What's better than a free game? Well, pretty much nothing. Except when it's just terrible and you've wasted your sweet time to download it.
Sure, it's not going to cost you anything, but that doesn't mean it's OK to just mess around with terrible games that are free because the developer can't make you pay anything for it in good conscience.
So what are you supposed to do about it? Well, we're here to help you with all that – but before you get into the best gallery around for recommendations, here's some advice to consider.
Firstly, consider what sort of game you want to spend your time on. Time, in this case, is literally the equivalent of money here. Do you want a quick game that you can play easily, or something that's going to be a bit more in-depth?
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If it's the latter, then you'll probably have to accept that you'll need to either view some ads or in-app purchases to get the good stuff, as most developers don't want to give away their time for free.
However, there are some brilliant surprises out there as well – some lovely people spend hours coding brilliant games that they just let you play for free.
Also think about the kind of games that you need for your phone – if it's a high-powered game that's a visual treat, it's not going to be much use on a phone that comes from four years ago and has a tiny display.
Right, got all that? Great – you need to get cracking and finding out which titles are right for you. Get your mouses clicking or fingers swiping… we guarantee there will be something you'll enjoy in here.
New this week: Typeshift
Typeshift rethinks anagrams, word searches and crosswords. Each puzzle comprises columns of letters you can drag up and down, the aim being to make a complete word in the central row. When you do so, the word’s letters change color. To complete the puzzle, you must color all of the letters.
Although completing puzzles at speed rewards you with higher scores on the leaderboard, such aspects to Typeshift are largely hidden. This is mostly a lean-back game to relax with, but should you hanker for an additional layer of brain-smashing, you can try cracking crossword-style puzzles where you match words to set clues.
It’s worth noting that Typeshift’s puzzles are hand-crafted, not algorithmically generated, so they do run out – and only some of them are free. Still, there’s always a daily puzzle to try your hand (or your best swiping finger) at.
Sonic The Hedgehog 2 arrived on consoles in 1992 and, like its predecessor, is a super-fast side-scrolling platform game. The aim is to zoom through levels, grab gold rings, and avoid the enemies and spikes liberally sprinkled about. This sequel also adds a Super Dash Attack to help Sonic obliterate foes, and 3D special stages, which recall newer Sonic fare on mobile.
The game is rightly regarded as a classic, and the mobile version is a rare example of retro done well. Rather than giving you a bog-standard emulator, Sega has fully ‘remastered’ the game in widescreen, added enhancements and secrets, and provided touchscreen controls that are actually pretty good.
There are obnoxious ads here and there, but they’re a small price to pay to get Sonic 2 on your Android for nothing; and if they bug you, a one-off IAP removes them forever.
Hoppenhelm has an air of the familiar with its chunky pixelated graphics and tap-to-move mechanics, but this mix of twitch gaming, one-thumb action and arcade fare turns out to be surprisingly compelling and a little bit different.
The backstory finds the titular knight lost in dungeons that are filling with lava. With each step he takes, the lava drops back a touch – but you can’t simply hammer the walk button and escape a fiery death because the dungeons are packed full of hazards and monsters.
This is where the other two buttons come in. The sword is used to kill enemies, and the shield can protect from fireballs. Because Hoppenhelm is played at speed, the result is a thrilling combination of fast reactions, timing, prioritization, and swearing at your thumbs when the knight is devoured by a goofy floating head.
Infiniroom is Canabalt in a box, infused with the sadistic nature of Super Hexagon. You prod the screen to make the auto-running protagonist leap to avoid electrified boxes that appear from every surface of a room you’re trapped in. And like a certain superhero, he happily runs up any wall he reaches, then along the ceiling and back down again.
It’s dizzying and chaotic, but Infiniroom further ramps up the tension by continually chopping and changing the play field. At any moment, you may get a second’s warning before a chunk of space disappears (don’t be there when it does), or a new area opens up. And then the game starts gleefully lobbing saw blades and lasers at you.
Not a relaxing game, then, but one you’ll want to play again and again. And given how short Infiniroom games are, you can pack plenty into the shortest break.
Sonic Forces: Speed Battle reimagines Sonic The Hedgehog as an into-the-screen lane-based auto-runner. Which probably sounds a lot like Sonic Dash – but here, you battle it out against online opposition.
With trap-laden courses and pick-ups you can regularly grab as you belt along, Speed Battle has hints of Mario Kart about it. Races are packed with tense moments as you unleash a fireball, in the hope of taking out a distant leader, or have the checkered flag in sight, but know your opponents are only fractions of a second behind.
There is some grind – chests with timers; multiple currencies; glacially slow leveling up. But Speed Battle puts a colorful, entertaining spin on auto-runners that’s fun even if you keep your wallet firmly closed.
Tower Fortress is a semi-randomized, hard-as-nails shoot ’em up. It takes place in a mysterious tower infested with strange creatures. And if you don’t ascend to the top, everyone is doomed, for some reason.
Getting to the top isn’t easy. Your hero dodders about, shoots his gun, and can double-jump in a Sonic-style spin attack. Which sounds fine until you realize even the most innocuous foe can trip you up, such as seemingly-benign frogs.
But then you reach the end of a section, nip into a secret area with a key, grab a power-up, and feel like a boss. Until you meet an actual boss, who’ll kick your face off. One to persevere with, then – and once your arcade thumbs are in tip-top condition, give each of the four zones a thorough blasting.
South Park: Phone Destroyer marries real-time strategy with the cartoon mayhem found in the popular TV show. If you’ve played Clash Royale, it’s a bit like that, only with swearing, juvenile jokes, and lots of cartoon cowboys and Native Americans stomping about shooting at each other.
If you’re a fan of the show, you’ll appreciate the entertaining single-player story with the show’s famous faces sending each other messages, and occasionally phoning you. The battles are enjoyable, too – the basics are accessible, but there’s plenty of depth for the long-term.
The usual freemium monetization mars things a touch, as does enforcing online player-versus-player match wins for progression. But for the most part, you’ll be yelling RESPECT MA AUTHORITAH! until everyone in the vicinity demands you stop.
Beat Street is a love letter to retro brawlers, echoing the likes of classic arcade title Double Dragon. Yet here you duff up all manner of evil gang members by way of using only a single thumb.
This is quite the achievement. Old-style scrolling beat ’em ups might not have had a modern-day gamepad littered with buttons and triggers, but they still had a joystick and two action buttons. Here, though, you drag to move, tap to punch, and use gestures to fire off special moves.
It works wonderfully. Beat Street gradually reveals new abilities and features – not least weapon pick-ups, one of which rather unsportingly has you smack opponents over the head with what’s described as an ’80s brick.
Brave Hand is a card game that starts off with a basic solitaire at its foundation, welds that to a game of ‘higher or lower’, and dispenses with the ‘lower’ bit.
Your aim is to clear the table of cards, by beating the top card in any given pile. The snag is most cards start off face down. You can use a low card as a ‘scout’ that forces two cards to flip. But beyond that, it’s chance that dictates your fortunes as you dig into successive cards in a pile, hoping one won’t beat you.
Despite being very reliant on luck, Brave Hand is compelling. It perhaps won’t dislodge the likes of Sage Solitaire from your home screen, but it should appeal to card game fiends who fancy something fresh.
Drag'n'Boom shows that you should never encourage a teenage dragon. Here, the rebellious fire-breather zooms about minimal landscapes, belly-sliding down hills, soaring into the air, barbecuing soldiers, and generally being a menace.
Fortunately, you get to be the dragon, rather than the put-upon army rather wishing it had better weapons. The game recalls Angry Birds in how you ping your dragon along, but also borrows from twin-stick shooters, Sonic the Hedgehog (super-fast tunnel bits), and even The Matrix (slo-mo as you aim).
Although there’s admittedly not masses of variation across the game’s 50 levels and endless mode, it’s hard to be too critical. Drag'n'Boom looks great, and has the kind of grin-inducing breezy gameplay that’s perfect for slotting into the odd moment when you feel the need to unleash your inner dragon.
Cat Bird is another in a long line of platform games where a cute protagonist has somehow found themselves in a kind of videogame hell, surrounded by danger and death.
The hero is an oddball combination of cat and bird – although Cat Bird is a bit rubbish at the ‘bird’ bit, only being able to glide rather than fly. Level layouts are largely built around this ability, with the furry affront to evolution often gliding past saw blades by a hair’s breadth, before snagging keys and taunting doddering enemies.
Really, it’s all very familiar territory, but the delicate pixel art is lovely, with subtle animations like Cat Bird’s twitchy ears, and tiny hopping birds in the background. Also, the level design manages to smartly make use of the hero’s flappy nature, meaning success requires the use of your brain alongside twitchy thumbs. Download it meow. (Sorry.)
Flat Pack rethinks platform games by wrapping levels around 3D shapes. The aim is to dodder or fly about, grab six sides of a golden cube, and make for the exit. But each level has its own twist, forcing you to think on your feet – or rotors if you’re careening through the air, heading for some spikes.
Early on, for example, you contend with ‘flipping gravity’. This requires moving around a cubic section of level in a specific way, so you can enter from another direction. One level is two huge blocks that smash together at regular intervals, squashing slowpoke adventurers who dawdle. And it only gets more disorienting from there.
This could so easily have been a gimmicky offering, but it’s the smart level design that transforms Flat Pack into a must-have freebie.
Data Wing has the appearance of a minimal top-down racer, but it’s far, far more than that. That’s not to say the racing bit isn’t great – because it is. You guide your little triangular ship around neon courses, scooting across boost pads, and scraping track edges for a bit of extra speed.
But there’s something else going on here – an underlying narrative where you discover you’re, in fact, ferrying bits of data about, all under the eye of an artificially intelligent Mother. Initially, all seems well, but it soon becomes clear Mother has some electrons loose, not least when you start getting glimpses of a world beyond the silicon.
With perfect touch controls, varied racing levels, a few hours of story, and plenty of replay value, Data Wing would be a bargain for a few dollarpounds. For free, it’s absurdly generous.
Stranger Things: The Game re-imagines the Netflix TV show, set in 1984, as a 1980s videogame. How meta, you might think… but it works.
You take on the role of gruff Officer Hopper, trying to uncover a mystery at the heart of Hawkins, Indiana. As you work your way deeper into the game, you gradually find new characters, each with individual powers that are vital for further progression.
This pixelated adventure game looks the part (despite not being quite as retro as games of the period), and offers an entertaining mix of straightforward puzzling (find an object; put it somewhere specific), and gleefully punching local security forces when they get in your way.
Well, it is set in the 1980s – you’re not supposed to solve mysteries with brainpower alone.
Push & Pop is a sliding tiles puzzler, with mechanics not a million miles away from Threes! (or low-rent knock-off 2048), but this is no mere clone. Instead, it builds on the basics of shifting tiles or blocks around a limited space by also borrowing ideas from Sokoban and Pac-Man, before stripping everything right back again.
Play occurs on a five-by-five grid, around which you slide a cuboid. On every move, a new block appears somewhere on the grid. Arrange five into a solid line by pushing them and they disappear, freeing up space, and leaving behind gems the blocky hero can collect by eating or shoving blocks through them. Further complications are added when immovable blocks appear. Your game’s over when you become stuck.
With its neon visuals and ethereal soundtrack, Push & Pop takes simple foundations and runs with them, fashioning an intriguing, engaging, and surprisingly novel title.
Battle Golf Online is a major revamp of the original – and hugely entertaining – Battle Golf. Once again, the golf bit is stripped right back to two players whacking balls toward holes that appear from a lake. Some of these are greens with slopes to aid the ball’s progress. Others are rather more esoteric – a lighthouse with smashed-out windows; a submarine; the Loch Ness Monster with a hat.
The controls are straightforward – a tap to stop an aiming arrow and another to choose your shot’s power. And that’s just as well, because this game’s more about speed than precision – and the first to five wins.
Against the computer AI, this results in frenetic, entertaining battles, but the hole-in-one comes from online multiplayer, where you battle it out against real humans. Just watch out for people performing the so-called ‘pro’ shot, hitting and hoping before holes surface from the water.
Aqueducts is a sedate path-finding puzzle game. The aim is to deliver water to cities, which will otherwise suffer from drought. Unfortunately, a buffoon has decided the means of moving said water is by way of elevated and fragmented aqueducts.
Each section – most being a single line or quarter circle – can be individually rotated, the idea being to gradually fashion a solid path for the water to follow.
Naturally, this is where you come in. Each tap rotates a piece 90 degrees clockwise. Depending on the level, you’ll either have a limited number of moves, or a rapidly draining reservoir.
Over time, the complexity of the required pathways increases – notably when T-junctions enter the fray; but the game never becomes overbearing, and its pleasing visuals and soundtrack further add to the charm.
Laps – Fuse is a match-three game based around numbered discs. If three or more of the same meet, they fuse into a new disc with twice the face value. The tiny snag: you’ve limited slots to hurl discs into. The other tiny snag: the discs you hurl zoom about the edge of a circle. The other other tiny snag: you’ve only 20 laps to secure your high-score – and thereby Laps bragging rights.
This isn’t a thoughtful Threes-style outing, then – more an arcade puzzler on fast-forward. You at every moment you must plan ahead, trying to set up matches and chain reactions that fling your circling disc back a little way, buying you a few seconds of extra time.
It’s a tense, clever take on what’s become a tired genre. And should you master the main mode, you can unlock ‘endless’, ‘furious’ (faster), and ‘extreme’ (fewer slots – presumably for masochists).
iHUGU is an arcade game that reckons everyone should get along and hug – just not too often. The bulk of the title is a quick-fire arcade memory test, where you hug each character you come across precisely once. If they’ve been hugged before, flick them by – or your game’s over.
Once you’ve powered up your hug bar, iHUGU provides a brief diversion in the form of a mini-game, which can be anything from darting about and grabbing leaves, to whatever the hug equivalent of a beat ’em up is (a ‘hug fight’, apparently). The entire thing’s endearingly daft.
With eight locations, 100 characters to unlock, and a character editor to create terrifyingly freaky monsters with which to hug, there’s longevity here, too. iHUGU also proves there are still new things to say in single-finger Android gaming. We hug it.
is a sliding tile puzzle game on a four-by-four grid. But before you yawn and assume it’s another 2048 knock-off (which itself was a Threes! knock-off), guess again. Because this game features cats. And all the things that cats really like.
The twist here is a little kitty moves about the grid as you swipe, and objects that enter the grid are combined into consumables and toys. For example, milk and a bowl becomes a kitty drink, and a plate and some fish makes a hearty lunch.
This shift in mechanics shakes up everything you knew about this kind of game – as does you being able to charge up a ‘satisfaction bar’ that when full unleashes a ‘Hyper Kitty Dash’, clearing a chunk of the playfield in double-quick time.
It’s entertaining serving the tiny cat’s every need – and surprisingly challenging, too. Because it turns out this Wilful Kitty has bite.
The aim in each level is simple: use whatever buttons are provided to reach a goal number, within a limited number of steps. So if you need to get to 9 and see +3 and x3 keys, that’s pretty simple.
The thing is, this calculator likes playing you as much as you’re playing it. Before long, it’s gleefully adding buttons that enable you to knock digits off of your total, reverse them, or hurl numbers through portals.
This one’s not your standard desktop calculator, then, but all the better for it. And it’s a surprisingly entertaining game, given that you’re ultimately doing math.
is effectively a reskin of popular swipe-based tile puzzler 2048. Now, 2048 was really a low-rent knock-off of the far superior Threes! (which has its own ), but it had the advantage of being open source, therefore opening itself up to all kinds of variations on the basic theme.
In the original 2048, you swipe to slide numbered tiles about a four-by-four grid. Merged pairs then double their face value. But Age of 2048 is all about buildings.
Initially, you swipe bits of rock together, until you’re fashioning tents and stone monuments. Build a ‘wonder’ – the largest building type and the equivalent of the 2048 tile in the original – and you unlock the next stage.
Ultimately, Age of 2048 is still a slightly limited game, lacking the nuance and charm of Threes!. But its concept, design, and the addition of some useful power-ups, ensures it’s worth a download, and that it manages to stand out from the crowd.
This initially makes your head spin, not least because the path is a wraparound one. This means if you leap off of its left-hand side, you reappear on the right – something you frequently have to make use of, to avoid the many hazards in your way.
To further complicate matters, your health bar drains at an alarming rate, and only refills when you biff enemies. Grab enough bling and you can unlock power-ups for taking out multiple foes.
With an energetic soundtrack, a bunch of alternate characters, and a very smart chunky art style, Flipping Legend shows there’s still life left in endless runners (albeit as the hero is busy killing everything in this one).
is a platform puzzler that feels like it’s escaped from a Nintendo console. The premise involves the evil Moon Men kidnapping the children of the blobby heroes. You must find where the kids have been hidden, somewhere inside a massive maze full of jars.
Each jar houses a bite-sized challenge packed full of platforms, enemies, traps, and fruit. Eat all the fruit and you’re awarded a key. Collect enough keys to unlock new areas of the maze.
The platforming bits are frequently deviously fiendish. Early levels ease you in, but you’re soon facing tests that seem impossible until you spot something crucial – a block you’d previously not noticed, or a different order in which to approach things – whereupon you feel like a genius.
Should you best all 200 hand-crafted levels, you can make your own in a level editor, or take on those the Hoggy community’s created. That this all comes for free is astonishing. Download it now.
is a superbly crafted love letter to classic single-screen arcade platform games like Bubble Bobble. You dart about, knocking out enemies, grabbing gems and fruit, and duffing up bosses, working your way towards a final confrontation.
However, there’s a twist in that Drop Wizard Tower fuses old-school platforming with auto-running. Your little wizard never stops moving, and can only be directed left or right. And he only shoots the instant he lands on a platform.
You’ll likely fight against this at first, cursing Drop Wizard Tower for straying from traditional left/right/jump/fire controls. But the game really works on mobile, and when it clicks you’ll be zooming about, stunning foes with your magic wand, and booting them away to create tumbling ‘avalanches’ of enemies.
is essentially a souped-up Pong. Two players face off, sending a ball back and forth. However, Timber Tennis is played across five ‘lanes’, in theory making it a touch simpler to line up your bat than in the free-form Pong.
Where Timber Tennis differs from its ancient inspiration is in how you progress. Your opponent never misses a shot, until you’ve powered up your Super Shot bar, at which point you’ve about a second to stop an oscillating arrow to target a smash. Succeed and you win. Mess up and your game’s over.
Timber Tennis doesn’t have much depth, but it’s still easy to love. It looks great, with varied courts and characters, is fun in short bursts, and has some excellent music. The irritating commentator, however, needs pelting with infinite tennis balls, until all that’s left is blissful silence. (Fortunately, you can turn him off by disabling the sound effects.)
is, it’s fair to say, not an entirely accurate recreation of American football. Here, two three-strong teams (usually human, but sometimes skeletons or chickens), face off, their arms spinning wildly as they move. Also, the pitch appears to be a massive trampoline.
If you can wrestle your bounding trio into submission, you might get a touchdown. If the other side gets one: game over. (Unless you’re in Career mode, whereupon it’s first to three – or first to five in the final.)
It’s all totally stupid, but – much like and , by the same team – loads of raucous, breezy fun. Just expect to be a touch disappointed next time you watch a real match, and the Miami Dolphins aren’t soaring through the air, desperately fending off an attack from a team of actual sharks.
You slingshot your ball towards a wall of numbered blocks, and it pings about before coming to rest at the foot of the screen. Each number denotes how many times a block must be hit before it disappears, and all the blocks march forward one space when your ball stops moving.
Over time, you collect more balls – all of which are fired at once – but the block numbers sharply increase to counter any new advantage you might have.
The physics is rickety and random, the aiming mechanism is fiddly, and the aesthetics are basic, but Ballz is nonetheless compelling as you gradually fashion and unleash massive chains of balls. More polish, and it’d be a classic; as it is, it’s still a great freebie.
hasn’t fared as well as one-time rival Mario. Whereas Nintendo’s mascot still features in first-rate platformers, Sega’s blue hedgehog is more often mired in freemium rubbish. With Sonic The Hedgehog, though, you’re getting the original Genesis/Mega Drive classic.
In fact, you’re getting more. This is no lazy emulator, but a fully remastered game, with improved performance and widescreen 60fps visuals. Although a touch fiddly at times, care’s been taken with customizable on-screen controls, and there’s gamepad controller support, too.
Most importantly, the game itself remains compelling, with Sonic zooming about colorful landscapes filled with platforms, traps, gold rings, patrolling enemies, dizzying loops and tunnels, and the occasional boss. Retro-gaming’s often a disappointment, but Sonic stands the test of time. If only all old games were reworked for mobile with such care.
You start out by selecting a character from the claw machine, and that determines which world you’re dropped in. You might be a rubber duck blazing along bathroom tiles, or a skull skidding through a fiery hell.
The aim: get to the end of a hand-crafted level to add the character to your collection.
Even the so-called ‘easy’ levels are tough, and the swipe controls are sometimes a bit iffy. But the trippy visuals, head-bobbing audio, and varied isometric worlds peppered with devious traps will keep drawing you back.
This game flips chess on its head in brilliant fashion, by messing around with the pieces rather than the board.
During your first go at , you might examine what’s in front of you and quickly come to the conclusion you have a few too many queens. Your opponent, by contrast, will have a suspicious lack of decent pieces.
This is intentional. In Really Bad Chess, the AI’s capabilities never change, but the pieces do. As you improve, the setup shifts.
Get really good and you’ll have to take on the computer with a pile of pawns while it attacks you with as many queens as it can feasibly get away with.
For free, you also get a daily puzzle and two attempts to beat it. A $2.99/£2.89 IAP unlocks local multiplayer and removes the ads.
This game does for racing what auto-runners do for platform games. is controlled with a single finger, pressing on the screen to accelerate and releasing to brake, while your car steers automatically. The aim is to not hit the sides of the track, because that slows you down.
Win and you move up the rankings, then playing a tougher, faster opponent. In a neat touch, said opponents are recordings of real-world attempts by other players, ranked by time.
In essence, this is a digital take on slot-racing, then, without the slots. But the mix of speed and strategy, along with a decent range of tracks, makes you forget about the simplistic controls. If anything, they become a boon, shifting the focus to learning track layouts and razor-sharp timing. Top stuff.
Initially, progress is quite swift, as you tap the screen, fling a dot around Angry Birds-style to fill a hole, and then grin when you realize you must, for instance, press a yellow disc with the rhythm of blowing up a balloon.
Later levels, though, are at times willfully – and almost gleefully – obtuse. You can get hints, paid for by watching ads, but to do so feels like admitting defeat in this minimal and clever puzzler.
In Silly Sausage: Doggy Dessert, the world’s stretchiest canine finds himself trying to worm his way through a land of cake, chocolate, ice cream, and a worrying number of spikes, saw-blades, and massive bombs.
Rather than walk like a normal pooch, the furry hero of this game stretches as you swipe, until his front paws can cling on to something. His bottom then snaps back into place. It’s quite the trick – but also a hazard if one end of his body ends up in danger when the other end is worryingly distant.
There are 50 scenes in all, along with tricky bonus rooms to try and beat. And although some of the later bits of the game are perhaps a bit too testing, this one as a whole is a very tasty, satisfying arcade treat.
But many points for the combination of super-fast gameplay, superb level design, and a visual aesthetic that thumbs its nose at the modern-day penchant for mid-80s pixel art, instead hurling you back to the lurid charms of late 1970s gaming.
Yes, Binary Dash more looks like it’s been vomited out of an ancient Atari console, but it nonetheless has a quirky charm. And the game itself is great. It eases you in gently, helping you get to grips with flipping above and below the horizon, thus turning game-ending pillars into pits to leap over when you’re upside-down.
Before long, though, your thumbs will be seriously challenged by the tight choreography required to jump and flip your way to the ends of later levels.
Here, a cartoon train lurches along a track with more bends in it than seems entirely reasonable. You must swipe in the appropriate direction to ensure the train turns in time, rather than crashing and providing the operator with a pretty good excuse for a cancellation.
Along the way, you can grab coins and carriages, amassing the points needed to unlock new skins, some of which are very odd. (Trains that are in fact massive frogs are the least of it.)
It does get a bit samey, and the online multiplayer is drab, but Infinite Train’s good for a quick blast, and if you get sick of the endless mode, there are stage-based challenges to tackle.
With its four-by-four grid and penchant for rapidly restricting the playfield, comes across a bit like a horticultural There’s no sliding cards about, though – instead, you’re presented with a string of things to plant, and prod open spaces to plonk them down.
After three, you get a chance to harvest – and this is where things become more complicated. You get more points for harvesting many plants at once, which requires them to be on adjacent squares. But on harvesting anything, the soil beneath is turned over. Soil cycles between blue, yellow, and green, and groups of plants cannot cross different soil colors.
The net result is a clever game where you must plan ahead, and where you keep digging for strategies to last longer and discover new plants to grow and harvest.
Essentially, the protagonist is a triangle that flips into an adjacent tile when moving, leaving a trail in its wake. The trail is solid and cannot be crossed again. A glowing exit is where you must head – but only after grabbing gems along the way. And those gems might be stuck behind doorways opened using switches, or be located behind teleporters.
Soon, you’re trying to figure out a labyrinthine pathway to victory, wondering how someone could make a journey across a little single-screen neon grid so convoluted – and so riveting.
Yet another into-the-screen endless runner, channeling Temple Run. Yawn. Only has a certain something that keeps you playing – and that certain something is leaving your stomach in your throat every time you jump.
Much of this is down to the construction of Sky Dancer’s world, which comprises tiny chunks of land hanging in the air in a manner that rocks usually don’t have. As you hurl yourself off the edge of one, you must quickly maneuver to land on a platform below.
Battling gravity and inertia is exhilarating, especially when the game speeds up and you know the slightest miscalculation will result in you meeting a splattery end on the desert floor.
We’re in Mario-style platforming territory with , although only if you imagine the entire production quaffed a ton of sugar first. The Phantom World is a lurid, gaudy place, full of deadly traps, bling, and plenty of secrets. (A good rule when playing: never believe any wall is actually solid.)
Retina-searing art style aside, the game feels like a slam-dunk for any fan of classic platformers. Level design is smart, rewarding repeat play, there are varied modes, and the controls can be resized and shifted about if the defaults require banana thumbs on your device.
It is a bit ad-infested at times, but not to the point momentum is knocked. All in all, Super Phantom Cat is loads of leapy furry fun.
Pinball infused with the DNA of an against-the-clock endless runner sounds like an odd combination – but it works. In ’s neon world – featuring a gorgeous electro soundtrack – a massive table stretches far into the distance. Within: dozens of miniature tables comprising flippers, ramps, and more than a few traps.
The basic aim at every turn is to keep moving forward to the next mini-table – and quickly. Accurate ramp shots are key, and so mastering the game’s physics and the layout of its various stages is essential.
For advocates, this is a fresh take on pinball that works brilliantly in mobile form. And for newcomers, PinOut is freed from the frequently arcane rules of pinball, but loses none of its frenetic excitement.
The basics are simple: your polygon sits at the center of the screen, and walls close in from the edges. By tapping the left or right-hand side of the screen, respectively, you reduce or increase your polygon’s edge count, to match the next shape that’s aiming to crush you.
Everything moves at speed and whirls about, like you’re playing in a washing machine packed with an endless number of lurid shapes.
Initially, Polywarp feels impossible, but you soon recognize patterns to commit to memory and master. Last 60 seconds and you’ll feel like a champ – until you realize a new, tougher mode’s waiting to humiliate your thumbs.
The aim is simply to reach a goal, but all kinds of objects block your path and respond to your presence in varying ways. You must figure out how to get past them all, despite being restricted in terms of movement – forward or backward are your only options, although you can (and will often have to) stop, move slowly, or backtrack, depending on the hazard before you.
As you travel, a story of sorts is revealed, although the text reads like a strange self-help guide. Otherwise, Cubway is a success – it’s intuitive, the mechanics are fresh and clever, and the aesthetics are unfalteringly atmospheric.
All the chicks have been captured, and so super-hen Cluckles sets off to save them, armed with the kind of massive sword most people would be surprised to find lurking in a henhouse.
But while the very regular deaths can be off-putting (as can the virtual button placement, seemingly designed for banana thumbs on anything above a seven-inch tablet), it’s hard to stay mad at everything else.
The visuals are rough and ready but full of charm. And most importantly, the level design is smart, making it a mild challenge to reach an exit, but a much tougher test should you want to rescue every chick.
It’s one of the better platformers on Android, and one of the very best free ones, as well as being a reminder of simpler times.
You play as a hero aiming to ‘liberate’ gold from a tomb, but he finds a mask – and rashly puts it on. Recklessness here wins the day, since the mask bestows the wearer with the ability to climb walls and leap big gaps, giving him a fighting chance of reaching the end of scrolling caverns packed with deadly spikes, guns, and foes, and avoiding an encroaching glowing wall of death.
Whether playing through set-piece levels or the endless arcade mode, Tomb of the Mask is a fresh, fun, vibrant twitch game that marries the best of old and new.
In this arcade puzzler, the idea is to place as few dominoes as possible to reach a goal, while grabbing golden amulets along the way.
The controls are odd at first. You tap to drop a domino in front of the last one, and slide your finger to angle it if necessary, in order to change direction.
Even so, precision placement isn’t too tricky, but success also hinges on speed. This adds tension to what may otherwise have been a pleasing but undemanding game, further ramped up by the increasing complexity of the pathways you must conquer as you move through Dominocity’s challenges.
It amounts to a fairly unique and original puzzler that’s easy to learn but hard to master, much like Tetris and other greats. It’s also fun in short bursts, making it ideal for mobile play.
For each of the game’s scenes, the aim is to reach a goal by ‘unfolding’ one or more shapes. Each move you make, one of the shape’s faces disappears, leaving you with whatever’s left for further turns, and you can only move in a direction if you have an intact face pointing that way.
Early on, you can make all kinds of blunders and still reach the goal. But before long, the shapes become complex many-sided things reminiscent of Tetris blocks, requiring you to think carefully about the order in which their sides are unfolded and the routes you take.
Mess up and you can undo as many moves as you like. Even this isn’t galling, the rewind animation being pleasing even when you’ve already watched it several times on a particularly tough level.
This one’s far from the worst game ever, but it does feature an amusingly grumpy cat. It’s actually a set of simple mini-games, reminiscent of Nintendo’s WarioWare series, only here, they feature a miffed moggie that’d sooner be somewhere – anywhere – else.
Each miniature challenge in can be understood in an instant – stamping a paw on a laser pointer by tapping the screen; firing the cat upward to secure a cardboard box of dreams; pressing shaped buttons to traverse a path and reach a fish.
The variety of mini-games keeps it fresh and interesting, and the game is often smile inducing thanks to its mix of colorful art, ludicrous concepts and eternally irritated feline.
The longer you survive, the faster and more demanding everything becomes. Fail and the grumpy cat scowls, but you’re also awarded coins to acquire new games by way of stickers won from a prize machine. Naturally, every one of them features the grumpy cat.
More or less an auto-runner on a five-lane road, is all about belting along, steering left and right to avoid anything in your path. Survive long enough in this isometric landscape and you hit the checkered flag, where cube-oriented fame and fortune awaits.
But things get really interesting when you grab coins en-route and start buying new vehicles on the game’s home screen. Each vehicle shakes up the visuals and the manner in which you race – the dune buggy, for example, can leap majestically over sandy hills where the UFO bothers farmyard cows to add some variety into a older game format.
More importantly, for every vehicle you buy, a new track section is added to the rally, the vehicle you control automatically switching when you reach that point.
Amass a suitably large collection and there’s the potential for colossal scores – but completing the rally becomes significantly harder, which helps prolong longetivity.
This one-thumb arcade game combines classic slalom fare with the checkpoint racing and branching maps seen in the likes of OutRun. Using a single digit, you direct a little red boat through the waters of , aiming to collect ancient artifacts. At the end of each short stage, you head left or right to determine the next location.
Obstacles are a major foe – blunder into one and your boat is robbed of momentum – not great when playing against the clock. But you must also be mindful of the arrow at the top of the screen. This points towards the next checkpoint – miss one and it’s ‘game over’.
This feels harsh (a time penalty would have been better), but encourages repeat play. After all, the map never changes, so learn it and master the controls and you’ll one day be able to scythe towards the finish line.
Namco’s arcade classic hardly needs any introduction. But just in case you’ve been locked in a cave since the late 1970s, features the titular protagonist, a rotund yellow mouth who munches dots in a maze patrolled by ghost-like monsters.
The aim is to eat the dots and avoid the ghosts. Grab flashing power pills and you can briefly turn the tables on your pursuers – by eating them when they turn blue and try to flee.
Despite being over 30 years old, Pac-Man remains a fun game, and the simple controls (basically, swipe in the direction you next want to turn) work very nicely on Android, as do the crisp old-school visuals.
For free, you get the original maze and several plays per day. More mazes can be unlocked using saved up play tokens – or you can buy more (and remove the ads) with various IAPs.
World-building turn-based strategy series Civilization is a classic, but mobile versions have on the whole been a bit poor, offering neither the scope of their computer-based cousins nor the accessibility on-the-go mobile titles demand.
Polytopia isn’t the most immediate game – you need to experiment a bit to figure out how everything works. But the cartoon stylings are approachable, and the mix of entertainment and depth provides a hook and staying power.
Smartly, there are also multiple ways to play: old-school ‘kill everyone else’ domination, a limited 30-turn ‘Perfection’ mode, and, if the AI’s not doing it for you, pass-and-play. And all for free – for which Polytopia deserves to dominate your Android game time for a good long while.
This vertically scrolling shooter plays with convention in a manner that messes with your head. The basics are familiar – you’re dumped within a vertically scrolling environment and must shoot ALL OF THE THINGS.
Occasionally, obliterated foes drop bonus items that boost your weaponry, providing the means to unleash major destruction while yelling YEEE-HAA – if that’s your sort of thing.
However – and this is a big ‘however’ – everything in only moves when you do. The temptation is to blaze ahead, due to bonus points being won for covering greater distances, and because you’re being pursued by the sole thing that doesn’t freeze when you do – an all-devouring nothingness.
But careening on isn’t always a good strategy, because blundering into a single foe or projectile ends your game. Risk versus reward, then, in this fresh and great-looking blaster that dares to try something different.
This superb arcade puzzler finds you directing traffic about a small town. A vehicle enters the screen, and you’re told where it needs to leave, steering it by way of directional arrows. Easy.
Only, this town is afflicted with strange temporal oddness that means subsequent journeys overlap previous ones. Before long, you’re making all kinds of detours to avoid collisions with cars you’d a minute ago driven to safety, which would otherwise wipe seconds off the timer as you wait for damaged vehicles to limp towards their exit.
Adding to its smarts, includes a storyline with multiple characters, playing out across its varied environments. The only snag on mobile: you must complete the entire game in a single sitting. If that sounds like too much, a one-off IAP unlocks checkpoints.
The protagonist in isn’t having an especially great day, having tumbled into a strange videogame world where he’s apparently lost his arms and been painted purple. Still, he makes the most of it, bounding along, grabbing gems, leaping on monsters, and reaching checkpoints.
So far, so standard (for a platform game), but Hop Swap has a trick up its sleeve, in having you regularly leap below the ground. At that point, you flip upside down, jumping downwards to potentially finding more bling and new secrets.
Hop Swap is a fun, breezy game, even if it feels a touch stodgy and unresponsive compared to the likes of Mario. It’s also a generous freebie, in giving you the entire game – you just need to spend collected bling on checkpoints if you want to avoid watching ads to save progress.
This third entry in the Super Stickman Golf series is perhaps feeling a bit too familiar, but the game remains the best side-on golf to be found on Android.
As ever, your little stickman is charged with smacking balls about courses comprising floating islands, laser-infested bases, and space stations. You set your direction and strength, hit the ball, and hope for the best – although this time you can also add spin.
Power-ups eventually enter the mix, providing opportunities to discover new ways to lower your scores. There are also two multiplayer modes – a deranged real-time race and a more sedate turn-based affair.
Although looks like a retro title, it doesn’t play like one. Sure, there’s leapy platform action, like in Mario games, and a smattering of Alex Kidd exploration, but the controls are distinctly modern mobile fare.
You tap the left or right of your display to make your cat move (or wall jump when clinging to a wall), or double tap to dash (which finds the ktitie hurling itself into the air on reaching an edge).
At first, it’s disorienting, but soon Super Cat Bros becomes second nature, and you start noticing the smart design of the dinky levels, and how keenly observed the cat protagonists are.
Also, Android owners get one key benefit over people lumbered with an iPhone: the game’s proper name. (On iOS, it’s Super Cat Tales, because Apple apparently thinks its users might confuse a game about cats for one featuring Nintendo’s famous plumber.)
He scoots about the edge of each disc, leaps into it, and then must jump to the outer edge of the next circle, which bobs about in the air. All the while, massive teeth-like daggers close in, and demons march back and forth, waiting for you to blunder into them.
Games are initially short, and Circle Affinity almost taunts you on death, as you try to master the inherently-disorienting nature. Over time, you'll begin to survive a little longer, whereupon you'll be rewarded with new eye-searing color schemes and additional play modes.
A crunchy chip-tune plays and you're presented with three waveforms. The music dulls, as if you're underwater, and that's your signal to start manipulating two of the waveforms so they combine to form the third.
Achieving this goal is straightforward, and you can initially blaze through the game's levels – even if a more leisurely pace is perhaps more rewarding. Before long, though, any complacency about Kerflux's apparent ease evaporates when additional waves appear and you're juggling four of them, trying to find the perfect combination that unlocks the next challenge.
Although it visually and conceptually resembles a reverse Tetris, with you removing blocks from a tower, is really all about a hexagon. It lurks atop the blocks, and must not fall over the tower's edges.
A few taps in and Six! appears like it might last for hours, but shapes combine in odd ways, and you can only remove one at a time. This leads to hairy situations where your hexagon wheels and threatens to hurl itself into oblivion.
The physics are a touch suspect, but then this isn't a game aiming for console-style realism. Instead, you must master Six!'s weirdly floaty nature and attempt to take advantage. Rather neatly, the game's also not quite done when your hexagon's gone – you get a few seconds during a 'last call' to frantically tap away at remaining blocks and add to your score.
Although you play games, few of them are about play itself, in the sense of experimenting with a set-up or situation and seeing what happens. , though, while presenting itself as a puzzle game, is more a minimalist sandbox where you immerse yourself in the delights of creating tiny solar systems.
The game is played by slingshotting celestial bodies around black holes. They then proceed to leave colored trails in their wake, while gravity does its thing. Soon, you have planets clustering together, wheeling around one or more black holes, creating minimalist modern art while they do so.
It's all rather gorgeous and mesmerizing. The only snag is ads periodically wrecking the mood, although they can be eradicated with a single IAP.
Even now, years after Android proved itself as a major gaming platform, some developers seem to barely remember the touchscreen exists. If you reckon trudging through games with virtual D-pads and buttons can be a chore, will be a little slice of magic.
You’re a wizard, defending a castle from interlopers attached to balloons. Cast spells by scribbling gestures to match symbols on the balloons and said flotation devices explode – much to the surprise of their owners, who then rapidly plummet towards a squishy end. Miss just one of them and your wizarding days are done.
From the off, this is a fresh, frantic survival game, especially when trying your hand at the super-fast extreme mode. Stick around for long enough and you’ll be able to utilize super spells too, turning enemies into frogs, and summoning a dragon. Which we all need to do on the odd Thursday here and there.
If you’re of the opinion gaming takes itself a tad too seriously at times, is a perfect antidote. This amusingly over-the-top racer has you barrel along winding roads, blowing up rival racers, and driving like a maniac.
Smash the same kind of car up enough across multiple races and you can buy it in the shop, using coins acquired by terrorizing other road users.
It all feels a bit like someone stripped down Burnout, added a slice of OutRun, and shoved the lot through a Lego-like visual filter.
Along with a brainless commentator (“I’ve got a reading age of six!”) growling at regular intervals as you use your ice cream van to smash an unfortunate convertible to smithereens, this all makes for a suitably silly and entertaining blast of speed that’s great in small doses.
From the developer behind psychotic endless games One More Dash and One More Line comes . Initially, it seems a mite friendlier than the previously brutish titles – although still existing within a universe of abstract shapes and vivid colors, the protagonist now at least wears a massive grin. But make no mistake: this is hard-nosed platforming of the one-thumb kind.
Each level simply tasks you with reaching the exit, which requires sticking to white platforms. But with your grinning square automatically speeding along, all you can do to stave off disaster is time your jumps.
Should you also want to grab the bonuses along the way – necessary for unlocking new levels – you may need to leap over the exit and tackle the entire level multiple times. The tension is palpable when going for those final few leaps.
With its chunky graphics, angled viewpoint, and tap-to-jump controls, initially comes across as yet another me-too Crossy Road clone. And that’s a pity, because this game is a very different – yet equally as entertaining – proposition.
It’s still an endless game, but rather than scrolling, Looty Dungeon tasks you with offing any lurking enemies within static, single-screen dungeons before making for the exit.
Even early on, each tiny dungeon is filled with spikes, walls, flying arrows, and all manner of other obstacles. Dawdle too long and the floor will collapse from underneath you, survive long enough and you’ll eventually encounter bosses, which require unique tactics to defeat.
Grab enough bling before your inevitable demise and you can buy new heroes, some of which hold weapons that shake up how you approach the game, adding to its longevity.
Coming across like a Flappy Bird game designed in Terry Gilliam’s brain, Steamkraft is an amusingly knowing oddball take on the genre. Each level has you navigate a world of deadly obstacles by way of a fantastical contraption that requires more than a prod to the screen to head skywards.
In a submarine, you yank a lever to move up or down; and a level with a bike hanging from a miniature airship has you frantically rotate a mechanism to avoid crashing into the ground or terrifying mechanical ravens.
During play, everything is, in all honesty, a bit simple and sometimes a tad unfair (projectiles being flung your way with merry abandon, often leaving little hope of avoiding them), but the novelty factor – in terms of both visuals and controls – shines through to ensure Steamkraft is nonetheless a worthy freebie.
Flash game Gimme Friction Baby heavily influenced a number of mobile titles, each featuring a little oscillating gun that fires balls into a single-screen arena, said balls then having to be destroyed by subsequent shots.
Hue Ball presents its own spin on the theme, which is respectful to the original source but smart enough to succeed on its own merits.
Here, balls don’t expand to fill space but instead grow another layer when a pulsing disc retreats to the center of the screen. When balls have too many layers, they’re converted to indestructible skulls that take up valuable screen space.
You must therefore quickly destroy any on-screen balls, while also taking care not to return one over the ‘line of doom’ that depletes your small selection of lives.
We’ve heard Perchang called a mix of Lemmings and Marble Madness. That’s a touch ambitious, but this is nonetheless a smart puzzler to test your brainpower and reactions.
The idea is to lead a stream of ball bearings to various exits placed within contraption-filled levels. Your only means of control is two buttons, used to trigger colored items such as flippers, magnets and fans. At first, bridging gaps is simple, but Perchang quickly ramps up the complexity, turning the game into a kind of frantic juggling act, balls flying all over the place as you struggle to contain the chaos.
Every few challenges, an ad roundly flings ball-bearings in the face of Perchang’s minimal ambiance, but you can be rid of them with a cheap one-off IAP.
In 1986, Sega released a racing game called Out Run. Being that this was in the days before boring, gray ‘realism’ became mandatory for a number of years, the visuals were colorful, the controls were simple, and the traffic tore along at insane speeds, suspiciously all heading in the same direction.
Final Freeway 2R is a loving tribute to Sega’s title. You get the same breakneck arcade racing, forks in the road, cheesy music, and a car flip when you crash. (You also, in this free version, get ads, but they’re not intrusive, and are easily ignored.)
If you’re old, you’ll be in gaming heaven; if not, the speed and carefree nature of Final Freeway 2R will finally make you understand what retro gamers are always wittering on about.
You might moan about trains when you’re – again – waiting for a late arrival during your daily commute, but play this game and you’ll thank your lucky stars that you’re not in Train Conductor World. Here, trains rocket along, and mostly towards head-on collisions.
It’s your job to drag out temporary bridges to avoid calamity while simultaneously sending each train to its proper destination – it’s exhausting.
From the off, Train Conductor World is demanding, and before long a kind of ‘blink and everything will be smashed to bits’ mentality pervades. For a path-finding action-puzzler – Flight Control on tracks, if you will – it’s an engaging and exciting experience.
We do wonder when light-fingered archaeologists will learn. No sooner has the hero of Raider Rushgrabbed a massive hunk of bling than the ancient temple he’s in starts filling with lava.
To escape, he must bound from wall to wall, like a hyperactive flea, making his way towards beautiful daylight, before realising he’s merely stuck in the next tower to escape from.
With 30 bespoke levels and an endless mode, there’s lots of leaping to be done in Raider Rush, and the two-thumb controls (for hurling the hero left or right) make for a pleasingly frantic arcade experience, akin to juggling your little explorer to the surface (while presumably scolding the idiot for not leaving other people’s possessions alone).
Although a far cry from classic Pokémon titles, there’s no getting away from the sheer impact of Pokémon GO. It’s resulted in swarms of smartphone users roaming the streets and countryside, searching for tiny creatures they can only see through their screens.
In all honesty, the game is simplistic: find a Pokémon, lob balls at it, amble about for a while to hatch eggs, and use your collection of critters to take over and guard virtual gyms.
But despite basic combat and the game’s tendency to clobber your Android’s battery, it taps into the collector mentality; and it’s a rare example of successfully integrating a game into the real world, getting people physically outside and – shock – interacting with each other.
Bad news! It turns out the Axis of Evil needs overthrowing immediately, on account of having access to a ridiculous number of planes and tanks, some of which are the size of small villages. Sadly, we’ve had some cutbacks, which means our air force is now, er, you.
Still, we’re sure you’re going to love your time in AirAttack 2, cooing at gorgeous scenery shortly before bombing it, surviving bullet-hell, and puffing your chest to a thumping orchestral soundtrack.
Sure, you might have to turn down the graphic effects a bit on older hardware, and it’s a bit of a grind to reach later levels, but you’re not going to get better freebie shooting action this side of World War III.
Take an early 1990s FPS, smash it into an auto-runner, add a dash of Pac-Man, and you’d end up with Hammer Bomb. You’re dumped in dank mazes and dungeons full of hideous beasts and must stomp along, finding keys, loot, weapons and the way out.
Levels are randomised, adding a Roguelike quality to proceedings, and the entire game’s underpinned by a levelling up system. This means XP being awarded for killing loads of monsters, rapidly finding the exit, or performing other tasks, such as completing quests (which, in a nod to Ms. Pac-Man, involves hunting down roaming foodstuff).
Every few levels, you face off against a massive screen-high boss, darting towards it with whatever weapon you have to hand, before fleeing like a coward. Survive long enough and you can swap coins for upgrades.
Top tip: as soon as you’ve 150 coins and level 3 status, grab the radar, because Hammer Bomb is much friendlier when you can spot monsters on the top-down map.
Touchscreens should be a poor fit for platform games, which typically require the kind of precision that only comes from a physical controller. This is why so many mobile titles opt for auto-running, distilling platform gaming to its core essence of timing jumps.
In Leap Day, your little yellow character is tasked with getting to the top of a tall tower. You can jump, double jump and slide down walls, but that’s it. You must therefore carefully leap past cartoon foes and gigantic spikes, grabbing fruit along the way.
At various points on your climb are checkpoints, which can be bought with 20 fruit or by watching an ad. This means you don’t have to start from scratch on coming a cropper. And when you do reach the summit, you can come back the next day for an entirely new level to try.
There are a lot of Android puzzle games that involve you sliding blocks about, but Imago is one of the best, even giving Threes! a run for its money.
You drag numbered tiles around a grid, merging those of the same colour and shape. On doing so, their numbers combine, but when merged groups reach a certain size, they split into smaller tiles, each retaining the score of the larger piece. Successful games require careful forward planning, with only a few moves it can be possible to ramp up scores dramatically, into the millions or even billions!
The game’s relative complexity is countered by a smart modes system that gradually introduces you to Imago’s intricacies. There’s also a Daily Flight mode that provides a regular influx of new challenges, for when the standard modes begin to pall. On Android, we noticed a few minor visual glitches here and there, but otherwise this is a must-download puzzle game that’s among the best on the platform.
Asphalt 8 is arguably king of arcade racers on mobile, with its breezy and often ludicrous take on driving recklessly through famous cities. But Ridge Racer used to rule the arcades, and Ridge Racer Slipstream makes a decent stab for the chequered flag on Android.
This is a much more involved test than Asphalt, initially feeling stiffer and even a touch pedestrian. But as you get to grips with the handling model and gawp at the gorgeous scenery, it soon becomes clear Ridge Racer is a first-class mobile racer, and one that provides a stiff challenge at every step of the way.
As you might expect, there’s some IAP whiffing the place up, but you can play through for nothing if you’re willing to persevere and grind a bit; and with courses as great looking as the ones found in this game, re-racing them isn’t exactly a hardship.
We’re big fans of Crossy Road, which is both a lesson in how to update a classic arcade game (Frogger), and create a free-to-play business model that isn’t hateful. (In short, throw free coins at players, don’t make anything pay to win, and add loads of tempting but entirely optional characters to buy.)
With Disney Crossy Road, anything could have happened, but this is far from a cheap cash-in. Sure, it starts off very much like Crossy Road – just starring Mickey Mouse. But unlock a few characters (you’ll have at least three within ten minutes) and you suddenly find yourself immersed in chunky takes on famous movies, such as Toy Story, Wreck-It Ralph, and The Lion King.
Even better, these aren’t mere skins on the original. Each world has unique features, from tiny graphical details that will thrill fans, through to subtle shifts in how the game is played that force you to dramatically change your approach.
You might think there’s little new in Alto’s Adventure, which is essentially endless leapy game Canabalt on ice. But refined visuals best even Monument Valley, with an eye-popping day/night cycle and gorgeous weather effects; additionally, there’s a delightful soundtrack, and a kind of effortless elegance that permeates throughout, propelling Alto’s Adventure beyond its contemporaries.
Ostensibly, Alto’s Adventure is a game about collecting escaped llamas, but mostly Alto is keen on mucking about on snowy slopes. You zoom down hills, catapult yourself into the air, and try to somersault before face-planting. Extra challenge arrives in the form of chaining stunts to increase your speed, and outrunning elders, angry you’re having fun rather than sitting in a stinky llama pen.
Having been mercilessly ripped off by a pretender (who cynically thanked the original’s developer for “inspiration”), Sage Solitaire finally made it to Android. It rethinks solitaire for mobile, mostly by smashing it into poker. Cards are removed using poker hands, with the added complication each hand must use cards from at least two different rows.
Clearing the deck and amassing points requires careful strategy and a little luck, not least given how rapidly the lower stacks empty. Win three times and you unlock Vegas mode, where you can try your luck making bets on your skills (and, in all likelihood, lose a boatload of virtual money). Regardless of the mode you favour, Sage Solitaire’s one of those seemingly throwaway casual games that manages to take hold to the point of obsession.
In RGB Express, your aim is to build up a delivery company from scratch, all by dropping off little coloured boxes at buildings of the same colour. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Only this is a puzzler that takes place on tiny islands with streets laid out in a strict grid pattern, and decidedly oddball rules regarding road use.
Presumably to keep down on tarmac wear, roads are blocked the second a vehicle drives over them. Once you’re past the early levels, making all your deliveries often requires fashioning convoluted snake-like paths across the entire map, not least when bridge switches come into play. Despite its cute graphics, then, RGB Express is in reality a devious and tricky puzzle game, which will have you swearing later levels simply aren’t possible, before cracking one, feeling chuffed and then staring in disbelief at what follows.
In Threes! Free, you slide numbered cards around a tiny grid, merging pairs to increase their values and make room for new cards. Strategy comes from the cards all moving simultaneously, along with you needing to keep space free to make subsequent merges, forcing you to think ahead.
On launch, it was a rare example of a new and furiously compulsive puzzle-game mechanic. Within days, it was mercilessly ripped off, free clones flooding Google Play.
Now, though, you can get authentic Threes! action entirely for free, and discover why it’s 2048 times better than every freebie 2048 game (personality; attention to detail; music; small elements of game design that make a big difference).
You get 12 free games to start. Add groups of three more by watching a video ad. And you can always upgrade to the paid version if you get suitably hooked.
There are loads of freebie Bejeweled knock-offs on Google Play, and so if you fancy a bit of gem-swapping, you may as well download the original. For reasons beyond us, Android owners don’t get the multitude of modes available on some other platforms, but there’s the original match-three ‘classic’, the can’t-lose ‘zen’, and the superb ‘diamond mine’.
In the last of those, matches smash a hole into the ground. You’re playing against the clock, and over time uncover harder rock that needs special moves to obliterate. It’s a frenetic, intense experience considering this is a match-three title, although high-score chasers might cast a suspicious eye over the offer to extend the time limit by watching an advert.
Although there are exceptions, traditional platform games rarely work on touchscreens. Fortunately, canny developers have rethought the genre, stripping it back to its very essence. In Bean Dreams, you help a jumping bean traverse all kinds of hazards, by sending the bouncing hatted seed left or right.
Each level is cleverly designed to offer optimum paths, boosting your points tally when hitting the goal having made the fewest bounces. Timing is everything, then, but there are further challenges that reward exploration. To find the pet axolotls spread across the map, or collect all the fruit, you must use different approaches, which adds plenty of replay value.
Nitrome’s fashioning quite the collection of smart Android games, which subvert existing genres in interesting ways. Platform Panic initially comes across as a vastly simplified platform game. You swipe to move and leap, and it’s game over the second your little character comes a cropper.
But really every screen is a tiny puzzle that you must learn how to solve; and then every game becomes a memory test, with you in an instant having to draw on your experience as each challenge — sometimes mirrored — is sent your way.
In Rust Bucket, a cartoon helmet with a sword dodders about a vibrant dungeon, offing all manner of cute but deadly adversaries — skittering skulls, angry armoured pigs, and spooky ghosts. This is a turn-based affair, echoing classic RPGs, but its endless dungeon and savage nature transform it into a puzzle game perfect for quickfire mobile sessions. You must learn how foes move and react, plan every step and always keep in mind a single error can spell doom.
In its current incarnation, Rust Bucket cleverly balances enough depth to keep you coming back with the brevity that makes it ideal for on-the-go roguelike larks. Future plans include finite puzzle modes and expanded endless content.
We’ve seen several mobile games put a new spin on chess, but Chess Runner amusingly turns the age-old favourite into a frantic arcade battle. You take on the role of a white knight, darting about in L-shaped bounds. Your aim: to fight your way through black pieces and capture a golden king.
Different twists are peppered throughout the game’s levels. The most basic mode involves ensuring you don’t end up in a position to be taken by static or patrolling black pieces. But sometimes you must fend off a barrage of attacks from pawns or rooks, or quickly get to the king during a speed-run test. It’s particularly in those against-the-clock challenges that Chess Runner bares its teeth, temporarily making you forget everything you ever knew about chess, before blundering into a bishop.
There’s always a whiff of unease on recommending a game from a developer nestled deep in the bosom of freemium gaming, but Clash Royale largely manages to be a lot of fun however much money you lob at it. The game is more or less a mash-up of card collecting and real-time strategy. Cards are used to drop units on to a single-screen playfield, and they march about and duff up enemy units, before taking on your opponent’s towers.
The battles are short and suited to quick on-the-go play, and although Clash Royale is designed for online scraps, you can also hone your strategies against training units if you’re regularly getting pulverised. There are the usual timers and gates for upgrades, but the game largely does a good job of matching you against players of fairly similar skill levels, meaning it’s usually a blast and only rarely a drag.
In the world of Splash Cars, it appears everyone’s a miserable grump apart from you. Their world is dull and grey, but your magical vehicle brings colour to anything it goes near. The police aren’t happy about this and aim to bring your hue-based shenanigans to a close, by ramming your car into oblivion. There’s also the tiny snag of a petrol tank that runs dry alarmingly quickly.
Splash Cars therefore becomes a fun game of fleeing from the fuzz, zooming past buildings by a hair’s breadth, grabbing petrol and coins carelessly left lying about, and trying to hit an amount-painted target before the timer runs out. Succeed and you go on to bigger and better locations, with increasingly powerful cars.
We all love a bit of Tetris, but Tetris doesn’t love mobile — previous and current incarnations for Android are mostly hideous IAP-infused abominations. Fortunately, then, Dream of Pixels exists, more or less flipping Tetris upside-down, having you use those very familiar shapes to take chunks out of an endless cloud bank.
The game’s floaty and slightly hippyish vibe hides an endless puzzler with serious bite. Once the cloud’s moving at speed and you have a few ‘orphaned’ bits that need reconnecting with the main body, Dream of Pixels becomes a frantic speed test of shape-matching abilities. If it all gets a bit much, there’s a static ‘zen’ mode, where you fill static shapes with pre-defined tetromino sets. And when you’re ready for action again, a one-off IAP unlocks three tougher variations on the main game.
Poor Cally. It’s like she can’t go for five minutes without her parents being kidnapped. It’s third time unlucky for her in Cally’s Caves 3, but lucky for you, because you get an excellent old-school platformer that costs nothing at all. Cally leaps about, shooting and stabbing enemies in a gleeful manner you might consider unusual for a young girl with pigtails.
The game’s brutal, too, with a checkpoint system that will have you gnashing teeth when you die a few steps before a restart point. But the weapon upgrade system is clever (keep shooting things to power up guns!), there are loads of items to discover, and unlike on iOS, the free Android version has several extra unlocked modes.
If you’ve played Pac-Man before, the goal of Pac-Man 256 should seem pretty familiar: eat as many pellets as possible without being caught by a ghost. This time, however, it never ends. You’ll get power-ups along the way, and it actually has a reasonable approach to in-app purchases.
Very similar in style and concept to Xbox and Xbox 360 retro classic Geometry Wars. In fact, one might legally be able to get away with calling it a right old rip-off. Android PewPew is a rock-hard 2D shooting game packed with alternate game modes.
It’s a bit rough around the edges and requires a powerful phone to run smoothly, but when it does it’s a fantastic thing.
Winter Walk is madness. You play the part of a gentleman, out for an evening walk. From time to time the wind picks up, so you have to hold on to his hat to stop it blowing away.
While this is happening, the chap’s internal monologue appears on screen, giving you an entertaining and distracting read in the process, too. Very simple, but a perfect little high score challenge game for the touchscreen era.
A shock move from developer Rovio, in that this one isn’t a simple take on the Angry Birds style. Bad Piggies is a clever building game, which dumps you at the beginning of a big map with a pile of component parts. You then build a flying machine using the given elements, then try to fly it to the end of the level. A really nice, original little idea from the physics game specialists.
Radiant Defense is a fantastic tower defence game, given a dazzling modern look. You do all the usual tower defence stuff like building up your weapon strengths and deciding how best to stop the endless marching enemy, with some “super weapons” to unlock and hundreds upon hundreds of waves to beat. And it all looks astonishingly pretty on a big screened device.
In this age of austerity and scrimping, we’ve all long since sold our last set of dominoes and melted down our Monopoly counters for scrap.
Cute critter Om-Nom in Cut the Rope is the Daniel Day-Lewis of puzzle games, with a BAFTA amid his haul of gaming awards. The simple premise (cut the ropes to release Om-Nom’s lunch) sustains over 400 well-pitched levels, packed with character and cartoonish charm.
Yes, the insanely popular online card game Hearthstone has been squashed down to fit your phone or tablet screen – and it works surprisingly well. With less space to play with, the creators have rejigged the design slightly; it’s still the same game, just a bit more considerate to your thumbs.
It’s also still compatible with the tablet and desktop versions so you’ll be able to play against your friends on the move.
Yes, the proper Scrabble, not some copyright-infringing clone that’ll be pulled by the time you read these words. EA bought the license, tidied it up and stuck it out on Android, where it’s a remarkably advert and in-app purchase free experience.
It’s been beefed up with a few new modes, but stuff like the ability to sync with Facebook and play multiple matches is actually exactly what you need. A classic that’s not been ruined. Hooray.
Blip Blup is the kind of original little idea we love stumbling across. It’s a sort of geometry-based puzzle game that has you pressing squares on the screen to fill in areas of colour.
Your light beams are limited in the directions they can travel, so, once you’re through the troublingly simple tutorial levels, it soon becomes insanely tough and will soon have you scratching through your skull’s skin and bone until you actually itch your BRAIN in confusion.