Tiny Robot: Some Sneaky Android Game Reviews

Shhhhh, don’t tell the others! The thing is, I think I spend as much of my time playing games on Android devices as I do on PC these days, partly because family responsibilities mean being out of my office chair more often, and partly because my phone and tablet afford me opportunities to play games where my PC doesn’t reach. And heck, if we can have a column about board games, I think we can sneak this in, especially behind-the-scenes at first. So, experimentally, here are some short reviews of the Android games that are currently occupying my coffee shop/watching TV/before I fall asleep time.

Lara Croft GO

As the Tomb Raider series collapses through the roof into a fire-filled room of spikes before falling off a mountain, titles containing “Lara Croft” persist in being lovely and intriguing. Although not from Crystal Dynamics, Square Enix Montreal’s Lara Croft GO captures that same spirit, while being an entirely new sort of game for the woman who kills Cecil the Lions in her sleep. A turn-based puzzle game somehow seems to embrace the spirit of the series, despite being something entirely other. Lara is moved from tile to tile with a swoosh of your finger, the world taking its turns around her accordingly. That might be angry snakes that want to bite her head off, giant ‘rolling’ boulders that advance another step, or creepy lizards following you about, as you push pillars, flip switches, and avoid traps.

In many ways, it’s a familiar puzzle game – turn-based tile movement isn’t anything original (Road Not Taken was perhaps the most recent notable example), and if you’re au fait with the genre, you’ll likely have your instincts kick in for darting about in the early stages. But most importantly, it’s exquisitely good at being a turn-based tile game. Its combinations of gradually introduced new elements create unique challenges, as you’re throwing spears at snakes in order to use your flaming torch to scare another onto a pressure plate. And of course, all these things are so inherently Tomb Raider too – pressure plates, endangered species to slaughter, spears to chuck, switches to yank, and indeed, puzzles to solve.

The isometric presentation is glorious, a crisp, clean and almost Monument Valley-esque aesthetic, the creature design equally splendid. Sound is used carefully to great effect, creaks and dull winds giving a sense of enclosure despite the design presenting floating platforms. And most of all, it’s very, very smart. Puzzles can become real brain-scratchers as you get deeper in, but solutions are always fair.

Rather wonderfully, the game is all yours for the novel method of paying for it. A rare treat on the Play store, it has a sensible price-tag for a full-length puzzle game of 75 puzzles – £3.99. The only in-app purchase (IAP) is for hints, which again you just buy in one go, for another £3.99. This is unheard of! Hints are supposed to come in blocks of 5 for 79p a go, or whatever. But here your £4 buys you step-by-step solutions for the entire thing. And of course, why pay at all, since such solutions are all over YouTube should you want them. (Oh, and you might be able to buy outfits, but whatevs.)

It’s a tremendous game, sensibly priced, and a fitting entry in the canon. Roll on the first DLC.

Alphabear

Best known for Triple Town, Spry Fox have a rather lovely habit of maintaining an art style between their games. Alphabear’s titular beasts bear a striking resemblance to Triple Town’s mascot, and indeed to the gorgeous creatures in Road Not Taken. But the games themselves are all wildly different. Alphabear is, rather nonchalantly, the best word-based puzzle game on Android.

At first it’s very familiar. A grid of letter tiles, from which you must spell words – the mobile world is replete with such things. But in Alphabear, the first twist is that tiles only reveal their letters once an adjacent letter has been used. This immediately pours in a whole pile of new tactics, as you work out how to spread across to clear as much of the screen as you can, tiles removed to make way for ever-growing bears when you use them. On top of that, each tile once revealed has a countdown, ticking down with every word you play – fail to use them before they reach 0 and they’ll turn to stone, preventing the growth of your collection of bears. And the larger the bears at the end of each game, the greater your bonus score.

This becomes far more elaborate as you start adding new bears to your sleuth. In Chapter 1 there’s Fore Bear, Easy Bear, Stretch Bear, Doggy Bear, Skinny Bear, Panda Bear and Golfing Bear. They’re the first of 85. I’ve been playing in most of my spare time for weeks now, and have 51 of them and have reached Chapter 7. This game has legs.

It’s clever how it portions out play. Each weekday has unique challenges in each chapter, and each challenge has targets for silver and gold scores. The better you score, the better quality of bear you might unlock or upgrade. And you take three of these bears into each level. Rare Bears come with greater advantages, but all add something. Right now my most played bears are Tardy Bear with his 2265% final score bonus and Ts lasting longer, Goldilocks Bear and her 2290% and extra 239 points for three-letter words, and Questy Bear at 2156% and 3X points for using QU. Each bear has a rest period, some as short as 20 minutes, others as long as a day, before they can be played again. So my Legendary Box Bear gets a daily outing as he tacks on another 750% but more importantly, allows me a fourth bear. Very helpful for trying to beat that day’s gold score on a newer, tougher level.

Every day you have a regular level, and a timed level, usually giving you 60 or 90 seconds to play a panicked frantic version of the same. Some levels have a Challenge Event that puts up an even tougher top score but with guaranteed rare bears for scoring gold. And then each of the levels also comes with a super-difficult Boss to unlock the following level once enough golds have been achieved, and a Treasure Event that gives an easier challenge for a better award, but at the cost of 400 of the game’s in-game currency.

Ah yes, that. So, the game’s “free”, but to play it sensibly you’ll need to spend around £3 to unlock infinite “honey”. That’s yet another sort-of currency that limits how much you can play a day. Coins are the more nefarious aspect, costing £3.22 for 600, while a Treasure Event costs 400 to play. (Unlocking resting bears costs anything from 5 to a few hundred, depending on how long they have left to sleep). Thing is, I’ve been playing the game every day for about four weeks now, and have never needed to pay a penny for this. You earn coins as you play games anyway, and this has generally proved to be enough for me to play a Treasure Event every now and then, and unlock 5 coin bears when I can’t be doing with waiting ten minutes to play again. There are always games to play no matter what, so while some may be tempted to pay £32.13 for 7600 coins (ha ha, only joking, surely no one would ever do that?), there really isn’t any need.

It’s just wonderful. Each bear is lovely to look at, fun to watch subtly animate as you’re playing, and then hilarious in the game’s amazing pay-off in which randomised madlibs-style phrases are uttered using words you’d spelt during that go. These are, of course, tweetable, which is a rather brilliant way of encouraging plays to promote the game without feeling dirty – in fact, actively wanting to. One of the best games ever to grace my electric telephone.

∞ Loop

Winner of the stupidest game name in SEO history (how is anyone supposed to type that in on their phone?!), ∞ Loop’s only possible direct link to the concept of infinity is the number of prescribed levels. I’m on #721, and it’s showing no signs of stopping.

It’s such a simple concept, so neatly delivered by creator Balys Valentukevicius. A screen of curved lines that can be rotated 90 degrees with a tap of the finger. Rotate them all until all the wiggles line up to form a pattern with no loose ends. The trick is discerning which permutation will lead to the single correct pattern. And that’s it.

The minimalist presentation is throughout. There’s not even a title screen, instead opening with level 1. Hit the options button, and you get the choice to switch sound on or off, and go back and forth. That’s it. 722 levels in, the idea of tapping the button 721 times to see an earlier level is obviously very silly. Although since there doesn’t appear to be a discernible difficulty progression after the first few. And yet, despite that, I find it compelling. I think, of the 723 I’ve played, I’ve found three tricky, and none difficult. There was a level, maybe 301, where it took me a bit longer than usual. Sometimes they’re enormous, sometimes they’re teeny, and there appears to be no pattern to it. But that hasn’t slowed me down over the 724 puzzles I’ve completed.

And most of all, it’s free! Not “free”, but FREE, with no IAPs, nothing. With 725 puzzles completed, that’s been a pretty good deal for me.

This feature was originally published as part of, and thanks to, the RPS supporter program.

56 Comments

  1. linea says:

    Great feature. Good Android reviews are so hard to come across!

    I’m not sure I agree with you on Alphabear, mind.

    Which kind of breaks my heart as it’s SO CLOSE to being one of the most wonderful games ever but I ended up giving up on it when it became apparent that my progress through the game was gated primarily by the need to have high-powered bears active and not by my actual performance in the game, which seems only to make a relatively marginal difference to one’s overall score as long as you don’t completely cock it up. There seems to be no real incentive to make long words for example.

    But the game’s designed to encourage grinding to level up your bears and as such it seems to largely consist of a never-ending treadmill of relatively unchallenging games in which you level up your bears to attempt the ‘harder’ levels.

    The real tragedy is that I think it is not a problem with any of the mechanics in place, just with the balancing of the game and the scoring system. It breaks my heart a little bit- and I know why the developers have done it this way and I appreciate they need to eat but….

    • Premium User Badge

      John Walker says:

      The only time I encountered this problem was level 6/7, and after tweeting about it, Spry Fox rebalanced the game to fix it! I AM ALL POWERFUL.

      But feedback where you find imbalances, and the chances are they’ll listen.

      • Eight Rooks says:

        They do seem genuinely interested in listening to feedback, yes. I gave up on Road Not Taken in despair originally – stupidly, punishingly hard – and only recently went back and finally beat it on the new “normal” setting (“hard” being their old normal). Still tough, but much fairer.

        Though while I’m very interested in picking up Alphabear (it’ll be on iOS, mind) it does bring back unpleasant memories of Triple Town. So close to being a masterpiece – sorry, I can’t quite forgive a game where you’re basically grinding to be able to afford to pay to get onto the leaderboards. (People raged about Tetris being rebalanced around paying for pieces, why not TT?) I’m sure it works for some people; the entire concept is fundamentally flawed for me.

    • amusingthebrood says:

      Agreed. Longer words do score more (an eight letter word will score more than two four letter words), but the difference isn’t huge. You get most value by fully clearing the screen, even if you need to resort to short words (memorise your two letter words people). Spry Fox have published the exact scoring calculations though, which is handy.

      The grind gets pretty tough in later chapters. It took me more than two weeks to get through chapter seven. Chapter eight looks a bit better, my chapter seven bears are enough for me to beat the timed challenges, although I still a good 50,000 away from the large ones.

      But, I don’t mind the grind much. The core game is fun and although it is taking time, I make progress and I don’t feel frustrated often. I’ll certainly stick it out to the end, and maybe even go for collecting all of the bears.

      And now, I think my honey should have ticked up over fifty again. Off I go…

      • Premium User Badge

        John Walker says:

        I’ve now been stuck on Chapter 7 for two weeks too, with golds for everything, but unable to beat the Baby boss. Getting damned close though.

  2. Premium User Badge

    Skabooga says:

    Hahah! Your gag in the Loop minireview has me chuckling.

    • Premium User Badge

      John Walker says:

      : ) And true, too!

      • Somerled says:

        Simon Tatham’s Puzzles is another hard to quit selection of puzzles, all randomly generated so you can keep playing forever. It includes the Loop-like “Net”, which has interesting options like a difficulty scale (through the size and/or number of barriers limiting connections), allowing connections to loop from one side of the board to the other, and allowing puzzles with non-unique solutions. There are plenty of other puzzles in the mix with similar options and levels of obsession. Give it a try!

  3. arioch says:

    I would like to recommend “Out There – Omega edition” .. Its a really nice simple Rogue-like (or perhaps it should be called an FTL-Like) that is hard as nails and has a lovely artistic style. I have spent far too many hours playing it while I am supposed to be working!

    • Premium User Badge

      Ste says:

      Think that’s been mentioned by the RPS hivemind before. I’m sure that’s how I found out about it.

  4. Vandelay says:

    Excellent. I was kind of at a loss what to play on my phone now that I have finally “completed” all the modes in Twenty. Will have to check these out.

    Also, I’m certainly not opposed to more of this sort of thing. I’ve always thought a monthly round up of console/other platforms happenings from you guys would be welcome. I often feel quite cut off from what is going on elsewhere and other sites generally don’t have the same sensibilities that I like so much with RPS.

    • Vandelay says:

      Also, does anyone know of any Civilization like games on tablets/phones? I always thought that would be the perfect fit and got hopeful that it might happen when XCom came out.

      • frogmanalien says:

        I too would love a recommendation on a turn based game – with so many “building” games being just massive tap fests I’d really love to try a strategy game in the X-com/Civ turn-based world that isn’t just a way to get you to pay for more moves.

        • Jason Lefkowitz says:

          Well, if you want something like XCOM on Android, you could always try XCOM on Android :-D It’s the full game as seen on desktop & console, not a mobile reinterpretation. USD$9.99, one time purchase.

          Unfortunately, if you’re interested in strategy games more broadly, the pickings are kind of thin. There’s a ton of interesting little strat games on iOS, but for some reason they never seem to make it to Android. Which drives me nuts, since I would love a good turn based game on the go but can’t justify buying a whole other tablet just for that.

          (For ongoing coverage of mobile strategy titles I recommend the excellent blog Pocket Tactics — though while their mission statement is covering strategy games on all mobile platforms in practice they end up mostly writing about iOS releases, simply because that’s where the strategy games are.)

          • Eight Rooks says:

            Pocket Tactics are pretty good, as are TouchArcade – especially now they’ve actually started being a bit braver with their reviews and giving scores lower than three-and-a-half stars from time to time. (TA are one of very few websites on the net – RPS being one, natch – where I like the commentariat, too.)

      • Spider Jerusalem says:

        Rebuild 3, if you can stand zombies. Pretty solid 4x. One time purchase, no IAP.

        • Premium User Badge

          distantlurker says:

          I second this, funded it on kickstarter and Sarah is super friendly to comments and suggestions.

        • jgf1123 says:

          I backed Rebuild on Kickstarter and have been playing it on Steam. There are fun bits, but there aren’t enough as each level last too long as you grind your way to minimum size for victory then slowly talk the other factions into allying with you.

    • Not_Id says:

      @Vandelay: Adam commented the other day regarding consoles that money is a factor. So what if RPS have a Kickstarter to buy some consoles, they’ll need quite a few, plus more writers as well as updating the site.

  5. Lessing says:

    Excellent feature John, would love to see some more of these reviews. I’m installing Loops and Alphabear now. I already have Lara Croft Go and it is indeed most excellent. The theme of Hitman GO never did it for me, but Tomb Raider is much more appealing.

  6. ironman Tetsuo says:

    Great stuff!
    Needs more Pixel Dungeon though. This game has been on my phone for almost 3 years and whilst I take the occasional break the fact it’s regularly updated always brings me back. It’s the one app I never consider removing when storage space is tight…

  7. Nereus says:

    The fact this article has no mention of Inkle’s games is enough to make me fly back to Ireland and revitalise the IRA. You sir, have made a powerful enemy today.

    • Eight Rooks says:

      I assume that’s partly down to 1) RPS already having written favourably about 80 Days on multiple occasions and 2) the announcement it’s coming to PC (with the forthcoming free content update included and newer, shinier visuals).

      • Premium User Badge

        John Walker says:

        And indeed that I wrote about the three games I’m currently playing on my phone, rather than all Android games ever : )

      • Nereus says:

        80 Days is excellent, but so are the Sorcery! games. Some of the best RPG’s I’ve played in a long time.

  8. Not_Id says:

    “And heck, if we can have a column about board games, I think we can sneak this in,”

    Yep! I feel like I’ve just stepped into the future! A future that isn’t just about pc games but all games.

    I hereby vote that RPS cover all games on all devices.

    • Not_Id says:

      Do this RPS and I’ll support you. I could even donate some console games if you supply a p o box. That way you get to play/review the games and sell ’em + keep the monies.

  9. Lakshmi says:

    I’d tried Alphabear but not the other two – thanks. And I vote for more articles on phone games.

  10. Spider Jerusalem says:

    Yes please. I also find myself playing more on my phone these days and it’s dreadfully hard to find good writing about android games.

  11. Nasarius says:

    For people interested in more mobile game recommendations, the best site I’ve found is pockettactics.com

    They’re cool people, and thanks to them I’ve found some great games I never knew existed. A lot of games are only available on iOS though, but that’s just how it is.

    • Spider Jerusalem says:

      It’s a fine site, but not much use to anyone without a fruit-based device.

      • jgf1123 says:

        Agreed. Say you want a list of their most recommended games. They have a list of all the scored reviews they wrote that year, including which are iOS and which are Android. Except those listings are which OS the game was out on at the time of writing. When the Android version comes out, they don’t bother to update. So looking at their 2014 list, Galaxy Trucker and Motorsport Manager are iOS only when the Android version has been out for a while.

        I think somewhere on their forums is a rule roughly saying, “Don’t complain that a game is iOS only.”

  12. lowprices says:

    As I get older and have less free time mobile games seem to be where my life is headed, gaming-wise, so RPS covering them would just make things more convenient. In fact, if you could also get someone to cover 3DS games I’d appreciate it, as then I’d only need to visit one site for all my videogame needs.

  13. Lars Westergren says:

    As long as it is a small and occasional thing and main focus remains on PC, sure.

    There are good mobile games around, but they are drowned in the tide of cheap, poor quality stuff. Having one of the big sites like RPS cover it could hopefully help the developers who try to do the good stuff. pockettactics.com is one of the few sites that cover mobile games and seem to aim for an older audience who likes “PC/boardgame style” games.

    Btw – huge number of PC adventure games are available on Android (Grim Fandango!), and also stuff like XCom, King of Dragon Pass, The Last Express, and even the Talos Principle. I can also really recommend Space Team if you have friends to play with.

    • Vandelay says:

      Isn’t The Talos Principle mobile game just a selection of the tile puzzles? Perhaps I just lack some kind of spacial awareness required for those, but I found those frustrating and mind numbingly dull in the real game. I would rather umpteen of the recording puzzles over doing more of those!

      And yes. I definitely welcome coverage of all games, not just PC ones, as I said above, but that would not be call for you to become a site for all platforms. That is mainly because I only really game on a PC and I am selfish.

      Oh, I also have a Wii U. You could become a PC and Wii U site!

    • JB says:

      Spaceteam is super-rad. So much silly fun.

  14. jgf1123 says:

    I got Lara Croft GO the other day. The way it combines a handful of simple puzzle mechanics in ways without being too repetitive is quite nice. The puzzles are on the easy side (I already beat the game), so I agree with John: bring on the DLC.

    Will try Alphabear and \infty Loop.

  15. JaguarWong says:

    Lara Croft Go if the best have the character has appeared in since Underworld.
    I like the two Lara Croft and… games but this is a cut above – even if it is a little on the easy side.

    Pacman 256 is my current commuter fodder, I’ll take a look at infinity loop though as it sounds like the ideal quick player.

  16. GWOP says:

    Phone games on RPS? Sacrilege!

    *punches monitor in anger*

    *opens up phone browser*

    *logs into RPS*

    *pauses*

    Yeah, you know what? I need some good Android game recommendations.

  17. Richard_from_Winnipeg says:

    After spending most of a night looking for a good game when I got my Nexus 6 last month I broke down and joined my brother in law playing Clash of Clans.

    I had always thought it silly and dumb but hadn’t really considered it.

    Turns out I love it. It’s kinda like a Civ or Simcity that’s all about fort design and managing your time merged with strategy lite that makes for great 3 minute battles. Sure, you only choose where to deploy and what to deploy but it’s great for a few minutes here and there. I mean, it’s not like my phone is for hours of gaming, though I have played Clash for an hour here or there when cooking or watching some NFL.

    Anyone know anything about those Tactics games that are $15 each? The name is eluding me right now but it’s something like History of the Aether War or something like that.

    • Richard_from_Winnipeg says:

      But stay away from Boom Beach, it’s not nearly as good.

    • Richard_from_Winnipeg says:

      The game that I was wondering about was The Record Of The Agarest War.

      Also, any thoughts on day9’s comments to Forbes magazine that freemium model actually engages players better and allows them to tailor the experience to what they want? I know from playing Madden Mobile (NFL football on my phone) that by getting new plays to run regularly actually allows me to explore the capabilities of those specific plays against different coverages. It’s actually been surprisingly good to be spoon fed new lays rather than having 200 plays right off the bat that I then end up ignoring as I have my favorite 30 or so.

      • Hedgeclipper says:

        Sounds a bit like when advertisers tell you they’re performing a valuable service informing consumers about new and exciting products. There may occasionally be a glimmer of a hint of a truth somewhere in the mass of slime but I certainly don’t intend to go digging for it.

    • Premium User Badge

      Phasma Felis says:

      The Great Little War Game series are on Android, and (at least as far as I got) free of F2P/IAP shenanigans. Turn-based hex grid fun.

  18. Gap Gen says:

    Yeah, it’s hard to find good Android games by just skimming the store. I’ve found a few (Eufloria still works great as a touchscreen game since it’s mostly about dragging stuff from A to B) but it’s hard to filter out all the cash-in stuff clogging up the market.

    Some older games are being converted, apparently. Turns out Imperium Galactica 2 is on Android (like, the exact same version as on the PC aside from a few minor interface tweaks), and the touch interface kinda works. I completed a game on Easy on it and all. Still probably better on the PC, but if you have a beefy tablet, why not.

  19. icarussc says:

    Just wanted to say that Android and PC share a ‘best strategy game’: XCOM: Enemy Within. It’s a full-fat edition, it runs great, and it’s every bit the excellent game its PC counterpart is.

    Now if they could pull the same trick with Civilization!

    • Dan Milburn says:

      XCOM only supports certain chipsets for Android devices, which means that I can’t run it on my Lenovo tablet, although it would work on my older and less powerful Nexus 4 phone. And of course there isn’t any official information on which devices are supported.

      To go to the effort of porting it in the first place, but then not make sure it runs on all the new tablets produced by the major manufacturers is just.. baffling.

  20. frogulox says:

    I have no problem with an android review; for me, android is the pc option in heldheld world. This is both the good and the bad thing..

    RPS doesnt (not really really) pretend that other things dont exist anyway. I prefer the writing style and attitude that comes from these people who play pc games and have done for some time over console-borne reviews and hype, but a big part of that is that there is a knowledge that other stuff happens elsewhere. This is furthered by the comments section which has no problem drawing relevance from Other.

    Also yes boardgames are no video games, but rabs is great. So is alphabear.

    ——-

    Played hitman go, love the look, bounced off the play a little bit.. but its still on my phone.

    Alphabear is brilliant. My wife hates it and me and all things fun.

    I havent played infinity loop but im looking for it right now.

    • icarussc says:

      Should have said — this is a wonderful new feature and I hope that we see it continue for a long, long time!

  21. PixelsDontMove says:

    Is now the time to do some shameless self-promotion? I made a tiny little game I would love to get feedback on. I’m new to Java, but, here it is: link to play.google.com

    ‘Please, and thank you.’ – Ron Swanson

  22. Frank says:

    Is “tiny robot” a play on “big robot” of Rossignol fame?

    Seems kind of weird to put it in the tag ahead of Sqeenix and Spry Fox.

  23. Temple says:

    Humble Bundles do mobile pretty often.
    Great Little War 2 (and others) available now for less than $5
    They did a bunch of Games Workshop stuff recently, most pants but still playing Warhammer Quest.
    link to humblebundle.com