App of the Week: 868-HACK

Developer: Michael Brough

Compatible with: iPhone,  iPod Touch, iPad

Requires: iOS 5.0

Price: $5.99

Available: here

“868-Hack” is not a game for everyone. Admittedly that’s an unusual way to start off this column, but in a game as bizarre and challenging as “868-Hack,” it also happens to be the one definitive truth.

A rouge-like game (meaning an RPG with permanent death and randomized levels) the basic concept of “868-Hack” is not immediately easy to understand, but essentially it sees you navigate a smiley face avatar of your hacker through a 6×6 computer grid. Along the way you hack grids for currency and data to gain new abilities and increase your score and move on to more and more challenging grids. Impeding your progress are computer virus enemies that are often triggered en mass by hacking the most valuable grids, and have to be dealt with by swiping attacks at them when they are lined up with you. Just be sure to stay on top of them, as three hits and the game is done.

In a way the design is reminiscent of free game staple “Minesweeper” in that you must constantly plan for and around the most dangerous areas, and think several moves ahead (as well as take leaps of faith) to even stand a chance of progressing.  This is made all the more challenging by a turn based system that forces you to not only account for your moves well in advance, but those of your enemies as well, as you must constantly juggle between attacking and evasion, along with snagging valuable resources.

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Inevitably there will be a point where you cannot make the right decision that keeps you alive and, since this is a rogue-like, that means you start all over and lose your progress. Games of this nature are supposed to be difficult, but considering how quickly things can go bad here even if you’re playing the game right, this has to be one of the more challenging experiences available in gaming. That, along with the fact that such a merciless experience is rarely available on the mobile platform, leads to the whole “not for everyone” catch.

But damn, is this a great game. It challenges you at every step to be better than you were before, and if you’re the type of person who welcomes an intellectual test, and laughs at the idea of inevitable death, you’ll find an experience that may constantly beat you down, but shows you successes sweeter than any other to keep you as hooked as you’ll ever be to a game of any type on any platform.

It’s that element that justifies the higher than usual asking price for “868-Hack” and turns it into a game that is not only atop the list of mobile games of the year, but actually puts it somewhere in the conversation of best games of the year on any system. No it isn’t for everyone, but sometimes you have to stand back and look at something as a whole and appreciate it just for its brilliant design. Do that, and you’ll be left looking at an unforgiving and intelligent app of the week.

  

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App of the Week: ReRave

Developer: Step Evolution

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

Requires: iOS 5.1

Price: $0.99

Available: here

While there are quite a few gaming franchises I want to come back (“Crimson Skies”!!!!!!), I think the one that I may be most personally nostalgic for is “Elite Beat Agents.”

Released around the height of music gaming’s popularity, “Elite Beat Agents” may have been based around a bizarre story (save the world with the power of dance, basically), but the gameplay couldn’t have been more simple, as you tapped various buttons in time with the beat of a song, en route to victory. Impossibly addictive and incredibly unique, this game wore down my stylus to a nub and stands amongst the crowded DS library as a true highlight.

The fact that talks of a sequel remain only rumors used to sadden me, but those feelings have been recently alleviated somewhat by the discovery that there is a spiritual successor to that experience by the name of “ReRave.”

Though it bears no official similarities to “EBA,” “ReRave” sports a similar concept that sees you tap circles in correct sequence to the beat of the songs. The difference is, that whereas “EBA” required a shrinking outer circle to reach the borders of your button before you could tap it, “ReRave” sees you manipulating circles that bear resemblance to the power button of many devices, and tapping them only when the line on the bottom reaches the 12 o’ clock position,until the song is done. While most are vanquished with a  simple touch, some require you to hold them until they finish a bath, some require multiple taps at 1/8th beat intervals, and the dreaded double circles appear that must be completed simultaneously.

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Like any good rhythm game, this is a system that allows for an “easy to learn, tough to master,” philosophy, and quickly pulls you into the overall experience. A big part of this has to go to the music which may not make my playlist in everyday life (it’s a lot of club like music), but works absolutely perfectly in a gaming environment such as this, as their unique beats and paces result in creative playgrounds of rhythm based tapping that will have your fingers dancing across the screen with maniacal precision. Thankfully multiple difficulty levels allow you to adjust as needed if things get too intense, or not near intense enough.

Now while it’s nice that the game features leaderboards, downloadable songs (both free and paid), and a ton of achievements, in truth if the game came with nothing but a few tracks and just the gameplay screen, I’d still be hopelessly addicted to it. This style of gameplay for a music game was flawless in “EBA,” and it maintains that untainted luster here as “ReRave” is one of the most engrossing games available in the music gaming genre, and in all of mobile gaming.

Normally I’d look down on a game for borrowing so liberally from another title, but it’s about time someone brought back this style of gameplay to mobile gaming, and the team behind “ReRave” have done so with near flawless execution. When you really think about it, gaming has long been pressing a series of buttons in proper order, so it really says something that the concept has almost never been as hopelessly addictive as it has in “ReRave,” a can’t miss app of the week.

  

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.

  

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: Commercial Break

Developer: Aristarchos LTD.

Compatible with: iPhone 3GS and up, iPod Touch 4th gen and up, iPad

Requires: iOS 5.0

Price: Free

Available: here 

As much as I love football, the one argument that is kind of hard to defend my beloved game against is that there are too many commercials.

As a football fan you train yourself to almost block them out, or even accept them in your life, but all it takes is one really crappy commercial, or an oddly timed commercial break, or worse the observation of a casual observer to realize that you actually spend most of your time watching a football game, watching commercials.

It’s a problem that most severely affects football games, but it serves as the burden of all television as well. Unfortunately with channel flipping being such a dangerous proposition, and devices like the hopper only letting you skip commercials on recorded programs, it’s also one that has become an inescapable reality of watching live TV.

The makers of Commercial Break don’t see it that way though, and through their app actually allow you to use your iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad (with Android compatibility coming soon) as a heads up to when your favorite channel is done with commercials.

While the exact answer to how this works on a technical level is a complicated conundrum that has something to do with analysis and algorithms, how it works on a user end actually couldn’t be simpler. Just choose the channel you are currently watching from the apps list, and hit start. From there, you receive a notice whenever your program is back on, meaning you are free to go walkabout, switch channels, or even turn off the TV without missing your program, or having to suffer another poorly scripted shill.

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It’s a great idea that is made even better by the fact it actually does work extremely well. However, even though the functionality is what you’d want it to be, there are some limitations to consider before downloading. For instance, so far the only channels supported are ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, ESPN, ESPN2, USA, TBS, and TNT, and even then you only get all of those channels if you live in NYC, with coverage varying beyond there, and being completely nonexistent outside of the US.

That may sound like a pretty big catch, but the developers are aware of the need to expand both coverage and available channels, and are looking to do so should the apps early build prove successful.

For now though what you are downloading is an investment in the future. One free from corporate brainwashing and terrible jokes spawned by deadlines and budgets constraints, and one instead full of trips to get more beer or use the bathroom that are free from the fear of missing your show, or having to wait for the recording. No longer will you sit down on Sundays to watch commercials with football in between, but rather will be able to sit down and just watch football.

If you read that last paragraph and saw an American flag waving behind you, then you can probably see the potential of Commercial Break, and why it is my app of the week.

  

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