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.
To help you find just the sort of thing you're after, we've grouped the games into sections. First up is racing games, then sports, followed by platformers and endless runners, then shooters and strategy and word games, next up is puzzle and match games, and finally arcade games. Phew!
If you can't find something you like in all that lot you must already be dead.
Best free racing game for Android: Ridge Racer Slipstream
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.
Asphalt 8: Airborne
Given that this is the eighth title in the Asphalt series, it probably comes as no surprise Gameloft's got a bit bored having sports cars merely zoom along at breakneck speeds and drift for ludicrous distances.
As this game's name suggests, Asphalt 8 now also regularly finds your vehicle catapulted into the air, whereupon it can perform crazy aerial stunts that are entirely not covered by your insurance plan. As ever, the hyper-real tracks are faintly barmy too.
Big Bang Racing
All those sci-fi thrillers about aliens invading on receiving our telly broadcasts, and it turns out they were thirsting for danger of the trials kind all along.
And so it goes in Big Bang Racing, your little green man tackling hazard-laden courses, trying very hard not to get electrocuted or crushed. It’s all rather jolly, with colourful visuals and smart controls.
Once you tire of solo play, you can pit your skills against other racers, battling their ghosts to the finish line. And once you tire of that, you can make your own courses and share them online.
Final Freeway 2R
In the 1980s, cars gleamed red, and everyone belted along multi-lane sunlit highways — oddly always in the same direction, while listening to cheesy rock music. At least if you were playing OutRun.
Final Freeway 2R is a modern take on Sega’s classic arcade racer. You get all the good bits — insane speeds, road forks, car flips on crashing — but also modern tilt controls and a pause button for when some idiot calls when you’re about to zoom away from a rival.
This is breezy no-nonsense fun of the kind that’ll smear a grin across your face (unless you’re dead inside); and if you can’t stand being a cheapskate, there’s a paid ad-free version for 79p.
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.
Its freemium model, which involves having to take large breaks between races unless you pay to speed things up, got plenty of criticism on its release, but once you've got a few cars in your garage it's not a big problem. Besides, it's well deserving of a little of your cash.
Best free sports game for Android: Super Stickman Golf 3
Super Stickman Golf 3’s ancestor is the same Apple II Artillery game Angry Birds has at its core, but Noodlecake’s title is a lot more fun than catapulting birds around.
It’s a larger-than-life side-on mini-golf extravaganza, with you thwacking balls about giant forests, moon bases, and metal-clad courses with a suspiciously high deadly saw-blade and laser count. The single-player game’s fun, but SSMG 3 really comes into its own in multiplayer, whether you’re taking the more sedate turn-by-turn route or ball-smacking at speed in the frenetic race mode.
New Star Soccer
New Star Soccer reimagines the beautiful game in an abstract and not entirely realistic fashion that owes a lot to ancient management games for the C64 and ZX Spectrum.
There's no FIFA-style TV-like action here; instead, you get a selection of mini-games, giving you chances to score and pass during matches and increase your skills during training. The remainder of the game is about balancing life, keeping your boss, team and partner happy, while occasionally sneaking out to the casino and buying the odd fighter jet. Hey, we said 'not entirely realistic'.
Score! World Goals
At the dawn of smartphone gaming, path-drawing titles became hugely popular, the most famous having you land planes. Score! World Goals is more grounded, and also immerses you in a little history: you attempt to reproduce the path of balls during some of the greatest goals of all time.
It sounds like a mundane task, but it's compelling to work your way through so many dazzling moments, and the game's smart enough to realistically scupper any attempt to go off-plan and do your own thing.
When Flappy Bird appeared, so did an endless stream of clones, most of which were rubbish. Flappy Golf was an exception, in part because it was so utterly stupid. As its name might suggest, it’s a golfing game, and it takes its courses from side-on classic Super Stickman Golf 2. But instead of hitting the ball with a club, you use two buttons (flap left and flap right) to urge a winged ball to the hole. Ramping up the absurdity factor further is a fast and furious multiplayer race mode.
Best free platform game for Android: Swordigo
Before all games had to be 3D by law, the 2D adventure-platformer reigned supreme. On touchscreens, these games are usually a bit rubbish, due to iffy design and even worse controls, but Swordigo bucks the trend.
You get a huge magical realm of monsters to fight, treasures to find, and towns to explore. Any whiff of nostalgia is rapidly expunged as you become engrossed in the plot, give giant spiders a serious kicking, and do your best Harry Potter impersonation with the aid of enemy-troubling spells.
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.
A new challenge beckons daily in this one-thumb platformer likely to have you embed devices in a wall through sheer frustration. Your little blob pootles about, and you tap to make it jump, threading your way through spikes and nasties to reach the top of each tall, narrow level.
It visually echoes 1980s classics such as Bubble Bobble but has the brutal heart of Super Hexagon. On each death, you’ll swear at your thumbs (or just swear), fume a bit, and then inevitably plump for ‘one more go’.
Beneath The Lighthouse
Nitrome has a habit of unleashing ostensibly ‘casual’ titles that hide a ferocious underbelly. Beneath The Lighthouse is perhaps the developer’s finest, largely through doing something different and being a perfect fit for mobile.
The conceit is the lighthouse has failed, forcing you to search the caverns beneath for your lost grandpa. Each room is a circular death trap, rotated by turning an on-screen wheel. Your rotund character then moves by way of the magic of gravity. With luck, he’ll make the exit; if not, he’ll probably be nastily impaled.
The level design is smart and rapidly becomes challenging, especially if you want to win speedrun medals. The game’s freemium nature is fair, too. You get three lives per stage, which can be refreshed by watching an ad; £3.59 removes ads and life limits forever.
Mos Speedrun is a platform game with the need for speed. It’s a kind of stripped-back Mario, where you leg it left and right, leaping about, trying to find the exit before a strict timer runs down. Beat the clock and you win a badge. Badges are also awarded for grabbing all the coins littered about the place and finding a hidden skull.
Cunningly, you can’t do all these things at once. You’re therefore properly rewarded for repeat play, carefully picking through levels rather than belting along. At least until the final few, where Mos Speedrun merrily bludgeons your confidence to a bloody pulp while wearing a manic toothy grin.
There are minor niggles on Android — the controls are (very) occasionally a touch suspect — but Mos’s retro charms, fast pace, and smart level design win it a place on our best-of list. And there’s a sequel too, which is more expansive (albeit less focussed) and, if anything, even more likely to leave you a gibbering wreck, due to its brutal nature.
Best free endless runner for Android: Disney Crossy Road
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.
This reimagining of the dot-muncher’s adventures comes from the Crossy Road developers. It dumps Pac-Man beyond the infamous level-256 glitch, which becomes an all-devouring entity, slowly consuming everything in its path.
Our yellow hero must keep moving, munching dots, avoiding ghosts, and grabbing power-ups that enable him to spew laser death from his maw. Ah, yes — that bit’s new. Pac-Man has power-ups now, and additional ones are earned the more you play.
We imagine it’s quite the surprise to any ghosts loitering about a power pellet when their face is removed by a Pac-Laser or whirling tornado sent their way.
Having made a graceful leap from iOS to Android, Alto’s Adventures now enables many millions more to enjoy the escapades of the titular Alto.
In theory, he’s supposed to be catching escaped llamas. But mostly, this is a game about messing around on snowy slopes, blazing through mountain villages, performing stunts, collecting hovering coins, and trying to stay ahead of spoilsport elders with sticks, angry at Alto’s maverick nature and distaste at sitting in a pen that smells of llama poop.
This one’s not so much an endless runner as an endless puncher. You control the entire game using two buttons - one punches upwards and the other punches to the right. Hold them both and you block. The aim is to punch your way through anything that has the audacity to block your path: rocks; skeletons; giant bats suspiciously armed with what appears to be magic that would make a certain boy wizard yelp.
Occasionally, you get to ride a laser-spewing dinosaur, because that’s the kind of game this is. In-game currency (and, yes, IAP’s available as a shortcut) enables you to buy new capabilities, such as supermoves and, er, ‘fancy hats’.
There’s fast and there’s fast, Barrier X is blink-and-you-die gaming, rather like if someone took ALONE…, remade it in 3D, and then strapped a rocket-booster to its already blazing along frame.
The aim is simply survival, avoiding the many barriers some idiot’s left dotted about the sparse landscape. You move left or right, avoiding death by a whisker, and wonder whether your rapidly drying eyes will blink when you finally come a cropper.
Manage 30 seconds and you’ll feel like a gaming giant, at which point Barrier X wryly adds to the challenge by way of new rules and enemy craft that you somehow have to shoot – all while avoiding slamming into an endless number of walls heading your way at stupid m.p.h.
Strategy and word games
Best free strategy or word game for Android: Clash Royale
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.
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.
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.
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.
Best free shooting game for Android: 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.
We’ll forever be grateful to Geometry Wars for bringing back the magic of twin-stick classic Robotron and dressing it in neon. And, indeed, the superb Geometry Wars 3 is available for Android.
But if you’re determined to spend no money whatsoever, PewPew is excellent for scratching your SHOOT ALL OF THE THINGS itch. Your little ship is plonked in tiny arenas, fending off all manner of vector nasties. You dodge with your left thumb, aim with your right, and blame them both when inevitably getting killed.
The frame rate is silky smooth, the music’s head-noddingly good, and there are four additional and very different modes (Dodge! Chromatic Conflict! Pandemonium! Asteroids!) should you tire of the original.
Sky Force 2014
We do like a good old-school blaster, and Sky Force is very good indeed. Its roots are vertically scrolling classics 1942 and Xevious, with you fighting your way through enemy territory, having been supplied with a stupidly tiny number of ships.
But as you weave between the death and destruction, attempting to survive the bullet hell and carnage, you’ll perhaps notice just how gorgeous Sky Force 2014’s cutting-edge 3D graphics are, shortly before a tank the size of Birmingham blasts your face off. Still, that at least gives you the chance to upgrade your ship and head back for another go.
Having reinvented Frogger and Pac-Man for mobile, the Crossy Road developers take on 1980s blasters in Shooty Skies.
This vertically scrolling shoot ’em up echoes the likes of 1942 and Xevious, but has the same oddball sensibilities that were infused into Crossy Road. So rather than downing an endless stream of boring jets, you’re mostly attacking crazed memes and deranged technology, such as joystick-spewing arcade cabinets and laptops running LOLcat loops.
The big surprise is how tough Shooty Skies is. The game takes no prisoners, and although you can shoot sky-based gifts to acquire temporary wingmen (which have great names like Rocket Pug), getting past the colossal bosses requires seriously deft finger work.
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...
Puzzle and match games
Best free puzzle or match game for Android: Threes! Free
In Threes!, you move cards around a four-by-four board, merging pairs, which then double in value. The snag? Every time you slide your finger, all cards on the board move in that direction, assuming they’re not blocked. The other snag: after every move, a new card shows up in a random empty spot on the board edge you dragged from.
Threes! therefore becomes a delicate balancing act: you must think several moves ahead, because your game’s done when no more moves are available.
Cloned like crazy shortly after release, Threes! nonetheless shone compared to the countless cheap rip-offs, through its breezy personality and tighter rules.
This free version is identical to the paid release, bar having to watch video ads to get extra goes. And, yes, you can queue up a load if you’re going to be offline for a while.
This one initially comes across like a Threes! rip-off, given that you’re sliding tiles around a board. But the mechanics are unique enough to make for a very different — yet equally compelling — experience.
The aim here is to merge tiles of the same size and colour to form large blocks (four by four or, later, eight by four). These then ‘explode’ back into individual squares, each retaining the score of its parent. Savvy planning and chain reactions can quickly see your score leap into the many millions.
There’s some weird IAP lurking (such as the game begging you to pay for extra moves once you run out), but ignore that and Imago’s one of the finest puzzlers around.
Dream of Pixels
Essentially an upside-down floaty Tetris, Dream of Pixels has you take chunks out of a relentlessly encroaching cloud bank by way of tetrominos.
The app’s visuals and audio are suitably atmospheric, and the controls are great. Piece placement is intelligent, intuitive and smart — you simply tap where you’d like your tetromino to go and it automatically rotates, although you can drag across the cloud to see your options.
Beyond the standard game, there’s a zen puzzle mode based around static shapes you match by using a specific set of tetrominos. And if you still hanker for more, a one-off £1.79 payment gets you three tougher modes to tackle.
Perchang is a great game for making you feel like a colossal idiot. In theory, it’s brain-numbingly simple – all you need to do is get some marbles into a hole. This is done by prodding red and/or blue buttons to activate bits of machinery (ramps, fans, magnets, and the like) dotted about the place, which can help get the metal folks home.
The reality is somewhat different. Although early levels lead you gently by the hand, the single-screen challenges soon use said hand to give you a slap. The contraptions you face become alarmingly complex, requiring some deft timing and juggling for you to not end up losing your marbles (figuratively and literally).
This effort from the developer behind the excellent SpellTower rethinks solitaire for portrait mobile devices. Out goes tedious filing by suit. In comes a fast-paced match effort heavily influenced by poker.
Extra depth is found in varying heights of card piles, a rule stating you must use cards from at least two rows in every hand, a multiplier suit for double points, and two trashes that replenish after successful turns.
For free, you get the entire standard game. The single IAP unlocks further modes, stats tracking, wallpapers and card backs.
Super Monsters Ate My Condo!
Super Monsters Ate My Condo! is a match-three game with a little bit of Jenga and a whole lot of mental. Coloured apartment floors relentlessly drop from the top of the screen. You swipe away unwanted ones to make matches and combos that ramp up your score. All the while, monsters flank the tower, demanding to be fed floors only of their colour, lest they get all stompy and destructive.
Everything's played at a breakneck pace and with the kind of neon-infused visuals that'll leave you exhausted and wondering if you've accidentally injected all the sherbet in the world directly into your eyeballs.
Best free arcade game for Android: Badland
Badland is a gorgeous physics-based auto-scrolling game where you direct 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.) This would all be simple if not for the capricious physics engine and devilish, hazard-stocked levels.
Clearly, the bat is in some kind of hell, but it at least has the help of occasional power-ups that enable it to multiply and have a fighting chance of reaching levels’ end. And if you get completely 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.
Smash Hit takes you on a deeply weird and oddly ethereal journey through a geometric world of glass barriers. Your only way forward: lobbing a rapidly depleting supply of metal balls to clear a path, and grabbing increasingly scarce top-ups as you go.
It's a strangely cathartic experience, and very demanding as you take on later levels with whirling glass contraptions and a spinning camera.
If someone bounded up to you and enthused about an officially licensed Frisbee® game, you’d probably consider them some kind of lunatic, but Frisbee Forever somehow manages to be really good.
It’s essentially a series of on-rails rollercoasters, and you nudge your plastic disc left or right, to collect stars along the way. The scenery is all cartoonish pirate ships and snowy landscapes, more bringing to mind Nintendo than a freebie Android game; and although IAP lurks, it’s not really necessary, since every attempt at a level (including those that end in failure) rewards you with XP for unlocking new worlds.
Zen Pinball HD
Pinball often gets a duff deal, because many people just don't get it. A modern table isn't just about spanging a metal ball about – you must learn the table's rules, discover missions, and complete them with uncannily accurate aiming.
Zen Pinball layers on top of classic pinball a modern gaming sensibility, peppering tables with animated characters, vibrant visual effects and some amusingly awful voice acting. For free (with no ads), you get Sorcerer's Lair, and more tables are available via IAP, including some surprisingly great ones based on Star Wars
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Multi-device party games are usually a bit glib, but Spaceteam bucks the trend with a quirky and oddball take on co-op gameplay. Between two and four players are part of the Spaceteam (red jerseys optional), and must give orders, to try and stop your ship exploding, a ship – naturally – that happens to be attempting to outrun an exploding star.
It's a very silly game, and you can't help but love anything on Google Play that has 'Beveled Nanobuzzers' as an item in its feature list.