Sometimes you really do get what you pay for. There are loads of great free games on Android, but spend a little cash and you can enjoy some of the best mobile gaming around.
And when we say ‘a little bit’, we mean it. Most of the games covered here can be had for less than the price of a pint – and some are even free.
Also, this being Stuff, we’re all about the very best. We’ve actually played all these games – probably a bit too much, if truth be told – and so whether you’re into high-octane endless survival games, blasting aliens, or having your brains smashed out by maddeningly tough puzzles, there’s something in this list for you.
Somewhere along the way, a great many games forgot how to be exciting. But ALONE… remembers those days of seat-of-the-pants roller-coaster gameplay, where a moment’s distraction spelled game over. Here, you’re piloting a tiny ship through deadly caverns at breakneck speed.
Occasionally, alarms blare, to warn of incoming projectiles. All you have is your wits and reactions as your sliding finger directs the ship up and down, before it inevitably comes a cropper on the rocky face of one too many giant asteroids.
There’s no depth here, but there doesn’t need to be — ALONE… has tons of replay value simply by virtue of being relentlessly thrilling, no matter how many times you play.
Pinball reinvented as an endless runner of sorts, PinOut has you smash a ball ever onwards while a timer relentlessly counts down. The table is essentially a huge neon corridor, punctuated by ramps and flippers. Each section is a miniature table – a puzzle you must quickly grok, before making the perfect shot to send the ball to the next challenge.
It’s immediate but tense. Bonuses and mini-games help replenish the timer, but a few duff shots can leave you struggling on entering later, tougher zones.
For £2.69, you can buy permanent checkpoint restarts; for free, you’ll have to play through to the end in a single sitting – a tall order, even for (virtual) pinball wizards.
Endless runners typically have you tap the screen to leap over hazards. Summer Catchers instead has the protagonist pack a bag full of power-ups that you trigger at opportune moments, for example to smash through walls or get a speed boost to escape a foe.
With three slots available at any given time, this should be simple. It’s not. Split-second decision making infuses Summer Catchers with tension and excitement as you juggle your limited inventory and try very hard to not press the wrong buttons. Immediately, it’s clear helping the protagonist reach new lands won’t be easy – but you’ll want to try.
Less impossible than once it was, thanks to an update that gave the white ball some shaded definition against the all-white background. But, don’t worry, it’s still completely impossible.
Keeping the ball on the track – though twists and turns, yumps, bumps and chicanes – is made harder by weird physics which give it apparent weight in the air but no directional momentum in the corners. And the fact that the simple left/right controls rotate the track around the ball, and the slightly sticky track edges occasionally repulse you into the white nothingness and time-out death.
But the insistent techno beat and endlessly redrawn and randomised track just keep you rolling back in for another run.
Endless Frogger meets Disney in a rare example of an indie dev/movie house tie-up that works perfectly.
The mechanics will be familiar to anyone who’s played the excellent original — tap and swipe to have a blocky protagonist weave through traffic and deftly jump across rivers.
The addition of Disney characters, though, finds you battling your way through retro versions of famous animated worlds, dodging tumbling blocks in Toy Story, filing memories for bonuses in Inside Out, and avoiding a psychotic suit of armour in Haunted House.
This one feels like someone mashed-up the best bits from classic arcade games and squeezed the result into your Android device. Your little square scoots about neon mazes, shooting, eating flowers, and trying to grab a key to unlock a hitherto hidden exit. Meanwhile, enemies periodically beam in and start wrecking the place.
Some pursue you with all the determination of the most fervent Pac-Man ghost, but most of Forget-Me-Not’s denizens are perfectly content kicking seven shades out of each other. Games often involve trying to negotiate the destruction occurring all around you, grab lurking bonuses, and somehow escape intact. It’s breezy, intense and brilliant.
Many titles evoke the feel and fun of retro games, but Forget-Me-Not is a rare example that equals the very best. With randomised mazes and several modes, it’ll keep any fan of old-school gaming grinning for weeks.
Classic arcade games and slippy touchscreens rarely gel. But Drop Wizard has been cleverly reimagined for smartphones. The set-up echoes single-screen platform classics Bubble Bobble and Snow Bros, having you dart about, giving roaming enemies a kicking. The twist: this magician can’t stop running.
The lack of full control or even a jump button initially confounds. But by limiting you to sprinting left and right, carefully timing leaps to blast magic upon landing, mastery depends on cracking each level’s choreography. It’s a pitch-perfect mix of old and new.
Imagine a Godzilla movie. But instead of an angry giant lizard chaotically smashing up a city, the kaiju had style. And rhythm. And scruples. And was a stuffed toy. That’s Giant Dancing Plushies.
You control the giant cuddly, stomping along to the beat in a surreal mash-up of rhythm action and real-time strategy. Because these cuddlies care, you can only stomp on bad guys shooting at you. And because they’re auditioning for Giant Plushy Strictly (probably), you need to move on the beat to get big points.
Gain enough XP and you unlock new plushies, cities and combos, adding a dash of Street Fighter II to the mix. Ish. You’re bound to think it grin-inducing fun – unless you’re the monster.
Marrying platforming, path-finding and rhythm action, Vectronom (£3.99) has you guide a trundling cube in a deadly clockwork world where everything moves to the beat. Make it to the end and you’ll feel like a star – until informed you’ve no sense of rhythm and were off-beat half the time. Harrumph.
Carve off bits of Pac-Man and Frogger, shove them inside a shoebox, and then glue on the psychotic beating heart of Super Hexagon and that’s Jumpgrid. This game invites you to leap from point to point on a three-by-three grid, munching cubes, before disappearing into a wormhole. The snag is all the whirling shapes of death destined to smash your teeth out.
This is a game of patterns. Like Super Hexagon, you will fail often and it will be all your fault for having digits that aren’t as dextrous as you’d imagined. But when you’re in the zone, there’s nothing quite like the thrillride of a solid run in Jumpgrid, as you dart around, nodding to the beat, one step ahead of pirouetting neon slices of doom.
A different spin on fast thinking and precision in Spaceteam (£free). This intuitive multiplayer effort finds your ship falling apart. Your ‘spaceteam’ must respond to commands that can refer to controls on other people’s screens. Cue: shouty nonsense (“Can someone PLEASE set the Sigmaclapper to zero?!”) while frantically searching your own display for a “switch that looks like someone being eaten by a telephone”.
There are major WarioWare vibes on firing up pureya, which revels in hurling vibrant arcade titles your way for precisely ten seconds, before it has you play something else. Two massive arrow buttons are all you need to play, whether directing an eagle to not painfully fly into cliffs or having a ball bounce over cacti.
The aim is to grab as many marbles across each 90-second nine-game roller-coaster, before lobbing them into a pachinko machine that awards prizes ranging from character clobber to entirely new games. As an added bonus, unlocked games can individually be played in endless mode. Barg.
Described by its creators as a ‘randomly generated road-trip action-RPG’, Death Road to Canada has the heart of an arena shooter. More often than not, your little gang of looters – aiming to get from Florida to the reportedly zombie-free Canada – find themselves surrounded, weaving between the bitey and sometimes surprisingly spry undead, occasionally shooting them in the face.
It’s relentlessly intense, whether you’re trying to sneak about a city at sunrise, or find yourself in a survival-based siege. And even moments of respite are nervy affairs, as you tackle pages seemingly torn from a sadistic Choose Your Own Adventure book, where the wrong decision can leave the last of your party gouged to death by an angry moose.
In holedown, you traverse your way towards planet cores by using projectiles that like nothing better than bouncing around while grinning inanely. As they boing about, the blocks they hit are gradually depleted, enabling you to dig further down.
It’s a similar premise to a bunch of Android freebies, but holedown is a properly polished and premium effort. There are no ads, and no constant nudges to splash out on IAPs. Instead, there’s ongoing progression to reward your efforts; reaching a high-score is therefore down to your amazing aim (or flukey rebound shots) rather than digging deep into your wallet.
A spaceship shooter with a 20-hour campaign and some of the best visuals Android has to offer, Galaxy On Fire 2 is about as close to Elite as you can get in a modern mobile game. Yes, there are ads and in-app purchases, but neither spoils the experience of making your way through this grand space opera.
In the city of Edenbyrg, where the letter U has seemingly been made illegal, it’s time to send in the Jydge. This cybernetic law-enforcer isn’t so hot on wigs. Also, its gavel isn’t a tiny ceremonial hammer – it’s instead a massive firearm.
The titular robot hero’s not terribly fussed about the whole ‘innocent until proven guilty’ thing either. Like Judge Dredd on auto-pilot, he blasts his way through top-down scenes, obliterating crims, freeing hostages that manage to avoid getting mown down in the crossfire, and ‘confiscating’ loot.
It’s all a bit ‘leave your brain at home’, but this game’s neon larks are pulse-pounding fun.
Although we admire developers who try to cram console-style titles on to Android, a glass screen is a far cry from a gamepad. With Neon Shadow, though, you get something approximating a console FPS, but with enough mobile sensibilities that you won’t want to hurl your Android at a wall.
It’s pacey, vibrant, and straightforward to control, resulting in a fun blast through a space-station crawling with angry mechanoids unleashed by an unhinged AI. We could do without the ads, but otherwise this is a great shooter to plant in your mitts.
A sliding puzzle game? Yawn. But wait, because Baba Is You is brilliant. And it’s brilliant because it invites you to constantly break the game’s rules, which messes with your head.
The rules are outlined on screen as blocks you can shove. Sentences create conditions and those conditions can upend the game. Can’t get to the win flag? Remove ‘Stop’ from the end of ‘Wall Is Stop’ and you can walk through walls. Easy!
Only it isn’t, because Baba Is You counters your potential trickery by way of deviously complex puzzles that require serious brainpower and experimentation to overcome. Fortunately, the touchscreen controls are perfectly judged – as is the game as a whole, ensuring you’ll refuse to give in, even when ‘Player Is Stumped’.
Differentiating itself from other match games, Dissembler (£2.99) doesn’t replace tiles when matches are made. Your task is instead to figure out the precise sequence of moves that will transform each single-screen layout into a blank canvas. Even with infinite undos, this quality Android puzzler will have your brain flipping for weeks.
It’s not often you launch a game only for it to insist that there is no game, and that you should go and do something else instead. Having just spent a fiver, you might decide otherwise and start poking around. Via a deft mix of prodding, swiping and shaking your device, things start happening – weird things.
To say precisely what these weird things are would erode the game’s surprises, which are frequent and grin-inducing. Suffice to say that a combination of a perfectly executed script, clever riffs on gaming, and genuinely smart puzzles, make for an Android classic that’s nothing short of unmissable. If you don’t buy and enjoy this one, There Is No Hope (for you).
Gorogoa is a game that messes with your head – and any sense of time and place you might assume would stay put in a four-by-four grid of animated comic book panels. That’s because these panels can be manipulated and overlaid, to create new pathways through a wordless story packed full of mystery and beauty.
Naturally, this works best on a larger display, but even on a decent-sized Android blower, Gorogoa has the gaming chops to smack your brains in, massage your imagination, and in a few key set pieces, give your arcade smarts and dexterity a stern test. Top-notch stuff.
Board games bang on and are rarely fun to play alone. Railroad Ink Challenge is different, marrying brevity and a first-rate single-player challenge that’s endlessly replayable.
Across seven rounds, you roll dice to select route pieces. These are duly connected to points at the edge of the board. By connecting roads and railway lines, you ramp up your score. The game’s further complicated by way of bonuses and special tiles like factories and universities.
Your first few goes will meet with bafflement, but once it clicks, Railroad Ink Challenge is a board game puzzler you can squeeze into an odd five-minutes – but that can also keep you chuffed well into the wee small hours, trying to improve your high score.
For a game that starts off looking like a conventional illustrated book – albeit one with one long scrolling page per chapter – unmemory wryly plays with convention to the point it gives your brain whiplash. It all clicks when you hear a distant phone, realise you spotted one earlier, scroll upwards and answer it.
At that point, you realise the entire scrolling pane is an interconnected net of puzzles – a narrative book-like spin on the room escape genre. It’s a game that gleefully thrives in the grey area between mediums, playing with the very nature of what narrative text, interactive puzzles and videogames can be.
An engineer and his wife disappear, and their trail leads to a dusty, dark attic. You get a light working, shining it on an elaborate doll’s house. You glimpse a body in the gloom, but are then sucked inside the toy, which appears to be an impossible full-sized recreation of a mansion – and one teetering on the edge of a monstrous abyss.
Packed full of puzzles and atmosphere, Old Sins echoes Myst, but without any of the tedious traipsing around. Instead, you dart from location to location, trying to unlock the mysteries of the objects you discover, in a tantalising, tactile and creepy slice of touchscreen horror.
The mechanics of classic point-and-click adventures have transferred nicely to touchscreens, but the power in modern kit has enabled them to evolve in terms of artistry. Samorost 3 is a case in point: although it mostly involves pottering about, prodding the landscape, and figuring out where to use found objects, it’s the lush visuals and gorgeous soundtrack that prove hypnotic.
The story involves a mad monk who’s smashed up planets with a mechanical hydra, and your little gnome must put things right. The tiny worlds deftly marry photography and hand-drawn elements, and are peppered with delightful moments. Our favourite: encouraging creatures by a crater to sing a song, to which the gnome fist-pumps the air as if enjoying the best club event in history.
Minit is an adventure game in a hurry. It might look like something ejected from a ZX Spectrum, with a tile-based landscape you can meander about at will. But this game’s played against the clock – after 60 seconds, you abruptly expire.
Fortunately, the weird little beaked protagonist keeps any collected goodies during each reincarnation. The game therefore finds you scooting about the map, chipping away at the wider quest during each minute of life.
It can be tough. You’ll regularly threaten to hurl your phone into orbit when you inconveniently die approximately half a second before completing a puzzle. But then you’ll have another crack, determined to refine your route accordingly.
People who moan smartphones aren’t good for console-style fare need Oceanhorn thrust into their mitts. Yes, there’s a whiff of Zelda about the islands of the Uncharted Seas, but you’ll forget all that when immersed in this epic arcade adventure.
The story begins with your father’s disappearance. He’s left a letter, a notebook and a mysterious necklace. Before long, you’re getting all questy, duffing up aggressive wildlife, and pilfering bling like it’s going out of fashion
For free, you get the first chapter, and can ensure the game works well on your device. A single IAP unlocks the rest.
This love-letter to classic point-and-clickers finds space explorer Kosmo trying to find bits of his robot girlfriend (don’t dwell on that part), which have been scattered throughout space.
The locations he visits are wildly diverse, beautifully illustrated, and peppered with pop-culture references. There’s a cantina that could be in a galaxy far, far away; and one mudball you visit is populated by suspiciously intelligent apes.
The gameplay admittedly tends towards ‘find the thing and drop it in the right place’ – it’s far less involved than the likes of Thimbleweed Park, say; but you’d have to have the metal heart of Kosmo’s android gal to not fall for this charming, beautifully realised adventure.
If ever there’s a game that proves you can have console-quality platforming larks on mobile, it’s Oddmar. The backstory involves the kidnapping of your tribe, and ingesting magic mushrooms to attain ’special powers’ (uh-huh). Our beardy hero then sets out to save his kin.
From the start, it’s clear this is something special. Pitch-perfect gestural controls (on-screen buttons are available for luddites) enable you to work your way through lush, varied scenery. An early Indiana Jones escape from a determined rolling boulder, and then frantically fleeing from a screen-high troll, are merely indicators of the brilliance in store throughout Oddmar’s entire length. In short: buy it.
Like the excellent original, this adorable love letter to classic platformers looks like someone’s swapped out your Android device for a NES while you weren’t looking. It features a dinky cat scooting about, grabbing gold, avoiding monsters, and fending off an invasion of tin-pot aliens.
The short levels are ideally suited to mobile play, as are the two-thumb controls. Instead of a horrible virtual D-pad, you prod the left or right of the screen, which is enough for dashing, leaps, wall jumps, cartoonish braking, and trundling along in massive yellow tanks you sometimes worryingly find dotted about the place. It takes a while to click, but when that happens this game approaches purr-fection.
While Super Cat Tales recalls NES games, Suzy Cube (£3.99) mines later Nintendo fare, echoing Super Mario 3D Land with perspective that frequently shifts. You’ll scoot around a pyramid’s innards in side-on 2D but switch to sliding down icy 3D hills on your bum and perform tense overhead leaps between platforms floating above the abyss.
Calling Mushroom 11 a platform game, while technically accurate, doesn’t get to the heart of it. In the glow of an irradiated wasteland, a self-multiplying blob of green gunk lurks. Touch one side of its mass and it’s burned away, quickly regrowing on the other side. Well done: you have discovered how to move.
But that’s just the beginning, in a game that forces you to jump between simple puzzles (slice up the blob, have one bit flick a switch, so the remaining part can squeeze through a gap) to intense boss battles.
It’s maddeningly difficult at times, although there are plenty of restart points. But Mushroom 11’s unconventional nature and touchscreen smarts nonetheless ensure it’s an essential purchase – especially for anyone bored of games featuring yet more humanoids leaping about and grabbing coins.
Poor Gris has lost her voice and tumbled into a world of ruins, devoid of colour. It’s down to you to bring back what’s been lost. In terms of mechanics, GRIS is a pretty straightforward platform puzzler – explore; find objects to unlock barriers; continue. Where it wows is in its artistry.
This game’s world feels like a work of art. It’s packed with intricate details and painterly wonder. Delicate animations and amusing incidents pepper your quest – as do occasionally harrowing events. The stirring score further heightens your emotions at all the right moments in this visually arresting mobile masterpiece.
Evil’s done its thing again, wrecking the balance of the world. Fortunately, a band of do-gooders well-versed in violence sets out to make things right. So begins Unruly Heroes, a side-on platformer with plenty of scrapping and a smattering of puzzles.
It’s a curious game at times: regularly tough, but with a potentially unlimited lives system. This means you can brute-force your way through, or choose to master the game and beat target times for each level.
However you choose to play, it looks superb, with dazzling set pieces and an interesting multi-character dynamic that forces you to switch between members of your group to pass specific obstacles. And in costing less than a tenth of its PS4 incarnation, Unruly Heroes feels like a budget bargain on Android – especially if you’ve a controller handy.
Underground maps are beautiful things, and so it’s no surprise a game based on them looks wonderful. What is surprising is a strategy title focussed solely on passenger movement and carriage management is this compelling.
On selecting a location, stations periodically appear, and it’s your job to connect them. The snag: you’ve a limited number of lines and carriages, and if a single station becomes too overcrowded, the entire network closes.
Particularly on a tablet, Mini Metro’s mix of gorgeous ambience and increasingly demanding line juggling proves compelling. And even when it becomes frustrating, you’ll never get angry at it – unlike the real thing.
Ever stared aghast at a hideous road junction and thought you could do better? Freeways (£2.89) might prove otherwise. You scrawl routes with all the finesse of a toddler with a crayon, adding bridges and inevitably gumming up your network before having to start again. It’s like a freeform Mini Metro and just as good.
No proper games on mobile? Civ VI blasts that notion to smithereens – assuming you’ve researched the relevant tech, of course. Yep, this is the full PC classic on your phone, having you take over the world in a turn-based manner.
As ever, you can opt to build your empire and defeat your foes through sending your people to the stars, or just through giving everyone else a thorough kicking. This is deep stuff, mind, with loads to do, details to dig into, and expansions to splurge on.
You get 60 turns for free, and then must pay to unlock the main game. There are regular sales, note, and so this full-fat strategy classic often costs as little as as tenner.
XCOM 2 Collection hammers another nail into the ‘can’t get proper games on mobile’ coffin, as you attempt to help humanity fight back against decidedly unfriendly aliens who’ve swanned in and taken over. If you’ve been living under a rock (or alien domination), this one’s a turn-based tactical job, where you boss around a human squad to complete objectives while (hopefully) not getting them killed. It’s deep – and compelling.
It’s also not cheap and needs powerful hardware to run. Still, if you’ve a supported device (check the list on Google Play) and enough cash, this gets you a full-fat PC classic in your pocket, including four DLC packs ready to go.
Everything’s grand on your little island. You trot about on horseback, lobbing coins at peasants, who then do your bidding. They build castle walls and do a spot of farming. Life is good. Until night falls – because that’s when the Greed come out.
These nasty critters blaze in from portals, relentlessly attacking your fortress and making off with goodies. And if they nab your crown, your reign’s over. Still, you can at then have another crack (as your heir), and gradually work towards defeating the Greed once and for all, in this intoxicating mash-up of real-time strategy and gorgeous pixel art.
Think things have gone wrong in the real world? That’s nothing compared to Crying Suns, which has just suffered societal collapse on an intergalactic level. Fortunately, you’re around to try and set things right.
With more than a whiff of FTL about its mix of busywork, strategy and kicking enemy faces off, Crying Suns has you Picard it up in your spaceship, making all the important decisions about management, exploration and real-time tactical pew-pew battles.
Where Crying Sun differentiates itself from its contemporaries is in its strong sense of narrative. Each run is different, but played across a chapter-based set-up that becomes increasingly familiar. Yet rather than a smattering of repetition becoming tedious, it instead helps you further understand what caused the disaster at the game’s heart – and devise strategies to emerge victorious.
Fed up of rubbish freemium tat clogging up your phone? Wish you could actually get some proper AAA fare on your device? Here’s your chance. GRID Autosport brings to Android the entirety of the PC and console hit – and all for just a tenner. You get 100 cars, 100 circuits, and more customisation options than you can shake a greasy wrench at.
This isn’t an arcade fest. You actually have to learn to drive the car to have a fighting chance of success. But that just makes that first chequered flag all the more rewarding. In the meantime, you can thrill at the speed and gawp at the graphics, idly wondering if someone has sneakily stuffed an entire PC inside your blower.
There are two ways to approach racing games: you can recreate ‘reality’ by crafting a ‘simulation’ and making the tracks very grey; or you can go crazy. Asphalt takes the latter route.
In this unhinged nitro-fest, you belt along at breakneck speeds, regularly catapulting your car into the air in a manner totally unacceptable under your insurance plan. And you don’t even need to steer. Although you can go traditional for controls, Asphalt by default pulls a Super Mario Run, urging you to swipe and prod to time actions (jumps; nitros; drifts), while the game itself points you in the right direction.
It shouldn’t work. It really does. Only avoid if you’re grumpy, old, and hate breezy arcade lawks.
Drawing from the original Rush Rally, Origins has you blaze along snake-like courses viewed from above, as if being chased by rally-loving folks in a helicopter. And it’s decidedly ‘retro’ in terms of controls, which nudge the series away from ‘simulation’ and back towards drift-happy racing.
Origins is properly serious where it counts, though. It looks gorgeous. The controls are responsive and can be repositioned to suit your needs. There are several modes as well, allowing you to pit yourself against the clock, head into a traditional rally championship, or battle against psychotic opponents during smashy racing sessions. Vrrrmmmm!
Fancy something more realistic? Rush Rally 3 (£4.49) is more simulation than arcade, with 3D courses and punishing physics that’ll embed you in a tree should your concentration momentarily lapse. It’s great, whether grinding metal with AI opponents in rally cross or forging a career as the next Colin McRae.
Most trials games have you trying to coax a rider along lumpy side-scrolling circuits – without landing them on their head. Touchgrind BMX 2, though, pretty much puts you in the saddle.
The viewpoint is from above your bike, and you use two digits to, respectively, control the handlebars and seat. When your bike’s hurled into the air (which happens frequently), you perform a dazzling airborne choreography by way of flicks and swipes.
At least you do after a while. At first, Touchgrind BMX 2 is crash city; but commit the stunts and tracks to memory, and this cracker will cement itself in your brain as a wheelie good Android title.
Yes, we know: we’re recommending a racing game where you don’t actually do any racing yourself. Fight us. The reason we’re a little bit feisty is because Motorsports Manager Mobile 3 is all kinds of special. In short, it’s a management sim without boring bits.
You start from scratch, gradually building up your team, your HQ, your cars, and your drivers’ egos (although, frankly, they’re pretty big from day one). Race weekends involve a bit of card-game tinkering for set-ups, and then deciding on race strategies and tyre changes. You wouldn’t think it’d be exciting to watch coloured discs whizz about a circuit, but when your driver’s about to take the chequered flag, this game’s just as thrilling as one with an in-car view.
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