The Google Play store has a raft of games that will try and catch your eye with their colourful icons, but they range from blatant cash grabs and shameless Flappy Bird clones to the utterly brilliant best Android games. Whether you want a deep RPG, clever puzzler or idle tapper for your commute, your Android phone is a portal into a brand new gaming 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.
August Android Game of the Month – Gears POP!
Gears Pop! is deceptively shallow. Its cover system sets it apart from other similar lane-pushers, and makes you feel like you're making smart decisions, but the illusion melts away after a few hours, leaving a simple strategy game where you win by simply memorising a list of character counters – or by just paying real money to make your squad stronger.
That squad is made up of characters "pins", and you can take eight into any battle. During matches, you spend energy to place those pins, sending them charging towards your online enemy's base, and the first one to destroy their opponent wins.
Unlike Clash Royale (probably the biggest game in this genre), arenas have pieces of cover running up either side in columns. Some of your characters can capture that cover, and by pushing the frontline you can place pins closer to the enemy's base. It's a clever mechanic that means you can't just throw pins at your opponent wildly: you have to keep a close eye on who owns a piece of cover, and claiming territory gives you a huge advantage.
When I face opponents with similar playstyle to me – a mix of methodical cover captures and fast, rushing groups – matches are tense and frantic, often coming down to the last few seconds. I like that the pace changes during a match: sometimes it's a war of attrition, other times it's complete chaos, and both players just throw down as many pins as they can. That's especially true in the final 30 seconds, where you regenerate energy at double speed.
The ranking system rewards you for wins more generously than it penalises you for losses, which means, thankfully, you're free to experiment with different lineups without risking a huge drop. Gears Pop! nearly always finds your next opponent within seconds too, so it's easy to just endlessly load up another match.
However, the lack of strategic depth becomes clear as you reach higher ranks. Every pin has a list of characters it's strong against, and others that it's weak against. If it meets a character it counters, it'll pretty much always come out on top. The Sniper can safely take down the Boomer, a sluggish monster with a giant grenade launcher. The Savage Grenadier can take out a group of dangerous Shepherd grunts in one throw.
The best tactic is simply to wait for your opponent to act and counter. It's hardly exciting, and it's made worse by the way Gears Pop! communicates these rules. For some reason I can't fathom, the lists of strengths and weaknesses are shown as character icons so small that it's hard to know which character a given image represents. Every time you unlock a new pin, you have to learn another set of strengths and weaknesses, squinting at tiny portraits.
You can also face opponents that have simply paid for a stronger squad. In Gears Pop! you get a crate for every win, and those crates either contain new pins or copies of older ones. When you get enough copies of an old pin you can upgrade it for extra damage and HP. Crates take hours to open by themselves, and you're limited to carrying four.
You can, however, spend "crystals" to open them immediately. For the first few hours, crystals are easy to come by via free gifts and by completing simple daily objectives. However, soon you'll run out of crystals and therefore, of crate slots. You can either buy crystals with real money or play for no reward, which is far less fun. You can also just straight buy coins to pay for pin upgrades (coins, too, are plentiful at the start but begin to wane later).
The upshot is: the more money you spend, the more crates you can open, the more upgrades you get and therefore the better your squad. Coming up against an opponent with all high-level pins is almost a guaranteed loss whatever your strategy, because their characters hit harder. It feels pointless to even try.
It's put me off single-player and, unfortunately, the multiplayer is clunky. I like the idea of playing co-op horde mode, but finding a game is a huge fuss because you can only play with other people in the same clan. Joining a clan is a hassle, and every clan seems to be either password protected or completely full. When you do eventually find a space you'll be met with a lofty level requirement, and even if you pass it, you can only play if other clan members happen to be offline. It's messy and frustrating: much like most of Gears Pop!, really.
A cover system sets Gears POP! apart from the crowded lane-pusher genre, but limited strategy and pervasive microtransactions make it hard to love.
Price: Free (with in-app purchases)
Turn to page two for our pick of the 50 best Android games to play right now...