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Best Android games of 2011 (so far)

by Kristen Nicole

It’s been a great year for Android, with a big boost in smartphone sales, a wave of tablet releases and a few other tech updates that are powering up Android devices. From Gingerbread and Honeycomb, to dual-core processors, 3D and Tegra capabilities and Sony’s Xperia PLAY launch, the game industry is blooming bright for Android. Now that we’re halfway through the year, it’s a great time to reflect on some of the best releases of 2011 so far.

Angry Birds Rio (Free)

Angry Birds has been a runaway success since its launch, immediately winning the hearts of Android gamers from day one. What keeps us hooked on this popular game is its frequent updates, delivering new levels, challenges and rewards. This year has seen a couple of Seasons updates, the most recent celebrating summer. The other major release was Angry Birds Rio, a star-studded edition for the Rio movie, an animated feature from FOX studios. The Hollywood team-up only validated Angry Birds as a top title amongst Android games, setting standards for its genre, release and marketing strategies.

Words With Friends (Free)

Words With Friends is a Scrabble-like game that’s pre-occupied many an Android user. With multiplayer support and social networking integration, it’s easy to pick up and play with friends you already know. Challenge your Facebook friends to a round, and see who’s the smartest in the bunch. Words With Friends is one of Zynga’s early Android releases, marking a defining moment for social mobile gaming on the Android platform. As Zynga grows on a global scale, its aiming for cross-platform access. You can play Words With Friends with iOS players, Facebook and Twitter friends, so you’ll never be lonesome for opponents.

Plants vs. Zombies ($2.99, Amazon Appstore)

This morbid twist on defense games brings a refreshing update to the genre. From PopCap games, Plants vs. Zombies gives you a variety of plants and tools to fight off the oncoming hordes of starving zombies. Defend your house with a bit of gardening, re-upping your ammo with bouts of sunlight. Sunflowers are particularly threatening to zombies for some reason. You’ll have to place your plants strategically, as each has its own defense mechanism for zombies. Earn new plant types to further diversify your strategy, leveling up along with more numerous and powerful zombies. Taking a cue from Angry Birds Rio, Plants vs. Zombies launched exclusively on Amazon’s Appstore, a new hot spot for Android games and promos.

Fruit Ninja THD ($3.21)

Android’s favorite slasher game, Fruit Ninja has been a big hit for casual gamers. With a relatively early release on Android, it’s no surprise that Fruit Ninja was among the first to upgrade its game, optimizing it for NVIDIA Tegra devices. Make fruit salad, slicing up all the fruit that flies your way. The more combos you do, the more points you’ll earn. Powering-up lets you unlock achievements, with OpenFeint integration extending to an extensive leaderboard system for the truly competitive. There’s a few different game modes for Fruit Ninja, including the newer arcade version with a whole new world of power-ups. It’s the high scores that matter in this game, so practice your slashing skills.

Related: Best Android apps of the year (so far)

N.O.V.A. 2 HD ($6.99)

Gameloft is another publisher that’s taken advantage of high-end Android devices, launching an HD version of its well-received N.O.V.A. 2. This first-person action game is a sci-fi favorite, with upgraded graphics, new gameplay moves for better fight scenes, and a slew of new locations for galactic battles. The sequel features multiplayer support, letting you join in with nine others on a handful of missions. If you’re into leaderboards, then career mode is the way to go. N.O.V.A. 2 was one of Gameloft’s first Android Market releases, and was an early title made available for Sony’s game-centric Xperia PLAY phone as well, setting a new path for the game publisher, which previously sold Android games directly through its website.

PewPew 2 ($2.89)

PewPew 2 is the sequel to the beloved line- and shape-shooter game, featuring a round of updates that introduce some major perks compared to the first edition. There’s seven game modes instead of the previous four, along with a slew of new difficulty levels and more unlockable features for enhanced gameplay, like better shooting capabilities. And for a more well-rounded experience, you can also select your difficulty level for more control over your game. In all, users gain more options for PewPew 2, greatly improving this retro-graphic game, including a challenging single player campaign mode.

Samurai II: Vengeance THD ($2.89)

Another THD release came from Samurai II, launching an exclusive version for Tegra-based Android devices (but now available for others). The game is known for its manga-style graphics and gory gameplay, with a polished gaming experience overall. While Samurai II is an award-winning game for iOS, Android gamers feel the love, too. Samurai II is one of the early games designed for smartphones as well as tablets, with high-end production and fluid action scenes. The THD version also features some updates, with a new dynamic camera, more puzzles, traps and enemies, so you’ll get plenty of enjoyment out of this slasher.

Cut the Rope ($0.99)

Cut the Rope is a game of strategy and timing, as you feed a tiny green monster candy from a rope. You have to cut the rope at just the right place, dropping it into little Om Nom’s waiting mouth. Collect stars and break bubbles along the way, which can get tricky once vindictive obstacles start to get in the way. Quite popular on iOS, an Android version was due. Anticipation around this game has been high this past year, as a fake version launched earlier, and teasers from a new developer team left gamers confused and anxious in recent weeks. Nevertheless, Cut the Rope finally emerged for Android, launching first on GetJar and later in the Android Market.

Battleheart ($2.99)

Battleheart is a unique take on the RPG genre, with comic book-like graphics for a more involved story line and gameplay. It’s not for RPG purists, but it’s colorful and simple to play. In this role-playing game, you build up an army, pulling from different character classes, ranging from rogues to knights. As with many games of its style, you can customize your characters, build their skill sets and spend a great deal of time simply unearthing all the specialized weapons and items throughout your campaign. As your team’s skill set builds, you’ll be able to take on bigger challenges, working your magic on enemy armies.

Dungeon Defenders: FW Deluxe (Free)

Another popular RPG combines tower-defense features and plenty of action. Dungeon Defenders: FW Deluxe is for HD devices, with new missions, enemies, bosses and weapons. Choose your character from four different hero classes, and get ready to battle invading creatures. You’ll have to be smart about using your powers, defending your castle while also gathering loot. As you level-up you can customize more of your equipment, developing out your class abilities. Dungeon Defenders comes with GameCenter integration, where you’ll also be able to purchase credits for more virtual goods. It’s another stylized game, but one that’s complex enough to hold your attention.

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