App of the Week: Knife That Guy

Developer: Flyover Games LLC

Compatible with: iPhone3GS and up, iPod Touch 3rd Gen and up, iPad, Android Devices

Requires: iOS 6.0, Android 2.0.1

Price: $0.99

Available: here (for iOS) and here (for Android)

Sometimes when trying to explain a new game to someone, its easiest to use other similar games as a reference to it. For instance, I would describe “The Last of Us” as a mix of “Uncharted 2,” and “Resident Evil,” with a little “Splinter Cell” tossed in.

In trying to do that with “Knife That Guy,” I found my reference concoction overflowing with comparisons to titles like “Bomberman,” “Pac-Man,” “Hotline Miami,” “Q-Bert,” “Temple Run,” “Stealth Assassin,” and a few others, when I realized that technique wasn’t going to work.

It’s also pretty unnecessary as at its core, “Knife That Guy” is a simple game that sees you play the role of a guy with a knife patrolling a pressure operated floor of colored tiles with the sole objective of finding the titular that guy and…well knifing him. You’ll be able to recognize that guy as he’ll have a red arrow above his head, which is handy considering the floor is populated with a variety of people who are not that guy, who you do not want to knife, as doing so depletes your lifebar.

The challenge, and fun, of the game comes through the fact that solely knifing your target is a tall task considering the fact you cannot stop or slow down, and that the other non-knifable people surrounding your target, constantly get in your way and force you to think on your feet at all times. Even reaching your target only contributes to the burden, as the game speeds up upon each successful kill and more innocents with various walking paths populate your space. Play it too cautious though, and take up too much time, and the tables turn so that you are now the hunted guy with someone looking to knife you.

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Assisting you is a dash maneuver which propels you several feet in your chosen direction, and a bomb which launches knives in every direction. Both of these moves are helpful in the right hands, but if not used carefully can actually harm you more than help. Thankfully they were designed that way, and their risk of danger is not instead the cause of control issues, which are actually excellent.

The brutality of “Knife That Guy” extends beyond its challenge, as the game is pretty violent, even if it is in a pixelated cartoony way. Surely that will bother some people, but the consequences of stabbing an innocent are immediate and severe, making you feel incredibly miserable every time it happens. It’s not exactly a poetic analysis on the duality of man, and a moral guideline for all games to follow, but it does emphasize consequences for your actions more than many games do.

In a way “Knife That Guy” is an incredibly violent puzzle game that will have you going one more turn for hours on end, and getting a little better each time out. It goes beyond the average mobile puzzler though with its action/arcade elements that provides an adrenaline rush with every successful maneuver. The developers did a fantastic job of taking an incredible, but simple, concept, and honing every single style and gameplay element so that they all serve to enhance it. You may be able to learn the game in a few minutes, but it’s that creative craftsmanship that ensures every round will be a new experience.

“Knife That Guy” is, by its own design, a very odd game. Somewhere underneath its playful dementia, though, lies an experience as old as gaming itself, and crafted to a level you’d expect from so many years of experience to build upon and reference. In that way it may be most like “Hotline Miami,” but truthfully “Knife That Guy” doesn’t have many peers, and has no competition for app of the week.

  

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App of the Week – XCOM: Enemy Unknown

Developer: 2K Studios

Compatible with: iPod Touch 5th gen and up, iPad 2, iPad Mini, iPhone 4S and up (optimized for iPhone 5)

Requires: iOS 5.0

Price: $20.00

Available: here

There’s a lot to be said about “XCOM: Enemy Unknown” for iOS, but none of it can be said without eventually mentioning the price.

Yes, “XCOM” is a $20 gaming app, in a world where $20 can also easily translate to owning 20 gaming apps. This will cause many people dismay, or even fits of laughter.

But I’m not going to talk about the price just yet. Instead I just want to focus on “XCOM.”

XCOM” took the console and PC world by storm last year as gamers everywhere discovered the joy of running a worldwide alien defense organization, and commanding troops on the ground in tense and violent tactical operation scenarios. A revival of one of the most complicated and hardcore PC franchises of all time, “Enemy Unknown” somehow managed to find a way to maintain the things that made that series great, while also making the experience much more manageable and appealing to the more mainstream gaming market.

Of course the star of the game is its permadeath system. Much like last weeks “Sword and Glory” app, death is not only around every corner in “XCOM,” but when it happens you lose that soldier for good. This is made worse by how much you can customize a soldier to make them your own, and the hours you will inevitably spend leveling up your favorites. No matter how much time or effort you put into a character though, one false move and they are dead and gone.

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It’s a punishing system to be sure, but it gives the game an element of tension that would be impossible without it. Every decision matters in “XCOM,” whether it be on the battlefield, or in the management mode when trying to determine what countries to aid (you can’t save them all) and what research to pursue in order to manufacture new items and weapons. Every moment in “XCOM” is spent making these tough decisions, and as such success and joy are found not in glorious moments of gratification, but just through mere survival, and a chain of little moments that make up your 30+ hour playtime.

A glorious moment of success is to be found, though, the minute you boot up the game and realize that this is indeed the entire “XCOM” experience (sans multiplayer) on a mobile device. Sure the graphics took a very slight hit, but this is compensated for by some nice touch controls that add to the feeling of being the “Commander” character the game casts you as. While playing this on an iPhone over an iPad is not the most welcoming of propositions, again it’s the fact it even exists in that format in a playable manner that deserves recognition.

Ultimately though, even though this is still every inch of the original 2012 game of the year candidate expertly ported by 2K to a potentially hostile format, it does come back to the price. While $20 spent well is a fair amount of money, the fact is that $20 for this game is a steal, considering it means you’re getting what is essentially a console game at about a third of the original price, to take with you wherever you go. The price is all a matter of perspective, and in an app world where a “Free” game can easily set you back around $20 when you consider in-app purchases (of which “XCOM” has none) and usually are not of this level of quality, you really have to call this a case of paying an appropriate price for what you get.

“XCOM” defied expectations last year and made most of its fans out of people who never played this type of strategy game before, much less the franchise. With any of the luck I do not have when I play this game (my guys die a lot), this mobile version will do the same as it’s a near-flawless port of that all-time great strategy experience.

So get ready to craft a virtual graveyard of fallen soldiers, start seeing Chryssalids in you nightmares, and get addicted to “XCOM” all over again as it’s not only a perfect port, but my app of the week.

  

App of the Week: Sword and Glory

Developer: Ifelse Media Ltd.

Compatible with: iPod Touch 3rd gen and up, iPad, iPhone 3GS and up (optimized for iPhone 5), Android devices

Requires: iOS 4.0 and up, Android 2.0.1 and up

Price: Free

Available: here (for iOS) and here (for Android)

If you’re anything like me, you’re suffering some serious withdrawals this week, as there will be no new “Game of Thrones” episode on Sunday, and winter itself will have come and gone by the time we get more.

However, if you are similarly disheartened by the hibernation of television’s best show, there is a simple solution that can tide you over for the long wait.

Read the books.

Should that not be enough to feed the hunger though, then also consider downloading “Sword and Glory.”

It’s a medieval-ish era gaming app that shares several similarities with the HBO series, starting with the basis of families feuding. Right from the outset you are asked to align yourself with one of three warring clans (or choose to go on your own), for which to win glory for. After choosing some personal attributes that help create your character, you’ll find that winning glory mostly boils down to completing various quests that all lead to one-on-one duels with some undesirables.

Making up the bulk of the gameplay, the dueling system in “Sword & Glory” is of the easy to learn, but tough to master variety. It only consists of two basic functions (block and attack) which can each be accomplished through various levels of force, with the basic goal being to get past your enemies’ defenses and kill them. I’ve heard it compared to a “rock, paper, scissors” style, but it’s more about timing and rhythm, especially in later parts where the difficulty shoots up quickly and you are forced to think and act appropriately.

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In another interesting parallel to “Thrones,” the world of “Sword & Glory” is a morally grey one, even though the game’s graphical palate is pleasingly rendered in black and white. Choices must be made around every corner which can hold great sway over proceedings both immediate and long term. Though not as ambiguous or ambitions as say “The Walking Dead,” you’ll often find yourself pausing before decisions to consider your actions, lending weight to the more quiet moments, and some unexpected depth to an otherwise bare bones plot.

Hands down though, the biggest comparison between the two properties is their shared belief that all men must die. Death is inevitable in “Sword & Glory” and once it occurs, your character is gone forever, with their accomplishments immortalized in the game’s ever expanding graveyard. Fear not though, as once death occurs, you may continue on as the next in your character’s line and, while you lose any silver and stats your previous creation had, you retain the glory points they accrued (which can be traded for currency and rare items) and all their equipment as well.

It’s an absolutely brilliant lineage concept that lends both urgency to all your current proceedings, and serious replay value long term, as you attempt to progress a little further each generation. Even if it weren’t present though, you’d find plenty of motivation to keep playing thanks to a perfectly tuned combat system and plenty of enhancements to both your character and homestead to purchase, not to mention the various quests, paths, achievements, and final legacies available to pursue based on your choices.

Sure it’s nothing new in RPG terms, but I can’t overstate how well executed it all is. What you get with “Sword & Glory” is a finely tuned (and damn good looking) mobile RPG that is built upon one of the least forgiving permadeath systems I’ve ever seen, thanks to a lack of stored save points, beyond where you left off. While it can be frustrating to lose a character you’ve invested hours in, it only furthers your motivation to do better the next time, and to die every time with as much glory as possible.

I may keep mentioning “Game of Thrones” since I stumbled upon “Sword & Glory” while getting over my withdraws from the show, but in no way does it relies on that, or any other, property or context to stand out, thanks to a rare mix of raw emotion, depth, and accessibility. In a game all about establishing your legacy and forging a name for yourself, I’m happy to bestow “Sword and Glory” with the title of app of the week.

  

App of the Week: Swype

Developer: Nuance Communications Inc.

Compatible with: Android devices

Requires: Android 2.2 and up

Price: $0.99

Available here

The keyboard of your mobile device is something you can’t even call a feature. It’s more of a given and, as such, you probably never really put much thought into it, or consideration into using any but the one your device came with.

The developers of Swype seem to be aware of that mentality, and for years have been working on a keyboard alternative that would merit that very consideration. While they made their name initially (and literally) because of a trace to type featured dubbed Swype, that feature has since become standard for many android devices, and have forced the team at Swype to develop a product not dependent on a single feature, and worthy of the app’s long anticipated Google Play debut.

They’ve done it too. With the trace feature no longer its ace, Swype instead focuses its effort on making a keyboard that is not only faster than others (Swype was used to set a Guinness Book record for texting) but more accurate as well. While this is best exemplified in its abilities to do things like learn the type of language and lingo you use to offer better text prediction, its intelligent sentence editor, or how you can do things like change to a keypad style layout for numbers, it’s more of general design philosophy than anything that is exemplified by a single feature.

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That isn’t to say that Swype doesn’t have some flash though. Since being bought by Nuance Communications, Swype has incorporated that company’s Dragon Mobile Assistant feature, which is integrated into the keyboard and allows you to verbally dictate a message, or any input, with a kind of accuracy you really don’t see from other similar programs, and provides yet another reliable input feature for your buck. There’s even a planned feature which will incorporate the languages and unique dialects of any area you are in, and use them to further enhance the text prediction feature.

I’d be lying if I said Swype is a sexy or exciting app, or one that is easy to properly do justice to by describing it. It isn’t, and you can’t. What it is though is a monumental improvement to maybe the most essential of functions your mobile device is capable of, and at its must have introduction price of $0.99 (which unlocks it for your phone and tablet) is cheaper than other comparable apps like Swiftkey, yet doesn’t sacrifice an ounce of functionality in the process.

You may not often consider your keyboard and ways to make it better, but the developers of Swype have, and they’ve used that information to create a keyboard that is my app of the week.

  

App of the Week: Stealth Assassin

Developer: Erman Haskan

Compatible with: iPhone 3GS and up (optimized for iPhone 5), iPod touch 3rd gen and up, and iPad

Requires: iOS 4.3 or later

Price: $0.99

Available here

While I always try to find the newest possible apps to bring to this column, occasionally an app can be missed for a few weeks. Sometimes it can be a mystery how this happens, but in the case of “Stealth Assassin,” it seems oddly appropriate that it would exist unnoticed.

In “Stealth Assassin” you take the role of the titular stealth assassin, and navigate 100+ maze like levels in order to take out your wandering green man target and escape within a time limit. There to stop you are a squad of roaming blue guards, with flashlight aided cones of vision, who patrol around the target, and swarm upon and shoot you if you cross their path. To help turn the tides are your abilities of super speed and invisibility, which drain your re-filling power bar.

If “Stealth Assassin” sounds, and looks, simple in its graphics, concept, gameplay, and plot, that’s because it’s based on a flash game series known as “Ultimate Assassin,” and flash games aren’t typically known for triumphs in any of those things. What they are known for are oddly addictive experiences based on somewhat quirky concepts, accomplished in a way so that they serve equal doses of fun to those playing for a few minutes, or those who find themselves oddly hooked hours later.

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“Stealth Assassin” retains that same experience in its transition to mobile. It’s got a little resemblance to stealth classics like “Metal Gear,” but oddly it reminds me more of a demented cross between “Pac-Man,” “Bomberman,” and “Hotline Miami.” At first navigating your way to the target and escaping is a simple, but satisfying, proposition, but the difficulty wastes no time in ramping up, and soon you’ll find every wit and reflex you have available working to complete the later stages. Doing so provides that perfect ratio of effort to satisfaction, that is only enhanced replay wise by the addition of achievements on each stage that tempt you to better your  best.

If there is a knock against “Stealth Assassin,” it’s  that the controls are touchy and take some serious mastering so they don’t interrupt your enjoyment. However, when you consider that this is a value title based around a very simple idea, there’s not much more you can knock “Stealth Assassin” for, as it gets the most out of its premise, and delivers a game that is worth considerably more than its asking price in terms of how often you’ll find yourself going to it when you have the free moment to do so.

Summing up “Stealth Assassin” is like describing the perfect real assassin. It exhibits no flash, and instead is quickly in and quickly out, leaving nothing but a job well done in its wake. For exhibiting the benefits of the professional execution of simplicity, “Stealth Assassin” is my app of the week.

  

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