To say that it’s a challenge to find quality, free games for your phone or tablet is an understatement. If you’re bored with mindless time-wasters, clones of more popular games, and “free” games that don’t do much more than beg you for in-app purchases, you’re not alone. Fortunately, there are some games that go beyond the usual fare to offer fun, original, challenging gameplay with enough depth for any avid gamer.
Triple Town – Spry Fox ( Android // iOS )
Triple Town is one of the original genre-defining mobile games. It’s best described as a variation on a match-3 puzzle game: you place items down on a grid and when you match 3, they combine to form the next tier of item. Combine three pieces of grass to get a bush, three bushes to get a tree, and so on and so forth. With grumpy bears and simple, friendly art, it may look like a casual game, but its humble presentation belies great depth and complexity. Building a sky castle (yes, a floating castle) takes skill and practice, and if you don’t pay close attention you’ll quickly fill up the board and lose the game.
You get 150 turns each day. When those run out, you have three options: wait for them to refresh, buy some more with in-game coins, or pay a one-time fee to unlock unlimited turns forever. This purchase also unlocks several new maps with even more gameplay twists and mechanics, but don’t worry – the free version is plenty enjoyable and can last you a long time.
Plants vs Zombies 2: It’s About Time – Electronic Arts ( Android // iOS )
If you’ve never played the original Plants vs Zombies (PvZ), it was the one-and-only tower grid defense game. Tower defense games aren’t uncommon, but PvZ’s use of a grid board set it apart from the others and made for a great game. Now it’s back, but this time it’s free – and it’s got some extra features.
You can earn or purchase Plant Food to give your plants special abilites to turn the tide during battles. Power-ups can be purchased with in-game coins to let you defeat the zombies with a flick of your finger. There’s even a Zen Garden that lets you grow your own plant-boosting seedlings. There’s tons of challenging levels and new plants, and the majority of the content is free thanks to advertisements.
Pudding Monsters – ZeptoLab ( Android // iOS )
If you’ve ever played Cut the Rope, you’ll recognize this game’s style immediately – and no wonder, since it’s created by the same developer. Although it could be described as excessively cutesy, the sliding puzzle mechanic holds its own. You move each pudding monster around by swiping your finger – they slide until they hit an obstacle or each other. You finish the level by combining all the monsters into one. but you ace the level by combining them so they end up on all three star tiles simultaneously. The game offers a good challenge if you’re trying to get the highest score.
Besides the occasional advertisement in between levels, you can buy coins to unlock more levels. Buying coins is hardly necessary, since you earn so many coins just by mastering each level. That being said, if you want the solution to a level, it will cost you – unlocking hints always costs real money.
Townsmen 6 FREE – HandyGames ( Android )
As implied in the name, this is a free version of Townsmen 6. This is by far one of the most robust strategy games available on mobile. During each campaign, you build up your settlement, exploit resources, work to fulfill the needs of your people, and defend yourself against enemy attacks. There’s no waiting mechanic, no energy system, no progress-blocking purchase gates: this is pure gameplay.
Unfortunately for phone users, it’s chiefly designed for tablets – it’s still playable on a phone, but you may occasionally fat-finger the wrong onscreen button, which can get a bit frustrating. The difference between this and the paid version is that this has ads at the bottom of your screen, which is a small price to pay for one of the only in-depth strategy games on mobile.
Blendoku – Lonely Few ( Android // iOS )
The most humble title on this list, Blendoku is a minimalist game where your task is to line up colored tiles so that they blend into each other smoothly. For example, if you have a line of tiles with yellow on one side and red on the other, you need to arrange the rest of the tiles from yellow-most to red-most in order. This might be easy enough, but things get more complex when you have to arrange tiles in two dimensions instead of one.
The game is ad-supported, and you can optionally buy more packs of levels. Purchasing any level pack will also remove the ads. For a real challenge, you can play Master levels, but these will only work on a tablet.
Plight of the Zombie – Spark Plug Games ( Android // iOS )
Sure, zombies are popular characters, but they’re usually the bad guys – do you ever feel just a little sorry for them? Plight of the Zombie does, as it casts you in the role of a hungry zombie just looking for some brains. Your zombies must navigate an obstacle course of armed humans to collect brains and convert the humans to zombies. You move zombies by drawing a path to your goal, but you have to make sure your timing is perfect so they don’t get shot full of lead. Converting all the humans wins the level, but if you don’t do it fast enough, you’ll miss the bonus brains on the ground.
Three sets of levels – 30 in all – are free, and you can purchase more from the in-game store. You unlock each set of levels by acing the previous set, getting 3 brains in each. You can also buy coins, which can be used to skip levels and buy cosmetic items to dress up your zombies in.
Honorable Mention: Threes – Sirvo ( Android // iOS )
At $1.99 (normally $2.99), Threes is not a free game. However, its blend of charm and depth have earned it an honorable mention on this list and I highly recommend taking the gamble on it if you can. As its tutorial explains, it is a game about matching numbers. You swipe your fingers around on the board to move all the numbers up, down, left, or right. 1s and 2s combine to make 3s, and from there, matching numbers combine to double.
Much like any good puzzle game, these easy-to-learn mechanics provide endless gameplay. Getting a high score takes concentration and skill, and the better you do, the harder it is to keep the board clear. With addictive music, a simple and clean interface, and zero in-app purchases, Threes is one of the purest games on mobile.
These are my personal favorite games on mobile as a gamer and strategy-lover. But they aren’t the only ones – what are some of your favorites?