App of the Week: Spaceteam

Developer: Henry Smith

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

Requires: iOS 5.0

Price: Free

Available: here

I have a terrible confession to make.

When it comes to picking apps, I’m not infallible. While always striving to find the best of the best in the world of apps, occasionally something comes along that doesn’t cross my radar until too late, and becomes so popular I see no reason to go back and cover it (*cough*Ridiculous Fishing*cough*).

In the case of “Spaceteam” though, there’s actually a fair chance you haven’t heard of this app, even though it’s attracted a devout following since its recent release. Even if you have though, surely after playing it you’ll begrudge me the chance to talk about its brilliance, even if it is a little late.

“Spaceteam’s” core concept is pure simplicity, as it places you and 2-3 friends (Note: game does not come with friends) in control of a spaceship escaping an exploding star, and tasks you all with surviving by hitting a series of buttons and switches all named after techno-babble (Copernicus Crane, for instance) at the right time.

Sounds okay but nothing special right? Well, from there a couple of twists are thrown in that make the game interesting.

mzl.rkckofxw.320x480-75

You see, each of your friends has a different control panel filled with unique buttons. When the instructions come in for which ones to press, they don’t always come in to the person who has that button. This is why the game has to be played by people in the same room, as the only way to win is to shout out the instructions you receive and hope the person with the right button on their screen can get to it in time.

While an efficient team can hold out for a while, considering how much the difficulty ramps up, and that your random boards change in each section preventing many shortcuts, you will inevitably lose. In the meantime, you spend most of the game shouting at your friends in not just techno babble, but in encouragements and curses, as you all try to manage your own board, while maintaining even the most basic intelligible form of communication with one another, before devolving to violent grunts.

A game where you spend 90% of the time yelling at each other and losing may not sound like much fun, but it is. At some point you either form an efficient and serious team to progress, or just start laughing at how bad things are going. Either way, it’s incredibly fun to share a room with people all united over a single experience that brings back memories of “Goldeneye” parties, “Halo” LAN fests, or even “Pictionary.” This is a party game in the true sense of the phrase, and has few equals on the mobile scene both in terms of its idea, and certainly its execution.

But really you don’t have to take my word for it. Get a few people and try “Spaceteam” yourself and its greatness will become apparent mere minutes in. It’s not often a game so instantly accessible manages to be worth months of play time, and promotes local gaming with friends, which is why late or not, “Spaceteam” is my app of the week.

  

You can follow us on Twitter and Facebook for content updates. Also, sign up for our email list for weekly updates and check us out on Google+ as well.

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.

unnamed

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.

unnamed (1)

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.

  

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.”

unnamed

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.

unnamed (1)

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.

mzl.gdolszca.480x480-75

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.

mzl.wndazvlj.480x480-75

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.

  

Related Posts