Best free platform game for Android: Super Cat Bros
There’s more than a whiff of classic platform-game action in this moggie-infused title, what with its leapy gameplay, varied settings, coin collection, secret areas, and chunky graphics. But the big win in Super Cat Bros is the controls, which are specifically designed for touchscreens.
Two thumbs are all you need, to have your cat run, jump (double tap off a platform’s edge), and wall-jump (tap the opposite direction to the wall you’re clinging from). At first, your brain will argue with your thumbs; before long, you’ll want all virtual joysticks banned in favour of systems as smart as this one.
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.
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; RM23 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.
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.
Tomb of the Mask
This one feels like someone tried to recreate an endless Pac-Man starring a hyperactive flea trapped inside a ZX Spectrum. As you swipe, your little tomb-raider leaps from surface to surface, trying to outrun an encroaching wall of doom, avoid spikes, and grab all the bling.
The colours might be eye-searing, but they also provide a great sense of clarity regarding what you should and shouldn’t collide with. And, although the speedy gameplay might irk when you end up getting regularly impaled, Tomb of the Mask has plenty of replay value, whether high-score chasing in the endless arcade version or working through fixed challenges in the newer map mode.
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.
Yes, we know – this one looks an awful lot like another Crossy Road, only in a dungeon. But while the visuals are as chunky as a Lego Yorkie bar, the floor keeps falling into the void to urge you onwards, and the controls are the same old swipe-y business, Looty Dungeon is a very different beast.
In this game, the aim’s always to escape the current tiny dungeon. Mostly, you avoid traps. Sometimes, you have to kill all of the things. Occasionally, you battle mean, blocky bosses. It’s like a retro-infused and brutally stripped-back Diablo on fast-forward – and for that, it’s an essential download.