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. Or, most importantly for our purposes, a library of games that’s nearly bottomless.
All those options can be a double-edged sword—even if you’ve been navigating the Google Play shop for years, you might not know where to start. That’s where we come in. Here’s our list of the dozen best games for Android devices.
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Goth roguelike Vampire Survivors made its mobile debut recently and with appropriate gloominess—the indie game’s developers said in a Steam update that rampant clones “forced our hand to release the mobile game ASAP, and put a lot of stress on the dev team that wasn’t even supposed to worry about mobile in the first place”—but, well, now that it’s here, it’s pretty goddamn good.
Like the undemanding original, Vampire Survivors offers 30-minute runs exploding with bats, skeletons, and whatever timed, mystical nonsense your stoic survivor character has to kill them with. You’ll be glad to get lost in this game’s dangerous, repeating roads.
And while its PC version is available on Steam for $5, mobile Vampire Survivors cleverly uses optional advertisements to stay free and afloat. You can sustain a long run by watching an ad, and if you die, you can opt again to watch an ad to keep more of your collected gold coins, which can be used for permanent upgrades.
A good match for: Roguelike lovers, Castlevania admirers, 8-bit Hot Topic shoppers.
Not a good match for: Impatient people, those who fear death and pixelated bad guys.
This is the sort of gamethat thrives on mobile—a vertical epic about a boy who descends into a well. But the knee-high child isn’t at all delicate. He fell while wearing his trust Gunboots, which explode and shoot down the many creepy crawlies that populate the deep well and change with every run.
Though it has some frills, like gemstones you can exchange for healing rice balls and other items, Downwell is primarily an unembellished game about falling far down—think of it as the reverse cross version ofDoodle Jump. But it doesn’t need to be fancy to draw you in with its proprietary blend of nostalgic, arcade graphics and instant gratification.
A good match for: Jumping game players, especially those that used to shop at Hot Topic; arcade goers fresh out of quarters.
Not a good match for: Open-world nerds, people who like jumping up more than down.
We know people love to hate this bad boy, but isn’t he dreamy? Though heavily criticized for its expensive in-app transactions, the massively multiplayer online action-RPG Diablo Immortal is high-contrast and gorgeous, splattered in blood and ghosts. And if it helps, Kotaku writer Zack Zwiezen and editor John Walker agree in their discussion of the game that they never felt goaded into making a purchase, or like their brimming enthusiasm was ever threatened by their zipped wallets.
“The other thing that keeps surprising me is how needlessly detailed it is,” Walker says in that discussion. “You do a dungeon and suddenly the boss fight turns out to be three stages, each one involving a big environmental change, and then there’s a surprise bonus bit at the end. Or maybe I’m just doing some of the bounties from the bounty board, and instead of ‘kill 10 of those’ which some are, it turns out to be a whole little story, an investigation into a crime or something.”
“This isn’t disposable,” he continued. “This is a whole proper Blizzard game.”
A good match for: Diablo disciples, anyone looking for a fantastic, portable action-RPG with two-factor authentication activated for their bank login.
Not a good match for: Those who miss the old Diablo, anyone who had to grab a bucket after being forced to think about pay-to-win games again.
Another unignorable pay-to-win (sorry!) action role-playing game, Genshin Impact is an electric bundle of bloodshed, magic, and a lush open world.
Separated from your twin by an imposing god, you, the Traveler, are forced to wander the seven green nations of Teyvat until you find them. Eventually, along with your happy anime girl companion Paimon, you consult each nation’s ruling god for help, getting caught in cosmic conflicts along the way.
Though it tells an elaborate hero’s tale through eye candy and fight fireworks, Genshin Impact has its noticeable issues, too. Namely, its gacha system, or randomized prize system, which has some players spending tens of thousands of real dollars. It doesn’t really have a substantial endgame, either. But for the casual phone gamer who wants to be wowed by design, battle, and a frequently updated, detailed universe, there’s really no other option.
A good match for: Lore enthusiasts, anime enthusiasts, people who like swords.
Not a good match for: Completionists, big spenders.
The first game from Hearthstone director Ben Brode’s studio Second Dinner, Marvel Snap is a card game with meat on its bones. Wisely stack your 12-card slots with 2D Marvel superheroes, and form the ideal supergroup for overpowering opponents in lightning-flash, six-turn tournaments. They never exceed a few minutes, but that isn’t the “snap” part. Snapping is more of a strategy, a function that allows you to double a match’s stakes at the cost of some ranked points, or cosmic cubes. Opponents can snap back, or reject you and lose (while retaining their points). You get all the adrenaline of taking down Thanos without any of the chipped nails it requires.
If Marvel Snap sounds simple, that’s good—that’s what makes it so satisfying. The game’s emphasis on small and fast helps “you quickly learn all of what your deck and its cards can do, letting you focus more on playing and not learning,” Kotaku staff writer Zack Zwiezen says in his review. “Within a few hours I had a few decks built and I was having a blast figuring out ways to synergize my deck.” Marvel Snap is fun, familiar, and best of all, it’s free.
If Marvel Snap makes things a little too simple and speedy for your tastes, perhaps Ben Brode’s previous smash hit will be more to your liking. 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.
A good match for: Fans of card games like Magic: The Gathering, people who like Blizzard games, anyone looking for another 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.
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.
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.
A good match for: City planners in training.
Not a good match for: Fans of Cities: Skylines, since Pocket City is comparatively pared down.
Typeshift is deceptively complicated, but 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.
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.
A good match for: Spelling bee champs, crossword enthusiasts, and editorial professionals.
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.
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.
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.
A good match for: Board-game and RPG fans.
Not a good match for: Anyone seeking heart-pumping action.
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.
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.