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?”

  

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App of the Week – Fiz: The Brewery Management Game

Developer: Bit By Bit Studios

Compatible with: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch

Requires: iOS 4.3

Price: $1.99

Available: Here

While every man has no doubt entertained the thought of brewing their own beer at some point, the incredibly pricey and unappealing process of actually doing so tends to successfully deter all but the most die hard of brewmeisters.

Instead of lamenting another goal tossed by the wayside, though, why not download “Fiz: The Brewery Management Game” and put those ale ambitions and distillery dreams to the test?

“Fiz” is another in a line of micromanagement games that have have thus far covered everything from restaurants to the death star. The objective here, as you no doubt guessed, is to start a brewery in your garage and turn it into a world wide name in fine beer.

As you also probably guessed, it takes a lot of work to get there. On the road to success you’ll have to perfect your recipe, craft it, sell it, keep an eye on the market place, hire and fire employees with various skills, upgrade your equipment, compete with rival breweries, compete in beer challenges, kill rodents, complete special assignments, and much, much more.

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If it sounds like a lot of work that’s because it is. This is a game that asks a lot out of you and, no matter how successful of a brewery you may be running, is constantly giving you something to do.

While that could be a bad thing, somehow the developers managed to present all of this information and all of these tasks to you in a very gradual way that makes it so you may always be busy, but you’ll never be lost. This philosophy extends to the controls as well, as everything is handled through  just a few taps.

You can’t overstate how important that balance is to the fun factor of this game. Too often this genre produces titles that are either too simple to last, or too complex to be enjoyable. That “Fiz” so expertly gives you so much to do, and presents it in a way so that the instant you’re asked to do more is the moment you’re ready for it, is a true accomplishment in game design.

It also doesn’t hurt that the game doesn’t take itself seriously at all from an aesthetic standpoint. Everything from the writing, to the sounds, to the character designs have been expertly crafted to infuse a level of fun into all the game’s various proceedings, and they go a long way to keeping the proceedings light when they could otherwise so easily become hectic and aggravating.

Another in a strand of Kickstarter success stories, “Fiz” is simply a highly enjoyable game that takes some already intriguing subject matter, and bolsters its appeal with airtight game design. I never realized how little I was enjoying other micromanagement titles, until I started to spend some real time with “Fiz.” It’s such a marvel of the genre that that you’ll want to buy the developers a beer after just a little time with it.

With no micro-transactions to its name and hours upon hours of content to explore, “Fiz” is a prime example of mobile gaming done right. Take a break from all your worries, crack open a cold one, and be sure to spend some time with this lovingly brewed app of the week.

  

App of the Week: Stealth Inc.


Developer: Curve Digital Games

Compatible with: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch

Requires: iOS 4.3

Price: $4.99

Available: here

There are two types of games that get ported from other platforms to mobile devices. Those which the developers struggle to adapt to the new platform and often end up feeling like a “good enough” effort, and those that fit into the mobile scene like a glove, and sometimes end up being better than their original incarnations.

Consider “Stealth Inc.” to not only be a member of the latter party, but a candidate for its poster child.

Originally known as “Stealth Bastard,” when it debuted on the PC and Mac, “Stealth Inc.” may have undergone a PR friendly name change, but still maintains the incredible challenge that made the original title so apt. Yes, “Stealth Inc.” is one of those games that punishes you over and over again in your pursuit of victory. It’s often compared to the indie sensation “Super Meat Boy,” which is fitting consdiering both games force you to navigate an increasingly difficult series of levels in the pursuit of making that one perfect run which will see you proceed to your next little slice of hell.

The greatest difference between the two is  “Stealth Inc.’s,” use of its titular stealth elements. Whereas “Super Meat Boy” used a variety of old school gaming traps to help you meet your demise (fire, spikes, etc.), “Stealth” borrows more from games like “Splinter Cell” and “Metal Gear Solid” as many of your traps include security cameras, spotlights, and good old fashioned guards. For the most part, the shift in style is largely a cosmetic one as in the case of both games regardless of what the trap is your entire purpose is still to avoid them. However, there is a slight gameplay benefit to this seemingly minor change of obstacle, as there are the occasional moments where you are actually able to stop and formulate a plan, rather than just rush in and hope for better results through trial and error.

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However, even on an aesthetic level the shift to stealth does the game an incredible benefit, as the art style and game world are all deeply committed to the stealth genre and help to really lend an enjoyable sense of environment to the game. It’s refreshing that in a game as big as this one (over 80 levels, before the optional community map pack), that such an effort was put into keeping things visually fresh throughout.

The appeal of these types of games from person to person are always based off the question of whether or not you are prepared to handle the challenge they throw at you. However, unlike other similar games which are all difficulty and little else, “Stealth Inc.” proposes a challenge that is often frustrating, but is never caused by bad controls or cheap tactics. Instead this is a test of your mettle and reflexes that may ask of all that you have to best it, but dangles that carrot of victory just far enough in front of you that you are rightfully convinced that with enough determination above all, you can reach it.

“Stealth Inc.” is another in a thankfully long line of examples that the 2D platformer is as alive and well on the mobile scene. However, there is a sense of style and cleverness about it that immediately sets it apart from some admirable competition, and makes it worthy of your consideration first above all others. “Stealth Inc.” recognizes that the value of a reward increases as the difficulty of obtaining it does, and doles out brutal challenges and great rewards in equal, generous measure throughout its considerable length. “Stealth Inc.” may not appeal to everyone, but it’s hard to not see it as 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: 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.

  

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