Kingdom Rush Origins

The holidays are upon us, and what better way to spend the dwindling days of 2014 than loading up our Android phones and tablets with some awesome games to play. We'll start with the latest entry in an awesome series I'm neglected for too long: Kingdom Rush Origins.

Kingdom Rush Origins doesn't stay too far from the tower defense formula. Enemies march onto the map in waves, and you'll need to erect towers to destroy your foes before they reach the exit and damage your base. Kingdom Rush revamps the genre. Towers that can be specialized to tackle specific types of foes, and you can choose between several powerful hero units can turn the tide of any encounter. Dynamic levels keep the challenge fresh: the enemy will open up entirely new paths to circumvent your well-laid plans, but you can also count on friendly flora and fauna to put a dent in their numbers.

Price: 99 cents, £0.69, AU$1.29

Editors' note: This slideshow was first published in October 2013, and updated on December 23, 2014.

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Knights of the Old Republic

Knights of the Old Repblic is the quintessential Star Wars game, and after a year of iOS-exclusivity it has finally arrived on Android. Affectionately known as KOTOR, you'll find everything you could possibly want in a Star Wars game: namely, lightsabers and the occasional Jawa. The Sith are characteristically up to no good, and you'll need to choose between the Light and the Dark side as you take on a mysterious murderous foe that's seeking... something. I'll refrain from revealing too much: suffice to say, it's well worth a look, especially if you've never played it before.

Price: $4.99, £2.99 , AU$6.49

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Secret of Mana

When I was too young to know better, I decided that Sonic the Hedgehog would be a superior first foray into the 16-bit era and begged my mother for a Sega Genesis. I know now that had I the chance to experience Yoshi's Island, Final Fantasy 6 and Secret of Mana during my formative years, I'd be a different (but definitely superior) human being. Don't make the same mistake I did; this is one of the greatest games of all time. If you've played it before, grab this portable copy to share with the uninitiated. I'm not entirely sold on the virtual joystick, but the interface works rather well, and performance is excellent on my Nexus 5. If you've never played Secret of Mana, now is your chance to get a solid port you can take with you everywhere.

Price: $9, £6, AU$11

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Goat Simulator

Five bucks seems like a bit much to pay for what's essentially a practical joke. The controls here feel a bit imprecise, the graphics are shoddy at best, and the premise -- you're a goat -- is a bit daft.

But it ascribes to the classical Tony Hawk: Pro Skater school of trucking about and seeing what happens. So cars will be plowed into, boxes will be leapt over and trampolines will be bounced upon, all in the name of racking up a high score. When the game arrived on PC I was a nonbeliever. And I won't say I'm convinced, now that it's on mobile. But I just used my sticky, prehensile tongue to drag a sedan into traffic and watched carnage ensue (with no regard to physics), so yeah, I'm getting a bit of a kick out of this.

Price: $4.99, £2.99, AU$6.49

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Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition

You're probably asking yourself, "Do I need to buy yet another copy of a role-playing game released in 1998?" I was like you once. But this is Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition we're talking about, one of the greatest games ever made. Better still, this rather solid port of the recently released "enhanced" PC version serves up new content, quality of life improvements (hooray for higher resolutions!), and a touch-friendly interface. You can also copy your saved games between the Android and Windows versions and literally never stop playing; 13-year-old me is swooning so hard right now.

Price: $9.99, £6.99, AU$12.99

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Baldur's Gate II

As previously discussed, Baldur's Gate is one of the greatest games of all time. Baldur's Gate II happens to be better: the adventure continues with revamped mechanics, updated visuals, and a quest that will take you around the world of Faerûn and out to the mystical Outer Planes, as you take on the very gods. Like the last game in the series, you can copy your saved games between the Android and Windows versions, should you desire to take your adventures on the road. Better still, if you own the original, you can load your character into the sequel without too much effort, continuing the adventure.

Price: $9.99, £6.99, AU$12.99

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Out There

Out There is equal parts survival simulator and space exploration game. Your journey will take you to the furthest reaches of an unknown galaxy in pursuit of mysterious messages from alien entities. You'll leap from star to star in a star ship, mining planets for resources and making occasional contact with alien species. Between fuel-guzzling spaceships, random events that tear your hull apart, and a pilot that's quickly losing his mind, you'll have your hands full. And there are so many journeys to take, with different goals to discover, foes to surmount, and routes to explore -- it's well worth the asking price.

Price: $3.99, £2.49, AU$4.99

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Shadowrun Returns

And when you're ready to take a break from the Baldur's Gate's world of magic, intrigue and elves, feel free to step into Shadowrun Returns, which is...well, much of the same actually. But in the future! Shadowrun's gritty cyberpunk setting has been captivating folks for years, and its return to video game form on the PC was nothing short of stunning -- the mobile version is pretty great too. Sure, you're missing out all of the brilliant user-created content that's coming to the PC, but being able to wander its intricately detailed world and fight heady turn-based battles on a mobile device is pretty awesome. Be forewarned: while the game will likely run on your phone, you're going to have a really squinty time navigating the interface -- best to stick to tablets.

Price: $4.99, £2.99, AU$6.49

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Hoplite

In Hoplite, you're tasked with making your way down 16 floors of a dungeon, fighting through demonic hordes, and grabbing a bit of treasure. Of course no rouge like is so simple. The action is turn based, and takes place on a hexagonal grid. Attacking happens automatically whenever you move alongside an opponent. You can also hurl a spear, use a bash attack that can knock foes back a tile, and leap into the air to close the distance between you and your enemies. Every level also has an altar you can pray to for additional abilities. Tricky decisions abound: do you pray for more hit points so you're a bit tougher in a fight, the ability to throw your weapon a little farther, or healing to patch up your existing wounds? If you're feeling gutsy you can skip the altars altogether, adding more points to your high score.

Price: Free

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Sorcery! 2

I never got around to playing the original Sorcery! which I now realize is a huge mistake. Sorcery! 2 presumably picks up from where the first entry in the series left off, and while I have no idea what's going on at this point in the story, I'm completely wrapped up in it all. It's presented as a sort of tabletop role-playing game, with gorgeously illustrated miniatures sliding about an expansive map. Combat is an intricate affair, requiring you to juggle playing defensively to conserve your stamina and overreaching to end fights decisively. And the story thus far is an engrossing one, with interesting dialogue and characters to befriend (or betray). I've a sneaking suspicion I'll need to drop what I'm doing and take the first entry for a spin very soon...

Price: $5, £2.99, AU$6.49

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Dragon Quest II

Dragon Quest II is a recent addition to the Play store, but it's actually the second entry in the classic Dragon Quest series, which dates all the way back to 1986. There are a number of entries in the series kicking around on the Google Play store, some costing upward of $15 -- five bucks is a nice compromise, and an excellent introduction to a legendary role-playing series. You'll wander an expansive fantasy world, slaying critters and tapping through amusingly archaic fantasy dialogue on a quest to right wrongs and defeat evil. The interface is a little spartan and the portrait-only orientation will make this a pain to play on tablets, but it should prove to be a challenging, fun romp on your Android phone.

Price: $4.99, £2.99, AU$6.49

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Auralux

Aural is equal parts space colonization and real time strategy game. You start with a single blue star, pulsing out little blips of life (or maybe they're starships?) every second. You'll send these blips across the galaxy, charging into dead stars to bring them to life and turning those stars into life-generators. Of course, competitors on the map have the same goal.

It's a simple, challenging little game. These blips move really slowly, so you'll want to resist the temptation to overextend yourself, colonizing willy nilly and suddenly unable to move your fleets in time to defend your home front. The game is free, but you can spend a bit of cash to unlock many more maps and challenges.

Price: Free

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Hitman Go

Hitman is all about surreptitiously taking out your mark. Hitman Go is all about surreptitiously taking out your mark, as a board game. Most of the usual rules of subterfuge apply: you'll scuttle along a level's grid dispatching guards with a quick backstab or distracting them by tossing objects, all while hunting down your target. If you're especially deft you'll nail all three of a level's extra challenges, which might involve collecting a briefcase, taking down your target in as few turns as possible, or fleeing the scene without killing anyone at all.

Price: $4.99, £2.99, AU$6.49

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Retry

I try to avoid games that are arbitrarily hard as I lose interest in recurring reminders of my ineptitude. But I was inevitably swept up by Retry's gorgeous pixel aesthetic, and it's also a Rovio game that doesn't involve any birds -- interest piqued. I'm still not entirely convinced I made the right decision: tap on the screen to fire up your plane's propeller and flutter forward a tad. Touch anything that isn't tarmac, and you'll crash. A simple premise made all the more complex by labyrinthine levels, sudden sheer cliffs and sloping hills that require a fair bit of finesse to navigate. And then there are the constant loops you'll need to perform to get yourself out of a bind. So it's tough, but it feels a bit less pointless than similar efforts (I'm leering at you, Flappy Bird), with plenty of levels to trudge through.

Price: Free

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Terra Battle

Terra Battle is stunning, offering a gorgeous visual aesthetic coupled with a lush, peppy soundtrack. The turn-based combat system takes place on a grid, and you'll attack enemies by sliding two combatants onto either side of an opponent. It gets clever: you can gain bonus attacks and abilities from allies anywhere on the map, provided they're in a direct line with someone who's about to strike. But you can only move one unit per turn, and enemies are playing by the same rules, so you're always jockeying for position as new foes pop up onto the map. Really fun.

And then you run into roadblocks: making progress in the game's campaign requires spending around five points of "stamina" to fight in battles, and if you're really engrossed you'll quickly run out. You can wait a while (recovering one point of stamina every five minutes), or pony up some cash to keep playing. I definitely don't mind paying for games, but would rather pay outright: these sorts of time-capped system only punish those who are eager, and I generally just end up uninstalling the games entirely. Your mileage may vary, though; give it a shot.

Price: Free

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Metal Slug Defense

The secret to wowing friends and strangers at arcades is to pick a single game and get really, really good at it. When I was a kid, that game was Metal Slug; muscle memory alone could take me through most of that side-scrolling shoot'em up's campaign. Metal Slug Defense plays more like a tower defense game: you accrue points every second, and spend those points to send a single unit racing from one side of the map to the other, taking on enemy soldiers in your way. Troops on either side range from knife-wielding soldiers to hellish war machines, but the minions on your side can be upgraded, increasing their firepower and survivability. The game is a little eager to encourage you to spend real cash for in-game currency, but I found it far more satisfying to throw myself at a stage repeatedly until I figured out an optimal strategy -- just like the good old days, except my quarters are secure.

Price: Free

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First Strike

First Strike is a bit harrowing: it's a mutually assured destruction simulator, tasking you with building a nuclear arsenal and just maybe surviving the thermonuclear apocalypse. There's a bit of Civilization mixed in, too: you'll research new weapons or espionage techniques, annex neighboring countries to expand your growing atomic empire (sorry, Canada), and generally try to shore up your defenses before someone pushes the proverbial big red button and everything grinds to a halt. There's a lesson here, in that you don't "win" so much as lose less than everyone else does. But it doesn't forget to be fun -- albeit in a morbid sort of way.

Price: $3.99, £2.49, AU$4.99

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CounterSpy

CounterSpy might be a little light on stealth, but this Cold War-themed thriller makes up for it with an awesome atmosphere and clever gameplay. It's a Metroidvania-style game, which means you'll spend a lot of time exploring the world around you, dispatching enemies and scooping up loot. The overarching goal is to track down secret documents to further your organization's mysterious agenda, while keeping a relatively low profile: raise the alarm too far and the world's superpowers start launching nukes, and that isn't good for anyone. Better still, progress is shared between the mobile and PlayStation versions, so you can continue your adventures on bigger screens.

Price: $4.99 , £2.99, AU$6.49

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Monument Valley

Monument Valley is rather short, but it does an admirable job of serving up clever little puzzles and boasts absolutely stunning level design. With simple controls and a spooky soundtrack, it's a great way to kill an hour or two.

Price: $3.99, £2.49, AU$4.99

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Threes

I'm not convinced that my latent fear of numbers is solely to blame for my ineptitude at Threes, but it helps. Despite all appearances, this isn't so much a math game as a puzzler that toys with space and sums. It starts with the numbers one and two, which add up to the eponymous three. From there your goal is to pair identical numbers into ever increasing sums by swiping them across your screen. Every swipe moves the tiles on the board one space, but also tacks a new tile onto the board. Once the board is filled, the jig is up, points are tallied, and you'll see how much better you are at this than me. Because I'm pretty awful.

Price: 99 cents, £0.69, AU$1.29

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CNET Editors' Rating
4 stars Outstanding

Rayman Fiesta Run

You’ll want to pick this one up for the gorgeous visuals and the fast, clever endless-runner gameplay. You’re running from Point A to Point B and dodging hazards along the way, all the while collecting little golden pixies to free Rayman's capture comrades. But the real star here is the soundtrack. Nothing complements "Holy cow, did I just do that!?" dexterity better than Fiesta's fun, frenetic tunes. The brilliant, bite-sized levels are the proverbial icing on the cake -- just the perfect thing for a bus ride or especially lengthy meeting, as you'll be mashing the retry button in the hopes of getting that mythical flawless run.

Price: $2.99, £1.99, AU$3.79

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Where to Buy

Threes (iOS)

Part Number: id779157948

$1.99

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