5 Free App Games That Are Unexpectedly Charming

Avengers Academy

There are games that I play on my phone to relax, but then there are games that are decidedly not relaxing. I don’t know what the best way would be to classify them. Satisfying? For me, the fun thing about mobile games is just how varied they can be. Yes, there are going to be a million “Match 3” games in the Play Store at any given time, but if when you’re wading through the “Most Popular” lists, you can sometimes strike gold.

Special shoutout to Lifeline, which I played recently, but won’t be gracing this list since it’s not free. If you’re curious about what it’s like to talk to a young astronaut who has crash-landed on a planet, then you can check out Teddie’s article. That’s how I found out about it and what piqued my interest. So, without further ado!

Avengers Academy (iOSAndroid)

Yes, there are corporate cash grabs on this list. While a lot of mobile games that have popular IP used in them are just blatant shovelware garbage, Avengers Academy hits enough of the right buttons that I’m not mad at it. In terms of gameplay, there isn’t any. This game is more of a time management test than anything else. You can assign your students to certain missions, but the missions take different amounts of time. As you play more, you’ll get better at managing your time and your resources. There are still the cash grabs where they prompt you to buy certain heroes or outfits using gems, but they’re ignorable for the most part. Plus, I got Miss Marvel and Captain America already, so until you make Hawkeye available, my money’s staying where it is.

This is a game that’s for Marvel fans and only Marvel fans who are interested in a university AU. Consider it Avengers fanfiction, and it’s much funnier as a game. To add to that fanfiction feel, they have the characters flirt with each other on and off and the game has announced that there will be a romance simulation option, which should add at least a little more gameplay. In my mind, Marvel missed an amazing opportunity to make a Marvel version of The Sims, but you can’t win ‘em all.


Disney Tsum Tsum
Disney Tsum Tsum (iOS, Android)

Corporate cash grab, number two! Oh Disney, no matter how many terrible things you do, I find it really hard to stay mad at you. Please stop buying up my favorite IPs. You’ve already got The Avengers and Star Wars—I don’t need you taking any more of my money.

For anyone who hasn’t been paying attention to the plushie industry, Tsums are a kind of plushie that originated in Japan. Take your favorite character and stuff them into a cutesy cylinder and you can imagine what a Tsum is.

Tsum Tsum is one of those Match 3 games, but they’ve changed enough to keep it interesting. For one, you have a little Tsum that you can level up like a Pokémon. You can make its attacks stronger, use it to fill out bingo cards that will give you items, and earn money in-game to buy more Tsums. The way that you get Tsums is mostly randomized, so it adds a level of investment to the game. For a kid-friendly company that wouldn’t overtly put gambling in their games, Disney Tsum Tsum has given me some great gambling highs. The game isn’t substantial, but it’s super cute, and you don’t have to wait too long to keep playing it.

Whale Trail Frenzy (iOS, Android)

Whale Trail FrenzyI was torn between putting Whale Trail or Robot Unicorn. Both of them are endless runners, both of them have a unique aesthetic which borrows from childhood and soundtracks that suit the gameplay.

The reason why Whale Trail won out was because it didn’t feel quite so jaded. Robot Unicorn is tongue-in-cheek the entire time, whereas Whale Trail follows the adventures of Willow the Whale. Willow can fly for a reason that’s never explained to us and he just seems delighted by it no matter how many times he falls out of the clouds. Sometimes, when you fly up high enough, he’ll sing “I can see my house from here!” at you, and my heart just melts a little.

It is cute and relaxing, managing to never get me worked up about losing. Everything is soft and fluffy and even the bad guys (who just happen to be clouds) are adorable.

DEEMODeemo (iOS, Android)

When I first saw this game, I was skeptical. Really? A rhythm game? I thought we grew out of Guitar Hero. But I decided to give it a shot since it had free levels, and it only took me getting halfway through one of them to feel my skepticism draining away.

This game was really touching for a rhythm mobile game where the main character looks like a Slenderman plushie. I had thought it would be more of a horror game and had picked it up for that purpose, but was pleasantly surprised by the visuals. The music is beautiful, matching Deemo’s mood as he struggles to deal with the possibility that he might lose a newfound friend, and it is good at not holding your hand for too long.

There are a lot of games that want to make sure that not a single thing is missed, and therefore, will tutorial you to death (I’m looking at you, Clash of Clans). But Deemo trusts you to understand how rhythm games work and sets you free in its world.

[Editor’s Note: Deemo is free for Android, but $1.99 for iOS.]

Lost in Harmony (iOS, Android)

Lost in HarmonyWhen I first picked up Lost in Harmony, it seemed like your regular rhythm game, but one where the notes come at you the other way. I thought it was clever that the notes end up being obstacles that you need to dodge, but was just about ready to stop playing when the game went from your usual instrumental fare into dubstep Swan Lake.

Chastised for my lack of faith, I played through the rest of the available levels and found that I could recommend a lot about this game. It deals with complex themes like trying to be there for someone when they’re struggling with a long-term illness, but also has colorful visuals, which switch from dystopian to beautiful depending on the song. The gameplay is solid, but nothing in the game quite grabbed me like that first Tchaikovsky song. It’s a game with heart, and while there are times when it doesn’t react well to my tapping, there’s enough done right with this game that I can recommend it.

Made by Yoan Fanise, one of the creators of Valiant Hearts: The Great War (which I have messily slobbered all over on many occasions), the story is sweet and always manages to right itself when it stumbles. If all of that hasn’t sold you on the game, you can now listen to the soundtrack for free. Seriously, give it a shot.

[Editor’s Note: Lost in Harmony is free for Android, but $3.99 for iOS.]

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