Proof Recommends the Best of the Best: Android Games

In this new series, one author—among other things, a professor of digital culture and longtime professional digital culture critic—ranks graphic novels, TV shows, films, books, Android games and more.

{Note: Listings are alphabetical by category. While all these cultural artifacts are worthwhile, tastes can and will vary—so caveat lector, cave videntium, and caveat emptor. That said, if I have listed a work here, you can rest assured that I earnestly consider it to be badass and say so without any inducement whatsoever from any party. These opinions are mine and mine alone. To quote Donovan—by way of poet C.E. Chaffin—this is “one man’s opinion of moonlight.” Works with a star after them (⭐) are regarded here as being “the best of the best of the best.”}

As with the recent “Proof Recommends the Best of the Best: TV Shows”—click here to read that entry in this series—I set some ground rules before creating this list. Here they are (and as before, there is, in a sense, a philosophical element to a few of them):

(1) I didn’t make a distinction between free games and games that cost money to buy. While the use of micro-transactions in-game can can significantly affect features like gameplay and the tone of a game’s environment, given that even “expensive” Android games tend to be well under ten dollars, it makes it difficult to justify using this as a basis to exclude certain games from the list below. If a game is on this list, it is worth the price of entry—whether that price is zero dollars or $4.99. That said, games that get pushy about in-game markets are significantly dinged for that; most such games won’t appear here.

Of course, there’s a distinction between games that constantly ask for your money and those that are mildly or passivelyt P2W or PTW (“pay-to-win”)—as in the latter case you might not be explicitly pressed for your hard-earned cash on a regular basis, but will nevertheless find advancing in the game, at least once you’ve already put a number of hours into it, more difficult without making some modest purchases. As to games in this category, I’ve tried to limit their appearance here to the list’s Honorable Mention section, but obviously your own skill at playing any game will determine, to a degree, how much (and when) it becomes pay-to-win.

(2) Some games don’t make this list because they demand too much time investment. One of the main reasons to spend more time with Android games than console games—and admittedly, these days I do far more gaming in the former venue than the latter—is because one doesn’t mind the smaller screen, more limited game mechanics, and shorter run-time of Android games if the advantage one receives in return is (1) less expense per game, (2) the ability to play “on the go” and in out-of-home venues, and (3) the reality that a good Android game can be played (wheresoever and whensoever it is played) for a very short duration and nevertheless be enjoyable. So when an Android game, purely to reap profits for its creators, aims to take up scores or even hundreds of hours of your life—and indeed to be the only game you’re playing for months on end—it is, in my view and the view of the list below, misapprehending the platform and the hardware it is employing. For instance, gacha games that involve the player collecting a large number of “characters,” or simulation games that unfold across scores of hours, are unlikely to appear of any list I make of the top Android games because I consider them to be misuses of the format. I’m willing to put such games into the Honorable Mention section of this list, but no more. I admit this perhaps odd bias to you up front.

Note that there is a separate category of game that simply takes so long to learn at even an intermediate level—or requires some off-phone knowledge to fully appreciate—that it also seems an ill fit for anything higher than this list’s Honorable Mention section. The card game Gwent falls into this latter category, as to really appreciate its contours you ideally would have some knowledge of the world (in both book and video game format) of The Witcher; by the same token, a card game like Hearthstone may be fantastic, but to fully invest in its gameplay takes such an outlay of time (and such an exclusion, therefore, of any time available to be dedicated to other Android games) that I see it as a problem for which any Android-game ranking system must account.

It’s important to remember that there are tens of thousands of Android games. If one game is taking up all your time and making it impossible to regularly sample new games—and as importantly, new categories of games that you might not have thought you’d enjoy—it is doing you a disservice. For instance, I love Android card games, as you can see below. But if I had played Hearthstone immersively rather than casually, I probably would never have played, even once, dozens and dozens of other amazing card games, including the ones you now see listed below. So who do I blame for the level of time and energy investment Hearthstone requires as compared to games that can be picked up more easily, played in smaller spurts, and contested with profitably offline rather than primarily in an online PVP mode that’s incredibly time-consuming? I have to “blame” these UX features on the game itself. Needless to say, those who love such games and what they have to offer should bump them up a notch on this list, for instance from Honorable Mention to the main list itself. I note my biases transparently here so that you can make your own judgments about whether you think those biases foolish.

(3) This list is for lovers of well-constructed games, whatsoever their genre may be. Many “Best Android Games of the Year” or “Best Android Games Ever” lists will drill down on games by category, for instance offering you the “Top 10 Shooters” or “Top 10 Card Games” or whatever. I see why this is—such articles aim to appeal to genre fans who don’t plan on experimenting outside their preferred one or two gaming genres—but I find this approach limiting. If you’re only playing shooters like PUBG or Fortnite for the next two or three years, you’re not experiencing the full range of what gaming on an Android phone has to offer. So while this list does have categories just to make it easier to read, I don’t provide an equal number of games in each category because this isn’t a “Top 10 Android Games By Genre” list. Indeed, if I’m being candid, I would say that I think certain gaming genres are better suited to consoles, and “shooters” are probably one of those (I’ve played shooters on consoles since the mid-1990s). So while this doesn’t mean an Android shooter can’t be an amazing game, it does mean that if I create a series of lists that implicitly encourages lovers of shooting games to stick with just the genre they’re already inclined toward, I’m doing a disservice. That’s why I say that games made this list on the basis of their creativity in gameplay and narrative and controls and graphics and so on, not on the basis of their genre or ensuring that there are an equal number of games in each genre on the list below (as there definitely isn’t).

(4) Simplicity isn’t a nasty word if the aim of a gaming platform is quick distraction. Every game wants to be the only game you play—perhaps even the only thing you do—for a long period of time. The trick is to find games that require from you only what you’re prepared to give, and moreover what you know it would be healthy for you to give in the context in which you’re giving it. That’s harder than it seems, these days, as I think reviewing sites sometimes privilege graphics and buzz over almost everything else, leaving gamers with options that are intended to be immersive and playable with friends rather than well-conceived and psychologically fulfilling. It’s no coincidence that some of the most clever Android games—games that are addictive but also can be easily played in brief spurts, and lose little from being on a phone screen rather than a television screen—have very simple graphics. So don’t be surprised if some of the well-known graphics-forward games are a little bit disadvantaged here; I’ve found that the classic Android games are just as often simple rather than complex, and more likely concept-forward or gameplay-forward than graphics-forward. While Android gaming isn’t political per se, the decision of which component of a game a developer privileges is at least small-p “philosophical,” as it really says something about how the developer views Android gaming in general. In my experience, games that want to capture your attention with impressive graphics packages (which often come with long download times, loading screens, regular high-storage updates, and other typically unwelcome accoutrements) are intended to be immersive in a particular fashion that can seem inconsistent with what makes this platform different from (and in certain respects, the Nintendo Switch excepted, appreciably more compelling than) console gaming now is.

Some games try to pull back on their immersiveness through “idle gaming”, meaning that the game is being played for you even when you’re not playing it. This is a way of ensuring that you keep coming back to the game, as you’re able to artificially limit the length of each play session. I appreciate the thinking here, but candidly “idle gaming” is garbage gaming, in my opinion. If there were only ten Android games in the world, an idle gamer like AFK Arena (“AFK” stands for “away from keyboard”) would be fine. But as indicated above, there are tens of thousands of Android games just waiting to be played, so the idea that we would choose ones that don’t need to be regularly played to be fully experienced is just nonsensical. Idle gaming is the fast food of gaming: no real foodie would recommend it unless there were no other option left. Thankfully, with Android gaming there are always not just other options but many thousands of them.

(5) There are so many Android games that any list of top ones is actually meaningless. “Best of” lists are, as we all know, conceptually nonsense, as any sphere of activity so vast it requires primers of the sort we call “best of” lists is also likely so vast that no one editor or curator or author could possibly have been exposed to all the possible options out there. Just as the annual literary anthology Best American Short Stories is only—really—the best short stories in the view of a single editor looking at a discrete subset of the short stories published in America each year (namely, only the ones the editor has read), a list like the one below is necessarily limited by the Android games I’ve played. That happens to be quite a few, but needless to say it’s by no means even a notable fraction of the thousands or even tens of thousands of such games available—with tens more arriving daily. Just as you’ll find many Literary Studies doctorate-holders who haven’t read The Great Gatsby or Heart of Darkness or every Shakespeare play or To Kill a Mockingbird, if you think every Android game reviewer has played even ten percent of the “hits” in the category “Android games” you’re kidding yourself. No one has that sort of time or energy or money. So in my case, for instance, I haven’t played Among Us, Stardew Valley, Five Nights at Freddy’s, Call of Duty: Mobile, PUBG Mobile, or Candy Crush, to name a few stalwarts in Android gaming. My hope is that by noting some of my blindspots I’m doing better on the transparency front than those reviewers who pretend to have played everything (or those editors who pretend to have read everything). This said, know that I think that the games below are well worth playing, and that if you tried them all you wouldn’t have time to try any other for at least a year.

(6) My biases are real, persistent, influential on the list below, and wholly subjective. As noted above, I have biases I want to be transparent about. I don’t like the horror genre, so games with zombies usually leave me cold. In addition to thinking that shooters are generally better played on consoles, perhaps more controversially I also think the same about many sports games. It’s no coincidence that when you look at the sports-genre lists at Android Authority or Den of Geek or Pocket Gamer or whatever, it’s often just a list of ports of major console games. My feeling is that a list of the best Android games should, to the extent possible, be a list of games exclusive to the platform. Otherwise, a “best of” list becomes little more than an “if you can’t get to a console [the mobile version of X is also fine]” list. That does a disservice to Android gaming I’m not particularly interesting in participating in here. So certain games you might expect to see, especially in the sports category—NBA 2K, FIFA Football, and Madden NFL, for instance—you won’t see here. I could say the same about non-sports games like Minecraft and Mario Kart Tour or even Disgaea. By the same token, as my comment about zombies above indicates, I’m not a fan of certain endeavors others enjoy, wrestling and racing being two good examples, so you’ll see a light list in those areas, too. That said, if you include the Honorable Mention section we have many sports games here, including football, soccer, basketball, golf, racing, even badminton.

So with all that said, I hope you enjoy the list of forty games below, and happy gaming to all of you! As ever, feel free to dispute any of my judgments in the comment field below, and to propose any games you don’t see referenced here but think should be!


The Best of the Best Android Games

Adventure

Inked
Limbo

Card

Card City Nights
Card Hog
Card Thief

Knights of the Card Table
Meteorfall: Journeys
Meterofall: Krumit’s Tale

Pirates & Outlaws

Slay the Spire
Solitairica

Platformer

Gris
Monument Valley / Monument Valley 2

Puzzle

Dissembler
Framed / Framed 2

Gorogoa
The Office Quest
Threes

Tiny Bubbles
Two Dots

Racing

Asphalt 9: Legends
Table Top Racing: World Tour

RPG

Battle Chasers: Nightwar
Frost
Grim Quest
Knighthood
Lone Wolf
Sorcery!

Untold

Runner

Alto’s Adventure
Alto’s Odyssey

Shooter

Sky Force Reloaded

Sports, Sports Simulation, and Simulation

Retro Bowl
Super Stickman Golf 2

Strategy

80 Days
Bad North

The Bonfire
Hitman Go
Mini Metro


Honorable Mention

AI Dungeon
Angry Birds 2
Badminton League
^
Desert Golfing
Disney Sorcerer’s Arena
Exploding Kittens
Genshin Impact
Gwent
Hearthstone
Hoop League
Jetpack Joyride
Legends of Runeterra
Marvel Contest of Champions
Mitoza
New Star Soccer
Night of the Full Moon
Oddmar
Pocket Mortys
Raid: Shadow Legends
The Room
Scrabble Go
Sky: Children of the Light
Soccer Champs
There Is No Game
Warriors of Waterdeep

^ I feel odd recommending a game that still has a few bugs—Badminton League will sometimes crash at its loading screen, though fortunately it’s somewhat rare and never happens beyond that point in the game; also, the translation from the Japanese is, shall we say, hit-or-miss—but this game is so fun otherwise, indeed it becomes deeper and better and harder the more you play it, that I’ve chosen to be optimistic here about the developers fixing the remaining bugs in the next patch of the game or two.


On My Docket to Play Soon ^

Dumb Ways to Die 2
Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition
Florence
Layton’s Mystery Journey
Plants vs. Zombies 2

^ Games previously in this section which I have now played—and which will be placed in one of the four categories (Starred/Best of the Best of the Best, Unstarred/Best of the Best, Honorable Mention, and Unlisted) in the forthcoming Proof article, “Proof Recommends the Best of the Best: Android Games (Part 2)”—will be removed from this list as they’re added to the list’s sequel. So the list will shorten markedly over time.


My Top 20 Favorite Android Games

  1. Retro Bowl

  2. Meteorfall: Journeys / Meteorfall: Krumit’s Tale

  3. Mini Metro

  4. Untold

  5. Bad North

  6. Pirates & Outlaws

  7. Sorcery!

  8. Alto’s Adventure / Alto’s Odyssey

  9. Battle Chasers: Nightwar

  10. Solitairica

  11. Gris

  12. Card Thief

  13. Knights of the Card Table

  14. Grim Quest

  15. Sky Force: Reloaded

  16. Threes

  17. Badminton League

  18. Knighthood

  19. Two Dots

  20. Super Stickman Golf 2