Looking back at 2011, there were some ups (Nvidia) there were some downs (LG) but when it comes to the Android Market — business is booming. 2011 was perhaps the best year yet in Android gaming (thanks mostly in part to iOS ports) and I just wanted to take a brief moment and go over a few of the best Android games from throughout the year. This is in now way a comprehensive list, in fact, you’ll notice I left out a few “big name” titles like Angry Birds, Shadowgun, Modern Combat and GTA 3. Those are not only well known but also, very easy to find in the Android Market’s “top free” and “top paid” lists.
The games featured in this post are just a few of my personal top picks (in no particular order) that you may have overlooked. These games hold a special place in my robot heart and have depleted my battery on more than one occasion. I’m also hoping that you’ll share a few of your own faves from 2011 in the comments as well. Let’s get to it!
We were the first site in the world to bring you news on Sprinkle and have been following it closely since we caught glimpse of it at E3 earlier this year. The game has come a long way since then, adding even more personality to genre that could always use more of it — puzzlers. And this isn’t your typical puzzler either. Sprinkle has the player use water based physics to complete missions and executes it wonderfully. Everything about this game is near perfect, from the sounds, animations, physics, design. It’s pretty much got it all. If there wasn’t so many other great Android games this year, this would have easily been my top pick.
Battleheart is another gem in the Market featuring real-time RPG gameplay. While it looks great on my phone, I was almost floored at how amazing this game looked on a tablet. Colorful graphics, deep gameplay amazing character design. I can’t think of any other games in the Android Market that have been able to recreate this kind of gameplay and if they could, it wouldn’t look this good. There are few games I can honestly say I’ve played for hours on end, through all hours of the night but this is definitely one of them. If you even remotely like the RPG genre, don’t even think twice. Download immediately.
Wind-up Knight is actually pretty new to the Android Market. The game takes the “runner” style gameplay and mixes it up by mixing amazing — almost hand-painted — 3D graphics and adding a touch of RPG elements to give it some depth. It’s executed quite well and where I normally stay away from the “runner” genre, Wind-up Knight was a joy to play. Definitely for those who like a challenge with a difficulty that can be near frustrating at times.
Super Stickman Golf
Little known fact about me — I hate golf. Don’t hold it against me but it’s seriously one of the most boring sports in the history of… sportsdom. That’s why I was so surprised I actually LOVED Super Stickman Golf after spending some time with it. Okay — so SSG shares more in common with miniature golf than actual golf but that’s why it’s so fun. Adjust your angle, adjust your power and try to get the ball in the hole. Sounds so easy, right? Well, it’s not. Just play it and see for yourself.
Ah, the “tower defense” genre. It’s been done a million times before and 3x’s that in the Android Market. But where most TD’s fall into the mundane or been-there-done-that category, Fieldrunners shines thanks to amazing graphics with colorful character/weapon designs and the sheer amount of chaos that goes on during gameplay. If you so much as kinda like tower defense games, you’re going to go ape-crazy over Fieldrunners.
Great Little War Game
Great Little War Game really hits an itch I couldn’t scratch in Android — turn based strategy gameplay. While Great Little War Game definitely wont be for everyone, it does a top notch job of taking the essence of Nintendo’s Advanced Wars and spicing it up with gorgeous HD 3D graphics. I was actually surprised at how amazing this game looked. You will be too.
DEATH WORM. How many games can you say you’ve played that allow you to take control of a huge…. no-eyed monster, hell bent on destruction? Exactly. And that’s what makes Death Worm so unique. Brings back memories of popping quarters in Rampage at my local arcade. Graphics look phenomenal (even on tablets). Music and sound effects add to the ambiance. Gameplay is simple and challenging at the same time. Death Worm has all the makings of a killer title. Oh yeah, and you get to destroy everything. Such a deviously good time.
Dragon Hunter is another gem from the Market. The first thing that caught my eye was it’s unique art-style that was more than inspired by a PSP game called Patapon. And while Dragon Hunter is nowhere near as complex, there’s still a whole lotta fun to be had. Gameplay involves taking control of a cross bow and blotting out the sky with arrows as you attempt to take down the horde of dragons approaching. Best played in small, intense spurts (TWSS).
Apparatus has you build complex structures using the most basic parts with one objective — get the ball to the goal. Sounds easy right? Wrong. You are so, so wrong. If you have one ounce of “derp” in your body, you’re probably not going to have too much fun with Apparatus. And I’m not knocking you. In fact, I’m right there with you. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if Apparatus is fun or torture. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thrown my phone in frustrating while playing this game. But every time, it had nothing to do with the game and everything to do with my own mental shortcomings. And yet like some sick pervert, I always come back…
Blood and Glory (NR)
Blood and Glory? Should be called Blood and Gory. I keed, I keed… Blood and Glory is a graphically impressive hack n’ slash inspired by the iOS hit, Infinity Blade. Gameplay is largely similar, involving onscreen gestures to slash, parry and dodge enemy attacks. If you’re looking for a Infinity Blade on Android — this is about as good as it’s going to get. And that’s pretty good.
Grabatron reminds me a lot of Death Worm. In fact, I’ve even pieced together the two stories in my own dark, twisted mind. Like Death Worm, the object of the game is destruction and to have a good time doin’ it. It’s the execution that’s a little bit different. Instead of moving underground, you’re in the air controlling a flying UFO using nothing but controls. The UFO’s only weapon is a giant claw that you use to rain terror on humanity by picking up cars, tossing them, snatchin’ yo people up, grabbing cows for food — whatever. Grabatron is out of this world.
As someone who isn’t the biggest “tower defense” fan, you know something is up when another one makes my list for best of 2011. Jelly Defense takes the tired tower defense genre and adds a whole new spin on it by introducing…. jelly like creatures, replacing the typical turrets/missiles. And it looks great. I mean, really you have to see this game in action to really appreciate how clean and crisp these graphics are. Further adding to the unique look of the game is the colorful wacky little jelly creatures that stand out amidst a drab black and white background. I don’t know how but it just works.
Muffin Knight is an action/shooter/platformer from Angry Mob Games. The fun “fairy tale” setting and colorful visuals make this easy on the eyes but where the game truly shines is in its cross platform gameplay. Muffin Knight if one of the few games in the Market that allow you to battle with a friend in multiplayer regardless of their device or OS. Have a friend with an iPhone? No problem! iPad? Show them who’s OS truly reigns supreme by destroying them, hardcore Muffin Knight style.
Pollushot is another hidden gem for Android and even when looking at screenshots or the description it’s easy to overlook this one in the Market. I’ve always had a sweet spot for shooters and that’s probably the closest genre you can compare this to. What’s funny, is Pollushot actually features a story of sorts where you take control of a slingshot ship to rid the world of polluters destroying the planet. Unlike shooters where you mindlessly fire an unlimited amount of ammunition at anything that moves, Pollushot has you aim precisely, flinging balls at enemy’s weak spots in order to advance. If you enjoy the shooters of yore, do yourself a favor and download Pollushot immediately.
Majesty: Fantasy Kingdom
Majesty is an interesting take on the RTS genre bringing almost fully automated characters normally controlled by the user — wizards, archers, knights — allowing the player manage the rest of the kingdom. This means you cannot simply select some knights to go out and do battle but must allow them to live their lives where at most, you can entice them to do your bidding through bribery. Somehow, it just all works and that’s the best part of Majesty. As a long time fan of 2D hand-drawn sprites, Majesty looks amazing on Android devices. There’s a free version in Market so no need to feel apprehensive about downloading. Oh — HeroCraft also released the Northern Expansion pack a few days ago so there’s more than enough Majesty to keep you playing for hours.
Where’s My Water?
One look at the developer of Where’s My Water? and you’re probably thinking, “Disney? What are we, 5?” Well, hold it right there stranger. Don’t let Where’s My Water’s looks fool you. Yes, it look a little childish (some call that “fun”) but this is one of the best puzzlers the Android Market has to offer. The premise of the game seems simple enough — get the water to the goal. But exactly how you manage to do that is the hard part. You must dig channels underground and watch as obstacles and challenges muddy things up a bit. Like puzzlers? Like fun? You’ll love Where’s My Water.
Back in the day there was this little game called X-Com. No game has ever come close to replicating it and I never dreamed I’d see anything come remotely close to delivering that same feel and definitely not in the Android Market. Thankfully, I came across Xenowar, a sci-fi, turn-based, strategy game very much in the vein of X-Com and make no mistake, the developers are intentionally trying to recreate that same magic found long ago. And they do a pretty darn good job. The graphics, while drastically different from the original comic book style, manage to give Xenowar its own identity with a unique, almost 8-bit polygonal style complete with matching sound effects. Not exactly the X-Com faithful port I’ve been dreaming about but still very good in its own right.
Puzzle Quest 2
Puzzle Quest 1 did the unthinkable when they combined RPG elements into a Bejeweled style puzzle game and somehow made it work. Puzzle Quest 2 brings that same tried and true formula but with more everything. Better graphics, greater depth, more characters classes, epic story line and the like. Whether you’re a fan of puzzle games or RPG’s, Puzzle Quest will rock your socks. Fan of both? Oh man, forget about it. Download this yesterday! If you hurry, PQ2 is actually 40% off until January 2nd in the Android Market. Great deal!
iBlast Moki crept under my radar for quite some time. Generally speaking, when I see a game that’s $3 with no free version, I just keep on walking but with iBlast Mokie, the cuteness got me. I mean, really. Just look at those little faces. The game is definitely hands down one of the better looking puzzle games in the Android Market but it’s in the gameplay where the game truly shines. I’ll try to explain it the best I can. Object of the game is to get the balls (Moki) into the hole. Sounds easy enough but it’s tricky. You must use bombs to project the Moki through the air and using timed blasts — to the very second — must orchestrate a carefully timed symphony of explosions to get those little suckers to the goal. The game features a neat rewind function that allows you to control the flow of time and figure out how to better time your blasts. Needless to say… I had a blast with iBlast Moki (you knew it was coming).
Inertia hit the Android Market not too long ago and after checking back with it today, was surprised at how few downloads it had. Part sci-fi platformer and part puzzler, Inertia’s tight controls and unique gameplay caught me off guard. Typically, I don’t fair too well with onscreen d-pads and buttons but Inertia makes you feel like a gaming god when you successfully complete a challenge. Inertia will challenge your wits, your reflexes, rack your brain and everything else in between. Inertia is even more accessible thanks to both Lite and paid version in the Market with a super HD version for all you tablet junkies as well.
Alright, folks. So that just about wraps it up for my top gaming picks of 2011. Surprising to say, it’s actually been a pretty great year for Android gaming. We’re starting to see a shift into more powerful dual and quad-core devices which means not only better looking games but more full featured ones as well. Sony and Nintendo better watch out cuz Andy is coming! It’s only going to get better in 2012 and I’ll be there every step of the way bringing you as many gems as I can dig up from the Market until my phone is bursting at its seams. Happy New Year, everyone!