App of the Week – Sid Meier’s Ace Patrol: Pacific Skies


Developer: Fireaxis Games

Compatible with: iPhone, iPad 2 , iPod Touch

Requires: iOS 6.0

Price: $4.99

Available: here

There’s just something about strategy games on touch screen platforms that’s so satisfying. Controlling armies or deciding the fate of civilizations in this genre is always a good time to be sure, but when you add the touch element it makes you feel the role of commander or leader like no other game on any other format possibly can.

It’s an advantage that can lend a critical entertainment boost to even the most mediocre of mobile strategy games, which unfortunately many strategy app developers seem to be increasingly aware of. As much as I love the average mobile strategy game, there does seem to be a complacency sinking into the genre that makes every new encounter with one of these games increasingly less and less thrilling.

Into that scenario enters the legendary Sid Meier (the man behind the “Civilization” series) and Fireaxis Games who’ve not only developed many of those “Civilization” titles, but the recent strategy phenomenon known as “XCOM: Enemy Unknown.” With them, comes “Sid Meier’s Ace Patrol: Pacific Skies,” the follow up to the successful “Sid Meier’s Ace Patrol.”

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Moving the game’s venue from WWI to WWII, “Pacific Skies” gives you the option of choosing either the American Navy and Army, or the Japanese Navy and Army to command. In either case, the actual gameplay works largely the same, as you try to wipe the enemy off the map, while leveling up your soldiers and avoiding enemy encampment trap areas. Breaking down every in and out of the gameplay would be a lengthy exercise in tedium, but basically as far as general objective goes, little more is asked than to successfully command your troops in combat using a pretty versatile, largely grid based troop movement system

What’s more important than what’s in the game, though, are the various things that aren’t. By removing many resource gathering and base building elements from the average strategy game and focusing solely on the command of troops and vehicles, Fireaxis has stumbled upon the perfect formula for a mobile strategy game. Whereas removing those traditional elements could have made the game feel overly simplified, here there is so much creativity put into the ins and outs of the combat system, and so much work put into making the enemy A.I. a genuine challenge, that all the strategy you could ever want comes through the action and the action alone. It’s incredibly rewarding to play a strategy game that cuts right to the action, but doesn’t feel watered down in the slightest by doing so.

Rewarding is overall the best way to describe “Pacific Skies.” There are no easily won battles here, yet the game so expertly manages all of the elements that go into a combat scenario that you never once feel burdened or overwhelmed by what’s happening. Instead you are given just the right level of challenge to compel you to keep going at all times. You can’t understate how importance that balance of difficulty v.s. reward is in these types of games, nor can you understate the level of satisfaction that comes from experiencing a game that gets it right like “Pacific Skies” does.

“Pacific Skies” may be most easy to recommend to strategy fans and those that have lost weekends absorbed in the History channel, but honestly everyone who enjoys mobile gaming should have at least one strategy game on their device, and considering the absolutely perfect balance of brain teasing and instant gratification “Pacific Skies” off, it’s the one to get even if you usually shy away from these types of games. This is quite honestly one of the most complete app games out there, and the clear app of the week.

  

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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.

  

App of the Week: Launch Center Pro

Developer: Contrast

Compatible with: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch

Requires: iOS 7.0

Price: $4.99

Available: here 

As much as smartphones help us in our daily lives, they are not perfect. While some of their imperfections can be traced back to the person using them (everyone wave, that’s us!), one of the biggest flaws of most models is their navigational structure. Phone manufacturers can do everything on their end to help make getting around the phone as painless as possible, but once you load it up with apps, contacts, and everything else in your world, it gets more and more difficult to smoothly get around to everything you need to do, with most applications requiring you to navigate several screens just to get where you’re going.

Some time ago, a developer named Contrast made an app that solves that issue called “Launch Center Pro.” It’s described as a speed dial for your phone’s various applications as it allows you to quick map various functions to a grid for one press use. For instance, let’s say you want to send a text to your girlfriend. Instead of having to open your contacts, find her, choose to send a text, then send the text, you can map a function to the grid which allows you to automatically start composing a text to her with just the press of a button.

That’s really just a small example of the app’s potential though, as the further you get into “Launch Center,” the more you discover what it is capable of. Essentially it gives you the nearly complete ability to jump instantly to any function you can think of. Always looking for new bars or restaurants in whatever area you’re in through Google Maps? Just make a shortcut that searches bars and restaurants using Google Maps instantly. Tired of having to virtually navigate your Twitter feed or Facebook page to get to once specific section? Just make a shortcut to it and get there instantly.

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It’s often described as the perfect app for “power” phone users, who use their phones like most people use oxygen, but I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate. While the hardcore phone user will certaintly get the most out of everything offered through this app, and explore its various nuances and sub functions to point they will be able to use just this program to have one tap access to nearly everything, even a casual user will no doubt be able to think of a few immediate ways this app can benefit them, with more coming once the considerable abilities of this app enter your mindset and you start factoring it into everything you do.

As mentioned, this app was first released a while ago, but only recently came out with its 2.0 model that was designed for iOS 7 in mind. That means many of the improvements are cosmetic in order to take advantage of the new interface (the ability to use real photos and custom icons for every function is a nice example), but one of the more substantial new features which allows you to set and swap between saved grid templates greatly expands the functionality and potential of “Launch Center Pro” in a way that again may benefit the most adapt of users more, but remains a useful ability to keep stored to the side even if you don’t immediately get the most out of it.

“Launch Center Pro” is an app all about discovery. It’s about not only discovering what the app is capable of once installed, but also discovering what your phone is now capable of when you can trim the interface fat and streamline it’s functions in a way that focuses more on your personal uses for your device, rather than the manufacturer’s idea, or the developers idea. Just about everyone that uses “Launch Center Pro” later comments that it is a staple on their home screen, which is fitting considering that it’s essentially a second home button that accesses your own unique interface.

Many of the apps covered here are highly recommended, or even must have. “Launch Center Pro,” however, is essential. It directly advances user interface in a logical way, and executes its lofty idea with such ease that I wouldn’t be surprised to see Apple (and other manufacturers) incorporate something similar very soon now that the template for how a program like this should work, has been quite simply honed to perfection. To use “Launch Center Pro” is to never go back to any other way to use your phone, which is a surefire indication of it being app of  the week.

  

App of the Week: Boson X

Developer: Ian MacLarty

Compatible with: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch,

Requires: iOS 4.3

Price: $1.99

Available: here

Puzzle games and endless runners.

Despite the numerous advancements in mobile gaming technology (this week’s slightly pricey, slightly buggy “Shadowrun Returns” is a great example of all of them), it always seems to come back to endless runners and puzzle games when defining the mobile gaming scene. We’ve all downloaded one or several of them and, much like zombie games, you can swear up and down that the last one is the last one you’ll ever play, yet be back again to find yourself oddly addicted to another entrant in two genres that have become insanely refined.

“Boson X” is an interesting case of this phenomenon, as it does combine a lot of elements of both puzzle games and endless runners, yet doesn’t feel quite at home in either genre, considering its fast pace style and the fact its running is not necessarily endless, among other things. In it, you are tasked with navigating the constantly shifting platforms of a continuously building structure that somewhat resembles a cylinder consisting of varying sides, but is filled with so many gaps and other twists to navigate that it’s hard to define its exact shape. Only by spending enough time running on special blue blinking areas can you fill up a meter that allows you to proceed to the next level upon your next death.

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The game’s most popular comparison is to the mobile sensation “Super Hexagon,” and the comparison is an apt one in several respects outside of whole navigate your way out of a rotating geometric structure bit. For one thing, much like its infamous spiritual predecessor, “Boson X” is really, really hard. Like any good puzzle game, however, you won’t get a feel for how difficult it is until you get past the initial getting to know you phase, and see how it uses its easy to grasp concepts in an increasingly challenging series of ways. Also like “Super Hexagon,” it knows how to use this challenge not as a deterrent, but as an irresistible draw.

“Boson X” differentiates itself in important ways from “Hexagon” though, with the biggest difference being the move to 3D. Not only does this make the game much more visually appealing (visuals which are enhanced and complimented by a truly great soundtrack), but adds to the gameplay as well, as you’re goal of jumping from platform to platform while rotating the game world makes you question things like time, space, and distance when trying to survive more than you usually do you in these types of games. “Boson X” knows this, and adds unique tricks to its levels that prey on those additional perceptions, and challenges them. For instance, one level may make platforms move and shift on their own momentum, while another may present escapes not apparent until the absolute last second. The way the games uses this visual freedom makes for a much more compelling experience than the one way solution found in “Hexagon” and other similar titles.

If you’re desperate to classify “Boson X” an argument could be made for it being a runner or a puzzle game (or you could just settle by calling it a puzzle runner), but it feels cheap to classify a game that toys with your expectations from the outset, and only continues to do so by providing you a dynamic experience that challenges your every skill and provides that elusive sense of genuine satisfaction for having bested it. Taking all the game offers into account, the once label it is easy to slap on “Boson X” is app of the week.

  

App of the Week: Infinity Blade 3

Developer: Chair Entertainment Group

Compatible with: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch,

Requires: iOS 7.0

Price: $6.99

Available: here

You really can’t understate the influence the “Infinity Blade” series has had on mobile gaming. While the drop dead, drop jaw, just plain unbelievable graphics have long been the most obvious selling point, they only represent one of many things that “Infinity Blade” showed could be done on a mobile device that simply wasn’t believed possible before. That includes a style of touch screen play that managed to adapt itself to the simpler control scheme of mobile devices but didn’t sacrifice any fun or functionality in the process.

Essentially, then, “Infinity Blade” showed that modern gaming as we know it was not only feasible on a mobile device, but could lead to an experience every bit as enjoyable and rewarding as larger console and PC releases. It was an exhibition of excellence that was carried on by the superior sequel “Infinity Blade 2,” and continues to thrive with the (allegedly) last, and most recent, installment in the premier mobile franchise, “Infinity Blade 3.”

This is usually the part where I may explain a bit about the story of “Infinity Blade 3” as an intro, but continuing its trend of defying convention, that’s not really possible here. The “Infinity Blade” series has managed to build a quite deep mythology that this game looks to wrap up in a satisfying manner. Unlike say “Mass Effect 3’s” attempt at this same feat, “IB3” actually does manage to tell a story that not only feels like a worthy conclusion to the tale so far, but is an incredibly entertaining tale to play through as well. That means that while fans of the series will gain the most from knowing the full ins and outs of this world and its characters, even those just jumping in will have no trouble enjoying the ride. That also means that going into details regarding the plot will be ruining a tremendous amount of fun to be had for everyone involved.

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Yet even if the story were either a complete bomb, or simply non-existent, the gameplay on its own would be well worth the higher than usual admission price. For the most part, it doesn’t stray far from the previous games, as you engage in a series of trying battles using a clever dodge and combo fighting system that never wears out its welcome, which is fortunate as you’ll once again find yourself starting over again and again thanks to a death system that borrows from rouge games, and sees you trying again and again to make it just a bit further.

There are some new additions however, including an enhanced skill system that is well implemented and adds another level of addiction to the already unforgettable proceedings, and a blacksmith for leveling up and improving your weapons. Two of the bigger new features (potion brewing and gem crafting) are a bit more superfluous, and occasionally cumbersome, but do reward those that invest the time in them, and do nothing to tarnish the overall pristine experience.

“IB3” doesn’t do quite as much to reinvent and improve the series as “IB2”, but it’s no matter considering how well the original system functioned in the first place. It’s more of a follow up than true sequel then, but in that role it allows the series to hit its stride and become something that doesn’t overstretch the boundaries and limits of mobile gaming, and doesn’t water down and shrink a console game, but rather provides a harmonious balance of the best of both worlds.

There are plenty of mobile games that prove that simplistic experiences not reliant on big graphic and bigger budgets can end up being as much fun as any other game out there, but every now and then, you want something that feels like you’re taking your favorite PS3 or Xbox 360 game with you without sacrificing a single aspect, and for those times there is absolutely nothing that can provide the experience like “Infinity Blade 3,” my app of the week.

  

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