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.
The best endless runner for Android is... ALONE… (£1.49)
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.
Super Hexagon (£1.99)
Super Hexagon is survival gaming as reimagined by a lunatic. A tiny craft sits in empty space, surrounded by an infinite number of walls that are rapidly closing in. All you can do is dart left and right, nipping through the gaps, holding off your inevitable demise. But then the screen starts to lurch and spin, as if trapped inside a deranged washing machine.
Games last mere seconds until you start noticing repeating patterns and mastering how to get through each unscathed. As 60 seconds finally pass (many attempts later), colours shift and the pace increases further, signifying that a new, faster and even more punishing challenge has been unlocked. It might be brutal, but Super Hexagon is also electrifying and absurdly addictive; enter at your peril.
Impossible Road (£1.49)
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.
Disney Crossy Road (£free)
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. But the addition of Disney characters 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.
The best arcade game for Android is... Osmos HD (£1.99)
Osmos is a game of warfare between ‘motes’ - blobs that absorb anything smaller than themselves, and which can sometimes propel themselves by ejecting matter.
Initially, it takes place in what appears to be primordial soup, and you learn how to cope with the gloopy physics and manipulate time to speed up or slow down the movement of the tiny universe. Subsequent levels then introduce antimatter, ferocious hostile motes, and gravity-based constructions that shift Osmos towards what resembles a galactic scale.
It’s hard to pigeon-hole this title, given that there are elements here from real-time strategy, arcade fare, and puzzling, but it’s certainly easy to recommend it.
Pac-Man CE DX (£4.07)
If you’d visited Stuff HQ in early 2015 and told us mere months later Android would receive the best Pac-Man game ever made, we’d have laughed so hard you’d have been blown out of the window. But the joke would have been on us, because CE DX is marvellous.
Following on from the original Pac-Man Championship Edition, this sequel is a fast-paced time-attack game, where you manage mazes split in half. Clear one side and a special object appears in the other; eat that and the now-empty section is refilled with a new dot configuration.
All the while, you graze sleeping ghosts that awake in a bad mood and follow your every move. The result is the best of Pac-Man and Snake, smushed together and sped up, across ten unique zones.
Spaceteam is a masterpiece in design — a multiplayer game that anyone can understand in an instant. The premise is your ship is falling to bits while attempting to outrun an exploding star. The only thing that will keep it going is responding quickly to commands that appear on your device. The snag is they may refer to your control panel or those on friends’ screens.
The net result is lots of people maniacally yelling things like “WILL SOMEONE PLEASE SET THE SIGMACLAPPER TO ZERO?” while frantically searching their own screen for “a switch that looks like someone being eaten by a telephone”. Genius.
If you liked the idea of Flappy Bird but hated everything else about it, give Badland a go. It's the best side-scrolling-one-button-physics-floater we've played (and we've played a lot), and is worthy of its place in this list for its gorgeous graphics alone. It's also beautifully animated: we've never seen a fuzzy alien blob absorb a power-up and gently throb as it grows to 10 times the size, but we're pretty sure this is exactly what it would look like.
As a game, it totally nails the tricky balance between so-hard-you-hate-the-world and so-easy-there's-just-no-point. It's tough, sure, but the checkpoints are well placed and it rewards repeat attempts. And trusts us, the sense of satisfaction you'll feel as you lead your troupe of cloned blobs to the finishing point will outweigh any you got from lasting 10 seconds on Flappy Bird.
Ridiculous Fishing (£1.99)
There’s heart, whimsy and more than a touch of satire at the core of Ridiculous Fishing, a title that at times resembles grind-based IAP-laden fare, but that on closer inspection couldn’t be further from it. Play is broken into three distinct scenes; the first involves dropping your line and avoiding aquatic wildlife, until something is snared or your line runs out; you then reel your line in, hooking whatever you can on the way up; and then the catch is hurled into the air and blasted to smithereens, which oddly adds to your coffers.
Money can be spent in the in-game store, but there’s no IAP here; and while there’s plenty of repetition, grind is avoided by a masterful slow reveal of kit, captures, locations and a sweet story that underpins the entire game.
The best shooting game for Android is... Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions (£6.99)
This twin-stick shooter’s one for shoving in the faces of bores who bang on about how your Android device has only got rubbish games, unlike their amazing consoles. Sure, Geometry Wars 3 might not be drowning in depth and storylines, but it’s a truly stunning blaster that looks utterly gorgeous on your touchscreen display.
As its name suggests, this is a more three-dimensional affair than its predecessors — this time, you’re blowing up all kinds of neon nasties while zooming around shapes lurching about in space. More than a mere gimmick, this forces new tactics as you hunt down foes hiding on the other side of a giant space peanut, or bravely dart around the corner to another face of a swirling space cube.
This visually arresting game plonks its protagonist atop a temple, hurls all kinds of terrifying creatures his way, mumbles something about a ritual, and then demands you prove yourself worthy by shooting everything and not dying.
It comes across like a twin-stick shooter where someone’s uncharitably glued your feet to the floor. You whizz your light beam around to capture creatures, lifting your finger to obliterate those you’ve already frozen.
Towaga is tough. Even its tutorial is demanding, but before long you’re faced with new and deadly creatures capable of tearing your face off in a second – unless you quickly figure out how to use your magic wand of light to defeat them.
Galaxy On Fire 2 HD (£free)
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.
Whereas the other shooting games on this list primarily involve maniacally blasting everything in sight, Orbital is about precision. You fire orbs into the void, which come to rest, expand into available space, and gain a number.
Subsequent shots are then used – by way of collisions – to deplete the numbers within previously fired orbs. Set things up right and you might even create a score-boosting, retina-searing explosive chain. All the while, the tension ramps up as the screen becomes crowded, making it ever more likely a nasty rebound will find an orb deflected back over the danger line.
Neon Shadow (£free)
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.
Puzzle and match games
The best puzzle or match game for Android is... Lara Croft GO (£3.99)
We can imagine the meeting room when someone piped up with: “Hey, why don’t we turn Tomb Raider into a turn-based puzzle game?” But any doubt must have instantly evaporated on playing Lara Croft GO.
The game is gorgeous — rivalling Monument Valley in terms of breathtaking beauty — but, more importantly, it’s smart. Each step of the quest is a tiny puzzle, where you figure out a path, flick switches, grab swag, and try to avoid being mauled by giant scuttling spiders.
The mechanics might be new, but Lara Croft GO nonetheless feels like those early Tomb Raider efforts — full of wonder and tension, with a sense of isolation in being somewhere no-one else has seen for aeons.
The Room Three (£3.99)
The first two installments of The Room were among the best puzzlers we'd played in years, fully taking advantage of the possibilities of a mobile interface and delivering brain-melting conundrums wrapped up in a creepy, brilliantly realised story.
The third edition is even better though: much bigger in both scale and ambition, it's not just one of the best puzzlers but simple one of the best games of the year.
At its heart, little has changed - you're faced with a box, but every time you find a lock or a switch, it’s just another layer that takes you deeper into a weird and mystifying enigma. But this time you can go further inside the boxes, there are more locations to explore and the puzzles themselves are much more varied. Four alternate endings also give it a longeivity somewhat lacking in the originals.
Best played in the dark, preferably with a storm brewing outside, The Room Three is an atmospheric treat; take it in greedily (although turn off the hints system for the full experience) and then if you haven't already played them, go back and devour the The Room and The Room Two.
One of the most criminally ripped-off games of recent years, Threes! is simple but ingenious; easy to play but infuriatingly difficult to master.
A four-by-four grid and a series of sliding numbered tiles are your tools. Each numbered tile can only combine with one other type of tile, at which point it becomes a single tile whose values add up to its constituents.
The idea is to keep playing long enough (a full grid will result in your game ending) that you can create a fabled 2048-valued tile. The music, sound effects and clean presentation are merely icing on an already delicious cake.
Monument Valley (£2.99)
Arguments continue to rage about whether games can be art, and Monument Valley is a pretty big tick-mark in the ‘art’ column. It’s a beautiful and delicate arcade adventure, featuring a silent princess who explores impossible monuments.
The architecture shifts as you drag and spin components, Escher-like constructions fashioning pathways that can only exist in the reality of a videogame. The quest is short, but every moment is delightful, and Monument Valley is a beautifully crafted, thoughtful and reflective experience throughout.
Human Resource Machine (£4.49)
Programming as a game might cause your brain to emit a DO NOT UNDERSTAND ERROR? and seek solace in something about smashing gems. But before you flee, note Human Resource Machine is by the World of Goo folks, and it’s superb.
You assist a worker drone in transforming inbox items to whatever the day’s boss demands should be in the outbox. This is done by fashioning programming sequences through arranging actions, hitting play, and hoping for the best.
It’s novel and intriguing, wrapped up in sharp satire and melancholy – not least when you notice your little office-based hero ages as you work through the challenges.
Adventure, story and sandbox games
The best adventure, story or sandbox game for Android is... The Walking Dead: Season Two (£free)
Telltale Games' interactive tie-ins are now established classics, with both Walking Dead games and the Game Of Thrones title well worth a play.
We've plumped for the second Walking Dead game here mainly because it offers a more varied story than the first season and zombies always win out, even against Game of Thrones.
Whereas the first season saw you controlling the character Lee as he attemped to protect young Clementine in post-apocalyptic America, Season Two gives you control of Clementine herself - and that's fine with us, because Clem is one hell of a ballsy child.
As with all Telltale fare, it plays like a sort of cross between an animated graphic novel and a point-and-click adventure, so don't come to it expecting relentless action. But it more than makes up for its occasionally sedate pace with its no-I've-just-got-something-in-my-eye story and some superb set pieces.
The first episode is free, but the remaining four will set you back £5 each, or £14.50 for the whole lot. And if that sounds like a lot, remember that most console games cost about £40. Trust us, it's worth it.
Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery (£3.25)
Sword & Sworcery in part harks back to an older and gentler era of gaming, echoing classic point-and-click PC adventuring. But there’s great craft here, too, a powerful soundtrack and a very overt sense of style evident as your little roving traveller wanders about the place, finding people to interact with and puzzles to solve. There’s also a palpable sense of adventuring; this is a game that begs to be explored and interacted with.
As the quest unfolds, it almost becomes a deconstruction of the genre itself, and sometimes its knowing nature is a little trite or even pretentious; for the most part, though, this is a gorgeous, thoughtful, eloquent and expressive slice of mobile gaming that’s unafraid to revel in its own artistry.
Oceanhorn (free download + £4.99 IAP)
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.
80 Days (£3)
A presumably drunken boast, one 20-grand wager later, and Phileas Fogg is off around the world, attempting to circumnavigate the globe in 80 days. Unfortunately for him, it’s a good long time before the invention of any budget airlines.
As his trusted valet, you must pick routes, manage your inventory and make decisions in this remarkable slice of interactive fiction. There are 150 cities to discover in this very different take on 1872, full of fantastical airships and mechanical beasts, steampunk cyborgs, and seemingly a war about to erupt around every corner.
Minecraft - Pocket Edition (£4.99)
The grown-up press is always banging on about the educational qualities of Minecraft, as if kids somehow needed to justify the fact that they're spending hours playing it. Well here's some news for you, Mr and Mrs Poncey Academic Thought-Piece: kids play Minecraft because it's fun, just like watching TV or playing with Lego or building a den was back in the dim and distant days when you were young.
Educational? Well sure - it's a computer game, they're ALL educational in some way (even GTA teaches you the virtue of leaping out of a car before it explodes in flames). But we digress. Kids may love Minecraft, but that's because it's really, really good. And, for that reason, plenty of adults love it too.
The Lego comparison is the easy one to make, but it's a bit lazy - Minecraft is as much about puzzle solving and exploration as it is about building things. There are elements of the RPG, the adventure game and the strategy game, all wrapped up in an endearingly old-school blockiness. The Pocket Edition loses a few features from the desktop version, but it gains almost as much in the form of touch control and portability. Well worth the price.
The best platform game for Android is... Rayman Fiesta Run (£2.29)
Touchscreens aren’t the greatest input devices when it comes to precision; for the most part, Mario-like plaformers become abject failures, unable to afford you the robust and accurate controls you need. Rayman Fiesta Run eradicates such problems by stripping down platforming to its core essence; Rayman auto-runs, leaving you to deal with timing jumps and other actions, all the while attempting to collect hovering Lums.
This might seem reductive, but success depends on your mastery of the few controls, tight timing and learning level layouts - just like any great platform game; it’s just this one’s totally fit for purpose on a touchscreen.
Super Cat Bros (free/£3.99)
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 finding his siblings who’ve ended up stranded on a mysterious island.
The short levels are ideally suited to mobile play, but the best bit is the two-thumb controls. Rather than a horrible virtual D-pad, you just get left and right arrows, which it turns out is enough for dashing, leaps, wall jumps, and cartoonish braking. The system takes time to click, but when it does, your speedruns will approach purr-fection. (Sorry.)
Swordigo plays like a kind of side-scrolling Zelda: you control a cute little chap with a hat who's charged with ridding the land of evil (or something) and who needs to find various special swords, slay various enemies and travel across various lands in order to do so.
But if the story's not the most original, the gameplay more than makes up for it. This is a throwback to the classic days of 8 and 16-bit gaming, when every other title was a platformer and that was fine by us thanks very much. It's challenging but never frustrating, with a nice selection of creatures to do battle with and a surprising variety to combat. It's also big - this is a game that you could lose hours of your life to. And very happy hours they'd be.
Circa Infinity (£2.46)
Circa Infinity looks a bit like it’s been dragged kicking and screaming from a ZX Spectrum and then shoved through a kaleidoscope. Little pixelated red demons march along the edges of black and white concentric circles, as your stickman attempts to leap into a bobbing orb that then expands to fill the screen.
It’s dizzying and brutal, but also an essential platforming experience. What it lacks in visual polish, it more than makes up for with a pulse-pounding soundtrack, and dozens of varied, disorienting levels (including bosses and alternate eye-searing colour schemes) that challenge you to battle through the chaos.
Bean Dreams (£free)
This deceptively simple platform game strips the genre right back, placing a firm emphasis on learning levels, timing, and exploration. Your jumping bean never stops bouncing, and you simply guide it left or right.
The usual platform-game tropes are evident: monsters to jump on; fruit and gems to gather. But Bean Dreams cleverly adds replay value by way of missions that can’t all be completed on a single run: sticking to a bounce count; finding hidden pet axolotls; and collecting all the fruit.
What first seems simple and reductive is really a big challenge, but the straightforward controls are perfect for touchscreens, rather than you spending most of your time battling a hideous virtual D-pad.
Strategy and word games
The best strategy or word game for Android is... Clash Royale (£free)
This mash-up of RTS and card collecting has you battle opponents online in single-screen arenas. Individual, varied units are plonked on the battlefield from your deck, each costing elixir that refills as you fight. Wins come by clocking an opponent’s strategy, and countering with cunning combos.
Clash Royale’s freemium, so obviously designed to mug your wallet, but canny players can progress for free; and it’s hugely compelling, so although your bank balance might be safe, your free time won’t be.
SpellTower is devious. It introduces itself as a simple word game - letters in a well are removed by dragging out words, and gravity swiftly deals with any pesky temporarily levitating tiles. When no more words can be made, you get a score.
Job done and it’s all very nice. But then new modes are unlocked, transforming the game into something resembling an unholy union between Boggle and Tetris.
Before you know it, you’re battling to remove letters as quickly as possible, while the pile of tiles rises ever higher towards the line of doom. It’s simple, elegant genius, but will almost certainly give you a seething hatred of the letter J, awkward little sod that it is.
With its basic interface echoing Tinder, Reigns initially comes across as ‘strategy lite’. As monarch, you deal with an endless list of demands, swiping cards left or right to make a decision. Fail to balance the church, treasury, army and your subjects and you’ll quickly become an ex-king.
Reigns tend to be short, but you continue on as your heir. The game’s depth then becomes apparent as you have another crack at familiar scenarios, and try to complete missions that play out over years, decades or even centuries.
Plague Inc (£free)
And you thought the body count in Call Of Duty was high... In Plague Inc, the aim is to wipe out the entire planet. You do this by evolving increasingly more potent diseases, levelling up as you kill people and customising your plague to spread in different ways. There's bags of variety: as well as different disease types - bacteria, virus, fungus etc - there are loads of symptoms to choose from and in-app purchases can add new options such as the fantastic zombie plague or the creepy neural worm.
It's also quite terrifying - after all, how many games hammer home to you just how vulnerable the world is to a new pandemic? We're just praying that if one does come, it doesn't involve necrosis and hemorrhagic shock.
Concrete Jungle (£3.99)
Although this one could have easily sat with the puzzle games, it’s more of a strategy title – albeit one that looks like someone tried to smash together Tetris and SimCity.
The aim is to build a city, which you do by laying down units from a card deck. Each unit may impact positively or negatively on surrounding real estate, and houses must gain enough points to hit a row’s target. Manage that and the row vanishes, giving you more land to build on.
It sounds simple, but this is the kind of game where a couple of careless moves can scupper your chances well into the future – not least when battling against the computer AI in the brain-smashingly tough head-to-head mode.
The best racing game for Android is... Ridge Racer Slipstream (£free)
Namco’s racer sits at the midpoint between Asphalt 8’s demented arcade larks and Real Racing’s overly earnest simulation leanings. Like its coin-op ancestors, though, Ridge Racer is still all about barreling along at insane speeds, and having fun — you just have to work at success a bit more than in Asphalt.
Here, driving like a total idiot will likely mean you’ll lose a race. Instead, you should only drive like a part-time maniac, slipstreaming the opposition, drifting through bends, and boosting past rivals. It looks great, sounds suitably meaty, controls really well, and even the IAP’s subdued enough that the game won’t constantly be doing wheelspins on your bank account.
Horizon Chase (£free)
A love letter to classic 1990s arcade racers, Horizon Chase channels Lotus Turbo Esprit Challenge and Top Gear, fusing them with a decidedly modern take on old-school visuals. The result is an intoxicating and vibrant blast through 73 tracks located in 32 cities around the globe.
Realism’s broadly ignored in favour of speed as you battle from the back of the grid (every time, just like in the old days), bumping rivals aside to try for the chequered flag. The difficulty curve’s smooth; the soundtrack’s head-noddingly cheesy; and the game is fast. You’re basically dead inside if you don’t plonk down £2.29 for the full-game unlock once you’ve bested the initial handful of free tracks.
Asphalt 8: Airborne (£free)
There are two ways to approach racing games: you can try to recreate ‘reality’, pretend you’re crafting a ‘simulation’ and make all of the tracks very grey; or you can just go crazy. Asphalt takes the latter route, having you zoom at breakneck speeds around ludicrous hyper-real city courses, which occasionally catapult your car into the air in a manner that is totally not acceptable under your insurance plan.
The fast, drift-happy racing is lots of fun, and although the game’s rather keen to relentlessly provide opportunities to convert real cash to in-game virtual cash, there’s not really any need to do so.
Pumped BMX 3 (£3.99)
Imagine that little bird in Tiny Wings was a massive show-off on a BMX and that’s more or less Pumped BMX 3. You belt along increasingly insane tracks that would give any health and safety professional pause for thought, ‘pumping’ up slopes and then soaring into the air.
At that point, it’s all about the stunts and the not-crashing. The former requires cunning flicks on a virtual joypad and taps of a Spin button; the latter’s all down to timing and not being a ham-fisted buffoon when your little biker’s ten metres in the air, upside-down, and about to discover how cruel gravity can be.
Trial Xtreme 2 (£1.99)
No, this isn’t the latest version. Trial Xtreme 3 was bigger and slicker, but something about the bike handling had changed and it no longer felt as technical. Not that there was ever a great deal of science to the Trial Xtreme games: you repeatedly fire your bike at the obstacles and eventually some combination of speed, lean angle and hammering of the physically dubious ‘jump’ button would get you through.
Any frustration is immediately dispelled by marvellous swoopy moments such as shooting off the end of a loop-the-loop and landing just-so on the downslope of the next section. Whoop! Crash. Repeat.