App of the Week – Ravensword: Shadowlands

Developer: Crescent Moon Games

Compatible with: iPhone 3GS and up, iPod Touch 3rd Gen. and up, iPad, Android devices

Requires: iOS 5.0 or later, Android 4.0 and up

Price: $7.00

Available: Here for iOS, and Here for Android

 

You can hit a dinosaur in the face with a sword.

I know that any good porn director will tell you that you shouldn’t start a feature off with the money shot, but I just couldn’t find a way to ease that statement in.

In “Ravensword: Shadowlands,” (freshly available for Android) you have the ability, nay the privilege, to hit a dinosaur square in the face with a weapon of your choosing (mine being the sword).

Oh, and the game itself is an open world RPG that heavily resembles the famed “Elder Scrolls” series in several important and thankful ways. That open world also happens to be beautifully rendered with some of the best technical graphics a mobile system can offer, which are used to accentuate some particularly inspired visual artistic design, all leading to a thematically strong and diverse world that loads every inch with pure content.

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“Ravensword: Shadowlands,” definitely cribs heavily from the book of fantasy RPG design, as you’ll level up, complete quests, take on an incredible variety of enemies with multiple weapons, and even dabble in some magical combat enhancements from time to time. There is no getting around the fact you’ve been down this dirt road before, and ventured these same adventures.

It’s very likely, though, you’ve never experienced an RPG of this quality on a mobile system, and that is the difference. Whereas “Shadowlands” would just feel like an “Elder Scrolls” knockoff on a console, albeit an exceptionally well made one, on a mobile device, it is a constant wonder. Games of this high production value and depth usually don’t happen on a mobile platform, and even if they do, they rarely play so well, or come off as polished and executed, as “Shadowlands” does.

Thus every towering structure, open vista, inspired quest, and intense battle with an impossible creature is just that much greater, because by all rights something of this high quality shouldn’t exist in this format.

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All of that quality does come at a couple of costs. The first is a heavy amount of glitches and bugs throughout (though the developers are working on ironing these out), while the other is the cost of the app itself. $7 is no doubt more than you spend on the usual app, but considering the horror show that is the world of in-app purchases, paying one flat rate to unlock an entire (and gargantuan) game is actually not a huge burden when you consider this isn’t “Doodle Jump,” but an actual video game, for which $7 would normally be considered a steal.

“Shadowlands” is one of the best games I’ve played this year, on a mobile device or otherwise. What it lacks in originality, it makes up for in every single other aspect possible. This isn’t a mobile game you’ll play until something new comes along, or while bored and about, but something you’ll find yourself going back to no matter where you are or what the circumstances.

Of course when you put all of that aside, you can still hit dinosaurs in the face with a sword. Epic mobile experience or not, that’s going to net you my app of the week.

  

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App of the Week: The Android 5 Humble Bundle

Developer: Various

Compatible with: Android Devices

Requires: Various, but the minimal is Android 2.2 with Android 2.3 required in some instances

Price: Pay what you will, but the full package runs $6.66 currently

Available here

Ok, so this is multiple apps, and therefore cheating, but this is a time sensitive offer, and too good to ignore.

If you’re not familiar with the humble bundle, it’s a service that offers up multiple (usually indie) games for a pay what you want system (though a $1 is usually encouraged). Meet the average payment amount, and you get bonus titles, while all of the money can be distributed between the developers , charity, and the site as you wish.

This week offers up four android titles, with two additional games available if you meet the $6.66 payment average (as of now). Far from a random smattering of “never heard of it” titles, these are some truly great games well worth the meager fee. Specifically you get:

“NightSky” – Looking like a slightly more colorful “Limbo,” “Night Sky” is a visually gripping game, that retains that appeal once you actually get into the physics based puzzle gameplay, that sees you guide a ball through a variety of trippy worlds, and creative obstacles. Its style makes for a relaxing experience, but it’s “Portal” like original puzzles require your brain to be engaged at all times. Consider it the gaming equivalent of a glass of wine and a good book. But you know…actually fun.

“Solar 2” – “Solar 2” starts off simple enough, as you’re just an asteroid tasked with bumping into other asteroids to make a bigger asteroid. Become big enough to form a planet though, and the real game begins, as the universe is your playground to do everything from wage wars to swallow galaxies as a black hole in. While not quite as well executed as it is ambitious, this is a fun, engaging, and above all else unique gaming app that puts the universe at your finger tips.

“Dynamite Jack” – Call it “Bomberman Solid,” as “Dynamite Jack” combines elements of stealth gaming with 2D action bombing. You’ll dodge and destroy a variety of obstacles and enemies that range from guards to cave trolls over almost 30 unique levels, as well as custom levels available through the map editor. Each section is a mini-puzzle of sorts to figure out how to progress, but the game doesn’t shy away from the explosive action element, making this one of the more complete and enjoyable games on the bundle

“Beat Hazard Ultra” – A 2D space shooter in the style of “Ikaruga” or “Geometry Wars,” this app’s calling card is its music integration system. Load your own tracks into the game, and the enemies and weaponry will react to the beat. While it works better with club like music over say, “The Beatles,” the effects are a constant assault to your senses, and underneath it all is an above average shooter. You want this though for its visual and audio onslaught.

“Dungeon Defenders” + DLC– There’s a million tower defense games out there, but few if any as great as “Dungeon Defenders.” Sporting console close graphics, and a great overall look, this app is a madman of content that will have you playing for weeks to discover everything, and all the while enjoying its pitch perfect blend of strategy and RPG gameplay. One of my favorite mobile gaming apps ever, this is the highlight of the deal, and is well worth the average donation asking price considering the complete DLC and game run around the $50 range usually.

“Super Hexagon” – “Super Hexagon” has been a sensation for iOS for a while now, and its recent port to Android gives gamers everywhere no excuse to avoid this addictive puzzler that sees you maneuver a triangle through a constantly shifting hexagon. Be warned though, this game is blindingly difficult and takes more than a few playthrouhs to not feel entirely incompetent at. Once you’re hooked though, there’s no looking back.

A sampling of some of the best mobile gaming has to offer, there is very little excuse to not reach lightly into your wallet and pick up these games if you have the compatible system to run them. With their powers combined, they are my app(s) of the week.

  

App of the Week: Real Racing 3

Developer: Firemonkeys

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

Requires: iOS 4.3 or later, Android 2.2 or later

Price: Free

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

Nobody ever expects a gaming app to match their console counterparts in terms of looks and controls. Instead, mobile game developers have learned to focus on the benefits of the format and not the hindrances in order to craft brilliant titles separate, but equal to console games, and not dependent on graphics and the like.

“Real Racing 3” has a different approach. It says screw all that.

First the obvious. “Real Racing 3” is a beautiful game that truly offers console quality graphics, and doesn’t just use it as a tagline. From the cars to the courses, everything is immaculately designed and loses no wow factor even at high speeds. There’s still noteworthy competitors, but I truly believe this is the best looking gaming app yet. You’ll never stop being impressed with this game’s looks.

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But there’s more than just looks to “Real Racing 3,” as its controls are as pristine as that shiny coat of graphical paint. Acceleration is handled automatically, tilting your phone takes care of turning (and actually works, though a touch option is available), and everything from traction control to braking can be computer assisted (the level of which it helps is adjustable). Overall control is nice and tight, and I never once had to question if a bad manuever was the game’s fault or my own (mostly because I suck).

Furthermore the game’s AI is very, very impressive, and is aided by a new multiplayer concept called Time Shifted Multiplayer, which fills each race with AI versions of your friends and other racers around the world while online, meaning you can essentially still race your friends even offline as they can create ghosts of their laps that imitate their habits. However you choose your opponents though, the competition is fierce and fair.

Put all those features together, and the one limit that mobile gaming supposedly had (that it couldn’t match consoles in certain aspects), seemingly no longer applies, meaning that in all technical regards, “Real Racing 3” is the most notable gaming app in some time.

Otherwise, you’ve got your basic, though well executed, realistic racing game. There is a variety of races and challenges (900 events altogether), a nice selection of 40+ cars, real life racetracks, and in general enough to keep you busy for some time trying to beat and see everything available, and even more time afterwards trying to best your efforts.

The only other notable aspect is the freemium model of the game, as “Real Racing 3” is free, but for a price.

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Like many other gaming apps, in-app purchases are available and highly pushed by the design. See the currency in “Real Racing 3” is handled by both funds and coins. Funds are used for buying parts, cars, and the usual and are earned through career progression, while coins are used for other enhancements and are earned by leveling up. Where the dark side of this design emerges in the repair and maintenance system, as you’ll be constantly repairing and maintaining your car’s basic features such as the engine, tires, and oil and using funds to do it. However, it can take several minutes (or even near an hour for multiple repairs) for the work to be done during which time the car is unusable.

This is where coins come in. For a few coins you can make the repair and tuning process instantaneous. The same applies to buying new cars and the like, as purchasing them still requires a waiting period before they can be used, which coins eliminate. The trouble is coins are hard to come by, and you’ll never have an abundance of them to keep up with the need. Instead you are encouraged to buy coins, or cars and upgrades alltogether, with real money to eliminate the tedium.

It’s not the worst pay model I’ve ever seen, but it’s pretty bad. Every non-racing activity is a grind, and it takes forever to complete or unlock even the basics, much less the high end stuff due to how money and time is used. You can buy more coins through in-app purchases if you’re desperate, but you can never eliminate the waiting feature, and I really wish that wasn’t the case as it is a huge detriment to the game. Patience is a necessity, and not a virtue, to get the most out of “Real Racing 3.”

While I sometimes wish then that the game cost a few dollars to eliminate that nuisance, the fact it is free means you can, and should,  at least try it. Remove the freemium system, you are left with the gold standard of pure racing games for mobile devices, and a benchmark to the capabilities of the medium as a whole, as well as a game that leaves all other competitors at the starting line, and takes home the trophy for app of the week.

  

App of the Week: Manos – The Hands of Fate

Developer:

FreakZone Games

Compatible with:

Android Devices

Requires:
Android 2.2 and up

Price:

$2.49

Available here

Like many I first saw “Manos Hands of Fate” when it was parodied on the classic TV show, “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” After receiving some of the fiercest lampooning any film ever did on that show, it became widely accepted that “Manos” was indeed the worst film ever made. It was a movie where shots would last for an eternity, the plot was somehow both convoluted and non-existent, and usual film tropes like acting, writing, and directing were seemingly burned at the stake as heralds.

To quote “Mystery Science Theater,” It was a film where every shot “looked like someone’s last known photograph.”

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Naturally then the film became a big cult hit, so much so that it inspired its own gaming app based on the movie to be released for iOS last year. It’s recent debut on Android gives me another chance to tell you why you should play it.

“Manos” the  game is a product of two loves, one of which is obviously the movie, which is squeezed for every creative drop to create scenarios, characters, enemies, and levels (of course since that still doesn’t leave much to work with, it also borrows from other infamously bad movies). The other is a love of NES 8-bit retro side-scroller gaming, which “Manos’s” gameplay revolves entirely around.

Not just any games were borrowed from, though. In the spirit of the source material, “Manos” take many ideas from some of the worst games of that era, and therefore of all time. Enemies are annoyingly difficult and often have no context to being in the game, controls are loose, jumps can be impossible, boss fights require pinpoint pattern recognition, and you often have to start back at the beginning of the game. If you’ve ever seen an “Angry Video Game Nerd” review, you’ll immediately know what’s in store.

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So why does a game based off of a bad movie and equally bad games deserve your money? Because it pays homage to those two things so well. More than just lip service to fans of “Manos” or one particular video game, this app fondly recalls the charm of all bad movies and games with not just specific references, but it’s whole state of being. Besides, the game is never quite as bad as the ones that inspired it, and is often very playable, though extremely challenging.

The easiest people to recommend “Manos” to are obviously the fans of the film (for whatever reason they may be fans), fans of 8-bit gaming, or both. In principle, it’s the tale of a man named Mike trying to get his family out of a desert hell hole run by the mysterious master and his kneecap challenged servant named Torgo. In reality, it’s a dead-on perfect tribute to the lowest depths of nostalgia, and all put together produces an addictive game that defines being better than the sum of its parts and comes away with maybe the only positive award anything “Manos” related may ever garner, and that is my app of the week.

  

App of the Week: eBay Now

Developer:
eBay

Compatible with:
iPhone

iPod Touch

iPad

Android Devices

Requires:
iOS 5.0

Android 2.1

Price:

Free

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

There’s certain advantages and disadvantages to living in a big city that any resident will tell you. For disadvantages, there is the high cost of living, the crime rate, the human traffic (and motor traffic) all around, and in some places a smell so unique and horrific that you are afraid to identify it in the fear that by giving it a name, you also give it strength.

However there are the perks. The best restaurants and stores, world class architecture, an unlimited amount of entertainment options available around the clock, and the ability to have pretty much anything delivered to you.

That last one just got a big boost thanks to the launch of eBay Now. Available to residents of San Francisco for about a month now, recently the service has been expanded to New York and allows you to buy a large number of products from a variety of big name retailers from their eBay stores, and have it delivered to wherever you are, that same day, with an estimate that many of the deliveries will arrive in under an hour.

With a host of major retailers already signed up including Macy’s, Best Buy,  Target, and Walgreens, there are very few things you could want or need that are not now available to you for same day service, and the only limits of this app’s uses are seemingly your imagination as it pertains to what “have to have it here now” items you could possibly want.

And whether it be an impulse need for an epic NERF gun fight brought to you via Toys R’ Us, or a strong desire not to wash your socks in the near future that just leads you to ordering some new ones brought to you from Macy’s, there is now a wide variety of impulse purchase options available that are made all the better by the reported excellent speed, reliability, and support the service offers, which includes a GPS tracker of your delivery progress.

eBay Now is a significant release for the online retail giant, and shatters expectations of consumers when it comes to availability and speed of purchases even if they are used to living in a big city. eBay is looking to expand the service to more cities to come, so even if you are not in one of the included areas, be sure to keep an eye out for additional upcoming locations as this app comes through with its lofty promise and not only delivers just about anything you could want right to you, it also delivers the app of the week.

  

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