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: Tiny Token Empires

Developer: HeroCraft Ltd.

Compatible with: Android Devices

Requires: Android 2.3 and Up

Price: $2.99

Available: here

I set out to find a productive app this week. Truly I did.

Though there were a couple of worthy candidates (the lively note taking app mem:0 and the resume creating app resume designer both warrant a look), one app peaked my interest more than any other this week, and kept me from being productive entirely.

In the spirit of trying to bring the best of the best in apps then, I’ve got to tell you about “Tiny Token Empires”.

If you’ve ever played “Puzzle Quest” or its sequel, you’ve already got an idea of what to expect from “Empires.” The difference is that while “Puzzle Quest” was an RPG that used matching puzzles in place of traditional combat, “Empires” is a world conquest sim with a similar puzzle battle formula.

You’d expect the world sim aspect to be the focus of this game then to separate itself, but you’d be wrong. That part is essentially an extremely watered down version of the “Civilization” games, as you build your resources and expand your empire by conquering the towns of nearby nations. While elements of that series like unit types, special characters and troop movements are present in “Empires,” all political aspects, or anything unrelated to military movements are not.

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It’s a simplified style that only works as well as it does by playing second to what is an excellent puzzle system. Whenever combat is initiated, whether it be with rival armies or mythical creatures, a puzzle board is shown with all units involved displayed on both sides. To attack, you have to combine three of the same puzzle tiles (think “Bejeweled”) that match the color of one of your units. Defeat all enemy units, and victory is yours.

The combat element adds an incredibly welcome depth to the otherwise standard system, as you’ll have to always consider the colors you need, as well as your opponent to attempt to counter their best attacks. Similarly, getting the right combo chain can turn the tide of the battle entirely, as the right one can win you a battle instantly, or lose you everything. It brings an element of urgency to an otherwise casual game, and ironically leads to more strategy than the strategy element.

Like so many other noteworthy gaming apps, where “Empires” stands out is its style. Don’t be turned off by the cartoon looks, as they’re just used to enhance the game’s tongue-in-cheek approach to history. It’s not the type of humor that’ll have you laughing out loud, but it makes the game feel lively and spirited helping to combat the redundancy even the best of mobile games can fall victim too.

“Empires” is just the perfect example of a mobile gaming experience. At its heart it’s a pick up and play anytime puzzle game that everyone should have one of on their device, but the combat and five unique strategy campaigns, along with the well implemented art style, give it the kind longevity and depth not usually present in puzzle games. It all leads to a game that’s hard to put down, and impossible to forget.

“Tiny Token Empires” didn’t exactly invent its core concept, but it does execute it in a way that stands out from anything of its kind, and provides your next mobile game addiction without apology. So join me and put productivity off until next week (maybe) by trying “Tiny Token Empires,” my app of the week.

  

App of the Week: Spaceteam

Developer: Henry Smith

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

Requires: iOS 5.0

Price: Free

Available: here

I have a terrible confession to make.

When it comes to picking apps, I’m not infallible. While always striving to find the best of the best in the world of apps, occasionally something comes along that doesn’t cross my radar until too late, and becomes so popular I see no reason to go back and cover it (*cough*Ridiculous Fishing*cough*).

In the case of “Spaceteam” though, there’s actually a fair chance you haven’t heard of this app, even though it’s attracted a devout following since its recent release. Even if you have though, surely after playing it you’ll begrudge me the chance to talk about its brilliance, even if it is a little late.

“Spaceteam’s” core concept is pure simplicity, as it places you and 2-3 friends (Note: game does not come with friends) in control of a spaceship escaping an exploding star, and tasks you all with surviving by hitting a series of buttons and switches all named after techno-babble (Copernicus Crane, for instance) at the right time.

Sounds okay but nothing special right? Well, from there a couple of twists are thrown in that make the game interesting.

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You see, each of your friends has a different control panel filled with unique buttons. When the instructions come in for which ones to press, they don’t always come in to the person who has that button. This is why the game has to be played by people in the same room, as the only way to win is to shout out the instructions you receive and hope the person with the right button on their screen can get to it in time.

While an efficient team can hold out for a while, considering how much the difficulty ramps up, and that your random boards change in each section preventing many shortcuts, you will inevitably lose. In the meantime, you spend most of the game shouting at your friends in not just techno babble, but in encouragements and curses, as you all try to manage your own board, while maintaining even the most basic intelligible form of communication with one another, before devolving to violent grunts.

A game where you spend 90% of the time yelling at each other and losing may not sound like much fun, but it is. At some point you either form an efficient and serious team to progress, or just start laughing at how bad things are going. Either way, it’s incredibly fun to share a room with people all united over a single experience that brings back memories of “Goldeneye” parties, “Halo” LAN fests, or even “Pictionary.” This is a party game in the true sense of the phrase, and has few equals on the mobile scene both in terms of its idea, and certainly its execution.

But really you don’t have to take my word for it. Get a few people and try “Spaceteam” yourself and its greatness will become apparent mere minutes in. It’s not often a game so instantly accessible manages to be worth months of play time, and promotes local gaming with friends, which is why late or not, “Spaceteam” is my 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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