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The 12 Best Games For Android

Illustration by Sam Woolley
Illustration by Sam Woolley
Illustration: Sam Woolley

Android: not just another word for “robot.” It’s also a good option for anyone who wants a mobile device unshackled by the closed operating systems used by certain other smartphone manufacturers. The result is a library of games that’s nearly bottomless. Even if you’ve been navigating the Google Play shop for years, it can be hard to know where to start. That’s where we come in. Below, here’s our list of the dozen best games for Android devices.

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Illustration for article titled The 12 Best Games For Android
Screenshot: Dinosaur Polo Club
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Mini Metro

Just like the world’s busiest transit systems, in Mini Metro, you’re always strapped for cash. At its core, Mini Metro is a strategy sim. You have to use your resources to manage subway lines and stations, connecting new stations as they pop up, with the ultimate goal of seeing how long you can keep your city moving. There are more than 20 transit-focused cities to choose from—including Seoul, Barcelona, Berlin, Cairo, Osaka, Melbourne, and Hong Kong—and, if it pleases you, you can even create your own bespoke networks for each. It’s all very minimalist, with pared-down music and subway maps that look straight out of Harry Beck’s portfolio. (He’s the guy who modernized London’s Tube map.) Mini Metro is compelling enough on its own for fans of strategy puzzle games. For fans of transit, it’s a dream come true.

A Good Match For: NUMTOTs, environmental activists, transit advocates, city planners, and other comrades in the War on Cars.

Not A Good Match For: Fans of Asphalt 9.

Watch it in action.

Purchase From: Google Play


Illustration for article titled The 12 Best Games For Android
Screenshot: GameLoft
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Asphalt 9: Legends

Asphalt 9 isn’t Forza or Gran Turismo, but, as far as mobile games go, it’s as close as you’ll get. That means you get to drive the world’s fastest cars (Lambos, Ferraris, and everything in between) in the world’s coolest destinations (Rome, Shanghai, the Himalayas). Asphalt 9 also bears a strong resemblance to your favorite console racers in another way: It’s smooth as butter. Though still somewhat ridiculous—you wouldn’t ever see someone take a shiny sports car off a 50-foot booter IRL—these vehicles are fine-tuned for road-racing perfection. Zoom, zoom. That Asphalt 9 is a total looker is just icing on a really well-crafted cake.

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A Good Match For: Fans of console-grade racing games.

Not A Good Match For: Fans of Mini Metro.

Purchase From: Google Play


Illustration for article titled The 12 Best Games For Android
Screenshot: Codebrew Games
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Pocket City

Imagine this: You boot up a city-building game, you immediately understand what you’re looking at and how things work, and you’re not faced down with a small armada of microtransactions. Sounds too good to be true, right? That’s why Pocket City is such a shockingly good game. It’s not as intimidating as Cities: Skylines (not to knock Paradox’s excellent city-management sim, but it’s full of complex systems). It’s certainly not saddled with the bevy of problems that afflicted EA’s 2013 SimCity. Pocket City is just pure, unadulterated city-building. It’s like the SimCity games of old, but with a shinier coat of paint—in other words: Everything in the genre you didn’t know you missed.

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A Good Match For: Bill de Blasio and other American mayors who need to learn how to properly run a city. City planners in training.

Not A Good Match For: Fans of Cities: Skylines, since Pocket City is comparatively pared down.

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Read our impressions.

Purchase From: Google Play (here’s the free version)


Illustration for article titled The 12 Best Games For Android
Screenshot: Zach Gage
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Typeshift

Typeshift is one of those mobile word games that looks simple but is deceptively complicated. Your goal couldn’t be more straightforward: Make it so all of the letter tiles turn from brown to green. To do so, you need to shift adjacent columns until you spell out specific words in the middle row. If that sounds easy—especially if you consider that early levels start out with just five columns—know that puzzles quickly become more confounding. In short order, like the best puzzle games, you may kick yourself for missing obvious solutions. But as any puzzle fan will tell you, the rush that comes with cracking a tough code is unmatched.

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A Good Match For: Spelling bee champs, crossword enthusiasts, and editorial professionals.

Not A Good Match For: Scrabble sore losers.

Read our impressions of the game.

Purchase From: Google Play


Illustration for article titled The 12 Best Games For Android
Screenshot: Nomada Studio
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Gris

Unlike many video games, you can’t “die” in Gris. There’s no abject sense of failure. You don’t fight enemies with expert combat or earn experience points to customize an expansive skill tree. Instead, the whole game consists of light puzzles and low-impact platforming. The world—more or less a 2D watercolor painting—starts off nearly devoid of color. As you play, you unlock more traversal abilities. With each one, a new color will come splashing back to the world. There’s no dialogue to key you into the plot beats, but you’ll slowly realize that Gris says as much—about life, about loss, about love—as even the most verbose high-definition console game.

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A Good Match For: Everyone. Seriously, everyone should play this minimalistic masterpiece. It’s shorter than a Hobbit film, so if you spent any time on those, you have the time for this.

Not A Good Match For: Did you not hear us?

Read our impressions of the game.

Purchase From: Google Play


Illustration for article titled The 12 Best Games For Android
Screenshot: Funforge / Kotaku
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Tokaido

Most everyone’s used an Android phone to play mobile versions of popular board games like Monopoly or Ticket to Ride. They’re generally pretty fun, if not exactly life-changing. Tokaido, on the other hand, is an exception. Tokaido, already an almost perfectly balanced board game, shines on mobile for one reason: It doesn’t play exactly like a board game. Sure, the board itself is still there, and the core rules are by and large the same, but playing Tokaido on Android feels like playing a video game. Characters, no longer mere tokens, are fully animated. When you stop at a store or temple, you’ll encounter a storefront straight out of any role-playing game. The camera even zooms in on your traversal as in a more mainstream video game. It’s not the only board-game adaptation to deploy this trick, but it’s certainly the best.

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A Good Match For: Board-game and RPG fans.

Not A Good Match For: Anyone seeking heart-pumping action.

Read our impressions.

Purchase From: Google Play


Illustration for article titled The 12 Best Games For Android
Screenshot: Square Enix
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Hitman Go

Hitman games are famous for their open-ended sandboxes. At their best, they let you creep around a party or a museum, find your target, and creatively take them out. Hitman GO doesn’t really do that. What it does do, however, is offer a bunch of smart, tightly designed puzzles that gradually become more complicated as you go, but are never too complicated to finish off in the space of a single bus ride. With its stripped down board-game aesthetic and abstract violence, it may not look much like a Hitman game, but it still manages to capture the series’ meticulous, satisfying nature.

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A Good Match For: Hitman fans, puzzle fiends, people who like imagining what it means when one board game piece “assassinates” another board game piece.

Not A Good Match For: Those looking for an actual portable Hitman game.

Watch it in action.

Purchase From: Google Play


Illustration for article titled The 12 Best Games For Android
Screenshot: Thekla
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The Witness

You’re alone on an island, surrounded by puzzles. That’s The Witness, an extremely complicated game that is really very simple. Some of the puzzles are obvious: They’re on screens right in front of you, stacked in orderly rows. Other puzzles are much less easy to find. All of them will stymie and confound you, but over time you’ll gradually dismantle them until the game’s grand design is laid out in front of you like the workings of a finely crafted watch. Some games make you level up your character to access new areas; this one makes you level up yourself. There are few more satisfying feelings in gaming than when you finally realize the solution to a puzzle in The Witness. With a click, a new door opens. The Witness carries over all its brilliance to mobile devices, and works well on the go.

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A Good Match For: Puzzle fiends, people who like a challenge, anyone who likedMyst and wants to see what a modern evolution would be like.

Not A Good Match For: Anyone wanting action, the easily frustrated, people who don’t like puzzles in games and generally just go look up the answers.

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Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Study our tips for the game.

Purchase From: Google Play


Illustration for article titled The 12 Best Games For Android
Screenshot: Sirvo
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Threes

Threes is basically a game about kissing. And math. You slide a bunch of little numbers around a tiled pad, trying to get two like numbers next to each other. If you can do that, they’ll get friendly and combine to form a new, bigger number. Keep on moving, keep on combining, and your score will climb and climb. Threes is an immaculately designed game made all the more winning for its aesthetics. Charming, musical, and impossible to put down, if you missed this one over the prior years, be wary: It’ll become a new obsession.

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A Good Match For: People looking for a simple puzzle game to play on a commute, anyone who likes competing with their friends for high scores.

Not a Good Match For: People hoping for a deep story, those who prefer sub-standard clones.

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Read our review.

Watch it in action.

Study our tips for the game.

Purchase From: Google Play


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Screenshot: Blizzard
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Hearthstone

Remember Magic: The Gathering? Sure you do. Blizzard’s card game Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is a lot like that, albeit streamlined and easier to pick up and play... and way more addictive. Hearthstone began on PC but seemed destined for mobile devices, and boy oh boy does it fit right in. After an hour or two you’ll be building your own custom decks and challenging your friends and strangers to matches, either online or, if you’ve both got phones in the same room, in person. Each match is over in a matter of minutes, making it easy to fit into your everyday life. And while eventually you might feel tempted to start paying for the random card booster packs, you can wring a whole lot of enjoyment out of Hearthstone without paying a nickel.

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A Good Match For: Fans of card games like Magic: The Gathering, people who like Blizzard games, anyone looking for a fun (free!) online multiplayer game for mobile.

Not a Good Match For: High-level perfectionists who don’t want to pay extra, people hoping for an offline option. Hearthstone will do a good job of matching you up against random online players of a similar level, but if you want to build a deck full of rare, powerful cards, you’ll have to sink in some cash.

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Read our thoughts on the iPad version.

Watch it in action.

Download From: Google Play


Illustration for article titled The 12 Best Games For Android
Screenshot: Fireproof Games
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The Room: Old Sins

The Room: Old Sins is just the latest in Fireproof Games’ tremendous Room series. While it expands the “puzzles, except creepy” aesthetic of the first three games, it’s really just the latest in a series that we think you should check out in its entirety. The very first Room is just as fascinating as it was when it came out, and you can’t go wrong downloading the entire collection. Old Sins builds on the sturdy foundation laid by The Room Three, as you explore yet another spooky, puzzle-filled old house. Play this game, but really, play all of them.

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A Good Match For: Puzzle fans, people who like occult stuff, those who liked any of the other Room games.

Not A Good Match For: The easily frustrated, anyone looking for an action game, those looking for a video game adaptation of a Tommy Wiseau film.

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Watch us play the game, and read some initial impressions.

Purchase From: Google Play


Illustration for article titled The 12 Best Games For Android
Screenshot: Square Enix
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Final Fantasy Tactics

Easily one of the most celebrated video games of all time, Final Fantasy Tactics feels right at home on a mobile phone. It’s a sweeping saga, but individual turn-based battles unfold in manageable chunks, which makes it a fantastic commuting game. The mobile port brings over the dialogue enhancements from the PSP version, but with none of the frame-rate issues. If you haven’t played this classic, it’s absolutely worth downloading it. And even if you have, it’s never a bad time to play it again.

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A Good Match For: Fans of turn-based games or tactics games, anyone who loved the original and wants a good way to replay it.

Not A Good Match For: Those who prefer simple mobile games. FFT is a complex and challenging game that requires learning and mastering a ton of different abilities, classes, and strategies.

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Read our impressions of the port, and our retrospective about the game’s legacy.

Watch it in action.

Purchase From: Google Play

How has this list changed? Read back through our update history:

Update 8/26/20: We kicked off Super Mario Run, Rymdkapsel, 80 Days, Framed 2, Ridiculous Fishing, and A Dark Room to clear space for Mini Metro, Asphalt 9, Pocket City, Typeshift, Gris, and Tokaido.

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Update 5/31/2018: Time for another mega-update. We’ve taken off Knightmare Tower, Drop 7, Framed, Super Hexagon, Alto’s Adventure, Hoplite, and The Room 3 (all great games!) and replaced them with The Witness, Framed 2, Final Fantasy Tactics, Super Mario Run, Hearthstone, A Dark Room, and The Room: Old Sins.

Update 2/18/216: Now with video!

Update 2/11/2016: We’ve done another large round of cuts and swaps to bring our Android list close to its comparable cousin, the iPhone list. Hitman GO, 80 Days, Alto’s Adventure, Framed and The Room Three all enter, while Angry Birds Star Wars II, Rayman: Fiesta Run, Plants vs. Zombies, Asphalt 8 and The Room Two say goodbye.

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Update 11/26/2014: Again our Android list has gone far too long without an update. (Sorry!) We’ve remedied that by completely overhauling it, bringing it much closer to parity with the generally similar iPhone list.

Update 10/04/2013: Way past time for an update, so we’re playing catch-up. We removed Arcane Legends, Muffin Knight, Fruit Ninja, Dead Space, and Angry Birds Star Wars. We’ve added Angry Birds Star Wars II, Reaper, Temple Run 2, The Room, Rymdkapsel, Super Hexagon, and Dots.

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Update 12/25/2012: Angry Birds Space and Need for Speed Most Wanted, Arcane Legends and Hamlet all land onto the Bests.

Want more of the best games on each system? Check out our complete directory:

The Best PC GamesThe Best PS4 GamesThe Best Xbox One GamesThe Best Nintendo Switch GamesThe Best Wii U GamesThe Best 3DS GamesThe Best PS Vita GamesThe Best Xbox 360 GamesThe Best PS3 GamesThe Best Wii GamesThe Best iPhone GamesThe Best iPad GamesThe Best Android GamesThe Best PSP GamesThe Best Facebook GamesThe Best DS GamesThe Best Mac GamesThe Best Browser GamesThe Best PC Mods

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Note: If you buy any of these games through the links in this post, our parent company may get a small share of the sale through the retailers’ affiliates program.

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DISCUSSION

Here's my list of best Android games:

1. Chrono Trigger (Snesoid)

2. GTA VC

3. Final Fantasy IX (ePSXe)

4. Final Fantasy VII (ePSXe)

5. Final Fantasy VI (Snesoid)

6. Dragon Quest V (Snesoid)

7. Xenogears (ePSXe)

8. Suikoden (ePSXe)

9. Persona 2 (ePSXe)

10. Grandia (ePSXe)

Beat it if you dare!