After recovering from the shock of the fact that we are, indeed, half-way through 2011 already, my next thought when devising this article was "how on earth am I going to narrow down the Android selection to just ten games?"
We’ve seen some cracking iOS ports, as you might expect, but also some genuinely great Android exclusives, which is hopefully a sign that the platform has truly begun forging its own gaming identity away from 'that' rival platform.
Needless to say, there’s going to be a fair few great titles that I’ll have missed off this list, so please do join in on the comments at the end of the article.
Game Dev Story
Kairosoft - Review - Buy
Just about sneaking into this top ten (because our review went live on the 4th of January), Game Dev Story is the original Kairosoft management game.
Although others, such as Grand Prix Story, have arguably built on the foundations laid down by this title since its release, Game Dev has a special place in our hearts for both being the original game to make half the staff stay up until 3am playing, and for featuring video games as its subject.
We’re not going to tell you that it's a particularly realistic simulation of the games industry (although the game reviewer that gave my first-person shooter, War is Heil, a paltry 4/10 reminds me of some people on this side of the fence), but we can assure you that once you start playing, you won’t easily be able to stop.
Gameloft - Review - Buy
Real-time strategy games don’t work on a phone, do they? The pace and complicated shortcuts required for this stalwart PC genre have troubles translating to consoles, after all, so why should they work on the (relatively) tiny screen of your Galaxy S II or HTC Desire HD?
Well, Mr Negative, let me point you in the direction of Gameloft’s superb Starfront Collision. Yes, it’s basically a big old clone of StarCraft, but (as with all of Gameloft’s output) that isn’t a bad thing in itself.
Indeed, while it may be inspired by one of the giants of the genre on PC, Starfront’s fully-functioning multiplayer, long campaign, skirmish modes, and refined touchscreen controls make it anything but a cut-down experience of the real thing.
If you have even a passing interest in the genre, you really should already have this game.
Jean-François Geyelin - Review - Buy
Talking of genres that shouldn’t work without buttons and keyboards, the trusty twin-stick shooter is a minefield when it comes to the mobile sphere, with plenty of games getting the calibration and sensitivity of the controls all wrong.
Rather than waste your money buying a ton of poorly optimised knock-offs that litter the Android Market, though, point your phone/browser in the direction of Jean-François Geyelin’s excellent take on the neo-retro template laid down by Bizarre Creations’s Geometry Wars instead.
Rather than a straight copy, PewPew 2 is packed with interesting and unique challenges and game modes. Coupled with tight controls and a pulsating soundtrack, you have a game that not only equals the thrills of the aforementioned Xbox Live Arcade title, but surpasses it.
Hexage - Review - Download
Hexage is one of those Android developers that every droid gamer either knows about or should know about, thanks to its consistently high quality releases.
Robotek is no exception. Put away your prejudices about freemium games for a second, because, while it may be free-to-play (and pay-to-cut-corners), Robotek’s unique blend of slot machine, strategy, and turn-based battling is guaranteed to hook you for hours.
There’s no boring harvest times or annoying social spamming here - just brilliant stylised graphics, a long campaign, and interesting gameplay.
Hexage - Review - Download
I’m not sure whether my exposure to cutting-edge puzzle games was once less than it is now or the previous decade was a barren patch for the genre, but in the past few years we’ve seen a whole heap of inspired titles emerge from the indie sphere.
Mr Karoshi is one of our personal favourites - a game that literally turns the whole idea behind platform games (that is to say, avoiding obstacles) and subverts it so that your brain thinks in reverse. You have to actively kill your character.
Naturally, a high-concept idea like that needs some clever level design to keep things interesting, or else it’d descend into ‘leap on spikes, repeat’, so it’s handy that Mr Karoshi’s levels are so well laid that, even after multiple restarts, you’ll still be coming back looking for more punishment.
Mika Mobile - Review - Buy
RPGs can be a slog, as anyone who’s ever ‘experienced’ the first 20 or so hours of Final Fantasy XIII will testify.
Battleheart, however, isn’t. It distils some of the key features of the genre like party-based battling and specialisations, wraps it into a lovably soft cushion of exquisite graphics and controls, and refuses to let you turn it off until the morning chorus.
Sure, if you’re looking for long streams of dialogue and emo teenagers moping about water spirits then you won’t find it here. If you like good quality games, though, there’s no reason not to get this.
Symphony of Eternity
Kemco Games - Review - Buy
You may think we don’t like JRPGs very much from that last entry, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. When done well, the genre is unmatched at offering a compelling narrative wrapped up in moreish gameplay mechanics.
Much like Symphony of Eternity, really. The story of a princess, young warrior, and the quest for an artefact that grants wishes may not be the most original setup for a game, but the characters and dialogue go a long way to ensuring it's an enjoyable ride nevertheless.
Also helping matters is a deep battle system with a ton of specialisations, and that rare beast - the non-random encounters.
This means that while you can grind out levels you can also choose to move on to the next part of the story without being bogged down by the most divisive feature of the genre.
Modern Combat 2: Black Pegasus
Gameloft - Review - Buy
Call of Duty is pretty big over in the home console world, or so I’ve heard. Shame there’s not a mobile company that tends to draw inspiration from such releases and produces its own, high-quality version of said games for smartphones.
Oh wait, there is.
Gameloft’s Modern Combat 2 isn’t Call of Duty, but it does a damn good impression. With a blistering, set-piece driven single-player story mode and a fully fleshed-out multiplayer (with the now mandatory levels and unlocks), it’s about as close as you can get to a proper FPS on mobiles (N.O.V.A. 2 notwithstanding).
Gotow.net - Review - Buy
“Oh god, not another tower defence game!”, you may cry. How about a really good tower defence game that will have even the most cynical gamers of the genre back upgrading towers, plotting routes, and cursing as the enemy dashes through your defence?
HexDefense looks basic, but don’t be fooled. While its gameplay is rooted in the traditional, the balance and layouts of the various levels (which include special tiles that can both hinder and help your cause) mean that no one tactic is guaranteed to succeed.
Couple this with the the genre’s addictive, one-more-go nature and tight balancing and you have a tower that’s well worth defending.
Cut the Rope
Zepto Labs - Review - Buy
It’s finally here! The iPhone game that had millions enraptured at the end of 2010 is on Android phones at last, and while it may not have extra content to make the wait a little sweeter, the re-balancing of levels and Om Nom’s little green face makes it hard to be too upset.
If you’ve never heard of the game before, the description - cut a series of ropes so that a sweet lands in a tiny green creature's mouth - may not sound so amazing, but it’s in the execution and polish where Cut the Rope succeeds.
The difficulty may be a little easy for the puzzle veterans, but it's at just the right level to make a three-star success satisfying without ever being infuriating. Also, if your heart doesn’t melt the first time Om Nom misses the sweet by inches, you officially have no soul.