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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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

  

App of the Week: Star Command

Developer: Star Command LLC.

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

Requires: iOS 4.3 or later

Price: $2.99

Available here

Captain’s Log Stardate 90946.8

After years in development following a successful Kickstarter campaign, “Star Command” is now available for the app store, and provides a universe spanning strategy title, that offers the chance to chart the unknown and boldly go where no game has gone before.

Well…ok that’s an exaggeration.

In fact, “Star Command” has a lot in common with the PC indie hit “FTL,” right down to the Kickstarter origins, as both games task you with the same objective of traversing different galaxies and defeating some of the toughest scum in the galaxy through ship to ship battles, and onboard scuffles, all as captain of your very own space ship.

While the games may share a similar product description, where “Star Command” differs, and ultimately shines, is in the number of little things.

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For instance, the graphics are exceptional. Whereas “FTL” was all about minimalism, “Star Command” looks similar to old PC games like “XCOM” or “Syndicate” and gets the most out of its perspective thanks to a bright and detailed style. The cutscenes are also straight out of a Lucasarts adventure game, and really drive home the humor, danger, and even frights of the game based on the current situation.

As for the gameplay, there is a lot of it. After you’ve customized your captain, you are now responsible for hiring a crew, and assigning them to three different job classes, as well as building and customizing your ships weapons and systems, which are all acquired by using tokens that are earned along the way. Once everything is eventually in place, the game mostly revolves around combat, for which you are responsible for the command of every single aspect of the ship. When it’s time to fire the plasma beams, that’s up to you. When a team needs to be organized to fend off a boarding party, that’s up to you. And when all hell is breaking loose and no hope seems to be available, it’s again down to you.

That last one is important, as things can get out of control very easily. This is not an easy game by any means, as “Star Command” requires your complete concentration, and the ability to multitask like a machine, if you are ever going to have a chance of surviving. Your survival is the key too, as once the captain goes down, the game is over.

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Don’t let the doom and gloom keep you away though, as even at its most frustrating “Star Command” is an ambitious and extremely entertaining title that does a great job at promoting an atmosphere where anything can happen at any turn. Exploring the universe truly feels like you’re doing just that, since the variety of enemies and scenarios present at each location rarely, if ever, repeats, making each new adventure feel like some lost episode of “Star Trek.”

In fact it’s probably no coincidence that this game is coming out so close to the new “Star Trek” movie, as if you are a fan of that series, or of anything sci-fi, this app is a beam down from the heavens. It’s a complex, yet accessible and rewarding, adventure that requires several levels of active and passive strategies. Every effort proves worth it though, as it all contributes to a title that lets you experience what it’s like to be at the helm of your own sci-fi ship.

“Star Command” is the perfect type of strategy game for your phone, and with any luck will be the start of a franchise that will live long and prosper. For now though, this game proudly serves as my app of the week.

  

App of the Week: Status Board

Developer: Panic Inc.

Compatible with: iPad

Requires: iOS 5.0 or later

Price: $9.99

Available here

I think that if someone from, say, 60 years in the past got the chance to visit the world of today, the most shocking thing might not be the technology available, but how we use it.

Think about the power of your iPad for instance. Its impressive abilities as a computer are only bested by its incredible mobility, creating a device that has the potential to access near infinite amounts of knowledge and complete an incalculable amount of tasks at any point in the world. Yet most people probably use it to watch Youtube, play “Fruit Ninja,” and check on the latest mock draft.

If that’s you, and you’ve been thinking of using your iPad for something more productive, consider the new Status Board app.

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Status Board takes all of the data you commonly use, and organizes it all nicely onto a single screen format, until your iPad resembles one of those little data pads they used to carry around on “Star Trek.” The default data feeds include things like your e-mail, twitter, the weather, constantly updating headlines from your favorite sites, and more, but that is just the surface of what Status Board offers. The real value of this app comes from its deep customization options.

While this of course includes features like the ability to re-size and re-arrange every information panel, Status Board goes deeper with functions like the ability to upload almost any data type (allowing for custom charts and graphs), as well use the  built-in HTML programming feature to create nearly any type of panel you can think of. Already, people are coming up with some amazing custom uses for the device.

Status Board isn’t an app for everyone, and I honestly don’t know if I’d have a use for it myself. But for small business owners, website gurus, the hyper-productive, or really anyone in an office environment, it is invaluable. All of the information you could ever want is readily available to be viewed with a glance, or interacted with via a touch. It turns you iPad from potential workplace distraction, to ready source of constant knowledge for yourself and, if you choose to purchase the optional TV hookup feature, everyone else around you.

The current form of this app may not maximize its potential, but even “out of the box,” it instantly maximizes the professional potential of your iPad. A quick scan of the apps description should tell you right away if you have use for it or not, and even if that answer is no, you still have to respect the technical prowess it wields. It’s the kind of app Apple probably had in mind when building the app store, and with the right amount of developer and user support, could prove to be a valuable tool in every major office worldwide.

And yes, it will probably garner the approval of your theoretical time traveling ancestors. That alone secures it my app of the week.

  

App of the Week: Slayin

Developer: Pixel Licker Games

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

Requires: iOS 4.3 or later

Price: $0.99

Available here

“Slayin” is an app that wears its retro gaming heart on its sleeve. You don’t have to look hard to spot its influences from games like “Castlevania,” “Ghosts and Goblins,” “Metal Slug,” “Mega Man,” and more, yet “Slayin” is also unique. It touts its gameplay as the first endless action RPG, in that you are constantly moving, constantly battling, and constantly trying to level up and improve yourself through statistical upgrades and better equipment.

Mix those notions of nostalgic ideology and brand new mobile gameplay together, and it’s like tasting peanut butter and chocolate together for the first time. Yes, “Slayin” is basically the Reeses of the app world, yet infinitely more filling.

“Slayin” tasks you with choosing between three character classes (the strong knight, the ability loaded wizard, and the dual sword wielding knave) and embarking on a timeless quest to slay a dragon, and all other minions and bosses along the way. While all the classes have their own unique abilities and progression systems, they are all bound to the very simple play style which has you constantly moving in a small area, and shifting your direction left and right as you work to destroy everything in your path.

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It may be simple, but it works so, so well. “Slayin” refers to itself as the first of its kind, and its uniquely relentless and dangerously addictive style certainly feels the part. Once you quickly adapt to the flow of “Slayin,” you’ll find yourself in that great zen like state a game can provide, where your actions seem to occur a fraction of a second before you even think them. You’ll need those extra quick reactions, as “Slayin” borrows its difficulty from many of those titles that influenced it, though I’m happy to report that the challenge is one based of skill over trial and error for the most part.

While more of an action game than an RPG, those role playing elements still shine in “Slayin,” especially when it comes to its upgrade system. As mentioned, each character type has their own upgrades and equipment available, which the game cleverly lets you purchase without much break in the action courtesy of an appearing shop keeper. Thankfully, the vast majority of your purchases are made with in-game currency, and the additional in-app purchases available are mostly novelty items that in no way are necessary for your completion, or enjoyment, of the game.

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Where “Slayin” really hits it out of the park, though, is in that retro style. Apply this concept to any other form, and it just wouldn’t have worked as well as it does here in a hybrid world of 8 and 16 bit video game design. There isn’t a visual or audio element that doesn’t harken back to that time, and yet “Slayin” also adds just enough of its own style to those elements to feel fresh. This is particularly evident in the music (done by one of the same guys who did “Retro City Rampage”) where a few notes will remind you of certain classic games, yet the score itself is more of a unique entrant into the field than a mere tribute.

There are games out there without a fraction of the addictive nature and charm of “Slayin” that are still great. “Slayin” is a title that focuses on the advantages of the mobile platform, and uses every single one of them to craft an experience that is a feast for the eyes, ears, mind, and hands. It’s a twitch based actioner with equal measures of looks and heart, as well as a surprising amount of depth.

If you ever want to see and experience the design pinnacle of a three button game, then you need “Slayin.” As I type this, I just want to jump back into it’s one more play world that inevitably stretches on for hours, so let me wrap this up quickly by crowning “Slayin” the unquestioned app of the week.

  

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