App of the Week: Slayin

Developer: Pixel Licker Games

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

Requires: iOS 4.3 or later

Price: $0.99

Available here

“Slayin” is an app that wears its retro gaming heart on its sleeve. You don’t have to look hard to spot its influences from games like “Castlevania,” “Ghosts and Goblins,” “Metal Slug,” “Mega Man,” and more, yet “Slayin” is also unique. It touts its gameplay as the first endless action RPG, in that you are constantly moving, constantly battling, and constantly trying to level up and improve yourself through statistical upgrades and better equipment.

Mix those notions of nostalgic ideology and brand new mobile gameplay together, and it’s like tasting peanut butter and chocolate together for the first time. Yes, “Slayin” is basically the Reeses of the app world, yet infinitely more filling.

“Slayin” tasks you with choosing between three character classes (the strong knight, the ability loaded wizard, and the dual sword wielding knave) and embarking on a timeless quest to slay a dragon, and all other minions and bosses along the way. While all the classes have their own unique abilities and progression systems, they are all bound to the very simple play style which has you constantly moving in a small area, and shifting your direction left and right as you work to destroy everything in your path.

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It may be simple, but it works so, so well. “Slayin” refers to itself as the first of its kind, and its uniquely relentless and dangerously addictive style certainly feels the part. Once you quickly adapt to the flow of “Slayin,” you’ll find yourself in that great zen like state a game can provide, where your actions seem to occur a fraction of a second before you even think them. You’ll need those extra quick reactions, as “Slayin” borrows its difficulty from many of those titles that influenced it, though I’m happy to report that the challenge is one based of skill over trial and error for the most part.

While more of an action game than an RPG, those role playing elements still shine in “Slayin,” especially when it comes to its upgrade system. As mentioned, each character type has their own upgrades and equipment available, which the game cleverly lets you purchase without much break in the action courtesy of an appearing shop keeper. Thankfully, the vast majority of your purchases are made with in-game currency, and the additional in-app purchases available are mostly novelty items that in no way are necessary for your completion, or enjoyment, of the game.

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Where “Slayin” really hits it out of the park, though, is in that retro style. Apply this concept to any other form, and it just wouldn’t have worked as well as it does here in a hybrid world of 8 and 16 bit video game design. There isn’t a visual or audio element that doesn’t harken back to that time, and yet “Slayin” also adds just enough of its own style to those elements to feel fresh. This is particularly evident in the music (done by one of the same guys who did “Retro City Rampage”) where a few notes will remind you of certain classic games, yet the score itself is more of a unique entrant into the field than a mere tribute.

There are games out there without a fraction of the addictive nature and charm of “Slayin” that are still great. “Slayin” is a title that focuses on the advantages of the mobile platform, and uses every single one of them to craft an experience that is a feast for the eyes, ears, mind, and hands. It’s a twitch based actioner with equal measures of looks and heart, as well as a surprising amount of depth.

If you ever want to see and experience the design pinnacle of a three button game, then you need “Slayin.” As I type this, I just want to jump back into it’s one more play world that inevitably stretches on for hours, so let me wrap this up quickly by crowning “Slayin” the unquestioned app of the week.

  

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App of the Week: Lie Swatter

Developer: Jellyvision Games

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

Requires: iOS 4.3 or later

Price: Free

Available Here

 

It’s hard to find good humor in games, but one title that always got it right was the “You Don’t Know Jack” series, which gained popularity in the 90s for its chaotic, bizzare, irreverent, yet extremely intelligent form of trivia.

Sporting some off the wall categories like “Elephant, Mustard, Teddy Roosevelt, or Dracula?,” and college grad level questions (“Suppose Jackson Pollock had become a sandwich artist at Subway. What would his supervisor have noted about his performance?”), there has never been a game with same sense of humor or style that “You Don’t Know Jack” has, which is why it was great to see it make a fairly recent comeback on systems, mobile platforms, and even Facebook.

If you’ve already tried that series and just can’t get enough, then you’ll be happy to know the creators of “You Don’t Know Jack” have a new game out that takes everything great about the YDKJ series, and applies it to a new, yet familiar concept.

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Called “Lie Swatter,” it tasks you with choosing a category and an opponent (who can be selected amongst your friends or at random), then looking over  a series of flies and bugs, each with a statement on them. To win, you have to swat the ones with statements that are lies.

Sound simple? Well then you truly don’t know jack, as the catch here again is that these categories and statements are all incredibly obscure and absurd. Often, every single statement will read like a bold faced lie, due to how outright bizarre they are. Choosing the right one often comes down to luck and deductive reasoning as much as direct knowledge of the subject.

It can be tough then trying to push ahead, but its helpful that the humor and the styled presentation of “YDKJ” are back in full force, as you’ll not only laugh your ass off reading and sorting out the statements, but learn something about each topic along the way. While not as diverse in its questions, themes, round types, or general gameplay as “You Don’t Know Jack,” it does provide a condensed experience of the best that series offers, with only a few app related hiccups (go for the ad-free and unlimited play $1.99 option to save yourself most of the trouble).

Trivia apps are a dime a dozen, or often cheaper, on mobile platforms, but “Lie Swatter” gets those crucial lightning round bonus points in the competition by being deceivingly simple, incredibly addictive, and most importantly drop dead hilarious. In a game all about separating lies from truth, there can be no doubt “Lie Swatter” is the app of the week.

  

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.

  

App of the Week: Hater

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Developer: Hate App Inc.

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

Requires: iOS 4.0 or later

Price: Free

Negativity is a tricky concept.

On one hand, you can’t possibly be expected to like everything. Everybody gets irked by certain things, even if the majority of others seem to enjoy them. On the other, nobody wants to be “that guy.” The one whose just a real downer, or takes the wrong moment to publically express their dislike of something that is generally agreed upon, or even something in general.

Recognizing the cramped space your everyday hatreds are working with to run free, one developer has created an app that allows you a digital soapbox for which to air your grievances in “Hater.”

It’s billed as the “Anti-Facebook Like,” which is a perfect summary of its functionality and purpose. With Hater, you can use a combination of photos and text rants to sound off on the things that annoy you most and, much like the infamous like button, allow others to share your grievances with you.

While topics are of course endless, popular suggestions by the developers include annoying people, what your ex is up to, too many Facebook posts, duckface photos, long lines, celebrities, traffic, school and many more. So the mounds of hate don’t overwhelm you and lead you to the darkside, there is a handy function that shows you some of the most hated topics currently being disliked.

You don’t have to rack your brain to picture a world where this kind of thing can get out of hand pretty quickly, and have you hating on hater for all of the hate, but this is a concept that’s time has come. As anyone who has spent any time on internet message boards can tell you, the mobile world is filled with at least as many dislikes as likes, and an app that allows you a place to share that which you despise is a potentially therapeutic breath of fresh air.

For providing a playground of pessimism and serving as a champion of cynics, I’ve got nothing against giving Hater my app of the week.

  

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.

  

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