Android developers launch so many games every year that it’s difficult to keep a track of everything. Did you miss out on a game that you should be playing? Our end-of-year roundup is a handy checklist to know what your thumbs should be tapping on.
Unlike our previous annual roundups, we’re getting rid of paid games this time. This year had enough fantastic free titles that you don’t necessarily need to spend a dime to enjoy quality gaming on your phone or tablet. And if you have a Chromecast 2, then you can play on your big screen too!
NetherRealm Studios, the makers of Mortal Kombat, took the world of WWE sports entertainment and supercharged the “entertainment”. Popular wrestlers like The Rock, John Cena and The Undertaker are turned into overblown mythical characters, while keeping their on-screen personas and signature moves intact. The art and graphics are fantastic and you won’t get enough of it.Of course, what matters is the actual gameplay, which ticks all the right boxes: it’s simple, fun, intuitive, and makes you want to keep playing more. Throw in elements like multiplayer matches and tournaments, and it’s surprising that this game is free. Read our full review for more, or just download the game and start playing.
Download: WWE Immortals for Android (Free)
Stick Cricket 2
The original Stick Cricket is one of the best sports games for Android. The sequel builds on a successful formula. The game is all about choosing which side of the bat you want to hit, and tapping at the right moment to hit the ball as hard as you can. Get as many runs as you can to get through challenges, which earn you skill points to upgrade your gear. With a better bat, gloves, or shoes, you’ll be able to score more runs. Those challenges aside, you can enter tournaments to beat the world’s best teams. Much like Baseball Hero doesn’t require you to be a baseball fan, Stick Cricket 2 doesn’t need you to like cricket. It’s just a fantastic casual game, which can be played both one-handed and two-handed!
Download: Stick Cricket 2 for Android (Free)
People, have you played Brickies? What do you mean you haven’t played Brickies! You really should play Brickies, you know. Oh yeah, I should tell you what it’s about. Brickies isn’t the first reinterpretation of the classic brick breaker game, but it’s the best yet. The big difference is that if you miss the ball, it’s not game over. Instead, the ball is deactivated from being a breaker and just keeps bouncing around. Hit it with your paddle again to activate it, so that it can break those bricks! And man, those levels are devious, going from circular formations of multi-layered bricks to giant bricks which need to be broken up into smaller bricks. As far as casual games go, Brickies is as good as they come.
Download: Brickies for Android (Free)
Sometimes, the simplest games are the most addictive. The only thing you have to do in ZigZag is tap the screen. Each tap changes the direction your ball travels in. Tap once and it’ll go right; tap a second time to go left; tap again to go right again; and so on. All you have to do is stay on the platform and not fall off, collecting as many diamonds as you can. How hard can it be, right? Yeah, I thought so too. Was I in for a surprise. Not since Flappy Bird has a game been so simple, so addictive, and so infuriating all at once. The ads can be a bit annoying, but the game is totally worth it. Can you beat my high score of 936?
Download: ZigZag for Android (Free)
Hearthstone Heroes of Warcraft
Hearthstone has been on tablets for some time now, but this year it finally came to Android phones. It’s a turn-by-turn card game that’s flat-out geeky fun. Each card has magical powers, and you have to “attack” your opponent’s cards, and later his hero, to win the game. Earn points, upgrade or buy more cards, take on bigger villains—you know the drill. If you’re new to the world of Hearthstone, you’d be wise to know a few tricks to earn gold cards and dust. If you’ve already played Hearthstone, then this is just letting you in on the action wherever you are.
Download: Hearthstone Heroes of Warcraft for Android (Free)
Angry Birds 2
The original Angry Birds put mobile gaming on the map. After several years, developer Rovio launched a sequel and boy, it lived up to expectations. Angry Birds 2 hits all the right notes for any fan of the series, for anyone who likes puzzle games, or for anyone who likes casual gaming in general. A new destructo-meter, spell cards, and multi-segment levels add to the fun. But the coolest part is how challenging Angry Birds 2 is. If you lose in a level and restart it, the puzzle is rearranged so you can’t just tweak your strategy; you’ll have to solve a new puzzle each time. And like always, Rovio keeps the difficulty right: it’s frustrating, but never so frustrating that you’ll give up.
Download: Angry Birds 2 for Android (Free)
I was torn between recommending Crossy Road or Pac-Man 256. They’re both great games made by the same developer, and based on similar gameplay. But Pac-Man 256 offers just a little more, not the least in terms of taking forward a video game classic. Pac-Man 256 has you playing as the little yellow creature, trying to gobble up dots and cherries while outrunning the ghosts. But there’s something new now. No more “levels”, it’s an endless maze and you have to try and outrun “the glitch”, which is eating up the maze. It’s a nostalgic joyride. And yeah, try and get the special 256 combo for a… let’s say, pleasant surprise.
Download: Pac-Man 256 for Android (Free)
Need for Speed: No Limits is probably the most kickass racing game of the year, but I’m going to pick Asphalt Nitro for this list. Why? Racing games for Android usually go into multiple gigabytes, both in download and the amount of space they take. Asphalt 8: Airborne is a great racing game, but it requires good hardware! They also don’t run smoothly on older phones. Asphalt Nitro bucks the trend. Yes, the graphics aren’t as polished as what you’ll find in the latest NFS, but it’s not bad to look at. More importantly, the gameplay is just as great as ever, bringing you the best of arcade racing to your handheld device. From full-speed races to driving as a cop to catch the bad guys, you’ll get your share of diverse, engrossing gameplay. And while there are in-app purchases, you can safely turn them off and play the game without them.
Download: Asphalt Nitro for Android (Free)
Genre: First Person Shooter
If you loved Dead Trigger 2 as much as I did, or generally find it cathartic to shoot zombies and blow them up, you can’t go wrong with Unkilled. Made by Madfinger Games (the Dead Trigger developers), it’s a visually stunning game with some of the creepiest zombies and detailed environments you’ll see on a mobile device. There’s also something new: You never squeeze a trigger. Instead, when you point your crosshair at any zombie, your gun starts auto-shooting. It feels weird initially, but once you get used to it, it makes so much sense that I wish all casual first-person shooter mobile games adopted this mechanism. Again, the prompts for in-app purchases can be a little annoying, but it’s a fine game as long as you ignore those.
Download: Unkilled for Android (Free)
The fate of the gaming world lies in your hand, player one. It’s time to jump, jump, jump! Yeah, that old-school arcade music is really cool, right? No time for that now, jump. Go from one platform to another at breakneck speed. Never stop. Tap to jump. Keep jumping. Look out, there’s a laser! Don’t tap here, you won’t make it; swipe in some direction to jump there. There you go. This pixel art style is lovely to look at, and the solid colors really add a lot of depth. Why did you stop jumping, you fool? Argh, okay, let’s start again. Remember, five clean runs gets you one level, and you have to keep going. Don’t stop. Every gamer out there is depending on you. Jump to it!
Download: HoPiKo for Android (Free)
BONUS: Lara Croft GO ($4.99)
I know, I know. I said this would be only free games. But let’s make an exception here, all right? Lara Croft GO is the game of the year, and I’ll fight anyone who wants to disagree. Everything about this game is perfect, from the gorgeous graphics to the challenging puzzles. It often tips its hat to the original Tomb Raider series, but Lara Croft GO is its own game with its own style. Each level has a set of mini-puzzles and different elements or enemies, from moving platforms to vicious snakes who follow you around. One step at a time, we’ll get through this together. Spend the five bucks, it’s the best money you’ll spend on a mobile game this year. Heck, the developers even added a whole bunch of new levels since our original review, without charging anyone a dime. Hopefully we’ll see more of that in the future too.
Download: Lara Croft GO for Android ($4.99)
What’s Your Android Game of the Year?
Lara Croft GO is the obvious winner for me this year, but Brickies actually came pretty close just for how well it reinvented a classic and kept me coming back for more. Is your favorite game of this year on this list? Let us know in the comments below!