Secret of Mana

This list of great Android games starts with a classic Super Nintendo game. And a bit of a sad story, too.

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

Editors' note: This slideshow was first published in October 2013, and updated on November 7, 2014.

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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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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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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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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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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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99 Bricks Wizard Academy

It's a good thing I've always subscribed to the "if it sits (still), it fits" school of construction, or this particular take on Tetris would be the end of me. As it stands (or doesn't), the towers I've constructed are only likely to be the end of anyone inside or around them. You're tasked with with stacking Tetris blocks as tall as you possibly can, arranging them on a narrow foundation in order to build a majestic wizard's tower. But nothing is ever so easy: you'll learn all manner of spells along the way, and battle the finicky laws of physics (and jealous adversaries) on your quest to learn all you can about tower construction.

Price: Free

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Modern Combat 5: Blackout

Modern Combat 5 might not be able to compete with the console first-person shooters it's emulating, but it doesn't really have to. It's a stellar experience, pairing impressive graphics (for a mobile game) with an excited, varied single-player campaign -- even if most of the experience is fairly linear. The multiplayer experience is the best yet for the series. It's pricier than most of the titles on this list, but if you're into shooters and want something to to kick back on the couch with, this isn't a bad bet. Just don't expect to take this game on the road: an Internet connection is required, even if you're playing alone.

Price: $6.99, £4.99, AU$8.99

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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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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

I'm usually loath to spend cash on shameless movie tie-ins. But preteen me would've never forgiven myself for passing up the chance to play a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles video game, so here we are. In this side-scrolling brawler you'll fight the forces of evil as Leonardo (the only correct choice), though his siblings are also available. It's a bit of a different take on the genre: enemies appear on screen and you'll swipe on them to perform combos and special attacks, while tapping to counter their attacks. There's no need to fiddle with virtual joysticks to move around, which makes combat feel at once strange and pleasantly fluid. I'm not sure I enjoy the new cel-shaded aesthetic, but the game is fun, and the premise -- defending New York pizzerias from roving gangs, to start -- is as ludicrous as ever. Fans should definitely pick this one up.

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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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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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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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 -- the developers have also promised to add new puzzles later on, though there's no word on when that might happen.

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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Plague Inc.

Who says gaming can't teach you anything useful? During my stint as a humanity-eradicating pathogen, for example, I discovered that Madagascar will likely shut down all manner of transport and global trade, should one of its citizens catch so much as a cold. I'll need to keep that in mind in the likely event of a zombie apocalypse…

Anyhow, Plague Inc. is all about wiping out humanity by designing the perfect communicable ailment, and ensuring it evolves and thrives as scientists struggle to fight it. Quite fun, if a bit morbid -- and you’ll never look at folks coughing and sneezing on the bus in the same way again!

Price: Free

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Where to Buy

Threes (iOS)

Part Number: id779157948

$1.99

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