There are hundreds of fantastic games available for Android, and a lot of them are available for absolutely nothing.
Whether ad-supported or based on a (boo and indeed hiss) “freemium” model, these titles are free – and guaranteed to make your morning commute a little less painful.
iFighter 2: The Pacific 1942
A “bullet hell” vertical scrolling shoot ‘em up very much inspired by the 1980s arcade classic 1942, iFighter sees you steering a US fighter through waves of Japanese planes, ships and ground-based enemies, with each stage culminating in an epic boss fight. Power-ups to boost your armaments are spread throughout the levels, and the coins you collect can be spent to upgrade your starting plane.
Plants vs Zombies 2
A popular game franchise that has veered down a somewhat controversial freemium path, Plants vs Zombies 2 is what’s known as a “tower defence” game: you build towers and emplacements (or in this case, plant flowers, shrubs and veggies) to fight off hordes of incoming enemies (in this case, shambling hordes of undead). The badgering about micro-transactions can be a pain, but it doesn’t kill off the essential brilliance of PopCap’s game.
A supremely simple game – you’re a Victorian gentleman on his daily constitutional, and must hold your finger on the screen every time the wind threatens to dislodge your top hat – Winter Walk succeeds through the sheer force of its charm. Lovely stuff.
Now around two years old, Colosseum Heroes isn’t the kind of title that’ll win any awards for its originality or brains: it’s a side-scroller bash ‘em up where you hit things, collect rewards and then use these to buff up your character (your choice of either gladiator or vampire) with new abilities, equipment and spells. It’s unforgivingly difficult too – just make sure you don’t chuck your Nexus 5 across the room when your hero falls for the 10th time.
Words With Friends
Scrabble by another name (well, with apparently just enough differences to prevent legal action), Words With Friends is an evergreen smartphone staple thanks to its simplicity, the fact that you play “with friends” (but only one per game) and the fact that it never rushes you: you have several days to take your turn, so it can be played whenever you have a spare minute.
An old-school “roguelike” game of subterranean fantasy exploration with lovely pixel-art visuals, Pixel Dungeon’s automatically-generated levels deliver a different experience every time. Can you fight through the dungeon’s monsters and navigate its traps in order to find the Amulet of Yendor?
Temple Run 2
Probably the best-known of the “endless runner” games (its developers have even sold the movie rights to a Hollywood studio) Temple Run 2 tasks you with sprinting for as long as possible, avoiding obstacles and staying a few steps ahead of the monkey-demon creatures in pursuit. Coins and power-ups keep you alive, while new unlockables keep you coming back time and time again.
Hopeless: The Dark Cave
At turns cute and disturbing, this game sees you playing as gun-toting yellow blobs in the centre of a pitch black cave. Things run towards your little pool of light in the middle and you have only a moment to react: monsters must be shot before they can grab you, while other yellow blobs need to be left to join you and increase your powers. But the tension is such that you’ll sometimes find yourself blasting would-be blobby allies...
Dead Trigger 2
One of a new breed of first-person shooters that are actually fun/possible to play on a touchscreen, Dead Trigger 2 (and its predecessor) are some of the best-looking games on Android. OK, so it doesn’t rival Halo for design or fluidity of control, but this gore-flecked zombie apocalypse adventure is surprisingly deep for a smartphone title.
Cut the Rope
Another longtime mobile favourite, Cut the Rope tasks you with solving increasingly elaborate physics-based puzzles with a well-timed swipe of your finger.
Candy Crush Saga
We think Candy Crush Saga is evil – its micro-transaction model is designed to sucker you into paying real money for extra turns and other bonuses once you’re totally and utterly addicted – but at the same time it is free to play, and incredibly diverting.
Basically a rip-off of Bejewelled but with sweets swapped in for precious stones, it’s simple, nigh-on mindless fun. But fun it most certainly is, and ideal for filling small amounts of spare time.
Super Stickman Golf 2
A stormingly addictive casual title that spliced together Angry Birds, Worms and Tiger Woods, Super Stickman Golf 2 is one of those sweet spot-nailing games that has the potential to dominate your life – or at least tiny portions of it on a daily basis. It’s golf, but not as you know it.
More after the break...
Flatout – Stuntman
Quite possibly the meatheaded game in our list – but no less enjoyable for that – Flatout – Stuntman eschews story, themes and powerful imagery in favour of, well, big stupid car crashes. Drive your car into something and, when your “stuntman” flies through the windscreen, try and direct him or her into as many objects as possible. The more painful and bone-shattering the results, the more points you’ll rack up. Get a high enough score and you’ll unlock the next level.
Pocket League Story 2
If Football Manager was Japanese, pixel-art cute and set in an alternative universe where players were far less greedy and far more professional, it’d be Pocket League Story 2. Kairosoft’s typically retro management title is twee-tastic, it’s true, but quite adorable with it. And it’s guaranteed to take up plenty of your time as you become gaffer to a tiny new soccer club with big aspirations. Can you take them to glory by boosting their stats and improving the club’s facilities?
Galaxy On Fire 2 HD
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.
Quite beautiful, is Badland. It’s a physics-based auto-scrolling game where you ‘push’ a bat-like creature through a series of atmospheric, silhouetted levels (and yeah, before you say it, we know its look is “heavily inspired” by Limbo). It sounds simple but the capricious physics engine and devilish, hazard-stocked levels make it frustrating tough at times – but if you get stuck there’s always the brilliant local multiplayer mode to fall back on, which lets up to four people play simultaneously on a single device.
Angry Birds Star Wars II
There’s no shortage of free Angry Birds games out there (seven at our last count), but we thought we’d go with one of the newer instalments in the physics-based catapult-birds-to-smash-down-blocks-and-kill-pigs series.
Based around the much-maligned Star Wars prequel trilogy, it features bird types inspired by Jedi and droids and a number of familiar locations. But the “just one more go” gameplay mechanics are much the same as with older Angry Birds games.
Real Racing 3
Real Racing 3’s console-level visuals look so good that we’re still amazed we can play it on our smartphones. Throw in the easy-to-use motion-controlled steering (which actually works and doesn’t make us want to throw our phones at the wall in frustration) and you’ve got yourself one of the most polished racers in the Google Play Store.
There aren’t many games where you get to play the bad guy, and in Plague Inc. you get to play the baddest guy of them all: a virus that kills off (if you play your cards right) the entire human race.
Choose where your plague starts and develop it to spread at the correct rate – all the while keeping one step ahead of those working on a cure – and chuckle to yourself as the world descends into absolute chaos and awfulness. The apocalypse has never been so much fun.
Looking less like a game than a Damien Hirst piece worth more than your three-bedroom house, Dots is probably the most tasteful-looking game in this whole list. Where others are brash and plagued by ads and exhortations to buy add-ons, Dots feels like the work of a bearded graphic designer who probably works in a downtown loft with exposed beams and white walls. And drinks single-origin coffee.
The game itself is beautifully simple: you connect dots of the same colour to make them disappear, with each round having a 30 second limit. Making longer connections (or shapes such as squares) gives you more points, so there’s an element of skill in setting up the board for future moves.
A side-scrolling parkour game that owes big debts to the likes of Canabalt and Mirror’s Edge, Vector manages to be stylish, addictive and maddeningly tough all at the same time.
The game sees you as a free-running Neo-in-The-Matrix type character pursued over rooftops and through buildings by taser-wielding agents. Complete a level by finishing ahead of your pursuer to progress – but if you’re anything like us, you’ll probably feel obliged to keep playing until you achieve a three-star rating on each one...
A huge hit on iOS, Battle Nations is now available on Android. It’s a blend of turn-based strategy and Farmville-esque world building, but before that puts you off we’ll say it also offers a surprisingly engaging plot and that the Farmville-style elements avoid the worst excesses of that much-hated game.
The tactical combat is superb (you can play online against friends or randomly chosen opponents) and if the slow pace of the game’s overall progression irritates you, in-app purchases can speed things up.
The premise is simple. Strap on a Jetpack, and travel as far as you can through a hostile laboratory while destroying panicking scientists and avoiding lasers, missiles and more. A simple on-rails side-scroller, bolstered by tonnes of addictive upgrades and customisation options, it's easy to pick up and play for two minutes, and even easier to play for two hours.
When people tell you that video games turn their players into lazy shut-ins, tell them about Ingress, a massively multiplayer augmented reality strategy game built around the concept of geocaching, it uses your phone’s location – a fact that forces you to get out of the house and visit points of interest in the real world.
Visit these “portals” in the real world and you’ll progress the game. They’re often tied to genuinely interesting locations (monuments, sculptures, street art etc.), which has the effect of helping you get to know your local area far more deeply. You can even submit your own locations for in-game portals.
Action games are never particularly easy to play on a touchscreen, but Reaper is among the best: a cartoonish, side-scrolling hack-and-slasher with RPG elements and quests, it’s a blood-drenched blast.