App of the Week – Sid Meier’s Ace Patrol: Pacific Skies


Developer: Fireaxis Games

Compatible with: iPhone, iPad 2 , iPod Touch

Requires: iOS 6.0

Price: $4.99

Available: here

There’s just something about strategy games on touch screen platforms that’s so satisfying. Controlling armies or deciding the fate of civilizations in this genre is always a good time to be sure, but when you add the touch element it makes you feel the role of commander or leader like no other game on any other format possibly can.

It’s an advantage that can lend a critical entertainment boost to even the most mediocre of mobile strategy games, which unfortunately many strategy app developers seem to be increasingly aware of. As much as I love the average mobile strategy game, there does seem to be a complacency sinking into the genre that makes every new encounter with one of these games increasingly less and less thrilling.

Into that scenario enters the legendary Sid Meier (the man behind the “Civilization” series) and Fireaxis Games who’ve not only developed many of those “Civilization” titles, but the recent strategy phenomenon known as “XCOM: Enemy Unknown.” With them, comes “Sid Meier’s Ace Patrol: Pacific Skies,” the follow up to the successful “Sid Meier’s Ace Patrol.”

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Moving the game’s venue from WWI to WWII, “Pacific Skies” gives you the option of choosing either the American Navy and Army, or the Japanese Navy and Army to command. In either case, the actual gameplay works largely the same, as you try to wipe the enemy off the map, while leveling up your soldiers and avoiding enemy encampment trap areas. Breaking down every in and out of the gameplay would be a lengthy exercise in tedium, but basically as far as general objective goes, little more is asked than to successfully command your troops in combat using a pretty versatile, largely grid based troop movement system

What’s more important than what’s in the game, though, are the various things that aren’t. By removing many resource gathering and base building elements from the average strategy game and focusing solely on the command of troops and vehicles, Fireaxis has stumbled upon the perfect formula for a mobile strategy game. Whereas removing those traditional elements could have made the game feel overly simplified, here there is so much creativity put into the ins and outs of the combat system, and so much work put into making the enemy A.I. a genuine challenge, that all the strategy you could ever want comes through the action and the action alone. It’s incredibly rewarding to play a strategy game that cuts right to the action, but doesn’t feel watered down in the slightest by doing so.

Rewarding is overall the best way to describe “Pacific Skies.” There are no easily won battles here, yet the game so expertly manages all of the elements that go into a combat scenario that you never once feel burdened or overwhelmed by what’s happening. Instead you are given just the right level of challenge to compel you to keep going at all times. You can’t understate how importance that balance of difficulty v.s. reward is in these types of games, nor can you understate the level of satisfaction that comes from experiencing a game that gets it right like “Pacific Skies” does.

“Pacific Skies” may be most easy to recommend to strategy fans and those that have lost weekends absorbed in the History channel, but honestly everyone who enjoys mobile gaming should have at least one strategy game on their device, and considering the absolutely perfect balance of brain teasing and instant gratification “Pacific Skies” off, it’s the one to get even if you usually shy away from these types of games. This is quite honestly one of the most complete app games out there, and the clear app of the week.

  

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App of the Week: Launch Center Pro

Developer: Contrast

Compatible with: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch

Requires: iOS 7.0

Price: $4.99

Available: here 

As much as smartphones help us in our daily lives, they are not perfect. While some of their imperfections can be traced back to the person using them (everyone wave, that’s us!), one of the biggest flaws of most models is their navigational structure. Phone manufacturers can do everything on their end to help make getting around the phone as painless as possible, but once you load it up with apps, contacts, and everything else in your world, it gets more and more difficult to smoothly get around to everything you need to do, with most applications requiring you to navigate several screens just to get where you’re going.

Some time ago, a developer named Contrast made an app that solves that issue called “Launch Center Pro.” It’s described as a speed dial for your phone’s various applications as it allows you to quick map various functions to a grid for one press use. For instance, let’s say you want to send a text to your girlfriend. Instead of having to open your contacts, find her, choose to send a text, then send the text, you can map a function to the grid which allows you to automatically start composing a text to her with just the press of a button.

That’s really just a small example of the app’s potential though, as the further you get into “Launch Center,” the more you discover what it is capable of. Essentially it gives you the nearly complete ability to jump instantly to any function you can think of. Always looking for new bars or restaurants in whatever area you’re in through Google Maps? Just make a shortcut that searches bars and restaurants using Google Maps instantly. Tired of having to virtually navigate your Twitter feed or Facebook page to get to once specific section? Just make a shortcut to it and get there instantly.

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It’s often described as the perfect app for “power” phone users, who use their phones like most people use oxygen, but I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate. While the hardcore phone user will certaintly get the most out of everything offered through this app, and explore its various nuances and sub functions to point they will be able to use just this program to have one tap access to nearly everything, even a casual user will no doubt be able to think of a few immediate ways this app can benefit them, with more coming once the considerable abilities of this app enter your mindset and you start factoring it into everything you do.

As mentioned, this app was first released a while ago, but only recently came out with its 2.0 model that was designed for iOS 7 in mind. That means many of the improvements are cosmetic in order to take advantage of the new interface (the ability to use real photos and custom icons for every function is a nice example), but one of the more substantial new features which allows you to set and swap between saved grid templates greatly expands the functionality and potential of “Launch Center Pro” in a way that again may benefit the most adapt of users more, but remains a useful ability to keep stored to the side even if you don’t immediately get the most out of it.

“Launch Center Pro” is an app all about discovery. It’s about not only discovering what the app is capable of once installed, but also discovering what your phone is now capable of when you can trim the interface fat and streamline it’s functions in a way that focuses more on your personal uses for your device, rather than the manufacturer’s idea, or the developers idea. Just about everyone that uses “Launch Center Pro” later comments that it is a staple on their home screen, which is fitting considering that it’s essentially a second home button that accesses your own unique interface.

Many of the apps covered here are highly recommended, or even must have. “Launch Center Pro,” however, is essential. It directly advances user interface in a logical way, and executes its lofty idea with such ease that I wouldn’t be surprised to see Apple (and other manufacturers) incorporate something similar very soon now that the template for how a program like this should work, has been quite simply honed to perfection. To use “Launch Center Pro” is to never go back to any other way to use your phone, which is a surefire indication of it being app of  the week.

  

App of the Week: TuneIn

Developer: TuneIn Inc.

Compatible with: iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Android Devices

Requires: iOS 5.0 and up, Android 2.1 and up

Price: Free

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

It may sound like an obvious statement, but I never really appreciated the things you can become homesick for until I was away from home for an extended period of time.

Sure I know you’re bound to grow nostalgic for family, friends, certain locations, certain food, and the rest, but there are a host of little things you never even fully realize you enjoy until they are unavailable.

One in particular is the local sports radio guys. As an Astros fan (I know, I know, believe me I know) I became accustomed to hearing our local broadcast team much more than I ever realized. The chances I get to watch or hear a game now are even more brutal than usual because I don’t have the local flavor there to spice the proceedings up.

It’s for people in similar situations that TuneIn Radio was created for, as it provides access to over 70,000 radio stations nationwide for the incredibly reasonable price of free. The app is as simple to use as the TuneIn website it is based off of, as you can save your favorite radio stations from anywhere and listen to them live whenever you want.

While the most obvious use of a service like TuneIn may be to reacquaint yourself with your favorite radio stations no matter where you are, the real value in TuneIn is its use as a discovery app. That’s due entirely to the fact that the amount of stations available can only be described as staggering, and the content they provide is greater than that. Trying to wrap your head around all that is available is daunting, but fortunately the built in search features allow you to break down every available station so you can find whatever you’re in the mood for, while still being adventurous in locating new sources for it.

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Sure it’s easy to be spoiled by the ability that services like Spotify provide to listen to exactly whatever you want, but there is something to be said about the random, almost chaotic, selections of radio where you sit back and let fate (or more accurately, DJ’s) determine what you are listening to, with only the guidance of the general mood you’re in to lead the way. It’s much more difficult to fall into patterns based where you listen to certain music to death that way, and just feels more lively.

Not to mention it isn’t burdened by all of the same licensing issues, which means that if you need them, you can always find “The Beatles” or “Led Zeppelin” on somewhere.

Of course, there’s a lot more to the radio than just music, and TuneIn provides it all. Talk, news, and, best of all, sports broadcasts are all available (and naturally still nationwide), but you also get podcasts as well, essentially meaning there isn’t a single piece of entertainment covered nationwide that TuneIn can’t cater to at your whim.

I’m a firm believer in quality over quantity usually but, while TuneIn functions admirably, the truth its real appeal comes through sheer content. Loads and loads of content available to you almost anywhere from almost everywhere, for no cost at all. It becomes far too easy to become stuck to whatever we load onto our smartphones or tablets as our go to sources of entertainment, and TuneIn provides an alternative to that by giving you all of that same entertainment, but in a way that feels more free and unbinding.

Every mobile user should have an app like that which reminds them of the joy of radio, and of those apps, TuneIn may just be the best. So whether you need something fresher to listen to at work, or miss the local announcer of your favorite abysmal sports team, grab TuneIn, 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.

  

App of the Week: Bondsy

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Developer: Bondsy Inc.

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

Requires: iOS 5.0 or later

Price: Free

Available: here

One time in college (no, wait, it’s not that kind of story) I needed a new part for my computer, and went to the only computer repair place in town. The guy there said he had a part, but wasn’t sure if it worked, and didn’t want to charge me much if it couldn’t. Instead, he just asked if I could get him some hoagie bread for his lunch, because he forgot his at home. I did, and the part was mine.

Of course it didn’t work, but that is still the day I learned the joy of the barter system.

If you too miss an age where the trading of goods and services wasn’t tied up in the arbitrary value of money, then consider the new app that allows you to to exchange pretty much anything for pretty much anything, called Bondsy.

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Bondsy features a pretty simple set up that allows you to post a photo of a good or service you’re looking to give, write a brief description of it, and provide what good or service you are looking for in exchange. In turn, the people who are interested can ask questions or make a counter-offer.

What separates Bondsy from services that offer something similar, such as craigslist ads, is the fact that the only people you will be dealing with are either friends or friends of friends, thus removing some of the nasty anonymity of exchanging goods and services on the internet, as your friends are, probably, unlikely to try to pawn off a soiled mattress, really amateur guitar lessons, or glued together chair on you (again, probably).

We all have extra stuff laying around that may not be worth the hassle of eBay or necessarily fit for Goodwill. What Bondsy does is put a value back into that former junk, and allows you to keep it in a trusted circle where the exchange has a little more security. Even better, with money out of the equation, there is a lot more creativity involved with the value behind every offer, bringing some fun into previously useless items, and creating an auction house type atmosphere amongst your friends.

And fun is really what this whole thing is about. Even though you stand the chance of scoring some cool stuff, it’s really about the fun that comes with bartering with your friends over it. Imagine a scenario where someone you know having some great extra game tickets, and a bidding war of goods and services starting over them, and you can see the potential of Bondsy, and why it is my app of the week

  

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