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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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.

  

App of the Week: Tiny Token Empires

Developer: HeroCraft Ltd.

Compatible with: Android Devices

Requires: Android 2.3 and Up

Price: $2.99

Available: here

I set out to find a productive app this week. Truly I did.

Though there were a couple of worthy candidates (the lively note taking app mem:0 and the resume creating app resume designer both warrant a look), one app peaked my interest more than any other this week, and kept me from being productive entirely.

In the spirit of trying to bring the best of the best in apps then, I’ve got to tell you about “Tiny Token Empires”.

If you’ve ever played “Puzzle Quest” or its sequel, you’ve already got an idea of what to expect from “Empires.” The difference is that while “Puzzle Quest” was an RPG that used matching puzzles in place of traditional combat, “Empires” is a world conquest sim with a similar puzzle battle formula.

You’d expect the world sim aspect to be the focus of this game then to separate itself, but you’d be wrong. That part is essentially an extremely watered down version of the “Civilization” games, as you build your resources and expand your empire by conquering the towns of nearby nations. While elements of that series like unit types, special characters and troop movements are present in “Empires,” all political aspects, or anything unrelated to military movements are not.

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It’s a simplified style that only works as well as it does by playing second to what is an excellent puzzle system. Whenever combat is initiated, whether it be with rival armies or mythical creatures, a puzzle board is shown with all units involved displayed on both sides. To attack, you have to combine three of the same puzzle tiles (think “Bejeweled”) that match the color of one of your units. Defeat all enemy units, and victory is yours.

The combat element adds an incredibly welcome depth to the otherwise standard system, as you’ll have to always consider the colors you need, as well as your opponent to attempt to counter their best attacks. Similarly, getting the right combo chain can turn the tide of the battle entirely, as the right one can win you a battle instantly, or lose you everything. It brings an element of urgency to an otherwise casual game, and ironically leads to more strategy than the strategy element.

Like so many other noteworthy gaming apps, where “Empires” stands out is its style. Don’t be turned off by the cartoon looks, as they’re just used to enhance the game’s tongue-in-cheek approach to history. It’s not the type of humor that’ll have you laughing out loud, but it makes the game feel lively and spirited helping to combat the redundancy even the best of mobile games can fall victim too.

“Empires” is just the perfect example of a mobile gaming experience. At its heart it’s a pick up and play anytime puzzle game that everyone should have one of on their device, but the combat and five unique strategy campaigns, along with the well implemented art style, give it the kind longevity and depth not usually present in puzzle games. It all leads to a game that’s hard to put down, and impossible to forget.

“Tiny Token Empires” didn’t exactly invent its core concept, but it does execute it in a way that stands out from anything of its kind, and provides your next mobile game addiction without apology. So join me and put productivity off until next week (maybe) by trying “Tiny Token Empires,” my app of the week.

  

App of the Week: Spaceteam

Developer: Henry Smith

Compatible with: iPod Touch, iPad, iPhone (optimized for iPhone 5)

Requires: iOS 5.0

Price: Free

Available: here

I have a terrible confession to make.

When it comes to picking apps, I’m not infallible. While always striving to find the best of the best in the world of apps, occasionally something comes along that doesn’t cross my radar until too late, and becomes so popular I see no reason to go back and cover it (*cough*Ridiculous Fishing*cough*).

In the case of “Spaceteam” though, there’s actually a fair chance you haven’t heard of this app, even though it’s attracted a devout following since its recent release. Even if you have though, surely after playing it you’ll begrudge me the chance to talk about its brilliance, even if it is a little late.

“Spaceteam’s” core concept is pure simplicity, as it places you and 2-3 friends (Note: game does not come with friends) in control of a spaceship escaping an exploding star, and tasks you all with surviving by hitting a series of buttons and switches all named after techno-babble (Copernicus Crane, for instance) at the right time.

Sounds okay but nothing special right? Well, from there a couple of twists are thrown in that make the game interesting.

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You see, each of your friends has a different control panel filled with unique buttons. When the instructions come in for which ones to press, they don’t always come in to the person who has that button. This is why the game has to be played by people in the same room, as the only way to win is to shout out the instructions you receive and hope the person with the right button on their screen can get to it in time.

While an efficient team can hold out for a while, considering how much the difficulty ramps up, and that your random boards change in each section preventing many shortcuts, you will inevitably lose. In the meantime, you spend most of the game shouting at your friends in not just techno babble, but in encouragements and curses, as you all try to manage your own board, while maintaining even the most basic intelligible form of communication with one another, before devolving to violent grunts.

A game where you spend 90% of the time yelling at each other and losing may not sound like much fun, but it is. At some point you either form an efficient and serious team to progress, or just start laughing at how bad things are going. Either way, it’s incredibly fun to share a room with people all united over a single experience that brings back memories of “Goldeneye” parties, “Halo” LAN fests, or even “Pictionary.” This is a party game in the true sense of the phrase, and has few equals on the mobile scene both in terms of its idea, and certainly its execution.

But really you don’t have to take my word for it. Get a few people and try “Spaceteam” yourself and its greatness will become apparent mere minutes in. It’s not often a game so instantly accessible manages to be worth months of play time, and promotes local gaming with friends, which is why late or not, “Spaceteam” is my app of the week.

  

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