App of the Week: Spaceteam

Developer: Henry Smith

Compatible with: iPod Touch, iPad, iPhone (optimized for iPhone 5)

Requires: iOS 5.0

Price: Free

Available: here

I have a terrible confession to make.

When it comes to picking apps, I’m not infallible. While always striving to find the best of the best in the world of apps, occasionally something comes along that doesn’t cross my radar until too late, and becomes so popular I see no reason to go back and cover it (*cough*Ridiculous Fishing*cough*).

In the case of “Spaceteam” though, there’s actually a fair chance you haven’t heard of this app, even though it’s attracted a devout following since its recent release. Even if you have though, surely after playing it you’ll begrudge me the chance to talk about its brilliance, even if it is a little late.

“Spaceteam’s” core concept is pure simplicity, as it places you and 2-3 friends (Note: game does not come with friends) in control of a spaceship escaping an exploding star, and tasks you all with surviving by hitting a series of buttons and switches all named after techno-babble (Copernicus Crane, for instance) at the right time.

Sounds okay but nothing special right? Well, from there a couple of twists are thrown in that make the game interesting.

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You see, each of your friends has a different control panel filled with unique buttons. When the instructions come in for which ones to press, they don’t always come in to the person who has that button. This is why the game has to be played by people in the same room, as the only way to win is to shout out the instructions you receive and hope the person with the right button on their screen can get to it in time.

While an efficient team can hold out for a while, considering how much the difficulty ramps up, and that your random boards change in each section preventing many shortcuts, you will inevitably lose. In the meantime, you spend most of the game shouting at your friends in not just techno babble, but in encouragements and curses, as you all try to manage your own board, while maintaining even the most basic intelligible form of communication with one another, before devolving to violent grunts.

A game where you spend 90% of the time yelling at each other and losing may not sound like much fun, but it is. At some point you either form an efficient and serious team to progress, or just start laughing at how bad things are going. Either way, it’s incredibly fun to share a room with people all united over a single experience that brings back memories of “Goldeneye” parties, “Halo” LAN fests, or even “Pictionary.” This is a party game in the true sense of the phrase, and has few equals on the mobile scene both in terms of its idea, and certainly its execution.

But really you don’t have to take my word for it. Get a few people and try “Spaceteam” yourself and its greatness will become apparent mere minutes in. It’s not often a game so instantly accessible manages to be worth months of play time, and promotes local gaming with friends, which is why late or not, “Spaceteam” is my app of the week.

  

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App of the Week – XCOM: Enemy Unknown

Developer: 2K Studios

Compatible with: iPod Touch 5th gen and up, iPad 2, iPad Mini, iPhone 4S and up (optimized for iPhone 5)

Requires: iOS 5.0

Price: $20.00

Available: here

There’s a lot to be said about “XCOM: Enemy Unknown” for iOS, but none of it can be said without eventually mentioning the price.

Yes, “XCOM” is a $20 gaming app, in a world where $20 can also easily translate to owning 20 gaming apps. This will cause many people dismay, or even fits of laughter.

But I’m not going to talk about the price just yet. Instead I just want to focus on “XCOM.”

XCOM” took the console and PC world by storm last year as gamers everywhere discovered the joy of running a worldwide alien defense organization, and commanding troops on the ground in tense and violent tactical operation scenarios. A revival of one of the most complicated and hardcore PC franchises of all time, “Enemy Unknown” somehow managed to find a way to maintain the things that made that series great, while also making the experience much more manageable and appealing to the more mainstream gaming market.

Of course the star of the game is its permadeath system. Much like last weeks “Sword and Glory” app, death is not only around every corner in “XCOM,” but when it happens you lose that soldier for good. This is made worse by how much you can customize a soldier to make them your own, and the hours you will inevitably spend leveling up your favorites. No matter how much time or effort you put into a character though, one false move and they are dead and gone.

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It’s a punishing system to be sure, but it gives the game an element of tension that would be impossible without it. Every decision matters in “XCOM,” whether it be on the battlefield, or in the management mode when trying to determine what countries to aid (you can’t save them all) and what research to pursue in order to manufacture new items and weapons. Every moment in “XCOM” is spent making these tough decisions, and as such success and joy are found not in glorious moments of gratification, but just through mere survival, and a chain of little moments that make up your 30+ hour playtime.

A glorious moment of success is to be found, though, the minute you boot up the game and realize that this is indeed the entire “XCOM” experience (sans multiplayer) on a mobile device. Sure the graphics took a very slight hit, but this is compensated for by some nice touch controls that add to the feeling of being the “Commander” character the game casts you as. While playing this on an iPhone over an iPad is not the most welcoming of propositions, again it’s the fact it even exists in that format in a playable manner that deserves recognition.

Ultimately though, even though this is still every inch of the original 2012 game of the year candidate expertly ported by 2K to a potentially hostile format, it does come back to the price. While $20 spent well is a fair amount of money, the fact is that $20 for this game is a steal, considering it means you’re getting what is essentially a console game at about a third of the original price, to take with you wherever you go. The price is all a matter of perspective, and in an app world where a “Free” game can easily set you back around $20 when you consider in-app purchases (of which “XCOM” has none) and usually are not of this level of quality, you really have to call this a case of paying an appropriate price for what you get.

“XCOM” defied expectations last year and made most of its fans out of people who never played this type of strategy game before, much less the franchise. With any of the luck I do not have when I play this game (my guys die a lot), this mobile version will do the same as it’s a near-flawless port of that all-time great strategy experience.

So get ready to craft a virtual graveyard of fallen soldiers, start seeing Chryssalids in you nightmares, and get addicted to “XCOM” all over again as it’s not only a perfect port, but 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: 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: Temple Run 2

Developer:

Imangi Studios, LLC

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

iPod Touch 3rd Gen and up

iPad

*Available for Android on Jan. 24

Requires:
iOS 4.2 or later

Price:

Free

Available here

*Sigh*

Well I tried.

I tried to find a reason to not put “Temple Run 2” as the app of the week. I wanted to find some obscure, must have gem that was released in the same week as one of the biggest app sequels of all time instead, and hope to help it find some time to share in “Temple Run 2′s” considerable spotlight. Try as I might though, it was still “Temple Run 2” that came on top of the heap.

I probably don’t need to elaborate on the concept of “Temple Run” as with 170 million plus downloads, there’s a good chance you’ve played or heard about it. But just for forms sake, “Temple Run 2” has you playing as an adventurer in pursuit of the golden idol. The actual acquiring of it is never an issue, but the escape from the temple is the real challenge, and this is where the player comes in as they try to escape the temple, and it’s fervent defenders, via a series of course changes, jumps, and other simple (but rapid) interactions, all while trying to collect coins to unlock all kinds of goodies. You can’t survive, but the fun is in how long you last, and how much you can collect.

Since it’s a clearly successful formula, “Temple Run 2” doesn’t find much cause for altering it. Instead, this is a “more is better” type sequel, though that doesn’t mean there aren’t noteworthy additions. A particular highlight of “Temple Run 2” is the graphics, which are significantly improved from its predecessor. Everything is so colorful, varied, and detailed that it becomes impossible to look back at the first game without a scoff. It does cause some problems on older systems because of this, but the visual reward is worth the increased hardware recommendations.

Otherwise, it comes back to that more word to tell you what so great about the game. That would include more power ups (that goes along with more characters), more achievements, more collectibles,  more environments, and best of all more obstacles like zip lines and mine carts that help make playing “Temple Run 2” in long sessions a much greater joy thanks to some genuine variety around every bend.

And of course it all works. “Temple Run” only came out in 2011, and while the novelty of it has long worn off, the fun never really did. “Temple Run 2” celebrates that fact by maintaining the simple joy of the gameplay, and sacrificing none of the addictiveness, but it also knows where to nip and tuck, and where to enhance, so that at least for the first few play-throughs, the game feels new again.

I think the reason that I was hesitant to write about “Temple Run 2” here is because it is such a big, bold, headline grabbing release, it seems almost lazy to join the masses of appraisers and admirers in covering it. Yet after spending some time with the game, I’m reminded that it’s not always about what’s new, what’s bold, and what’s unsung, but that rather sometimes it’s as simple as good is good. Well “Temple Run 2” is certainly good, and it’s also my app of the week.

  

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