10 best Android games 2021: From top racing games to free arcade classics

Got a new phone and don’t know what to play? We’re here to help

Steve Hogarty
Wednesday 05 May 2021 11:34
<p>If you’re finally bored of ‘Candy Crush’, don’t worry – these will keep you entertained for hours</p>

If you’re finally bored of ‘Candy Crush’, don’t worry – these will keep you entertained for hours

The Google Play store is awash with free Android games, and while there are plenty of gems to discover, the majority of apps aren’t worth your time. To help you navigate through the rubbish and find the best games that Android has to offer, we’ve pulled together a list of 10 of our favourite titles.

Android is home to a range of genres, from complex strategy games and first-person shooters to word puzzles and mobile versions of console classics. We’ve chosen games to represent a bunch of different categories, so whether you’re looking for a shoot ‘em up to play in short bursts, or to have your waking hours consumed by a bucolic farming simulator, there’ll be something in this list for you.

We’ve included games that should work on older phones as well as the latest Android devices. Some high-end phones, like the recently launched OnePlus 9, feature a dedicating gaming mode, reflecting just how serious hardware manufacturers are about gaming on Android. This redirects processing power to boost graphics performance, prioritises bandwidth for multiplayer games and turns off notifications so you’re not interrupted mid-game.

For an even more console-like experience you can connect a wireless controller to most Android phones, allowing you to play using an Xbox or PlayStation pad. Not all Android games feature controller support, but if you plan on playing for long periods and would rather not ruin your knuckles, it’s the most comfortable way to play certain types of game.

For free games that work on old Android phones, the Google Play Games dashboard offers a curated library of simple games to play, many of which don’t even need downloading or installing as an app. Gamers with short attention spans can jump into rotating playlists of arcade games, where as soon as you finish one you’ll be automatically transported into the next, as though you’ve been strapped onto a conveyor belt of quickfire entertainment.

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Similar to Apple Arcade, Google also sells a subscription service called Google Play Pass. For £4.99 per month, you get access to a curated list of hundreds of the best and latest Android games, without in-app purchases or intrusive ads interrupting your experience. These games are also available to purchase individually on the Google Play Store, often for more than £4.99, so it’s worth checking if a Google Play Pass offers better value for money before you buy.

Then there’s Google Stadia, a cloud-based gaming platform that lets you stream next-generation console and PC games to your phone, tablet or laptop over the internet. These aren’t technically Android games, as they’re running on a server somewhere miles away, but Google Stadia offers a unique way to play the biggest and most graphically demanding new releases on your Android device.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

Best Android games 2021

  • Best arcade gameHoledown: £3.99, Google.com
  • Best point and clickSamorost 3: £4.49, Google.com
  • Best role-playing gameStardew Valley: £4.99, Google.com
  • Best platformerGris: £4.19, Google.com
  • Best strategy gameBad North: £4.70, Google.com
  • Best racing game Rush Rally 3: £4.99, Google.com
  • Best chess gameReally Bad Chess: Free, Google.com
  • Best puzzle gameDonut County: £3.79, Google.com
  • Best text adventure80 Days: £4.99, Google.com
  • Best sports gameTouchgrind Skate 2: Free, Google.com

‘Holedown’ Android: £3.99, Google.com

Best: Arcade game

It’s hard to describe Holedown without making it sound tedious: shoot a bouncing ball into a screen full of blocks to break them. Some blocks must be hit multiple times before they shatter, encouraging you to skilfully angle your shots so that your ball ricochets around for long enough before bouncing back off the top of the screen again. It’s like the arcade classic Breakout, or any one of the billion games based on it.

What transforms Holedown from a block-smashing chore to an on-demand dopamine trigger is a masterful mix of sounds and visuals. As you play you unlock more balls, machine-gun fast firing rates, and tougher arrangements of blocks. When you nail a rare shot it’s a sensory overload. You feel like a jackpot winner, the loud noises and flashing lights overwhelming your idiot monkey brain as bricks are pummelled into oblivion.

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‘Samorost 3’ Android: £4.49, Google.com

Best: Point and click

Part surrealist art gallery, part point-and-click adventure, Samorost 3 tells the story of a tiny astronaut who becomes marooned on an alien planet populated by dreamlike fauna, bizarre machines and salamanders drawn by somebody who has never seen one, but has had one described to them by a Victorian zoologist.

Samorost 3’s puzzles are observation-based, with the solutions revealing themselves once you tune in to the game’s richly detailed environment. There’s no speech or dialogue apart from babbling. Instead, clues tend to be music and rhythm-based, a universal language with which to make a connection to the strange creatures you meet along the way. Every screen is a painting, so this is best played on a big Android tablet if you can.

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‘Stardew Valley’ Android: £4.99, Google.com

Best: Role-playing game

Stardew Valley is so much more than a farming game, it’s a comprehensive simulation of an unattainable life in some remote village where your responsibilities and obligations can never find you. You’ve got a plot of land to tend to, planting, nurturing and growing crops over the course of seasons to sell at the market to purchase nicer farming tools. With a few hours of free time left in each day, you can make friends with the townspeople, chatting with them and gifting them jars of your homemade mayonnaise to make them like you more.

As you grow your farm you can earn enough cash to begin to automate away some of the most time-intensive farming chores. This frees you up to spend more time dishing out egg-based favours to your neighbours, slowly winning their love as your real-world social connections wither and rot like unwatered tomato plants.

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‘Gris’ Android: £4.19, Google.com

Best: Platformer

An achingly beautiful puzzle-platformer set in a watercolour dreamscape, Gris has you exploring a fantasy world filled with grand architecture and delicate, hand-drawn characters. You play the role of the protagonist’s troubled sense of self, as she explores a series of on-the-nose visual metaphors for her own depression, anger and grief.

Abject misery is an oddly well-worn theme in indie games, but Gris manages to stay on the right side of bleak. This is a memorable adventure filled with clever surprises, scale and spectacle, even on a small screen.

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‘Bad North’ Android: £4.70, Google.com

Best: Strategy game

A minimalist strategy game with complexity hidden beneath its pastel-coloured aesthetic, Bad North challenges you to defend a small island from several waves of invading armies. There’s nothing as complicated as base-building and resource management to worry about – instead, you’re ordering a handful of units around the outcrop, positioning them on tactically advantageous perches and in choke points in preparation for the enemy attack.

The real game happens when you zoom out to the wider map to see a whole archipelago of rocks to conquer and defend. Victories reward you with better units, stronger soldiers and upgraded equipment, but as you improve so too does the opposition, providing a constantly ratcheting challenge.

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‘Rush Rally 3’ Android: £4.99, Google.com

Best: Racing game

A full-featured rally simulation squeezed into a phone, Rush Rally 3 proves that driving games needn’t be compromised on mobile. Five quid unlocks 72 stages, more than a dozen classic rally cars — slightly renamed to avoid a team of lawyers kicking the door in — full weather effects, day and night cycles and controller support.

The scaled-back graphics look like they’ve just arrived from 2002, but the less demanding visuals allow for a smooth frame rate even on older Android phones. The driving model feels realistic and responsive, and the raft of game modes — including tournaments, quick races and multiplayer — suit players whether they’re racing for three minutes or for 30.

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‘Really Bad Chess’ Android: Free, Google.com

Best: Chess game

Really Bad Chess is one of those rare games you can describe in under five words: it’s chess with random pieces. What happens to chess when you’ve got three queens, a handful of bishops and half a dozen knights knocking about? It stops being chess, technically, and it becomes great fun for people who enjoy playing chess but aren’t very good at it.

Every game is different. Your AI opponent is always at the same skill level, but to start off with they’re given a dramatically worse set of pieces than you. As you win and rank up, the distribution of pieces becomes fairer, but the game is always unpredictable and off the cuff. Your precious chess strategies have no power here — this is raw, primal chess played from the heart.

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‘Donut County’ Android: £3.79, Google.com

Best: Puzzle game

Perhaps the only game in which you play a remote-controlled hole, Donut County is a colourful little adventure in which you solve puzzles by positioning yourself beneath objects so that they fall into you. You begin life as a small hole, barely anything fits inside you, but each time you swallow a paperclip or a pebble your circumference grows imperceptibly larger.

The wider you get the more massive the objects that tumble into you, until you’re a roving sinkhole, indiscriminately devouring chairs and cars and houses. Far from feeling destructive, there’s actually something deeply relaxing about tidying up an entire neighbourhood by dragging everyone’s stuff into a bottomless pit, like some out-of-control Marie Kondo.

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‘80 Days’ Android: £4.99, Google.com

Best: Text adventure

An interactive story based on the Jules Verne novel, 80 Days pops you into the polished spats of Passepartout as you assist Phileas Fogg in his attempt to circumnavigate the globe. As navigator, it’s up to you to plot the expedition’s course, manage the pocketbook and keep your master’s fragile spirits high. Bold, two-tone illustrations set the scene, but the action itself unfolds in text form. As you journey, 80 Days presents you with random events to deal with, prompting you to intervene by selecting from a set of dialogue options or actions.

Your choices have a real impact on the story, sending your personal adventure spinning off in wild directions so that no two games are the same. 80 Days is brilliantly written, full of character, funny and sentimental. A truly unmissable Android game.

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‘Touchgrind Skate 2’ Android: Free, Google.com

Best: Sports game

A skateboarding game that puts your fingers to work, Touchgrind Skate 2 is a challenging but immersive simulation of the sport. Rather than taking control of a tiny Tony Hawk, you use your digits to pilot a ghostly, riderless skateboard: tapping, swiping and contorting your fingers across the touchscreen to perform ollies, grinds and flips.

Touchgrind Skate 2 is incredibly tricky to get the hang of, requiring precise choreography and co-ordinated knuckles to pull off even the simplest of moves. But persevere with the learning curve and it reveals itself to be a rewarding and highly replayable skateboarding game.

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The verdict: Android games

While Stardew Valley is our favourite game in this list, for practical reasons we think the farming simulator is best played on a dedicated games console like the Nintendo Switch — if only so you can continue to use your phone for something other than growing pumpkins to impress fictional villagers. Holedown is an essential download and a must-play for Android gamers: short, compulsive and instantly rewarding, it leans into mobile gaming’s strengths.

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We’ve also reviewed the best iPhone games you can play right now

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.

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