I was an early Android phone adopter, which means I've spent even longer than most people boring my friends with reasons why Google-OS-powered devices are better than the iPhone. Unfortunately, it also means that I'm stuck with Android 1.6 until Eurogamer quadruples my pay to enable me to buy a lovely, shiny new HTC Desire; I had to delete everything off my phone so that I could do this review roundup because I can't save apps to my SD card. It's still better than the iPhone, though.
For all the things that Android is brilliant at, however (open-source development! Squillions of weird, wonderful and free apps! Customisation! Barcode scanning! Widgets! Google integration!), games aren't one of its strengths. The Android Market isn't anywhere near as slick or well-organised as Apple's shop, which is perhaps the price to pay for how unrestricted it is, and finding the good stuff is dismayingly difficult. Once you do find something, the sheer range of Android-powered devices means that it won't always run perfectly on your phone.
But the good times are coming - with Android OS 2.2, which allows data card storage and more than doubles the operating system's speed, Android games are sure to get better, more ambitious and ever more prolific. We've collected the current stars of the Android Market in this roundup, highlighting the differences between paid and free versions where applicable.
Gem Miner: Dig Deeper
- Ł1.35 / Free version: Gem Miner
Part adventure game, part Mr Driller, Gem Miner is an addictive little sort. Playing as a chibi miner chap, the idea is to explore a giant mine, going deeper and deeper to find more precious gems to bring back to the surface and sell for cash to buy upgrades. You place supports and ladders as you explore to ensure that you can make it out again in a pinch.
You're limited by stamina and your carry limit. Mini-miner can carry as may items as he likes, but only a limited number of ores. Returning to the camp relieves him of his load and replenishes stamina, readying him to explore even further next time. Finding more expensive ores means you can afford equipment to see further, carry more or punch through rocks more quickly with the pickaxe. As your equipment steadily improves, you can last for longer and longer down in the dark.
It reminds me of the tens of hours I've spent in Harvest Moon mines over the last decade, except it's more forgiving. Run out of stamina or get crushed by a giant rock, and you just lose your ore and end up back at camp, where you can save the game. Its hold on me diminished, though, when it dawned on me that all I was ever going to find down that mine was more and more ore. Add a little adventure-story element to this, and it would be brilliant.