The 10 best paid Android games of 2015

Forget freemium: pay once to enjoy each of these excellent games from the past year.

best paid games 2015 lead
Gaming greatness

Free games are mostly ideal for a quick fix, but a truly great game is well worth paying for—and the 10 featured within are the finest we encountered on Android in 2015. It’s a diverse bunch of games spanning an array of genres, visual styles, and price points, from an interactive comic book fugitive tale to a methodical, Zen-like game about snipping bonsai tree branches.

All are united in excellence, however, not to mention the fact that the core play experience is available for a single price point, whether upfront or as an in-app purchase following a free demo. If you’re looking for some awesome Android games to savor as the year winds down and 2016 starts heating up, these are the ones to buy first. Enjoy!

best paid games 2015 laracroftgo
Lara Croft Go

The Tomb Raider heroine found her ideal mobile showcase this year, as Lara Croft Go swapped the third-person action of the console favorites for an isometric environmental puzzler. It’s an unexpected turn, but one that works remarkably well—we said much the same for last year’s Hitman Go, also from Square Enix, but Lara’s quest is even more engaging.

Each of the 100+ stages tasks you with reaching the goal by moving one space at a time, all the while working out puzzles, avoiding—or defeating—enemies, and using new techniques to traverse the terrain. It’s well-paced and introduces its concepts gradually, plus the visual design is wonderful, using some Monument Valley inspiration as a springboard to deliver its own eye-catching sights.

Lara Croft Go ($5)

best paid games 2015 fotonica
Fotonica

Fotonica doesn’t translate well to still images—much like the also-great Impossible Road—but play it for a few seconds and you’ll understand why it’s so amazing. This first-person runner needs only simple wireframe environments to pull you in with its stunning sense of speed, pushing you to leap into the vast darkness that separates the slim platforms.

The visual simplicity extends into game design, as well. It’s a one-input game: you’ll hold down anywhere to run and release to leap, making accurate timing your only focus. Even with the wireframe graphics, Fotonica delivers astounding sights and pairs it with pulsing, perfectly suited electronic music: you’ll want headphones for this rousing, one-of-a-kind experience.

Fotonica ($1)

best paid games 2015 horizonchase
Horizon Chase – World Tour

If you grew up on the arcade racing games of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, Horizon Chase might feel like a comforting embrace from a long-lost friend. And even if you didn’t, this throwback racer is a delight on Android, pairing the simplicity and speed of old-school racers with a retro-meets-modern visual style that is vivid and stunning.

Horizon Chase keeps things approachable on the road, where lane choice and picking up gas icons are your most important tasks—but it’s fast and fun, and the short races are ideal for phone play. The campaign packs in several dozen tracks, and the presentation really is a key part of the appeal, tapping into the color palette and perspective of classics without the need for chunky pixels.

Horizon Chase – World Tour (Free; $3 full unlock)

best paid games 2015 limbo
Limbo

You might have played Limbo elsewhere as long as five years ago: Playdead’s atmospheric puzzle-platformer took its sweet time coming to Android, even arriving two years after the iOS port. But this is one game that’s well worth playing half a decade after its debut, delivering a tense, uncertain, and absolutely memorable side-scrolling experience. 

As a young boy in a shadowy, black-and-white world, you’ll explore the unknown terrain ahead, using your wits to overcome the environmental challenges ahead. There’s no tutorial, explanation, or overt narrative, but the ambiance is fabulous and the stakes feel very real—especially with the boy’s grisly death animations. Limbo is short but very sweet, and an essential Android play. 

Limbo ($5)

best paid games 2015 prune
Prune

Shrub management might not seem like the most compelling game idea, and yet here we are with the alluring Prune. It's tough to classify: while something of a puzzle game, Prune is played in short, frantic bursts. You'll draw up a root from the earth below, and from there spawns the rapidly-growing bonsai tree, which you must trim as quickly as possible to maximize its growth. 

Getting the tree to bloom flowers in the daylight is your primary goal, and snipping smaller, lower branches helps push it further skyward. However, there are obstacles: red and black orbs that can poison or disintegrate the tree upon contact. Figuring out the best place to snip tends to require some failure, but the beautiful artwork and soothing tone make frustration rare.

Prune ($4)

best paid games 2015 hopiko
HoPiKo

Meanwhile, if you’re looking for the tonal polar opposite of Prune, you’ll find it in HoPiKo, an absolutely chaotic pull-and-fling platformer. It’s set inside the world of a video game console, where you’re fighting off a virus by leaping from platform to platform—only you have but a couple seconds to find a new destination and bounce, otherwise it's game over. 

This is a game of rapid-fire reactions in bite-sized levels: you’ll hop from here to there to another place and finally the goal within a couple seconds, and then charge right into the next stage. Die in any of the five levels in each set and you’ll start back from the top. It’s a bit punishing, but HoPiKo is one of the top twitch challenges available in the Play Store and has a great retro look as well.

HoPiKo ($2)

best paid games 2015 framed
Framed

Framed is certainly one of the most inventive games to appear on Android all year, as it builds its mechanics around the framework of comic book panels. As a shadowy figure evades capture from pursuing police officers, you must rearrange the panels on each new screen to generate the chain of events that keeps him or her free and on the lam.

Often, it turns into a logic puzzle, where one thing must lead into the other to keep the runner safe, but sometimes you're just plotting out a route through doors or maze-like turns. It's all about trial and error, and enough botched attempts will eventually produce a winning outcome. Still, Framed is one of the most distinctive games you can play on any platform.

Framed ($3)

best paid games 2015 geowars3
Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions

If HoPiKo raised your interest, then perhaps the frenetic arcade shooting thrills of Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions will seem plenty appealing as well. It’s a dual-analog shooter without the physical sticks, but Dimensions does well with its touch equivalents, letting you blast little neon shapes by firing in all directions and evading contact all the while. 

Dimensions entertains with its blasting, but also sticks around due to the absolute mass of content: it has 100+ levels in the campaign, flat and 3D stages alike, and the amazing classic modes from earlier console entries—like Pacifism, which amps up the tension by taking away your weapons. It’s pricier than most mobile games, but this is $10 very well spent.

Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions ($10)

best paid games 2015 youmustbuild
You Must Build a Boat

Seriously, you must! Like its similar (and similarly oddly-titled) predecessor, 10000000, You Must Build a Boat provides a compelling blend of match-three puzzling and role-playing action, yet manages to feel very distinct from earlier genre mash-ups. That's because you need to act on the fly to link up tiles that help you perform the proper action in the moment. 

As your little pixel character encounters enemies and treasure chests while running across the top of the screen, you must connect three or more attack, shield, or key icons, for example. The faster you are at fulfilling the hero's needs, the longer each quest goes on; but whatever the result, you'll earn resources to further the overall adventure and expand your vessel. It's engrossing stuff. 

You Must Build a Boat ($3)

best paid games 2015 implosion
Implosion: Never Lose Hope

Implosion is the closest we've seen to a proper hack-and-slash console game done right on a smartphone or tablet. It's a frenzied affair, one that sees you guiding a mech suit through tight corridors and dicing up scads of gruesome beasts, as well as blasting them with your machine gun. Massive, flashy combos are the focus here, and they are plentiful.

It both looks and plays like a big-budget console game: the graphics are outstanding, with stellar anime cut-scenes setting the scene, and the single-button design for both blade and firearm attacks is ingenious. While $10 might seem like a lot to pay for a mobile game, it's a lot cheaper than an Xbox or PlayStation one—and Implosion really does warrant the comparison. It's that impressive.

Implosion: Never Lose Hope (Free; $10 full unlock)