Saturday, March 23, 2013

20 Free Android Games That Are Actually Worth Playing

While the Apple store takes the cake in terms of the sheer amount of games available, Google's Android platform has been gaining ground. There are thousands of free games available, but it's not always easy to wade through the piles of virtual shit that plague it. In an effort to find games that are more than complex Skinner Boxes with banal gameplay dressed up in pretty visuals, I've come up with the following list, in no particular order.

1. Zen Pinball HD by Zen Studios

Zen Pinball HD Android
Zen Studios has come to be known as the definitive creator of high quality pinball games that feature a wide variety of intricate tables, great graphics, and physics that are practically indistinguishable from the real thing. Zen Pinball HD features one free table, "Sorcerer's Lair," and has an additional seventeen tables available for purchase. Even so, the default table is enjoyable enough to warrant the download.

2. PAC-CHOMP! by Namco Bandai

Pac Chomp Android
PAC-CHOMP! is Namco Bandai's take on the age-old match three puzzler, and they've pulled it off with flying colors.  The game distinguishes itself not only with the Pac-Man theme, but also introduces a couple of interesting mechanics. Each of the four quadrants of the board can be rotated to create new combination possibilities, and there are power pellets that, if eaten, turn the ghosts blue and lets the player go on an eating spree by granting direct control of Pac-Man. The paid version has additional features, but there is plenty of fun to be had without spending a penny.

3. Pew Pew by Jean-François Geyelin

Pew Pew Android
Geometry Wars was a wildly successful twin-stick shooter that spawned countless clones, and while it might not be fair to call Pew Pew a clone per-se, it is clearly heavily inspired by it. Similarities aside, Pew Pew brings some interesting game modes to the table, including passively dodging obstacles, surviving an assault from all directions, and even a tribute to the classic Asteroids. Scores can be compared online, and players can re-watch their performances. The twin stick controls work surprisingly well for a touch screen, and are fully customizable. If a thumb does slip though, the game automatically pauses. Now that's forward thinking.

4. StarDash Free by OrangePixel

StarDash Android
Handheld gaming has advanced tremendously over the years, but it's nice to see a throwback now and again. StarDash pays homage to the Game Boy era, with retro monochromatic graphics, catchy chiptune music, and simple run-and-jump controls. It also walks the walk, with solid gameplay and challenging level design.

5. TETRIS Free by Electronic Arts

tetris android
EA is a company we all love to hate, and perhaps for good reason, but screwing up Tetris is nigh impossible. This version features crisp, vibrant visuals, catchy music, and controls that are perfectly optimized for the touch screen. Slide left and right to move the block, tap to rotate, and a satisfying downward slide slams it into place. Tetris is Tetris is Tetris, and this version is worth playing.

6. Galaxy Conquest by Arclite Systems

Those of us that used to play games on InstantAction will remember Galcon as the simple but challenging space conquest RTS. Others may have it on Steam. Gamers with a few bucks to spare can play it in all its glory on Android or iOS, but like great cereal, successful games have their clones. Galaxy Conquest, while not quite as sweet, retains most of what makes Galcon so enjoyable and the touch screen is well suited for the click-and-drag gameplay mechanics.

7. Zenonia Series by GAMEVIL

The mobile gaming market is dominated by pick-up-and-play software designed to fill in those odd gaps of time throughout our days like waiting for your microwaveable burrito, or your dog to finish his business outside. Now that you're thinking about dog turds and questionable meat product, the Zenonia series of games are ones to sit down with. Having established itself as one the quintessential action RPG series in the Android market, its worlds are vibrant and well-detailed and their stories engaging. The gameplay is exceptionally smooth and varied among the games' distinct classes, providing plenty of replay value. Full Review

8. Chess Free by AI Factory Limited

I feel like I'm cheating a bit here as the game of chess has been around for centuries, but fans of the game will appreciate the ability to carry a chess board in their pocket. Players can play against AI of varying difficulty, or another human (only locally, unfortunately). Features include a timer, match playback, and the ability to export a match's PGN. It's chess.

9. Mole Kart by Elite Games

Fans of Mario Kart will feel right at home with Mole Kart. It features vibrant graphics, a drift boost mechanic, and wacky powerups. That's all well and good, but the biggest advantage this game has over other free Kart racers on Android is that it DOESN'T FORCE THE TILT CONTROL GIMMICK. Nothing's more frustrating than trying to play a game that would otherwise be halfway decent, but fails miserably due to inaccurate controls. The worst part of it all is that this game is unplayable on lower-end devices, so the only alternatives (that I could find anyway) are tilt-controlled kart racers. Of course, using My Boy to play some Mario Kart: Super Circuit is another option.

10. Pixel Kingdom by SmashGames

pixel kingdom android screenshot
At it's core, Pixel Kingdom is a game most of us have played before. Enemies scroll from the mysterious other side of the field, and the player needs to defend their side/castle with an assortment of units. The field is divided into three lanes. As enemies approach, defending is as simple as tapping a unit and a corresponding lane. Units cost mana to deploy, but players can opt to save up mana to purchase a mana boost, which starts at ten mana and doubles each time, but will speed up the mana generation rate. Spending mana wisely and deciding which order to send out units to deal with the various ranged/melee enemy units makes the game highly addicting and a lot of fun. My only complaint is the fact that unit prices make an enormous jump from 2500 and under to 22000 gold and up, which I can only assume is designed to encourage in-app purchases. Full Review

11. Bricknoid by Driant Games

Brick-breaking games are a starting place for many indie developers so it's no surprise the Android market is flooded with them. Of the three I played, Bricknoid was the most fun. It's packed with content, featuring over 100 levels, your standard laser, paddle enlarge/shrink powerups etc., and a unique "challenge mode" where new lines of blocks periodically appear from above the screen, pushing the rest down.

12. Super Laser: The Alien Fighter by EpicForce Entertainment Ltd

Google Play is filled with shmups. It's a genre that's easy to make a game around, but making one worth playing is another story. Super Laser: The Alien Fighter is worth a look, but not recommended for anyone with a weak constitution. It features your standard scrolling gameplay with predetermined patterns of enemies, a boss at the end of each stage, a few different weapon types that can be upgraded multiple times, and the standard orbital helpers, which can actually be launched as bombs. It's downright difficult, but it's a satisfying challenge.

13. Tower Defense by Com2uS

The aptly named Tower Defense is all about defending--you guessed it--a tower. Each level has predetermined paths on which enemy creeps march through. Players will need to strategically build a variety of turrets along the edges of these paths in order to keep the enemy forces at bay. A simple tried-and-true formula that's always a good time.

14. Angry Birds Space by Rovio Mobile Ltd

The obligatory Angry Birds inclusion. These may very well be the most played games in the mobile scene, and for good reason. They're simple but challenging and have cute, marketable mascots. Angry Birds Space keeps things fresh by adding orbital forces into the mix. 

15. Temple Run 2 by Imangi Studios

There are an endless number of endless runners on the Android platform but not an endless amount of time to try them all. The original Temple Run was a huge success, and it's sequel only improves upon the formula. The player controls an explorer who bursts from a temple with a menacing beast in pursuit. The randomly generated levels will require quick reflexes in order to jump, slide, and turn through the paths. Temple Run 2 will have players hooked as they try to beat their score. PITFALL! would probably have taken this slot, but it was too beefy for my device. 

16. Street Fight by Playphone

Street Fight plays like something straight from the '90s. It's your typical side-scrolling beat-em-up with some interesting elements like equipment and unlockable skills. The game controls well, with a virtual stick to move, a single button for basic attacks and hot-keys for skills. There is more reading than one would expect from a beat-em-up and it's poorly translated, but also skippable. Street Fight is classic arcade action and a lot of fun.

17. Major Mayhem by [adult swim] games

The best way I can think to describe Major Mayhem is as a side-scrolling on-rails shooter. The Major has been ordered to take out the enemy scum, who are apparently a fan of cliche's and have kidnapped his girlfriend. As he runs through the battlefield he'll come to a stop at certain intervals. Enemy ninjas pop up and can be shot with a tap. The fun lies in trying to shoot accurately to rack up bonuses. It's very polished and majorly fun.

18. Pixel Dungeon by watabou

Pixel Dungeon is one of the few roguelikes (think Dragon Crystal) that I've come across on Android. Simply put, it does the genre justice. Dungeons are randomly generated, so players have no chance to grow accustomed to their surroundings. Rats are among the weakest enemies, but even they can spell defeat if not taken seriously. It's currently in beta with 15 levels total, but the developer plans to add more.

19. Critical Strike Portable by Studio OnMars

Critical Strike Portable has everything a trigger-happy FPS fan could want on a mobile device. The gameplay is surprisingly smooth, there are a variety of weapons and maps, but most importantly, there is cross-platform online multiplayer. Touch-based controls aren't exactly ideal for a shooter, so those with bluetooth controllers will be glad to know they're supported.

20.  Fenix Box by Green Lava Studios

Last, but not least, Fenix Box is as minimalist as it gets. It's a death-counter game, as I like to call them, similar to 10 Second Run. Though it looks like a platformer, there is no limit to consecutive jumps. Players can literally fly around the screen, and the edges are connected. There are 90 cleverly designed levels to navigate through, but no save points. Go big or go home. 

What are your favorite free Android games?

Related Post: Enhancing Android Gaming: Controllers and Consoles

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