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

  

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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: Stealth Assassin

Developer: Erman Haskan

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

Requires: iOS 4.3 or later

Price: $0.99

Available here

While I always try to find the newest possible apps to bring to this column, occasionally an app can be missed for a few weeks. Sometimes it can be a mystery how this happens, but in the case of “Stealth Assassin,” it seems oddly appropriate that it would exist unnoticed.

In “Stealth Assassin” you take the role of the titular stealth assassin, and navigate 100+ maze like levels in order to take out your wandering green man target and escape within a time limit. There to stop you are a squad of roaming blue guards, with flashlight aided cones of vision, who patrol around the target, and swarm upon and shoot you if you cross their path. To help turn the tides are your abilities of super speed and invisibility, which drain your re-filling power bar.

If “Stealth Assassin” sounds, and looks, simple in its graphics, concept, gameplay, and plot, that’s because it’s based on a flash game series known as “Ultimate Assassin,” and flash games aren’t typically known for triumphs in any of those things. What they are known for are oddly addictive experiences based on somewhat quirky concepts, accomplished in a way so that they serve equal doses of fun to those playing for a few minutes, or those who find themselves oddly hooked hours later.

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“Stealth Assassin” retains that same experience in its transition to mobile. It’s got a little resemblance to stealth classics like “Metal Gear,” but oddly it reminds me more of a demented cross between “Pac-Man,” “Bomberman,” and “Hotline Miami.” At first navigating your way to the target and escaping is a simple, but satisfying, proposition, but the difficulty wastes no time in ramping up, and soon you’ll find every wit and reflex you have available working to complete the later stages. Doing so provides that perfect ratio of effort to satisfaction, that is only enhanced replay wise by the addition of achievements on each stage that tempt you to better your  best.

If there is a knock against “Stealth Assassin,” it’s  that the controls are touchy and take some serious mastering so they don’t interrupt your enjoyment. However, when you consider that this is a value title based around a very simple idea, there’s not much more you can knock “Stealth Assassin” for, as it gets the most out of its premise, and delivers a game that is worth considerably more than its asking price in terms of how often you’ll find yourself going to it when you have the free moment to do so.

Summing up “Stealth Assassin” is like describing the perfect real assassin. It exhibits no flash, and instead is quickly in and quickly out, leaving nothing but a job well done in its wake. For exhibiting the benefits of the professional execution of simplicity, “Stealth Assassin” is 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.

  

App of the Week: Lie Swatter

Developer: Jellyvision Games

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

Requires: iOS 4.3 or later

Price: Free

Available Here

 

It’s hard to find good humor in games, but one title that always got it right was the “You Don’t Know Jack” series, which gained popularity in the 90s for its chaotic, bizzare, irreverent, yet extremely intelligent form of trivia.

Sporting some off the wall categories like “Elephant, Mustard, Teddy Roosevelt, or Dracula?,” and college grad level questions (“Suppose Jackson Pollock had become a sandwich artist at Subway. What would his supervisor have noted about his performance?”), there has never been a game with same sense of humor or style that “You Don’t Know Jack” has, which is why it was great to see it make a fairly recent comeback on systems, mobile platforms, and even Facebook.

If you’ve already tried that series and just can’t get enough, then you’ll be happy to know the creators of “You Don’t Know Jack” have a new game out that takes everything great about the YDKJ series, and applies it to a new, yet familiar concept.

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Called “Lie Swatter,” it tasks you with choosing a category and an opponent (who can be selected amongst your friends or at random), then looking over  a series of flies and bugs, each with a statement on them. To win, you have to swat the ones with statements that are lies.

Sound simple? Well then you truly don’t know jack, as the catch here again is that these categories and statements are all incredibly obscure and absurd. Often, every single statement will read like a bold faced lie, due to how outright bizarre they are. Choosing the right one often comes down to luck and deductive reasoning as much as direct knowledge of the subject.

It can be tough then trying to push ahead, but its helpful that the humor and the styled presentation of “YDKJ” are back in full force, as you’ll not only laugh your ass off reading and sorting out the statements, but learn something about each topic along the way. While not as diverse in its questions, themes, round types, or general gameplay as “You Don’t Know Jack,” it does provide a condensed experience of the best that series offers, with only a few app related hiccups (go for the ad-free and unlimited play $1.99 option to save yourself most of the trouble).

Trivia apps are a dime a dozen, or often cheaper, on mobile platforms, but “Lie Swatter” gets those crucial lightning round bonus points in the competition by being deceivingly simple, incredibly addictive, and most importantly drop dead hilarious. In a game all about separating lies from truth, there can be no doubt “Lie Swatter” is the app of the week.

  

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