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: Republique

Developer: Camouflaj LLC

Compatible with: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch

Requires: iOS 7.0

Price: $4.99

Available: Here 

Tune an ear to the going ons of the gaming world, and you might hear two things. A drop in half-thought jokes aimed at mobile gaming, and a buzz surrounding “Republique.” The two are most certainly related.

In “Republique” you play an unspecified person assisting a young girl named Hope as she attempts to escape from the prison fortress of totalitarian over-rulers. The first part of a five part episodic series, going into any more details regarding the plot of “Republique” would not only be an inadequate effort, but would certainly ruin what is even in this extremely early going a simply gripping tale of intrigue and discovery.

Now, as Hope is devoid of any particular special abilities outside of some quick wits, a talent for hacking, and some basic thieving skills, “Republique” is very much a stealth game. That’s a genre you don’t see often in mobile gaming, for the simple reason that it’s a tricky proposition with touch controls.

Republique

“Republique’s” solution to this problem is to keep things simple. Nearly every action is completed through a single touch. That could have been the kiss of death for the title, but its executed in such a way that you always feel like you’re in control of the situation and the challenge only derives from the areas of the game it is supposed to. In fact, I’d go so far as to say this is among the most enjoyable stealth gameplay experiences to come along since the heyday of the “Thief” series. It may not reach the lofty heights of that classic franchise, but to even be judged by that measuring stick it set should tell you a lot.

As good as the game is moment to moment, though, its true value lies in its production value. While this is immediately apparent when viewing the game’s graphics, an even great love has gone into the game’s voice acting (which incredibly includes “Metal Gear Solid’s” David Hayter), writing, and scripting. The combination of these three ensure that memorable characters, moments, and dialog appear with ease and make “Republique” something of an anomaly on the mobile scene, as a game that matches (and at times exceeds) the level of production quality you get from a AAA major game release.

Again that doesn’t just apply to the graphics. We’ve seen mobile graphics of higher caliber before. “Republique” is a game that feels like big budget release from top to bottom.

That’s the goal that developer Camouflaj promised when they put “Republique” on Kickstarter and even though the series is far from over, it’s a goal they have already fulfilled in some measure with this first installment. It’s easy to get spoiled with not only the increasing quality of mobile games, but how incredibly cheap and plentiful they are in comparison to say full fledged handheld titles that you’d find on the 3DS or PSP. “Republique” is the type of game that immediately alerts you to how spoiled we’ve become with the concept, as it provides a gaming experience you can’t find anywhere else on your phone or tablet of all places.

If you want a great mobile pick up and play game that you can turn on, enjoy, and shut down with relative ease, then pick up “Ridiculous Fishing” or any number of great arcade like apps. However, if it’s a taught thriller as gripping as any Hollywood espionage tale, and as immersive as any great stealth title in gaming’s past your after, then there is no legitimate competitor to “Republique.” It’s a landmark release, and my app of the week.

  

App of the Week: Friendstrap

Developer: Game Oven

Compatible with: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch

Requires: iOS 6.0

Price: Free

Available: Here

While the heyday of the board game may have passed long ago in the eyes of many, if you haven’t been paying attention to them lately you may be surprised to find that some of the absolute best party games available to adults are board games. Whether it be the raunchy and hilarious “Cards Against Humanity,” or the clever take on the battle of the sexes “Ladies and Gentlemen” provides, there are a growing number of board games out there that may cause your guests a moment of hesitation when you suggest them, but will soon have them engaged in a way that no other form of party entertainment can achieve.

“Friendstrap” is not one of those board games. However it does retain the spirit of them, as well as the relaxed yet competitive atmosphere they can lead to.

It’s setup couldn’t be more simple. You and a friend put a finger on one of the two dots on screen while a topic appear atop, and a counter begins on the bottom. To play you each have to simply have a conversation on the topic until it disappears and is replaced with another. You repeat this until someone removes the finger and thus themselves from the conversation.

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Now where this gets interesting is in the topics themselves. While some are no more invasive than the weather, others can get incredibly intimate and even awkward. Even better, the topics themselves are often presented in only a few vague words (for instance; “Friends With Benefits”) allowing the psyche of the users to take the game in unique directions. For instance, one strategy would be for each player to pursue the most outlandish conversation paths in order to ensure their companion is too mortified to contribute.

To be honest, based solely on its built-in design, “Friendstrap” is an incomplete experience that works better as a conversation starter or time killer than a full on game. However, with the application of a few “house rules”to keep the participants in check, and the right kind of participants, there is a lot of potential in its simple set up to lead to hours of laughter. Fortunately no such outside creativity is required for the topics themselves which remain ambiguous and entertaining regardless of the specifics of the personal games you create using the built-in set up. With over a 1,000 of these topics included (with additional, even more awkward ones available for purchase) you’re likely to never have the same conversation twice, especially when considering the individual whims of the players.

It’d be misleading to call “Friendstrap” a complete app, as taken at surface value there frankly isn’t much to it. However, the incredibly ambiguous set up is best viewed an an intentional design, as it allows whomever has a finger in the game a level of control over the experience that caters more to their individual whims and unique quirks, rather than forces them to necessarily adhere to pre-set rules. In that regard, its incomplete nature becomes its greatest asset as it ensures every session will be entertaining and unique above all else.

If conversation is truly a lost art, then the ability for “Friendstrap” to strike up entertaining conversations between nearly any participants on any of its topic makes the app something of a work of art itself. An unassuming yet brilliantly maniacal party game, there’s little discussion to be had regarding “Friendstrap’s” status as 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(s) of the Week: Dead Trigger 2 and Indigo Lake

Dead Trigger 2

Developer: Madfinger Games

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

Requires: iOS 7.0, Android 4.0

Price: Free

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

Indigo Lake

Developer: 3 Cubes Research

Compatible with: iPhone 4 and up, iPad 2 and up, iPod Touch 4th gen and up

Requires: iOS 5.0

Price: $1.99

Available: here

Perhaps it is my lifelong fondness for horror movies, or the strange joy of sharing scares with your fellow man, but I’ve always loved Halloween to the point where it runs neck and neck with Christmas for my favorite holiday of the year. Naturally then I sought out the best horror app I could find to honor the holiday, but ran into a bit of a problem when I ran across two worthy candidates. Rather than just give one a mention and highlight the other, I’ve decided to break the format a bit and present two horror gaming apps of different styles, but equal worth.

“Dead Trigger 2” is the sequel to the notorious mobile zombie FPS game “Dead Trigger,” and as the title may suggest, does little to stray from the template that series established. In other words, you’re still shooting a variety of zombies with a plethora of weapons, all while gawking at some of the best mobile graphics this side of “Infinity Blade.” There are some changes to be found here, including an optional button free control schematic (it works pretty well actually), and a much more varied mission structure, but for the most part you’re still just wandering around and mowing down zombies.

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That may sound like a knock, but it’s actually far from it. The original “Dead Trigger” found a niche in the mobile market by being a shooter that didn’t feel too far removed from its larger and more technically capable console brethren. It’s a role carried on by “Dead Trigger 2” which may make a host of technical and gameplay improvements implemented to make the game a smoother experience all around, but do nothing to hamper the core mechanics which made this game so much fun in the first place. The brilliant thing about the action in this game is that it’s the one place that actually acknowledges any sort of need to be limited by the mobile platform. It resorts, then, to a more classical style FPS which was all action, all the time, and feels like a breath of fresh air in a genre that’s becoming more and more tactical and cinematic based. There’s a cinematic quality to “Dead Trigger 2” to be sure, but it only serves to provide a loose justification and reasoning for shooting everything in sight.

“Dead Trigger 2” strikes a rare balance in mimicking the benefits of console gaming while taking advantage of mobile gaming’s capabilities to provide an experience that feels ambitious yet simple, and never fails to be fun. Fun is actually the key here, as while “Dead Trigger 2” makes some tremendous strides in giving the series depth, ultimately they’re really superfluous  when weighed against the game’s true job of throwing wave after wave of horror at you, and leting you shoot your way out of it, which it does with twisted levels of joy and ease.

“Indigo Lake” is a horror game of a different tune. While “Dead Trigger 2” used it’s horror as a backdrop for some classic shoot em’ up gameplay, “Indigo Lake” is a more pure horror game that ventures into the rarely successfully explored area of psychological horror. In it you play a paranormal investigator sent to solve a string of suicides in a small town. Fairly ambitiously, you do this in an open world setting which you’re able to explore on foot and in-vehicle. You’re objectives in this environment are pre-defined, but the manner and order in which you approach them is yours to decide.

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Many horror games require intense structure to place their scares in, which “Indigo Lake” abandons in favor of a more open, yet carefully restrained experience. While you do have a gun in the game, it’s used sparingly as instead you’ll spend most of your time solving puzzles and trying not to jump out of your skin as you slowly unravel the specifics of what is going on. The way the game never reveals it’s full hand at once turns out to be one of its great attributes, as you spend more time waiting on the big scares to happen, as opposed to experiencing them. This lends the rest of the game an intense feeling of dread and unease which is absolutely perfect for a murder mystery, as you never really feel comfortable or confident while playing until you reach your next big break (even then the empowerment is usually momentary). “Indigo Lake” is a horror game for the patient user then, making it the polar opposite of “Dead Trigger 2,” and an interesting companion piece as well.

To go much further into the game would run the risk of spoiling it, so I’ll stop by saying that those who are both patient and brave enough to stick with it despite the well played series of scares implemented to ward you off will find a game that manages to serve as a rare example of physiological horror done well, and therefore a unique horror game not just on the mobile scene, but in all of gaming.

There you have it. Two horror games which may take wildly different paths within the genre, but find an equal level of success in their endeavors. For the people that want to feel like Rambo in the middle of the zombie apocalypse, there is “Dead Trigger 2.” For those who want something closer to an episode of the “X-Files,” there is the brilliant “Indigo Lake.” If you’re a true horror fan though, I highly recommend both as they not only serve as the perfect primers for Halloween, but exhibit enough quality to be worth a play any time of the year, and are therefore equally worthy of being recognized as app of the week.

  

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