App of the Week: HabitRPG

Developer: OCDevel

Compatible with: Android Devices

Requires: Android 3.0

Price: Free

Available: here

When it comes to self-improvement apps and myself, I have to reference the classic movie “Office Space” and say that it’s all a question of motivation, in that it’s not that I’m lazy, it’s that I don’t care.

Most self-improvement apps show you a lot of graphs and statistics, but don’t exactly do much to motivate you besides the desire to see a series of graphs and statistics that reflect the new, and better you. Sure they may help keep you in line, but that’s about the extent of their involvement.

“HabitRPG” is a website, and now Android app, funded by Kickstarter that takes a gamification approach to the subject, by turning your self-improvement into a role playing game. Basically what you do is create a virtual 8-Bit avatar, and set a series of goals. If you accomplish those goals (for instance “Do 50 push-ups”), then you get to award yourself points. Fail to accomplish those goals however, and you have to take away hit points from your character. Gaining enough points, allows you to reach new levels, buy new equipment, or put them towards any number of custom rewards you set (Like “Watch 2 hours of Netflix”), however lose enough points and your character can “die” resetting all of your progress.

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While it’s a system that is more dependent than others on you being honest with yourself (especially when it comes to removing points for missteps), and there are some interface issues that could use some ironing out, the basic idea this app is built around is generally inspired, and a great overall use of the gamification idea to inspire you to be more productive.

Turning you into a virtual RPG character, and your life into a quest, is certainly an effective tool for those looking to make some serious lifestyle improvements, but honestly for most this will serve as the absolute coolest to do list available. A big part of that has to do with the expansive system of tasks and rewards the app allows you to enter, all of which can be tied into game elements that may be simplified, but provide a rewarding experience all the same.

In fact, it’s easy to imagine the intended use for this app is for the user to start using it as a simple checklist for their life, and gradually add more and more to that list as you go along until you find yourself becoming better and better and finally reaching your ultimate goal at a progressive pace. Kind of like…well…an RPG.

Not quite a game, but much more than the usual planner, “HabitRPG” is a hybrid app that gets it right, and at the very least deserves a spot on the Android device of every gamer with a to do list. For making your routine anything but, “HabitRPG” levels up to my app of the week.

  

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App of the Week: Knife That Guy

Developer: Flyover Games LLC

Compatible with: iPhone3GS and up, iPod Touch 3rd Gen and up, iPad, Android Devices

Requires: iOS 6.0, Android 2.0.1

Price: $0.99

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

Sometimes when trying to explain a new game to someone, its easiest to use other similar games as a reference to it. For instance, I would describe “The Last of Us” as a mix of “Uncharted 2,” and “Resident Evil,” with a little “Splinter Cell” tossed in.

In trying to do that with “Knife That Guy,” I found my reference concoction overflowing with comparisons to titles like “Bomberman,” “Pac-Man,” “Hotline Miami,” “Q-Bert,” “Temple Run,” “Stealth Assassin,” and a few others, when I realized that technique wasn’t going to work.

It’s also pretty unnecessary as at its core, “Knife That Guy” is a simple game that sees you play the role of a guy with a knife patrolling a pressure operated floor of colored tiles with the sole objective of finding the titular that guy and…well knifing him. You’ll be able to recognize that guy as he’ll have a red arrow above his head, which is handy considering the floor is populated with a variety of people who are not that guy, who you do not want to knife, as doing so depletes your lifebar.

The challenge, and fun, of the game comes through the fact that solely knifing your target is a tall task considering the fact you cannot stop or slow down, and that the other non-knifable people surrounding your target, constantly get in your way and force you to think on your feet at all times. Even reaching your target only contributes to the burden, as the game speeds up upon each successful kill and more innocents with various walking paths populate your space. Play it too cautious though, and take up too much time, and the tables turn so that you are now the hunted guy with someone looking to knife you.

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Assisting you is a dash maneuver which propels you several feet in your chosen direction, and a bomb which launches knives in every direction. Both of these moves are helpful in the right hands, but if not used carefully can actually harm you more than help. Thankfully they were designed that way, and their risk of danger is not instead the cause of control issues, which are actually excellent.

The brutality of “Knife That Guy” extends beyond its challenge, as the game is pretty violent, even if it is in a pixelated cartoony way. Surely that will bother some people, but the consequences of stabbing an innocent are immediate and severe, making you feel incredibly miserable every time it happens. It’s not exactly a poetic analysis on the duality of man, and a moral guideline for all games to follow, but it does emphasize consequences for your actions more than many games do.

In a way “Knife That Guy” is an incredibly violent puzzle game that will have you going one more turn for hours on end, and getting a little better each time out. It goes beyond the average mobile puzzler though with its action/arcade elements that provides an adrenaline rush with every successful maneuver. The developers did a fantastic job of taking an incredible, but simple, concept, and honing every single style and gameplay element so that they all serve to enhance it. You may be able to learn the game in a few minutes, but it’s that creative craftsmanship that ensures every round will be a new experience.

“Knife That Guy” is, by its own design, a very odd game. Somewhere underneath its playful dementia, though, lies an experience as old as gaming itself, and crafted to a level you’d expect from so many years of experience to build upon and reference. In that way it may be most like “Hotline Miami,” but truthfully “Knife That Guy” doesn’t have many peers, and has no competition for app of the week.

  

App of the Week – Futuridium EP

Developer: Mixedbag SRL

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

Requires: iOS 6.0

Price: $1.99

Available: here 

There’s a popular trend in gaming going around, and it involves making games as difficult as feasibly possible, forcing the user to die and die again until they finally make a marginal amount of progress. You then repeat this process until you either complete the game (not likely) or watch your eyeballs explode in rage (not technically possible, but still more likely).

They go by many names, and come in many forms, but this one is called “Futuridium EP.”

Even more difficult to beat than pronounce, “Futuridium” has a story, but it basically boils down to you’ve been sent to a balls trippingly psychedelic universe where you are tasked with destroying a series of cubes to expose the main cube (called the core) which you then destroy to escape.

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Not exactly Pulitzer worthy, but it does give you a good enough setting for which to make runs over colorfully bizarre levels and destroy your objectives. The difficulty of this comes in small part through its tricky touch screen controls, but in larger part through your constantly depleting energy bar that only refills at the end of a level. It’s that bar that requires you to make pinpoint perfect runs, which isn’t made any easier by the having to start over at the very beginning of the game after each numerous failure, unless you earn the rare continue by hitting certain milestones.

Like so many similar titles, the difficulty alone would usually be reason enough to never touch this game, if it weren’t for some genuinely enjoyable aspects. While the basic cube shooting is fondly reminiscent of many quarter sucking arcade classics, and at first glance you’ll likely get a serious “Starfox” vibe, really the game reminds me most of the cult classic shooter “Rez,” due to its mind altering visuals, and engaging soundtrack that begs for a good pair of headphones.

Also like “Rez,” the combination of those aspects completely immerses you in the experience, which is particularly useful as the game requires a zen like state to complete. This is not a game for the casual player, and in fact it does at times feel slightly out of place on a mobile platform due to that. However, even the shortest play sessions can all contribute to building that perfect run, and that perfect run is sheer nirvana, even if you crash and burn on the next level.

“Futuridium” is not a perfect app, nor is it intended for everyone. If you’re looking for a gauge of whether or not you will dig it, then ask yourself if an arcade game that will beat you down without mercy, and assault your senses with an enthralling soundtrack and unique visuals, while threatening your routine by causing you to miss train stops and phone calls as you contemplate the limits of your control issues sounds appealing.

If so, then check out “Futuridium,” a truly trippy app of the week.

  

App of the Week: Gentlemen!

Developer: Lucky Frame

Compatible with: iPad, Android Tablets 7 inches and up

Requires: iOS 5.0 or later, Android 2.0.1 and up

Price: $4.99

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

While the traditional duel we often think of (a slap of the glove, a demand for satisfaction, pistols at dawn/swords on the morrow, etc.) has long gone out of practice (if it every truly existed that way at all), the fascination surrounding the concept is more prevalent than ever in a time when insults travel the world over at the speed of the internet, and the chances to confront your offender in a mano y mano manner is nonexistent to the point of reducing many to message board retorts delivered under the shroud of anonymity, in the hopes it may provide said satisfaction.

They so rarely do, however, which is when the appeal of a one on one confrontation to determine the victor sheds its barbaric imagery, and starts sounding like the practical alternative.

“Gentlemen!” is an app that harkens back to those times, while embracing a more modern way of presenting the classic duel. Playing as two cartoon gentlemen (of which we will assume are of Victorian England descent to enhance the image) you and a friend (or “scoundrel” as the case may be) are tasked with each taking one end of a tablet, and controlling your selected gentlemen in his bid to rid the world of his rival through a variety of means.

However, that is the point that “Gentlemen!” drops all notions of representing anything even vaguely historic, or practical, and starts having fun.

For instance, while said means can include traditional dueling equipment such as knives, the randomly switching weapons are more likely to yield bizarre devices such as explosive homing birds, lightning bolts, or sticks of dynamite. In what I hope is a statement that will help convey the joyful madness often present, matches often resemble animated “Spy v.s. Spy” strips.

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Said matches also come in three different gameplay types. Duel is a straight up one on one fight to the finish with random weapons, while the more intriguing Chasing mode sees one player go unarmed as he tries to escape his opponent, while waiting to receive his turn with the weapon. The third, and unfortunately least appealing, gametype, Diamond, is like Duel, but with the added objective of collecting on screen diamonds.

Regardless of the mode, you’ll be able to play it smoothly thanks to simple controls that most including running, jumping, and attacking. The only other button is a gravity switch that makes sense when you consider the different perspectives that each player will view their character at when sharing a tablet. The gravity switch allows you to swap your perspective to match your opponent as needed in order to strike them.

While on the subject of the game’s perspective, it must be noted that the game’s biggest weakness is its accessibility. While finding two people, one of which has a compatible tablet and a copy of the game, is not an impossible proposition, it will prevent you from accessing the game as often as you may like, and will straight up deny those without tablet access.

However, it’s a positive sign when a game’s greatest weakness is the inability to play it, but that is the case with “Gentlemen!” So long as you can play it, you get to enjoy a frantic and engaging multiplayer experience that never fails to lead to vicarious hoots of victory, shameful admissions of defeat, and fun for all. It’s rare that any game manages to capture everything that made the competitive arcade gaming scene so great without resorting to providing a port of a title from that time, but with poise and pride worthy of its cartoonish leads, “Gentlemen!” does just that.

There’s a selfish part of me that wants “Gentlemen!” to remain under the radar, so that the lucky few that stumble across it can feel as if they are in their own secret league of gentlemen (and an extraordinary one at that). However, in an effort to be more like the men of honor that in so many tales competed in the duels that inspired this game, I present you “Gentlemen!,” my app of the week.

  

App of the Week: TuneIn

Developer: TuneIn Inc.

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

Requires: iOS 5.0 and up, Android 2.1 and up

Price: Free

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

It may sound like an obvious statement, but I never really appreciated the things you can become homesick for until I was away from home for an extended period of time.

Sure I know you’re bound to grow nostalgic for family, friends, certain locations, certain food, and the rest, but there are a host of little things you never even fully realize you enjoy until they are unavailable.

One in particular is the local sports radio guys. As an Astros fan (I know, I know, believe me I know) I became accustomed to hearing our local broadcast team much more than I ever realized. The chances I get to watch or hear a game now are even more brutal than usual because I don’t have the local flavor there to spice the proceedings up.

It’s for people in similar situations that TuneIn Radio was created for, as it provides access to over 70,000 radio stations nationwide for the incredibly reasonable price of free. The app is as simple to use as the TuneIn website it is based off of, as you can save your favorite radio stations from anywhere and listen to them live whenever you want.

While the most obvious use of a service like TuneIn may be to reacquaint yourself with your favorite radio stations no matter where you are, the real value in TuneIn is its use as a discovery app. That’s due entirely to the fact that the amount of stations available can only be described as staggering, and the content they provide is greater than that. Trying to wrap your head around all that is available is daunting, but fortunately the built in search features allow you to break down every available station so you can find whatever you’re in the mood for, while still being adventurous in locating new sources for it.

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Sure it’s easy to be spoiled by the ability that services like Spotify provide to listen to exactly whatever you want, but there is something to be said about the random, almost chaotic, selections of radio where you sit back and let fate (or more accurately, DJ’s) determine what you are listening to, with only the guidance of the general mood you’re in to lead the way. It’s much more difficult to fall into patterns based where you listen to certain music to death that way, and just feels more lively.

Not to mention it isn’t burdened by all of the same licensing issues, which means that if you need them, you can always find “The Beatles” or “Led Zeppelin” on somewhere.

Of course, there’s a lot more to the radio than just music, and TuneIn provides it all. Talk, news, and, best of all, sports broadcasts are all available (and naturally still nationwide), but you also get podcasts as well, essentially meaning there isn’t a single piece of entertainment covered nationwide that TuneIn can’t cater to at your whim.

I’m a firm believer in quality over quantity usually but, while TuneIn functions admirably, the truth its real appeal comes through sheer content. Loads and loads of content available to you almost anywhere from almost everywhere, for no cost at all. It becomes far too easy to become stuck to whatever we load onto our smartphones or tablets as our go to sources of entertainment, and TuneIn provides an alternative to that by giving you all of that same entertainment, but in a way that feels more free and unbinding.

Every mobile user should have an app like that which reminds them of the joy of radio, and of those apps, TuneIn may just be the best. So whether you need something fresher to listen to at work, or miss the local announcer of your favorite abysmal sports team, grab TuneIn, my app of the week.

  

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