App of the Week: Cook, Serve, Delicious!

Developer:
David Galindo

Compatible with:
iPad 2 and up (including iPad Mini)

Requires:
iOS 3.2 and up

Price:

$2.99

Available here

While some will disagree, cooking is often a rewarding, useful, and relaxing endeavor that all should have some measure of skill in. Not only is it a great creative outlet, but the end result of a well done meal is rewarding in several ways. The same, however, can not always be said of cooking in a high profile, high volume, high pressure kitchen where the work is grueling, thankless, and sometimes cruel. Yet many in the business will tell you the challenge of it is strangely addictive, and that there is no greater satisfaction than a well done shift, and consistently making the perfect meal.

Now there is an app called “Cook, Serve, Delicious!” that perfectly captures that mix of emotions. The iPad version of the PC title of the same name, “Cook, Serve, Delicious!” is a restaurant management game that separates itself from the sizeable number of similar titles out there by being insanely detailed, and ridiculously tough.  The very basics of the game see you taking incoming orders and building them via the simple recipe prompt. As the orders pile up, you’ll find yourself having to manage several meals at once (done through a upper corner quene), prepping some while others finish,and always being careful to get to everyone in time without ruining a meal.

It would be an intense enough experience, but where the game separates itself is in the almost anal nature it takes towards its subject matter. You don’t just cook and serve meals, but you also must handle back of the house work like setting rat traps, washing dishes, and taking out the trash. It’s not all grunt work though, as since this is also your restaurant, that means you are the chef, owner, and manager. This is where things get really exciting, since you are tasked with buying food for the day and building a menu that must be familiar, yet fresh, and always evolving. You must deal with food costs, menu changes, special requests, challenges (including “Iron Chef” like competition invites), and even the occasional robbery all while running the day to day activities of your restaurant (a day in the game takes 6 minutes in real time). Ultimately your efforts are in the pursuit of increasing your restaurant’s star rating and public buzz level (and of course purchasing restaurant upgrades) in order to move on to bigger, better, and more challenging venues.

Nothing comes easy in “Cook, Serve, Delicious!”, and during the game’s rush hour moments, things can seem downright impossible. While the actual cooking mechanics aren’t as detailed and interactive as games like “Cooking Mama”, it’s the fact that you are tasked with managing everything, and that everything is so richly detailed, that makes the game so very worthwhile. Building a popular, yet inventive, menu in your own style, and being able to eventually serve it almost instinctively is one of those gaming nirvana feelings that never grows old, because it is always difficult to achieve. Thankfully the challenge doesn’t derive from the touch controls (which are well implemented), and the game’s appetizing graphic style and catchy soundtrack are a constant and welcome presence.

In many ways “Cook, Serve, Delicious!” reminds me of the recently released starship simulator “FTL” where your dream of running a starship (or restaurant in this case) is quickly burdened with the reality of doing so. Yet thanks to some ingenious design, and a well implemented balance of challenge and reward, “Cook, Serve, Delicious!” provides a long journey that proves the thrill that comes from overcoming true adversity is often greater than that of any pre-conceived fantasy notions you may have had on the subject. It goes beyond your ideas of the genre, and serves up a tasty app of the week.

  

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App of the Week: Super Monsters Ate My Condo

Developer:
PikPok

Compatible with:
iPhone (3GS Minimum)

iPod Touch (3rd Gen. Minimum)

iPad

Requires:
iOS 4.3 or later

Price:
$0.99

Available here

Wild man, just wild.

It’s about the only way to describe the original “Monsters Ate My Condo” released by Adult Swim and PikPok. It was a fury of colors, crazy designs, and lightning quick reaction times that was impossible to not get swept up in, and more than worth its $1.00 asking price. Now it’s back in the form of an appropriately titled sequel, “Super Monsters Ate My Condo”.

The basic idea behind the game is that you have to build a towering condo made up of multi-colored pieces, and keep it from toppling. To do so, you have to match three of the same colored leveled pieces to create a stronger bronze level. Three combined bronzes make a silver, three silvers a gold, and three golds a diamond.

Of course, to match level colors, you’ll have to discard those in the way. This is where the monsters come in. The monsters are intent on destroying your already shaking condo, and the only way to appease them is to swipe levels that match the monsters color their way for their consumption, and to get them out of your way. If you swipe too many levels of the wrong color, or neglect to feed one of a levels two monsters for too long, they get to smashing. Also when you match three of a same color, the monster on the level that shares that color goes away and is replaced by another.

That’s the general idea of the gameplay, but it only gets nuts from there. Because there’s also things like special blocks that can aid a player if used correctly, or cause some real damage if they aren’t disposed of quickly. The monsters also carry different super powers which aid the player and are activated by feeding the monsters special combo floors (the stronger the floor, the more effective the power). The trade off is you lose a strong level, but the payoff yields attributes like more time on the clock or preventing harmful blocks from falling while in use, so it’s almost always worth it.

New to the sequel is the game’s increased (and addictive) focus on objectives. You’re given three goals on the outset of every level, and completing all three unlocks a new set of objectives and also new elements within the game (such as special level blocks). You also unlock booster abilities and coins as you go along. The boosters provide a wide range of in game aids, while draining coins upon each use. In a nice little nod to ‘Team Fortress 2,” the coins can also be used to purchase a variety of hats for the monsters, which create permanent ability boosters, but cost way more. Also worth noting is the absence of the original game’s endless play mode, and instead the only game option is a timed two minute run.

To play “Super Monsters Ate My Condo” is to love it. You’ve played this basic type of game a million times before, and “Super Monsters” knows it. That’s why it goes out of its way to make sure that every intangible element of the game that isn’t just matching similar colored blocks is exceedingly well done. Level and character drawings, sound design, and the enticing mission based system all make “Super Monsters” already addictive gameplay become irresistible.

It’s not easy to play this game for just two minutes at a time, as you constantly challenge yourself to meet your own personal objectives, or those of the game. The core concept would be addictive enough on its own, but the way you are constantly rewarded for  diving into it deeper makes it impossible to put down. You’ll start to measure your life in two minute intervals, and catch yourself with the game’s images of dancing monsters in lederhosen and endless streams of blocks clouding your thoughts when you try to step away from it.

I not only don’t mind that “Super Monsters” continue to eat my condos, but gladly let them eat my dollar as well. This is the “One More Game” effect at its best, and makes for a clear app of the week.

  

App of the Week: Bastion

Developer:
Supergiant Games

Compatible with:
iPad

Requires:

iOS 5.1

Price:

$4.99

Available here

As the Summer of Arcade kicked off in 2011 for Xbox Live, one of the headline games was a title called “Bastion.” Like just about every other indie title ever made, it arrived without much hype and drew little more than curiosity based on the tantalizing art style. But as soon as it hit the marketplace, both critics and fans found themselves completely immersed by a game that realized that sometimes there is an inherent value in style over substance, if you happen to be the most stylish thing in the room. It went on to post impressive sales figures, and find itself on short lists everywhere for game of the year.

And now it’s coming to iPad.

If you never got to experience “Bastion” originally, it’s a story of a protagonist known only as the kid who awakes one day to find that an event known as the “Great Calamity” has wiped out just about everything he’s ever known. His only hope is to search out a communal safe haven, known only as the bastion.

“Bastion” is an action RPG in the style of “Diablo.” From there, it immediately defies categorization. Letting the simple and addictive style of the genre take care of that burdensome concept known as gameplay, “Bastion” instead focuses its considerable efforts on…well just about everything else. You’ll immediately be drawn in by the games art style, which features well rendered hand painted environments and characters. Color has seemingly abandoned video games as a whole, and to call “Bastion’s” style a breath of fresh air contradicts the fact that the only way to really describe the look of the game is breathtaking.

Coupled with this graphical onslaught is some of the best sound design ever put in a video game. This is mostly due to the games gruff narrator who manages to comment on just about everything in the game, whether scripted or otherwise. What initially seems gimmicky, and could get annoying, instead becomes vital as it contributes to the game a unique storytelling style that reminds you of a storybook fantasy tale. When not being entertained by the narration, you may take the time to notice that the music is not only appropriately atmospheric, but also stands well on its own accord.

For its critical transition to the iPad, little is lost. All of the game’s content is available, and looks and sounds great. The controls could have been an issue, but by using a minimal amount of touch buttons, the developers have managed to make things as painless as possible, and after the first few levels you will rarely find yourself fumbling with the controls. In fact, the only reason I couldn’t recommend the iPad as a platform for “Bastion” is because when everything in the game (the addictive action, the stunning look, and the encompassing sound) all come together, it’s very easy to get swept up in the title and thus lose track of the world around you, making “Bastion” something of a public hazard. Also, much like the original title, you may find yourself wishing that you had an invisible narrator commenting on your every action through the day, only to be continuously disappointed there isn’t one.

There doesn’t exist enough games with the simple beauty of “Bastion,” and there are even fewer on the iPad. In 2011 “Bastion” for the 360 was a candidate for best game of the year. In 2012, it’s still got enough going for it on the iPad to be my app of the week.

  

App of the Week: Prismatic

Publisher:
Prismatic

Compatible with:
iPhone
iPad
iPod Touch

Requires:

iOS 5.0 or later

Price:

Free

Available here

We live in a world of constant stimulation.

At no point in the day is the average person but mere moments away from an entire universe of information and entertainment both classic and current. You could call it overwhelming, but that doesn’t really seem fitting. Overwhelming would imply there is some kind of burden, when really it’s enjoyable how much we have access to, even if there is no good way to sift through it all, and find the bits most relevant and interesting to you.

New app Prismatic may have the answer to this dilemma. After you create your log-in through Facebook, Twitter, or G+ the app immediately starts learning about you and what you’re interested in. From there it begins to pull news stories from the world over and deliver them to you based on your interests. You can influence this story selection further by letting the app know what stories you like, and telling it various subjects, people, locations, or anything else you may be interested in. What’s even better is the app begins to  learn, and varies its selection eventually creating a constant flow of news made just for you.

Call it Spotify for news, and you’ve got the right idea. What’s even better is that it works as well as the famous music app. Of course, this isn’t a completely new idea for a program, as Google Reader and some other, similar apps have been offering this same feature for a while. Prismatic, though, is different because of how organic it feels. The layout of the app allows you to smoothly move between the stories themselves, and the features that let you input information to expand the stories the app suggests. When the app is working at its best, the effect truly feels like a virtual newspaper meant just for you. Better yet, you can share stories you find with friends, and them with you, allowing you to expand your interests and horizons even further.

Even in its early stage, Prismatic is an essential app. Even if you use it for nothing more than to gather your favorite topics in one place, it does it better than any of its competitors. But if you take the time to truly explore the abilities of Prismatic and create a news network with you at the center, then you are rewarded with a program that becomes as essential to check multiple times a day as your e-mail is. While I’m still waiting to see what great additions further development of this app will create, for now it’s still newsworthy enough for my app of the week.

  

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