App of the Week: Tiny Token Empires

Developer: HeroCraft Ltd.

Compatible with: Android Devices

Requires: Android 2.3 and Up

Price: $2.99

Available: here

I set out to find a productive app this week. Truly I did.

Though there were a couple of worthy candidates (the lively note taking app mem:0 and the resume creating app resume designer both warrant a look), one app peaked my interest more than any other this week, and kept me from being productive entirely.

In the spirit of trying to bring the best of the best in apps then, I’ve got to tell you about “Tiny Token Empires”.

If you’ve ever played “Puzzle Quest” or its sequel, you’ve already got an idea of what to expect from “Empires.” The difference is that while “Puzzle Quest” was an RPG that used matching puzzles in place of traditional combat, “Empires” is a world conquest sim with a similar puzzle battle formula.

You’d expect the world sim aspect to be the focus of this game then to separate itself, but you’d be wrong. That part is essentially an extremely watered down version of the “Civilization” games, as you build your resources and expand your empire by conquering the towns of nearby nations. While elements of that series like unit types, special characters and troop movements are present in “Empires,” all political aspects, or anything unrelated to military movements are not.

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It’s a simplified style that only works as well as it does by playing second to what is an excellent puzzle system. Whenever combat is initiated, whether it be with rival armies or mythical creatures, a puzzle board is shown with all units involved displayed on both sides. To attack, you have to combine three of the same puzzle tiles (think “Bejeweled”) that match the color of one of your units. Defeat all enemy units, and victory is yours.

The combat element adds an incredibly welcome depth to the otherwise standard system, as you’ll have to always consider the colors you need, as well as your opponent to attempt to counter their best attacks. Similarly, getting the right combo chain can turn the tide of the battle entirely, as the right one can win you a battle instantly, or lose you everything. It brings an element of urgency to an otherwise casual game, and ironically leads to more strategy than the strategy element.

Like so many other noteworthy gaming apps, where “Empires” stands out is its style. Don’t be turned off by the cartoon looks, as they’re just used to enhance the game’s tongue-in-cheek approach to history. It’s not the type of humor that’ll have you laughing out loud, but it makes the game feel lively and spirited helping to combat the redundancy even the best of mobile games can fall victim too.

“Empires” is just the perfect example of a mobile gaming experience. At its heart it’s a pick up and play anytime puzzle game that everyone should have one of on their device, but the combat and five unique strategy campaigns, along with the well implemented art style, give it the kind longevity and depth not usually present in puzzle games. It all leads to a game that’s hard to put down, and impossible to forget.

“Tiny Token Empires” didn’t exactly invent its core concept, but it does execute it in a way that stands out from anything of its kind, and provides your next mobile game addiction without apology. So join me and put productivity off until next week (maybe) by trying “Tiny Token Empires,” my app of the week.

  

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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: Eater

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Developer: Curbed Netwok

Compatible with: iPod Touch, iPad, iPhone (optimized for iPhone 5), Android devices

Requires: iOS 5.0 and up, Android 4.0 and up

Price: Free

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

I know what you’re saying.

“But Matt, I already own a food finding app. Why should I download another and not, say, chase you down with a mob of torch weilding villagers and burn down the old windmill you sought refuge in?”

Well, first of all, that would be a little dramatic don’t you think? Secondly, I’m not suggesting Eater will become your go to food app, and neither is Eater. For one thing, it only covers 22 American cities, and even then only points out a certain amount of restaurants covered by that most popular foodie blog, rather than show you everything there is to eat in the area.

Instead Eater is best used to supplement your current restaurant locater app. That’s because the people running all branches of the Eater site are obsessed food nuts dedicated to finding not only the best restaurants (conveniently marked by their “Eater 38” symbol, denoting the 38 best restaurants in a city), but some of the most unique and intriguing as well, as featured on their constantly updating heat maps.

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For instance, the Eater app won’t show you what people think about that gas station on the corner’s sandwiches, unless that gas station just so happens to be a locally known only gem that serves some of the best sandwiches in the city (or maybe is actually a hidden bar). It’s best used for locals looking for a reference written by some of the most die-hard food hounds around or, even better, tourists who want to go somewhere and eat like the most in the know of locals, so that while you’re in New York you’ll know exactly where to go to experience cronut-mania, or why to skip every pretender BBQ place in Austin, and go straight to the mountaintop at Franklin BBQ.

Even better, the Eater app does this through a familiar and, mostly, helpful layout that could stand to use a few technical and feature upgrades, but doesn’t provide too many burdens in looking for the best of the best in your area. There is even a quick link to the Eater blog, for those that are fans, or maybe just looking for the most up to the minute restaurant recommendations.

Much like those “Not For Tourists” guides, the Eater app is like Zagats, but made by the most serious of foodies. Unlike those foodies, it is able to recommend a restaurant without any snobby pretentiousness, or without being hindered by Yelp like reviews where stars drop because of that one patron who got “that look” from a waiter one time.

Equally useful in finding the absolute best places to eat in 22 of America’s finest cities for both the people living there, and those just passing through, when you need access to a GPS showing the meccas of the most serious of food nerds, you need Eater, my app of the week.

  

App of the Week: NarcoGuerra

Developer: Game the News

Compatible with: Android Devices

Requires: Android 2.1 and up

Price: $1.04

Available: here

Despite being a short week for most, this has been one of the more bountiful weeks for apps in recent memory. While such notable releases like the iPad release of the immortal “Knights of the Old Republic,” a long overdue great Warhammer gaming app in “Warhammer Quest,” and the creatively exciting music creation app “Musyc,” all deserve recognition, there is one that deserves it even more, for several reasons.

“NarcoGuerra” is a “Risk” like strategy game that sees you take tactical control of the Mexican police force, as they fight their war against the drug cartels plaguing the nation. To do so, you will need to gather intel, battle corruption, and take over cartel controlled and disputed territories all while defending your own via troop distribution and mastering a (initially) simple numbers system. Victory is achieved when you have rid Mexico of the cartel.

Except, just as in real life, it’s never quite that easy. The developer’s larger purpose in “NarcoGuerra” is to make people aware of the astoundingly violent and never ending war that is the real cartel battle in Mexico. To do so, they have made the game’s main mode punishingly difficult, and yes even a bit unfair. Just when you think you’ve got everything under control (which is rare), suddenly corruption destroys your efforts from within, or you’ll be betrayed by bad intel, delayed by the death of a major commander, or stunned by the rise of a new cartel power. The better you do in “NarcoGuerra,” the tougher the cartel pushes back, making defeat most prevalent, the closer you get to victory.

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It may not sound like much fun, but it very much is. You’re fighting a war that can technically be won, but only just so. As a result you’ve got a lot of gameplay on your slow march to victory that includes all of the usual tactical strategy game niceties, as well as elements unique to the backdrop, like deciding which president to throw your financial support behind in the hopes of turning the tide. The combination of these elements produces an experience that feels appropriately, and effectively, authentic to the context

“NarcoGuerra” uses an un-winnable war as a perfect backdrop to a tense and exciting strategy game that remains a challenge despite whatever mastery you may perceive you have of the proceedings. You may never beat “NarcoGuerra,” but you are also unlikely to tire of fighting the good fight, thanks to some rewarding, ambitious, innovative, difficult, and (somewhat ironically) addictive gameplay.

While the still entertaining multiplayer and skirmish modes are focused on providing a more “video game” experience, it is the main story mode that is the draw. It focuses on a real world horror that deserves more attention, and uses it to enhance what is at its core, one of the most intelligent and entertaining mobile strategy games available. “NarcoGuerra” could have been a blunt political message thinly disguised as a video game, but instead it is a strong and important statement that takes the form of my app of the week.

  

App of the Week: Wrestle Jump

Developer: Otto-Ville Ojala

Compatible with: iPhone 4 and up (optimized for iPhone 5), iPod touch 3rd gen and up, iPad 2 and up, Android devices

Requires: iOS 4.3 or later (Android version depends on device)

Price: $1.99 (free on Android)

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

When you really think about it, great gaming apps usually come in some pretty odd forms.

For instance we’ve seen apps that make ninjas slice fruit, or feature birds suicide bombing entrenched pigs set the world on fire, while glorified versions of Pictionary and Scrabble have destroyed free time and traditional social lives. It’s a history that should have taught me that at any time, from any concept, the next great gaming app can emerge.

Still though, I never would have imagined that a two button game with luchadores joined at the arms fighting to bash the other ones head would have been that game.

But wouldn’t you know it, “Wrestle Jump” is truly great.

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Though strange, the concept of “Wrestle Jump” couldn’t be simpler. You and a conjoined opponent (computer or real) battle for supremacy by trying to force the other ones head against the nearest solid object. Doing so gets you a point, first to five points wins, and you can add to the pandemonium by activating ice sections and wind.

The only control available to you in “Wrestle Jump” is a single arcade button (used to propel your character’s legs, and make them jump), but there is a layer of strategy involved that isn’t immediately evident. The game is really all about defense and momentum, as mashing the button as fast as you can usually results in losses, while timing and situational awareness win the day.

Yet, there is also a chaotic randomness to “Wrestle Jump” that negates even the best strategies. A hit can come at any time, which can be either highly satisfying, or incredibly frustrating depending on what side you’re on, but it applies equally to both players and rarely feels unfair. Instead, it lends an unpredictability to every contest that provides a part of the game’s appeal.

The bigger part of the game’s appeal though is the two-player mode. Hands down this is one of my all-time favorite mobile multiplayer games ever, and its due in large part to the fact that both players can share one phone (or better yet, tablet) to play it. It makes an already simple game even more accessible, and ensures that no “Wrestle Jump” round ever passes without a healthy amount of “Oohs and Aahs,” as well as abundant smack talk and sweet moments of victory. It’s everything you could ever want from a multiplayer game, and provides one of the greatest arcade style two player experiences since the golden age of arcade gaming.

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“Wrestle Jump” is an app you might play occasionally by yourself, but in the company of a friend becomes one of the most entertaining games of the year on any platform. It encourages a level of competitiveness that you don’t usually get from mobile games, and it does it without guns, cars, puzzles, or any of the other things you associate with the concept. Instead, this is head to head gaming distilled to its purest form.

Yes, “Wrestle Jump” is really that much fun. You could argue that its single player game is dull (it is) but you are never far from its multiplayer mode, and the sheer competitive joy it brings. Because of that mode, and with a little help from Google translate, I can confidently tell you that “Wrestle Jump” es mi aplicación de la semana.

  

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