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.

  

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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.

  

App of the Week: The Android 5 Humble Bundle

Developer: Various

Compatible with: Android Devices

Requires: Various, but the minimal is Android 2.2 with Android 2.3 required in some instances

Price: Pay what you will, but the full package runs $6.66 currently

Available here

Ok, so this is multiple apps, and therefore cheating, but this is a time sensitive offer, and too good to ignore.

If you’re not familiar with the humble bundle, it’s a service that offers up multiple (usually indie) games for a pay what you want system (though a $1 is usually encouraged). Meet the average payment amount, and you get bonus titles, while all of the money can be distributed between the developers , charity, and the site as you wish.

This week offers up four android titles, with two additional games available if you meet the $6.66 payment average (as of now). Far from a random smattering of “never heard of it” titles, these are some truly great games well worth the meager fee. Specifically you get:

“NightSky” – Looking like a slightly more colorful “Limbo,” “Night Sky” is a visually gripping game, that retains that appeal once you actually get into the physics based puzzle gameplay, that sees you guide a ball through a variety of trippy worlds, and creative obstacles. Its style makes for a relaxing experience, but it’s “Portal” like original puzzles require your brain to be engaged at all times. Consider it the gaming equivalent of a glass of wine and a good book. But you know…actually fun.

“Solar 2” – “Solar 2” starts off simple enough, as you’re just an asteroid tasked with bumping into other asteroids to make a bigger asteroid. Become big enough to form a planet though, and the real game begins, as the universe is your playground to do everything from wage wars to swallow galaxies as a black hole in. While not quite as well executed as it is ambitious, this is a fun, engaging, and above all else unique gaming app that puts the universe at your finger tips.

“Dynamite Jack” – Call it “Bomberman Solid,” as “Dynamite Jack” combines elements of stealth gaming with 2D action bombing. You’ll dodge and destroy a variety of obstacles and enemies that range from guards to cave trolls over almost 30 unique levels, as well as custom levels available through the map editor. Each section is a mini-puzzle of sorts to figure out how to progress, but the game doesn’t shy away from the explosive action element, making this one of the more complete and enjoyable games on the bundle

“Beat Hazard Ultra” – A 2D space shooter in the style of “Ikaruga” or “Geometry Wars,” this app’s calling card is its music integration system. Load your own tracks into the game, and the enemies and weaponry will react to the beat. While it works better with club like music over say, “The Beatles,” the effects are a constant assault to your senses, and underneath it all is an above average shooter. You want this though for its visual and audio onslaught.

“Dungeon Defenders” + DLC– There’s a million tower defense games out there, but few if any as great as “Dungeon Defenders.” Sporting console close graphics, and a great overall look, this app is a madman of content that will have you playing for weeks to discover everything, and all the while enjoying its pitch perfect blend of strategy and RPG gameplay. One of my favorite mobile gaming apps ever, this is the highlight of the deal, and is well worth the average donation asking price considering the complete DLC and game run around the $50 range usually.

“Super Hexagon” – “Super Hexagon” has been a sensation for iOS for a while now, and its recent port to Android gives gamers everywhere no excuse to avoid this addictive puzzler that sees you maneuver a triangle through a constantly shifting hexagon. Be warned though, this game is blindingly difficult and takes more than a few playthrouhs to not feel entirely incompetent at. Once you’re hooked though, there’s no looking back.

A sampling of some of the best mobile gaming has to offer, there is very little excuse to not reach lightly into your wallet and pick up these games if you have the compatible system to run them. With their powers combined, they are my app(s) of the week.

  

App of the Week – GTA: Vice City

Developer:
Rockstar Games

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

iPod Touch 3rd gen and up

iPad

Android Systems

Requires:
iOS 4.3 or later

Price:

$4.99

Available here (for iOS)

*Temporarily unavailable for Android

I was only a child of the 80’s in the strictest of technical senses, so I don’t share the same nostalgia for the decade that some do. However, it’s still entertaining to look at the 80’s objectively as you wonder what the collective masses of Americana were thinking, and if the mounds of cocaine being passed around enhanced the bad hairstyles and pastel color patterns, or merely numbed the pain of them.

I do however have a fond recollection of the growing up with the “GTA” series in my teenage years, and among those games, I have the fondest memories concerning the 80s influenced “GTA: Vice City”. Hot off the heels of the groundbreaking “GTA: III”, “Vice City” did many of the same things as its predecessor, but added more weapons, missions, characters, rampage options, in-jokes, cars, and everything else that makes the GTA series what it is. In fact, many fans still consider “Vice City” to be the peak of the series to this day.

And now it comes to iOS and Android systems courtesy of Rockstar, to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of the game’s release. The conversion carries all of the usual aspects such as enhanced graphics (which look phenomenal on the iPad), custom radio station option (always welcome),and re-worked touch controls (which are always hit and miss for the GTA mobile series, but are serviceable). Other than that it is more or less the same game.

Which is exactly why it’s here. After working out the kinks from the 3D conversion in “GTA:III”, but before becoming burdened with the RPG elements of “San Andreas” or the misguided attempts at realism with “GTA:IV”, “Vice City” ran with its chance to perfect the “GTA” formula, and never looked back. It’s story is still the tightest in all of the series, the voice acting is also among the best (featuring Ray Liotta’s best performance of the last decade), the soundtrack is a hit on all stations, missions are creative without becoming burdensome, the vehicle selection (which included motorcycles and helicopters) is top notch, the weapon variety is fun, the property buying system is inspired, and the use of the over the top 80s with the over the top “GTA” series is a match made in heaven.

Of course you still get the usual “GTA” brand of mayhem, which regardless of the game in the series, is always entertaining. The touch controls will always keep the mobile versions from becoming the definitive version of the games, but they’re about the only thing that isn’t better than the original. One quick note though is that the Android version is having some technical difficulties at the moment and isn’t currently available for download. However, once it is, this is a strong recommendation for all platforms, and a must buy for iPads.

Eventually you can see “Scarface” too many times, listen to Thriller only so much, and don your Don Johnson jacket for the final time while still getting away with it being considered ironic. In those moments, you need an 80’s fix that will never go out of style, and “GTA: Vice City” is just that, making it the app of the week.

  

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