There's something refreshing and low-stress about playing mobile games not entirely designed to get you to spend on in-app purchases. Honestly, I can say a lot for spending a couple of dollars upfront to get an entire game that you can actually enjoy from beginning to end without sitting through ads, being hounded to buy coins or gems, having to open crates, card packs or whatever.
I'll spare you the soap box rant. We've gone through the Play Store and picked out a few games that cost a bit upfront, but are worth every penny. Here are the best Android games without those pesky IAPs!
Stardew Valley is one of the most celebrated indie gaming releases in recent years, and the full game has been optimized to play on Android. If you've never heard of or played Stardew Valley before, it's basically a farming simulator built atop a robust 16-bit open-ended RPG that lets you play and develop your character and farm as you choose.
The story begins with your character's arrival in Pelican Town, where you have decided to take over your grandfather's simple family farm. What makes Stardew Valley such a joy to play is the freedom granted to the player to make the game your own. If you focus on building up your farm, the game is mostly about crop and resource management, which will certainly scratch a certain itch for mobile gamers given how popular that genre of RPG is on mobile — but with Stardew Valley, there's so much more for the player to explore.
Between planting and harvesting your fields, you can work to level up your character's skills with different tools by going fishing or foraging in the woods, head to town to socialize and build relationships with the townsfolk (and even get married, if you choose), or go off on a more traditional combat-based RPG adventure complete with quests to complete and monster-infested mines to explore.
It lacks the multiplayer of the PC version, but it's such a good port that I doubt most of you will notice. And, of course, there are no ads or in-app purchases to distract you from the game.
Vectronom is a rhythm-based puzzle game that will entrance you with its psychedelic flashing colors and thumping electronic soundtrack. Each level is broken into platforming sections where platforms flash on and off to patterns linked to the flow of the music. The game eases you into understanding the concept before ramping up the complexity and challenge.
If you're not a fan of flashing colors or have color vision deficiency, AKA color blindness, you'll be happy to know that Vectronom offers plenty of different color profiles in the game options. There's also EQ controls for the music so you can really crank that bass up. The game was previously released on Steam and for the Nintendo Switch, and while the game no doubt controls way better with a keyboard or controller d-pad, the swipes and taps work really well with the game letting you tweak the input margin if you feel like the touch screen controls are too loose or too tight.
There are currently 31 levels available to play through, each with their own theme introducing new traps to dodge and level mechanics to master. The indie developers behind the game hope to continue to build out the game's content by taking music submitted by users and designing new levels around those tracks. While the game does incentivize you to revisit levels and try and beat them clean in one try or better sync your moves to the beat of the music, I'd absolutely love to see a community build around Vectronom that delivers more puzzles which are perfect for mobile play.
It's hard to find a fun puzzle game that doesn't try to sell you on power-ups or extra lives or something. That's just one of the reasons why Holedown is a standout game. It will have you strategically blasting through to the core of celestial bodies — starting with asteroids and working your way up to the Sun — using the classic gaming formula of bouncing balls off blocks. Each brick has a number that represents the number of hits needed to destroy it, or you can destroying a supporting block clear out everything above it.
This is a pick up and play game that's an easy concept to grasp, but you quickly learn there's an amount of strategy and skill involved. All the bricks are curved, allowing you to set up tricky bank shots to clear out massive sections of blocks in one go. This will become quite important as the screen move up one row after every shot. If the blocks reach the top of the screen, it's game over.
Along the way, you will collect crystals which you spend on upgrades that give you more balls per shot, and more shots per round. These upgrades are crucial to completing the later planets but also let the earlier levels become more of a mindless distraction for your subway commute. All told, it won't take you too long to max out all your stats in Holedown, but that's mostly because it's so hard to stop playing this game once you start. If you're a fan of physics-based puzzle games and are looking for a new obsession, Holedown is well worth your money!
Grab your gun boots and jump down the well in Downwell. This retro-styled roguelike game is extremely challenging, featuring a pretty steep learning curve as you learn how to defeat the enemies and figure out which weapon upgrades work best for your play style (Hint: it's the Noppy).
Since your character is falling, enemies and shops come from the bottom-up, so you need to be strategic in your freefall do you don't accidentally land on an enemy and lose a heart. There are several different 'styles' you unlock through repeated play, which give you certain numbers of hearts at the start, changes the way end of level upgrades work, and slightly alters the way your sprite falls down the well.
The goal is to survive as you fall deeper and deeper down the well. There are no in-app purchases, save points, or continues, so when you die you must start at the entrance of the well again.
Reigns: Her Majesty
If you've always dreamt of being king for a day, you'll definitely want to check out Reigns or the regal sequel Reigns: Her Majesty. Both are stylish games with simple gameplay mechanics and razor-sharp wit, wherein you try to keep your kingdom running smoothly by interacting with advisors, citizens, witches and other characters in your kingdom. It's best described as one of those 'Choose Your Own Adventure' books, except instead of flipping to some page, you simply swipe left or right.
Each decision you make has an effect on four resources you must manage: religion, citizens, the army and your kingdom's treasury. Balancing these resources is key, as if any meter maxes out or reaches zero, your reign is over. But the game doesn't end — instead, you become your successor and try to last longer in your reign than the king or queen before you.
It's the perfect pick-up-and-play game for killing some time, and you'll enjoy the dark humor found throughout.
The Room series
The Room franchise represents some of the absolute best puzzle experiences you can play on Android. In each game, you have to solve a series of three-dimensional puzzles set up by the mysterious Craftsman.
The latest game in the series is The Room: Old Sins ($4.99), but if you're fresh to the series you may want to start with the first games which are reasonably priced:
The entire series is rightly celebrated as some of the best mobile games of all time, so you can be sure that you're in for something special here. These games are engrossing and require your full attention to complete the complex puzzles.
Suzy Cube is hands down the best 3D platformer available on Android (outside of using emulators). It features surprisingly tight touchscreen controls that let you jump and dash through over 40 levels, each filled with challenging platforming and secret areas to discover.
There's some repetition — each world ends with a near-identical boss battle with slight variations — but Suzy Cube does a good job of never feeling stale. There are no in-app purchases at all, as all the bonus content is unlocked using stars found throughout each level. That means you'll be replaying levels to collect all the stars and set new speedrunning times.
Check out Suzy Cube if you've been dying for a great 3D platformer to play on your smartphone. You'll love the cuteness, the great controls, and excellent gameplay.
Grand Theft Auto franchise
If you're a console or PC fan of the Grand Theft Auto franchise, then why not extend your fandom to Android? Rockstar Games has five great GTA titles for you to choose from and you really can't go wrong with any of them. My absolute favorite is the expansive San Andreas, but you've also got Liberty City Stories, Vice City, GTA III, and Chinatown Wars available for all your shoot-'em-up, blow-'em-up, car-stealing desires on mobile!
The price here isn't so bad, considering you get the full game with no dumb in-app purchases schemes in place. What with Rockstar milking GTA Online for all that it's worth with microtransactions on console and PC, it is totally worth it to go back and revisit these classic games on your phone. There's crucial support for Bluetooth controls and best of all the games will load much faster than your PlayStation 2 ever could back in the day.
If you want full Grand Theft Auto games right on your phone, hit up the Google Play Store and enjoy.
Oddmar is a brilliant action-adventure platformer that will raise your expectations for what mobile games should look like. This game is absolutely gorgeous playing like a comic book come to life, and the story is told via cinematics that you'll actually care to watch because they were produced so well.
Set in a mystical world filled with Vikings, goblins, fairies, and trolls, you play as Oddmar, a misfit Viking who doesn't quite fit in with his fellow villagers and is not yet worthy of a place in Valhalla. This all changes after a chance encounter with a fairy who grants Oddmar special powers to help him on an unspecified journey — all from eating a mushroom power-up. The new powers gives Oddmar the ability to jump, dash and attack enemies as he reluctantly sets off on an adventure of a lifetime.
Oddmar was developed by the team behind Leo's Fortune, another gorgeous award-winning mobile platformer, and they've got another hit on their hands here. Controls for platforming games like this are notoriously difficult to get right on mobile, but things feel pretty natural with the left side of the screen controlling your horizontal movement and the right side dedicated to controlling jumps, attacks, ground pounds, and dashes.
Android users can download and check out the first five levels for free before the $5 paywall pops up to unlock the rest of the game. This is great because you get enough of a taste of this game to determine whether it's a good fit for you, and then you can support a great indie developer putting out top-notch games for mobile.
Mini Metro is a pure joy to play — a puzzle game based around building subway routes across an expanding city where the in-game music is set to the movement of the subway cars.
Just check out the trailer to get a sense of the flow of this game. It's a perfect game to play on your commute, and the newly-added Challenge mode will give you a reason to check in and play a quick game every day.
There are no in-app purchases or ads to distract from the simple design and addictive gameplay. Check out our full review for a more in-depth look at how great this game is.
RollerCoaster Tycoon Classic
The RollerCoaster Tycoon franchise on mobile offers two perfect examples of game development philosophy. There's RollerCoaster Tycoon Touch which is free and features nice graphics but an unnecessary card collecting system and premium in-game currencies, and then there's RollerCoaster Tycoon Classic, a direct port of the '90s PC game that plays just as you remember complete with 95 park challenges and the only in-app purchases are for the sequels and expansions.
I spent a lot of time playing this game as a kid, and if you did too, this game will be a good dose of nostalgia. The in-game menus could have been improved given how small some of the text and buttons are and this is a game that would especially shine on a Galaxy Note with an S Pen, but I had no major issues building coasters and managing my park finances on my device. This is as pure a port as you'll find which means there are no in-app purchases (beyond expansion packs), delayed build times or any other free-to-play mechanics to deal with.
However, you do have to pay for this game — six bucks, which might seem steep for a port of an older PC game. But if you're an RCT fan, or interested in finding out what the hype is all about, it's well worth the money. Check out our full review if you need more convincing.
Evoland 1 and 2
Evoland is one of those premium games for Android that you just won't be able to put down. The first Evoland was created as part of a game jam and was a nostalgic nod to the evolution of the RPG genre, with the sequel expanding both the depth of the story and the variety of video game and pop culture references.
I thoroughly enjoyed the first Evoland game for Android and was only disappointed by how short it was. That's not the case with Evoland 2, which features well over 20 hours of gameplay.
Both games are great, but if I had to recommend just one, it would have to be the first Evoland which you can get for just $4.99.
Kudos to the game developers at 10tons Ltd out of Finland, for they have mastered the art of the twin-stick top-down shooter for Android with JYDGE. I personally prefer the precedessor to this, Neon Chrome, but even I have to admit that the developers really hit their stride with JYDGE.
In a futuristic world where violent cyberpunk gangs are a real problem (and the letter "U" has inexplicably been replaced with "Y") you play as the JYDGE, a cybernetic enforcement officer who uses his Gavel (see: big freaking gun) to dole out justice. Each level features different challenges you'll need to complete to progress through the game. In that way, this game has a bit of a rogue-like element to it where you may keep replaying levels with different upgrade combinations until you complete all the medals.
There's a deep upgrading system here that thankfully wasn't developed around in-app purchases. Instead, the game rewards you for completing goals, replaying levels, and ransacking enemy hideouts for loot that you can spend towards cybernetic upgrades. Frankly, about the only thing not to like about this game is the weird fixation on replacing "U" with "Y" in the title and throughout the game.
Teslagrad is an indie game you may not have heard of, but it's an absolute must-play for any platforming or puzzle game fans. The game is set in the fictional city of Teslagrad, which is apart of the Kingdom of Elektropia. You play a young boy who is chased by the King's guards into the ancient Tesla Tower in the middle of town. It's there that you start to discover the long lost Teslamancer technology used by wizards to control electromagnetism in various ways. You'll be tasked with solving platforming puzzles as you go about your adventure which includes some epic boss battles.
Featuring hand-made graphics and very unique art style, Teslagrad is one of those games that needs to be experienced first hand, ideally on a device with a big and bright screen. The animations are super-fluid and the game has an uninterrupted flow to it with no ads or menus popping up as you play.
The touch controls are a bit unforgiving at times, and there aren't any options for tweaking the controls. My only gripe so far is that the floating directional pad can sometimes result in you accidentally running the wrong way right into a deadly trap. Fortunately, the game also supports Bluetooth controllers which is always a nice touch and is also compatible with the NVIDIA Shield TV and Android TV for a more traditional gaming experience.
It's no secret that I love Titan Quest and I gush about it whenever I get the chance. The story is super fun, the gameplay is incredibly addicting, and the loot pool keeps you coming back for more. This ARPG hack-and-slash filled the long void between the releases of Diablo II and Diablo III back in 2006, and then it got ported to Android a while back.
My biggest complaint is that this is a port of the OG Titan Quest, not the more recent Anniversary Edition. That means it lacks the additional content that THQ Nordic has packed in. Luckily, it's still a great game! The touchscreen controls are good, although I wish the game supported Bluetooth controllers.
Titan Quest clocks in at $7.99 on the Play Store and it's definitely worth that cash. You get a long ARPG for your money complete with hundreds (if not thousands) of items to find, a sprawling list of builds to create, and a ton of mythological creatures to slay. The boss battles can be hair-raising with their intensity, especially in the late game, too.
The Banner Saga
The Banner Saga is a character-driven tactical RPG set in a Norse-like setting. Your choices truly matter in this game and its sequels. It feels a bit like a Norse version of Fire Emblem — at least, that's the vibe I got when I was playing.
I adore the art style, from the character design to the breathtaking vistas. This isn't "baby's first tactical RPG" either. It's quite intense and requires every ounce of strategy you have. It definitely earns the "tactical" moniker. Again, your choices really do matter, from how you approach battles to how you interact with the cast of characters.
I highly recommend both The Banner Saga and The Banner Saga 2. Yes, they're $10 each, but if you're a fan of tactical RPGs, then you should give them a try. Even if you've never played a tactical RPG before, The Banner Saga is a great place to start. The story is moving, the characters are excellently written, and the game itself is gorgeous.
Whispers of a Machine
Whispers of a Machine is a Nordic noir point-and-click adventure with a cyberpunk flair. It starts off as a murder mystery, but turns into a discussion on the ethics of advanced technology. The setting is an excellent juxtaposition between the rural, post-apocalyptic aftermath of some disaster and the cyberpunk futurism we see represented by the protagonist.
You play as Vera, a special detective augmented with cybernetic enhancements. She can see things others can't, detect what others might miss, and you get to decide her personality to some degree based on your dialogue choices. If you liked the point-and-click adventures of the 90s, then you'll like this game.
Even if the story is ultimately kind of a letdown in terms of the subject matter, Whispers of a Machine is still a great game and worth the few dollars. The art is awesome and I loved the atmosphere. It's short, lasting a few hours, but it encourages you to replay it since you can make different choices on the next playthrough.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
You had to know that this was coming. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, better known as KOTOR, is considered by many to be one of the best RPGs ever made, and certainly one of the better Star Wars games. I definitely prefer the sequel, KOTOR 2, but that's neither here nor there (don't yell at me).
Casual Star Wars fans may not be familiar with the Old Republic timeline. It's set thousands of years before the prequel trilogy of films. It represented a much stronger conflict between the Jedi and Sith, shirking George Lucas' black and white morality. The story of KOTOR is very well-written and is sure to delight any Star Wars fan.
Despite the game's age, I don't want to spoil anything for you. The port itself is extremely well-done, with excellent touchscreen controls, a revamped mobile-friendly UI (the old UI hasn't aged well), gamepad support, and achievements, Do yourself a favor and pick this up!
Thumper: Pocket Edition
Say you like rhythm games and a psychadelic experiences, but have you ever tried combining the two? Doing so nets you Thumper, a game hailed as "rhythm violence" by its developers. It combines skull-pounding beats with an aggressive track to navigate and strange, often Eldtrich-inspired, visuals.
You're a space beetle, hurtling forward trying to destroy a floating head. Sounds weird, especially when you lump in the quasi-horror elements and the blind trust in your reflexes to see you through to the end. Thumper is firing on all cylinders and it's practically a euphoric experience.
We can't forget about the soundtrack. It's awesome. It's worth experiencing the game for it alone. There are nine levels in total for you to enjoy, plus a new game+ mode that increases the challenge and speed. The developers do warn that wireless headphones add significant audio latency, so use your phone's or tablet's speakers or wired headphones if you can.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
You could have knocked me over with a feather when this game dropped on the Play Store out of the blue and with no fanfare. Symphony of the Night is a classic game from the 90s and, along with Super Metroid, defined a whole genre dubbed "metroidvanias," which we still see to this day.
Besides just the charm and nostalgia, Symphony of the Night plays excellently on Android. The touchscreen controls are fine and certainly workable, but I found the game best played with a controller. The team behind the port did a great job translating a very old game to a new platform and, while I had some gripes with them, the touchscreen controls let anyone hop in.
This version of Symphony of the Night is excellent and well worth the few dollars it costs. I love seeing old classics ported to modern systems to let younger gamers (or those who never had the chance to experience them in the games' heydays) try them out. If you want a good platformer, Symphony of the Night is a must for your Play library.
Dead Cells is one of the best indie games of the last decade. This rogue-like metroidvania with Souls elements is truly a masterpiece of gaming and it finally came to Android in summer 2020. Everything about this game works so well together that it's hard to find true fault with it. I guess some might dislike the intense challenge, but that's subjective.
There's the choice between Bluetooth controllers (the best way to play) and excellent touchscreen controls. The port is excellently done — I haven't encountered any issues, hiccups, or bugs in many hours of play. The art style, including player and enemy designs, is also something you can definitely write home about.
Being a rogue-like, death is permanent. If you fail, you'll start over in your cell and be forced to begin anew. Things won't be the same when you head back out, though, so you have to be prepared for each run. There's a lot of different loot so that you can make different builds, but if you die, you lose everything. Don't let that deter you, though.
Ported by the amazing folks at Feral Interactive, GRID Autosport is, hands down, the best racing game on Android. Not only does it do away with IAPs, energy/stamina systems, and other shenanigans, but it looks downright incredible. It's so graphically-intensive, in fact, that the developers have a shortlist of phones that can run it. Of course, you're free to try it out on your device, but your mileage may vary.
The gameplay is without compare on Android. Sure, other games Asphalt do a great job, but GRID feels like its console brethren in how tight those controls are. I don't even like racing games and I had a blast with GRID. This port comes with the DLC, 100 cars, 100 maps, and multiple control and difficult options to suit your needs.
Yes, it's pricey, but if you're a racing fan, this game was made for you. The amount of content is staggering and the graphical fidelity is top-notch. Good luck finding a better racing game on the Play Store.
NBA 2K20 for Android is truly a premium basketball experience, a rarity among sports games nowadays. It doesn't rely on microtransactions, loot boxes, and other predatory monetization to get to you spend way more than the game (or its digital goods) is worth. Like I said, a rarity.
NBA 2K20 offers multiple game modes, such as the MyCareer Run story mode, the new Run The Streets mode, and expanded NBA Stories for reliving some of the greatest moments in NBA history. You can also take on the role of a GM and recruit new players for your team and go for the win.
You get your choice between solid touchscreen controls or a gamepad. Multiplayer is either on your local network or the wider internet, the latter putting you in 5v5 matches to push your competitive and teamwork abilities to the max. There's also a new soundtrack for you to enjoy. I'm neither a sports game nor basketball fan, but NBA 2K20 is an excellent experience regardless.
Grimvalor is a side-scrolling action RPG that features tight controls, excellent movement abilities, an interesting albeit familiar story, and pretty graphics. You need be tactical about how you approach enemies and level up your character. There's plenty to explore, too, with secrets hidden throughout the map. Think Castlevania meets Dark Souls and you've got a pretty good picture of Grimvalor.
It does have a soft paywall, meaning that you can try out the game for free then pay to unlock the rest if you've enjoyed what you've played. You start out with very simplistic controls — three buttons for jump, attack, and dash — and the game layers on new ways to attack as you progress and level up your character.
Vampire: The Masquerade - Night Road
Vampire: The Masquerade - Night Road is a text adventure told in second-person. You have many choices to make, all of which affect the game in different ways. The writing is great and this game is quite large. If you don't like reading, then you're out of luck with this game. It's basically a solo tabletop session as you read through the story and make choices.
The developer says this game contains 650,000 words, which is staggeringly huge. You can try out the game for free with ads, or you can pay 10 bucks to unlock the full experience (which includes the conclusion). You have to fork over a single dollar is you want to play as a Tremere or Caitiff, also.
Update December 2020: Added Grimvalor and Vampire: The Masquerade - Night Road to our list!