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: HabitRPG

Developer: OCDevel

Compatible with: Android Devices

Requires: Android 3.0

Price: Free

Available: here

When it comes to self-improvement apps and myself, I have to reference the classic movie “Office Space” and say that it’s all a question of motivation, in that it’s not that I’m lazy, it’s that I don’t care.

Most self-improvement apps show you a lot of graphs and statistics, but don’t exactly do much to motivate you besides the desire to see a series of graphs and statistics that reflect the new, and better you. Sure they may help keep you in line, but that’s about the extent of their involvement.

“HabitRPG” is a website, and now Android app, funded by Kickstarter that takes a gamification approach to the subject, by turning your self-improvement into a role playing game. Basically what you do is create a virtual 8-Bit avatar, and set a series of goals. If you accomplish those goals (for instance “Do 50 push-ups”), then you get to award yourself points. Fail to accomplish those goals however, and you have to take away hit points from your character. Gaining enough points, allows you to reach new levels, buy new equipment, or put them towards any number of custom rewards you set (Like “Watch 2 hours of Netflix”), however lose enough points and your character can “die” resetting all of your progress.

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While it’s a system that is more dependent than others on you being honest with yourself (especially when it comes to removing points for missteps), and there are some interface issues that could use some ironing out, the basic idea this app is built around is generally inspired, and a great overall use of the gamification idea to inspire you to be more productive.

Turning you into a virtual RPG character, and your life into a quest, is certainly an effective tool for those looking to make some serious lifestyle improvements, but honestly for most this will serve as the absolute coolest to do list available. A big part of that has to do with the expansive system of tasks and rewards the app allows you to enter, all of which can be tied into game elements that may be simplified, but provide a rewarding experience all the same.

In fact, it’s easy to imagine the intended use for this app is for the user to start using it as a simple checklist for their life, and gradually add more and more to that list as you go along until you find yourself becoming better and better and finally reaching your ultimate goal at a progressive pace. Kind of like…well…an RPG.

Not quite a game, but much more than the usual planner, “HabitRPG” is a hybrid app that gets it right, and at the very least deserves a spot on the Android device of every gamer with a to do list. For making your routine anything but, “HabitRPG” levels up to my app of the week.

  

App of the Week: Commercial Break

Developer: Aristarchos LTD.

Compatible with: iPhone 3GS and up, iPod Touch 4th gen and up, iPad

Requires: iOS 5.0

Price: Free

Available: here 

As much as I love football, the one argument that is kind of hard to defend my beloved game against is that there are too many commercials.

As a football fan you train yourself to almost block them out, or even accept them in your life, but all it takes is one really crappy commercial, or an oddly timed commercial break, or worse the observation of a casual observer to realize that you actually spend most of your time watching a football game, watching commercials.

It’s a problem that most severely affects football games, but it serves as the burden of all television as well. Unfortunately with channel flipping being such a dangerous proposition, and devices like the hopper only letting you skip commercials on recorded programs, it’s also one that has become an inescapable reality of watching live TV.

The makers of Commercial Break don’t see it that way though, and through their app actually allow you to use your iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad (with Android compatibility coming soon) as a heads up to when your favorite channel is done with commercials.

While the exact answer to how this works on a technical level is a complicated conundrum that has something to do with analysis and algorithms, how it works on a user end actually couldn’t be simpler. Just choose the channel you are currently watching from the apps list, and hit start. From there, you receive a notice whenever your program is back on, meaning you are free to go walkabout, switch channels, or even turn off the TV without missing your program, or having to suffer another poorly scripted shill.

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It’s a great idea that is made even better by the fact it actually does work extremely well. However, even though the functionality is what you’d want it to be, there are some limitations to consider before downloading. For instance, so far the only channels supported are ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, ESPN, ESPN2, USA, TBS, and TNT, and even then you only get all of those channels if you live in NYC, with coverage varying beyond there, and being completely nonexistent outside of the US.

That may sound like a pretty big catch, but the developers are aware of the need to expand both coverage and available channels, and are looking to do so should the apps early build prove successful.

For now though what you are downloading is an investment in the future. One free from corporate brainwashing and terrible jokes spawned by deadlines and budgets constraints, and one instead full of trips to get more beer or use the bathroom that are free from the fear of missing your show, or having to wait for the recording. No longer will you sit down on Sundays to watch commercials with football in between, but rather will be able to sit down and just watch football.

If you read that last paragraph and saw an American flag waving behind you, then you can probably see the potential of Commercial Break, and why it is my app of the week.

  

App of the Week: Gentlemen!

Developer: Lucky Frame

Compatible with: iPad, Android Tablets 7 inches and up

Requires: iOS 5.0 or later, Android 2.0.1 and up

Price: $4.99

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

While the traditional duel we often think of (a slap of the glove, a demand for satisfaction, pistols at dawn/swords on the morrow, etc.) has long gone out of practice (if it every truly existed that way at all), the fascination surrounding the concept is more prevalent than ever in a time when insults travel the world over at the speed of the internet, and the chances to confront your offender in a mano y mano manner is nonexistent to the point of reducing many to message board retorts delivered under the shroud of anonymity, in the hopes it may provide said satisfaction.

They so rarely do, however, which is when the appeal of a one on one confrontation to determine the victor sheds its barbaric imagery, and starts sounding like the practical alternative.

“Gentlemen!” is an app that harkens back to those times, while embracing a more modern way of presenting the classic duel. Playing as two cartoon gentlemen (of which we will assume are of Victorian England descent to enhance the image) you and a friend (or “scoundrel” as the case may be) are tasked with each taking one end of a tablet, and controlling your selected gentlemen in his bid to rid the world of his rival through a variety of means.

However, that is the point that “Gentlemen!” drops all notions of representing anything even vaguely historic, or practical, and starts having fun.

For instance, while said means can include traditional dueling equipment such as knives, the randomly switching weapons are more likely to yield bizarre devices such as explosive homing birds, lightning bolts, or sticks of dynamite. In what I hope is a statement that will help convey the joyful madness often present, matches often resemble animated “Spy v.s. Spy” strips.

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Said matches also come in three different gameplay types. Duel is a straight up one on one fight to the finish with random weapons, while the more intriguing Chasing mode sees one player go unarmed as he tries to escape his opponent, while waiting to receive his turn with the weapon. The third, and unfortunately least appealing, gametype, Diamond, is like Duel, but with the added objective of collecting on screen diamonds.

Regardless of the mode, you’ll be able to play it smoothly thanks to simple controls that most including running, jumping, and attacking. The only other button is a gravity switch that makes sense when you consider the different perspectives that each player will view their character at when sharing a tablet. The gravity switch allows you to swap your perspective to match your opponent as needed in order to strike them.

While on the subject of the game’s perspective, it must be noted that the game’s biggest weakness is its accessibility. While finding two people, one of which has a compatible tablet and a copy of the game, is not an impossible proposition, it will prevent you from accessing the game as often as you may like, and will straight up deny those without tablet access.

However, it’s a positive sign when a game’s greatest weakness is the inability to play it, but that is the case with “Gentlemen!” So long as you can play it, you get to enjoy a frantic and engaging multiplayer experience that never fails to lead to vicarious hoots of victory, shameful admissions of defeat, and fun for all. It’s rare that any game manages to capture everything that made the competitive arcade gaming scene so great without resorting to providing a port of a title from that time, but with poise and pride worthy of its cartoonish leads, “Gentlemen!” does just that.

There’s a selfish part of me that wants “Gentlemen!” to remain under the radar, so that the lucky few that stumble across it can feel as if they are in their own secret league of gentlemen (and an extraordinary one at that). However, in an effort to be more like the men of honor that in so many tales competed in the duels that inspired this game, I present you “Gentlemen!,” 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.

  

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