Google’s Android mobile OS made huge strides in 2009, closing the gap on Apple’s iPhone considerably.
One area in which it was lagging significantly behind at the turn of the year, though, was gaming.
The iPhone’s incredibly strong roster, backed by a solid App Store environment, stood in stark contrast to Android’s fragmented hardware and restrictive memory requirements, not to mention a weak Market with an unpopular (with developers anyway) 24 hour refund policy.
While many of the issues facing the platform have yet to be addressed in full, 2010 has seen a marked improvement in Android gaming output. The good news is that the trickle of early releases is swiftly turning into a flood of titles as more and more developers take notice of the rapidly growing platform.
Here’s a selection of our favourite Android games so far in 2010. Let us know what you've been playing this year in the comments section below.
With the sheer number of hastily created throwaway titles on the Android Market, Panzer Panic stands as an example of how to make a simple, compact game that still possesses a decent level of polish.
It's a straightforward action-strategy game that plays out a bit like a simplified, top-down Worms. You move your three tanks into position and launch attacks on your ever-increasing opponents, picking up power-ups and extra lives along the way.
What makes it stand out, though, is its charming hand-sketched style, which looks like its been scrawled by a 13-year-old boy in his maths book. Only, y’know, good.
HyperBees has made two 3D Android games that we’ve really dug this year, but we’re going to go with Prism 3D over Speedx 3D thanks to its greater depth and variety.
You must guide a bouncing beach ball through a bunch of hazardous levels, landing it on point-scoring blocks and avoiding the gaping chasm that awaits beneath. It’s got a similar maze-running allure to such classics as Super Monkey Ball and Marble Madness.
The icing on this particular cake is an extremely accessible level editor, which allows you to make your own sprawling levels. It's already very good, but once the developer has enabled the ability to upload and download these homemade concoctions, Prism 3D will be a must-have.
With Robo Defense, Android owners get their very own Fieldrunners – perhaps a little too literally at times.
While the similarity to Subatomic Studios’s game is inescapable, there’s no denying that Robo Defense has got a lot going for it. For one thing, it replicates the Fieldrunners formula very well, with the iPhone hit’s accessible tower defence formula making the transition intact.
Robo Defense offers more than a simple carbon copy, though, featuring a branching turret development system that goes into far greater depth than its obvious inspiration. It’s enough to make the game an interesting proposition in its own right.
OrangePixel stands out from most other small Android developers thanks to its distinctive visual style, and Dynamo Kid is probably its best effort.
Not only does it look great, with its world being sketched into life before your eyes, it also plays very nicely indeed. As our little hero runs from left to right, you interact with his environment directly – drawing in platforms and tapping to get rid of enemies.
It’s this persistent juggling act that elevates Dynamo Kid above the simplistic high score-chasing premise, and makes it one of our favourite Android games of the year.
Deal or No Deal: Around the World
We’re no fans of the Deal or No Deal TV show or Noel “why oh why is he back on our screens?” Edmunds, but we were quite taken aback by the quality of this I-play effort back in February. And not just because it doesn’t feature the bearded idiot.
The key to its success is in creating the tension that defines the TV show. By requiring you to buy your way into the next exotic location, it manages to give the virtual cash real value.
It remains a game for fans of the show, but even the DoND sceptics among you may well get some pleasure from this unexpectedly creative effort.
Take RedLynx’s DrawRace and mix it with a little Micro Machines and you have this – perhaps the finest arcade racer available on the Android Market.
The racing is simplicity itself. All you need to take care of is steering your little car left and right – or clockwise and anti-clockwise, to be precise. Accelerating and braking is handled for you, leaving you to worry about the racing line.
But the real killer feature is the downloadable opposition. Visit the online high score table and you can download the specific race that won the number one (or number 172) spot. An ingenious feature for a quietly brilliant game.
Homerun Battle 3D
As a predominantly British website this may come as something of a shock to you (it certainly came as a shock to us), but two of our favourite Android games of 2010 revolve around the sport of baseball. The two couldn’t be more different, though.
Com2uS’s effort, Homerun Battle 3D, is the flashier, more tightly focused example. It’s a batting-only affair with an excellent control system that, when mastered, allows you to put the ball exactly where you want it.
With an impressive cross-platform online multiplayer mode and pin-sharp 3D graphics, Homerun Battle 3D sails out of the stadium and into our affections.
Baseball Superstars 2010
The second Korean baseball game on our list takes a far more zoomed out view of the sport. This time you must bat, pitch, and field in order to lead your team to victory.
While none of these elements is as satisfying as Homerun Battle 3D’s batting system, the fun comes from elsewhere. Baseball Superstars is as much an RPG as it is a sport game, allowing you to train up a custom made player and embark on a decade-long career.
There’s a welcome anime influence to the game, too, which can be seen in the larger than life visuals and the ability to select 'super players' who can dispatch the ball in various physics-defying ways.
It’s a triumphant Android one-two for Gamevil, with this port of its excellent RPG Zenonia getting a rave nine out of ten review from our very own Will Wilson. It’s easy to see why.
The game is the same excellent mix of Zelda-like exploration and in depth character customisation that we saw on iPhone. A somewhat predictable fantasy storyline is enhanced no end by an entertaining script, which is enhanced in turn by the odd close to the knuckle utterance or charmingly mistranslated phrase.
There aren’t many substantial offerings on the Market right now, so Zenonia’s epic presence is most welcome.
“Animal top trumps” is the term I used to describe Everlands in my review, but that runs the risk of underselling what stands as my personal favourite Android game of 2010.
It’s much more than a simple case of stat crunching. You lay down your hexagonal animal-themed cards on a grid, taking advantage of each one’s unique attacking and defensive strengths. There are cards that allow you to seize the initiative (the snake) and cards that let you dig into a defensive position (the hedgehog).
It’s this tactical element that makes Everlands so absorbing. It’s complemented by an oddly compelling story concerning a band of animals’ quest for answers. Slightly iffy translation somehow adds to the game’s strange charm.
It may not have the epic scale, fancy graphics, or clever online features of the other games on this list, but Everlands deserves its place alongside them with its quirky brilliance.