunks of this creature with a circular ‘brush’. Over time, you learn how this can urge the blob to move in certain ways, or how you can split it in two, so half can flick a switch, while the other half moves onward.
This probably sounds a bit weird – and it is. But Mushroom 11 is perfectly suited to the touchscreen. The tactile way you interact with the protagonist feels just right, and although your surroundings are desolate, they’re also oddly beautiful, augmented by a superb ethereal soundtrack.
There are moments of frustration – the odd difficulty wall. But with regular restart points, and countless ingenious obstacles and puzzles, Mushroom 11 is a strange creature you should immediately squeeze into whatever space exists on your Android device.
Arkanoid vs Space Invaders ($3.99/£3.99/AU$5.99)
In the late 1970s, Space Invaders invited you to blast rows of invaders. In the mid-1980s, Arkanoid revamped Breakout, having you use a bat-like spaceship to belt a ball at space bricks. Now, mashes the two titles together – and, surprisingly, it works very nicely.
Instead of a ball, you’re deflecting the invaders’ bullets back at them, to remove bricks and the invaders themselves. Now and again, Arkanoid is recalled more directly in a special attack that has you belt a ball around the place after firing it into action using a massive space bow.
Increasingly, though, the game is laced with strategy, since your real enemy is time. A couple of dozen levels in, you must carefully utilize powerful invaders’ blasts and onscreen bonuses to emerge victorious – not easy when neon is flying everywhere and the clock’s ticking down.
The Big Journey ($1.99/£1.89/AU$2.69)
In platform adventure , fat cat Mr. Whiskers is on a mission. The chef behind his favorite dumplings has disappeared, and so the brave feline sets out to find him. The journey finds the chubby kitty rolling and leaping across – and through – all kinds of vibrant landscapes, packed with hills, tunnels, and enemies.
The game comes across a lot like PSP classic LocoRoco, in you tilting the screen to move, the protagonist’s rotundness increasing over time, and several of the landscape interactions (oddball elevators; smashing through fragile barriers).
But The Big Journey very much has its own character, not least in the knowing humor peppered throughout what might otherwise have been a saccharine child-like storyline about a gluttonous cartoon cat.
As it is, The Big Journey isn’t terribly challenging, but it is enjoyable, whether you drink the visuals in and just dodder to the end, or simultaneously try to find every collectible and beat the speed-run time limits.
Milkmaid of the Milky Way ($4.49/£3.39/AU$5.99)
Initial moments in point-and-click adventure are so sedate the game’s in danger of falling over. You play as Ruth, a young woman living on a remote farm in a 1920s Norwegian fjord. She makes dairy products, sold to a town several hours away. Then, without warning, a massive gold spaceship descends, stealing her cows.
Fortunately, Ruth decides she’s having none of that, leaps aboard the spaceship, and finds herself embroiled in a tale of intergalactic struggles. To say much more would spoil things, but we can say that this old-school adventure is a very pleasant way to spend a few hours.
The puzzles are logical yet satisfying; the visuals are gorgeous; and the game amusingly provides all of its narrative in rhyme, which is pleasingly quaint and nicely different.
Hero of the hour Dennis finds himself unicycling naked in this gorgeous platform game best described as flat-out nuts. In , you dodder left or right, leap over obstacles, and break your fall with a handy umbrella, all the while attempting to grab ice as surreal landscapes collapse and morph around you.
The mission feels like a journey into what might happen if Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam were let loose on game design. One minute, you’re entering a top-hatted gent’s ear to find and kiss a ‘reverse mermaid’ on a levitating bike; the next you’re in a terrifying silhouette funfair that might have burst forth from a fevered mind during a particularly unpleasant nightmare.
Some of the levels are tough, and there’s a bit of grinding to unlock new outfits. But if you want something a bit more creative on your Android, you can’t do much better than iCycle.
Super Mario Run (free + $9.99/£9.99/AU$14.99 IAP)
Anyone who thought Nintendo would convert a standard handheld take on Mario to Android was always on a hiding to nothing. But that’s probably just as well – Nintendo’s classic platformers are reliant on tight controls, rather than you fumbling about on a slippy glass surface.
You might consider this reductive; also, Super Mario Run is a touch short, and the ‘kingdom builder’ sub-game alongside the main act falls flat. Still, really smart level design wins the day, and completists will have fun replaying the world tour mode time and again to collect the many hard-to-reach coins.
Card Thief (free or $1.99/£1.99/AU$2.89 IAP)
The game takes place on a three-by-three grid of cards. For each move, you plan a route to avoid getting duffed up by guards (although pickpocketing them on the way past is fair game, obviously), loot a chest, and make for an exit.
Card Thief is not the easiest game to get into, with its lengthy tutorial and weird spin on cards. But this is a game with plenty of nuance and depth that becomes increasingly rewarding the more you play, gradually unlocking its secrets. It’s well worth the effort.
A young boy hurls himself down a massive well, with only his ‘gunboots’ for protection. There are so many questions there (not least: what parent would buy their kid boots that are also guns?), but it sets the scene for a superb arcade shooter with surprising smarts and depth.
At first in , you’ll probably be tempted to blast everything, but ammo soon runs out. On discovering you reload on landing, you’ll then start to jump about a lot. But further exploration of the game’s mechanics reaps all kinds of rewards, leading to you bounding on monsters, venturing into tunnels to find bonus bling, and getting huge scores once you crack the secrets behind combos.
The game might look like it’s arrived on your Android device from a ZX Spectrum, but this is a thoroughly modern and hugely engaging blaster.
That game where you cast a shadow on the wall and attempt to make a vaguely recognizable rabbit? That’s , only instead of your hands, you manipulate all kinds of levitating detritus, spinning and twisting things until you abruptly – and magically – fashion a silhouette resembling anything from a seahorse to an old-school telephone.
The game looks gorgeous, with stunning lighting effects and objects that look genuinely real as they dangle in the air. Mostly though, this is a game about tactility and contemplation – it begs to be explored, and to make use of your digits in a way virtual D-pads could never hope to compete with.
Chameleon Run ($2.00/£1.67/AU$2.60)
You might have played enough automatic runners to last several lifetimes, but nonetheless deserves to be on your Android device. And although the basics might initially seem overly familiar (tap to jump and ensure your sprinting chap doesn’t fall down a hole), there’s in fact a lot going on here.
Each level has been meticulously designed, which elevates Chameleon Run beyond its algorithmically generated contemporaries. Like the best platform games, you must commit every platform and gap to memory to succeed. But also, color-switching and ‘head jumps’ open up new possibilities for route-finding – and failure.
In the former case, you must ensure you’re the right color before landing on colored platforms. With the latter, you can smash your head into a platform above to give you one more chance to leap forward and not tumble into the void.
There’s a distinct sense of minimalism at the heart of , along with a knowing nod to a few arcade classics of old. Bereft of a story, the game simply tasks you with guiding a trundling cube to the end of each blocky level. Along the way, you grab tiny glowing cubes. On reaching the goal, you get graded on your abilities.
This admittedly doesn’t sound like much on paper, but Edge is a superb arcade game. The isometric visuals are sharp, and the head-bobbing soundtrack urges you onwards. The level design is the real star, though, with surprisingly imaginative objectives and hazards hewn from the isometric landscape.
And even when you’ve picked your way to the very end, there’s still those grades to improve by shaving the odd second off of your times.
Traps n' Gemstones ($4.99/£3.99/AU$4.99)
Harking back to classic side-on platformers, dumps an Indiana Jones wannabe into a massive pyramid, filled with mummies, spiders and traps; from here he must figure out how to steal all the bling, uncover all the secrets, and then finally escape.
Beyond having you leap about, grab diamonds, and keep indigenous explorer-killing critters at bay, Traps n' Gemstones is keen to have you explore. Work your way deeper into the pyramid and you’ll find objects that when placed somewhere specific open up new pathways.
But although this one’s happy to hurl you back to gaming’s halcyon days, it’s a mite kinder to newcomers than the games that inspired it.
Get killed and you can carry on from where you left off. More of a hardcore player? Death wipes your score, so to doff your fedora in a truly smug manner, you’ll have to complete the entire thing without falling to the game’s difficult challenges.
You awake to find a letter from your father, who it turns out has gone from your life. You’re merely left with his notebook and a necklace. Thanks, Dad!
Being that this is a videogame, you reason it’s time to get questy, exploring the islands of the Uncharted Seas, chatting with folks, stabbing hostile wildlife, uncovering secrets and mysteries, and trying very hard to not get killed.
You get a chapter for free, to test how the game works on your device (its visual clout means fairly powerful Android devices are recommended); a single IAP unlocks the rest. The entire quest takes a dozen hours or so – which will likely be some of the best gaming you’ll experience on Android.
Human Resource Machine ($4.99/£4.89/AU$6.99)
Some people argue programming is perhaps the best ‘game’ of all – and a brilliant puzzle. Those might be people you’d sooner avoid at parties, but suggests they could have a point. In this compelling and unique puzzle game, you control the actions of a worker drone by way of programming-like sequences.
The premise is to complete tasks by converting items in your inbox to whatever’s required in the outbox – for example, only sending zeroes. Like much programming, success often relies on logic, with you fashioning loops, and using actions such as ‘jump’, ‘if’ statements, and ‘copy’. These are arranged via drag and drop on a board at the right-hand side of the screen.
That might all sound impenetrable, but Human Resource Machine is in fact elegant, friendly, and approachable, not least due to developer Tomorrow Corporation’s penchant for infusing games with personality and heart.
Captain Cowboy ($1.86/£1.54/AU$2.49)
Coming across like a sandbox-oriented chill-out ‘zen’ take on seminal classic Boulder Dash, has your little space-faring hero exploring a massive handcrafted world peppered with walls, hero-squashing boulders, and plenty of bling.
Much like Boulder Dash, Captain Cowboy is mostly about not being crushed by massive rocks – you dig paths through dirt, aiming to strategically use boulders to take out threats rather than your own head. But everything here is played out without stress (due to endless continues) and sometimes in slow motion (when floating through zero-gravity sections of space).
The result feels very different from the title that inspired it, but it’s no less compelling. Tension is replaced by exploration, and single-screen arcade thrills are sacrificed for a longer game. As you dig deeper into Captain Cowboy’s world, there are plenty of things awaiting discovery, and even tackling the next screen of dirt and stones always proves enjoyable.
Solitairica (free or $3.99/£3.59/AU$4.99)
In the fantasy world of , battles are fought to the death by way of cards. The foes barring the way to your quest’s goal set up walls of cards before them, which you smash through by matching those one higher or lower than the one you hold.
Then there are spells you cast by way of collected energies. Meanwhile, the creatures strike back with their own unique attacks, from strange worm-like beings nibbling your head, to grumpy forest dwellers making your cards grow beards.
In short, then, a modicum of fantasy role-playing wrapped around an entertaining and approachable card game. And on Android, you have the advantage of the game being free – a one-off IAP only figures if you want to avoid watching adverts, and have access to alternate decks to try your luck as a different character.
For a game that eventually pushes your observation skills, precision and nerve to breaking point, is almost absurdly easy at first. At the top of the screen, you’re given a small selection of colors. The aim is to spear them in order, by slicing through shapes below.
This is simple enough when the shapes are static. It’s more than a tad tougher when the little blighters won’t stay still, or when they unsportingly evolve and mutate, doing everything they can to try and make you fail.
The end result is kind of a minimal, artistic, exactness-obsessed take on Fruit Ninja. And for our money, it’s an essential download – especially on devices with larger displays.
Need for Speed: Most Wanted ($4.99/£3.99/AU$6.99)
Anyone expecting the kind of free-roaming racing from the console versions of this title are going to be miffed, but is nonetheless one of the finest games of its kind on Android. Yes, the tracks are linear, with only the odd shortcut, but the actual racing bit is superb.
You belt along the seedy streets of a drab, gray city, trying to win events that will boost your ego and reputation alike. Wins swell your coffers, enabling you to buy new vehicles for entering special events.
The game looks gorgeous on Android and has a high-octane soundtrack to urge you onwards. But mostly, this one’s about the controls – a slick combination of responsive tilt and effortless drifting that makes everything feel closer to OutRun 2 than typically sub-optimal mobile racing fare.
Hitman GO ($4.99/£3.99/AU$6.99)
The original and best of the GO games, should never have worked. It reimagines the console stealth shooter as a dinky clockwork boardgame. Agent 47 scoots about, aiming to literally knock enemies off the board, and then reach and bump off his primary target.
Visually, it’s stunning – oddly adorable, but boasting the kind of clarity that’s essential for a game where a single wrong move could spell disaster. And the puzzles are well designed, too, with distinct objectives that often require multiple solutions to be found.
If you’re a fan of Agent 47’s exploits on consoles, you might be a bit nonplussed by Hitman GO, but despite its diorama stylings, it nonetheless manages to evoke some of the atmosphere and tension from the console titles, while also being entirely suited to mobile play.
Badland 2 (free with ads or $4.99/£3.99/$AU5.19)
You have to feel for the little beastie in Badland 2. Having somehow survived all manner of horrors last time round, the winged critter is now hurled into an even deadlier circle of hell. As before, the aim is to reach an exit, avoiding traps such as massive saw-blades, bubbling magma, and flamethrowers belching toasty death in all directions.
Your means of survival is mostly to flap a bit. This time, though, rather than prod the screen to flap rightwards, you can flap left or right, which comes in handy for navigating deranged levels that now scroll in all directions.
There's perhaps a lack of freshness in this sequel, despite such new tricks and a smattering of unfamiliar traps, but Badland 2 remains a visually stunning and relentlessly cruel arcade experience among the very best on Android. (Do, though, buy the IAP – the atmosphere and momentum is obliterated when ads appear.)
Impossible Road ($1.99/£1.49/AU$2.33)
One of the most exhilarating games on mobile, finds a featureless white ball barreling along a ribbon-like track that twists and turns into the distance. The aim is survival – and the more gates you pass through, the higher your score.
The snag is that Impossible Road is fast, and the track bucks and turns like the unholy marriage of a furious unbroken stallion and a vicious roller-coaster.
Once the physics click, however, you’ll figure out the risks you can take, how best to corner, and what to do when hurled into the air by a surprise bump in the road.
The game also rewards ‘cheats’. Leave the track, hurtle through space for a bit, and rejoin – you’ll get a score for your airborne antics, and no penalty for any gates missed. Don’t spend too long aloft though - a few seconds is enough for your ball to be absorbed into the surrounding nothingness.
Mini Metro ($4.99/£4.29/AU$7.49)
There’s a disarmingly hypnotic and almost meditative quality to the early stages of . You sit before a blank underground map of a major metropolis, and drag out lines between stations that periodically appear.
Little trains then cart passengers about, automatically routing them to their stop, their very movements building a pleasing plinky plonky generative soundtrack.
As your underground grows, though, so does the tension. You’re forced to choose between upgrades, balance where trains run, and make swift adjustments to your lines. Should a station become overcrowded, your entire network is closed. (So...not very like the real world, then.)
Do well enough and you unlock new cities, with unique challenges. But even failure isn’t frustrating, and nor is the game’s repetitive nature a problem, given that Mini Metro is such a joy to play.
Concrete Jungle ($4.99/£3.99/AU$6.99)
The basics involve the strategic placement of buildings on a grid, with you aiming to rack up enough points to hit a row’s target. At that point, the row vanishes, and more building space scrolls into view.
Much of the strategy lies in clever use of cards, which affect nearby squares – a factory reduces the value of nearby land, for example, but an observatory boosts the local area. You quickly learn plonking down units without much thought messes up your future prospects.
Instead, you must plan in a chess-like manner – even more so when facing off against the computer opponent in brutally difficult head-to-head modes. But while Concrete Jungle is tough, it’s also fair – the more hours you put in, the better your chances. And it’s worth giving this modern classic plenty of your time.
Rayman Fiesta Run (£2.29/$2.99/AU$3.34)
There are varied mobile takes on limbless wonder Rayman's platform gaming exploits. The 1995 original exists on Android in largely faithful form, but feels ill-suited to touchscreens; and Rayman Adventures dabbles in freemium to the point it leaves a bad taste.
They rethink console-oriented platformers as auto-runners – which might sound reductive. However, this is more about distillation and focus than outright simplification.
Tight level design and an emphasis on timing regarding when to jump, rebound and attack forces you to learn layouts and the perfect moment to trigger actions, in order to get the in-game bling you need to progress.
Both titles are sublime, but Fiesta Run is marginally the better of the two - a clever take on platforming that fizzes with energy, looks fantastic, and feels like it was made for Android rather than a 20-year-old console.
Her Story ($2.99/£2.69/AU$3.99)
In Her Story, you find yourself facing a creaky computer terminal with software designed by a sadist. It soon becomes clear the so-called L.O.G.I.C. database houses police interviews of a woman charged with murder.
But the tape's been hacked to bits and is accessible only by keywords; 'helpfully', the system only displays five search results at once.
Naturally, these contrivances exist to force you to play detective, eking out clues from video snippets to work out what to search for next, slowly piecing together the mystery in your brain.
A unique and captivating experience, Her Story will keep even the most remotely curious Android gamer gripped until the enigma is solved.
You probably need to be a bit of a masochist to get the most out of Snakebird, which is one of the most brain-smashingly devious puzzlers we've ever set eyes on. It doesn't really look or sound the part, frankly - all vibrant colors and strange cartoon 'snakebirds' that make odd noises.
But the claustrophobic floating islands the birds must crawl through, supporting each other (often literally) in their quest for fruit, are designed very precisely to make you think you've got a way forward, only to thwart you time and time again.
The result is a surprisingly arduous game, but one that's hugely rewarding when you crack a particularly tough level, at which point you'll (probably rightly) consider yourself some kind of gaming genius.
One of the most gorgeous games around, FOTONICA at its core echoes one-thumb leapy game Canabalt. The difference is FOTONICA has you move through a surreal and delicate Rez-like 3D vector landscape, holding the screen to gain speed, and only soaring into the air when you lift a finger.
Smartly, FOTONICA offers eight very different and finite challenges, enabling you to learn their various multi-level pathways and seek out bonuses to ramp up your high scores. Get to grips with this dreamlike runner and you can then pit your wits (and thumbs) against three slowly mutating endless zones.
Touchgrind Skate 2 (free + IAP)
You might narrow your eyes at so-called 'realism' in mobile sports titles, given that this usually means 'a game that looks a bit like when you watch telly'. But Touchgrind Skate 2 somehow manages to evoke the feel of skateboarding, your fingers becoming tiny legs that urge the board about the screen.
There's a lot going on in Touchgrind Skate 2, and the control system is responsive and intricate, enabling you to perform all manner of tricks. It's not the most immediate of titles - you really need to not only run through the tutorial but fully master and memorize each step before moving on.
Get to grips with your miniature skateboard and you'll find one of the most fluid and rewarding experiences on mobile. Note that for free you get one park to scoot about in, but others are available via IAP.
Leo's Fortune (US$4.99/£4.99)
The bar's set so low in modern mobile gaming that the word 'premium' has become almost meaningless. But Leo's Fortune bucks the trend, and truly deserves the term. It's a somewhat old-school side-on platform game, featuring a gruff furball hunting down the thief who stole his gold (and then, as is always the way, dropped coins at precise, regular intervals along a lengthy, perilous pathway).
The game is visually stunning, from the protagonist's animation through to the lush, varied backdrops. The game also frequently shakes things up, varying its pace from Sonic-style loops to precise pixel-perfect leaps.
It at times perhaps pushes you a bit too far — late on, we found some sections a bit too finicky and demanding. But you can have as many cracks at a section as you please, and if you master the entire thing, there's a hardcore speedrun mode that challenges you to complete the entire journey without dying.
At its core, Forget-Me-Not is Pac-Man mixed with Rogue. You scoot about algorithmically generated single-screen mazes, gobbling down flowers, grabbing a key, and then making a break for the exit.
But what makes Forget-Me-Not essential is how alive its tiny dungeons feel. Your enemies don't just gun for you, but are also out to obliterate each other and, frequently, the walls of the dungeon, reshaping it as you play.
There are tons of superb details to find buried within the game's many modes, and cheapskates can even get on board with the free version, although that locks much of its content away until you've munched enough flowers.
If there was any justice, Forget-Me-Not would have a permanent place at the top of the Google Play charts. It is one of the finest arcade experiences around, not just on Android, but on any platform - old or new.
Horizon Chase (free + IAP)
If you're fed up with racing games paying more attention to whether the tarmac looks photorealistic rather than how much fun it should be to zoom along at insane speeds, check out Horizon Chase. This tribute to old-school arcade titles is all about the sheer joy of racing, rather than boring realism.
The visuals are vibrant, the soundtrack is jolly and cheesy, and the racing finds you constantly battling your way to the front of an aggressive pack.
If you fondly recall Lotus Turbo Esprit Challenge and Top Gear, don't miss this one. (Note that Horizon Chase gives you five tracks for free. To unlock the rest, there's a single £2.29/US$2.99 IAP.)
Power Hover (free + IAP)
There's a great sense of freedom from the second you immerse yourself in the strange and futuristic world of Power Hover. The robot protagonist has been charged with pursuing a thief who's stolen batteries that power the city.
The droid therefore grabs a hoverboard and scythes across gorgeous minimal landscapes, such as deserts filled with colossal marching automatons, glittering blue oceans, and a dead grey human city.
In lesser hands, Power Hover could have been utterly forgettable. After all, you're basically tapping left and right to change the direction of a hoverboard, in order to collect batteries and avoid obstacles. But the production values here are stunning.
Power Hover is a visual treat, boasts a fantastic soundtrack, and gives mere hints of a story, enabling your imagination to run wild. Best of all, the floaty controls are perfect; you might fight them at first, but once they click, Power Hover becomes a hugely rewarding experience.
(On Android, Power Hover is a free download; to play beyond the first eight levels requires a single £2.29/$2.99 IAP.)
A Good Snowman (£3.99, US$4.99, AU$6.99)
It turns out what makes a good snowman is three very precisely rolled balls of snow stacked on top of each other. And that's the core of this adorable puzzle game, which has more than a few hints of Towers of Hanoi and Sokoban about it as your little monster goes about building icy friends to hug.
What sets A Good Snowman apart from its many puzzle-game contemporaries on Android is a truly premium nature. You feel that the developer went to great efforts to polish every aspect of the production, from the wonderful animation to puzzles that grow in complexity and deviousness, without you really noticing — until you get stuck on a particularly ferocious one several hours in.
Doug Dug (83p, US$0.99, AU$1.39)
This one's all about the bling - and also the not being crushed to death by falling rocks and dirt. Doug Dug riffs off of Mr Driller, Boulder Dash and Dig Dug, the dwarf protagonist digging deep under the earth on an endless quest for shimmering gems. Cave-ins aren't the only threat, though - the bowels of the earth happen to be home to a surprising array of deadly monsters.
Some can be squashed and smacked with Doug's spade (goodbye, creepy spider!), but others are made of sterner stuff (TROLL! RUN AWAY!). Endlessly replayable and full of character, Doug Dug's also surprisingly relaxing - until the dwarf ends up under 150 tonnes of rubble.
You Must Build a Boat (£2.29, US$2.99, AU$4.49)
This is one of those 'rub your stomach, pat your head' titles that has you play two games at once. At the top of the screen, it's an endless runner, with your little bloke battling all manner of monsters, and pilfering loot. The rest of the display houses what's essentially a Bejeweled-style gem-swapper. The key is in matching items so that the running bit goes well - like five swords when you want to get all stabby.
Also, there's the building a boat bit. Once a run ends, you return to your watery home, which gradually acquires new rooms and residents. Some merely power up your next sprint, but others help you amass powerful weaponry. Resolutely indie and hugely compelling, You Must Build a Boat will keep you busily swiping for hours.
Limbo (£3.88, US$4.99, AU$6.85)
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.
ALONE... (£1.49, US$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.
Prune (£2.99, US$3.99, AU$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.
80 Days (£3, US$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.
Lara Croft GO (£3.99, US$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.
HoPiKo (£1.49, US$1.99, 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.
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.
Threes! (£2.39, US$2.99, 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.
Pac-Man CE DX (£4.07, US$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.
The Wolf Among Us (free + IAP)
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.