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.

  

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App of the Week: TuneIn

Developer: TuneIn Inc.

Compatible with: iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Android Devices

Requires: iOS 5.0 and up, Android 2.1 and up

Price: Free

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

It may sound like an obvious statement, but I never really appreciated the things you can become homesick for until I was away from home for an extended period of time.

Sure I know you’re bound to grow nostalgic for family, friends, certain locations, certain food, and the rest, but there are a host of little things you never even fully realize you enjoy until they are unavailable.

One in particular is the local sports radio guys. As an Astros fan (I know, I know, believe me I know) I became accustomed to hearing our local broadcast team much more than I ever realized. The chances I get to watch or hear a game now are even more brutal than usual because I don’t have the local flavor there to spice the proceedings up.

It’s for people in similar situations that TuneIn Radio was created for, as it provides access to over 70,000 radio stations nationwide for the incredibly reasonable price of free. The app is as simple to use as the TuneIn website it is based off of, as you can save your favorite radio stations from anywhere and listen to them live whenever you want.

While the most obvious use of a service like TuneIn may be to reacquaint yourself with your favorite radio stations no matter where you are, the real value in TuneIn is its use as a discovery app. That’s due entirely to the fact that the amount of stations available can only be described as staggering, and the content they provide is greater than that. Trying to wrap your head around all that is available is daunting, but fortunately the built in search features allow you to break down every available station so you can find whatever you’re in the mood for, while still being adventurous in locating new sources for it.

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Sure it’s easy to be spoiled by the ability that services like Spotify provide to listen to exactly whatever you want, but there is something to be said about the random, almost chaotic, selections of radio where you sit back and let fate (or more accurately, DJ’s) determine what you are listening to, with only the guidance of the general mood you’re in to lead the way. It’s much more difficult to fall into patterns based where you listen to certain music to death that way, and just feels more lively.

Not to mention it isn’t burdened by all of the same licensing issues, which means that if you need them, you can always find “The Beatles” or “Led Zeppelin” on somewhere.

Of course, there’s a lot more to the radio than just music, and TuneIn provides it all. Talk, news, and, best of all, sports broadcasts are all available (and naturally still nationwide), but you also get podcasts as well, essentially meaning there isn’t a single piece of entertainment covered nationwide that TuneIn can’t cater to at your whim.

I’m a firm believer in quality over quantity usually but, while TuneIn functions admirably, the truth its real appeal comes through sheer content. Loads and loads of content available to you almost anywhere from almost everywhere, for no cost at all. It becomes far too easy to become stuck to whatever we load onto our smartphones or tablets as our go to sources of entertainment, and TuneIn provides an alternative to that by giving you all of that same entertainment, but in a way that feels more free and unbinding.

Every mobile user should have an app like that which reminds them of the joy of radio, and of those apps, TuneIn may just be the best. So whether you need something fresher to listen to at work, or miss the local announcer of your favorite abysmal sports team, grab TuneIn, my 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 – XCOM: Enemy Unknown

Developer: 2K Studios

Compatible with: iPod Touch 5th gen and up, iPad 2, iPad Mini, iPhone 4S and up (optimized for iPhone 5)

Requires: iOS 5.0

Price: $20.00

Available: here

There’s a lot to be said about “XCOM: Enemy Unknown” for iOS, but none of it can be said without eventually mentioning the price.

Yes, “XCOM” is a $20 gaming app, in a world where $20 can also easily translate to owning 20 gaming apps. This will cause many people dismay, or even fits of laughter.

But I’m not going to talk about the price just yet. Instead I just want to focus on “XCOM.”

XCOM” took the console and PC world by storm last year as gamers everywhere discovered the joy of running a worldwide alien defense organization, and commanding troops on the ground in tense and violent tactical operation scenarios. A revival of one of the most complicated and hardcore PC franchises of all time, “Enemy Unknown” somehow managed to find a way to maintain the things that made that series great, while also making the experience much more manageable and appealing to the more mainstream gaming market.

Of course the star of the game is its permadeath system. Much like last weeks “Sword and Glory” app, death is not only around every corner in “XCOM,” but when it happens you lose that soldier for good. This is made worse by how much you can customize a soldier to make them your own, and the hours you will inevitably spend leveling up your favorites. No matter how much time or effort you put into a character though, one false move and they are dead and gone.

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It’s a punishing system to be sure, but it gives the game an element of tension that would be impossible without it. Every decision matters in “XCOM,” whether it be on the battlefield, or in the management mode when trying to determine what countries to aid (you can’t save them all) and what research to pursue in order to manufacture new items and weapons. Every moment in “XCOM” is spent making these tough decisions, and as such success and joy are found not in glorious moments of gratification, but just through mere survival, and a chain of little moments that make up your 30+ hour playtime.

A glorious moment of success is to be found, though, the minute you boot up the game and realize that this is indeed the entire “XCOM” experience (sans multiplayer) on a mobile device. Sure the graphics took a very slight hit, but this is compensated for by some nice touch controls that add to the feeling of being the “Commander” character the game casts you as. While playing this on an iPhone over an iPad is not the most welcoming of propositions, again it’s the fact it even exists in that format in a playable manner that deserves recognition.

Ultimately though, even though this is still every inch of the original 2012 game of the year candidate expertly ported by 2K to a potentially hostile format, it does come back to the price. While $20 spent well is a fair amount of money, the fact is that $20 for this game is a steal, considering it means you’re getting what is essentially a console game at about a third of the original price, to take with you wherever you go. The price is all a matter of perspective, and in an app world where a “Free” game can easily set you back around $20 when you consider in-app purchases (of which “XCOM” has none) and usually are not of this level of quality, you really have to call this a case of paying an appropriate price for what you get.

“XCOM” defied expectations last year and made most of its fans out of people who never played this type of strategy game before, much less the franchise. With any of the luck I do not have when I play this game (my guys die a lot), this mobile version will do the same as it’s a near-flawless port of that all-time great strategy experience.

So get ready to craft a virtual graveyard of fallen soldiers, start seeing Chryssalids in you nightmares, and get addicted to “XCOM” all over again as it’s not only a perfect port, but my app of the week.

  

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