App of the Week: NarcoGuerra

Developer: Game the News

Compatible with: Android Devices

Requires: Android 2.1 and up

Price: $1.04

Available: here

Despite being a short week for most, this has been one of the more bountiful weeks for apps in recent memory. While such notable releases like the iPad release of the immortal “Knights of the Old Republic,” a long overdue great Warhammer gaming app in “Warhammer Quest,” and the creatively exciting music creation app “Musyc,” all deserve recognition, there is one that deserves it even more, for several reasons.

“NarcoGuerra” is a “Risk” like strategy game that sees you take tactical control of the Mexican police force, as they fight their war against the drug cartels plaguing the nation. To do so, you will need to gather intel, battle corruption, and take over cartel controlled and disputed territories all while defending your own via troop distribution and mastering a (initially) simple numbers system. Victory is achieved when you have rid Mexico of the cartel.

Except, just as in real life, it’s never quite that easy. The developer’s larger purpose in “NarcoGuerra” is to make people aware of the astoundingly violent and never ending war that is the real cartel battle in Mexico. To do so, they have made the game’s main mode punishingly difficult, and yes even a bit unfair. Just when you think you’ve got everything under control (which is rare), suddenly corruption destroys your efforts from within, or you’ll be betrayed by bad intel, delayed by the death of a major commander, or stunned by the rise of a new cartel power. The better you do in “NarcoGuerra,” the tougher the cartel pushes back, making defeat most prevalent, the closer you get to victory.

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It may not sound like much fun, but it very much is. You’re fighting a war that can technically be won, but only just so. As a result you’ve got a lot of gameplay on your slow march to victory that includes all of the usual tactical strategy game niceties, as well as elements unique to the backdrop, like deciding which president to throw your financial support behind in the hopes of turning the tide. The combination of these elements produces an experience that feels appropriately, and effectively, authentic to the context

“NarcoGuerra” uses an un-winnable war as a perfect backdrop to a tense and exciting strategy game that remains a challenge despite whatever mastery you may perceive you have of the proceedings. You may never beat “NarcoGuerra,” but you are also unlikely to tire of fighting the good fight, thanks to some rewarding, ambitious, innovative, difficult, and (somewhat ironically) addictive gameplay.

While the still entertaining multiplayer and skirmish modes are focused on providing a more “video game” experience, it is the main story mode that is the draw. It focuses on a real world horror that deserves more attention, and uses it to enhance what is at its core, one of the most intelligent and entertaining mobile strategy games available. “NarcoGuerra” could have been a blunt political message thinly disguised as a video game, but instead it is a strong and important statement that takes the form of my app of the week.

  

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App of the Week: Pizza Compass

Developer: Oak

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

Requires: iOS 6.0 or later

Price: $0.99

Available here

A scenario.

It’s 2 A.M. and you’re the kind of drunk that usually only follows a particularly joyous event, or a particularly disastrous one. While concerns such as the bar tab you just threw on your credit card, and that black eye forming over a disagreement over that girl you don’t remember will soon dominate your thoughts, the only worry at the moment is where you can get a slice of pizza in this unknown part of town that you were highly familiar with only four shots ago.

While you can ask a stranger (unlikely and potentially dangerous) or navigate Yelp and Google Maps (not a chance in your current state), what you really need is a digital arrow that simply shows you where the nearest pizza is right damn now.

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Such is the purpose of Pizza Compass. Simply spin the app’s pizza icon and you’ll soon be directed to the nearest slice joints, and even be provided with a steaming pizza graphic when you’re in range. Should you have the need, you can also explore the built in map to view all nearby pizza places, and get photos, hours, reviews courtesy of Foursquare, and more.

Described as both a no frills app, and “the most important app ever made,” the makers of Pizza Compass are very aware of both the incredibly simple nature of the program, and the fact it is absolutely essential. You can easily make the well-reasoned and fact based argument that everyone with a soul enjoys pizza, and as such it is highly likely that at some point, you will appreciate having an app that cuts through the crap (as in other food that isn’t pizza) and gets you on the right path to enjoying the greatest thing to ever come in slice form (that’s right…suck it mere bread).

A further scenario. It’s now 2:30 A.M., and you’ve soaked up a medically advisable amount of excess alcohol courtesy of a hot and greasy peperoni pizza, all thanks to Pizza Compass. With the few brain cells left firing, you realize that Pizza Compass is in fact the app of the week.

  

App of the Week: Stealth Assassin

Developer: Erman Haskan

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

Requires: iOS 4.3 or later

Price: $0.99

Available here

While I always try to find the newest possible apps to bring to this column, occasionally an app can be missed for a few weeks. Sometimes it can be a mystery how this happens, but in the case of “Stealth Assassin,” it seems oddly appropriate that it would exist unnoticed.

In “Stealth Assassin” you take the role of the titular stealth assassin, and navigate 100+ maze like levels in order to take out your wandering green man target and escape within a time limit. There to stop you are a squad of roaming blue guards, with flashlight aided cones of vision, who patrol around the target, and swarm upon and shoot you if you cross their path. To help turn the tides are your abilities of super speed and invisibility, which drain your re-filling power bar.

If “Stealth Assassin” sounds, and looks, simple in its graphics, concept, gameplay, and plot, that’s because it’s based on a flash game series known as “Ultimate Assassin,” and flash games aren’t typically known for triumphs in any of those things. What they are known for are oddly addictive experiences based on somewhat quirky concepts, accomplished in a way so that they serve equal doses of fun to those playing for a few minutes, or those who find themselves oddly hooked hours later.

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“Stealth Assassin” retains that same experience in its transition to mobile. It’s got a little resemblance to stealth classics like “Metal Gear,” but oddly it reminds me more of a demented cross between “Pac-Man,” “Bomberman,” and “Hotline Miami.” At first navigating your way to the target and escaping is a simple, but satisfying, proposition, but the difficulty wastes no time in ramping up, and soon you’ll find every wit and reflex you have available working to complete the later stages. Doing so provides that perfect ratio of effort to satisfaction, that is only enhanced replay wise by the addition of achievements on each stage that tempt you to better your  best.

If there is a knock against “Stealth Assassin,” it’s  that the controls are touchy and take some serious mastering so they don’t interrupt your enjoyment. However, when you consider that this is a value title based around a very simple idea, there’s not much more you can knock “Stealth Assassin” for, as it gets the most out of its premise, and delivers a game that is worth considerably more than its asking price in terms of how often you’ll find yourself going to it when you have the free moment to do so.

Summing up “Stealth Assassin” is like describing the perfect real assassin. It exhibits no flash, and instead is quickly in and quickly out, leaving nothing but a job well done in its wake. For exhibiting the benefits of the professional execution of simplicity, “Stealth Assassin” is 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: Stow

Developer:

Apptifica, LLC

Compatible with:
iPhone 3GS and up

iPod Touch 3rd Gen and up

iPad

Requires:
iOS 6.0 or later

Price:

$1.99

Available here

Much like Déjà vu’, that feeling that you forgot something when leaving your nest for an extended period of time is a near universal one. Almost always, it has no real bearing, but is unshakable nonetheless once it dawns upon you. While the feeling may be inescapable, with the new packing aid app “Stow”,  you can make sure that’s it’s just a phantom notion, as you can be guaranteed that everything you could possibly need is safely on hand.

Where “Stow” succeeds in an over-packed app field (pun sadly intended) is in its smart philosophy to packing. Rather than provide a grocery shopping style checklist of items, “Stow” takes a more lively approach to the subject by allowing you to account for factors like the amount of days you will be away, what the weather is going to be like during your time there, and even if laundry will be available. Only from there do you go into the checklist mode, where you are now equipped to factor in exactly what you will need, for all days, and conditions. It will even advise you as to common items you may need for individual weather conditions, and handedly provides subsections for various accessory types such as electronics and first aid, so no possible stone is left unturned.

An even more useful feature are the templates. With these, you can set a basic needs list based on what type of trip you are going on. Examples include: golf, beach, business, family, city, and more. All of them factor in essential (and handy) items for the various situations, and while they may not represent complete universal rundowns, it’s an excellent starting point. Even better is the ability to create your own templates based on common trips you take, so that you can have a “go to list” tuned exactly to your needs.

There’s more to the app of course, including abilities to factor in multiple people (useful for families), the ability to create a short list for your morning routine, you can print lists, save them as spreadsheets, share them, etc. It all comes together to create an app that feels very complete, as it accounts for so many potential aspects of such a specific task. At $1.99, its one of the more pricey apps of its kind, but for anyone that travels with any regularity, or has a serious forgetfulness problem when packing, the usefulness of “Stow” justifies it’s price immediately.

Ironically the only essential item the app can’t account for when packing is whether or not you have the app itself. Be sure to download it then and count it as the last important packing decision you’ll ever have to make on your own thanks to “Stow”, my app of the week.

 

  

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