App of the Week: Real Racing 3

Developer: Firemonkeys

Compatible with: iPhone 4 and up (optimized for iPhone 5), iPod Touch 4th gen and up, iPad 2 and up, iPad Mini, Android devices

Requires: iOS 4.3 or later, Android 2.2 or later

Price: Free

Available here (for iOS) and here (for Android)

Nobody ever expects a gaming app to match their console counterparts in terms of looks and controls. Instead, mobile game developers have learned to focus on the benefits of the format and not the hindrances in order to craft brilliant titles separate, but equal to console games, and not dependent on graphics and the like.

“Real Racing 3” has a different approach. It says screw all that.

First the obvious. “Real Racing 3” is a beautiful game that truly offers console quality graphics, and doesn’t just use it as a tagline. From the cars to the courses, everything is immaculately designed and loses no wow factor even at high speeds. There’s still noteworthy competitors, but I truly believe this is the best looking gaming app yet. You’ll never stop being impressed with this game’s looks.

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But there’s more than just looks to “Real Racing 3,” as its controls are as pristine as that shiny coat of graphical paint. Acceleration is handled automatically, tilting your phone takes care of turning (and actually works, though a touch option is available), and everything from traction control to braking can be computer assisted (the level of which it helps is adjustable). Overall control is nice and tight, and I never once had to question if a bad manuever was the game’s fault or my own (mostly because I suck).

Furthermore the game’s AI is very, very impressive, and is aided by a new multiplayer concept called Time Shifted Multiplayer, which fills each race with AI versions of your friends and other racers around the world while online, meaning you can essentially still race your friends even offline as they can create ghosts of their laps that imitate their habits. However you choose your opponents though, the competition is fierce and fair.

Put all those features together, and the one limit that mobile gaming supposedly had (that it couldn’t match consoles in certain aspects), seemingly no longer applies, meaning that in all technical regards, “Real Racing 3” is the most notable gaming app in some time.

Otherwise, you’ve got your basic, though well executed, realistic racing game. There is a variety of races and challenges (900 events altogether), a nice selection of 40+ cars, real life racetracks, and in general enough to keep you busy for some time trying to beat and see everything available, and even more time afterwards trying to best your efforts.

The only other notable aspect is the freemium model of the game, as “Real Racing 3” is free, but for a price.

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Like many other gaming apps, in-app purchases are available and highly pushed by the design. See the currency in “Real Racing 3” is handled by both funds and coins. Funds are used for buying parts, cars, and the usual and are earned through career progression, while coins are used for other enhancements and are earned by leveling up. Where the dark side of this design emerges in the repair and maintenance system, as you’ll be constantly repairing and maintaining your car’s basic features such as the engine, tires, and oil and using funds to do it. However, it can take several minutes (or even near an hour for multiple repairs) for the work to be done during which time the car is unusable.

This is where coins come in. For a few coins you can make the repair and tuning process instantaneous. The same applies to buying new cars and the like, as purchasing them still requires a waiting period before they can be used, which coins eliminate. The trouble is coins are hard to come by, and you’ll never have an abundance of them to keep up with the need. Instead you are encouraged to buy coins, or cars and upgrades alltogether, with real money to eliminate the tedium.

It’s not the worst pay model I’ve ever seen, but it’s pretty bad. Every non-racing activity is a grind, and it takes forever to complete or unlock even the basics, much less the high end stuff due to how money and time is used. You can buy more coins through in-app purchases if you’re desperate, but you can never eliminate the waiting feature, and I really wish that wasn’t the case as it is a huge detriment to the game. Patience is a necessity, and not a virtue, to get the most out of “Real Racing 3.”

While I sometimes wish then that the game cost a few dollars to eliminate that nuisance, the fact it is free means you can, and should,  at least try it. Remove the freemium system, you are left with the gold standard of pure racing games for mobile devices, and a benchmark to the capabilities of the medium as a whole, as well as a game that leaves all other competitors at the starting line, and takes home the trophy for app of the week.

  

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App of the Week: Manos – The Hands of Fate

Developer:

FreakZone Games

Compatible with:

Android Devices

Requires:
Android 2.2 and up

Price:

$2.49

Available here

Like many I first saw “Manos Hands of Fate” when it was parodied on the classic TV show, “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” After receiving some of the fiercest lampooning any film ever did on that show, it became widely accepted that “Manos” was indeed the worst film ever made. It was a movie where shots would last for an eternity, the plot was somehow both convoluted and non-existent, and usual film tropes like acting, writing, and directing were seemingly burned at the stake as heralds.

To quote “Mystery Science Theater,” It was a film where every shot “looked like someone’s last known photograph.”

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Naturally then the film became a big cult hit, so much so that it inspired its own gaming app based on the movie to be released for iOS last year. It’s recent debut on Android gives me another chance to tell you why you should play it.

“Manos” the  game is a product of two loves, one of which is obviously the movie, which is squeezed for every creative drop to create scenarios, characters, enemies, and levels (of course since that still doesn’t leave much to work with, it also borrows from other infamously bad movies). The other is a love of NES 8-bit retro side-scroller gaming, which “Manos’s” gameplay revolves entirely around.

Not just any games were borrowed from, though. In the spirit of the source material, “Manos” take many ideas from some of the worst games of that era, and therefore of all time. Enemies are annoyingly difficult and often have no context to being in the game, controls are loose, jumps can be impossible, boss fights require pinpoint pattern recognition, and you often have to start back at the beginning of the game. If you’ve ever seen an “Angry Video Game Nerd” review, you’ll immediately know what’s in store.

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So why does a game based off of a bad movie and equally bad games deserve your money? Because it pays homage to those two things so well. More than just lip service to fans of “Manos” or one particular video game, this app fondly recalls the charm of all bad movies and games with not just specific references, but it’s whole state of being. Besides, the game is never quite as bad as the ones that inspired it, and is often very playable, though extremely challenging.

The easiest people to recommend “Manos” to are obviously the fans of the film (for whatever reason they may be fans), fans of 8-bit gaming, or both. In principle, it’s the tale of a man named Mike trying to get his family out of a desert hell hole run by the mysterious master and his kneecap challenged servant named Torgo. In reality, it’s a dead-on perfect tribute to the lowest depths of nostalgia, and all put together produces an addictive game that defines being better than the sum of its parts and comes away with maybe the only positive award anything “Manos” related may ever garner, and that is my app of the week.

  

App of the Week: Versu

Developer:

Linden Lab

Compatible with:

iPad

Requires:
iOS 5.1 or later

Price:

Free

Available here

As a kid, I was a big fan of choose your own adventure books. Oh sure they were cheap, poorly written, and I cheated like hell at them, but the ability to have a say in the story you were reading and experiencing the consequences of those choices, was a unique literary experience at the time.

Well now developer Linden Lab (creators of the infamous “Second Life”) is hoping the joy of those stories isn’t relegated to youth and nostalgia, as they release their app Versu for the iPad, which lets readers make their own decisions that influence available stories.

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Using the app is very simple, as you choose between three stories (one’s a tutorial, and an additional fourth story can be purchased for $4.99) and select a character of who to “play” as during that story. At certain intervals you are asked to make decisions that can affect the actions of the non-playable characters around you, and the events of the story itself, making each read more of a game (there are even achievements to be earned by unlocking certain actions, and events).

Though done many times before, the most recent comparison to make is with the Telltale Games “Walking Dead” series and, much like that adventure classic, there is a lot of re-playability to be found here as with multiple characters being presented many choices, in a plethora of situations, it’s impossible to see nearly everything in a single read. It is a necessity to go through it from every angle then to truly read the full tale, especially in the case of the mystery story available.

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The app is in a very early stage, and that is evident by the inclusion of only three initial stories (two of which are very short, one of which is based on the high school required reading bore “Pride and Prejudice”), with the promise of more paid ones to come regularly. It’s appeal right now then may be limited more to the younger crowd, or, more appropriately, the parents trying to get them to read.

The technology itself is what gets me excited though, as the design of the choose your own adventure set up is airtight, and provides a nearly flawless combination of e-reader and mobile gaming, which are two of the iPad’s best uses. Add in the potential of the technology with genres like horror, sci-fi, crime, fantasy, and more (as well as the promise of a tool that will allow you to create and share your own stories and scenarios), and this could be the start of something very exciting.

It is that potential and technology of Versu that wins me over more than the product as is, and while time and effort will determine its full abilities, for now it’s a clearer choice than any presented in the stories that this be my app of the week.

  

App of the Week: Mailbox

mailbox-app

Developer:

Orchestra Inc.

Compatible with:
iPhone 3GS and up (optimized for iPhone 5)

iPod Touch 3rd gen and up

iPad

Requires:
iOS 6.0 or later

Price:

Free

Available here

Since its announcement, Mailbox has been something of a rockstar among app fans.

If you haven’t been rabidly following it, Mailbox is an app that allows you to finally gain control of your overloaded Gmail accounts (other e-mail services will be compatible soon). Upon first glance the app doesn’t appear to differ wildly from the usual e-mail inbox apps, both first party and otherwise, as it streams your usual e-mail inbox to the app,and presents the messages in a clear and defined, yet traditional format. There’s nothing mind blowing here yet, as it’s just your e-mail inbox.

It’s the interactions available with these messages that makes Mailbox such a hyped app, most of which revolve around sliding a message right or left. Sliding a message quickly to the right, for instance, will archive the message, while a slow swipe to the right will delete it. Swiping shortly to the left, however, lets you put a message on hold from times ranging from hours later to the vague “someday.” A longer left swipe lets you save the message in special categories such as “To Buy”, “To Watch”, and more. You can even create your own custom categories which are, along with your archives and other specific inboxes, fully searchable and available to view independently through tabs atop the app.

There are various other functions of the app including e-mail notification and organizing e-mail chains into readable chat like formats, but the general function of the app is making it as easy as possible to get your inbox to zero (it even celebrates an empty inbox, with a logoed message). It’s designed for people with high e-mail volume in mind, but even the casual e-mail user has to appreciate the combination of fluidity and depth presented by Mailbox, allowing you to not only do more with your inbox than ever before, but do it easier as well.

While a few features shy of its full potential, for Gmail users, Mailbox is in fact the absolute best mobile mail manager ever created. While the developer’s tagline of “you’ll wonder how you lived without it” is as cliché as it comes, it also happens to be the absolute truth here. You’ve never seen an app that allows you to so smoothly and thoroughly handle your messages, and you may very well never need another app to do so.

There’s a sizeable waiting list to download Mailbox at the moment (which is admittedly kind of absurd) , but you shouldn’t hesitate to jump in line, as with a few updates, this might just become the most used app of the year, and is certainly my app of the week.

  

App of the Week: Table Top Racing

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Developer:

Playrise Edge Ltd.

Compatible with:
iPhone (optimized for iPhone 5)

iPod Touch

iPad

Requires:
iOS 5.0 or later

Price:

$2.99

Available here

So like all kids, I’m guessing you enjoyed playing with “Micro Machines” and “Hot Wheels.” If you were a Playstation user, I bet you like the high speed sci-fi racing series “Wipeout.” And like all everybody everywhere, you probably think “Mario Kart” is awesome.

So if I were to tell you that there was a “Hot Wheels” styled kart racing combat game like “Mario Kart” from some of the makers of “Wipout,” would that be something you’re interested in?

Well I hope so, because that’s just what we’ve got, and it’s called “Table Top Racing.” In it, you compete in several races, circuits and events against a variety of different model toy cars, which are unlockable and customizable, in both single player and online multiplayer modes. Rather than a simple sprint to the finish though, you’ll also use several weapons against your foes including the leader finding heat seeker missile and a beyond devastating EMP bomb.

The best part of “Table Top Racing” is it’s care with the subject matter. Everything about the game feels like playing out the most involved of all your toy car racing fantasies, a feature highlighted by the game’s best aspect, the tracks. All of the eight tracks are cleverly designed common world environments modified to create racetracks. For example, you’ll find yourself maneuvering around sandwiches on a picnic table at a Bar-B-Que, winding around oil cans on a work bench, or (in the best and most appropriate level) racing through a child’s room surrounded by classic toys. The track design is inspired and vibrant to the point of being almost distracting at times, but the brilliant layout keeps them fresh and even learning to keep your eyes on the course takes nothing from their creativity.

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As for the gameplay, it’s not near as fast or hectic as the “Wipeout” and “Mario Kart” series that inspired it, but the controls are tight and races are almost always competitive, due in part to the influence of the variety of weapons, and some reasonably challenging AI. There’s always a competitive spirit to the game that somehow never overwhelms the loose sense of fun.

There aren’t enough racing games like this available on mobile systems, and there are none as good as “Table Top Racing.” I wish there were more shortcuts, races, tracks, and speed, but when your biggest knock against a game is that there should be more of it, that’s generally an indication of things going right. That is certainly the case here as “Table Top Racing” does many, many things right, leading to an intense, yet casual approach to the mobile racer with just the right amount of nostalgia to fuel it.

As a, most likely, adult, you are too old to play with your toy cars anymore. With “Table Top Racing” though, you’ll never miss them as it’s the best game of toy cars you never got to play as a child, and my app of the week.

  

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