App of the Week: AthleteMinder

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What happens when you hit the gym, dig into a practice or head out to set your best mile time? Aside from that familiar increase in blood flow, you immediately become acquainted with the numbers that attach themselves so tightly to perceived performance.

Every machine at the gym flickers methodically while processing a whole slew of exercise variables. Heart rate monitors beep away, filling you in on cardiovascular strain and whether or not you’re pushing as “hard” as you were yesterday. Your coach shouts that you’re 12 seconds slower than your teammate.

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App of the Week: MovieCat 2

Developer: OtherWise Games

Compatible with: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch

Requires: iOS 4.3

Price: $1.99

Available: Here

There’s always been an odd appeal to something that’s obviously brilliant, but doesn’t take itself too seriously. Hell, it’s probably why the most popular post of Albert Einstein is of him sticking his tongue out and looking like a bit of a goofball.

While I’m not suggesting that “MovieCat 2” is the Albert Einstein of apps, it does possess that same quality of playful goofiness covering absolute brilliance that got a certain photo of the good doctor adorned to dorm room walls everywhere.

The concept of “MovieCat 2” is simple as simple as it is absurd. It’s a movie trivia game where two easy to love cartoon cats serve as your guides, and often film character stand ins. Supporting one or two players, “MovieCat 2” consists of five rounds of questions, each with five categories. Answer too many wrong questions in any category, and you lose one of your nine lives. The game’s over when all lives are gone, or you reach the final ultimate question. Solve that and you’re rewarded with a famous film clip that’s been reworked to feature cat stand ins.

Now the first thing any trivia game must do to be worthwhile is, naturally, have quality questions. In that regard “MovieCat 2” is a success. The questions cover a pretty respectable range of film history, and the styles in which they are presented are varied enough to remain consistently engaging and entertaining. Even better, there’s enough questions here (over a 1,000) so that repeats shouldn’t be an issue for some time.

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If I do have one personal gripe about the questions it’s that if you possess an ounce of film knowledge, you won’t find many to be incredibly taxing. In that regard, “You Don’t Know Jack Movies” is still the ultimate movie trivia game for the hardcore, but the questions that are here will still cause the occasional head scratch and keep the game moving at a good pace.

Ultimately, though, the real draw to this game is its charm, humor, and style. Every frame of this game has some kind of clever and amusing aspect to it whether it be the questions themselves, the way they are presented, a particular art choice, or more often than not the presence of the two cat hosts as they insert themselves into another classic film. It all works together to lend the game the kind of effective lightheartedness that you often want from mobile games, but rarely get.

Overall this is an easy recommendation for iOS movie fans everywhere, but I think the people who may be most attracted to “MovieCat 2” are those that may not immediately see the appeal. This game’s easy going manner and casual charm has a way of shattering cynicism or disbelief, and will almost certainly compel those that aren’t expecting it to above all others.

I may wish it were occasionally more difficult, but the quality and craftsmanship of “MovieCat 2′s” trivia makes the easiest question of all; “What is the app of the week?”

  

App of the Week: Aereo

Developer: Aereo

Compatible with: Android Devices

Requires: Android 4.2

Price: Free ($8 a month subscription fee for service required)

Available: here

It’s not a huge surprise that one of the more popular demands in the world of technology is for people to have easier access to their favorite content for far less money, but it is interesting that there are a number of programs and companies out there providing just that. Steam does it for games, Spotify does it for songs, Netflix does it for DVD’s, and a growing company called Aereo is proposing to do it for live TV.

Of those Aereo is by far the least established, but among the most desired. More and more people are ditching their cable services, but there is still a strong desire to have access to basic television content (like sports) that keep a large number of subscribers paying more than they should for the content they actually watch. Aereo proposes, as an alternative, that you pay them $8 a month to have both live and DVR access to all the major basic cable networks, along with a growing number of preminum cable channels online. Available only in America, and largely on the East Coast, they might not have the coverage they’ll need to accomplish that goal quite yet, but the service they offer is very legitimate, and quite effective.

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And now thanks to a public beta, you can download Aereo and have access to it on your android mobile device.  It’s the same service as you get through the Aereo website (and there is no additional fee to use the app), but it’s easy to see how the ability to stream live TV legally and for extremely cheap is much more appealing on the go than it is in the home. That’s especially true once you factor in the DVR capabilities the app retains, as you can pause, record, and save programs from your device as well.

A perfect companion to Netflix and Spotify, Aereo may just find its calling on the mobile market, especially for football fans who can never find themselves at home on a Sunday. While it needs a lot more channels to be considered a real threat to cable, the fact that you are able to get the most basic channels plus a few more for a cost that is more in-line with the content you’ll actually use than cable, suggests that this is a program that is on to something big, and might soon become the best friend to the growing number of people who’ve cancelled their cable and occasionally lament the decision.

Be sure to check if you have access to the beta (not all devices are compatible at this time) and if you are in Aereo’s market, but if so then it’s pretty easy to recommend the service, especially since the first month is free. Even in it’s clearly un-finished state, it provides a desirable product in an effective manner and deserves to be given a shot by anyone who occasionally wishes to have access to television as they know it at home while on the go. It remains to be seen if it can join the ranks of similar services and re-shape how we watch TV, but even as it stands now Aereo is certainly the app of the week.

  

App of the Week: Device 6

Developer: Simogo

Compatible with: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch

Requires: iOS 5.1

Price: $3.99

Available: here

Developer Simogo is a company on a mission. Their project history showcases some of the most artistically challenging, creative, and entertaining apps ever released, as they seem to be dead set on winning the race to make a gaming app that showcases the full potential of mobile devices, even when it feels like they’re the only ones really in the running.  While the music/stealth hybrid game “Beat Sneak Bandit” showed they were getting warmer, and the beautifully morbid adventure “Year Walk” almost got there, it’s “Device 6” that will likely go down as Simogo’s magnum opus, and one of the finest mobile experiences ever made.

I mentioned before that it felt like Simogo was aiming for the ultimate mobile gaming experience, yet somehow it doesn’t feel right calling “Device 6” a gaming app, or really trying to define it at all. On a very basic level it’s a callback to the old text adventures like “Zork” that saw you type in basic commands to advance a story. Your story here is that of a woman named Anna who wakes up on a mysterious island, unsure of how she got there, or what to do next. It’s a tired set up but, to be honest, then again so are text based adventure games. This makes the two something of an oddly appropriate match, but probably doesn’t help to explain why “Device 6” is so incredible.

The answer to that lies in the storytelling. “Device 6” doesn’t just tell a tale that you occasionally advance with basic commands, but rather presents a story that constantly requires you to interact with it in significant ways. Sometimes this comes in the form of “choose your own adventure” style moments that diverts the tale onto slightly different paths, but more often it’s in the way the game requires you to participate in mini-game like moments where you are momentarily put into the shoes of the character to solve a variety of puzzles and overcome other obstacles. Rarely taking the same form twice, these interludes of interactivity are, without exception, incredibly challenging and unbelievably creative moments that go a long way to breathing new life into the old text adventure format not just because they provide a game like break from the reading, but rather because they enhance the story in a way that allows it to evolve to a level far beyond what is possible with just printed words.

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Were “Device 6” to stop there, though, it would probably only find itself atop the growing heap of interactive story games on mobile devices. However, its trump card comes in the way it formats the text adventure. For instance, there’s a point in the story where you encounter a staircase. At that moment, the text physically diverges into both a downstairs and upstairs path which you’ll have to choose between. Another example of this imaginative style comes when you walk through a corridor, and the words suddenly form into a shifting single file line that requires you to tilt your device to keep up with them, simulating the feeling of walking down the same corridor Anna does. These may sound kind of gimmicky, but combined with the constant stream of timely visual elements and puzzles, they help to make “Device 6” the most engaging novel you’ll ever read.

“Device 6” reminds me of another recent release “The Stanley Parable” in that both showcase new, and previously unthinkable, ways of telling a story within an interactive medium. Where “Device 6” differs though is that it doesn’t feel like an isolated experience, or test run to a new method of storytelling, but rather a fully realized showcase that might just redefine how books are formatted in the digital age, or even create an entertainment medium that we don’t even associate with traditional books. That might sound like a bold statement, but the confidence and skill that “Device 6” exhumes when showcasing its unique methods is all of the reference needed to justify it’s potential as a game changer. Like watching a hotshot backup on your favorite football team come in and win an impossible game for the aging starter, once you get a taste of “Device 6” it’s clear that there is no going back.

Book, game, something in-between…I don’t care what you call “Device 6,” because I’m just glad it’s on the app store so I can talk about it here and tip you off to the moment when interactive storytelling shed nearly all of its conventions, and the idea of the capabilities of e-books changed forever.  Then again even if “Device 6” doesn’t change the storytelling world, it still stands as a one of a kind experience without equal in concept or quality on the app store. For want of a greater honor to provide it, I humbly name “Device 6” my app of the week.

  

App of the Week: Amateur Surgeon 3

Developer: [adult swim]

Compatible with: iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad

Requires: iOS 6.0

Price: Free

Available: here

In the early days of the Nintendo DS, the two series that really sold me on the portable device were the “Phoenix Wright,” and “Trauma Center” games, both of which used the dual and touch screen technology in innovative ways.

Of the two, “Phoenix Wright” went on to become the more popular, but it was the ER simulator “Trauma Center,” that may have been the more compelling, with its tense and elaborate surgery scenarios made possible by some perfect touch controls and inspired overall design. It’s a type of game that wasn’t done much before, and besides some spiritual follow-ups like “Surgeon Simulator,” hasn’t really been done much since.

The Adult Swim series “Amateur Surgeon” has always been a glowing exception though, as it took the basic design of “Trauma Center,” and injected pure craziness in it, to produce a series that never exactly reached the heights of its inspiration, but does carry on the legacy quite nicely.

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Not much has changed with the third entrant into the “Amateur Surgeon” series, but there are a couple of new features, of which the biggest is the move to a free to play format. Naturally this does mean the inclusion of some annoying pay to play elements, but they’re actually downplayed nicely, and you can get through the game rather easily without spending a dime. The biggest exception to that would have to be the new “tag” feature, which allows you to bring in a partner for their special abilities, but costs quite a bit of in game money, which you can of course purchase with real cash.

Other than that, what you have is another absolutely insane surgery game that sees you operate on mutated bears with chainsaws, and other less pedestrian activities. While the wackiness is part of the experience, the actual humor of the game is pretty hit or miss, and is only there to serve the far more entertaining gameplay.

It never really gets old trying to figure out how to fix bizarre injuries with even crazier tools, and that’s largely because the touchscreen, reflex and precision driven controls work as well for this type of game as ever. They are what elevates “Amateur Surgeon” to must have status, and help ensure that the initial joy of trying to figure out what to do on your first play through, doesn’t compare to trying to get that perfect run on every subsequent try.

You couldn’t be blamed for being attracted to “Amateur Surgeon” for its crazy sense of humor, and generally lighthearted nature. What’s going to keep it in your app game rotation though is a truly great gameplay system reliant on just about everything that makes touchscreen gaming so fun in the first place.  I wouldn’t want to catch my doctor playing it, but everyone else should get ready to find themselves addicted to stapling shut freshly shived hearts in what is simply a pure fun app of the week.

  

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