Google may do many things right, but its Play Store is kind of a dumpster fire. Reviews and ratings there are spammed, bought, and gamed mercilessly. So when you want to find a new Android game and go searching for it there, you can forget drawing any useful information on reviews. Every two-bit garbage game has five-star reviews and a million positive comments from bots who all say the same five things.
What's an Android gamer to do? Well, you have to turn to personal peer reviews like the one I'm about to do here. These, in my experience and judgment as a long-time Android gamer, are the top games of all time worth recommending. Now, I have a few standards for these recommendations:
- Free is better than paid.
- Ads should be kept to the minimum.
- Paid content should be optional, reasonable, and not required to play.
- Paid games should give lots of bang for the buck.
Without further ado (because we don't have space for much doing with a list like this), here's Penguin Pete Trbovich's personal top Android games of all time, the ones I have downloaded on multiple devices and kept returning to. This is my own pure opinion, not paid by anybody but the editors of this site.
Best Free Android Games:
Next to Magic: the Gathering, Hearthstone might be the second-best collectible trading card game ever made, and it's digital! Based in the World of Warcraft universe, it's become quite the cash cow for Blizzard Entertainment, and one of the highest-earning games for Android. The catch is, you can buy card packs, as many as you want. But you can also earn packs through daily quests, weekly events, or just hanging around long enough to be present when they release a new set. It is possible to be a completely F2P player; my first time on Hearthstone, I had a full collection and was able to build any top deck in the format after a year of play, all without spending a penny. My second time through, I got impatient and started buying a few packs, which is still inexpensive for the tremendous replay value this game will always have.
Old School RuneScape
RuneScape is the most successful MMORPG in gaming history. It is also the oldest and frankly looks silly and quaint by today's standards. But never mind; this is a vast, multiplayer, 3D world playable on a tablet! So while the newer RuneScape is still confined to the PC or better, OSRS is robust and thriving on Android. It is free to play, with an optional paid membership to unlock the rest of the map. To be honest, there's a huge tier between paid and free players. But you can buy a membership with in-game gold too if you're prepared to grind a lot for it. Notwithstanding, there is still a ton of play value in the game even without a membership. Explore the map, fight critters in dungeons, go on quests, loot new equipment, train skills, craft stuff, and sell it on the exchange, it's all good clean fun.
Based in the Fallout franchise universe, Fallout Shelter is the casual game for Android that plays like an adventure simulator. Build an underground vault community and attract new inhabitants, while upgrading your population and equipment and keeping them safe from invaders. While there isn't much to say about replay value once you beat the game, the first time through is hours of fun. The Fallout Shelter version of loot crates is "lunchboxes," which you can earn in-game or buy with cash. It's not necessary to spend money to play through the game, just nicer when you can buy some extra gear earlier on.
Pixel Dungeon (and variants)
Pixel Dungeon is an open source RPG roguelike with dozens of alternate versions, all fan-made. My personal favorite is Pixel Dungeon Sprouted, but all the variants are worth checking out. It's 100% free with no ads. It's lightweight and easy to play on any device. It's the closest thing to a modern-day Nethack for Android. Like any roguelike, the various character roles and builds, plus randomly generated dungeons, make for infinite replay value.
Speaking of Nethack, here is the one true classic as updated as you can get for the modern Android platform. Pathos Nethack is open source, 100% free, and plays the familiar turn-based RPG dungeon-crawling adventure you'd expect from this genre. While the graphics will never be much to look at, and the controls take some getting used to, this is a challenging, deep game that has earned well its reputation as the most influential roguelike ever made. Play it for life; beat it once in your old age.
This is a slow-paced, casual, and idle game, which may not be everybody's cup of mead. But given all that, Merchant RPG is a refreshingly original take on an old gaming trope, with a nice mix of old-school aesthetics and original ideas. Uniquely, it's one of the few Android games you can even play offline! The premise is that you're playing from the point of view of the NPC in the town shop in every RPG town. You hire adventurers, send them on quests, collect the loot, and have crafters turn the loot into more gear which you can equip on your adventures and sell the rest, profiting enough to upgrade and so on. It's mostly free to play with only a few optional packages to buy if you want, and even those are cheap. Great for a once-a-day, coffee-break game.
Mekorama is an endearing 3D physics puzzle game that will have you enchanted for hours. Your usual quest is to get a little robot dude to a goal while navigating platforms, slides, ramps, hazards, mazes, interlocking mechanisms, enemies, and all kinds of features. The mechanics of this little world are full of interesting toys, and once you beat all the levels, there's an editor where you can build your levels and share with the community! And of course, endless community levels are out there for your continued exploration. This is a fun toy that keeps you coming back to play in its interactive sandbox.
Another lightweight, innovative game with an interesting premise. Survive features an interface that's partly text-based, partly icon and menus, with simple but comfortable aesthetics. As its name suggests, the object of the game is simply not to die! You run wilderness survival scenarios of various complexity, struggling to stay fed, warm, and dry, as you attempt to navigate out of the scenario to rescue. Don't underestimate this game; it's very challenging! Maybe not the most immersive gaming experience, but its quiet pace and nature ambiance makes for a unique gaming experience.
The Battle of Polytopia
This is an easy game to explain for those of you who remember the days of Civilization, which this is almost an updated, stripped-down clone of. Polytopia is a turn-based strategy game where you lead a civilization from simple tribesmen to an advanced megapolis, all while battling enemies as you explore and take over a map. It's cute and lightweight, with the only paid content being tribes you can unlock. It doesn't take long to solve, but it is amusing while it lasts.
Card Crawl / Card Thief
These two games are linked sequels by the same studio, though they both play fine as stand-alone games. Card Crawl is the original single-player card game, where it's you and a deck of cards playing through a dungeon. It's enjoyable until you beat it a few times, then it's time to move on to Card Thief, an impressive feat of game engineering that is too unique to describe. Card Thief is also a solitaire card game, but now you navigate a dungeon laid out in a 3x3 grid which you must beat using stealth and careful planning. Don't knock it until you try it, because this game has a surprisingly deep strategy, with every grid a new puzzle to solve. It's got great graphics and music making for a neat fantasy atmosphere, while still being lightweight enough to play anywhere. This is one game I can point to as being so original as to defy genre conventions.
Honorable Non-Free Mentions:
Grudgingly, we will turn our thrifty attention to low-cost, but still worthwhile, Android games that stand out as the best value per dollar.
What can you say about Minecraft that hasn't been said already? Minecraft is so much more than a game; it's a media experience unto itself, a virtual world where anything is possible. It has spawned an entire culture and worldwide franchise. It's a world made of blocks which are endlessly interactive, with tons of content to explore endless generated maps. To top that, it gets frequent updates, each one magnifying the amount of content you'll encounter. You could write a book about this game and still not describe everything in it. Minecraft is literally its own world. All that for a few bucks? If you only paid for one game, make it this one.
Not surprisingly, our other paid game recommendation is nothing more than the 2D platform version of Minecraft. Terraria plays like the world's most elaborate old-school SNES game. But the game world is huge, randomly generated, and a challenging place to explore and survive as you carve out your little empire. The game doesn't have much replay value except building a bigger palace on a newer map, but beating it the first time takes months. It has near-endless content, with equipment, decorative items, interactive toys, monsters, boss monsters, and challenges galore. You start a peasant who can be killed by a hopping slime, and by the time you're finished, you've battled through Cthulhu's minions and are now flying, laser-blasting god. It's a heck of a journey for a few bucks.
Did I skip your favorite game? Well, there's this COMMENTS section below! Now it's your turn: Why don't you readers recommend free or inexpensive games you genuinely enjoy? I'll be watching because like all of you, I can't discover all the good stuff myself!
By gamers, for gamers, solidarity in virtual entertainment!