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 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 soapbox rant. Instead, we've gone through the Play Store and picked out a few games that cost a bit upfront but are worth every penny. So here are the best Android games without those pesky IAPs!
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 pretty intense and requires every ounce of strategy you have. It earns the "tactical" moniker. But, again, your choices 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. However, 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.
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. However, 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 today.
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 gaming masterpiece, 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 something you can 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 to make other builds, but if you die, you lose everything. Don't let that deter you, though.
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 playstyle (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 so 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, change the way end-of-level upgrades work, and slightly alter how your sprite falls down the well.
The goal is to survive as you fall deeper and deeper down the well. Unfortunately, there are no in-app purchases, save points, or continues, so when you die, you must start at the entrance of the well again.
Evoland 1 & 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 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. However, 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 $3.
Final Fantasy VIII
Talk about a premium game. Final Fantasy VIII is pushing the upper edges of premium mobile gaming at a whopping $21. But in its defense, you get a whole lot of game for that kind of dough. A massive JRPG (the main story alone will take you close to 40+ hours to complete), Final Fantasy VIII is a divisive entry in the long line of Final Fantasy games. It breaks dramatically with the standard JRPG format in a couple of big ways, so keep an open mind when you're approaching this unique title.
FFVIII follows protagonist Squall and his motley crew on an epic quest across time and space to save the world. So your typical Final Fantasy plot, more or less. What makes FFVIII special is that it takes some novel turns with its character development, and the story is ultimately truly bananas. For me, it's not a true Final Fantasy game if the end game isn't completely insane and VIII really delivers on that front.
This particular JRPG isn't for everyone, but if you're bored of the standard JRPG mechanics, give Final Fantasy VIII a try! It's bound to surprise you.
Grimvalor is a side-scrolling action RPG that features tight controls, excellent movement abilities, an interesting albeit familiar story, and pretty graphics. You need to 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 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.
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. Of course, my absolute favorite is the expansive San Andreas. Still, 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's 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.
It's hard to find a fun puzzle game that doesn't try to sell you on power-ups or extra lives or something. But 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 ruin a supporting block to clear out everything above it.
This pick-up-and-play game is 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 attempt. 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 and 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!
A riotous good time, Huntdown harkens back to the heyday of action-arcade platformers like Contra. With intuitive touchscreen controls, gorgeous 16-bit graphics, a pumping synth-wave soundtrack, and nonstop action, you'll be hooked on this title instantly. Play as three optional characters, each a bounty hunter in their own right, to take down a city infested with hordes of no-good scum.
Traverse a neon-lit future falling to ruin, pick up all manner of guns and weapons along the way, and blaze a trail to each level's big boss on the huntdown. This stellar platformer has a few levels free as a demo and costs $8.99 to unlock the full game. With a single-player story mode and endless arcade mode to rack up your high score, you'll have no trouble spending hours in this challenging, addictively fun platformer.
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 prefer the predecessor to this, Neon Chrome, but 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, 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.
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.
Monument Valley 1 & 2
Monument Valley 1 and 2 are practically ubiquitous in the mobile gaming scene by now. With over two hundred and thirty-one thousand reviews, with an average of a whopping 4.5 stars, Monument Valley is doing something very right, and it's not hard to see the appeal of these gorgeous puzzlers.
Boasting a stunning geometric art style, lovely color palettes, and whimsical architectural designs, Monument Valley is as good for firing up your creativity as it is for challenging your critical thinking skills. Your goal in the first entry is to guide a silent princess, Ida, through maze-like, mysterious monuments while also staying one step ahead of the Crow People. The second game is similar but features a mother-daughter duo for you to assist as they continue to explore the mysteries of this seemingly impossible realm.
At $4 and $5, respectively, Monument Valley 1 and 2 are equally considered must-haves for every mobile gamer. These are the kinds of games that must be seen and experienced to be believed, and I cannot recommend them highly enough.
A group of brave teens roll up on an island outside of town for typical teen weekend shenanigans. But what they'll soon find out is that Edwards Island, a decommissioned military outpost, is hiding more secrets than they could have ever imagined. This primarily text-based adventure game, Oxenfree, puts you in charge of Alex, and her decisions during the narrative affect her friends, the world around her, and the ending.
Mostly a point-and-click adventure with some light exploration aspects, Oxenfree is the perfect game to play on a dark and scary night. It's moody, atmospheric, and just the right amount of creepy. It even got me to jump a few times while playing and builds some excellent tension through its character interactions and backstory. It also has great replay value, as most players will tell you that you have to play through the game twice to truly uncover the real mystery hiding at the center of the game.
Oxenfree is premium priced for premium quality at just $4.99, which is a steal considering how memorable this one is. It's getting a sequel for good reason, and now that I've played the first one, I cannot wait for the second one to come out.
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. 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 swipe left or right.
Each decision you make affects four resources you must manage: religion, citizens, the army, and your kingdom's treasury. Balancing these resources is vital, 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. You have to solve a series of three-dimensional puzzles set up by the mysterious Craftsman in each game.
The latest game in the series is The Room: Old Sins ($5), 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 engaging and require your full attention to complete complex puzzles.
Stardew Valley is one of the most celebrated indie gaming releases in recent years, and the entire game has been optimized to play on Android. If you've never heard of or played Stardew Valley before, it's 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 undoubtedly 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 level up your character's skills with different tools by going fishing or foraging in the woods. You can also 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 accomplish 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.
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 stronger conflict between the Jedi and Sith, shirking George Lucas's 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 is exceptionally 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 psychedelic experiences, but have you ever tried combining the two? Doing so gets 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. It 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. However, 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 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.
Steeped in Greek mythology and oozing style with its stark, intricate black and white graphics, Unmaze follows the plight of Ariadne, whose younger brother and boyfriend have both gone missing in a nightmarish labyrinth. While search parties try desperately to find them, Ariadne uncovers a mystical crystal that allows her to see and speak with her lost boys. Using your crystal, you must help guide your loved ones through the maze, using light and shadow to shift your focus between each character.
But be warned. For aiding one character means forsaking the other, and the maze will slowly turn the neglected party into a monstrous beast. With stunning graphics, exciting gameplay mechanics, great writing, and some deep themes to uncover, Unmaze is an excellent choice for the more artistically inclined mobile gamer. The first chapter is free to play as a demo, followed by a one-time in-app purchase of $5.49 to unlock the entire game.
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 excellent, and this game is quite large. If you don't like reading, then you're out of luck with this game. It's 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 also have to fork over a single dollar if you want to play as a Tremere or Caitiff.
Whispers of a Machine
Whispers of a Machine is a Nordic noir point-and-click adventure with a cyberpunk flair. It starts 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 incredible, 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.
Update November 2021: Added Oxenfree to our list!
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