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: Vignettes ($2.99/£2.89/AU$3.89)
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.
Disjoint is a puzzle game based around swinging triangles. And also a pig and a hobo. The triangles are the main bit, and you spin them about each other across 100 puzzles to reach pre-defined goals.
The snag is that level layouts are minimal – mostly blank space. Often, you’ll need to move triangles into precise positions so others can reach their destinations. Elsewhere, some may need to ‘help’ others past goop that would otherwise set them solid.
Disjoint has unlimited undos, which help lessen frustration when mistakes are made – whether due to poor strategy or the slightly fiddly controls. This also gives you a shot at winning each level’s three-star reward for meeting the minimum number of moves.
And the pig and hobo? They’re just the narrative – although it’s an amusing one. The hobo is helping the pig on the promise of finding treasure. Now guess what the pig’s betrothed is called…
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.
Caterzillar feels a bit like Super Mario Galaxy rendered in 2D, starring a ravenous larva. Each level comprises a number of floating structures, which you can leap between. These spin beneath your many legs, making for a decidedly disorienting play experience.
Much of the game is therefore about figuring out how to get around levels where down may, within seconds, turn out to be up. And just when you get your bearings, the game will helpfully fire you halfway across the level in a cannon, or shoot vines into the air, creating mid-air loops.
The rest of the actual underlying game is all rather simple: collect a bunch of stuff; avoid enemies; get to an exit. Also, some levels require an awful lot of backtracking. Even so, Caterzillar’s anti-gravity madness makes it a winner.
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.
is a superb turn-based puzzler that appears to play out in a digital city of virtual skyscrapers being attacked by system glitches. Imagine your favorite virtual reality movie presented as a game from 1983, slathered in neon, and you’re halfway there.
As the hero darts from rooftop to rooftop, they’re immersed in grid-based puzzles, which incorporate runes you light to eradicate the glitches. The brilliant bit - and this is a rarity in gaming - is cityglitch doesn’t tell you how to deal with anything.
You must discover how to manipulate cats, ghosts, arrows and other foes, outthinking the set-up you’re provided, in order to emerge victorious across the 95 surprisingly diverse challenges.
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.
Slayaway Camp ($2.99/£2.79/AU$3.99)
is a sliding puzzle game that looks like Crossy Road – if Crossy Road had turned into a 1980s horror flick. The aim is to assist psycho slasher Skullface, hacking to pieces loitering campers and cops, across dozens of levels of pixelated gore.
Essentially, it’s about pathfinding. Skullface slides until he hits something. The key is to ensure that’s a camper, and not a cop’s gun, or something equally deadly that will end his bloody rampage.
For those of a sensitive disposition, it’s worth noting Slayaway Camp is more ridiculous than horrific – even its cut-scenes (with emphasis on the cutting – and hacking) are very silly.
More importantly, the slasher thing isn’t a gimmick atop a rubbish game – although Slayaway Camp doesn’t drip with innovation regarding the puzzling bits, the challenges are solidly designed and increasingly devious as you hack your way through its many levels.
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.
Lumino City ($4.99/£4.69/AU$6.49)
It’s wrong to coo about graphics when a game is otherwise uneven, but with we’re going to do it anyway. And that’s because this puzzle-oriented adventure is drop-dead gorgeous, with truly stunning hand-crafted scenes that feel like someone squeezed a ridiculously expensive animated movie into your Android device.
The puzzling is more variable. The quest to locate your kidnapped grandfather requires defeating numerous logic puzzles. Some are irritating, with plug/switch events becoming old long before the end. But it’s hard to grumble on encountering a pathfinding puzzle involving a house that literally spins round, and a really sweet scene where you learn a song on a guitar.
Our advice: gawp at the visuals, drink in the atmosphere, and use a walkthrough to speed through the boring bits.
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.
Cosmic Express ($4.99/£4.49/AU$6.99)
In an awkwardly laid out space colony, tasks you with setting out train tracks that enable colorful little aliens to get to their destinations. Each little biodome has an entrance and at least one exit, and the tracks you draw become increasingly labyrinthine as the tests gradually toughen.
Visually, the game’s a treat, and the premise is simple enough that anyone can pick it up – there’s not even any crisscrossing of tracks, like you get in the ostensibly similar . But eventually you realize Cosmic Express is as devious as that classic, not least on encountering gloopy aliens who leave carriages in such a state no-one else wants to get on.
Smartly, the game’s branching level unlocks also mean you’ve always got several puzzles to try, rather than ending up stuck on a particularly tough one.
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.
The aim is to get each spaceman to an exit that matches the color on their helmet. They automatically run, and so must be guided using arrow tiles, while also dealing with buttons, switches, and hazards, like mysterious shadowy spacemen that devour anyone they touch.
Portals complicate matters further, flinging spacemen through time so they can assist their earlier selves. It takes a while to grasp the nuances of this concept, but Causality lets you experiment, moving back and forth through time until you find a solution to any given problem, whilst quietly grumbling that, if anything, that bloke in Doctor Who has it easy.
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.
Atomic Pinball Collection ($2.52/£2.06/AU$3.12 per table)
Pinball games rarely look as good as the tables in . And, fortunately, this pair of beauties plays wonderfully as well. In Masks of Glory, you get a colorful, fast, ramp-laden table that finds you as an underdog wrestling your way to glory. In Revenge of the Rob-O-Bot, you face off against an angry giant droid laying waste to a city.
The pinball is closer in nature to traditional fare than the fantastical offerings found in the likes of Zen Pinball – you feel Atomic’s tables could exist in real life. And that’s even more apparent when you start noticing details such as slightly worn components and missing flecks of paint.
Still not convinced? You can download the entire thing for free, only paying up when you hit a million points on either table.
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.
Each of the structures before you is ridiculously intricate, with all manner of switches to flick, patterns to match, and components to twist and rotate. At any given moment, a seemingly innocuous action may entirely change the setup of what’s before you, unveiling further puzzles to wrap your head around.
Although we mentioned The Room earlier, _PRISM isn’t in the same league when it comes to difficulty.
Instead, _PRISM’s challenge is fairly slight, even if you sometimes require finger gymnastics in order to succeed. But its atmosphere and cleverly designed challenges make it well worth seeking out for puzzle fans – especially if you’ve a larger Android device to play on.
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.
Samorost 3 ($4.99/£3.99/AU$6.49)
It features a little gnome trying to thwart the machinations of an evil wizard who largely obliterated a tiny universe with his steampunk dragon.
The gnome explores tiny planetoids, unearthing objects, interacting with the locals, and solving puzzles to move his quest towards a heroic conclusion.
Samorost 3 harks back to classic point-and-click fare. You tap about the place, and have your brain smashed out trying to find sometimes almost unreasonably obscure solutions.
But the magic here is in the lush visuals, lashings of personality (the little gnome bobbing about and gleefully punching the air during one music-oriented sequence), and gorgeous animations and audio that are integral to the entire production.
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.
Based on cult web hit Gimme Friction Baby by Wouter Visser, has you fire orbs into a tiny galactic void. Each bounces, comes to rest, and expands until touching something else. If one crosses the danger line above your cannon, well, it's game over.
It’s much harder to explain this game than to play it, but we’ll do our best. The screen rapidly fills, but you can obliterate existing orbs by firing others at them. During collisions, the numbers within static orbs decrease by one. Should any orb's number hit zero, it explodes, the wake depleting nearby orbs.
See, we told you.
Density of explanation aside, this is a beautiful game of dazzling neon and increasing tension. Larger balls create huge explosions and the potential for combos and higher scores, but leave you less room to maneuver.
Varied modes test your timing (Pure's oscillating gun), aim (Supernova's manual cannon), and whether you're Brian Cox (Gravity's orbs that arc around those already on the screen).
You've got to love a game developer that figured it would be a smart move to mash together the swipe-based navigation from dating app Tinder and a strategy title about ruling a kingdom. The danger, perhaps, is could be seen as simple and throwaway – yet it's anything but.
Sure, the basics are extremely straightforward: you deal with a never-ending stream of requests from your subjects by swiping left or right to respond. But your decisions affect how content the church, people, army, and treasury are. If any get too miffed (or even too happy), your reign comes to an abrupt end.
Cleverly, you then continue on as your heir, and Reigns' true genius becomes apparent. While you can blithely swipe your way through the ages, there are missions to complete, solutions to which may only become apparent over a great many years. Want to beat the Devil? You'll have a few centuries to prepare!
Badland 2 (free with ads or $4.99/£3.99/$AU5.19)
You have to feel for the little beastie in . 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.
Circa Infinity (£2.46/$2.99/AU$2.99)
A decidedly dizzying take on platform games, Circa Infinity exists in a sparse world of concentric circles. Your little stick man scoots around the edge of the largest, and a prod of the action button when he's atop a pizza-slice cut-out flips him inside the disc.
He can then make a leap for the bobbing circle within, at which point the process repeats.
Only the next disc may be patrolled by any number of critters intent on ejecting the stick man from their particular circle.
The net result is an odd-looking, disorienting arcade title that proves fresh and exhilarating. With 50 levels and five boss fights, making it to the end of Circa Infinity is a stern challenge; getting there quickly should test even the most hardened mobile gamer.
A few levels in and you might wonder whether klocki has taken the notion of a relaxing puzzle game a bit too far.
It's easy almost to the point of being a sedative, merely having you swap tiles on a flat plane, in order to fashion complete pathways. But klocki is a smart cookie, very gradually introducing new concepts so slowly you barely notice; but pretty soon you find yourself immersed in rich and complex tests.
Later levels have you battle three-dimensional shapes, switches, and tiles that rotate; and despite the minimal aesthetic and noodly audio, it never really gets old. The game is, however, quite short - a few hours and you'll probably be done.
Still, the low price-tag ensures klocki remains great value, especially if you take the time to savour its charms rather than blazing through its challenges at breakneck speed.
The Room Three (£3.99/$4.99/AU$5.17)
The Room is a series about mysteries within mysteries. It begins with a box. Fiddling with dials and switches causes things to spring to life elsewhere, and you soon find boxes within the boxes, layers unravelling before you; it's the videogame equivalent of Russian dolls meets carpentry, as breathed into life by a crazed inventor.
The Room's curious narrative and fragments of horror coalesce in follow-up The Room Two, which expands the 'boxes' into more varied environments – a séance room; a pirate ship. Movement remains restricted and on rails, but you're afforded a touch more freedom as you navigate your way through a strange clockwork world.
The Room Three is the most expansive of them all, featuring intricate, clever puzzles, as you attempt to free yourself from The Craftsman and his island of deranged traps and trials.
Get all three games, and play them through in order, preferably in a dark room when rain's pouring down outside for best effect. It's a terrifying and - ultimately - infuriating experience that will have you toying with the idea of having to go online for walkthroughs until you finally crack the mystery.
There are some clues, but generally these are very gentle hints at best.
Train Conductor World (free)
You might moan about trains when you're again waiting for a late arrival during your daily commute, but think yourself lucky reality doesn't match Train Conductor World. Here, trains rocket along, often towards nasty head-on collisions. It's your job to drag out temporary bridges to avoid calamity while simultaneously sending each train to its proper destination.
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.
Osmos HD ($2.99/£1.99/AU$2.27)
The developers of Osmos HD call it an 'ambient arcade game'. It's a strange description, but apt, since Osmos is often about patience and subtlety. You guide a 'mote', which moves by expelling tiny pieces of itself. Seemingly floating in microscopic goop, it aims to munch motes smaller than itself, expand, and reign supreme.
This is easy enough when other motes don't fight back, but soon enough you're immersed in a kind of petri dish warfare, desperately trying to survive as various motes tear whatever amounts to each-other's faces off.
And then occasionally Osmos throws a further curveball, pitting you against the opposite extreme in scale, dealing with gravity and orbits as planet-like motes speed their way around deadly floating 'stars'.
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.
Captain Cowboy ($1.86/£1.54)
It's always the way: you're minding your own business when - BOOM! - you're suddenly propelled into a gargantuan space maze. At least it's the way if you're Captain Cowboy. This smart arcade title comes across like seminal classic Boulder Dash in space. You dig through dirt, grab diamonds, and avoid being crushed by boulders within the asteroid.
There are also floaty space bits, nasty space laser turrets, space bus stops and a space disco. At least, we're told that's the case, because we've never found the last of those things; but we'll keep trying, because Captain Cowboy is superb.
(The trailer is also one of the best we've seen, so watch it and then buy the game.)
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.
Last Horizon (US$2.99/£2.36/AU$4.20)
Giving you a sense of the emptiness and vastness of space, and the risks in exploring the void, isn't easy for a bite-sized survival game, but Last Horizon somehow succeeds.
The idea is to leave your broken world behind, roam the galaxy in your rocket, and 'harvest' living worlds. Doing so loads information into your terraforming kit, for when you reach your destination.
During your journey you battle massive suns, asteroids, black holes, alien lifeforms, and lots of gravity. This is simple fare - more Lunar Lander than EVE Online - but it has a great sense of atmosphere. And although repeating the first three flights can be a little tiresome if you keep dying (hint: be more patient), Flight X mode's procedurally generated maps provide great replay value.
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.)
I Am Level (US$2.41, £1.49, AU$2.59)
Old-school 8-bit platformers just don't work on touchscreens, due to pixel-perfect gameplay that demands tight, tactile controls. I Am Level's genius is in fusing the core elements of such games (Spectrum-style graphics, single-screen puzzle-oriented challenges, and an explorable map) with modern mobile thinking.
Thus, each of your efforts builds on the previous one, and your rotund avatar gets about by you tilting your device or pinging him across the screen using springs and flippers. It's essentially Jet Set Willy meets pinball and it's fantastic.
Sadly, developer Stewart Hogarth passed away in 2015, at the far too young age of 34. So snap this one up before it vanishes forever, and play a few games in tribute of a talented games creator.
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.
Pinball Arcade (free + IAP)
There are plenty of great pinball games for Android, but Pinball Arcade is a bit different. Rather than reworking an old PC hit or going nuts with animatronics and effects that simply wouldn't work in the real world, this app seeks to become a fully playable digital museum - essentially (legal) MAME for pinball.
You get Tales of the Arabian Nights for free, and one other table is regularly unlocked for unlimited play. They all look superb and work especially well on 7-inch tablets and above. Importantly, the tables also play like the real thing, whether you grab old-school classic Black Hole, the creepy and weird Bride of Pin•Bot, or more modern fare like The Addams Family.
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.
Pro Pinball (£2.49, US$2.99, AU$3.99)
If you're of a certain age, the words 'Pro Pinball' will bring a huge grin to your face. In the 1990s, it was the pinball simulation series for your PC, featuring amazing physics, great table designs, and stunning visuals.
Pro Pinball for Android is a remastered take on Timeshock!, bringing the original table bang up to date with high-quality graphics and lighting, touchscreen controls, and a top-notch soundtrack. It still plays wonderfully, and we can only hope loads of people buy it, enabling the developer to bring other Pro Pinball tables to mobile.
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.
Framed (£2.49, US$2.15, AU$3.23)
From a gaming perspective, the most important aspect of touchscreen devices is that they give you new ways to play, but relatively few developers take full advantage, instead choosing to ape traditional controls. Framed is an exception, flinging you headlong into an animated comic of sorts. Your aim is to improve the fortunes of a spy, fleeing from the cops — and worse.
Panels are dragged about and rotated, and new ideas regularly appear, including you having to carefully shift scenes on the page at exactly the right moment. This is a stylish and finite affair that ends before it gets old, leaving you satisfied but nonetheless hoping for more.
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.
Monument Valley (£2.99, US$3.99, AU$4.90)
A very, very pretty game, this. Monument Valley is based around the weird sort of impossible geometric shapes popularised by artist M. C. Escher, with its colourful maps bending and rotating in ways that appear to defy the laws of nature. You walk on walls, flip them, turn them into floors, avoid crows and marvel at how beautiful it all looks.
It's a short journey, but a joyful one. If you hanker for more when protagonist Ida's quest is complete, further adventures are available via IAP.
Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft (free)
If you're not already familiar with Blizzard's Hearthstone then consider this a warning: it gets very, very addictive. A card game from the makers of World of Warcraft, Hearthstone sees you building decks from won or purchased cards to then battle against friends and strangers.
It's a surprisingly complex game that demands meticulous strategy. You can play and enjoy without paying a penny, but there are options to buy booster packs and add-on quests should you want to.
Thomas Was Alone (£1.49, US$1.99, AU$9.99)
One of the PC "indie" world's big name smashes has arrived on Android, with the existential platform game yours to... enjoy. Or at least attempt to understand. You could call Thomas Was Alone a "platform game" if you wanted to be mean and disrespectful, but it's more about offering an atmospheric and thoughtful journey through an abstract world.
A bit like a piece of art, but let's not get into that debate here. I'm not being paid by the word.
Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions (£6.99/US$9.99/AU$6.47)
This is the good stuff. So many mobile games make the claim of being console-quality, but Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions is a rare title that fully delivers. Like its predecessors, this is a twin-stick shooter, a fight for survival against waves of deadly neon foes.
But as its name alludes to, Dimensions dispenses with flat arenas, instead wrapping play areas around geometric shapes. It's disorienting as a cube in space you're traversing lurches about, and exhilarating as you barely avoid the legions of ships lurking beyond an edge.
With 15 grids and 12 modes, along with an extensive single-player quest, Dimensions easily manages to be the finest game of its kind on mobile.
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.
This is bonkers. Spaceteam uses the Android hardware to the max to build a properly innovative multiplayer-only game, where between two and four players come together to shout exciting space terminology at each other while battling the control panel of an exploding ship. It's very silly, like something that only came out on the Wii in Japan.
Ridiculous Fishing (£1.99, US$2.99, AU$3.68)
Quite possibly one of the best uses of the mobile phone accelerometer tech there's ever been, this, with motion control sending your fishing line down to the depths of the sea while you avoid fish. Then, on the way up, it's how you catch them. That's when it goes ridiculous, as the fisherman chucks them up in the air - and you shoot them to bank the money. Silly, but a must play.
Super Hexagon (£1.99, US$2.99, AU$3.68)
Another mobile classic. Super Hexagon has two controls -- rotate left and rotate right. That's all you need to navigate the endless maze that spins out of the screen, in one of the mobile world's hardest, coolest, best-sounding and most moreish games. We order you to buy it. You literally have to.
Threes! (£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.
The Banner Saga (£4.02, $4.99, around AU$5.99)
Large, deep games are still relatively rare on Android, but you can add one more to the list with The Banner Saga. This Viking-inspired tactical RPG gives you control of over 25 different characters across 7 different classes as you battle your way through beautiful hand drawn environments and make decisions both in and out of combat which affect the story.
There's a lot to it, but its turn-based nature means controls are never a problem and you can take it at your own pace.