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.

All of this feedback – constantly monitoring, recording and influencing your life as an athlete – is painfully rooted in the very one-dimensional world of physicality.

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Lap times, rep counts, weight targets – all incredibly important, yet lacking in presenting you with an evaluation of your psychological state, which is a chronically overlooked area of sport and fitness in general.

Okay, so you weren’t able to complete your intensely desired one rep max for bench press. You got crushed at last weekend’s tournament. Cue demoralization and self-doubt.

On paper, you were flawless, tirelessly adding weight at the precise increments and never failing to complete every piece of last month’s practices. So what gives? Where do you look for reflection and answers when your routines are completed loyally?

AthleteMinder, the new mental training app from sport psychologist Dr. Mara Smith, might just have the right blend of fresh insight to shed light on otherwise neglected aspects of progression and deliver some healthy improvement.

No stranger to the game, Smith has flexed her 20 years of experience and education through many outlets, including consultation with numerous sporting entities: USA Hockey, USA Gymnastics, US Figure Skating, USA Bobsled and USA Luge.

So what’s up with the app?

AthleteMinder is her latest project, and the app itself is interesting and easy to use. A few workouts in and I found myself pleasantly looking forward to using it, plus milling over some of the useful information on how I was stacking up mentally from day to day.

Personally, I love fitness apps, use STRAVA religiously and looked forward to trying out something that didn’t display the stereotypical variables that make up most of the more popular options. AthleteMinder differs in the fact that it is very personal. No clogged leaderboards or sharing options — just you, your reflection and trends of this over time.

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Actually, using the app couldn’t be any simpler: Just choose from one of three options on what kind of day you had – rest, practice or competition – and then answer five key questions about the session that relates to the mindset surrounding it. These questions were researched and chosen by Smith after surveying athletes from several sports and ability levels on what is most applicable to gauging performance.

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The answers are then recorded, analyzed and presented in a summary graph, which gets plotted on a calendar and spiced up with tips on how to enhance progress. After a few entries, you can see trends starting to carve out, allowing for some really cool insights to be formed.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Smith about AthleteMinder, and her passion for the app was contagious. She has a genuine interest in bettering the mental health of those involved in fitness and a desire to keep developing the app to better meet the needs of users.

“Often times with athletes, when there’s a problem, all they want to do is a train harder, and part of the motivation for this was me saying sometimes more is just more; more isn’t always better, and what a lot of athletes need is a way to think about what they are doing and how they want to try and move forward.”

Not everyone has the chance to work with a sport psychologist or mental strength specialist, but $1.99 sure as hell isn’t hard to come by. If you’re looking to gain an edge on your game, do yourself a favor and check out AthleteMinder.

  

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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.

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“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.

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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.

  

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.

  

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