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Android reviews of the week: Pandas vs. Ninjas, Dungeon Hunter, Battle for Mars, The Plateau, and Cestos 2

Own the bestest smart phone this side of an AT&T exclusive contract but don’t know what to play? Have we got a set of puzzle/action/flinging stuff games for you to try out.

Cestos 2: Party Time

Get it from the developer

Above: Marble madness

Sequel to the hit puzzle/action title from last year, Cestos 2 completely revamps the graphics, adds new gameplay modes and smoother controls, and just generally improves upon the original -- which was a very addictive game in its own right. The game is multiplayer based, and can be wickedly addictive once you get online, so be warned.

Gameplay is tied to the game mode you're dropped into when you set up a multiplayer match -- that's right, dropped into: sadly you have no control over what game type you'll be assigned, but all feature the same general concept. You use a physics-based engine to propel a marble around a map with the goal of either avoiding things and causing others to hit them (Minefield and Black Hole modes), collecting things (Star Collector mode), or some combination thereof (Target Practice and Pinball modes).

Winning matches yields in-game rewards, mostly in the form of experience points and gold pieces, that can be used to power up and customize your Cestos avatar, respectively. The rewards provide a nice carrot to keep you coming back for more, but the real winner here is the instantaneous, competitive online gameplay. You can easily drop a full half-hour at a time getting through a series of matches, so be sure you're not doing anything important before you boot up a game of Cestos 2.

The Plateau

Get it from the developer

Above: Connect the dots

Sometimes a game will come out of nowhere and just blow you away with its production values, especially on a portable device. SpoonJuice's The Plateau is not a complex game from a gameplay perspective. But it will astound you with its beautiful graphics, ethereal soundtrack, and smooth interactivity.

The key to this game is that you're presented with a "star cluster" (which looks, usually, more like an atomic diagram), a series of dots connected by lines, that's all messed up: the lines are interconnected, the shape in impossible to discern, etc. Your goal is to drag the dots around until you can resolve the whole, connected structure into a flat, uncrossed plane.

It's more complicated than it sounds, and, except for the first few levels, you'll need to have a very good sense of spatial recognition to have any hope of getting through (trial and error rarely works), but that's part of the challenge. While you're peering at your phone, trying to discern the method in the madness, however, you'll be treated to tranquil music and some of the prettiest backgrounds you'll see on a phone. If I could've figured out how, I would certainly have turned one or two of these into my phone's wallpaper -- they're that nice.

Still, a game isn't a screensaver, so if the fairly straightforward gameplay doesn't sound like your cup of tea (and it isn't for everyone), you might not be as impressed with the aesthetic stuff. But I sure was.

Dungeon Hunter

Get it at Gameloft

Above: Like a German car: pricier than it probably should be, but has all the amenities

Speaking of games that look fantastic, you won't find much better looking (or more punishing to your hardware) than Dungeon Hunter. Effectively a Dungeon Siege clone (or Diablo, if you prefer a 2D analogy), Dungeon Hunter is squarely in the fantasy action-RPG vein. You create a character from one of the warrior/rogue/wizard tropes, and get loosed on a series of dungeon environs in which you'll need to fight monsters, collect gear, level up, and just generally do what folks do in fantasy games like this.

The production values here are quite high, with 3D graphics pretty much approximating the original PSX, and backgrounds that are often more impressive than the action going on in the game. One drawback is the overly complex controls, but this is mostly a learning curve issue: once you've played enough Dungeon Hunter, you'll be used to it.

Now, keep in mind, while impressive (and addictive) Dungeon Hunter is both expensive (for an Android game) and taxing on your phone's resources. Unless you have at least a 3G phone, I would stay away. That said, there's just something about the kill-monsters-get-items cycle that allows games like this to slowly suck your life away. I found myself staying longer in the bathroom at work, just to be able to get a little more experience, or find one more cool magic item. If you don't mind dropping five bucks on an Android title, and you're a Diablo fan, you could do a lot worse than Dungeon Hunter.