With another year gone, our beloved Android platform barrels ahead at full steam. 2013 has been the best year yet for Android gaming, and already 2014 is breaking out the big guns. We’ve seen some powerhouse developers like Ubisoft and Double Fine come aboard, and proven commodities like Madfinger and Vector Unit continue to deliver. Our choices didn’t come easy, and we could make a long list of honorable mentions, but for the very best of the best, look no further.
Riptide GP2: There’s always stiff competition for the racing genre, and 2013 saw some strong releases, but Riptide GP2 is the clear winner. With stunning graphics, and a genuinely impressive physics engine, it offers arcade racing thrills with some actual meat on its bones. The original was already great, but the sequel built on it with a robust campaign mode and upgrade system that turned it into more than just a quick arcade experience.
Frozen Synapse: It isn’t the cold minimalism that makes Frozen Synapse so appealing, it’s the way it strikes a balance between deep and playable. The free-form, semi-random gameplay is a bold step away from grid-based strategy games, but it’s no less of a chess game. Issuing commands and then watching them play out on screen feels so much more satisfying than the virtual dice-rolling of other strategy games, giving it a hint of real-time appeal without compromising its thoughtful pace.
Anomaly 2: Sure, it may be more of a Tower Offense game than a traditional RTS, but that doesn’t mean Anomaly 2 has any less to offer. Deeper in every way than its predecessor, it features a meaty campaign that forces you to think and make tough tactical decisions. Its multiplayer mode drifts even further into RTS territory with new base-building and tech tree elements that make it the perfect RTS to pick at on a tiny touch screen.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas: Rockstar’s gangsta opus feels just as relevant now as it did back when it debuted on PlayStation 2. The massive world is truly the first of its kind in a mobile game, dwarfing its nearest competition Gangstar Vegas. There’s just so much to see and do, it’s easy to lose yourself, even on the small screen. It’s even been prettied up a bit, making this version arguably the definitive.
Dead Trigger 2: It couldn’t be anything else. Madfinger’s latest sequel isn’t just a graphical showcase, it’s the realization of the addictive orginal’s potential. Like the first, it’s still a game of mad, bite-sized missions and crazy close-range combat perfect for the small screen, but this time it comes with a brilliant campaign of unique stages and objectives. Madfinger has positioned this as a game to grow, with massively cooperative goals that unlock new missions and, over time, more campaign levels, making this a game to watch well into the new year.
Shadowrun Returns: Shadowrun’s return to the RPG genre has been a long time coming. To some extent, every Shadowrun game has been a reboot, but Harebrained Schemes’ revival, somehow distills that convoluted history and distills it into something that draws from the classic 16-bit titles and the pen-and-paper version to create something that seems utterly faithful to the series’ legacy. While brief, the brilliant story, smart tactical gameplay, and gritty cyberpunk atmosphere have us very excited for the series’ future. *
Super Hexagon: Terry Cavanaugh’s mobile masterpiece is an exercise in minimalism on every level. It’s gaming at its most pure, a brutally difficult hand-eye coordination exercise that is somehow impossible to put down. Swirling, ever-contracting geometric shapes form its only visuals, and chunky chiptunes set the rhythm. Your first attempt lasts mere seconds, and your next few not much longer. But Super Hexagon taps into that part of all of us that needs to be challenged; to always do better, and somehow delivers that perfect balance between insane challenge, and an exercise that rewards practice, making it one of the most addictive games you’ll ever play.
The Cave: Adventure games continue to thrive on mobile, and 2014 looks to be the genre’s biggest year in well over a decade, but 2013 offered only a handful of hotly anticipated titles. Chief among them was Ron Gilbert’s long-overdue return to adventure gaming, The Cave. With a dark sense of humor, and a unique side-scrolling setup that combined navigation puzzles with classic inventory puzzles, it offered something unique, ambitious, and utterly charming.
Game of the Year
Shadowrun Returns: It’s tough to choose only one game, but Shadowrun Returns managed to edge out the competition. From top to bottom, it’s a class act, with fantastic production values, substantive gameplay, and a story that manages to escape the usual clichés. It’s not just a well executed game, it’s one with real personality and style, that delivers everything found in its PC counterpart. 2014 will bring us an expansion set in Berlin, so we’ll see if they can keep up with the competition next time around.