The Google Play store has plenty of blatant cash grabs and shameless Flappy Bird clones, but it also houses some real gems. Whether you want a clever puzzler for your commute or a deep RPG for when you’re sprawled on your sofa, your Android phone is the perfect pocket portal into another world.
But discovering the best Android games is a struggle. Google’s store is stuffed to bursting, and finding exactly what you want in its sprawling web of menus is near-impossible. Don’t worry: we’ve done the legwork for you, sifting through the junk to find the crème de la crème of mobile gaming, and we update this list every month to make sure nothing squirms past our net. Here are the best Android games you can play right now.
Each month, we review a major new Android release in the hopes of finding new entries to this list. Some will make the cut, others won’t, but all the games we’ll review are at least worth knowing about. For the full list of the best Android games, turn to page 2.
July Android Game of the Month – Dr Mario World
Dr Mario World makes the mobile match-three formula feel fresh again. Its flexible controls allow for smart block-bursting combos, and give you more ways to solve puzzles than you’d normally get in this genre. But while the frantic multiplayer is addictive, the first four hours of singleplayer lack any real challenge, and the stingy microtransactions have soured my time with it.
Each level is a grid full of red, blue and yellow viruses. You have a limited stack of double-sided pills that you rotate and drag onto the grid: lining up three viruses and pills of the same colour makes them pop. If you burst all viruses before you run out of pills, you move to the next level.
Once you pull a pill onto the grid it drifts upwards until it touches a virus, but you can also drag pills directly into place without having to wait. It rewards inventive thinking—you can set down one pill at the bottom of the screen, drag the next one up to burst a bunch of viruses, and then grab the original pill, still floating, to clear up the stragglers. Or you might burst half a pill and scoop up the other half, slotting it in a single space to complete a line of three.
Levels have no timer, giving you space to think through each scenario, and I felt clever when I could plan a few moves ahead to start a string of combos. Dragging pills to the top of the screen is sometimes fiddly because they can get caught on viruses lower down, but it doesn’t happen enough to be annoying, and the controls are generally responsive enough to let you put your plans into action.
Sadly, it takes too long to properly test you. In the first three hours of singleplayer you’re bombarded with new mechanics, such as viruses stuck behind unlockable cages, or levels where the aim is to collect coins from blocks rather than burst viruses. Each addition gets a tutorial, followed by some easy stages, and just when they’re getting tricky you’re hit with another new system. You can’t fault Dr Mario World for its variety—something most games in the genre lack—but I rarely felt like I had the chance to properly challenge myself against its core ideas.
It also fails to charm you in the way most Mario games do. The music is bouncy and catchy, and you’ll hear familiar sound effects, but the characters have none of the personality you’d expect. There’s no real voice-acting: when Mario pops onto screen, he doesn’t shout “It’s-a-me, Mario!”—when Bowser appears, he’s silent. It feels sterile.
The microtransactions are no better or worse than in most free-to-play puzzlers, but I’d have expected Nintendo to set a higher bar. You’re encouraged to buy packs of diamonds, which can net you in-game virus-busting items or unlock new characters. You can also spend diamonds on hearts, which is where Dr Mario World is most frustrating. To play each new level, you must give up a heart. Beating the level gets it back, but if you fail it’s gone forever. You have a limited stack of hearts, and once they hit zero you have to wait half an hour for each heart to regenerate, up to a maximum of five. If you don’t want to wait, you can just buy new hearts with diamonds, or pay for an hour of unlimited play.
New players are rewarded with occasional gifts of hearts, and if you’re good enough you won’t need to spend money until you’re fully invested: I didn’t run out of hearts until seven hours in. But if you get stuck on a level, you could easily burn through your lives in one go. The unlimited hour costs $3/£3’s worth of diamonds, which feels stingy, especially considering that $10/£8 gets rid of all the microtransactions in Super Mario Run, Nintendo’s other mainline Android effort, and lets you play the whole game. I wish the devs had done the same here.
The 1v1 multiplayer is devoid of microtransactions, and shows how good the game could’ve been if it had just focused on solid, repeatable puzzles. A steady chug-chug of blocks drops from the top of your screen, and you try to clear them as fast as you can. If they fill your grid, it’s game over. The same is true for your opponent, and by clearing blocks you build up an attack bar that, when unleashed, plops extra viruses onto your opponent’s grid.
It’s a constant scramble to stay ahead, and the ranking system means you’re always well-matched. Each round is over in a minute or so, and I never took more than 10 seconds to pair with an opponent, which makes it easy to hang around for one more match. I’ll be returning to it regularly over the next few months. That’s more than can be said for the singleplayer, unfortunately. At its heart, Dr Mario World is far cleverer than most match-three games—but it does its best to look stupid.
A smart puzzler that rewards creativity, but its single-player mode is bogged down by tutorials and stingy microtransactions.
Price: Free (with in-app purchases)
Turn to page two for our pick of the 50 best Android games to play right now...