Framed is a film noir comic book, and you are the author. Or at least, you’re re-arranging the on-screen panels to help your character, framed for a murder, escape the police. Each sequence begins paused, giving you time to assess, rejig the order of the story, and hit play. You might be doing something as simple as lighting a cigarette – or you might be deciding the best route for your character to sneak through back streets, evading the cops’ torches.
Like the best puzzle games, Framed introduces concepts slowly, and then ramps up the difficulty, stretching the limits of your mechanical mastery. Soon you’ll be tilting and rotating panels – to create new paths through alleyways, say – or quickly moving panels during the action to reveal new routes as your character runs. You’ll never be stuck for too long, but the solutions still feel clever, which keeps Framed moving along at an action movie pace.
It looks stylish, and sounds it too, thanks to a jazzy soundtrack. Framed 2 is even more polished, and introduces new ways to solve puzzles, but we’d advise playing the original first to get used to the concept.
69. Pixel Dungeon
Pixel Dungeon looks like a pure and simple roguelike, but once you’re a few floors into its underground dungeons, you’ll release just how deep and complex a game it is. The premise is uncomplicated enough: as a Warrior, Mage, Rogue or Huntress, your goal is to strike deep into the earth to find an amulet, searching for stairs on each floor you encounter. You’ll defeat ghouls and rats, open chests, buy items from shops, cast spells, find hidden doors and face a boss once every five floors. But by experimenting, you’ll constantly discover new, unexpected mechanics. You can find seeds, for example, which you can grow into trap-like plants. You can jump into chasms to reach lower floors, at the cost of hit points. If you burst into flames from using an unidentified item, finding water will quench the fire.
With each new run, your items and potions are reset, and many start with unidentified properties. These might be good – healing or invisibility – or bad, such as vertigo of paralysis. You can identify them with rare scrolls, or, if you’re feeling brave, you can just try them out and hope for the best. These risk-reward trade-offs are what make Pixel Dungeon so compelling. Do you loot an enemy’s corpse for treasure, and risk it turning into a powerful wraith? Do you try and open that chest, which might actually be a monster in disguise? If you can get over the difficulty, and accept the fact that there’s a heavy dollop of luck at play, you’ll find Pixel Dungeon to be one of the most involved roguelikes around. Yes, you can play it on PC, but mobile is its original, spiritual home.
68. Dota Underlords
We’ve resisted putting an autochess game on this list up until now, but it’s grown so popular that we can resist no longer. All games in the genre follow roughly the same structure: you purchase heroes from a random starting selection, plop them on an 8v8 grid, and watch them face off against your opponents. It’s not as simple as it sounds, and compiling the best squad round-to-round requires plenty of tactics. Dota Underlords is the most polished game in the genre, courtesy of the fact it’s made by Dota 2 developer Valve, so expect shiny visuals and a (relatively) streamlined UI.
It’s still in Early Access, so expect balancing mistakes, but Valve is updating it regularly, and it’s improving over time. It’s therefore the ideal route into the genre, and if you can’t get enough of it, you could branch out to Auto Chess, another viable option.
67. To The Moon
To The Moon’s limited interactivity means it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but there are few games with a more intricate, emotional story. In the future, humans have developed the technology to change their own memories, travelling inside each other’s minds to twist their perception of the past. An old man wants you to make him think he was an astronaut, and from that bizarre premise a touching tale unfolds.
You travel backwards through his mind, starting with the most recent memories, down to his childhood. It’s a story in reverse, basically, which is difficult to get right, but To The Moon manages to do it, and things you see early on will take on far greater significance when you delve deeper. It’s an affecting tale of love, loss and family: don’t be surprised if you need to dry your eyes.
66. Another Eden
Finally: a fully-fledged JRPG that doesn’t throw microtransactions in your face. Another Eden is written by Masato Kato of Chrono Trigger fame, and it’s essentially a spiritual successor to that 1995 SNES classic, with a lengthy story involving a young boy travelling through time to save the world. Kato and fellow creator Yasunori Mitsuda, the Chrono Trigger composer, wanted this to feel like a traditional JRPG with no mobile game trappings, and it shows: free-to-play distractions never get in the way of its narrative or accessible turn-based combat.
If you want to level up your characters to the max and expand your party,then you’ll end up grinding a lot, or paying real money. But it’s perfectly possible to beat the game — and experience the story — with only free characters, and your party naturally expands over time. The four-direction exploration is simple, but it suits the mobile interface, and you’ll never feel short-changed. And besides, it’s free, so why not give it a shot?
65. Chrono Trigger
Speaking of Masato Kato, here’s the game that made him famous. Chrono Trigger was a mess when it initially hit Android back in 2012, with dodgy sound, shoddy visuals and a whole host of bugs. Over the years, Square Enix slowly upgraded it to a point where, now, it’s not just playable, but enjoyable. Sure, it’s still not the definitive version of the game, and the controls can sometimes feel a bit off, but it’s a chance to carry one of the all-time greats around with you all the time, ready to dip into when you have a spare 15 minutes.
You play Crono, a boy trapped in a time travel loop with a girl called Marle. The pair have been sent back 400 years by a freak tech accident, and Marle is mistaken for her ancestor, the current queen. We don’t want to say more than that, because Crono and Marle’s twisting journey is what makes Chrono Trigger so special: expect plenty of surprises and revelations that turn the tale on its head. The simple combat translates well to touchscreens, and the revamped graphics look better than ever.
64. Exploding Kittens
Genre: Card game
It’s not what you think. No lovable furballs were harmed in the making of Exploding Kittens, a physical card game now brought to phones in a digital adaptation that, thanks to some cute animations and funny sound effects, is arguably the best way to play. The premise of Exploding Kittens is simple: players take turns to play action cards (skip a turn, steal a card from another player), and at the end of their go, they draw a card. If that card is an Exploding Kitten, they...well...explode, and they’re out of the game. That’s unless they have a defuse card, which lets them stave off danger and secretly insert the Exploding Kitten back into the deck at a point of their choosing.
It’s not a tactical game, by any means, but there are sneaky ways to reduce your chances of exploding (a See The Future card will let you peek at the top three cards, for instance), and when you’re down to the last half of the deck, you’ll be sweating. The Android app will let you play with friends in person (we’d prefer using the physical cards in that case), but more importantly, it will let you play online, either with friends or strangers. Now, you never have to wait for your next feline fix. Boom!
63. Rusty Lake Hotel
A sick, twisted point-and-click that asks you to kill humanoid animals, slice them up and serve them as tasty meals to the other creatures staying at the Rusty Lake Hotel. Its dark sense of humor makes it easier to stomach: for example, knocking off the rabbit, who is also a magician, involves a botched swords-through-a-box trick, and every lavish meal is set to a soundtrack of smooth jazz.
The puzzles aren’t half clever, too: devilish and varied, you’ll be re-arranging cards, making poisonous concoctions and conducting a Punch and Judy show. The murders are complex and multi-staged, requiring you to think several steps ahead. When you find the solution, you’ll feel like an evil genius.
If you like it, make sure you check out the other two Rusty Lake games: Paradise and Roots, which are both bigger than this one. And if you want something a bit more personal and grounded, try The White Door.
A completely free, open-source recreation of one of the greatest strategy games ever made — Civilization 5 — without a single advert. What’s the catch? Well, it doesn’t look as good as the real thing: it’s a low detail recreation of Civ 5’s Strategic View, which means no fancy unit models or pretty landscapes. The UI is a bit ropey, too, but that’s a small price to pay for a game this good.
It gives you everything you need to guide a new civilzation from birth to glory, whether by force or by peace. Civ 5 is one of the best in the long-running series because of how many ways you can engineer your rise to power (we prefer diplomacy to the sword), along with plenty of unique factions, leaders and units. This is your chance to play it free, and on-the-go. Don’t miss out.
61. Battle Chasers: Nightwar
We have a theory that Android JRPGs tend to fare better when they’re ports of existing games, rather than built for mobile from the ground up (which often leads to simplification and microtransactions). Battle Chasers: Nightwar, a port, lends credence to that theory – it’s a lengthy, complex, party-based RPG that shines in combat, where your squad’s long list of attacks and abilities respond to each other in creative ways.
One character might ignite an enemy, causing another to perform a critical attack, causing a third to heal the whole party. It’s in finding these synergies – along with beautiful art, solid voice acting and easy-to-understand touch controls – that Battle Chasers: Nightwar shines just as brightly as it did on PC and consoles.
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