App of the Week: Wrestle Jump

Developer: Otto-Ville Ojala

Compatible with: iPhone 4 and up (optimized for iPhone 5), iPod touch 3rd gen and up, iPad 2 and up, Android devices

Requires: iOS 4.3 or later (Android version depends on device)

Price: $1.99 (free on Android)

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

When you really think about it, great gaming apps usually come in some pretty odd forms.

For instance we’ve seen apps that make ninjas slice fruit, or feature birds suicide bombing entrenched pigs set the world on fire, while glorified versions of Pictionary and Scrabble have destroyed free time and traditional social lives. It’s a history that should have taught me that at any time, from any concept, the next great gaming app can emerge.

Still though, I never would have imagined that a two button game with luchadores joined at the arms fighting to bash the other ones head would have been that game.

But wouldn’t you know it, “Wrestle Jump” is truly great.

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Though strange, the concept of “Wrestle Jump” couldn’t be simpler. You and a conjoined opponent (computer or real) battle for supremacy by trying to force the other ones head against the nearest solid object. Doing so gets you a point, first to five points wins, and you can add to the pandemonium by activating ice sections and wind.

The only control available to you in “Wrestle Jump” is a single arcade button (used to propel your character’s legs, and make them jump), but there is a layer of strategy involved that isn’t immediately evident. The game is really all about defense and momentum, as mashing the button as fast as you can usually results in losses, while timing and situational awareness win the day.

Yet, there is also a chaotic randomness to “Wrestle Jump” that negates even the best strategies. A hit can come at any time, which can be either highly satisfying, or incredibly frustrating depending on what side you’re on, but it applies equally to both players and rarely feels unfair. Instead, it lends an unpredictability to every contest that provides a part of the game’s appeal.

The bigger part of the game’s appeal though is the two-player mode. Hands down this is one of my all-time favorite mobile multiplayer games ever, and its due in large part to the fact that both players can share one phone (or better yet, tablet) to play it. It makes an already simple game even more accessible, and ensures that no “Wrestle Jump” round ever passes without a healthy amount of “Oohs and Aahs,” as well as abundant smack talk and sweet moments of victory. It’s everything you could ever want from a multiplayer game, and provides one of the greatest arcade style two player experiences since the golden age of arcade gaming.

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“Wrestle Jump” is an app you might play occasionally by yourself, but in the company of a friend becomes one of the most entertaining games of the year on any platform. It encourages a level of competitiveness that you don’t usually get from mobile games, and it does it without guns, cars, puzzles, or any of the other things you associate with the concept. Instead, this is head to head gaming distilled to its purest form.

Yes, “Wrestle Jump” is really that much fun. You could argue that its single player game is dull (it is) but you are never far from its multiplayer mode, and the sheer competitive joy it brings. Because of that mode, and with a little help from Google translate, I can confidently tell you that “Wrestle Jump” es mi aplicación de la semana.

  

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App of the Week: Star Command

Developer: Star Command LLC.

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

Requires: iOS 4.3 or later

Price: $2.99

Available here

Captain’s Log Stardate 90946.8

After years in development following a successful Kickstarter campaign, “Star Command” is now available for the app store, and provides a universe spanning strategy title, that offers the chance to chart the unknown and boldly go where no game has gone before.

Well…ok that’s an exaggeration.

In fact, “Star Command” has a lot in common with the PC indie hit “FTL,” right down to the Kickstarter origins, as both games task you with the same objective of traversing different galaxies and defeating some of the toughest scum in the galaxy through ship to ship battles, and onboard scuffles, all as captain of your very own space ship.

While the games may share a similar product description, where “Star Command” differs, and ultimately shines, is in the number of little things.

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For instance, the graphics are exceptional. Whereas “FTL” was all about minimalism, “Star Command” looks similar to old PC games like “XCOM” or “Syndicate” and gets the most out of its perspective thanks to a bright and detailed style. The cutscenes are also straight out of a Lucasarts adventure game, and really drive home the humor, danger, and even frights of the game based on the current situation.

As for the gameplay, there is a lot of it. After you’ve customized your captain, you are now responsible for hiring a crew, and assigning them to three different job classes, as well as building and customizing your ships weapons and systems, which are all acquired by using tokens that are earned along the way. Once everything is eventually in place, the game mostly revolves around combat, for which you are responsible for the command of every single aspect of the ship. When it’s time to fire the plasma beams, that’s up to you. When a team needs to be organized to fend off a boarding party, that’s up to you. And when all hell is breaking loose and no hope seems to be available, it’s again down to you.

That last one is important, as things can get out of control very easily. This is not an easy game by any means, as “Star Command” requires your complete concentration, and the ability to multitask like a machine, if you are ever going to have a chance of surviving. Your survival is the key too, as once the captain goes down, the game is over.

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Don’t let the doom and gloom keep you away though, as even at its most frustrating “Star Command” is an ambitious and extremely entertaining title that does a great job at promoting an atmosphere where anything can happen at any turn. Exploring the universe truly feels like you’re doing just that, since the variety of enemies and scenarios present at each location rarely, if ever, repeats, making each new adventure feel like some lost episode of “Star Trek.”

In fact it’s probably no coincidence that this game is coming out so close to the new “Star Trek” movie, as if you are a fan of that series, or of anything sci-fi, this app is a beam down from the heavens. It’s a complex, yet accessible and rewarding, adventure that requires several levels of active and passive strategies. Every effort proves worth it though, as it all contributes to a title that lets you experience what it’s like to be at the helm of your own sci-fi ship.

“Star Command” is the perfect type of strategy game for your phone, and with any luck will be the start of a franchise that will live long and prosper. For now though, this game proudly serves as 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: 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: Table Top Racing

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Developer:

Playrise Edge Ltd.

Compatible with:
iPhone (optimized for iPhone 5)

iPod Touch

iPad

Requires:
iOS 5.0 or later

Price:

$2.99

Available here

So like all kids, I’m guessing you enjoyed playing with “Micro Machines” and “Hot Wheels.” If you were a Playstation user, I bet you like the high speed sci-fi racing series “Wipeout.” And like all everybody everywhere, you probably think “Mario Kart” is awesome.

So if I were to tell you that there was a “Hot Wheels” styled kart racing combat game like “Mario Kart” from some of the makers of “Wipout,” would that be something you’re interested in?

Well I hope so, because that’s just what we’ve got, and it’s called “Table Top Racing.” In it, you compete in several races, circuits and events against a variety of different model toy cars, which are unlockable and customizable, in both single player and online multiplayer modes. Rather than a simple sprint to the finish though, you’ll also use several weapons against your foes including the leader finding heat seeker missile and a beyond devastating EMP bomb.

The best part of “Table Top Racing” is it’s care with the subject matter. Everything about the game feels like playing out the most involved of all your toy car racing fantasies, a feature highlighted by the game’s best aspect, the tracks. All of the eight tracks are cleverly designed common world environments modified to create racetracks. For example, you’ll find yourself maneuvering around sandwiches on a picnic table at a Bar-B-Que, winding around oil cans on a work bench, or (in the best and most appropriate level) racing through a child’s room surrounded by classic toys. The track design is inspired and vibrant to the point of being almost distracting at times, but the brilliant layout keeps them fresh and even learning to keep your eyes on the course takes nothing from their creativity.

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As for the gameplay, it’s not near as fast or hectic as the “Wipeout” and “Mario Kart” series that inspired it, but the controls are tight and races are almost always competitive, due in part to the influence of the variety of weapons, and some reasonably challenging AI. There’s always a competitive spirit to the game that somehow never overwhelms the loose sense of fun.

There aren’t enough racing games like this available on mobile systems, and there are none as good as “Table Top Racing.” I wish there were more shortcuts, races, tracks, and speed, but when your biggest knock against a game is that there should be more of it, that’s generally an indication of things going right. That is certainly the case here as “Table Top Racing” does many, many things right, leading to an intense, yet casual approach to the mobile racer with just the right amount of nostalgia to fuel it.

As a, most likely, adult, you are too old to play with your toy cars anymore. With “Table Top Racing” though, you’ll never miss them as it’s the best game of toy cars you never got to play as a child, and my app of the week.

  

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