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.

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“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.

  

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App of the Week: Device 6

Developer: Simogo

Compatible with: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch

Requires: iOS 5.1

Price: $3.99

Available: here

Developer Simogo is a company on a mission. Their project history showcases some of the most artistically challenging, creative, and entertaining apps ever released, as they seem to be dead set on winning the race to make a gaming app that showcases the full potential of mobile devices, even when it feels like they’re the only ones really in the running.  While the music/stealth hybrid game “Beat Sneak Bandit” showed they were getting warmer, and the beautifully morbid adventure “Year Walk” almost got there, it’s “Device 6” that will likely go down as Simogo’s magnum opus, and one of the finest mobile experiences ever made.

I mentioned before that it felt like Simogo was aiming for the ultimate mobile gaming experience, yet somehow it doesn’t feel right calling “Device 6” a gaming app, or really trying to define it at all. On a very basic level it’s a callback to the old text adventures like “Zork” that saw you type in basic commands to advance a story. Your story here is that of a woman named Anna who wakes up on a mysterious island, unsure of how she got there, or what to do next. It’s a tired set up but, to be honest, then again so are text based adventure games. This makes the two something of an oddly appropriate match, but probably doesn’t help to explain why “Device 6” is so incredible.

The answer to that lies in the storytelling. “Device 6” doesn’t just tell a tale that you occasionally advance with basic commands, but rather presents a story that constantly requires you to interact with it in significant ways. Sometimes this comes in the form of “choose your own adventure” style moments that diverts the tale onto slightly different paths, but more often it’s in the way the game requires you to participate in mini-game like moments where you are momentarily put into the shoes of the character to solve a variety of puzzles and overcome other obstacles. Rarely taking the same form twice, these interludes of interactivity are, without exception, incredibly challenging and unbelievably creative moments that go a long way to breathing new life into the old text adventure format not just because they provide a game like break from the reading, but rather because they enhance the story in a way that allows it to evolve to a level far beyond what is possible with just printed words.

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Were “Device 6” to stop there, though, it would probably only find itself atop the growing heap of interactive story games on mobile devices. However, its trump card comes in the way it formats the text adventure. For instance, there’s a point in the story where you encounter a staircase. At that moment, the text physically diverges into both a downstairs and upstairs path which you’ll have to choose between. Another example of this imaginative style comes when you walk through a corridor, and the words suddenly form into a shifting single file line that requires you to tilt your device to keep up with them, simulating the feeling of walking down the same corridor Anna does. These may sound kind of gimmicky, but combined with the constant stream of timely visual elements and puzzles, they help to make “Device 6” the most engaging novel you’ll ever read.

“Device 6” reminds me of another recent release “The Stanley Parable” in that both showcase new, and previously unthinkable, ways of telling a story within an interactive medium. Where “Device 6” differs though is that it doesn’t feel like an isolated experience, or test run to a new method of storytelling, but rather a fully realized showcase that might just redefine how books are formatted in the digital age, or even create an entertainment medium that we don’t even associate with traditional books. That might sound like a bold statement, but the confidence and skill that “Device 6” exhumes when showcasing its unique methods is all of the reference needed to justify it’s potential as a game changer. Like watching a hotshot backup on your favorite football team come in and win an impossible game for the aging starter, once you get a taste of “Device 6” it’s clear that there is no going back.

Book, game, something in-between…I don’t care what you call “Device 6,” because I’m just glad it’s on the app store so I can talk about it here and tip you off to the moment when interactive storytelling shed nearly all of its conventions, and the idea of the capabilities of e-books changed forever.  Then again even if “Device 6” doesn’t change the storytelling world, it still stands as a one of a kind experience without equal in concept or quality on the app store. For want of a greater honor to provide it, I humbly name “Device 6” my app of the week.

  

App of the Week: Joust Legend

Developer: Rebellion Games

Compatible with: iPad 2 and up,  iPod Touch 5th Gen, iPhone 4S and up

Requires: iOS 4.3

Price: $1.99

Available: here

I think I would have liked to have been a jouster. Sure I can’t ride a horse and am lacking in upper body strength, but my enthusiasm for wearing battle armor and charging at people full speed with vicious intent is second to none.

Sadly since jousting has gone out of fashion in the last several centuries or so, my passion for the sport is relegated to watching “A Knight’s Tale” far too often (it’s both the “Varsity Blues” and “Citizen Kane” of jousting movies), or trying to drunkenly recreate the activity at the pool to mixed (ok, just horrible and awkward) results.

Luckily a new app called “Joust Legend” has come along, and provides me the chance to test my skill on the field of joust, that up until now has been so cruelly withheld.

“Joust Legend” isn’t actually the first jousting game ever, but I can tell you it is the best playing, and by far best looking. The graphics on this app are some of the best the mobile world has ever seen, and are sure to turn heads wherever you take it, as well as constantly surprise you not just with the visual pop they provide, but with the well thought out and executed artistic design that enhances their appeal far beyond the initial wow factor.

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As for the gameplay, it’s as simple as can be. There’s really only three parts to the jousting mechanics (the take-off, lowering your lance, and hitting your target) and all of them are executed with very basic timed swipes and presses. As such you pretty much learn all there is to know about the core game on the first few goes, but really for such a concept, you don’t need anything more than that. The elements of timed control that are present fit perfectly within the basic set up of a joust, and though you may repeat the same movements over and over, the satisfaction of executing them perfectly never really goes away.

The system truly shows its value, however, once you take into account the multiple tournaments, challenges, modes, skills, and various unlockables there are in the game. Good mobile games usually provide you a simple, replayable, and addictive experience, but  the best ones always tack on another reason to keep coming back, and the torrent pace that you unlock new things to do in this game makes each already enjoyable session that much more rewarding.

This is one of those apps that may initially appear to appeal to a niche market, but deserves a download by anyone that appreciates well-made mobile action games that are easy to keep coming back to for short bursts of pure fun. Though the competition isn’t exactly fierce, “Joust Legend” stands alone at the end of the fight as the champion of jousting entertainment, and 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: Eater

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Developer: Curbed Netwok

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

Requires: iOS 5.0 and up, Android 4.0 and up

Price: Free

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

I know what you’re saying.

“But Matt, I already own a food finding app. Why should I download another and not, say, chase you down with a mob of torch weilding villagers and burn down the old windmill you sought refuge in?”

Well, first of all, that would be a little dramatic don’t you think? Secondly, I’m not suggesting Eater will become your go to food app, and neither is Eater. For one thing, it only covers 22 American cities, and even then only points out a certain amount of restaurants covered by that most popular foodie blog, rather than show you everything there is to eat in the area.

Instead Eater is best used to supplement your current restaurant locater app. That’s because the people running all branches of the Eater site are obsessed food nuts dedicated to finding not only the best restaurants (conveniently marked by their “Eater 38” symbol, denoting the 38 best restaurants in a city), but some of the most unique and intriguing as well, as featured on their constantly updating heat maps.

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For instance, the Eater app won’t show you what people think about that gas station on the corner’s sandwiches, unless that gas station just so happens to be a locally known only gem that serves some of the best sandwiches in the city (or maybe is actually a hidden bar). It’s best used for locals looking for a reference written by some of the most die-hard food hounds around or, even better, tourists who want to go somewhere and eat like the most in the know of locals, so that while you’re in New York you’ll know exactly where to go to experience cronut-mania, or why to skip every pretender BBQ place in Austin, and go straight to the mountaintop at Franklin BBQ.

Even better, the Eater app does this through a familiar and, mostly, helpful layout that could stand to use a few technical and feature upgrades, but doesn’t provide too many burdens in looking for the best of the best in your area. There is even a quick link to the Eater blog, for those that are fans, or maybe just looking for the most up to the minute restaurant recommendations.

Much like those “Not For Tourists” guides, the Eater app is like Zagats, but made by the most serious of foodies. Unlike those foodies, it is able to recommend a restaurant without any snobby pretentiousness, or without being hindered by Yelp like reviews where stars drop because of that one patron who got “that look” from a waiter one time.

Equally useful in finding the absolute best places to eat in 22 of America’s finest cities for both the people living there, and those just passing through, when you need access to a GPS showing the meccas of the most serious of food nerds, you need Eater, my app of the week.

  

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