App of the Week: Stealth Assassin

Developer: Erman Haskan

Compatible with: iPhone 3GS and up (optimized for iPhone 5), iPod touch 3rd gen and up, and iPad

Requires: iOS 4.3 or later

Price: $0.99

Available here

While I always try to find the newest possible apps to bring to this column, occasionally an app can be missed for a few weeks. Sometimes it can be a mystery how this happens, but in the case of “Stealth Assassin,” it seems oddly appropriate that it would exist unnoticed.

In “Stealth Assassin” you take the role of the titular stealth assassin, and navigate 100+ maze like levels in order to take out your wandering green man target and escape within a time limit. There to stop you are a squad of roaming blue guards, with flashlight aided cones of vision, who patrol around the target, and swarm upon and shoot you if you cross their path. To help turn the tides are your abilities of super speed and invisibility, which drain your re-filling power bar.

If “Stealth Assassin” sounds, and looks, simple in its graphics, concept, gameplay, and plot, that’s because it’s based on a flash game series known as “Ultimate Assassin,” and flash games aren’t typically known for triumphs in any of those things. What they are known for are oddly addictive experiences based on somewhat quirky concepts, accomplished in a way so that they serve equal doses of fun to those playing for a few minutes, or those who find themselves oddly hooked hours later.

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“Stealth Assassin” retains that same experience in its transition to mobile. It’s got a little resemblance to stealth classics like “Metal Gear,” but oddly it reminds me more of a demented cross between “Pac-Man,” “Bomberman,” and “Hotline Miami.” At first navigating your way to the target and escaping is a simple, but satisfying, proposition, but the difficulty wastes no time in ramping up, and soon you’ll find every wit and reflex you have available working to complete the later stages. Doing so provides that perfect ratio of effort to satisfaction, that is only enhanced replay wise by the addition of achievements on each stage that tempt you to better your  best.

If there is a knock against “Stealth Assassin,” it’s  that the controls are touchy and take some serious mastering so they don’t interrupt your enjoyment. However, when you consider that this is a value title based around a very simple idea, there’s not much more you can knock “Stealth Assassin” for, as it gets the most out of its premise, and delivers a game that is worth considerably more than its asking price in terms of how often you’ll find yourself going to it when you have the free moment to do so.

Summing up “Stealth Assassin” is like describing the perfect real assassin. It exhibits no flash, and instead is quickly in and quickly out, leaving nothing but a job well done in its wake. For exhibiting the benefits of the professional execution of simplicity, “Stealth Assassin” is my app of the week.

  

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App of the Week: Status Board

Developer: Panic Inc.

Compatible with: iPad

Requires: iOS 5.0 or later

Price: $9.99

Available here

I think that if someone from, say, 60 years in the past got the chance to visit the world of today, the most shocking thing might not be the technology available, but how we use it.

Think about the power of your iPad for instance. Its impressive abilities as a computer are only bested by its incredible mobility, creating a device that has the potential to access near infinite amounts of knowledge and complete an incalculable amount of tasks at any point in the world. Yet most people probably use it to watch Youtube, play “Fruit Ninja,” and check on the latest mock draft.

If that’s you, and you’ve been thinking of using your iPad for something more productive, consider the new Status Board app.

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Status Board takes all of the data you commonly use, and organizes it all nicely onto a single screen format, until your iPad resembles one of those little data pads they used to carry around on “Star Trek.” The default data feeds include things like your e-mail, twitter, the weather, constantly updating headlines from your favorite sites, and more, but that is just the surface of what Status Board offers. The real value of this app comes from its deep customization options.

While this of course includes features like the ability to re-size and re-arrange every information panel, Status Board goes deeper with functions like the ability to upload almost any data type (allowing for custom charts and graphs), as well use the  built-in HTML programming feature to create nearly any type of panel you can think of. Already, people are coming up with some amazing custom uses for the device.

Status Board isn’t an app for everyone, and I honestly don’t know if I’d have a use for it myself. But for small business owners, website gurus, the hyper-productive, or really anyone in an office environment, it is invaluable. All of the information you could ever want is readily available to be viewed with a glance, or interacted with via a touch. It turns you iPad from potential workplace distraction, to ready source of constant knowledge for yourself and, if you choose to purchase the optional TV hookup feature, everyone else around you.

The current form of this app may not maximize its potential, but even “out of the box,” it instantly maximizes the professional potential of your iPad. A quick scan of the apps description should tell you right away if you have use for it or not, and even if that answer is no, you still have to respect the technical prowess it wields. It’s the kind of app Apple probably had in mind when building the app store, and with the right amount of developer and user support, could prove to be a valuable tool in every major office worldwide.

And yes, it will probably garner the approval of your theoretical time traveling ancestors. That alone secures it my app of the week.

  

App of the Week: Slayin

Developer: Pixel Licker Games

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

Requires: iOS 4.3 or later

Price: $0.99

Available here

“Slayin” is an app that wears its retro gaming heart on its sleeve. You don’t have to look hard to spot its influences from games like “Castlevania,” “Ghosts and Goblins,” “Metal Slug,” “Mega Man,” and more, yet “Slayin” is also unique. It touts its gameplay as the first endless action RPG, in that you are constantly moving, constantly battling, and constantly trying to level up and improve yourself through statistical upgrades and better equipment.

Mix those notions of nostalgic ideology and brand new mobile gameplay together, and it’s like tasting peanut butter and chocolate together for the first time. Yes, “Slayin” is basically the Reeses of the app world, yet infinitely more filling.

“Slayin” tasks you with choosing between three character classes (the strong knight, the ability loaded wizard, and the dual sword wielding knave) and embarking on a timeless quest to slay a dragon, and all other minions and bosses along the way. While all the classes have their own unique abilities and progression systems, they are all bound to the very simple play style which has you constantly moving in a small area, and shifting your direction left and right as you work to destroy everything in your path.

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It may be simple, but it works so, so well. “Slayin” refers to itself as the first of its kind, and its uniquely relentless and dangerously addictive style certainly feels the part. Once you quickly adapt to the flow of “Slayin,” you’ll find yourself in that great zen like state a game can provide, where your actions seem to occur a fraction of a second before you even think them. You’ll need those extra quick reactions, as “Slayin” borrows its difficulty from many of those titles that influenced it, though I’m happy to report that the challenge is one based of skill over trial and error for the most part.

While more of an action game than an RPG, those role playing elements still shine in “Slayin,” especially when it comes to its upgrade system. As mentioned, each character type has their own upgrades and equipment available, which the game cleverly lets you purchase without much break in the action courtesy of an appearing shop keeper. Thankfully, the vast majority of your purchases are made with in-game currency, and the additional in-app purchases available are mostly novelty items that in no way are necessary for your completion, or enjoyment, of the game.

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Where “Slayin” really hits it out of the park, though, is in that retro style. Apply this concept to any other form, and it just wouldn’t have worked as well as it does here in a hybrid world of 8 and 16 bit video game design. There isn’t a visual or audio element that doesn’t harken back to that time, and yet “Slayin” also adds just enough of its own style to those elements to feel fresh. This is particularly evident in the music (done by one of the same guys who did “Retro City Rampage”) where a few notes will remind you of certain classic games, yet the score itself is more of a unique entrant into the field than a mere tribute.

There are games out there without a fraction of the addictive nature and charm of “Slayin” that are still great. “Slayin” is a title that focuses on the advantages of the mobile platform, and uses every single one of them to craft an experience that is a feast for the eyes, ears, mind, and hands. It’s a twitch based actioner with equal measures of looks and heart, as well as a surprising amount of depth.

If you ever want to see and experience the design pinnacle of a three button game, then you need “Slayin.” As I type this, I just want to jump back into it’s one more play world that inevitably stretches on for hours, so let me wrap this up quickly by crowning “Slayin” the unquestioned app of the week.

  

App of the Week: Lie Swatter

Developer: Jellyvision Games

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

Requires: iOS 4.3 or later

Price: Free

Available Here

 

It’s hard to find good humor in games, but one title that always got it right was the “You Don’t Know Jack” series, which gained popularity in the 90s for its chaotic, bizzare, irreverent, yet extremely intelligent form of trivia.

Sporting some off the wall categories like “Elephant, Mustard, Teddy Roosevelt, or Dracula?,” and college grad level questions (“Suppose Jackson Pollock had become a sandwich artist at Subway. What would his supervisor have noted about his performance?”), there has never been a game with same sense of humor or style that “You Don’t Know Jack” has, which is why it was great to see it make a fairly recent comeback on systems, mobile platforms, and even Facebook.

If you’ve already tried that series and just can’t get enough, then you’ll be happy to know the creators of “You Don’t Know Jack” have a new game out that takes everything great about the YDKJ series, and applies it to a new, yet familiar concept.

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Called “Lie Swatter,” it tasks you with choosing a category and an opponent (who can be selected amongst your friends or at random), then looking over  a series of flies and bugs, each with a statement on them. To win, you have to swat the ones with statements that are lies.

Sound simple? Well then you truly don’t know jack, as the catch here again is that these categories and statements are all incredibly obscure and absurd. Often, every single statement will read like a bold faced lie, due to how outright bizarre they are. Choosing the right one often comes down to luck and deductive reasoning as much as direct knowledge of the subject.

It can be tough then trying to push ahead, but its helpful that the humor and the styled presentation of “YDKJ” are back in full force, as you’ll not only laugh your ass off reading and sorting out the statements, but learn something about each topic along the way. While not as diverse in its questions, themes, round types, or general gameplay as “You Don’t Know Jack,” it does provide a condensed experience of the best that series offers, with only a few app related hiccups (go for the ad-free and unlimited play $1.99 option to save yourself most of the trouble).

Trivia apps are a dime a dozen, or often cheaper, on mobile platforms, but “Lie Swatter” gets those crucial lightning round bonus points in the competition by being deceivingly simple, incredibly addictive, and most importantly drop dead hilarious. In a game all about separating lies from truth, there can be no doubt “Lie Swatter” is the app of the week.

  

App of the Week – Ravensword: Shadowlands

Developer: Crescent Moon Games

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

Requires: iOS 5.0 or later, Android 4.0 and up

Price: $7.00

Available: Here for iOS, and Here for Android

 

You can hit a dinosaur in the face with a sword.

I know that any good porn director will tell you that you shouldn’t start a feature off with the money shot, but I just couldn’t find a way to ease that statement in.

In “Ravensword: Shadowlands,” (freshly available for Android) you have the ability, nay the privilege, to hit a dinosaur square in the face with a weapon of your choosing (mine being the sword).

Oh, and the game itself is an open world RPG that heavily resembles the famed “Elder Scrolls” series in several important and thankful ways. That open world also happens to be beautifully rendered with some of the best technical graphics a mobile system can offer, which are used to accentuate some particularly inspired visual artistic design, all leading to a thematically strong and diverse world that loads every inch with pure content.

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“Ravensword: Shadowlands,” definitely cribs heavily from the book of fantasy RPG design, as you’ll level up, complete quests, take on an incredible variety of enemies with multiple weapons, and even dabble in some magical combat enhancements from time to time. There is no getting around the fact you’ve been down this dirt road before, and ventured these same adventures.

It’s very likely, though, you’ve never experienced an RPG of this quality on a mobile system, and that is the difference. Whereas “Shadowlands” would just feel like an “Elder Scrolls” knockoff on a console, albeit an exceptionally well made one, on a mobile device, it is a constant wonder. Games of this high production value and depth usually don’t happen on a mobile platform, and even if they do, they rarely play so well, or come off as polished and executed, as “Shadowlands” does.

Thus every towering structure, open vista, inspired quest, and intense battle with an impossible creature is just that much greater, because by all rights something of this high quality shouldn’t exist in this format.

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All of that quality does come at a couple of costs. The first is a heavy amount of glitches and bugs throughout (though the developers are working on ironing these out), while the other is the cost of the app itself. $7 is no doubt more than you spend on the usual app, but considering the horror show that is the world of in-app purchases, paying one flat rate to unlock an entire (and gargantuan) game is actually not a huge burden when you consider this isn’t “Doodle Jump,” but an actual video game, for which $7 would normally be considered a steal.

“Shadowlands” is one of the best games I’ve played this year, on a mobile device or otherwise. What it lacks in originality, it makes up for in every single other aspect possible. This isn’t a mobile game you’ll play until something new comes along, or while bored and about, but something you’ll find yourself going back to no matter where you are or what the circumstances.

Of course when you put all of that aside, you can still hit dinosaurs in the face with a sword. Epic mobile experience or not, that’s going to net you my app of the week.

  

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