Mobile gaming is no longer in its infancy — not only can you play visually stunning titles on your phone, but you can also pay many times what they’re worth thanks to in-app purchases. Okay, that second bit is bad news, but there are still plenty of good games on Android that won’t bleed you dry. Most of them do cost something, but you get what you pay for.
No, this isn’t the mobile version of Civ you might remember from some years back. This is the full version of Civilization VI, optimized for mobile devices with all the content from the desktop edition. Civilization VI is a deep turn-based strategy game that lets you choose the course of an entire society. It will obviously work best on larger phones, foldables, and tablets, but it’s even playable on a compact device. The base game costs $20, but you can play 60 turns for free. That should be enough to know if you’re going to enjoy playing a complex strategy game on your phone.
You can’t talk about popular games without mentioning Fortnite, which is the most popular title in the world. The desktop and console version came first, but Fortnite Mobile has been a huge hit as well. Fortnite is your standard battle royale-style shooter. It has a cartoony vibe, whereas PUBG is more of a traditional military FPS, but that has allowed for some wacky customization and limited events that keep players coming back. You can’t get this game on the iPhone at all, and it’s not in the Play Store because of some ongoing legal nonsense, but Android users can sideload it via Epic’s site. This is a free-to-play game, so keep a tight hold on your wallet.
Mini Metro is a puzzle game at its core, but it’s not the placid, calming experience of your average puzzler. Instead, you are tasked with designing and managing an ever-expanding, color-coded subway system. Your goal is to get everyone where they need to go, taking into account the terrain, location of stations, number of available trains, and more. The gameplay is intuitive enough that anyone can play, and there are low-stress building modes if you just want to chill out. Mini Metro is a bargain at $0.99. It’s also included in Play Pass.
For fans of role-playing titles, look no further than Genshin Impact. This visually arresting JRPG will keep you busy for uncountable hours — maybe forever, considering the quick pace of updates. The combat system is straightforward on the surface but allows for deep strategy once you get the hang of the elemental-based abilities. It takes up a lot of space on your phone, but it won’t cost anything to try. You can play the game for free, but there are in-app purchases. Use your best judgment.
Game Dev Tycoon
You don’t have to look far to find a casual management-style game on Android, but most of them are crawling with exploitative in-app purchases. Game Dev Tycoon costs $5 up front, but you’ll get your money’s worth. In this game, you make games. Well, you pretend to make games, beginning in the early days of PC versus non-PC and continuing on into the era of multiple high-end consoles. Of course, all the devices have legally safe knock-off names, but we all know what the Game Sphere is supposed to be. Sell more games, and you’ll be able to get dev licenses for all the latest hardware to make even more money. There are a ton of options, so the replay value is there. This one is in Play Pass, too.
The venerable block breaker is one of the oldest game genres, but Holedown manages to give it a fresh coat of paint. This game urges you to dig down into various planetoids by bombarding the blocks with wave after wave of balls. You can upgrade your mining operation with more starting balls, more shots, and so on. Holedown is cognizant of what makes brick-breakers fun, allowing you to bank shots at almost any angle. The visuals and audio are great, and I love that Holedown doesn’t demand too much of my attention. If you want something casual and easy to play, Holedown is it. It’s also free with Play Pass.
I tend toward simpler, non-frustrating mobile games, but some people like a challenge. For those folks, there’s Dead Cells. It’s the same game that launched on PCs and consoles back in 2018, but it just came to Android last year. It’s a side-scrolling “roguelike-metroidvania” experience, which means it’s very difficult and unforgiving of mistakes—it will make you both love and hate it. Little by little, failure by failure, you will unlock more gear, but you’ll never progress through the procedurally generated world without serious skill. This game costs $3.99, and there are no in-app purchases. It’s free for those with a Play Pass subscription.
If you’ve ever seen the science-fiction classic The Thing, you’ll get the gist of Among Us right away. It’s a co-op game where you have to fix your damaged spaceship, but someone is not who they appear to be. One (or more) of your fellow crew members is an imposter that will kill you if you find yourself alone with it. For the crew, the goal is to identify and vote off the imposter or repair the ship. The imposter, meanwhile, kills the crew and sews seeds of doubt. It’s surprisingly cerebral for a game, and it’s free. There are in-app purchases, but they’re not essential.
There are a lot of games that look like Stardew Valley, but there’s only one Stardew Valley. It seems at first like your typical farming RPG—plant crops, harvest, invest in upgrades, and repeat. The world of Stardew Valley is special, though. It’s alive with stories and quests, all of which add to the endearing nature of the world. You can tell a lot of attention to detail went into this game, and it’s well worth the $5 asking price. It’s included with Play Pass.
As they say: heavy is the head that wears the crown. You can find out just how heavy by playing a few rounds of Reigns. As a medieval monarch, you must undertake a quest each year of your reign. To make a decision, simply swipe the event cards left or right. Sometimes these decisions seem inconsequential, but they could have major impacts on future events. Sometimes, however, they are so consequential that they will lead to your immediate assassination. Every ruler meets his fate eventually, but there are more royals waiting to ascend to the throne so you can get them banished, too. Reigns is $2.99 in the Play Store. You can play for free with Play Pass.
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