Over the last few years, mobile phones have very quickly moved from being a low-end casual gaming platform to challenging the console markets and threatening to overtake the top handheld gaming devices like the Sony PSP and the Nintendo DS. From the most basic of puzzle games like Sudoku and tic-tac-toe, to high-end action games like N.O.V.A 2 HD, the Android Market is full of options that cater to everyone’s tastes.
One style of games that spans pretty much every genre in the market is physics-based games. These are games where the environment and elements interact in a simulated real-life manner with mass, density and gravity all impacting the outcome of the gamer’s actions. The inherent touch-based interface of most new mobile games and the built-in accelerometers – which are pretty much a necessity in most phones these days – add to the overall experience in these games.
Let’s take a look at some of the best physics-based games on the Android Market. These belong to various genres and I’ve tried to bring about as much variety in these as possible while focusing on gameplay, ratings and popularity.
Paper Toss (Free)
In one of the first games I played on the iPhone, you simply threw a crumpled piece of paper in the trashcan with a flick of your finger. “That’s stupid! Why would you pay for something as trivial as that” I said. That was before I spent half an hour playing it myself. Paper Toss is an Android game that takes the same concept and adds a bit of variation with a variable speed fan and different settings. The goal is simple – try and throw the paper ball in the trashcan while taking into consideration the direction and speed of airflow from the fan. Simple, addictive fun.
aTilt 3D Labyrinth ($3.99)
Here’s another very simple yet addictive concept. Remember the tiny mazes you played with as a kid, where the idea was to move a tiny ball through the maze to the circle in the center? aTilt 3D Labyrinth recreates the same concept on an Android Phone, complete with realistic graphics, near-realistic control over the plane of the maze thanks to the accelerometer and a decent variety of puzzles to keep casual gamers busy for a while.
Angry Birds Rio (Free, ad-supported)
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, you’ve most probably heard of Angry Birds. Arguably the most popular mobile game in the world, Angry Birds spawned two sequels, Rio being the last of them (and by far the best). The basic idea is still the same: you use a slingshot to hurl different kinds of birds to knock things over – though, in this version, your goal is to rescue other captured birds. Different materials add variety to the structures and influence strategy, as do the various powers of the birds that impact the landscape accordingly.
You might also like to check out these previous iterations of the game:
In a physics-based games roundup, things don’t get any more literal than Apparatus. The game is in fact a workshop where you use various materials at your disposal to build the most complex of structures to solve puzzles. From laying out blocks and leading marbles to hit certain targets, to building machines with motors and batteries, the game has it all for the mechanically inclined. If you have ever enjoyed games like Crazy Machines on the PC, this one is for you. It can get really hard very quickly, though, so get involved only if you are prepared to give it your time and patience.
Cut the Rope ($1.01)
Easily one of the most polished games on the Android Market, Cut the Rope has you doing something seemingly simple: cuting a bunch of ropes to make sure a cute little creature gets its candy. And it seems so for the first couple of levels. But once you start dealing with clever combinations of ropes, additional hurdles in ways of water bubbles, spikes, spiders and balloons, and the pressure to collect three stars before finishing each level, things get really fun and addictive. What makes Cut the Rope work where many other similar games have failed is the extremely clever level design.
For more info, see our full review of Cut the Rope.
X Construction ($1.43)
X Construction is a very good example of how good mechanics and attention to detail are much more important in a game than snazzy graphics and sound. The game’s premise is simple: build a bridge over a crevice with a limited amount of material, making sure it is solid enough to let a train cross over. What adds complexity – and fun – to the task is that the bridge follows the laws of physics and therefore will break if the load is not balanced across the beams appropriately.
Sprinkle is a pretty new game, that attempts to bring something new to the physics-based games – water. At its core, it is a puzzle game with a slight twist. You control a water cannon placed in the top-left corner of the screen and a whole bunch of beautifully rendered landscapes filling up the rest of the screen. The objective is to extinguish a fire on each level by figuring a way to get the water to reach it. The awesome graphics come at a price though: the game is only available for nVidia Tegra based devices. If you are the proud owner of one, what are you waiting for? For the rest of us, drooling over the video may not be the best way to spend an evening.
Chalk Ball ($2.13)
The first time I played Chalk Ball, I was left wondering – after the two hours that I spent playing it, of course – why no one else had thought about this before! The concept is simple: the canvas is a chalkboard, you have a piece of chalk, and there’s a ball that you need to stop from falling through by drawing lines with the chalk so the ball bounces back up. The chalk becomes smaller every time you draw a line, but you can recover it by hitting certain symbols that appear randomly on the board. Things get more complex than that, but the basic premise of the game is to stop the ball from giving in to gravity and falling through.
Super Stickman Golf (Free)
Another iOS hit that has been ported over the Android, Super Stickman Golf doesn’t come across as much at first glance. A simple stick figure with something akin to a golf club and some very simple landscapes don’t generate much interest, but save your judgement till you get down to playing it. This is a miniature golf game that ignores physics rules in the way the landscapes are laid out, while at the same time applying them to great effect in the way you play your shots. The clever level design keeps things just difficult enough while leaving you with wanting to beat your own high score – and therefore coming back to the game – again and again.
Pollushot takes the slingshot-based gameplay of Angry Birds to another level and merges it with concepts from classic games, like Breakout. The result is a fun game where you use your slingshot to fire at enemies coming from the top, catch the ammo that is dispersed when they blow up and use it to fire at more enemies. The gameplay is fast-paced and gets really overwhelming fairly quickly, so make sure you are a fan of games like Breakout and Asteroids before getting into this one. If you crave the trigger-happy action, and have a powerful enough device to handle the graphics and animation, go for it by all means.
No two games in this list use physics the same way as the other, and yet there are hundreds more out there that seem to crop up every day. Got a favorite that’s not here? Lets hear about it in the comments below.