Welcome to the Friday App Wrap, where we share with you some of the standouts from the mobile phone apps that we find each week. You'll find a variety of apps below, plus you can scroll back via the page navigation at the bottom to see the applications highlighted in previous weeks.
Friday, 30 November 2012
iOS App of the Week: Jet Set Radio
Jet Set Radio Future was a game that I had a lot of fun with back in the day. Cel-shading was still cool, and the game's mechanic — which saw you zipping around on inline skates while applying graffiti tags to the city to fight back against the totalitarian government — was interesting and new.
So it was with nostalgic glee that I greeted the news that the original Dreamcast game was arriving for mobile — and with relief that I found it is just as fun as I remember. Also, just as an aside, isn't it amazing that games that required a massive console to run 10 years ago can now play on something that fits in the palm of your hand?
Speaking of back in the day, who remembers Wipeout? This game isn't Wipeout, but it's close enough; you race little hover ships around futuristic circuits, using weapons to take down your opponents. It has a whole bunch of great features, as well as looking absolutely stunning and featuring a really pumpin' soundtrack: upgradeable ships, three different control layouts, Apple TV and TV-out support so you can play on the big screen and one save file across all of your devices. There's no multiplayer, though it's coming soon.
You know, people reckon Street Fighter is pretty nerdy, but what if you're too nerdy even for Shoryuken? What if you like books? Well, Writer Rumble is the game for you, friend. Rather than taking a muscle-bound kung fu artist and hammering at buttons, hoping your feet or fists land a blow, you choose from one of six literary heroes: Edgar Allan Poe, Agatha Christie, the Brothers Grimm, Jane Austen, Homer or HP Lovecraft. Then you have to find words on a board of letters by connecting letters together, either in single player to beat back monsters or in multiplayer to defeat your friends, with power-ups to help you along.
This game is unlike anything we've ever seen on the App Store. It's multiplayer only — and each player's iDevice becomes a control panel, with buttons, dials, sliders and switches that you have to tweak in accordance with the instructions that appear on-screen. Here's the twist: the instructions on your screen are for other players, so you have to verbally shout out the instructions to them, and they have to do the same for yours, all within a time limit. It's glorious cooperative mayhem.
This is a bit more serious than we usually cover, but missing children are something that every parent is terrified about. This app, made by the Australian Federal Police in cooperation with the US' FBI, allows you to relay information quickly and easily to the police in the hopefully unlikely event that a child goes missing. You store in it all of your child's information: their name, nickname, age, address and photo. If your child does disappear, you can then send that profile directly to the police quickly and easily. It also has contact information for the police in various states, as well as instructions and a breakdown of what will happen after you have reported a child missing. It's a great thing to have, and may you never have to use it.
Mindjet Tasks has had a complete redesign and relaunch, which we're guessing will be welcome to users who previously found the app difficult to use. If you don't know about Mindjet, it's worth checking out: a collaborative software tool for keeping up to date with your team, with visualisations of brainstorming sessions, the ability to add and update tasks where everyone can see them and project-planning tools. This iOS app is an add-on that allows you to add, track and edit tasks for you and your team, with real-time updates so you can manage your workflow on the go.
Zynga has been struggling of late, and a lot of people have been steering away from its games. Then it goes and publishes Clay Jam, a sort of hybrid Katamari Damacy/The Red and the Blue. You roll a plasticine ball around in what looks like a stop-motion environment (we don't know how developer Fat Pebble animated it, but the description says it's all real clay ... either way, it looks incredible), squashing other creatures flat to absorb them and get bigger, so you can squash bigger creatures. The bigger you get, the farther you can shoot the Bully Beasts at the end, and then the more creatures you can make out of the clay you collect. It's something special, that's for sure.
Crazy Fairies — from American McGee's indie studio Spicy Horse Games — is properly arriving for iOS and Android sometime mid-December, but if you've been waiting with interest, the beta is now available for Android. It's kind of like what it would be if Super Smash Brothers Melee met Angry Birds in a series of multiplayer online tournaments set in fairyland, gone hilariously awry. It looks just gorgeous, but bear in mind that it is in beta, so some glitches and bugs are to be expected. It's also available to play in a browser or on Facebook.
We do like our little monochrome titles — they tend to lend a game a sort of gloomy gravitas, and Freeze is a solid little title tapping into that aesthetic, with art by illustrator Jonas Schenk and a spooky soundtrack by trance musician Karl Lukas. An eyeball is trapped in a cell. You rotate the cell to navigate mazes, avoiding spikes and moving traps — but you can also use a "freeze" button to freeze your little guy in place for some tricky manoeuvring. It's free for a short launch special only, so make sure you snap it up.
SwiftKey is our preferred smart keyboard here at CNET Australia, so we were all pretty chuffed when it launched an update with an Australian English version. The SwiftKey team analysed over 14 billion words used by Australians to better integrate the keyboard's predictive abilities with our local idiom. If you're downloading SwiftKey for the first time, select "English (AU)" from the language options menu; existing users can open SwiftKey and add Australian English from the "Languages & layouts" menu. Also, we should note that the app is on sale at half price to celebrate.
We have a lot of crazy weather in Australia, particularly at this time of year and in the months ahead, from bushfires to hailstorms. Emergency AU collates and delivers official warnings and incident information, and includes a handy in-app link to dial 000 or the State Emergency Services (SES) if required. It includes warnings for fires (bush, building and back burning), floods, storms, tsunamis, hazardous materials and fire bans. You can even access photo streams and share your own information, so that everyone involved can stay informed.
Got a hot app tip to share? Let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Friday, 23 November 2012
iOS App of the Week: Endless Road
The icon for Endless Road is a little misleading — the game is, in fact, about driving along an endless road, but the art style differs somewhat. In a good way; we're actually really impressed with the extremely clean and tight graphics.
In fact, everything about Endless Road has been finely tuned: the controls are very well managed, the concept is great and the music is rockin'. As you drive along, the road and landscape (viewed isometrically) construct themselves ahead of you. The aim is, of course, to stay driving for as long as possible, steering left and right to avoid obstacles and collect coins and power-ups. With these coins, you can upgrade your power-ups, collect more vehicles and — perhaps most interestingly — upgrade and paint the landscape around you. It's heaps of fun.
We've seen 2D platformers that involve going up and down the screen before, even ones that use retro graphics, but 4NR is something strange. It's based on a Bible verse, Proverbs 15:24 — "The path of life leads upward for the prudent, that he may turn away from Sheol beneath." The nearest guess we had for its name was web slang for "foreigner". Styled after what looks like the original Game Boy, it offers you a choice: climb up to escape the ever-rising Sheol pursuing you; or dig down and try not run into a dead end. Each offers a different challenge and style of gameplay in a strange, wonderfully ominous world.
Here comes another strange one, in a completely different fashion. It's Danny Trejo teaming up with Steve Wozniak to rescue Woz's kidnapped wife in a 2D side-scrolling shooter (with a script penned by Woz himself) to promote Trejo's upcoming film Vengeance. No, we don't understand either.
The gameplay in Dragon's Dream is nothing special, though it's well implemented. It's an endless flyer, and you're a dragon swooping through the skies to collect orbs. It's the art that makes it spectacular; it's by British fantasy artist Roger Dean, whose gorgeously fantastical worlds have been adoring album and video-game covers (and bedroom walls) for over 40 years.
Included in the app are seven exclusive wallpapers by Dean for your phone, too. If you're a fan of epic, old-school fantasy art, check this one out.
Do you code? This app is for the latest version of Python for iOS. It includes an interactive interpreter, separate tabs for writing and testing scripts, import and export and full Python documentation.
If you have a problem with chronic oversleeping, iSleepin for iOS should get you up. When it sounds the alarm, you have to do a puzzle to get it to stop: either rolling a ball along a track, tracing a pattern of dots or assembling a jigsaw puzzle. If you sleep through anyway, the next puzzle will be even harder. Let's see you sleep in now!
Monsters! Fighting! Freakin' old school! This action-arcade game sees you fighting waves of monsters in an endless arena. As your little dude runs gauntlet after gauntlet (is this torture? Fun? Why is he doing this?), you unlock upgrades and bonuses, equipping yourself for ever more difficult foes. How long can you last?
MMOGs on mobile can be tricky to get right. Free-to-play game Arcane Legends, however, hits a bunch of great notes. You can jump on to play online co-op, but the game is also available as a solo experience, and it's wonderfully made — lush graphics and a sort of cheeky wit. It comes with the backing of developer Spacetime Studios' experience with other mobile MMO and fantasy games, such as Pocket Legends and Dark Legends ... and, best of all, it has pets.
When it comes to IAP, Glu generally isn't too heinous, producing some quality games. Dragon Slayer, in our opinion, is worth it for the graphics alone. You're some sort of wizard killing dragons (gosh), and the game does a fantastic job of creating a sense of mass, scale and deadliness with the giant creatures. You have to use spells to defeat them, naturally, upgrading your gear as you go.
It's Android versus Apple in this cross-platform MMOFPS. Work your way up the ranks, collecting in-game representations of real-world weapons. Access leader boards and use Overkill Medals to unlock super-duper guns so you can do something actually a bit fun with all that brand loyalty.
From Autodesk (Pixlr-o-matic, Sketchbook Pro, AutoCAD) comes a fantabulous new photo editor. It's massive: it has over 600 effects, overlays and borders, all completely free, as well as tools for editing, such as colour balance, teeth whitening, red-eye removal, contrast and brightness — and it can access your camera rolls so that you can use it on your pre-existing photos. It's our new favourite.
There's nothing more annoying when it comes to smartphones than breaking or losing a phone — and losing all your contacts, photos, videos, music and messages. Jottacloud is a free service that backs up your phone to the cloud, so that if something goes wrong, all you have to do is log in to recover it. Unfortunately, it doesn't cover app data. If anyone knows of an app that does, please feel free to let us know.
Do you consider yourself a Tetris whiz? Dream of Pixels might put you to the test. It's Tetris — in reverse. A grid of blocks slowly descends from the top of your screen, and you're given a series of tetronimo shapes that you have to carve out, clearing lines as you go. The twist on classic Tetris gameplay is both refreshing and addictive, especially with the inclusion of several different difficulty modes — as well as a puzzle mode, where you have to fit tetronimoes into a prearranged shape. It's dreamy and pixelly.
A lot of mobile games are predictable — you can usually tell, upon reading an app's description, more or less what the gameplay is going to be like. Then something like Arranger comes along, and you read it, thinking, "Eh?" Then you play it, and you know precisely why. Something like this — and, to be honest, we don't think there are many things actually like this — is hard to describe.
On a very basic level, it's an adventure RPG, played out with retro pixel graphics. The rest involves crazy mini-games, quests, really weird monsters, an amazing soundtrack and a plethora of musical instruments for the purpose of combat.
There are a lot of word games around, but QatQi has that something special. It's a little like playing Scrabble with yourself, only denser: you have a selection of letters with which to make words, and a room to place them in. As you place letters to make words, your grid grows, but you only have the confines of the room, making the words a lot more tightly packed and tricky to mesh together. You have score multipliers to reach and coins to find, and you're awarded bonuses for longer words. As you progress, the levels increase in difficulty.
But where it really provides something different is the stats. You can view a list of words played, your longest words, your global ranking for each level and a breakdown of how you play in order to improve your game. It's surprisingly fascinating.
A couple of weeks ago, 11 bit studios brought us Funky Smugglers. Sleepwalker's Journey is nothing like it, really. It's all dreamy pastels and sparkling stars in a beautiful painted side-scrolling platform puzzler. As Moonboy (not the one we were hoping for, alas) wends his sleepy way across treacherous floors, you have to make sure that his path is clear, collecting stars and moons as you go. As the game starts, it seems easy — but it quickly becomes a challenge as the hazards increase.
Want to learn a new language? Duolingo is a learning app for getting started with learning skills. The app contains tutorials for French, Spanish and German, with pronunciation and exercises. It's really simple to pick up and start using, and the tutorials ease you in simply, teaching you as you go with trial and error. It's actually kind of fun, and the best part is that it's completely free all the way through, with no subscriptions or ads. Paris, Barcelona, Berlin: here we come!
Last week, we looked at an app that lets you keep a running tally by tapping on your iPhone's screen — and mentioned in passing that an app that lets you count two things simultaneously would be better. This week, the universe delivered — or, more specifically, developer Small Planet Digital delivered. It, too, allows you to count things by tapping your screen; but you can also divide your screen into a grid to count up to nine things simultaneously. Wowsers. It's really simple to use, too, as the 10-second tutorial will demonstrate.
We were massive fans of Wind-up Knight, an auto-running, 3D side-scrolling beat-'em-up (if you don't know how that combination could work, check it out here). This Could Hurt is similar; you're a boy training to join the Oakguard. The story's not really fleshed out, but it doesn't really need to be, to be honest. All that matters is that you're on a path riddled with booby traps, and you have to survive. Gameplay is really simple: touch and hold the screen to make your little dude stand still. This way, you can bypass the traps and hazards — but it's trickier than it sounds, and you're going to need the power-ups you can buy. Combined with some great graphics and the fact that it's free (you will see some ads between levels), This Could Hurt ends up being really rather fun.
We played this one when it first came out on iOS months and months ago, and we liked it very much, with the stabbing and the slicing and the lasers. The graphics are top notch; and, besides, it has Predators in it. The combat is fun and exciting, and we particularly like the stealth mechanic. It's now available for Android, hurrah! Bearing in mind, however, that some users are reporting problems, it's probably a good idea to boot it up and test it straight away if you want to make the 15-minute refund window.
My Little Pony came out last week for iOS, and arrived on Android a few days later. We also wanted to take this opportunity to let you know that if you're experiencing difficulties with Gameloft Live, try restarting your device — that seemed to work for us.
Waking Mars is one of those mobile games that's just absolutely wonderful to play — it's about exploration and discovery, rather than the bash-bash-pew-pew. As an astronaut on Mars, it is your mission, after becoming trapped underground, to restore life to the local flora and fauna. With beautiful art and music, it's an experience that Android users should be delighted to now share.
Now this is useful. Scan Master lets you use your Android phone as a pocket scanner, letting you turn your images straight into PDFs. Features include continuous capture that stitches your photos together into one PDF; image editing and effects; batch processing; and the ability to share your PDFs via Dropbox, Evernote and email.
The update that brought new functionality to Roamz for iOS has now arrived for Android. This includes anonymous browsing, the ability to search both by activity and location and the ability to bookmark events and activities that interest you. You can see our video of the iOS version here.
iOS App of the Week: My Little Pony — Friendship is Magic
Upon learning that Gameloft was making a My Little Pony into an official game, two things were immediately known: it would be a town-management sim and there would be IAP. The first was good news; the latter, dubious.
So, My Little Pony — how good, I wondered, can a show for little kids really be? Turns out, it's really freakin' good. I wouldn't say I'm a pegasister or anything, but I like it, I'm glad it's in the world and I think all my nieces and nephews should have it on DVD. And, I've been glued to this game since I downloaded it. (Not literally, although my tube of superglue had a red-hot go.) It's done a really good job of capturing the show, including the actual voice actors and a storyline true to form. It's also great in that there's stuff to do without spending money — there are mini-games to play to level up your ponies and lots of cool quests. I kinda' love it. If anyone wants to add me, my Gameloft ID is "crankytrousers". Just, you know, sayin'.
As far as isometric real-time RPG hack-and-slash goes, Wraithborne — by fantastic developer Crescent Moon Games — is pretty darn great. The visuals are absolutely stunning, built on Unreal 3, and action is really fun to play, using a choice of left joystick and right button controls or tapping the screen to move, attack and defend. You play as the Wraithborne and it's your job to save the world, cleansing it of monsters by using a combination of physical attacks and runic magic. It's really nothing we haven't seen before, but it's executed so well that it will fit wonderfully in with your stable of mobile RPGs.
This little game from Lego is just adorable. It's actually eight little games that are based around Lego bricks and the power of the imagination. In each game, the brick becomes an object — a piece of cheese that you have to protect from mice, a hammerhead shark you need to guide through the water, a hot-air balloon busting clouds. But if you have a favourite lucky Lego brick, you can snap it with your phone's camera in-app, and use your own Lego to play the games. Not deep, but still cute, and perfect for younger players.
What's the opposite of single-player RPG? It's probably not multiplayer sci-fi, but that's what we have in this next app. Up to 8 players can get into a top-down space shoot-out (if there such a thing as "top-down" in space, and has anyone ever noticed that in most TV space battles, all the ships are oriented the same?) where you battle for the galaxy. Killing enemy ships and destroying asteroids gives you gems, with which you can purchase upgrades. And there's also single-player missions, for those who have no friends. That's not us. We have heaps of friends. Really.
There are social networks for taking photos, social networks for video games, for sharing activities. CareSpace is for those who are taking care of other people. Say you have an ill or disabled family member, CareSpace allows you to set up a private social network where you can keep up-to-date with what's happening with that person, and get support from each other — as carers can experience elevated stress levels. It's a great way to keep everyone connected — even family or friends on the other side of the world.
On first glance, there are some apps that look very unprepossessing, but when you think about it, you realise how potentially useful they can be. Tally falls into that category. It's very easy to lose track when you're counting something. With Tally, all you have to do is tap on the screen for every unit you count, meaning that you don't have to worry about keeping track — especially if some rapscallion thinks it hilarious to start shouting random numbers at you. You can create and name multiple tallies, such as "Jelly beans in the jelly bean jar" or "number of green cars on George Street at 7am". Unfortunately, you can't use it to count two things simultaneously. Maybe someone should make that app.
Android app of the week: McBank: Puzzle of Money + Freedom
Every now and again, something will come along and take an item, concept, etc, that we are familiar with and do something really interesting with it.
Such is the case with McBank. At its core, it's a match-3 puzzler, but it's the anti-capitalist cladding around that core that makes the game so intriguing. The world is controlled by McBank. Grey workers are chained to grey machines; you enter terminals and perform match-3 puzzles to decide their fate. Will you set them free? Or will you chain them to your own will? Coupled with strange, unsettling art, McBank is a game that will keep you coming back, not just for the gameplay, but to see where its strangeness will lead.
Dragon Raid is ... an endless flyer? Sort of. But you get to play a dragon, and that's pretty sweet. You tilt to control your giant, scaly avatar, burning up human settlements and war machines as you go, avoiding their slings and arrows as best you can. That's pretty much it, but destruction and burning as a dragon is a pretty fun thing to do in our opinion.
Here comes Angry Birds again. This time, it has lightsabers, blasters and Jedi powers, and characters from the original three Star Wars films nicking off with the Pig Star in order to defeat the evil Pig Empire. If you like Star Wars, there's no guarantee that this is the game for you. If you like Angry Birds, then the cleverness and humour of the integration with the films make it tremendously good fun.
Now this is a jet racer. Across 22 stunning tracks, you take to the skies as a high-performance pilot, racing against your peers in a battle to the death. The controls are tilt-based and excellently calibrated, and it's all low altitudes at high speeds, meaning you have to contend with not just your opponents and hitting checkpoints, but obstacles, such as buildings, mountains and canyon walls. It's a little bit pricey — but it's worth it.
Oh sure, you can get one of those retro Polaroid filters for your phone's camera, but we'll be over here, channelling One Piece with a set of super-dynamic manga-style black-and-white photo filters. Guess who will be cooler. Yeah.
Downloading files to your Android device can be a bit of a pain — as demonstrated by the proliferation of download management apps on Google Play. Loader Droid is another — but it's a pretty darned decent one. It can download any file type and includes a bunch of neat features that streamline your downloading, including automatic pause if your device loses connection; resumable downloads and automatic resume; the ability to decide which connection to use for each download; and split downloads for faster times.
Need for Speed Most Wanted has finally arrived, and the iOS version is one torqued-up mobile game, really hitting the outer limits of what we've seen the platform do. One thing we absolutely loved was vehicle damage in real-time — a first for a street racer of this calibre.
All around, though, the graphics are stunning — which, admittedly, doesn't count for much if depth and gameplay aren't there. Luckily, they are. The title controls smoothly and intuitively, and once you've collected all 35 cars and raced the single-player tracks, you can go head-to-head against your mates in an online multiplayer mode. As we expected from the recently-minted Firemonkeys, it's a highly polished title and a must-have for fans of racing games.
Heads Up! Hot Dogs describes itself as "The most realistic hot-dog-head-balancing game ever". You know, we probably have to give it that. It's certainly the most realistic out of the dozens we've played. For some reason, it's raining hot dogs around the world; you have to drag them to safety by placing them on the heads of passers-by, unlocking new cities as you go. The faster the passer-by, the more points you get for the hot dog. It's not our favourite Adult Swim game to date, but it's not bad for whiling away five minutes here and there.
We've all seen those little puzzle games where you slide squares around a grid until you've reassembled the image. This is a little bit like that, but a lot trickier; instead of moving individual squares around, you slide columns to reconstruct an image that is broken into squares. It starts pretty simply, but as the game progresses, lining up the pieces without breaking the parts of the image you've already assembled can be quite difficult. Because it's so beautifully drawn, though, it's worth continuing, just so you can keep looking at it.
Disney's recently-released Wreck-it Ralph, an animated film about a video game villain who just wants to do good, is going back to his roots in this tie-in title for iOS — and it's not half bad at all. The best part is that it's three arcade games in one title. In the first, Fix-it Felix Jr — the game in which Ralph plays the villain in the film — you can play the game as featured in the film, fixing apartment buildings as Ralph tries to mess them up. In Sweet Climber, Ralph goes Doodle Jump in Candyland; and in Hero's Duty, you play a top-down shooter as Agent Cy. The latter two have to be unlocked, and though we're not sure how, it's not a bad deal.
Usually when yet another retro photo-filter app enters our radar, we give it a cursory glance before sending it on its way. But here's one that makes a nice change from the legions of Instagram clones. Retromatic lets you apply masks to your pictures to make some really striking posters and glamour images. It has a number of templates and funky little stickers you can apply, as well as filters and the ability to add text in retro fonts. And, naturally, you can export to Facebook, Twitter, email, Flickr and Instagram.
If you want to get some fitness going on, there's a brand-new suite of Pro workout apps from runtastic — PullUps, Squats, SitUps and PushUps. They give you a set training plan, then help you count through your reps using your iDevice's accelerometer, then offer you statistics so that you can track your progress.
Following hard on the heels of the news that Square Enix is considering lowering the prices of its mobile games, Chrono Trigger has finally been released for Android — but it's still pretty pricey at AU$10.49. However, a title like Chrono Trigger may be justified, considering its massive fan following.
The sequel to the ultra-tough platformer has arrived — and it's a doozy of a game. Levels are short, which is fantastic. You are going to die, and die a lot, transporting you back to the start of the level to try again. You're exploring an underground temple, and it's riddled with traps and challenges. You can just run through as fast as you like, if that's your thing, but there are three goals at each level: firstly, to finish it; secondly, to finish it under time; and thirdly, to nab the hidden gold idol. It's frenetic and fantastic, and nigh impossible to put down.
This is a match-three game, but unlike any we've seen before. It's played around a three-dimensional cube, made up of coloured blocks and empty spaces. You have to add coloured blocks to the empty spaces where they match the surrounding blocks in order to clear them from the cube; when the cube is bare of all blocks, you've won the level — but you're racing the clock to do so. It's quite challenging, yet somehow relaxing at the same time.
This little indie game has a great gameplay mechanic at its core: drawing reflecting panels so that your avatar can manoeuvre around the on-screen obstacles and get to the exit. The artwork is pretty, too — a bit Twilight Princess, all strange and fey. A little more direction would be nice, and it can be hard to play on a small screen because of the fine details, but it's well worth a look, at least — and we imagine that it would be spectacular on a tablet.
One of life's many small frustrations: trying to remember where you parked your car. Park Me Right hopes to help eliminate that. Using maps and augmented reality, it can help you not only remember where your vehicle was parked, but the fastest way back to it. It can also help you locate parking lots and find your way back to a hotel, train station or bus stop when you're in a new place. Sounds like a pretty handy thing to have in your pocket.
What if you could enter your favourite apps from any place or program on your Android device? FlipLauncher puts a discreet ribbon of six tabs down the side of your screen (right or left, you choose), with the capacity to put four apps per tab. No matter what you're doing with your phone, you can just flip open a tab to find your favourite apps and shortcuts, and launch them directly; no need to exit your current task and find your way back through the apps menu.
Got a hot app tip to share? Let us know by emailing email@example.com.
Friday, 26 October 2012
iOS App of the Week: Shardlands
Some people hate platform games with a heavy puzzle element, in which case Shardlands is not for them. If you do like puzzle platforming, though, it's fantastic: beautifully designed, and with a relaxed style that perfectly suits a bit of zen gaming.
You control Dawn, who's lost in a strange world and trying to get back home by collecting shards hidden throughout the world. The levels are filled with moving platforms, hidden paths, traps and monsters — and you have to figure out how to configure the platforms in order to get around, reveal the paths and evade the monsters (no combat!). You can replay to try to beat your time, but the only score that matters is whether you collect all the orbs and shards. Without dying.
By the power of Grayskull! It's a side-scrolling beat-em-up! In Eternia! That alone is possibly worth the price of admission; I mean, really, who hasn't wanted to land one on Beast Man? There are gems to collect and power-ups to buy, as well as a meter to fill to unleash the full power of He-Man. It's not half bad, but it is slightly let down by finicky controls that don't always respond to your swipes in the way that you want them to; for example, you need to swipe up to jump, but the game sometimes interprets that as a swipe forward to attack, which is a bit vexing. And you're not allowed to beat up Orco. Boo.
Another free title from Squenix? Is it the end of times? Seriously, if it's the end of time, they really ought to have sent out a memo. Wizardlings is from the developer's Department of Kawaii; you're a little wizard bent on saving the world from darkness. Literally: each level is divided into a grid, and you have to go through one by one and clear each individually — a process that uses up magic points (luckily, the game isn't stingy with the magic-restoring potions and food, at least in the early levels). But it's not just a boring square-tapping grind; you also have to complete quests and mix potions to defeat foes, and find treasure along the way. You can purchase the premium currency, but it doesn't seem to be required.
This game/interactive film would probably be a better experience for Londoners, who can use the geolocation function to take a Jack the Ripper tour of the city, but it can be played comfortably from your couch, too. It places you bang in the middle of the 1888 Jack the Ripper investigation, collecting clues in a point-and-click method to find out who the Ripper is before he kills again — an interesting prospect, since, to this day, the Ripper's true identity remains a mystery.
Because everyone likes a bargain, CloseBuys wants to help — by using geolocation to point you in the direction of the bargains in your vicinity. It's partnered with a bunch of retailers, such as Coles, Target, Flight Centre and K-Mart, and you can narrow it down to the categories that interest you, such as fashion, food and groceries. There's no technology category, though, and some users are reporting that the app can be a little buggy (including us), so bear that in mind.
Order custom labels from your phone! Label Face lets you design your own labels, using photos and images that you have saved in your camera roll. It looks like it would come in especial handy for labelling kids' school gear, but you can also print bumper stickers, wine labels, phone stickers and other stickers in a variety of shapes and sizes. Once you've designed the label you want, you send off your order from within the app to have them printed and delivered. The largest stickers — bumper stickers — are AU$19.95 for a set of five, whereas the 34x50mm stickers are AU$14.95 for a set of 31. Not too shabby!
This game is called Funky Smugglers. Say that out loud. Funky Smugglers. Fun, isn't it? The game is, too, surprisingly, even though it's utterly unlike the studio's other title, Anomaly Warzone Earth. You stand behind the helm of an airport security scanner as a parade of hip cats and grannies pass through for boarding inspection, removing dangerous and contraband items from their persons — but leave the safe items alone, or it's game over. It's the styling that does it for us; the bright visuals, the groove-tastic soundtrack. It's a game with panache, and we can't get enough.
What if you could be the Dungeon Master and the players? Knights of Pen & Paper is an old-school turn-based RPG, where you play through both the experience of running a pen-and-paper game and the actual game itself, all in retro pixel graphics. You have 12 adventurer classes and 17 characters, some unlockable, to play, and you pick the battles through which to put your players. There are only two campaigns at the moment, but more are coming, giving the game fantastic re-playability.
Now, I'm not usually a fan of realistic racing games — make 'em a bit more like Mashed or Mario Kart, and I'm there. That said, 2XL Supercross HD is really well made. It's, well, a supercross game in 3D, where you can perform all sorts of motorcycle tricks on custom tracks designed by Motocross champion Stephane Roncada. There's a bunch of bikes and riders to choose from (although it looks like the difference is purely cosmetic) across three modes of play: time trials, practice and racing; and there are eight different control schemes that you can choose from to suit your play style. Plus, the graphics are brilliant.
I do think it was a little bit bone to download an AU$5 app and then be shown a video advertisement, but at least I could skip it.
There have been a lot of Siri-alikes on Google Play, but many of them are a bit, well, not as good. Maluuba looks to finally be a decent contender in the voice-search field for Android. Of course, since many of them have problems with the Australian accent, it may still not be perfect, but I guess that's our fault for talking funny or something (jokes).
It's the tool box for your pocket! Bosch Toolbox has a bunch of cool features for the handyperson or builder. It lets you input site measurements into photographs; convert more than 50 units, including length, weight, volume, speed and output; use your smartphone as a professional flashlight; and, because it's a Bosch app, search for Bosch suppliers and service centres.
Ivy the Kiwi? was launched to acclaim on Nintendo DS and Wii in 2010, but the game was originally released on Windows Mobile (Japan only) — so its launch back onto the mobile platform is only appropriate, really.
You control Ivy, a little red Kiwi chick who has hatched all alone and sets out in search of her mum, eggshell and all. It's a 2D auto-scroller, where you have to draw vines to allow Ivy to climb blocks in her path or to sling-shot launch her forward — fun gameplay, but nothing particularly new by now. However, the children's-book style of the art and storyline makes it super-sweet.
Holiday season is coming up, and you know what that means: long car journeys with restless kidlets. Toyota Playground is a fun way to alleviate boredom, with a number of cool little activities and a personal touch. When opening the app for the first time, the player is asked to create a family — this family then populates the games. The little stick figures to choose from encompass a wide range of interests and personality types, too, which was pleasing to see.
Once in, players can colour in pictures; do jigsaw puzzles, either presets or their own artwork; play a game called hide and seek, which means finding family members in a variety of colourful environments; and create a scrapbook, from where kids can email their coloured-in drawings to family and friends. We can see it providing many a much-needed hiatus for parents.
This auto-side-scroller is a little bit different to many others we've seen in that it's the environment that you control. The egg-shaped White Rabbit is running late — and running from Alice — but Wonderland is full of perils. You have to guide the rabbit through to safety by sliding the block environment up and down to create a path. Enemies can be killed by placing them next to other enemies — but if you put them in the bunny's way, he'll lose health.
It's not as easy as it sounds — it'll definitely keep you on your toes.
Big Fish's Drawn trilogy — the first episode was released at the launch of the iPad — is finally coming to a close, with the last game hitting the app store. Like the previous two games, it's beautiful to look at, and the gameplay combines point-and-click mystery puzzling with hidden object scenes. Big Fish is well known for this kind of game, and it executes them excellently; our only regret is that there will be no more in the series after this.
Zombies, Run! is a fantastic exercise app that puts you in the middle of a zombie apocalypse as a form of motivation. But it's not very specific. This new app (is there going to be a series?) is a Couch to 5K sort of deal, giving you a proper training plan, with detailed instructions on when to walk and when to run on your constitutional to get you up to a 5K routine — and includes the story elements and ability to play your own music, which we know and love from the original.
Rovio usually sticks to physics-based games, so a cookbook makes a nice change, even if it's still riding the Angry Birds gravy train. This cookbook, featuring animations of the iconic characters, contains 41 recipes for eggs. (There sure are a lot of eggs in here this week.) These include the basics, such as how to poach, boil and fry an egg, all the way up to hollandaise sauce. Some recipes aren't centred around eggs, such as fried rice and burgers, so it looks like it has some pretty nifty variety. Still ... it's an Angry Birds cookbook. Not sure how to feel about that one.
Steve Jackson and Ian Livingston were childhood staples for us (and many of you, too, I would imagine). The Fighting Fantasy interactive novel series turns 30 this year (Warlock of Firetop Mountain was released in 1982), and Ian Livingstone has teamed up with Tin Man Games for the latest in their series of game-book adventures for mobile: Blood of the Zombies. Mobile seems a particularly apt medium for this kind of storytelling, and we're stoked that Livingstone is on board. Although the title was released as a stand-alone book, there are some extras exclusive to mobile: new death endings, coloured illustrations, alternate artwork, difficulty levels and achievements.
"Insane megalomaniac Gingrich Yurr is preparing to unleash an army of monstrous zombies upon the world. He must be stopped and his undead horde defeated. In this life-or-death adventure, the decisions you make will decide the fate of the world. Can you survive or will you become a zombie too?"
Last week, we saw Plague Inc, which had you playing on a global scale; and so too does Global Outbreak, but that's about where the similarities end. You are playing as a human against a zombie outbreak in a top-down 3D shooter. Well, more specifically, you're the head of a mercenary outfit, and you're taking on the walking dead. You have to monitor the global situation and send in ground troops to halt the spread of the virus (by killing zombies) in bloody battles. The best thing is probably its utilisation of geolocation — to centre the gameplay around your actual physical location in the world.
A little bit Wipeout, a little bit Frequency, Skyriders is the kind of racing game I can get behind. Although, perhaps it's not "racing" per se, there's only one vehicle on the track: yours. The aim isn't to beat other spacecrafts, but scores: collecting scores and boosting multiplyers to earn upgrades, all set to a boppy electro soundtrack. It's not a bad little game, but it's let down a smidgen by the controls: we tried both button and tilt controls, both are a bit sluggish and could use a tweak.
If Dolphin is your alternative mobile browser of choice, we have excellent news. The developer has just released Dolphin Jetpack to make the browser even faster — five to 10 times faster, it claims. It has a number of high benchmark scores under its belt; and it certainly seems to live up to its boasting from what we've seen.
A harshly buzzing alarm clock in the morning can be such a depressing way to wake up. Morning Bird replaces it with the lovely sound of birdsong ... and then does something so heinous we think it just might be genius. In order to turn the alarm off, you have to correctly answer three randomised quiz questions about birds.
Google Calendar has arrived for Android. It seems odd to us that Google services can not be on a Google OS, but it's nice when they finally do show up. Calendar gives you access to your Google Calendar and syncs to the calendar on your phone, so that you can see all your appointments in the one place. It allows you to also create, edit and delete events; email all guests at once; snooze events; use predefined messages or write your own emails from directly within an event; and pinch-to-zoom. Aces!
Crescent Moon games are usually great — we absolutely love Paper Monsters, Kids vs Goblins and Pocket RPG, for example. Topia World Builder is something different from the mobile developer; something a bit more relaxing, but utterly beautiful.
The aim is to create worlds. That's it. You shape the terrain, creating mountain ranges, smooth plains and deep seas with a touch, then populate it with animals and watch them thrive, living off the land and each other. It's extraordinarily zen, and a really different mobile-gaming experience that shouldn't be missed.
Life is tough when you're a cloud, floating around in the sky, watering trees, zapping alien invaders. Kumo Lumo, from Chillingo, is a simple little game. You control Kumo Lumo, helping the poor planet grow and protect itself from hazards. Easy touch controls let you use rain and lightning to destroy threats and water trees, and you can scroll to move around the world and move the cloud around the screen. The art style is as cute as six kittens — it's a delight to play.
Have you ever wondered how much you know about the Aussie way of life? A new quiz game lets you test your knowledge and earn the big bucks (note: you can't actually earn any real bucks) by answering Australian questions. There are four difficulty modes — Tourist, Overseas Student, Wannabe Aussie and Aussie Citizen — across five capital cities: Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide. (Sorry, Canberra and Hobart. We don't know why you didn't make the cut.) A wrong answer gets you zapped by lightning; five zaps, and it's game over.
The questions are actually pretty good, and we like the way the gameplay is put together. You run through the city answering questions; if you make it through without dying of electric shock, you can move on to the next.
Lara, a defence special agent, has had her world turned upside down by a rebel, and now she has defected with a special suit that gives her invulnerability to the city's defence systems ... but only if it's showing the same colour as the weapon fire. We really like the twist on auto-runner gameplay in Polara, even if the story is a little melodramatic. As Lara runs through the city, weapons fire on her with red or blue lasers. Tapping the left side of the screen changes the colour of her suit, while tapping the right makes her jump. They're simple controls, but the application of the colour-change system makes the game a little more complex; not only does Lara have to avoid fire, but there are also platforms, launching pads and other elements that can be used in different ways, depending on the colour of the suit.
Oxford University Press wants to help you with your literacy skills. How Good is Your English tests your skill level, then recommends books that will help you improve. Each of the six levels gives you two tests in which words have been removed from passages of classic novels. From a multiple-choice list, you have to fill in the blanks.
When you have finished the test, the app recommends a list of books for your reading level, which you can purchase as stand-alone apps. Sample chapters are provided, too, so you can see if you will like the book.
Tender Loving Care is not quite a video game, but it's a bit more than a movie. Originally released in 1999 and starring John Hurt, Michael Esposito and Beth Tegarden, it's based on The Devil's Advocate, only it's a lot more interactive. In between chapters, you are psychoanalysed by Doctor Turner (Hurt) and provided with an analysis of your own psyche. The answers you give have an effect on the narrative and the ending, with multiple plot lines to be explored, and you can explore the house for extra clues. It's odd, but interesting.
This game was the first time in my life that I found myself saying, "Heck yeah, necrosis!" It's a fantastic concept for a game. You control an epidemic, and your aim is to spread it throughout the world and kill everyone before humanity can develop a cure. You have a variety of tools at your disposal to mutate your virus: the ability to add symptoms, including fatal ones; methods of communicability, including animal borne, airborne and body fluids; and resistances. Each of these can be built up in trees that interconnect, making your virus strong; and, as your virus spreads, you gain DNA points that you can spend on more abilities. You can watch the effects in a newsfeed, such as "Australia burning corpses" and "France removes drug research safeguards". It's tremendously exciting, especially when your virus grows strong enough to mutate on its own, as you race against the development of a cure. It's based on a real-world simulation, too.
Gosh, there have certainly been a few themes this week, haven't there? Knowledge tests, destroying and building worlds ... Death Dome is another game about viruses. Only this time, they've mutated into giant monsters. That's new. You have to travel through a post-apocalyptic city, battling them in real time like Infinity Blade. That's not really new so much, but it's fun, so we'll give it a pass. As you progress through the game, you upgrade your equipment and abilities with new combat techniques to be learned, and it's a Glu game, so the graphics are top notch.
Eh? Say that again? Chaos Rings is on Android, finally? Well, it's about time. Square Enix seems to drag its heels when it comes to bringing its mobile properties across from iOS; the Chaos Rings RPG franchise already has two sequels available on Apple's platform. But better late than never, as they say.
Empire vs Orcs is essentially a fantasy version of Plants vs. Zombies. You control the Empire, which is defending itself from an invading orc army. With cavalry, infantry, archers and spearmen, you have a variety of troops and weapons at your disposal — but so do the orcs, and you need to know which tool to use against which attack. Unlike PvZ, though, you can also get proactive by sending out your army to beard the orcs in their den, as it were, and turning the tables, taking on the role of attacker.
Developed right here in Australia, The Baker App gets a concept that few cooking apps seem to grasp: that different regions use different measurement systems. We were probably a bit unduly excited about being able to choose which system to use, but it's nice not to be ignored. Aside from that, The Baker App is a really nifty app for baking ... well, anything. Cupcakes? Check. Bread? Yup. Muffins? Uh huh. You can buy recipe packs from inside the app, or add your own recipes, and everything is based on the Baker's percentage format that makes customising quantities really easy. It really is one of the best specialty cooking apps we've ever seen.
Can you have too many photography apps? Well, yes, but Pictoreo lets you animate your photos to create cool little 480p cinemagraphs that you can share to Facebook and Twitter, or embed in your website.
We really are big believers in the idea that sometimes, it's the simple concepts that really are the best. Catch-22 is simple to the core. Two balls orbit a larger ball in opposite directions; you control one ball at a time, and your goal is to avoid collisions. Touching the screen will make your ball jump, which means you can avoid the oncoming ball pretty easily — but also orbiting the larger ball are coins, which you have to collect to advance stages, so you have to time your coin collection just so. When you collect the last coin, the ball you control swaps — and the other ball will follow the previous path you described for it, jumps and all, meaning sometimes, avoiding collisions means that you don't jump. That's all there is to it — but, given that you're playing against yourself, you can try to strategise each stage to make the likelihood of collision lower.
It's surprisingly tricky — and quite wonderfully absorbing.
Tentacles has been around on Windows Phone for quite some time, and it's just made its way over to iOS. It's a strange game — and stranger still when you consider that it was made by Microsoft — but it's kinda' rad. Professor Phluff, the dolphin-headed mad scientist, in his quest to create the cutest thing ever, has accidentally created a four-limbed monstrous micro-organism. And then swallowed it. As you might have guessed, you control that micro-organism on its journey through Phluff's guts.
You tap on the screen to latch onto the walls of your environment, pulling yourself forward, but the innards of Phluff are rife with dangers: saw blades, monsters, acidic geysers and moving walls that can crush you flat — so it behoves you to proceed with caution. Also, each level contains either a speed or damage challenge. And then there's the way you regain health — by ripping out the eyes of other micro-organisms you find down there. Awesome.
Ever dreamed of becoming a Hollywood stunt-person? Now you can get all the thrills, spills and chills without risking your neck. Stunt Star: The Hollywood Years, from Aussie dev Three Phase Interactive, puts you in the saddle. The aim is to rack up as many stunts and tricks as you can — performing mid-air flips, leaping obstacles and exploding in spectacular fashion. It isn't a cakewalk, though: the game employs some nifty physics, such as realistic acceleration and deceleration, and ramps that slow your speed — make a ramp too steep and you'll lose all momentum.
If you like physics games and explosions (and who doesn't?), you'll love Stunt Star.
When pernicious dwarves steal the crystal that controls your alarm clock, your only course of action, as the king of Baldoria, is to declare war. From Gaijin Entertainment — the dev behind the lauded Modern Conflict strategy titles for iOS — comes … well, a pretty similar game, just set in a fantasy setting. But given that Modern Conflict is fun, well-rounded tower defence, we can't really see any problems with that. Plus — swords.
The first thing we like about Loc is that the dev studio behind it is named after Macbeth. The rest of what we like about it is that it's Rubik's Cube gone mad. That, and evil fairies (well, one evil fairy). The queen of the fairies is holding you prisoner, and you have to escape by beating her locks. These start off as one-dimensional slide puzzles, where you have to complete a path from one square on the grid to another by sliding the tiles; but it quickly becomes three-dimensional, with you having to extend the path across the faces of a cube. It's brain-bendingly good.
Need a new graphing calculator? Mathematics with PocketCAS Pro does it all, from algebra to statistics. You can plot 2D and 3D graphs, solve advanced calculus and algebraic equations or save and print your plots as a document or PDF, all on a specially designed mathematical keyboard. If you want something both comprehensive and functional, you could do a lot worse. And there's even a free version, so you can try before you buy.
This is a rarity for Kairosoft — a free game. Most Kairosoft titles come in at around the five dollar mark, so when we saw a free Kairosoft game, we had to wonder what the catch was.
There wasn't one. Further, the game — Beastie Bay — is kind of like "what if Dungeon Village was Pokémon?" Yeah, you read that right. The answer is: it would be amazing. It has all the building and management we love about Kairosoft games — building and maintaining a town, paying taxes, getting new resources and then managing them, too — and throws in Pokémon-style turn-based battles and monster collection, as well as exploring new territories. If you've never played a Kairosoft game before, this is your chance to see what all the fuss is about. Do it.
We haven't played this one yet (mainly because time is edging towards the end of the pay month), but it looks nifty — real-time, HD combat in the style of Infinity Blade, only with ninjas and samurai. The environments look stunning and everyone loves upgrading gear … right? Check out the gameplay below.
The gameplay of Nightmarium is a litte bit like Fruit Ninja — but a lot scarier. A small girl is blissfully asleep, oblivious to the monsters who are trying to eat her all up. It's your job to keep them away by tapping, swiping and shaking them as they emerge from their dark lairs. But it's not enough to keep them out of the bedroom; once you've cleared the room, an even darker, scarier stage takes over. Luckily, you have a variety of power-ups to help you blast the monsters to smithereens ... but how long can you keep her alive?
Why should iOS 6 users have all the fun? PassWallet is a new app that brings Passbook functionality to Android phones. Just like Passbook, you can scan in your film, airline and concert tickets, as well as store loyalty cards, to keep them all in one handy place. It's not as polished as Apple's app, and probably doesn't work as well in Australia as it does in the US, but it's better than nothing.
Pocket Planets probably doesn't contain absolutely everything you might ever want to know about our solar system, but it can tell you a fair bit. It allows you to view objects in the Solar System in full 360-degree 3D — not just planets, but moons, asteroids and dwarf planets. When you select a planet, an HUD in the top left corner will tell you the distance from which you would be viewing it, for it to appear that size — every planet is to scale. A "Timeslider" — which can be accessed by touching the right side of the screen — allows you to view the planet as it appeared at a specific time and date. Then you can enter the encyclopedia section, which tells you the radius, mass, orbit and rotation of any given object. It a great little learning tool.
The work of swords-and-sorcery artists such as Boris Vallejo, Julie Bell, Frank Frazetta and Gerald Brom will be familiar, even if you've never heard those names before. Gracing the covers of hundreds of fantasy novels (Vallejo painted the iconic 1960s art for Conan the Barbarian, for instance), the style is broodingly otherworldly and atmospheric.
It seems strange, therefore, that no one had used it as a basis for a fantasy game — which is exactly what God of Blades has now done, and the end product is appropriately epic. Drawing inspiration from the aforementioned artists, 1970s prog rock and high pulp fantasy, the game is a perfectly-realised iOS expression of all three. You play a long-dead king who has arisen to fight the invading hordes in a 2D auto-side-scroller. As you run along, you swipe the screen in different directions to perform a variety of attacks, all set to a magnificent soundtrack.
In the US — we haven't tested it here — you can also unlock cool weapons by visiting public libraries. In theory, we think that's a wonderful idea.
Monsters Ate My Condo (MAMC) is a bit hard to explain to anyone who hasn't played it. There are buildings. They fall out of the sky in pieces. You feed the pieces to monsters (preferably of corresponding colours) without letting the building topple over. One of the monsters is a giant crab. Another one is a giant unicorn. They get mad. There's a Brunhilde and a Japanese geisha finger. While this goes some way towards explaining the utter mad brilliance that is MAMC, you just can't know until you've experienced it for yourself.
This week, PikPok released the sequel: Super Monsters Ate My Condo. It's everything about the first game, but made even more super, with new combo blocks, a chocolate wheel and ... hats. So many hats. We suggest you go check it out.
In 1997, Prince of Persia creator Jordan Mechner released The Last Express — an art nouveau-styled point-and-click adventure, played out in real time and set in 1914 on the Orient Express. The game was hailed as excellent, but due to company problems, saw a very limited release. Now, it's been faithfully ported for iOS — and it's great. Because how you play the game affects how other characters act, its replay-ability is enormous — and you can even rewind the game to play scenarios differently. One caveat, though — the download is 1.25GB, so make sure you have enough space before buying it. Yikes.
I've been having far too much fun with this app. It lets you put NASA spacecraft in the room with you. Print out the AR card (PDF), position your iDevice's camera and snap away. There are a variety of craft to choose from — Curiosity, Grail, Cassini, Voyager, Dawn and Juno — but Curiosity is the best, because the others all appear with a grid beneath them. Still, snapping pictures of Curiosity rolling over my cat will never get old. Never.
If you've ever seen a strange bug doing something equally strange and thought, "Oooh, what a strange bug, I should tell someone about it," ClimateWatch is an app that lets you do just that! Every bird, bug and flower you see, you can record using this app, using a handy index to identify what it is you are looking at. Once you've recorded your sighting, you can submit it to the ClimateWatch team, who are studying how climate change is affecting Australia's native wildlife. Pretty neat, huh?
An alternative camera application for iPhone, Camera+ has updated with some really nifty new features that add support for iPhone 5 and iOS 6 iPad, with a bunch of new iPad-only features. Now the app has iCloud sync, so your photos are synced across Lightbox; when you open your iPad, you can sync your pictures, and then use the iPad's new editing features to gussy them up. These include filters and adjustments, of course, as well as a handy new spot-editing tool that allows you to target the parts of the image you want to fix. There's also Facebook support for easy sharing, and to celebrate, it's on sale for just AU$0.99. Woo!
IntelliScreen is one of the coolest useful apps for Android we've seen in a while. It allows you to control your screen's time-outs, creating custom settings for a variety of applications. Looking at recipes on a web browser? You can set the phone not to switch the screen off when you're running that application, for example. You can also set an "always on" position that uses your device's accelerometer to detect when you want your screen to stay on, set it to turn the screen off if the phone is in the dark (eg, a bag or pocket) using a light detector (pro version), and it has a useful screen lock widget that can lock your screen with a single tap.
This is Space Invaders, but not quite like you've ever seen it before. That is, you've seen the two-dimensional shooty with the descending ships raining laser fire from above, but one of the power-ups in Voxel Invaders shifts the perspective from third- to first-person. For a game that already plays well — and Voxel Invaders is very smoothly made — it gives the familiar gameplay a really cool new boost.
Speaking of Space Invaders having surgery, there's also … Velocispider. It's not necessarily the gameplay that will hook you here, but the awesome 16-bit graphics and the dude you control. It's like space invaders, but instead of a little space fighter, you have the Velocispider. Which is exactly what it sounds like. Part velociraptor, part spider, with a little laser cannon on its little head, protecting its little eggs from the evil robot corporation. Awwww!
The problem with fighting games is that they're not exactly ideal for the touchscreen interface. Swiping and tapping is all well and good, and they play okay, but it's not the best. Healthy Weapon is a game that is looking for a new way to do things, and it succeeds nicely. Instead of swiping and hoping your hits connect, it gives an array of four buttons down each side (they're the same buttons, it just allows you to use both hands), which you can tap in various configurations to attack your opponent. The double array also means that you can have two-player battles on the one device, which is pretty cool.
The premise of the game is likewise fun — you and your opponents beat each other up with fruit and vegetables. And we love the visual design.
Last week, we absolutely loved Rayman: Jungle Run for iOS — it's iOS arcade gaming done right, hitting a stellar balance between simple and challenging gameplay. A week later, the limbless one has arrived on Android, too.
This week saw some real quality games released, and it was really hard to choose one standout — but after some thought, it had to go to Firebox Games' The Room.
It could have been because of the beautiful game design, the spooky-but-not-terrifying ambience and the mysterious storyline. Those things are all awesome, but they're just the delicious icing on the gameplay cake.
The Room is a puzzle box game that sees you exploring in 3D a series of chests, boxes, cabinets that are scrawled with arcane symbols and scratching, filled with clockworks and cryptic notes. You have to figure out how to open various hidden compartments, fix broken mechanical features to solve the box, collect the story clues and move onto the next box. It can be really tricky — but the marvellous thing is that it's never frustrating, with gentle clues that you can read (or ignore) to nudge you in the right direction — and we found ourselves, with each successful solution, feeling that excited "a-ha!", accompanied by a warm satisfaction that has us gleefully returning for more. Combined with the tactile experience of touch-based gaming, and minus the pressures of points and achievements, it's a title that's actually exciting to play.
If you like something with a little more action, this week open-world RPG Lili was released — the first title from BitMonster, a studio formed by six Epic Games veterans who wanted to move out of console and into indie. The title, running on the Unreal Engine, is every bit as polished as you could expect — but a far cry from the gritty sweariness of Gears of War.
The star of the show is Lili, a student who arrives at the "abandoned" island of Geos to collect magical flowers. There's no combat per se, but collecting the flowers from the plant people (spirits) involves some tricksy tapping and swiping. You have to leap onto its back and grab the flower by the roots as the spirit tries to shake you off.
Additionally, there's an evil mayor who is Up to No Good — which leads to some pretty fun sneaking around, as you go about trying to overthrow the local government. Undertones of colonialism? Maybe, but it's a game about magical flowers and plant people. It's important not to get too serious about these things.
From Ubisoft comes Rayman: Jungle Run, a spin-off from Rayman: Origins, which hit consoles late last year. Like its parent title, Jungle Run is an eye-popping explosion of gorgeous colours — and a really fun to play arcade title in its own right.
It's divided into four sections — Jump, Fly, Wall Run and Punch — each of which is based around a simple one-touch control system. Rayman runs automatically, and you control what he does by tapping or holding the screen; for example, in Jump, tapping the screen anywhere makes Rayman jump, and so forth. The objective in each level is to collect all 100 Electoons — not as simple a prospect as it sounds — in order to obtain a Death's Tooth. Five of these teeth will unlock the next level, so there's actually incentive to collect a perfect score.
It's not exactly deep, but Ubisoft has created the perfect balance between challenging and pick-up-and-put-down gameplay.
In the late 90s, turn-based JRPG Lunar: Silver Star Story was released across consoles: Sega Saturn, PlayStation and GameBoy Advance. Now we have a blast from the past on iOS, in remastered glory. The port includes a full hour of animated cut-scenes, as well as a remastered soundtrack and a completely overhauled control system, designed specifically for the touch interface. If you like your gaming on the retro side, or if you're after some of that sweet nostalgia, give this one a look-in.
Looking to spice up your bedroom? 50 Dares, from Rebels and Renegades, is definitely adults-only. It consists of a deck of "dare" cards in five sexy categories. Participants take turns to shuffle the deck and draw a card — then take on the erotic "challenge" described. We, uh, haven't actually tried it out for ourselves, but users seem pretty happy with it, with Housewife80 saying, "It took 20 years off my husband!" and Sammy P calling it "electrifying".
Like chiptunes? 8Bit Beatbox is an iOS-based synth designed specifically around retro video-game music and sounds. It's pretty sweet: you lay down your tracks, then play your sounds over the top using the keyboard and sampler. There are four different keyboard sounds to play over three octaves, and a sampler of nine different video-game noises.
Two gripes: there's no tutorial, so you kind of have to poke at it until you've figured it out; and it doesn't appear to have a save function. To be fair, the app's description bills it as a "live performance" thing, but still, the ability to save would be nice.
We saw spookily atmospheric mystery-solving in The Room; for Android this week, we have McPixel, a dorkily feel-good point-and-click adventure in ... well, pixels. It's utterly daft, and eminently likeable. Hero McPixel is a kind of nerdy anti-hero who has to save the day in a series of 20 increasingly silly challenges (maybe they're not increasingly silly, maybe the game just has a cumulative effect).
It's a game that loves gaming, with sly little in-jokes, gameplay and music that will zoom you back to the 80s, and a ... rather potty sense of humour. If you love the world of video-games, you have to give McPixel a try.
"Capture them all!" Okay. "Level up to become the very best!" We have to give Gamevil this: it's really not shy about its "influences". That said, this game about (ahem) element-based pocket monsters that you level up, evolve and send into battle against other monsters looks actually pretty good — not because the core gameplay is, um, familiar, but because of its multiplayer components.
Aside from the journeying-through-the-land thing, it allows you to connect up with other players. You either test your monsters' mettle by battling them against real people, or you can join a co-op clan to fight battles against bosses together.
We also like the combined monster feature, which allows you to combine two monsters to create a single super-monster.
There's something endearingly garage-made about Supernova Sweep-Up: from the crayon graphics to the trailer narration, you can't help but be charmed by its moxie. It's a galactic shooter with a difference: instead of a space ace, you're an interplanetary garbage person. Your job is to fly your little space ship around and collect space garbage — malfunctioned rockets, broken satellites, that sort of thing. You use rockets and bombs to blow up the objects, then zip around in your little shuttle to collect the debris. It could use a few control tweaks, but it's somehow engrossing, all the same.
An endless runner has to have something different to catch our attention these days. Subway Surfers has it. The main character is a little delinquent graffiti artist, his chaser is a cop, and he runs along railways. It has the standard swipe-down-to-duck, swipe-up-to-jump, swipe-sideways-to-move controls, but it also has a skateboard … and trains. You can run on top of the trains or next to the trains, but you really shouldn't run smack into the trains. It's actually vaguely discomfiting when you get hit by a moving train, but apart from that, the gameplay is a little more mixed up and varied than what we've seen — and it's free, too, which is nice.
Tired of your boring old Android OS launcher? Chameleon has come out of beta, and it looks swish. It allows you to create multiple customised home screens, so that your Android tablet is as convenient and efficient as you can make it. It has its own widgets, or the ability to create your own using its API, context-sensitive home screens that can change according to where you are or the time of day, and even a customisable app drawer. It's a little pricey, as far as Android apps go, but it looks worth it.
Who's really calling your phone? CallApp turns your contact book into super contacts, allowing you to see at a glance everything about the person — who they are, a photo of them, their birthday ... and then their email address, Twitter account, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Foursquare, their job and so forth. If it's on the web, CallApp will find it, whether they're phoning you or you're phoning them. It sounds a little creepy, to be completely honest.
Generally speaking, "golf game" is not a phrase that makes us sit up and listen. Sure, there was the old golf game played on the IBM in the 80s, which had you hitting the space bar to hit the ball when the gauge was at the right point, and apparently them Tiger Woods PGA games are popular, but it just doesn't sound as exciting as "save the kittens" or "chainsaw-wielding princess".
Then, along came Wonderputt, and it truly is a wonder. It uses touch-based slingshot physics for you to get the ball from its starting point to the hole, in a changing environment that is absolutely gorgeous to look at and play in. As you progress, the landscape morphs, thanks to forces of nature, the interference of man and beast, and ... alien abduction. It's a delight to play and impossible to put down.
If you ever played Fruit Ninja and wished the fruit was scabrous rodents, then it's party time for you! Dishonored: Rat Assassin is the very first mobile game from Bethesda, and it's … Fruit Ninja. With rats. It's actually a promo tie-in for Bethesda's upcoming console and PC title, Dishonored. We can't help wishing the offering was a bit more on what we might consider Bethesda-level, but hey — it's free.
Can you believe that this is the first title from Gameloft to use the Unreal Engine? And it's all the better for it. Gameloft has produced some great premium combat titles, and this one is just stunning. It puts you in the role of Lancelot from the Arthurian legend — kind of. King Arthur has gone mad with jealousy over the love between Lancelot and Guinevere. Lancelot has to stop him … and the legions of hell. Okay, so it's stretching legend quite a bit here (for one of our favourite ever interpretations of the Arthurian legend, read Guy Gavriel Kay's Fionavar Tapestry), but the gameplay is excellent fun, with real-time combat and stunning graphics. We'd love it a lot more without the IAP, but you have to expect it in Gameloft titles now, no matter how high the game is initially priced.
If you have spent the last week either sleeping or just not caring, you'll have missed the news that YouTube has released its very own independent app. Previously, the YouTube app had been a default app on iOS devices; with iOS 6, it won't be. The good news is that you will now have access to a much wider range of videos than what was previously available on the app; the bad news is that you have to sit through advertising to get it. You win some, you lose some.
Want to find out if you can secretly channel John Bonham? You probably won't find out with this drum synthesiser, but you can play with some pretty nifty drum sounds. It has a good range of drum sounds that you can record on up to six tracks simultaneously, using a variety of modulators, filters and amplifiers.
Turn your photos into art. Artistic Effects HD has 12 different artistic filters, each with four different modes that you can use to make your photos look like an oil painting or sketch. They look pretty realistic, too, and you can adjust your photo's brightness, saturation and contrast to get the best effect. The app is a little buggy — it seemed to have difficulty showing the effect in the first preview, and it really needs a "back" button. We also don't know that it has much value beyond the occasional novelty, but the filters are nicely executed.
The thing about Horn is that it's, well, amazing. It plays brilliantly, has a great sense of humour and looks incredible. We loved it on iOS when it launched a couple of weeks ago. We are completely prepared to love it just as well on Android — and for a cheaper price, too.
A dirty crook is trying to pilfer Granny's apples. Granny ain't having none of that! This side-scrolling runner game sees you vaulting obstacles and twinkling your toes to beat the thief to the punch — that is, to reach the apples before he does. But there are a few challenges that make it a bit more interesting than a standard tap-to-jump game: as Granny jumps, she'll tumble through the air, and you get points if you land her on her feet — the more perfect the landing, the more points — but of course, the high score on each level is entirely dependent on whether you can beat the thief to the three apples scattered throughout. Silly, high-speed fun.
Every now and then, a game comes along that blows us away with its brilliant simplicity. Last Fish is one of them. A little glowing white fish swims along in waters, increasingly filling with black, deadly goo. You have to avoid the goo, collect the white orbs and complete challenges — surviving for as long as you can, collecting health points and swimming through an obstacle course. It's all painted in gorgeous monochromatic black-and-white, but it's the control system that blew us away: it's entirely tilt-based, and every little shift of your phone moves the fish through the water. It's magnificently responsive and intuitive — tilt-based controls can be so hard to manage, but Last Fish has executed it to perfection.
This is medieval hex-based strategy in its purest form. A map is divided between six players, and you take turns to try and conquer each other's territory. The more territory you claim, the stronger units you can build, but there's a caveat: too many strong units will drain your cash reserves, causing your kingdom to go bankrupt. There are various difficulty settings, so you can play at your own comfort level. Tremendously engrossing.
If you're the kind of person who likes making lists and cataloguing things, Memento Database is a dream come true. It lets you create databases of pretty much anything: recipes, your DVD library, expenses, objects you find on the street. It's completely customisable — and even includes a barcode scanner for easy cataloguing. There are 19 different filed types and it synchronises with Google Docs. You can send entries via SMS and email, and import and export CSV files. The interface is clean and easy to navigate — simply put, it's one powerful database tool.
With Limbo on the way for mobile, a game that has been, ahem, influenced by the title showed up on iOS and struck us as more than a little audacious. Nevertheless, we took it for a spin; and, yes, it's appropriately atmospheric (when you're borrowing from a game as beautifully designed as Limbo, it's kind of difficult not to be), but the controls? The controls are flat-out rubbish. They're sluggish, the jump function doesn't work and the protagonist moves at an excruciating crawl across the screen. Don't waste your money — save it for the original. Playdead deserves it more, anyway.
There's a lot of static between Apple fans and Android users. One enterprising developer from Melbourne thought that would be an awesome conflict on which to base a game — and Fruit vs Robot was born. It pits iPhone and Android users against each other in games of knowledge and skill.
There are three gameplay modes: Trivia, Arcade and Board Games. In each, you can unlock more games by winning matches against real opponents, which nets you coins (or you can purchase coins). Coins also let you buy snazzy new outfits for your little avatar. It's a much friendlier way to have a platform rivalry than what we see on CNET.
KlickTock has made a name for itself with its Little Things, Doodle Find and Super Search 60 games — games in which you search for, well, little things. Little Things Forever is the successor to Little Things, and it follows a similar format: there is a picture of a thing, made up of tiny other things, and you have to find objects within a time limit — for example, a number of buttons or dogs. Each successful level nets you a puzzle piece, which unlocks another big thing. What we like most about this game — apart from the gameplay, which is genuinely engrossing and even something that people can play together — is that, this time around, you don't have to pay to unlock the new stages.
What if Infinity Blade was the Avengers? That's kind of how Avengers Initiative, a new iPad title from Marvel, plays out. It's sort of a sequel to the Facebook game Avengers Alliance; the Vault, a prison containing all the worst monsters, has been busted wide open, and it's your job, as the Hulk, to get them back. It's pretty fun to play and looks great — but the best part is that it's just the first episode of a series of games — and all subsequent episodes are going to be free, so once you've bought the first title, you have more in store, featuring other protagonists from the Avengers.
The game is cross-platform, which means you can connect it to your Facebook account to cross-over skills and XP with Alliance, and there is IAPs if you want to speed things up a little, but the game's director, Patrick Moran, was very careful to tell us that it's absolutely not "pay to win".
However, our most pressing question remained unanswered: since when did the Hulk take time to put on pants and tie his shoelaces?
After the disappointment that was the iOS port of The World Ends with You last week (it does not translate well to touch controls), Square Enix has snuck out the all-new Drakerider, a much more playable RPG adventure. As the name suggests, it's a game about riding dragons — controlled by chains. You control your dragon by adjusting the tightness of its chains; too slack, and it can't attack; too much, and it could attack you. It's an interesting mechanic that works well, and, in classic JRPG style, includes lots of options for levelling up.
Unusually for Squenix, the initial download is totally free, so you can give it a test-run before investing the premium price of AU$21.99 for the full game. We approve.
This one ain't for the faint of heart. It's a very bare-bones game, but as hard as anything we've played on iOS. Set to catchy electronica by Chipzel, the stages consist of shrinking, rotating hexagons, with one or two open sides. You have to get your little cursor into the gaps before the hexagons crush you — and it's extremely fast and tricky.
Organising events can be a bit of a pain in the butt when you're using your iPhone; you either have to email or text bunches of people, and it can get long and arduous. ChillWith.Me is a new app built by Aussie husband-and-wife team Jimmy and Alison Lee, to make organising social events easier.
Alison told us, "Basically, we recognised many people were organising drinks on Friday night, or Saturday brunch via long emails or SMS messages ... and the process is annoying and time consuming. So, Chillwith.me is a better way of capturing your friend's preferences, while also discovering great new places through social recommendation". The app plugs into your Facebook (since you can't setup Events from within the Facebook app) to give you quick and easy access to friends, who receive an invitation in their Facebook account. Unfortunately, if they want to view the invitation, they need to download the app, which is only available on iOS — for our test, we sent an invitation to two Android users (not even on purpose), who couldn't do anything with it — but we were assured that it will be coming soon to more platforms.
Google wants to mimic iMessage's magic with Android Messages
In the battle of texting apps, Google has a plan to create a unified, interactive texting experience across all Android devices using RCS and the Android Messages app. But not everyone is being a team player.
by Bridget Carey
7 Earth-size planets found by astronomers
In this week's wrap-up, NASA announces a big discovery, Verizon and Yahoo's deal gets a $350 million adjustment and Mobile World Congress news trickles in.