by Sam Riedel0
The Best Android Action Games of 2013 (So Far)
There comes a point in all of our gaming lives when we just need to blow stuff up. This enduring principle has fueled the action genre for decades, allowing us to get into street fights, demolish buildings, participate in mystical martial arts tournaments, and kill mind-bogglingly huge numbers of aliens. Truly, these games are balm for the soul.
Droid gamers are luckier than most, since there’s a huge variety of Android action games available from some of the industry’s hottest developers. Though the year’s only half over, here are our picks so far for the top action games of 2013.
If you’re like us, you love the French obstacle-course athleticism of parkour, but you can’t stop playing with your phone long enough to learn the fundamentals of wheel jumps. Thankfully this year Nekki brought us Vector, a vaguely dystopian side-scroller where you leap, somersault, and otherwise propel your silhouette away from thugs of the running dog establishment. The graphics are incredible, with detailed & realistic animations that manage to bring even matte black characters to life on your Android tablet or smartphone. There are some technical hiccups & lengthy load times, so your mileage may vary depending on your device, but Vector is nevertheless a heart-pounding thrill ride from beginning to end.
God of Blades
Brawlers sometimes get a bad rap as mindless button-mashing distractions with no skill requirements or replay value. Haters beware—God of Blades is coming for your preconceived notions, wielding a sword made of light that summons soul-sucking demons. The combat system is nuanced and precise. Older devices may experience some minor lag problems, but that’s because the 3D graphics are just plain off the hook. With a haunting soundtrack and well-executed unlockables to boot, God of Blades is on track to be the best mobile hack-and-slash game of the year.
Were you a fan of I Am Legend, but thought it lacked a requisite amount of cheesy decapitations via chainsaw? We suspect Fangz HD is the game you’ve been waiting for. Playing as Frank, the lone survivor of a vampire apocalypse, you’ll be tearing through a lot of undead ribcages in your quest to upgrade your stats so you don’t die quite as often during the hard-as-hell later levels. There’s tons of cartoonish gore, and the story is played for campy laughs, but don’t let that fool you into thinking this is a low-budget affair—the layered 3D environments are visually impressive, and the sound quality is excellent. B-movie aficionados rejoice: Fangz HD for Android is a bloody mess of fun.
HD Score – 4.0
Legendary Dreamcast shooter Ikaruga is sometimes dismissed by the uninitiated as a straight ripoff of classic arcade shooters like Galaga, but that’s just not the case. Your titular spaceship can change color from white to black and is only harmed by bullets of the opposing color, turning the tired genre on its head with an absorbing polarity mechanic. Add to this some exquisitely designed levels, and you’ve got one cerebral space shooter. Unfortunately, it’s so complex that some of its controls don’t translate very well to Android, and the problems aren’t easily fixable; given its hefty $9 price tag, new players might want to skip this edition. Veteran players, however, will want to relive the glory days of 2002 all over again.
HD Score – 4.0
It’s not easy to put our finger on what Gene Effect is, exactly. For the most part, you try to avoid enemies, explore, and stop your ship from hitting the walls of each stage; qualities more commonly associated with puzzle gaming. Sure, you’ll be using weapons of various types to blast some enemies out of your path and reveal hidden items, but for the most part, Gene Effect’s appeal comes in its slow-paced exploratory missions, intensified by a spot-on ambient score and immersive graphics. It’s no conventional action game, but it’s definitely a breath of fresh air—and it sure gets our pulse rate up.
Ultimate Stick Fight
HD Score – 4.0
On the other hand, totally conventional beat-em-up action games can be loads of fun, too. With rudimentary designs and a bare-bones set of mechanics, you’d be forgiven for thinking Ultimate Stick Fight is nothing new under the sun, because you’d be absolutely right. But there’s nothing wrong with that when “nothing new under the sun” means responsive controls, hours of unique content, and a huge variety of options for character customization. The animation is fluid and the stages are surprisingly detailed—and best of all, it does all this on Android 2.2. It might not be original, but it’s impressive nonetheless.
It’s not easy to make a good 3D shooter for mobile devices. Today’s Call of Duty audience just can’t get the breadth of control options they’ve come to expect out of a small touchscreen. Epoch does its best to advance the genre, however, with some interesting changes to the status quo. There’s no free-roaming capability, which (although limiting your exploration options) opens up the screen for more important shooting controls by forcing you to simply jump from one cover position to the next. This makes the game more intense in later levels, as enemies can shoot through or destroy your cover, making timing and precision (without a targeting reticule) of the utmost importance. However, the vague concessions made to RPG players in regards to a plot will impress few players, and the soundtrack is attractive to just about nobody. But though it all gets pretty monotonous after a few levels, Epoch is still one of the most forward-thinking 3D shooters for Android.
Jet Set Radio
Another Dreamcast mobile port, Jet Set Radio is one of the true classics of SEGA’s oft-overlooked final years. Drawing inspiration from 1990s Tokyo punk culture, JSR casts you as a “rude boy” on rollerblades, performing sick tricks as you spray paint each level with your gang tag. Of course the police show up, and even though you’re no Nico Bellic, the later levels will still see your character pursued by helicopters, attack dogs, gas grenades, and more. The result is a vivid, unique sandbox game that draws as much from the Grand Theft Auto franchise as it does from Tony Hawk. Jet Set Radio’s graphics and soundtrack have aged well, and although the controls are an intensely awkward attempt to recreate the old Dreamcast controller on Android’s touchscreens, this is still a majorly rad sandbox game.
Into the Dead
Yeah, we already talked about one undead game on this list, but zombies are literally everywhere and we are bound by the Rules of the Internet to discuss them at least once in every list article. Into the Dead is a stripped-down zombie story (you were in an accident fleeing from zombies, there are zombies everywhere, try not to die) that draws its strengths from some gorgeously frightening visuals. There’s no soundtrack, which heightens the suspense, and the voice acting is stellar. The environments are realistic and disorienting, adding to the fear factor, and there are unlockable play modes (like “Hardcore”) that will appeal to hardcore droid gamers—although “Massacre,” which tracks your kills, feels a little emptier due to its lack of cornfields. Since it’s free, there are advertisements which will destroy your immersion, although only for a short period of time. With all the zombie overload in pop culture, it’s nice to play a mobile game that gets it right.
After Burner Climax
Okay, you might be thinking that HD has some sort of SEGA fetish at this point, but it was a coincidence—we swear! A port of the sequel to the original (and classic) After Burner, Climax is a brief, intense, and utterly arcade game with little to no subtlety, which is perfect. You pilot a Tomcat fighter jet around a series of stages, dodging missiles and shooting down enemy aircraft, with nice visuals to accompany the explosions. Although Climax is a great game overall, its controls cause a few problems—tilt mode has too much latency to be viable, while the touch controls are too twitchy to handle some of the more complex stages. Playing for more than fifteen minutes or so may result in boredom or frustration, but in short bursts, Climax is a cool bit of unadulterated action gaming, which is something we can all get behind.