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This past year may go down as a banner year for Android gaming. We saw some big tech advancements in virtual reality and augmented reality, a great mix of outstanding games from indie developers and established franchises, and we're looking forward to more of that good stuff in 2017.

Here's what I saw as the trends and highlights from 2016, and what I'm looking forward to most in the new year.

Virtual reality and augmented reality

Virtual reality was huge in 2016, and it wasn't just relegated to those fortunate enough to try or own an HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, or Playstation VR. On top of seeing the ongoing development and refinement of the Samsung Gear VR, we saw Google announce their own VR platform, Daydream.

From what we've seen at CES 2017, companies are excited to jump onto the VR bandwagon. There's a growing number of Daydream-ready devices, from the Google Pixel and Moto Z, Huawei Mate 9 Pro, and the ZTE Axon 7 (once it gets Nougat), which is great news. Mobile VR is by far the most affordable and accessible way for the average consumer, so the more attention being spent by companies means we should be in for much more VR gaming action in 2017.

Pokémon Go — love it or hate it — was an absolute force throughout the summer of 2016 and is still — incredibly — maintaining momentum heading into 2017.

Shifting from virtual reality to augmented reality, Pokémon Go — love it or hate it — was an absolute force throughout the summer and is still, incredibly, somewhat relevant heading into 2017. For anyone who missed out on the Ingress (opens in new tab) craze, Pokémon Go was likely their first dive into playing a game that uses augmented reality.

But also like Ingress, Pokémon Go is a tough game to jump into this far after the initial release and buzz. Any new Pokémon Go players are stuck grinding for a summer's worth of days before they'll be able to make a dent at a gym, and therein lies one of the biggest issues with massively multiplayer augmented reality games.

But there's still so much untapped potential for future augmented reality titles. Take Clandestine Anomaly (opens in new tab), a single-player gaming experience that lets you play from the comfort of your home, or wander out into your neighbourhood to use your phone's camera to shoot aliens out of the sky. It came out before Pokémon Go, but saw a spike in downloads after its sibling opened the world's eyes to AR gaming. Here's hoping that Pokémon Go's success inspires other game developers.

Will there be more augmented reality gaming coming our ways in 2017? I sure hope so!

I'd rather pay for the full game than play free-to-play modes

One of the biggest knocks on mobile gaming is the way so many games rely on the freemium model, whether it's accomplished by bombarding you with offers on in-app purchases to supercharge your character or deck in an online game, or throwing up frustrating roadblocks meant to entice you into paying for upgrades or whatnot.

For many years, this seemed like a fair compromise because the average person probably didn't own a phone capable of lengthy gaming sessions. in 2017, That's no longer the case. The last few years of flagships are more than capable to run full games, and there are a growing number of mid-range phones that are more than capable for gaming.

It's frustrating to see so many games where the gameplay itself is hindered by limitations or commerce structures put in place by the developers.

It's frustrating to see so many games where the gameplay itself is hindered by limitations or commerce structures put in place by the developers. There's no genre affected by this worse than sports games, where the games with the best graphics and gameplay are almost always hitched to a clunky card-based Ultimate Team mechanic. I mean, I get it — opening packs or crates gives that dopamine rush of gambling and makes us want to come back for more… and more.

But you know what also keeps my attention? Really well-made games that I can just play for a few minutes or a few hours. I sunk countless hours into FIFA 13's Manager Mode, playing through multiple full seasons with my favorite team. For that edition, EA provided a spot-on representation of what I'd come to expect from the same mode from its console counterpart, and it was amazing. When they shifted focus away from that straightforward gameplay towards the freemium card-collecting model, it just wasn't the same for me.

Another example: take the difference between Rollercoaster Tycoon 4 Mobile (opens in new tab), a game 'designed for mobile' with social media integration and layers of in-game currencies to contend with, and Rollercoaster Tycoon Classic (opens in new tab), essentially a direct port of the classic PC game that's been restored to its former glory on Android devices. Why settle for compromises when you can — and should be — getting the full gaming experience with no compromises.

If you agree, make sure you put your money where your mouth is and support the games and developers you enjoy most.

Expect more hits of nostalgia

We've seen some gaming classics like Soul Calibur (opens in new tab) and the aforementioned Rollercoaster Tycoon Classic successfully released on Android, offering essentially the full gaming experience we remember from different platforms. I won't underestimate the technical challenges required to properly port a game, but with how damn easy and convenient it is to getting an emulator on nearly any device and illegally play through the whole catalogue of whichever retro console you desire, you would think companies would be champing at the bit to release those "retro classics" to an audience with an insatiable appetite for nostalgia. Just look at how wildly popular the NES Classic was this past holiday season. The market appears ripe for faithful ports of gaming classics, and it's time for companies to give the people what they want.

(But let's get things ported better than the disappointing Mega Man titles (opens in new tab) Capcom recently dropped into the Google Play Store).

The market appears ripe for faithful ports of gaming classics, and it's time for companies to give the people what they want.

Speaking of beloved video game characters, Super Mario Run is going to be coming to Android in 2017, and assuming it's as successful here as it was with the initial iOS launch, Nintendo seems poised to bring more cherished franchises and characters to iOS and Android. Depending on the lessons Nintendo learns from Super Mario Run, that could lead to some amazing gaming opportunities. Here's hoping for a Warioware reboot on Android — it would just makes sense!

Beyond that, we got a new Final Fantasy game (opens in new tab) specifically developed for mobile, a fantastic top-down scrolling shooter in Sky Force Reloaded (opens in new tab), and Downwell (opens in new tab), a fantastic new game with retro graphics — three different examples of games that hit us right in the nostalgia in different ways.

If you look at the film and TV landscape of the past five years, remakes and reboot reign supreme. The same trends are occurring in mobile gaming, for better or worse, and that means we're probably going to see more attempts to hit that same nostalgic tone. But we shouldn't settle for cheap knockoffs or bad ports of classics here, either.

Can the new NVIDIA Shield revitalize Android TV gaming?

While gaming continues to grow and improve on our phones, here's hoping for a revitalization of gaming on Android TV, which will likely be lead by the NVIDIA Shield.

NVIDIA made some big noise at CES 2017, announcing an updated version of their Android TV box along with the news that Google Assistant will be coming to the Shield with an system upgrade to Nougat. This, along with another CES announcement, the NVIDIA Spot — the first third-party product to use Google's Assistant AI— should help get more people interested in the NVIDIA Shield, which in turn will draw more attention from developers for more Android gaming content you can play on your TV. Games such as GoNNer and The Uncertain (opens in new tab) were great additions to the Shield line up in 2016, and I'm personally excited to see what's to come in 2017.

The Shield is positioning itself into a really interesting space as an outstanding streaming device… that also happens to also be a fully capable gaming machine. Despite its strengths, the Shield overlooked by a lot of people. But with those new features coming to the new NVIDIA Shield model as well as the first-generation box with the eventual upgrade to Nougat, here's hoping the Shield gets the attention it deserves from developers.

What do you think?

Which games stole your free time in 2016? Any games you're looking forward to? Let us know in the comments!

Marc Lagace was an Apps and Games Editor at Android Central between 2016 and 2020. You can reach out to him on Twitter [@spacelagace.

36 Comments
  • State of mobile gaming:
    1. Freemium has ruined mobile gaming.
    2. See 1.
  • I suppose you can't blame the game developers for trying to monetize their creations while keeping the base price as low as possible. For the longest time it seemed that no one wanted to pay for mobile games because they weren't as good as their PC or console counterparts. But phone specs have reached the point where game developers/publishers — especially the huge established ones like EA — have no excuses for not releasing fully fledged games for mobile, as long as the quality is there and we, the gaming public, are willing to pay for mobile games up front. Of course, you could also compare the rise of freemium gaming on mobile to the reliance of "DLC" on PC and consoles and come to the conclusion that the game industry is simply addicted to the gravy train of constantly milking a percentage of their audience for money for as long as possible.
  • Freemium has nothing to do with monetizing creations. It's created solely to rip off the end user.
  • Exactly. There's a guy I work with who spent $30k on a Clash of Clans type of game($30,000!!).
  • Seriously that Guy had issues before that game..
  • You have absolutely no idea.
  • It wouldn't ruin mobile gaming if people didn't let it. If people didn't spend money on IAPs, the model wouldn't exist. If you value premium games, support them, buy the games full price. Unless you're talking about SQU-NIX games, the most "premium" games will run is no more than $15. If you don't want to pay full price, wishlist the games and keep an eye out for sales. Might I suggest Crashlands?
  • #fact
  • This is exactly how I feel!!!! I dont even bother getting games any longer because I dont want to be nickel and dimed to death after I start to play it.
  • Am I the only one that doesn't play games on their phone? Like I used to love playing Dead Trigger,Asphalt 8 and other random stuff like Temple run and emulators but somewhere down the road I just got a different phone and never reinstalled any of them. I do keep Crossy road on my phone for when I need to pass a quick minute and I'm not talking to anybody but other than that I'd rather just save battery. It just feels like mobile games were getting more and more ambitious and suddenly just focused on trendy things and Minecraft knockoffs. Then on iOS I gave Mario run a try but that isn't fun to me either. I just don't know what people see in tap to jump running games,especially enough to pay 10 dollars.
  • Same here... Crossing from Windows Mobile ecosystem I only installed Asphalt 8 and minion rush... Whenever I feel like playing other games that I use to, I'd pull out my 640XL, dust it, start it up and launch the game ..
  • Oh one thing I did use to love was Kairosoft games if you ever played any. Those can get addicting but the new ones are freemium or paid WITH in app purchases so I don't play them.
  • You're not looking hard enough. There's plenty of very high quality mobile games, you should browse through "Top paid" games of any genre
  • Well I know there's this and that,I generally watch top app/game videos monthly on YouTube but I dunno none of it does it for me anymore. Then games I do like,like GTA for instance or bully which I was really excited to hear about,I just don't wanna play on my phone. I'm by no means the type of guy who would buy a controller for my phone either so I dunno aha. I'm not really saying it all sucks,but it's just not for me for some reason. I wish they would make some more quality racing games,cause thats more simple to control on a phone,but most of them feel more like mini games than a console esque game.
  • Yeah, they just don't really make em like they used to. Some do, but the app store is crap in showing you where the good games are so you'd struggle to find them. Doesn't help that most tech blog sites focus on trendy games too. But the gamecube emulator is almost playable, so I'm looking forward to that in around 2018/2019 (hopefully).
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xHkcBkltvck&t=184s
  • I really want to see AAA, mainstream games coming to Android. My dream is one day having an Android-powered Playstation (Playstation XPeria?), maybe a Nintendo Switch-like device. As an aside, I think Google needs to implement a more severe anti-piracy system, so developers start favouring Android over iOS.
  • More acceptable pricing models.
    If a pc game (the only true way to play) costs 50 bucks and has a full keyboard and mouse for the best experience, how do Dev's get off charging 10 bucks for a platform infinitely smaller, less feature packed itsy bitsy screen developed game? I'm willing to pay $3.99 or maybe....MAYBE 5 for a really good game on mobile.
    Squares pricing for the FF series at about 20 bucks is absurd. The fact that people pay that is just nuts and sends the Dev's the wrong message. I'm not against paying, just against paying near pc or console prices for something waaaay smaller and less feature packed.
  • $15 to $20 is fine for a full game experience like Final Fantasy, though I'm not a fan of the art style they chose for 5&6.
  • I've got to disagree with that, just because the screen is smaller doesn't make the game less feature packed. These are the SAME FF games, why should they cost less because they are on Android? Same game. It's like saying DS and PSP games should never have been more than $10 because they are small and have less features.
  • Oh? Phones can have programmed hot keys? If I wanted to lug around my keyboard and mouse and connect them to my phone so I can have the hot keys then sure.
    Reading the small text inside a FF talk bubble is soooooo worth the price on a phone.
  • So basically if the game isn't on PC it's worthless to you? Console games must not be worth their price either.... I'm a PC gamer by the way, prefer the keyboard and mouse and refuse to play most games on a controller or touch screen. I still can't follow your logic on price. Developer put the same time and effort into the game, why should they get paid a fraction of the price on Android? Because "you" don't like mobile games? One could argue it's worth more on mobile because you can play it anywhere. A feature the PC lacks.
  • It's smaller yes, but I have played many mobile games that have the same amount of content the PC version has, plus it still has one big advantage = Portability. $20 for a rich content packed is a fine price as long as the game is good. It's people like you that make freemium games flourish cause you don't buy the real good mobile games because you stubbornly refuse to break that ancient (And ignorant) mentality that mobile games, no matter how good and packed with content they are, have to be less than $10, for no good reason other than because it's for mobile. Yet I bet you don't think twice and dropping $40 dollars if they were on 3DS or PS Vita
  • I think google play should have more filters:
    0) No ads no in purchases no paid
    0.1) FOSS
    0.2) Free
    0.3) Trial
    1) Ads apks
    1.1) Ads trial apks
    2) inside purchases apks
    3) ads + inside purchases apks
    4) paid apks A) Game controller ready
    B) not game controller ready
    And inside apks of course GAMES and several categories as armor games and others have or even more. So if you search for only ads plus free games plus paid apks you can avoid the annoying inside purchases APKs in your searchs. Plus Google must fund "only ad" games that allow modders maps and a way of sharing ad revenue with them to make cheaper the development. And have their game division that sets the "NEXUS ways" for mobile games, betting also for CAST and TV BOX titles (with gamepads) with 404p (16:9) versions of console games with "only ads" as it is ads their major source of revenue, and sharing it with content providers is the way to increase it. And I think they must do the same with the pro music and video, letting youtube for amateur videos, and filtering the profesional products with more ad revenue for both, makers (record and film companies) and dealers (Google) with ads letting other dealers (Netflix Hulu HBO etc) the pay per view market.
  • I don't play many games, but I have been loving being able to play Roller Coaster Tycoon again. It was always one of my favorite games and I am glad they moved it over. If Blizzard would make a Warcraft: Tides of Darkness game, I would be extremely happy.
  • I just play Hearthstone and Clash Royale nowadays. I used to love games like Civilizations but the only one worth it is sid meiers civrev and it hasn't been updated in years (and it took forever to get to the android from ios). I loved games like Heroes Quest, but I can't find any like it. It reminds me of the old days of final fantasy. 3 heroes, turn based combat, get new heroes, evolve them, etc... Everything similar seems to be not turn based and LOL/Dota like...
  • I bought full versions of tons of Android games which are now disabled and unavailable so I can't download them any more. I guess one time payment means the dev shouldn't have to update the game for new versions of Android?
    To be fair, I've had the same problems with pc, but not nearly to the same extent and not in anywhere close to as small a time-frame. I don't mind buying a game, but not being able to use it a couple months later is pretty silly.
    I completely agree the freemium model is garbage. I learned my lesson long ago when my wonderful freemium CCG made all of my cards useless and wanted well in excess of $100 to get my deck updated. It is rare I'd spend that kind of money on a game and I definitely won't be duped into doing so for such a limited and simplistic experience.
  • As long as you've downloaded them once before they should show up under My Apps and Games > All (as long as you haven't clicked the X to remove it from the list), I know I still have the option to download Flappy Bird (but I won't)
  • Freemium has ruined mobile gaming, I thought Android gaming was in better shape in 2014. Used to be a lot of good games, now even Need for Speed went Freemium.
  • To echo the feelings of many others on here, I dont like freemium games. I'd rather pay up front for a quality game once. Also more games need to take advantage of syncing your game data between devices.
  • Definitely agree on syncing game data for multiple devices. I don't know why that isn't standardl practice.
  • Need a universal, rather inexpensive controller, just like it being hand in hand (no pun intended) with gaming consoles, for Android phone games to really take the next step. Trying to hit on screen buttons, swipe, turn the phone, etc just isn't the same and dumbs down the experience. Obviously I know that controllers exist and that there a lot of games that utilize one, but it should be the standard and should be a universal extension onto your phone and sold by carriers as well.
  • Rollercoaster Tycoon Classic is good. Has some issues on phone - small touch targets, but overall would like to see more of these pc ports that predate pay to win. Sad if the future of gaming is pay to win.
  • I want paperboy!!! Had on my blackberry years ago. Such a classic.
  • For my money, I still gravitate back to Swordigo as being my favorite mobile gaming experience. Great balance of performance and old school, side scrolling Zelda-type action.
  • Honestly, I just recently deleted 8 of my games from my Galaxy S7. I noticed that I wasn't playing much and didn't get a kick out of it anymore. With the Gameboy Emulator I no longer need mobile gaming like I did, have access to Sonic, Super Mario Brothers, Pokemon Emerald, Dragon Ball Z:Buu's fury, and more. @Suntan , completely agree, Sowrdigo is amazing, beat it in a few months.
  • I mostly game on a PC at home but when I travel I use my shield tablet hooked up to whatever TV I can connect to as my console on the road. I haven't found anything since then that has made me want to switch from it and I keep holding out hopes for a successor from nvidia, faint as that hope may be. The main games I have played on it are Rochard, Portal, Half-Life, Trine2, along with the normal android stalwards like the riptides, galaxy on fire, etc. The gamepad mapper the shield tablet uses works really well at being able to control a lot of games with the controller, as well.