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.
The Battle for Polytopia
Essentially a miniature Civilization, Polytopia has you command a tiny tribe, aiming to discover new technologies, expand your empire, and duff up anyone who gets in your way.
The visuals are bright, the little isometric worlds are suitably claustrophobic, and the simplifications over Civ are smart, keeping things fluid without robbing Polytopia of strategy and depth.
One of the best bits: although there is a standard ‘kill everyone else’ mode, Polytopia also offers a ‘be the best within just 30 moves’ option. On the easiest settings, this is a cinch – but crank up the difficulty level and such limitations prove to be a stern challenge.
Evil Emperor Stuck has nicked all the hearts from the land of Myriodd, and it’s your job to get them back. In your way: quite a few enemies to defeat using… solitaire. No, really.
In this oddball world, you try to remove chains of cards from the wall before you, through matching those higher or lower than whatever you currently hold. Some cards unleash energies, which can be used to cast spells. In return, your enemies give you a kicking using spells and attacks of their own.
This might sound baffling, but Solitairica proves an immediate, entertaining and compelling card game with a dash of fantasy RPG.
This strange word game is about making the biggest bears. Every turn, letters spring up from the ground, with countdown timers that decrease during subsequent moves. Space cleared by using letters is filled with grumbling bears. But when a letter hits zero, it turns to stone, thwarting any truly mega-bear expansion that’d net maximum points.
The game’s underpinned by a slightly irksome freemium model (although you can permanently remove the timers with an IAP) and a baffling power-up based on a collection of bears. Said bears can be activated to adjust letter counts or scores in your next game. Some players will probably coo at the adorable bear in the duck costume before catching themselves and frantically trying to find a game with guns and explosions. (But you’d be best off playing more Alphabear, because it’s really good.)
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.
If you thought vertical shooters would be a mite easier if you could freeze the action, Time Locker suggests otherwise. In this dazzling low-poly world of heavily armed critters, everything moves only when you do – bar a relentlessly encroaching all-devouring darkness.
This is initially disorienting, but the action nonetheless feels fresh from the off. And Time Locker really grabs hold as you learn to play with time, slowing down to weave between swarms of enemies, carefully manoeuvring to pick off gun emplacements, and risking blazing ahead when bosses and the deadly abyss are in hot pursuit.
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.
Pixel Craft - Space Shooter
There’s a pleasingly silly vibe at the heart of this shooter: the soundtrack is absurdly urgent, while the dinky pixel graphics look like they’ve escaped from 1980s arcade games and are desperate for a scrap. Your aim, as ever, is to SHOOT ALL OF THE THINGS – until one of them shoots you.
Actually, Pixel Craft isn’t quite that unforgiving. It’s three-hits-and-you’re-dead rather than one-shot-to-kill, and you can continue your go by agreeing to watch an ad (which neatly doesn’t start until your game is over).
If our experience is anything to go by, the oddball foes (including a boss that appears to be an ancient console spitting Tetris blocks) will tear your face off again and again - but Pixel Craft has such manic energy that you’ll immediately clamour for another go.
Hectic Space 2
The visuals in Hectic Space 2 might evoke retro-gaming, in all their lurid and chunky single-colour glory, but this side-on shooter is a far cry from the fare you got on steam-powered consoles and computers. Instead, this is modern-day bullet-hell, with you weaving a ship between a spray of projectiles.
You start off with a few lives. They won’t last long. But over time you’ll learn when best to use power-ups against the semi-randomised waves of foes, before inevitably getting blown to pieces by bosses such as a massive skull that spews fire.