App of the Week: AthleteMinder

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What happens when you hit the gym, dig into a practice or head out to set your best mile time? Aside from that familiar increase in blood flow, you immediately become acquainted with the numbers that attach themselves so tightly to perceived performance.

Every machine at the gym flickers methodically while processing a whole slew of exercise variables. Heart rate monitors beep away, filling you in on cardiovascular strain and whether or not you’re pushing as “hard” as you were yesterday. Your coach shouts that you’re 12 seconds slower than your teammate.

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App of the Week: MovieCat 2

Developer: OtherWise Games

Compatible with: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch

Requires: iOS 4.3

Price: $1.99

Available: Here

There’s always been an odd appeal to something that’s obviously brilliant, but doesn’t take itself too seriously. Hell, it’s probably why the most popular post of Albert Einstein is of him sticking his tongue out and looking like a bit of a goofball.

While I’m not suggesting that “MovieCat 2” is the Albert Einstein of apps, it does possess that same quality of playful goofiness covering absolute brilliance that got a certain photo of the good doctor adorned to dorm room walls everywhere.

The concept of “MovieCat 2” is simple as simple as it is absurd. It’s a movie trivia game where two easy to love cartoon cats serve as your guides, and often film character stand ins. Supporting one or two players, “MovieCat 2” consists of five rounds of questions, each with five categories. Answer too many wrong questions in any category, and you lose one of your nine lives. The game’s over when all lives are gone, or you reach the final ultimate question. Solve that and you’re rewarded with a famous film clip that’s been reworked to feature cat stand ins.

Now the first thing any trivia game must do to be worthwhile is, naturally, have quality questions. In that regard “MovieCat 2” is a success. The questions cover a pretty respectable range of film history, and the styles in which they are presented are varied enough to remain consistently engaging and entertaining. Even better, there’s enough questions here (over a 1,000) so that repeats shouldn’t be an issue for some time.

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If I do have one personal gripe about the questions it’s that if you possess an ounce of film knowledge, you won’t find many to be incredibly taxing. In that regard, “You Don’t Know Jack Movies” is still the ultimate movie trivia game for the hardcore, but the questions that are here will still cause the occasional head scratch and keep the game moving at a good pace.

Ultimately, though, the real draw to this game is its charm, humor, and style. Every frame of this game has some kind of clever and amusing aspect to it whether it be the questions themselves, the way they are presented, a particular art choice, or more often than not the presence of the two cat hosts as they insert themselves into another classic film. It all works together to lend the game the kind of effective lightheartedness that you often want from mobile games, but rarely get.

Overall this is an easy recommendation for iOS movie fans everywhere, but I think the people who may be most attracted to “MovieCat 2” are those that may not immediately see the appeal. This game’s easy going manner and casual charm has a way of shattering cynicism or disbelief, and will almost certainly compel those that aren’t expecting it to above all others.

I may wish it were occasionally more difficult, but the quality and craftsmanship of “MovieCat 2′s” trivia makes the easiest question of all; “What is the app of the week?”

  

App of the Week: Republique

Developer: Camouflaj LLC

Compatible with: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch

Requires: iOS 7.0

Price: $4.99

Available: Here 

Tune an ear to the going ons of the gaming world, and you might hear two things. A drop in half-thought jokes aimed at mobile gaming, and a buzz surrounding “Republique.” The two are most certainly related.

In “Republique” you play an unspecified person assisting a young girl named Hope as she attempts to escape from the prison fortress of totalitarian over-rulers. The first part of a five part episodic series, going into any more details regarding the plot of “Republique” would not only be an inadequate effort, but would certainly ruin what is even in this extremely early going a simply gripping tale of intrigue and discovery.

Now, as Hope is devoid of any particular special abilities outside of some quick wits, a talent for hacking, and some basic thieving skills, “Republique” is very much a stealth game. That’s a genre you don’t see often in mobile gaming, for the simple reason that it’s a tricky proposition with touch controls.

Republique

“Republique’s” solution to this problem is to keep things simple. Nearly every action is completed through a single touch. That could have been the kiss of death for the title, but its executed in such a way that you always feel like you’re in control of the situation and the challenge only derives from the areas of the game it is supposed to. In fact, I’d go so far as to say this is among the most enjoyable stealth gameplay experiences to come along since the heyday of the “Thief” series. It may not reach the lofty heights of that classic franchise, but to even be judged by that measuring stick it set should tell you a lot.

As good as the game is moment to moment, though, its true value lies in its production value. While this is immediately apparent when viewing the game’s graphics, an even great love has gone into the game’s voice acting (which incredibly includes “Metal Gear Solid’s” David Hayter), writing, and scripting. The combination of these three ensure that memorable characters, moments, and dialog appear with ease and make “Republique” something of an anomaly on the mobile scene, as a game that matches (and at times exceeds) the level of production quality you get from a AAA major game release.

Again that doesn’t just apply to the graphics. We’ve seen mobile graphics of higher caliber before. “Republique” is a game that feels like big budget release from top to bottom.

That’s the goal that developer Camouflaj promised when they put “Republique” on Kickstarter and even though the series is far from over, it’s a goal they have already fulfilled in some measure with this first installment. It’s easy to get spoiled with not only the increasing quality of mobile games, but how incredibly cheap and plentiful they are in comparison to say full fledged handheld titles that you’d find on the 3DS or PSP. “Republique” is the type of game that immediately alerts you to how spoiled we’ve become with the concept, as it provides a gaming experience you can’t find anywhere else on your phone or tablet of all places.

If you want a great mobile pick up and play game that you can turn on, enjoy, and shut down with relative ease, then pick up “Ridiculous Fishing” or any number of great arcade like apps. However, if it’s a taught thriller as gripping as any Hollywood espionage tale, and as immersive as any great stealth title in gaming’s past your after, then there is no legitimate competitor to “Republique.” It’s a landmark release, and my app of the week.

  

App of the Week – Fiz: The Brewery Management Game

Developer: Bit By Bit Studios

Compatible with: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch

Requires: iOS 4.3

Price: $1.99

Available: Here

While every man has no doubt entertained the thought of brewing their own beer at some point, the incredibly pricey and unappealing process of actually doing so tends to successfully deter all but the most die hard of brewmeisters.

Instead of lamenting another goal tossed by the wayside, though, why not download “Fiz: The Brewery Management Game” and put those ale ambitions and distillery dreams to the test?

“Fiz” is another in a line of micromanagement games that have have thus far covered everything from restaurants to the death star. The objective here, as you no doubt guessed, is to start a brewery in your garage and turn it into a world wide name in fine beer.

As you also probably guessed, it takes a lot of work to get there. On the road to success you’ll have to perfect your recipe, craft it, sell it, keep an eye on the market place, hire and fire employees with various skills, upgrade your equipment, compete with rival breweries, compete in beer challenges, kill rodents, complete special assignments, and much, much more.

Fiz

If it sounds like a lot of work that’s because it is. This is a game that asks a lot out of you and, no matter how successful of a brewery you may be running, is constantly giving you something to do.

While that could be a bad thing, somehow the developers managed to present all of this information and all of these tasks to you in a very gradual way that makes it so you may always be busy, but you’ll never be lost. This philosophy extends to the controls as well, as everything is handled through  just a few taps.

You can’t overstate how important that balance is to the fun factor of this game. Too often this genre produces titles that are either too simple to last, or too complex to be enjoyable. That “Fiz” so expertly gives you so much to do, and presents it in a way so that the instant you’re asked to do more is the moment you’re ready for it, is a true accomplishment in game design.

It also doesn’t hurt that the game doesn’t take itself seriously at all from an aesthetic standpoint. Everything from the writing, to the sounds, to the character designs have been expertly crafted to infuse a level of fun into all the game’s various proceedings, and they go a long way to keeping the proceedings light when they could otherwise so easily become hectic and aggravating.

Another in a strand of Kickstarter success stories, “Fiz” is simply a highly enjoyable game that takes some already intriguing subject matter, and bolsters its appeal with airtight game design. I never realized how little I was enjoying other micromanagement titles, until I started to spend some real time with “Fiz.” It’s such a marvel of the genre that that you’ll want to buy the developers a beer after just a little time with it.

With no micro-transactions to its name and hours upon hours of content to explore, “Fiz” is a prime example of mobile gaming done right. Take a break from all your worries, crack open a cold one, and be sure to spend some time with this lovingly brewed app of the week.

  

App of the Week: Skulls of the Shogun

Developer: 17-BIT, Inc.

Compatible with: iPhone 4 and up, iPad 2 and up, iPod Touch 4th gen and up

Requires: iOS 4.3

Price: $4.99

Available: Here

Strategy games on the mobile scene are a tricky lot. Too often many of them just default to the tower defense style and get lost in the masses of that sub-genre, while those that aim a little higher tend to be crushed under the weight of their own ambition or simply don’t appeal to those not looking for an in depth strategy game on their phone and tablets.

Yes, it’s not easy to make a compelling new strategy game for mobile devices. That’s why “Skulls of the Shogun” is all the more impressiv

Now, the first thing to know is that “Skulls of the Shogun” had a long road to becoming a mobile title. It started out its life as a Windows 8 exclusive, and has made an appearance just about everywhere else since then. However, it’s on the mobile scene where I feel confident saying it may have finally found its home.

A big reason behind that is the simplicity of the game’s combat and movement. There’s only a few units in the game (generals, monks, archers, infantry, cavalry) with a few variations, and they all work in a rock, paper, scissors format to insure that no one unit is necessarily more powerful. Moving them around is also as easy as it gets, as you simply tap your unit and choose where in their movement circle you’d like to place them. Combat also only consists of a few taps, when you are in range.

There are a couple of variants in place, though, that keeps things interesting. For instance there are various rice fields on the battlefield which can be occupied by your units and produce currency which is then used to purchase additional units. There’s also terrain advantages and disadvantages to consider such as bamboo used for hiding, and spikes which can cause additional damage to both you and the enemy. There’s also a somewhat morbid, yet very interesting, mechanic which requires you to devour the skulls of your enemies in order to power up your general.

SkullsoftheShogun

It’s a set-up that reminds me of the “Advanced Wars” series. That’s a comparison that I don’t make lightly, as those happen to be among the greatest strategy games of all time despite their relative simplicity. In both cases, these games take their smaller set ups and turn them from a potential detriment, into games that take advantage of the smaller number of variables and provide some of the tightest, most intense, and most rewarding experiences in the genre.

Now, don’t take that to mean the game is difficult. It isn’t. Instead it finds a rare balance in challenge that makes it so you often have to consider your movements, but are never overwhelmed by what is happenings. It’s a balance that makes it part of the reason the game works as well as it does on the mobile format, as you move along at a brisk pace, yet spend your game time still having to consider your options and their consequences.

The game’s art style is also perfect for your device as while it is far from visually taxing, the level of commitment put into the art style is head and shoulders above many modern games. More than just visually pleasing, the art style maintains a consistency throughout the game’s run that ensures that every new element introduced fits perfectly into the incredible world they come together to form. Even better, that world adds a dimension to the experience that easily sucks you into the proceedings in a way that only the best visual designs can.

There’s few games as easy to recommend as “Skulls of the Shogun.” It’s the type of game that mobile devices could use more of, as it feels like something that would have been released to great acclaim on a full fledged mobile system like the Nintendo DS, but comes in at a fraction of the price of one of those titles. It’s an immediately appealing and constantly engaging game that never wears out its welcome and encourages you to keep coming back based on no other factor than the consistent fun it provides.

One of the most complete experiences available on the app store, “Skulls of the Shogun” is also my app of the week.

  

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