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.

  

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App of the Week: Joust Legend

Developer: Rebellion Games

Compatible with: iPad 2 and up,  iPod Touch 5th Gen, iPhone 4S and up

Requires: iOS 4.3

Price: $1.99

Available: here

I think I would have liked to have been a jouster. Sure I can’t ride a horse and am lacking in upper body strength, but my enthusiasm for wearing battle armor and charging at people full speed with vicious intent is second to none.

Sadly since jousting has gone out of fashion in the last several centuries or so, my passion for the sport is relegated to watching “A Knight’s Tale” far too often (it’s both the “Varsity Blues” and “Citizen Kane” of jousting movies), or trying to drunkenly recreate the activity at the pool to mixed (ok, just horrible and awkward) results.

Luckily a new app called “Joust Legend” has come along, and provides me the chance to test my skill on the field of joust, that up until now has been so cruelly withheld.

“Joust Legend” isn’t actually the first jousting game ever, but I can tell you it is the best playing, and by far best looking. The graphics on this app are some of the best the mobile world has ever seen, and are sure to turn heads wherever you take it, as well as constantly surprise you not just with the visual pop they provide, but with the well thought out and executed artistic design that enhances their appeal far beyond the initial wow factor.

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As for the gameplay, it’s as simple as can be. There’s really only three parts to the jousting mechanics (the take-off, lowering your lance, and hitting your target) and all of them are executed with very basic timed swipes and presses. As such you pretty much learn all there is to know about the core game on the first few goes, but really for such a concept, you don’t need anything more than that. The elements of timed control that are present fit perfectly within the basic set up of a joust, and though you may repeat the same movements over and over, the satisfaction of executing them perfectly never really goes away.

The system truly shows its value, however, once you take into account the multiple tournaments, challenges, modes, skills, and various unlockables there are in the game. Good mobile games usually provide you a simple, replayable, and addictive experience, but  the best ones always tack on another reason to keep coming back, and the torrent pace that you unlock new things to do in this game makes each already enjoyable session that much more rewarding.

This is one of those apps that may initially appear to appeal to a niche market, but deserves a download by anyone that appreciates well-made mobile action games that are easy to keep coming back to for short bursts of pure fun. Though the competition isn’t exactly fierce, “Joust Legend” stands alone at the end of the fight as the champion of jousting entertainment, and my app of the week.

  

App of the Week: Status Board

Developer: Panic Inc.

Compatible with: iPad

Requires: iOS 5.0 or later

Price: $9.99

Available here

I think that if someone from, say, 60 years in the past got the chance to visit the world of today, the most shocking thing might not be the technology available, but how we use it.

Think about the power of your iPad for instance. Its impressive abilities as a computer are only bested by its incredible mobility, creating a device that has the potential to access near infinite amounts of knowledge and complete an incalculable amount of tasks at any point in the world. Yet most people probably use it to watch Youtube, play “Fruit Ninja,” and check on the latest mock draft.

If that’s you, and you’ve been thinking of using your iPad for something more productive, consider the new Status Board app.

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Status Board takes all of the data you commonly use, and organizes it all nicely onto a single screen format, until your iPad resembles one of those little data pads they used to carry around on “Star Trek.” The default data feeds include things like your e-mail, twitter, the weather, constantly updating headlines from your favorite sites, and more, but that is just the surface of what Status Board offers. The real value of this app comes from its deep customization options.

While this of course includes features like the ability to re-size and re-arrange every information panel, Status Board goes deeper with functions like the ability to upload almost any data type (allowing for custom charts and graphs), as well use the  built-in HTML programming feature to create nearly any type of panel you can think of. Already, people are coming up with some amazing custom uses for the device.

Status Board isn’t an app for everyone, and I honestly don’t know if I’d have a use for it myself. But for small business owners, website gurus, the hyper-productive, or really anyone in an office environment, it is invaluable. All of the information you could ever want is readily available to be viewed with a glance, or interacted with via a touch. It turns you iPad from potential workplace distraction, to ready source of constant knowledge for yourself and, if you choose to purchase the optional TV hookup feature, everyone else around you.

The current form of this app may not maximize its potential, but even “out of the box,” it instantly maximizes the professional potential of your iPad. A quick scan of the apps description should tell you right away if you have use for it or not, and even if that answer is no, you still have to respect the technical prowess it wields. It’s the kind of app Apple probably had in mind when building the app store, and with the right amount of developer and user support, could prove to be a valuable tool in every major office worldwide.

And yes, it will probably garner the approval of your theoretical time traveling ancestors. That alone secures it 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.

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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.

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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.

  

App of the Week: Brian Cox’s Wonders of the Universe

Developer:
HarperCollins Publishers Ltd

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

iPod touch 3rd gen or up

iPad

Requires:
iOS 5.0

Price:
$5.99

Available here

 

With their endless capabilities, your iPhone and iPad were designed, and marketed, under one simple banner.

The world in your hands.

It was a lofty goal that has, of course, been achieved. With the mind boggling specs, features, and of course applications, there is little of the world that isn’t available to you at high speed and incredible clarity thanks to the iDevices. Now though, there is at least one app out there that says that’s not good enough and would like to give you not the world in your hands, but the entire universe.

Thanks to it, now, as James Bond tried to warn us, the world is not enough.

Brian Cox’s Wonders of the Universe (and no, not that Brian Cox) is based around the four part TV series of the same name where Professor Brian Cox takes viewers on a tour of the known universe with incredible thoroughness and mind boggling visuals. The app aims for the same goal as it allows users to explore the entirety of the known universe with full information and visuals for everything along the way. A lofty goal that it not only achieves but does so in a capacity that is almost impossible to fully understand.

For instance, you start off on a 3D map of the universe, using your fingers to zoom and interact with it. On the top of the screen is a scale option which will allow you to control your viewing capacity of the universe, and ranges from the end of it all, to a zoom in that will let you view the sub-atomic particles that make up everything that is known. On the bottom of the screen is a bar of information that will provide texts, videos, and more about anything you can find and will also let you quick jump to certain things. There is an almost impossible amount of media available on all subjects, with much of it being tied to the miniseries that boldly tried to explain the going ons of the entire universe in an entertaining manner, and nearly achieved it.

That’s one thing to consider about this app. You can call it an educational tool, and it most certainly is, but its greater achievement is the entertainment. Professor Cox travels the world to capture events like the aurora borealis and a total eclipse in their most perfect forms. His experiments are both incredible exhibitions of the known, and fascinating explorations of the unknown, and it’s his love of it all that frames the entire app, and makes it half of what it is.

The other, arguably larger, part of the app doesn’t involve any pre-loaded media, but rather the joy of exploration. When you consider how much information and visuals are available for just the Earth alone on top of that same level of depth being provided for essentially everything we know about the large part of entirety, you could argue that much like the universe itself, there is no real end to this app. There certainly is no end to the fun it provides.

Which does bring up one of the minor sticking points of this app. At $5.99 it is a little more expensive than the usual app, but as you may have already figured out, it is hard to argue that you don’t get what you pay for. Also, while the app is now available for the iPhone and iPod touch, to truly appreciate it you really do need an iPad, preferably with the retina display.

That aside, if you have the proper set up and the funds what you get is an app that fills you with this otherworldly feeling that is like someone injected pure wonder into your veins. It successfully covers the bold topic of everything, with a careful wisdom and infinite amount of fun. There is no moon, star, landmark, black hole, sun, or planet that isn’t included for detailed exploration, and all of it is beautiful and fascinating.

Much more than a time waster, and something far greater than a textbook, there is no classification for this app that would easily explain or define it. Not only is it nearly everything about nearly everything, it is also my app of the week.

  

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