App of the Week: Friendstrap

Developer: Game Oven

Compatible with: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch

Requires: iOS 6.0

Price: Free

Available: Here

While the heyday of the board game may have passed long ago in the eyes of many, if you haven’t been paying attention to them lately you may be surprised to find that some of the absolute best party games available to adults are board games. Whether it be the raunchy and hilarious “Cards Against Humanity,” or the clever take on the battle of the sexes “Ladies and Gentlemen” provides, there are a growing number of board games out there that may cause your guests a moment of hesitation when you suggest them, but will soon have them engaged in a way that no other form of party entertainment can achieve.

“Friendstrap” is not one of those board games. However it does retain the spirit of them, as well as the relaxed yet competitive atmosphere they can lead to.

It’s setup couldn’t be more simple. You and a friend put a finger on one of the two dots on screen while a topic appear atop, and a counter begins on the bottom. To play you each have to simply have a conversation on the topic until it disappears and is replaced with another. You repeat this until someone removes the finger and thus themselves from the conversation.

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Now where this gets interesting is in the topics themselves. While some are no more invasive than the weather, others can get incredibly intimate and even awkward. Even better, the topics themselves are often presented in only a few vague words (for instance; “Friends With Benefits”) allowing the psyche of the users to take the game in unique directions. For instance, one strategy would be for each player to pursue the most outlandish conversation paths in order to ensure their companion is too mortified to contribute.

To be honest, based solely on its built-in design, “Friendstrap” is an incomplete experience that works better as a conversation starter or time killer than a full on game. However, with the application of a few “house rules”to keep the participants in check, and the right kind of participants, there is a lot of potential in its simple set up to lead to hours of laughter. Fortunately no such outside creativity is required for the topics themselves which remain ambiguous and entertaining regardless of the specifics of the personal games you create using the built-in set up. With over a 1,000 of these topics included (with additional, even more awkward ones available for purchase) you’re likely to never have the same conversation twice, especially when considering the individual whims of the players.

It’d be misleading to call “Friendstrap” a complete app, as taken at surface value there frankly isn’t much to it. However, the incredibly ambiguous set up is best viewed an an intentional design, as it allows whomever has a finger in the game a level of control over the experience that caters more to their individual whims and unique quirks, rather than forces them to necessarily adhere to pre-set rules. In that regard, its incomplete nature becomes its greatest asset as it ensures every session will be entertaining and unique above all else.

If conversation is truly a lost art, then the ability for “Friendstrap” to strike up entertaining conversations between nearly any participants on any of its topic makes the app something of a work of art itself. An unassuming yet brilliantly maniacal party game, there’s little discussion to be had regarding “Friendstrap’s” status as app of the week.

  

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App of the Week: Lie Swatter

Developer: Jellyvision Games

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

Requires: iOS 4.3 or later

Price: Free

Available Here

 

It’s hard to find good humor in games, but one title that always got it right was the “You Don’t Know Jack” series, which gained popularity in the 90s for its chaotic, bizzare, irreverent, yet extremely intelligent form of trivia.

Sporting some off the wall categories like “Elephant, Mustard, Teddy Roosevelt, or Dracula?,” and college grad level questions (“Suppose Jackson Pollock had become a sandwich artist at Subway. What would his supervisor have noted about his performance?”), there has never been a game with same sense of humor or style that “You Don’t Know Jack” has, which is why it was great to see it make a fairly recent comeback on systems, mobile platforms, and even Facebook.

If you’ve already tried that series and just can’t get enough, then you’ll be happy to know the creators of “You Don’t Know Jack” have a new game out that takes everything great about the YDKJ series, and applies it to a new, yet familiar concept.

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Called “Lie Swatter,” it tasks you with choosing a category and an opponent (who can be selected amongst your friends or at random), then looking over  a series of flies and bugs, each with a statement on them. To win, you have to swat the ones with statements that are lies.

Sound simple? Well then you truly don’t know jack, as the catch here again is that these categories and statements are all incredibly obscure and absurd. Often, every single statement will read like a bold faced lie, due to how outright bizarre they are. Choosing the right one often comes down to luck and deductive reasoning as much as direct knowledge of the subject.

It can be tough then trying to push ahead, but its helpful that the humor and the styled presentation of “YDKJ” are back in full force, as you’ll not only laugh your ass off reading and sorting out the statements, but learn something about each topic along the way. While not as diverse in its questions, themes, round types, or general gameplay as “You Don’t Know Jack,” it does provide a condensed experience of the best that series offers, with only a few app related hiccups (go for the ad-free and unlimited play $1.99 option to save yourself most of the trouble).

Trivia apps are a dime a dozen, or often cheaper, on mobile platforms, but “Lie Swatter” gets those crucial lightning round bonus points in the competition by being deceivingly simple, incredibly addictive, and most importantly drop dead hilarious. In a game all about separating lies from truth, there can be no doubt “Lie Swatter” is the app of the week.

  

App of the Week: Hater

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Developer: Hate App Inc.

Compatible with: iPhone 3GS and up, iPod Touch 3rd Gen. and up, iPad

Requires: iOS 4.0 or later

Price: Free

Negativity is a tricky concept.

On one hand, you can’t possibly be expected to like everything. Everybody gets irked by certain things, even if the majority of others seem to enjoy them. On the other, nobody wants to be “that guy.” The one whose just a real downer, or takes the wrong moment to publically express their dislike of something that is generally agreed upon, or even something in general.

Recognizing the cramped space your everyday hatreds are working with to run free, one developer has created an app that allows you a digital soapbox for which to air your grievances in “Hater.”

It’s billed as the “Anti-Facebook Like,” which is a perfect summary of its functionality and purpose. With Hater, you can use a combination of photos and text rants to sound off on the things that annoy you most and, much like the infamous like button, allow others to share your grievances with you.

While topics are of course endless, popular suggestions by the developers include annoying people, what your ex is up to, too many Facebook posts, duckface photos, long lines, celebrities, traffic, school and many more. So the mounds of hate don’t overwhelm you and lead you to the darkside, there is a handy function that shows you some of the most hated topics currently being disliked.

You don’t have to rack your brain to picture a world where this kind of thing can get out of hand pretty quickly, and have you hating on hater for all of the hate, but this is a concept that’s time has come. As anyone who has spent any time on internet message boards can tell you, the mobile world is filled with at least as many dislikes as likes, and an app that allows you a place to share that which you despise is a potentially therapeutic breath of fresh air.

For providing a playground of pessimism and serving as a champion of cynics, I’ve got nothing against giving Hater my app of the week.

  

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.

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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.

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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: Temple Run 2

Developer:

Imangi Studios, LLC

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

iPod Touch 3rd Gen and up

iPad

*Available for Android on Jan. 24

Requires:
iOS 4.2 or later

Price:

Free

Available here

*Sigh*

Well I tried.

I tried to find a reason to not put “Temple Run 2” as the app of the week. I wanted to find some obscure, must have gem that was released in the same week as one of the biggest app sequels of all time instead, and hope to help it find some time to share in “Temple Run 2′s” considerable spotlight. Try as I might though, it was still “Temple Run 2” that came on top of the heap.

I probably don’t need to elaborate on the concept of “Temple Run” as with 170 million plus downloads, there’s a good chance you’ve played or heard about it. But just for forms sake, “Temple Run 2” has you playing as an adventurer in pursuit of the golden idol. The actual acquiring of it is never an issue, but the escape from the temple is the real challenge, and this is where the player comes in as they try to escape the temple, and it’s fervent defenders, via a series of course changes, jumps, and other simple (but rapid) interactions, all while trying to collect coins to unlock all kinds of goodies. You can’t survive, but the fun is in how long you last, and how much you can collect.

Since it’s a clearly successful formula, “Temple Run 2” doesn’t find much cause for altering it. Instead, this is a “more is better” type sequel, though that doesn’t mean there aren’t noteworthy additions. A particular highlight of “Temple Run 2” is the graphics, which are significantly improved from its predecessor. Everything is so colorful, varied, and detailed that it becomes impossible to look back at the first game without a scoff. It does cause some problems on older systems because of this, but the visual reward is worth the increased hardware recommendations.

Otherwise, it comes back to that more word to tell you what so great about the game. That would include more power ups (that goes along with more characters), more achievements, more collectibles,  more environments, and best of all more obstacles like zip lines and mine carts that help make playing “Temple Run 2” in long sessions a much greater joy thanks to some genuine variety around every bend.

And of course it all works. “Temple Run” only came out in 2011, and while the novelty of it has long worn off, the fun never really did. “Temple Run 2” celebrates that fact by maintaining the simple joy of the gameplay, and sacrificing none of the addictiveness, but it also knows where to nip and tuck, and where to enhance, so that at least for the first few play-throughs, the game feels new again.

I think the reason that I was hesitant to write about “Temple Run 2” here is because it is such a big, bold, headline grabbing release, it seems almost lazy to join the masses of appraisers and admirers in covering it. Yet after spending some time with the game, I’m reminded that it’s not always about what’s new, what’s bold, and what’s unsung, but that rather sometimes it’s as simple as good is good. Well “Temple Run 2” is certainly good, and it’s also my app of the week.

  

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