App of the Week – Futuridium EP

Developer: Mixedbag SRL

Compatible with: iPhone 4 and up, iPod Touch 4th gen and up, iPad

Requires: iOS 6.0

Price: $1.99

Available: here 

There’s a popular trend in gaming going around, and it involves making games as difficult as feasibly possible, forcing the user to die and die again until they finally make a marginal amount of progress. You then repeat this process until you either complete the game (not likely) or watch your eyeballs explode in rage (not technically possible, but still more likely).

They go by many names, and come in many forms, but this one is called “Futuridium EP.”

Even more difficult to beat than pronounce, “Futuridium” has a story, but it basically boils down to you’ve been sent to a balls trippingly psychedelic universe where you are tasked with destroying a series of cubes to expose the main cube (called the core) which you then destroy to escape.

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Not exactly Pulitzer worthy, but it does give you a good enough setting for which to make runs over colorfully bizarre levels and destroy your objectives. The difficulty of this comes in small part through its tricky touch screen controls, but in larger part through your constantly depleting energy bar that only refills at the end of a level. It’s that bar that requires you to make pinpoint perfect runs, which isn’t made any easier by the having to start over at the very beginning of the game after each numerous failure, unless you earn the rare continue by hitting certain milestones.

Like so many similar titles, the difficulty alone would usually be reason enough to never touch this game, if it weren’t for some genuinely enjoyable aspects. While the basic cube shooting is fondly reminiscent of many quarter sucking arcade classics, and at first glance you’ll likely get a serious “Starfox” vibe, really the game reminds me most of the cult classic shooter “Rez,” due to its mind altering visuals, and engaging soundtrack that begs for a good pair of headphones.

Also like “Rez,” the combination of those aspects completely immerses you in the experience, which is particularly useful as the game requires a zen like state to complete. This is not a game for the casual player, and in fact it does at times feel slightly out of place on a mobile platform due to that. However, even the shortest play sessions can all contribute to building that perfect run, and that perfect run is sheer nirvana, even if you crash and burn on the next level.

“Futuridium” is not a perfect app, nor is it intended for everyone. If you’re looking for a gauge of whether or not you will dig it, then ask yourself if an arcade game that will beat you down without mercy, and assault your senses with an enthralling soundtrack and unique visuals, while threatening your routine by causing you to miss train stops and phone calls as you contemplate the limits of your control issues sounds appealing.

If so, then check out “Futuridium,” a truly trippy app of the week.

  

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App of the Week: Gentlemen!

Developer: Lucky Frame

Compatible with: iPad, Android Tablets 7 inches and up

Requires: iOS 5.0 or later, Android 2.0.1 and up

Price: $4.99

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

While the traditional duel we often think of (a slap of the glove, a demand for satisfaction, pistols at dawn/swords on the morrow, etc.) has long gone out of practice (if it every truly existed that way at all), the fascination surrounding the concept is more prevalent than ever in a time when insults travel the world over at the speed of the internet, and the chances to confront your offender in a mano y mano manner is nonexistent to the point of reducing many to message board retorts delivered under the shroud of anonymity, in the hopes it may provide said satisfaction.

They so rarely do, however, which is when the appeal of a one on one confrontation to determine the victor sheds its barbaric imagery, and starts sounding like the practical alternative.

“Gentlemen!” is an app that harkens back to those times, while embracing a more modern way of presenting the classic duel. Playing as two cartoon gentlemen (of which we will assume are of Victorian England descent to enhance the image) you and a friend (or “scoundrel” as the case may be) are tasked with each taking one end of a tablet, and controlling your selected gentlemen in his bid to rid the world of his rival through a variety of means.

However, that is the point that “Gentlemen!” drops all notions of representing anything even vaguely historic, or practical, and starts having fun.

For instance, while said means can include traditional dueling equipment such as knives, the randomly switching weapons are more likely to yield bizarre devices such as explosive homing birds, lightning bolts, or sticks of dynamite. In what I hope is a statement that will help convey the joyful madness often present, matches often resemble animated “Spy v.s. Spy” strips.

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Said matches also come in three different gameplay types. Duel is a straight up one on one fight to the finish with random weapons, while the more intriguing Chasing mode sees one player go unarmed as he tries to escape his opponent, while waiting to receive his turn with the weapon. The third, and unfortunately least appealing, gametype, Diamond, is like Duel, but with the added objective of collecting on screen diamonds.

Regardless of the mode, you’ll be able to play it smoothly thanks to simple controls that most including running, jumping, and attacking. The only other button is a gravity switch that makes sense when you consider the different perspectives that each player will view their character at when sharing a tablet. The gravity switch allows you to swap your perspective to match your opponent as needed in order to strike them.

While on the subject of the game’s perspective, it must be noted that the game’s biggest weakness is its accessibility. While finding two people, one of which has a compatible tablet and a copy of the game, is not an impossible proposition, it will prevent you from accessing the game as often as you may like, and will straight up deny those without tablet access.

However, it’s a positive sign when a game’s greatest weakness is the inability to play it, but that is the case with “Gentlemen!” So long as you can play it, you get to enjoy a frantic and engaging multiplayer experience that never fails to lead to vicarious hoots of victory, shameful admissions of defeat, and fun for all. It’s rare that any game manages to capture everything that made the competitive arcade gaming scene so great without resorting to providing a port of a title from that time, but with poise and pride worthy of its cartoonish leads, “Gentlemen!” does just that.

There’s a selfish part of me that wants “Gentlemen!” to remain under the radar, so that the lucky few that stumble across it can feel as if they are in their own secret league of gentlemen (and an extraordinary one at that). However, in an effort to be more like the men of honor that in so many tales competed in the duels that inspired this game, I present you “Gentlemen!,” my app of the week.

  

App of the Week: Tiny Token Empires

Developer: HeroCraft Ltd.

Compatible with: Android Devices

Requires: Android 2.3 and Up

Price: $2.99

Available: here

I set out to find a productive app this week. Truly I did.

Though there were a couple of worthy candidates (the lively note taking app mem:0 and the resume creating app resume designer both warrant a look), one app peaked my interest more than any other this week, and kept me from being productive entirely.

In the spirit of trying to bring the best of the best in apps then, I’ve got to tell you about “Tiny Token Empires”.

If you’ve ever played “Puzzle Quest” or its sequel, you’ve already got an idea of what to expect from “Empires.” The difference is that while “Puzzle Quest” was an RPG that used matching puzzles in place of traditional combat, “Empires” is a world conquest sim with a similar puzzle battle formula.

You’d expect the world sim aspect to be the focus of this game then to separate itself, but you’d be wrong. That part is essentially an extremely watered down version of the “Civilization” games, as you build your resources and expand your empire by conquering the towns of nearby nations. While elements of that series like unit types, special characters and troop movements are present in “Empires,” all political aspects, or anything unrelated to military movements are not.

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It’s a simplified style that only works as well as it does by playing second to what is an excellent puzzle system. Whenever combat is initiated, whether it be with rival armies or mythical creatures, a puzzle board is shown with all units involved displayed on both sides. To attack, you have to combine three of the same puzzle tiles (think “Bejeweled”) that match the color of one of your units. Defeat all enemy units, and victory is yours.

The combat element adds an incredibly welcome depth to the otherwise standard system, as you’ll have to always consider the colors you need, as well as your opponent to attempt to counter their best attacks. Similarly, getting the right combo chain can turn the tide of the battle entirely, as the right one can win you a battle instantly, or lose you everything. It brings an element of urgency to an otherwise casual game, and ironically leads to more strategy than the strategy element.

Like so many other noteworthy gaming apps, where “Empires” stands out is its style. Don’t be turned off by the cartoon looks, as they’re just used to enhance the game’s tongue-in-cheek approach to history. It’s not the type of humor that’ll have you laughing out loud, but it makes the game feel lively and spirited helping to combat the redundancy even the best of mobile games can fall victim too.

“Empires” is just the perfect example of a mobile gaming experience. At its heart it’s a pick up and play anytime puzzle game that everyone should have one of on their device, but the combat and five unique strategy campaigns, along with the well implemented art style, give it the kind longevity and depth not usually present in puzzle games. It all leads to a game that’s hard to put down, and impossible to forget.

“Tiny Token Empires” didn’t exactly invent its core concept, but it does execute it in a way that stands out from anything of its kind, and provides your next mobile game addiction without apology. So join me and put productivity off until next week (maybe) by trying “Tiny Token Empires,” my app of the week.

  

App of the Week – XCOM: Enemy Unknown

Developer: 2K Studios

Compatible with: iPod Touch 5th gen and up, iPad 2, iPad Mini, iPhone 4S and up (optimized for iPhone 5)

Requires: iOS 5.0

Price: $20.00

Available: here

There’s a lot to be said about “XCOM: Enemy Unknown” for iOS, but none of it can be said without eventually mentioning the price.

Yes, “XCOM” is a $20 gaming app, in a world where $20 can also easily translate to owning 20 gaming apps. This will cause many people dismay, or even fits of laughter.

But I’m not going to talk about the price just yet. Instead I just want to focus on “XCOM.”

XCOM” took the console and PC world by storm last year as gamers everywhere discovered the joy of running a worldwide alien defense organization, and commanding troops on the ground in tense and violent tactical operation scenarios. A revival of one of the most complicated and hardcore PC franchises of all time, “Enemy Unknown” somehow managed to find a way to maintain the things that made that series great, while also making the experience much more manageable and appealing to the more mainstream gaming market.

Of course the star of the game is its permadeath system. Much like last weeks “Sword and Glory” app, death is not only around every corner in “XCOM,” but when it happens you lose that soldier for good. This is made worse by how much you can customize a soldier to make them your own, and the hours you will inevitably spend leveling up your favorites. No matter how much time or effort you put into a character though, one false move and they are dead and gone.

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It’s a punishing system to be sure, but it gives the game an element of tension that would be impossible without it. Every decision matters in “XCOM,” whether it be on the battlefield, or in the management mode when trying to determine what countries to aid (you can’t save them all) and what research to pursue in order to manufacture new items and weapons. Every moment in “XCOM” is spent making these tough decisions, and as such success and joy are found not in glorious moments of gratification, but just through mere survival, and a chain of little moments that make up your 30+ hour playtime.

A glorious moment of success is to be found, though, the minute you boot up the game and realize that this is indeed the entire “XCOM” experience (sans multiplayer) on a mobile device. Sure the graphics took a very slight hit, but this is compensated for by some nice touch controls that add to the feeling of being the “Commander” character the game casts you as. While playing this on an iPhone over an iPad is not the most welcoming of propositions, again it’s the fact it even exists in that format in a playable manner that deserves recognition.

Ultimately though, even though this is still every inch of the original 2012 game of the year candidate expertly ported by 2K to a potentially hostile format, it does come back to the price. While $20 spent well is a fair amount of money, the fact is that $20 for this game is a steal, considering it means you’re getting what is essentially a console game at about a third of the original price, to take with you wherever you go. The price is all a matter of perspective, and in an app world where a “Free” game can easily set you back around $20 when you consider in-app purchases (of which “XCOM” has none) and usually are not of this level of quality, you really have to call this a case of paying an appropriate price for what you get.

“XCOM” defied expectations last year and made most of its fans out of people who never played this type of strategy game before, much less the franchise. With any of the luck I do not have when I play this game (my guys die a lot), this mobile version will do the same as it’s a near-flawless port of that all-time great strategy experience.

So get ready to craft a virtual graveyard of fallen soldiers, start seeing Chryssalids in you nightmares, and get addicted to “XCOM” all over again as it’s not only a perfect port, but my app of the week.

  

App of the Week: Sword and Glory

Developer: Ifelse Media Ltd.

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

Requires: iOS 4.0 and up, Android 2.0.1 and up

Price: Free

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

If you’re anything like me, you’re suffering some serious withdrawals this week, as there will be no new “Game of Thrones” episode on Sunday, and winter itself will have come and gone by the time we get more.

However, if you are similarly disheartened by the hibernation of television’s best show, there is a simple solution that can tide you over for the long wait.

Read the books.

Should that not be enough to feed the hunger though, then also consider downloading “Sword and Glory.”

It’s a medieval-ish era gaming app that shares several similarities with the HBO series, starting with the basis of families feuding. Right from the outset you are asked to align yourself with one of three warring clans (or choose to go on your own), for which to win glory for. After choosing some personal attributes that help create your character, you’ll find that winning glory mostly boils down to completing various quests that all lead to one-on-one duels with some undesirables.

Making up the bulk of the gameplay, the dueling system in “Sword & Glory” is of the easy to learn, but tough to master variety. It only consists of two basic functions (block and attack) which can each be accomplished through various levels of force, with the basic goal being to get past your enemies’ defenses and kill them. I’ve heard it compared to a “rock, paper, scissors” style, but it’s more about timing and rhythm, especially in later parts where the difficulty shoots up quickly and you are forced to think and act appropriately.

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In another interesting parallel to “Thrones,” the world of “Sword & Glory” is a morally grey one, even though the game’s graphical palate is pleasingly rendered in black and white. Choices must be made around every corner which can hold great sway over proceedings both immediate and long term. Though not as ambiguous or ambitions as say “The Walking Dead,” you’ll often find yourself pausing before decisions to consider your actions, lending weight to the more quiet moments, and some unexpected depth to an otherwise bare bones plot.

Hands down though, the biggest comparison between the two properties is their shared belief that all men must die. Death is inevitable in “Sword & Glory” and once it occurs, your character is gone forever, with their accomplishments immortalized in the game’s ever expanding graveyard. Fear not though, as once death occurs, you may continue on as the next in your character’s line and, while you lose any silver and stats your previous creation had, you retain the glory points they accrued (which can be traded for currency and rare items) and all their equipment as well.

It’s an absolutely brilliant lineage concept that lends both urgency to all your current proceedings, and serious replay value long term, as you attempt to progress a little further each generation. Even if it weren’t present though, you’d find plenty of motivation to keep playing thanks to a perfectly tuned combat system and plenty of enhancements to both your character and homestead to purchase, not to mention the various quests, paths, achievements, and final legacies available to pursue based on your choices.

Sure it’s nothing new in RPG terms, but I can’t overstate how well executed it all is. What you get with “Sword & Glory” is a finely tuned (and damn good looking) mobile RPG that is built upon one of the least forgiving permadeath systems I’ve ever seen, thanks to a lack of stored save points, beyond where you left off. While it can be frustrating to lose a character you’ve invested hours in, it only furthers your motivation to do better the next time, and to die every time with as much glory as possible.

I may keep mentioning “Game of Thrones” since I stumbled upon “Sword & Glory” while getting over my withdraws from the show, but in no way does it relies on that, or any other, property or context to stand out, thanks to a rare mix of raw emotion, depth, and accessibility. In a game all about establishing your legacy and forging a name for yourself, I’m happy to bestow “Sword and Glory” with the title of app of the week.

  

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