App of the Week: ReRave

Developer: Step Evolution

Compatible with: iPhone 3GS and up, iPod Touch 3rd Gen and up, iPad

Requires: iOS 5.1

Price: $0.99

Available: here

While there are quite a few gaming franchises I want to come back (“Crimson Skies”!!!!!!), I think the one that I may be most personally nostalgic for is “Elite Beat Agents.”

Released around the height of music gaming’s popularity, “Elite Beat Agents” may have been based around a bizarre story (save the world with the power of dance, basically), but the gameplay couldn’t have been more simple, as you tapped various buttons in time with the beat of a song, en route to victory. Impossibly addictive and incredibly unique, this game wore down my stylus to a nub and stands amongst the crowded DS library as a true highlight.

The fact that talks of a sequel remain only rumors used to sadden me, but those feelings have been recently alleviated somewhat by the discovery that there is a spiritual successor to that experience by the name of “ReRave.”

Though it bears no official similarities to “EBA,” “ReRave” sports a similar concept that sees you tap circles in correct sequence to the beat of the songs. The difference is, that whereas “EBA” required a shrinking outer circle to reach the borders of your button before you could tap it, “ReRave” sees you manipulating circles that bear resemblance to the power button of many devices, and tapping them only when the line on the bottom reaches the 12 o’ clock position,until the song is done. While most are vanquished with a  simple touch, some require you to hold them until they finish a bath, some require multiple taps at 1/8th beat intervals, and the dreaded double circles appear that must be completed simultaneously.

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Like any good rhythm game, this is a system that allows for an “easy to learn, tough to master,” philosophy, and quickly pulls you into the overall experience. A big part of this has to go to the music which may not make my playlist in everyday life (it’s a lot of club like music), but works absolutely perfectly in a gaming environment such as this, as their unique beats and paces result in creative playgrounds of rhythm based tapping that will have your fingers dancing across the screen with maniacal precision. Thankfully multiple difficulty levels allow you to adjust as needed if things get too intense, or not near intense enough.

Now while it’s nice that the game features leaderboards, downloadable songs (both free and paid), and a ton of achievements, in truth if the game came with nothing but a few tracks and just the gameplay screen, I’d still be hopelessly addicted to it. This style of gameplay for a music game was flawless in “EBA,” and it maintains that untainted luster here as “ReRave” is one of the most engrossing games available in the music gaming genre, and in all of mobile gaming.

Normally I’d look down on a game for borrowing so liberally from another title, but it’s about time someone brought back this style of gameplay to mobile gaming, and the team behind “ReRave” have done so with near flawless execution. When you really think about it, gaming has long been pressing a series of buttons in proper order, so it really says something that the concept has almost never been as hopelessly addictive as it has in “ReRave,” a can’t miss app of the week.

  

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App of the Week: Amateur Surgeon 3

Developer: [adult swim]

Compatible with: iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad

Requires: iOS 6.0

Price: Free

Available: here

In the early days of the Nintendo DS, the two series that really sold me on the portable device were the “Phoenix Wright,” and “Trauma Center” games, both of which used the dual and touch screen technology in innovative ways.

Of the two, “Phoenix Wright” went on to become the more popular, but it was the ER simulator “Trauma Center,” that may have been the more compelling, with its tense and elaborate surgery scenarios made possible by some perfect touch controls and inspired overall design. It’s a type of game that wasn’t done much before, and besides some spiritual follow-ups like “Surgeon Simulator,” hasn’t really been done much since.

The Adult Swim series “Amateur Surgeon” has always been a glowing exception though, as it took the basic design of “Trauma Center,” and injected pure craziness in it, to produce a series that never exactly reached the heights of its inspiration, but does carry on the legacy quite nicely.

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Not much has changed with the third entrant into the “Amateur Surgeon” series, but there are a couple of new features, of which the biggest is the move to a free to play format. Naturally this does mean the inclusion of some annoying pay to play elements, but they’re actually downplayed nicely, and you can get through the game rather easily without spending a dime. The biggest exception to that would have to be the new “tag” feature, which allows you to bring in a partner for their special abilities, but costs quite a bit of in game money, which you can of course purchase with real cash.

Other than that, what you have is another absolutely insane surgery game that sees you operate on mutated bears with chainsaws, and other less pedestrian activities. While the wackiness is part of the experience, the actual humor of the game is pretty hit or miss, and is only there to serve the far more entertaining gameplay.

It never really gets old trying to figure out how to fix bizarre injuries with even crazier tools, and that’s largely because the touchscreen, reflex and precision driven controls work as well for this type of game as ever. They are what elevates “Amateur Surgeon” to must have status, and help ensure that the initial joy of trying to figure out what to do on your first play through, doesn’t compare to trying to get that perfect run on every subsequent try.

You couldn’t be blamed for being attracted to “Amateur Surgeon” for its crazy sense of humor, and generally lighthearted nature. What’s going to keep it in your app game rotation though is a truly great gameplay system reliant on just about everything that makes touchscreen gaming so fun in the first place.  I wouldn’t want to catch my doctor playing it, but everyone else should get ready to find themselves addicted to stapling shut freshly shived hearts in what is simply a pure fun app of the week.

  

App of the Week: Commercial Break

Developer: Aristarchos LTD.

Compatible with: iPhone 3GS and up, iPod Touch 4th gen and up, iPad

Requires: iOS 5.0

Price: Free

Available: here 

As much as I love football, the one argument that is kind of hard to defend my beloved game against is that there are too many commercials.

As a football fan you train yourself to almost block them out, or even accept them in your life, but all it takes is one really crappy commercial, or an oddly timed commercial break, or worse the observation of a casual observer to realize that you actually spend most of your time watching a football game, watching commercials.

It’s a problem that most severely affects football games, but it serves as the burden of all television as well. Unfortunately with channel flipping being such a dangerous proposition, and devices like the hopper only letting you skip commercials on recorded programs, it’s also one that has become an inescapable reality of watching live TV.

The makers of Commercial Break don’t see it that way though, and through their app actually allow you to use your iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad (with Android compatibility coming soon) as a heads up to when your favorite channel is done with commercials.

While the exact answer to how this works on a technical level is a complicated conundrum that has something to do with analysis and algorithms, how it works on a user end actually couldn’t be simpler. Just choose the channel you are currently watching from the apps list, and hit start. From there, you receive a notice whenever your program is back on, meaning you are free to go walkabout, switch channels, or even turn off the TV without missing your program, or having to suffer another poorly scripted shill.

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It’s a great idea that is made even better by the fact it actually does work extremely well. However, even though the functionality is what you’d want it to be, there are some limitations to consider before downloading. For instance, so far the only channels supported are ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, ESPN, ESPN2, USA, TBS, and TNT, and even then you only get all of those channels if you live in NYC, with coverage varying beyond there, and being completely nonexistent outside of the US.

That may sound like a pretty big catch, but the developers are aware of the need to expand both coverage and available channels, and are looking to do so should the apps early build prove successful.

For now though what you are downloading is an investment in the future. One free from corporate brainwashing and terrible jokes spawned by deadlines and budgets constraints, and one instead full of trips to get more beer or use the bathroom that are free from the fear of missing your show, or having to wait for the recording. No longer will you sit down on Sundays to watch commercials with football in between, but rather will be able to sit down and just watch football.

If you read that last paragraph and saw an American flag waving behind you, then you can probably see the potential of Commercial Break, and why it is my app of the week.

  

App of the Week – Futuridium EP

Developer: Mixedbag SRL

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

Requires: iOS 6.0

Price: $1.99

Available: here 

There’s a popular trend in gaming going around, and it involves making games as difficult as feasibly possible, forcing the user to die and die again until they finally make a marginal amount of progress. You then repeat this process until you either complete the game (not likely) or watch your eyeballs explode in rage (not technically possible, but still more likely).

They go by many names, and come in many forms, but this one is called “Futuridium EP.”

Even more difficult to beat than pronounce, “Futuridium” has a story, but it basically boils down to you’ve been sent to a balls trippingly psychedelic universe where you are tasked with destroying a series of cubes to expose the main cube (called the core) which you then destroy to escape.

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Not exactly Pulitzer worthy, but it does give you a good enough setting for which to make runs over colorfully bizarre levels and destroy your objectives. The difficulty of this comes in small part through its tricky touch screen controls, but in larger part through your constantly depleting energy bar that only refills at the end of a level. It’s that bar that requires you to make pinpoint perfect runs, which isn’t made any easier by the having to start over at the very beginning of the game after each numerous failure, unless you earn the rare continue by hitting certain milestones.

Like so many similar titles, the difficulty alone would usually be reason enough to never touch this game, if it weren’t for some genuinely enjoyable aspects. While the basic cube shooting is fondly reminiscent of many quarter sucking arcade classics, and at first glance you’ll likely get a serious “Starfox” vibe, really the game reminds me most of the cult classic shooter “Rez,” due to its mind altering visuals, and engaging soundtrack that begs for a good pair of headphones.

Also like “Rez,” the combination of those aspects completely immerses you in the experience, which is particularly useful as the game requires a zen like state to complete. This is not a game for the casual player, and in fact it does at times feel slightly out of place on a mobile platform due to that. However, even the shortest play sessions can all contribute to building that perfect run, and that perfect run is sheer nirvana, even if you crash and burn on the next level.

“Futuridium” is not a perfect app, nor is it intended for everyone. If you’re looking for a gauge of whether or not you will dig it, then ask yourself if an arcade game that will beat you down without mercy, and assault your senses with an enthralling soundtrack and unique visuals, while threatening your routine by causing you to miss train stops and phone calls as you contemplate the limits of your control issues sounds appealing.

If so, then check out “Futuridium,” a truly trippy app of the week.

  

App of the Week: Gentlemen!

Developer: Lucky Frame

Compatible with: iPad, Android Tablets 7 inches and up

Requires: iOS 5.0 or later, Android 2.0.1 and up

Price: $4.99

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

While the traditional duel we often think of (a slap of the glove, a demand for satisfaction, pistols at dawn/swords on the morrow, etc.) has long gone out of practice (if it every truly existed that way at all), the fascination surrounding the concept is more prevalent than ever in a time when insults travel the world over at the speed of the internet, and the chances to confront your offender in a mano y mano manner is nonexistent to the point of reducing many to message board retorts delivered under the shroud of anonymity, in the hopes it may provide said satisfaction.

They so rarely do, however, which is when the appeal of a one on one confrontation to determine the victor sheds its barbaric imagery, and starts sounding like the practical alternative.

“Gentlemen!” is an app that harkens back to those times, while embracing a more modern way of presenting the classic duel. Playing as two cartoon gentlemen (of which we will assume are of Victorian England descent to enhance the image) you and a friend (or “scoundrel” as the case may be) are tasked with each taking one end of a tablet, and controlling your selected gentlemen in his bid to rid the world of his rival through a variety of means.

However, that is the point that “Gentlemen!” drops all notions of representing anything even vaguely historic, or practical, and starts having fun.

For instance, while said means can include traditional dueling equipment such as knives, the randomly switching weapons are more likely to yield bizarre devices such as explosive homing birds, lightning bolts, or sticks of dynamite. In what I hope is a statement that will help convey the joyful madness often present, matches often resemble animated “Spy v.s. Spy” strips.

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Said matches also come in three different gameplay types. Duel is a straight up one on one fight to the finish with random weapons, while the more intriguing Chasing mode sees one player go unarmed as he tries to escape his opponent, while waiting to receive his turn with the weapon. The third, and unfortunately least appealing, gametype, Diamond, is like Duel, but with the added objective of collecting on screen diamonds.

Regardless of the mode, you’ll be able to play it smoothly thanks to simple controls that most including running, jumping, and attacking. The only other button is a gravity switch that makes sense when you consider the different perspectives that each player will view their character at when sharing a tablet. The gravity switch allows you to swap your perspective to match your opponent as needed in order to strike them.

While on the subject of the game’s perspective, it must be noted that the game’s biggest weakness is its accessibility. While finding two people, one of which has a compatible tablet and a copy of the game, is not an impossible proposition, it will prevent you from accessing the game as often as you may like, and will straight up deny those without tablet access.

However, it’s a positive sign when a game’s greatest weakness is the inability to play it, but that is the case with “Gentlemen!” So long as you can play it, you get to enjoy a frantic and engaging multiplayer experience that never fails to lead to vicarious hoots of victory, shameful admissions of defeat, and fun for all. It’s rare that any game manages to capture everything that made the competitive arcade gaming scene so great without resorting to providing a port of a title from that time, but with poise and pride worthy of its cartoonish leads, “Gentlemen!” does just that.

There’s a selfish part of me that wants “Gentlemen!” to remain under the radar, so that the lucky few that stumble across it can feel as if they are in their own secret league of gentlemen (and an extraordinary one at that). However, in an effort to be more like the men of honor that in so many tales competed in the duels that inspired this game, I present you “Gentlemen!,” my app of the week.

  

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