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.

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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.

  

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App of the Week: Friendstrap

Developer: Game Oven

Compatible with: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch

Requires: iOS 6.0

Price: Free

Available: Here

While the heyday of the board game may have passed long ago in the eyes of many, if you haven’t been paying attention to them lately you may be surprised to find that some of the absolute best party games available to adults are board games. Whether it be the raunchy and hilarious “Cards Against Humanity,” or the clever take on the battle of the sexes “Ladies and Gentlemen” provides, there are a growing number of board games out there that may cause your guests a moment of hesitation when you suggest them, but will soon have them engaged in a way that no other form of party entertainment can achieve.

“Friendstrap” is not one of those board games. However it does retain the spirit of them, as well as the relaxed yet competitive atmosphere they can lead to.

It’s setup couldn’t be more simple. You and a friend put a finger on one of the two dots on screen while a topic appear atop, and a counter begins on the bottom. To play you each have to simply have a conversation on the topic until it disappears and is replaced with another. You repeat this until someone removes the finger and thus themselves from the conversation.

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Now where this gets interesting is in the topics themselves. While some are no more invasive than the weather, others can get incredibly intimate and even awkward. Even better, the topics themselves are often presented in only a few vague words (for instance; “Friends With Benefits”) allowing the psyche of the users to take the game in unique directions. For instance, one strategy would be for each player to pursue the most outlandish conversation paths in order to ensure their companion is too mortified to contribute.

To be honest, based solely on its built-in design, “Friendstrap” is an incomplete experience that works better as a conversation starter or time killer than a full on game. However, with the application of a few “house rules”to keep the participants in check, and the right kind of participants, there is a lot of potential in its simple set up to lead to hours of laughter. Fortunately no such outside creativity is required for the topics themselves which remain ambiguous and entertaining regardless of the specifics of the personal games you create using the built-in set up. With over a 1,000 of these topics included (with additional, even more awkward ones available for purchase) you’re likely to never have the same conversation twice, especially when considering the individual whims of the players.

It’d be misleading to call “Friendstrap” a complete app, as taken at surface value there frankly isn’t much to it. However, the incredibly ambiguous set up is best viewed an an intentional design, as it allows whomever has a finger in the game a level of control over the experience that caters more to their individual whims and unique quirks, rather than forces them to necessarily adhere to pre-set rules. In that regard, its incomplete nature becomes its greatest asset as it ensures every session will be entertaining and unique above all else.

If conversation is truly a lost art, then the ability for “Friendstrap” to strike up entertaining conversations between nearly any participants on any of its topic makes the app something of a work of art itself. An unassuming yet brilliantly maniacal party game, there’s little discussion to be had regarding “Friendstrap’s” status as app of the week.

  

App of the Week: Ridiculous Fishing

Developer: Vlambeer

Compatible with: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Android Devices

Requires: iOS 5.0, Android 2.3

Price: $2.99 (or on Android for $5.21 as part of the Humble Bundle)

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

You don’t often get a second chance in life.

For instance, earlier this year when I missed the debut of “Ridiculous Fishing” on iOS, I thought I’d missed my chance to cover what may just be the most entertaining gaming app of the year. As luck would have it, though, the fine folks at Vlambeer have finally released the game for Android, and given me a chance to let anyone who may not know in on one of the best gaming apps you can buy.

As you may have gathered from the title, this is a game about fishing. Specifically it’s about a simplified arcade style of fishing and as such gameplay boils down to little more than casting your line, tilting your device left and right to avoid as many fish as possible, and then waiting until your line runs out so you can grab as many fish as possible on your way back up. Touching a fish on the way down will result in your line being pulled in early, and therefore a smaller catch. To help you make bigger and better catches are a variety of upgrades that provide special items, better lures, longer lines and a host of other benefits.

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Sound simple? It is. However, as you no doubt also gathered from the title, besides being about fishing this game is also ridiculous. This changes things quite a bit.

For instance once you bring the fish to the surface, instead of putting them in the boat and maybe cooking a nice dinner with them later, you throw them in the air as high as you can and pull out a gun to blast them to hell with for money. With that money you buy those aforementioned upgrades. Only, since these upgrades are ridiculous, they include things like chainsaw lures which can slice through any fish in your way along with better and more powerful guns that allow you to shoot more airborne fish when the time comes.

It’s quite simply arcade perfection. There is an appeal in trying to catch new species in order to move on to the next area or to top your high score, but the real pleasure here is a visceral one that isn’t easily described and is better to experience. It’s a game in three parts (avoidance, catching, shooting as many airborne sea creatures as possible) and all three are tightly design and work together to create one of the most entertaining time killers that mobile gaming has produced yet.

“Ridiculous Fishing” defines pick up and play perfection. With its seamless gameplay and surprisingly appealing visuals, it’s a rare kind of title that is insanely addictive while you are playing it, yet can be put down in an instant when you have to only to be right where you left it when you get back. I’ll never know how I missed “Ridiculous Fishing” the first time around, but make sure you don’t make the same mistake and pick up this very belated app of the week.

  

App of the Week: Stealth Inc.


Developer: Curve Digital Games

Compatible with: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch

Requires: iOS 4.3

Price: $4.99

Available: here

There are two types of games that get ported from other platforms to mobile devices. Those which the developers struggle to adapt to the new platform and often end up feeling like a “good enough” effort, and those that fit into the mobile scene like a glove, and sometimes end up being better than their original incarnations.

Consider “Stealth Inc.” to not only be a member of the latter party, but a candidate for its poster child.

Originally known as “Stealth Bastard,” when it debuted on the PC and Mac, “Stealth Inc.” may have undergone a PR friendly name change, but still maintains the incredible challenge that made the original title so apt. Yes, “Stealth Inc.” is one of those games that punishes you over and over again in your pursuit of victory. It’s often compared to the indie sensation “Super Meat Boy,” which is fitting consdiering both games force you to navigate an increasingly difficult series of levels in the pursuit of making that one perfect run which will see you proceed to your next little slice of hell.

The greatest difference between the two is  “Stealth Inc.’s,” use of its titular stealth elements. Whereas “Super Meat Boy” used a variety of old school gaming traps to help you meet your demise (fire, spikes, etc.), “Stealth” borrows more from games like “Splinter Cell” and “Metal Gear Solid” as many of your traps include security cameras, spotlights, and good old fashioned guards. For the most part, the shift in style is largely a cosmetic one as in the case of both games regardless of what the trap is your entire purpose is still to avoid them. However, there is a slight gameplay benefit to this seemingly minor change of obstacle, as there are the occasional moments where you are actually able to stop and formulate a plan, rather than just rush in and hope for better results through trial and error.

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However, even on an aesthetic level the shift to stealth does the game an incredible benefit, as the art style and game world are all deeply committed to the stealth genre and help to really lend an enjoyable sense of environment to the game. It’s refreshing that in a game as big as this one (over 80 levels, before the optional community map pack), that such an effort was put into keeping things visually fresh throughout.

The appeal of these types of games from person to person are always based off the question of whether or not you are prepared to handle the challenge they throw at you. However, unlike other similar games which are all difficulty and little else, “Stealth Inc.” proposes a challenge that is often frustrating, but is never caused by bad controls or cheap tactics. Instead this is a test of your mettle and reflexes that may ask of all that you have to best it, but dangles that carrot of victory just far enough in front of you that you are rightfully convinced that with enough determination above all, you can reach it.

“Stealth Inc.” is another in a thankfully long line of examples that the 2D platformer is as alive and well on the mobile scene. However, there is a sense of style and cleverness about it that immediately sets it apart from some admirable competition, and makes it worthy of your consideration first above all others. “Stealth Inc.” recognizes that the value of a reward increases as the difficulty of obtaining it does, and doles out brutal challenges and great rewards in equal, generous measure throughout its considerable length. “Stealth Inc.” may not appeal to everyone, but it’s hard to not see it as the app of the week.

  

App(s) of the Week: Dead Trigger 2 and Indigo Lake

Dead Trigger 2

Developer: Madfinger Games

Compatible with: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Android Devices

Requires: iOS 7.0, Android 4.0

Price: Free

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

Indigo Lake

Developer: 3 Cubes Research

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

Requires: iOS 5.0

Price: $1.99

Available: here

Perhaps it is my lifelong fondness for horror movies, or the strange joy of sharing scares with your fellow man, but I’ve always loved Halloween to the point where it runs neck and neck with Christmas for my favorite holiday of the year. Naturally then I sought out the best horror app I could find to honor the holiday, but ran into a bit of a problem when I ran across two worthy candidates. Rather than just give one a mention and highlight the other, I’ve decided to break the format a bit and present two horror gaming apps of different styles, but equal worth.

“Dead Trigger 2” is the sequel to the notorious mobile zombie FPS game “Dead Trigger,” and as the title may suggest, does little to stray from the template that series established. In other words, you’re still shooting a variety of zombies with a plethora of weapons, all while gawking at some of the best mobile graphics this side of “Infinity Blade.” There are some changes to be found here, including an optional button free control schematic (it works pretty well actually), and a much more varied mission structure, but for the most part you’re still just wandering around and mowing down zombies.

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That may sound like a knock, but it’s actually far from it. The original “Dead Trigger” found a niche in the mobile market by being a shooter that didn’t feel too far removed from its larger and more technically capable console brethren. It’s a role carried on by “Dead Trigger 2” which may make a host of technical and gameplay improvements implemented to make the game a smoother experience all around, but do nothing to hamper the core mechanics which made this game so much fun in the first place. The brilliant thing about the action in this game is that it’s the one place that actually acknowledges any sort of need to be limited by the mobile platform. It resorts, then, to a more classical style FPS which was all action, all the time, and feels like a breath of fresh air in a genre that’s becoming more and more tactical and cinematic based. There’s a cinematic quality to “Dead Trigger 2” to be sure, but it only serves to provide a loose justification and reasoning for shooting everything in sight.

“Dead Trigger 2” strikes a rare balance in mimicking the benefits of console gaming while taking advantage of mobile gaming’s capabilities to provide an experience that feels ambitious yet simple, and never fails to be fun. Fun is actually the key here, as while “Dead Trigger 2” makes some tremendous strides in giving the series depth, ultimately they’re really superfluous  when weighed against the game’s true job of throwing wave after wave of horror at you, and leting you shoot your way out of it, which it does with twisted levels of joy and ease.

“Indigo Lake” is a horror game of a different tune. While “Dead Trigger 2” used it’s horror as a backdrop for some classic shoot em’ up gameplay, “Indigo Lake” is a more pure horror game that ventures into the rarely successfully explored area of psychological horror. In it you play a paranormal investigator sent to solve a string of suicides in a small town. Fairly ambitiously, you do this in an open world setting which you’re able to explore on foot and in-vehicle. You’re objectives in this environment are pre-defined, but the manner and order in which you approach them is yours to decide.

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Many horror games require intense structure to place their scares in, which “Indigo Lake” abandons in favor of a more open, yet carefully restrained experience. While you do have a gun in the game, it’s used sparingly as instead you’ll spend most of your time solving puzzles and trying not to jump out of your skin as you slowly unravel the specifics of what is going on. The way the game never reveals it’s full hand at once turns out to be one of its great attributes, as you spend more time waiting on the big scares to happen, as opposed to experiencing them. This lends the rest of the game an intense feeling of dread and unease which is absolutely perfect for a murder mystery, as you never really feel comfortable or confident while playing until you reach your next big break (even then the empowerment is usually momentary). “Indigo Lake” is a horror game for the patient user then, making it the polar opposite of “Dead Trigger 2,” and an interesting companion piece as well.

To go much further into the game would run the risk of spoiling it, so I’ll stop by saying that those who are both patient and brave enough to stick with it despite the well played series of scares implemented to ward you off will find a game that manages to serve as a rare example of physiological horror done well, and therefore a unique horror game not just on the mobile scene, but in all of gaming.

There you have it. Two horror games which may take wildly different paths within the genre, but find an equal level of success in their endeavors. For the people that want to feel like Rambo in the middle of the zombie apocalypse, there is “Dead Trigger 2.” For those who want something closer to an episode of the “X-Files,” there is the brilliant “Indigo Lake.” If you’re a true horror fan though, I highly recommend both as they not only serve as the perfect primers for Halloween, but exhibit enough quality to be worth a play any time of the year, and are therefore equally worthy of being recognized as app of the week.

  

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