There’s no question that smartphones and tablets have become by far the biggest gaming platform in the world, surpassing dedicated gaming devices with the sheer size of their user base and gaming software on offer. However, it is worth considering that the Google Play store is an environment which creates only a few gaming mega-hits per year, with many hopeful, worthy titles quickly fading into obscurity.
For an independent game developer, these struggles for exposure are often insurmountable. Google’s openness and transparency regarding app download figures provides a sobering — and often depressing — insight into these difficulties, with many games boasting a shocking lack of players. Here, we have collated 7 very worthwhile gaming experiences on Android that have most definitely flown under your — and almost everyone else’s — radar, but are well worth playing.
Since appearing on my tablet, Polygon Storm has become a quick favourite. It is my go-to game for relaxing, which is odd for something that initially seems so stressful. Watch Polygon Storm in action, and you’ll probably become dazed at the swirling, ceaseless parade of coloured blobs between which you’re supposed to dodge and weave, like a claustrophobe’s nightmare of a busy high-street.
However, the experience of actually playing it is one of hypnotic, zen-like concentration and an odd sense of relaxation. Your senses are elevated to an instinctual level that only the best arcade games can muster, and each play session will leave you exhilarated and near-breathless as you struggle to comprehend the incredible feats that your own hands have just achieved — a sensation that will be very familiar to those who have played Terry Cavanagh’s Super Hexagon, or even indie classic Super Meat Boy.
If you’ve been following the world of indie gaming of late, you’ll almost certainly be familiar with the term ‘roguelike’. Spelunky and Rogue Legacy are two recent high-profile examples of games with ‘roguelike elements’. For those in the dark, the meaning is simple — to be considered a roguelike, a game must contain some element of randomisation in the way it plays out, ordinarily thrusting the player into an ever-shifting, never-twice-the-same world in which death is permanent. There are no second chances in a roguelike, and your only chance of success is to stave off the inevitability of death longer than you did last time.
Pitman takes all of these core sensibilities and transplants them into a turn-based board game format. The layout of the board is randomly-generated, which means there’s little stagnation in the cavernous environments after multiple sessions, and the unpredictable placement of enemies constantly keeps you on your toes. A bad board layout may leave you ill-equipped to deal with some of the more fearsome foes, or a lucky run could leave your inventory overflowing with cool and useful items.
Including a variety of weapons and magic abilities (all boasting different stats), RPG-style levelling and a constantly shifting game world, Pitman has more than enough content to make it a bargain.
Looking and sounding every inch like a game you’d have played on your SNES, Cross-Side is an excellent puzzler with a toe-tapping chiptune soundtrack.
Cross-Side tasks you with directing two cutesy little pixel blobs from one side of the screen to the other, while controlling them simultaneously. The only trouble is that, while their moves are symmetrical, their respective paths are littered with different obstacles, requiring clever use of the environment to get both across unscathed. It starts off simple, but later levels require brain-bending feats of logic, bringing in new elements such as barriers and switches.
With a near-universal puzzle appeal that goes beyond the core gamer audience, a neat retro aesthetic and endearing characters, it seems a shame that Cross-Side failed to attract a larger audience.
Made possible by a successful Kickstarter campaign, Soul Power is a very interesting and unusual Android game — probably unlike any you’ve played before. It’s designed by Gabriel Koenig, a lone developer and musician whose intention was to create a seamless product that straddled the line between videogame and soundtrack album. Positioning the player as a ghost, a fresh spirit who is new to the afterlife, Soul Power tackles some big ideas and themes, too.
“Typically I’m frustrated by the shallow nature of the standard mobile game”, said Koenig when talking about development. “Soul Power is a reaction against this trend.”
These big ambitions are evident in Soul Power’s gameplay. Floating around the spiritual realm in your unfamiliar ghostly form, you must come to terms with the end of your mortal life, attempt to break through your post-life haze and make some sense of your death, interacting with fellow spirits. In terms of genre, Soul Power has most in common with the platformer — albeit with unique ghostly abilities such as teleportation — but the action is broken up with slower-paced stages of introspective quietude and pondering.
With sharp dialogue, excellent music and solid platforming action, ambition like this deserves to be rewarded. Definitely worth grabbing at the low price, and worthy of a place on your phone or tablet.
To me, gaming on an Android phone and gaming on an Android tablet are two very different things. Playing games on the tablet, being a bigger and less portable device, feels more akin to console gaming — it’s a device for the home, to stretch out on the sofa and truly immerse yourself in. Meanwhile, the mobile phone is something that you have in your pocket all day, and can whip out for a quick-fire gaming session at any given time — the bus, your lunch break, whatever. For this, you don’t want any distractions, lengthy tutorials or flowery prose, you simply want immediately gratifying arcade purity.
This is where Super Bomb Drop DX excels, as a pick-up-and-play phone game. Taking a no-nonsense and no-faff approach to game design, Super Bomb Drop DX’s core mechanic is both immediately graspable and instantly satisfying — as coloured squares stream across the screen, you time your taps in order to blow them up and gain points. Different colours denote different point values ranging from 5 – 100, while hitting red squares incurs a 50 point penalty.
It’s the sort of skill-based high-score challenge that gaming used to be built around, and its deliberately pared-down sense of style will have you coming back time and time again. Best of all, no window of opportunity is too narrow to try for a new high score.
Together is from the same developer as Super Bomb Drop DX, and maintains the same sense of minimalistic style. However, this one harnesses the beautiful and all-too-rarely explored dynamic of multiple players on a single touchscreen.
2-4 players take control of a coloured blob each, which they control by dragging around the screen. Each player’s blob is interconnected, so the idea is that you’ll succeed or die together — you’re truly stuck with one another. Dodging the ugly red bringers-of-death while strung together can be quite the chaotic and finger-twisting experience. It’s a fine example of true player interaction through gaming.
Recommended for tablets only, unless you and your buddies have particularly dainty and nimble fingers. Together is also completely free, with no in-app purchases or monetisation, so there’s really no excuse not to try it out.
There are plenty of games which fail to capture the feeling of a console’s twin-stick control scheme on Android, but 99 Waves to Die is one that gets it right. While I am still largely of the opinion that mobile developers need to utilise the touchscreen control method for its unique qualities rather than badly aping console-like controls, 99 Waves to Die features one of the few ‘virtual joypads’ which didn’t leave me massively frustrated by the touchscreen’s limitations.
99 Waves to Die is essentially a nostalgia-baiting twin-stick shooter, a loving homage to 80’s arcades. Serving up enough retro shoot-’em-up action to satisfy any Android gamer’s blam-blam cravings, the game sees you mowing down wave after wave of beautifully rendered pixel art spaceships. They’re tough blighters too, as the difficulty packs just as much of a punch as the coin-gobbling arcade machines that the developers so lovingly recall.
Well worth a download for any nostalgic Android gamer, or just anyone who wants to see virtual controls done right.
Do you know of any other great games available on the Play Store that have a small number of downloads but are still worth playing? Let us know in the comments.