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: Eater

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Developer: Curbed Netwok

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

Requires: iOS 5.0 and up, Android 4.0 and up

Price: Free

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

I know what you’re saying.

“But Matt, I already own a food finding app. Why should I download another and not, say, chase you down with a mob of torch weilding villagers and burn down the old windmill you sought refuge in?”

Well, first of all, that would be a little dramatic don’t you think? Secondly, I’m not suggesting Eater will become your go to food app, and neither is Eater. For one thing, it only covers 22 American cities, and even then only points out a certain amount of restaurants covered by that most popular foodie blog, rather than show you everything there is to eat in the area.

Instead Eater is best used to supplement your current restaurant locater app. That’s because the people running all branches of the Eater site are obsessed food nuts dedicated to finding not only the best restaurants (conveniently marked by their “Eater 38” symbol, denoting the 38 best restaurants in a city), but some of the most unique and intriguing as well, as featured on their constantly updating heat maps.

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For instance, the Eater app won’t show you what people think about that gas station on the corner’s sandwiches, unless that gas station just so happens to be a locally known only gem that serves some of the best sandwiches in the city (or maybe is actually a hidden bar). It’s best used for locals looking for a reference written by some of the most die-hard food hounds around or, even better, tourists who want to go somewhere and eat like the most in the know of locals, so that while you’re in New York you’ll know exactly where to go to experience cronut-mania, or why to skip every pretender BBQ place in Austin, and go straight to the mountaintop at Franklin BBQ.

Even better, the Eater app does this through a familiar and, mostly, helpful layout that could stand to use a few technical and feature upgrades, but doesn’t provide too many burdens in looking for the best of the best in your area. There is even a quick link to the Eater blog, for those that are fans, or maybe just looking for the most up to the minute restaurant recommendations.

Much like those “Not For Tourists” guides, the Eater app is like Zagats, but made by the most serious of foodies. Unlike those foodies, it is able to recommend a restaurant without any snobby pretentiousness, or without being hindered by Yelp like reviews where stars drop because of that one patron who got “that look” from a waiter one time.

Equally useful in finding the absolute best places to eat in 22 of America’s finest cities for both the people living there, and those just passing through, when you need access to a GPS showing the meccas of the most serious of food nerds, you need Eater, my app of the week.

  

App of the Week: NarcoGuerra

Developer: Game the News

Compatible with: Android Devices

Requires: Android 2.1 and up

Price: $1.04

Available: here

Despite being a short week for most, this has been one of the more bountiful weeks for apps in recent memory. While such notable releases like the iPad release of the immortal “Knights of the Old Republic,” a long overdue great Warhammer gaming app in “Warhammer Quest,” and the creatively exciting music creation app “Musyc,” all deserve recognition, there is one that deserves it even more, for several reasons.

“NarcoGuerra” is a “Risk” like strategy game that sees you take tactical control of the Mexican police force, as they fight their war against the drug cartels plaguing the nation. To do so, you will need to gather intel, battle corruption, and take over cartel controlled and disputed territories all while defending your own via troop distribution and mastering a (initially) simple numbers system. Victory is achieved when you have rid Mexico of the cartel.

Except, just as in real life, it’s never quite that easy. The developer’s larger purpose in “NarcoGuerra” is to make people aware of the astoundingly violent and never ending war that is the real cartel battle in Mexico. To do so, they have made the game’s main mode punishingly difficult, and yes even a bit unfair. Just when you think you’ve got everything under control (which is rare), suddenly corruption destroys your efforts from within, or you’ll be betrayed by bad intel, delayed by the death of a major commander, or stunned by the rise of a new cartel power. The better you do in “NarcoGuerra,” the tougher the cartel pushes back, making defeat most prevalent, the closer you get to victory.

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It may not sound like much fun, but it very much is. You’re fighting a war that can technically be won, but only just so. As a result you’ve got a lot of gameplay on your slow march to victory that includes all of the usual tactical strategy game niceties, as well as elements unique to the backdrop, like deciding which president to throw your financial support behind in the hopes of turning the tide. The combination of these elements produces an experience that feels appropriately, and effectively, authentic to the context

“NarcoGuerra” uses an un-winnable war as a perfect backdrop to a tense and exciting strategy game that remains a challenge despite whatever mastery you may perceive you have of the proceedings. You may never beat “NarcoGuerra,” but you are also unlikely to tire of fighting the good fight, thanks to some rewarding, ambitious, innovative, difficult, and (somewhat ironically) addictive gameplay.

While the still entertaining multiplayer and skirmish modes are focused on providing a more “video game” experience, it is the main story mode that is the draw. It focuses on a real world horror that deserves more attention, and uses it to enhance what is at its core, one of the most intelligent and entertaining mobile strategy games available. “NarcoGuerra” could have been a blunt political message thinly disguised as a video game, but instead it is a strong and important statement that takes the form of my app of the week.

  

App of the Week: Bondsy

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Developer: Bondsy Inc.

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

Requires: iOS 5.0 or later

Price: Free

Available: here

One time in college (no, wait, it’s not that kind of story) I needed a new part for my computer, and went to the only computer repair place in town. The guy there said he had a part, but wasn’t sure if it worked, and didn’t want to charge me much if it couldn’t. Instead, he just asked if I could get him some hoagie bread for his lunch, because he forgot his at home. I did, and the part was mine.

Of course it didn’t work, but that is still the day I learned the joy of the barter system.

If you too miss an age where the trading of goods and services wasn’t tied up in the arbitrary value of money, then consider the new app that allows you to to exchange pretty much anything for pretty much anything, called Bondsy.

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Bondsy features a pretty simple set up that allows you to post a photo of a good or service you’re looking to give, write a brief description of it, and provide what good or service you are looking for in exchange. In turn, the people who are interested can ask questions or make a counter-offer.

What separates Bondsy from services that offer something similar, such as craigslist ads, is the fact that the only people you will be dealing with are either friends or friends of friends, thus removing some of the nasty anonymity of exchanging goods and services on the internet, as your friends are, probably, unlikely to try to pawn off a soiled mattress, really amateur guitar lessons, or glued together chair on you (again, probably).

We all have extra stuff laying around that may not be worth the hassle of eBay or necessarily fit for Goodwill. What Bondsy does is put a value back into that former junk, and allows you to keep it in a trusted circle where the exchange has a little more security. Even better, with money out of the equation, there is a lot more creativity involved with the value behind every offer, bringing some fun into previously useless items, and creating an auction house type atmosphere amongst your friends.

And fun is really what this whole thing is about. Even though you stand the chance of scoring some cool stuff, it’s really about the fun that comes with bartering with your friends over it. Imagine a scenario where someone you know having some great extra game tickets, and a bidding war of goods and services starting over them, and you can see the potential of Bondsy, and why it is my app of the week

  

App of the Week: Wrestle Jump

Developer: Otto-Ville Ojala

Compatible with: iPhone 4 and up (optimized for iPhone 5), iPod touch 3rd gen and up, iPad 2 and up, Android devices

Requires: iOS 4.3 or later (Android version depends on device)

Price: $1.99 (free on Android)

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

When you really think about it, great gaming apps usually come in some pretty odd forms.

For instance we’ve seen apps that make ninjas slice fruit, or feature birds suicide bombing entrenched pigs set the world on fire, while glorified versions of Pictionary and Scrabble have destroyed free time and traditional social lives. It’s a history that should have taught me that at any time, from any concept, the next great gaming app can emerge.

Still though, I never would have imagined that a two button game with luchadores joined at the arms fighting to bash the other ones head would have been that game.

But wouldn’t you know it, “Wrestle Jump” is truly great.

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Though strange, the concept of “Wrestle Jump” couldn’t be simpler. You and a conjoined opponent (computer or real) battle for supremacy by trying to force the other ones head against the nearest solid object. Doing so gets you a point, first to five points wins, and you can add to the pandemonium by activating ice sections and wind.

The only control available to you in “Wrestle Jump” is a single arcade button (used to propel your character’s legs, and make them jump), but there is a layer of strategy involved that isn’t immediately evident. The game is really all about defense and momentum, as mashing the button as fast as you can usually results in losses, while timing and situational awareness win the day.

Yet, there is also a chaotic randomness to “Wrestle Jump” that negates even the best strategies. A hit can come at any time, which can be either highly satisfying, or incredibly frustrating depending on what side you’re on, but it applies equally to both players and rarely feels unfair. Instead, it lends an unpredictability to every contest that provides a part of the game’s appeal.

The bigger part of the game’s appeal though is the two-player mode. Hands down this is one of my all-time favorite mobile multiplayer games ever, and its due in large part to the fact that both players can share one phone (or better yet, tablet) to play it. It makes an already simple game even more accessible, and ensures that no “Wrestle Jump” round ever passes without a healthy amount of “Oohs and Aahs,” as well as abundant smack talk and sweet moments of victory. It’s everything you could ever want from a multiplayer game, and provides one of the greatest arcade style two player experiences since the golden age of arcade gaming.

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“Wrestle Jump” is an app you might play occasionally by yourself, but in the company of a friend becomes one of the most entertaining games of the year on any platform. It encourages a level of competitiveness that you don’t usually get from mobile games, and it does it without guns, cars, puzzles, or any of the other things you associate with the concept. Instead, this is head to head gaming distilled to its purest form.

Yes, “Wrestle Jump” is really that much fun. You could argue that its single player game is dull (it is) but you are never far from its multiplayer mode, and the sheer competitive joy it brings. Because of that mode, and with a little help from Google translate, I can confidently tell you that “Wrestle Jump” es mi aplicación de la semana.

  

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