In its usual end-of-year retrospective, Google has announced the Best of Play winners for 2021, highlighting key apps and games that Google feels made the most positive contributions to the world of mobile over the past year.
For the first time, Google has also expanded these awards beyond the Android smartphone platform this year to include apps and games on tablets, Wear OS, and Google TV. The awards recognize innovation in app and game development, and in making its selections, Google looks for apps that challenge the norms by “introducing unique gameplay features and giving users never-before-seen experiences.”
Pokémon Unite took the Best Game of the Year award for 2021, beating out top picks from previous years such as Genshin Impact (2020), Call of Duty: Mobile (2019), and PUBG Mobile (2018). Google cited the dynamic gameplay and cross-platform experience of Pokémon Unite as its key merits, while also giving honorable mentions to independent developers that it says are “creating imaginative and personal gaming experiences.” The runners-up this year were notably both indie developers: George Batchelor for Bird Alone and Annapurna Interactive for Donut County.
Masaaki Hoshino, Producer for Pokémon Unite, thanked Google for the recognition, adding, “All of us who worked on the game are very honored to receive such an award,” particularly as this is Pokémon’s first strategic team battle game. “We tried to distill the best parts of the MOBA genre to create a new kind of game,” Hoshino added, while also candidly admitting that he was “unsure if it would be well received by players around the world.” The Pokémon Unite producer says he’s thrilled to have the affirmation that his team is on the right track and plans to continue improving the game and making it even more exciting.
Google Play also acknowledged winners in five more specific categories, including Best Competitive, Best Game Changers, Best Indies, Best Pick up & Play, and, for the first time, Best for Tablets.
Once again, Google also ran its Users’ Choice awards to give Play Store users a chance to weigh in by voting on their most popular picks. This year, the vote for Best Game went to Garena Free Fire MAX. Previous Users’ Choice award winners include SpongeBob: Krusty Cook-Off (2020), Call of Duty: Mobile (2019), and PUBG Mobile (2018). Although the 2018 and 2019 Users’ Choice matched Google’s own pick for Game of the Year, this is now the second year in which the user vote has gone in a different direction.
As for apps, Google noted that apps focused on personal growth continued to be in high demand throughout 2021, and its top picks reflected that.
Personalized meditation app Balance by Elevate Labs got the nod for the Best App of Play for 2021, while the runners-up were also personal wellness apps. Moonly provides tips and guidance based on the lunar calendar, and Laughscape uses laughter to help people improve their meditation.
Jesse Pickard, founder and CEO at Elevate Labs, said his team was “deeply honored” by Google’s choice, adding, “We built Balance with the individual in mind. No two people are the same, and we wanted to create a personalized mental wellness program that could reflect and support those special differences.”
The Google Play editorial team also named 21 other app winners across eight categories, which included Best Apps for Good, Best Everyday Essentials, Best for Fun, Best Hidden Gems, and Best for Personal Growth, along with three new categories — Best for Tablets, Best for Wear, and Popular on Google TV. The Users’ Choice pick for Best App for 2021 went to streaming app Paramount+.
For the full list of this year’s winners, from large developers to up-and-coming indies, check out the Best of 2021 section of the Play Store.
- The best co-op games for 2023
- The best Pokémon games, ranked from best to worst
- The best free FPS games you can play right now
- PlayStation VR2’s best launch game isn’t the one you we’re expecting
- The Pixel 7’s best camera trick is coming to the iPhone and all Android phones