SteamBall Review

SteamBall Review

Apr 29, 2011

I probably could have put a down payment on a house if I had saved all the quarters I dropped into the Marble Madness arcade cabinet at the local arcade. As an adult, I’ve moved on to the Monkey Ball games on pretty much every platform they release them on. Needless to say, I was intrigued when I heard about SteamBall. It’s a fully 3D game where you guide a ball through a maze, and in many ways, it’s a very well put together game.

Visually, SteamBall is a masterpiece. The 3D graphics look great, and the sound effects punctuate the visuals nicely. The game runs very smoothly, and I never ran into any frame rate issues, or other performance hiccups. SteamBall looks great, and runs very smoothly.

Gameplay consists of tilting the phone to control the movement of the ball. The controls feel extremely intuitive, and the game even calibrates the controls at the start of each level, so if you move around a lot while you’re playing, it will adjust accordingly. The mazes start off easy enough, and get increasingly more difficult as you progress through the game. If the included mazes aren’t enough for you, you can make your own using the level editor, or you can download other people’s creations using the built in level downloader. At the time of this review, there weren’t any levels up for download, but over time, that will likely change.

SteamBall looks great, the gameplay feels solid, and the controls work well, but there’s one rather large flaw that interferes with what would otherwise be a top notch game. The camera does a terrible job of following the ball as you change directions forcing you to guess at whether you’re going to get the ball on the narrow path you need to cross in order to reach the goal. In fact, on one particular level, the ball was completely hidden by the level as I was attempting to take it around a sharp corner. It’s surprising to see such a large flaw in what is otherwise a well polished game, nevertheless, the camera can and will cause you to fail many many mazes.

It’s hard to recommend a game with a glaring flaw such as the camera in SteamBall, but it’s also hard not to recommend a game that’s so polished in every other way. If you’re ma fan of the Monkey Ball games, or Marble Madness, give the demo version of SteamBall a try. If you can get past the terrible camera, there’s a great game here that will keep you playing for hours on end.


Google Docs Gets Official App for Android

Google Docs Gets Official App for Android

Apr 29, 2011

Google have released a variety of official apps for their services for Android, but Google Docs has largely gone unnoticed. Google are addressing this in a way, with the release of a Google Docs app for Android. This free app allows for users to pull up a list of and open their Google Docs on their phone, with the ability to edit documents and spreadsheets, as well as the ability to upload photos.

The app doesn’t actually offer any kind of native editing for documents or spreadsheets, though – it only provides a front end for accessing the mobile version of Google Docs, as the app only loads up the mobile website’s editor, not any kind of custom in-app editor. The app lets you import documents from the camera for use with Google’s OCR (optical character recognition service), although you will need to make sure your picture is of good quality when you take it for the service to properly recognize it.

What this is useful for is the ability to access multiple accounts easily from one place – you can easily switch accounts from those you synchronize your phone with by tapping your phone’s menu button. So, for those who use personal account as well as accounts with Google Apps may find this particularly useful. However, it would be great if the app got a makeover similar to the Gmail app, to where you have a native app experience for editing documents. It would be great to have a free app similar to what an app like Quickoffice provides, but for Google’s services exclusively. Also, it would be nice to be able to download documents to your phone, or open them up in other apps. For example, PDFs can’t be viewed in a native PDF viewer, they can only be viewed in the app’s viewer. Clearly, this app needs a lot of work to make it something that could be truly useful, but for now, it serves as a decent access point for the service from your phone. Google Docs is available for free from the Android Market.

Can Knockdown 2 Review

Can Knockdown 2 Review

Apr 29, 2011

Don’t you love games with accurate titles? Portal is a game all about portals, for example. Angry Birds involves a lot of malcontent birds. Fruit Ninja involves ninja-type activities with fruit. In this proud tradition, Can Knockdown 2 involves knocking down cans. Similar to carnival and theme park games designed to take your money, this $0.99 app has you tossing balls at cans to knock them down. There are 3 different modes to play: one mode has you launching balls at stacks of cans, trying to knock them down from a set of 5 balls. Every time you complete a level, you get an extra balls, so you obviously want to try to knock them down in one shot, or knock down the cans that provide extra balls if you can. As you complete levels with one ball, you get point multipliers as well, for high scores. There is also a mode that has you trying to hit cans that are being tossed in the air, with the goal being to hit as many as you can in a minute, and a mode that has you not hitting cans at all; this mode has you trying to hit targets, with bonus points awarded for hitting closer to the center of the targets.

The target mode (officially known as Classic mode, according to the OpenFeint leaderboards) of Can Knockdown 2 is probably the most fun of all 3 modes, as it is the one that develops your skill and encourages proper strategy. The mode is a static sequence of can structures, so the repetition teaches you how to knock down the cans perfectly, and how to properly use the controls, in a way that the other two modes don’t. The target mode is fun, even if it doesn’t exactly involve cans, and it doesn’t teach you as much on how to play the game’s other 2 modes. The game comes with support for OpenFeint for achievements and leaderboards.

The controls can be problematic at times – I often found myself shooting for a certain spot, and I’ve often thought that I was shooting for one spot, only to have it be slightly lower than I expected. It can be frustrating, as it gives the expectation of the game just being inconsistent, and untrustworthy in its mechanics. This makes it harder to enjoy the game, as when you don’t have faith in the controls, it leads to frustration over the idea that your performance is based on factors besides your own skill. The time attack mode where you have to hit cans that get launched up in the air just isn’t as fun because of the entirely new and difficult challenge.

Can Knockdown 2 can be entertaining, but its occasionally sketchy core gameplay mechanic drags it down a bit. Check out the first Can Knockdown before deciding to “invest” in the sequel.

Theme Thursday – Windows XP

Theme Thursday – Windows XP

Apr 28, 2011

Hard to believe it’s already Thursday again, but here we go with another Theme Thursday! One more day ’til the weekend, and one more fancy shmancy theme to show off on your Android-powered phone or tablet.

Last week, we showcased Hand Carved, a great theme that conveyed a lot of warmth and feeling. This week, we’ve got something entirely different.

The week’s theme is, well, it’s Windows XP.

I have to admit, I’m having a hard time figuring out who would actually want their phone to look like Windows XP, but there is kind of a strange appeal to this theme. I guess you could call it nostalgia, considering how old that operating system is. At the very least, it’s been a good conversation starter!

As usual, this is another theme for ADW Launcher, the highly customizable home replacement for Android that allows you to do some very interesting tricks with the user interface, either making it easier to use your device or to simply make it look really cool. Although, it’s arguable how “cool” it is to have Windows XP on your device.

Aside from the obvious wallpaper and custom icons is the “Start” button which you can assign to the app drawer. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Hit the start menu to access all of your apps and games, just like on a desktop PC. The developer has included instructions on how to do it, as it might be a bit tricky if you’re not used to customizing.

I’ve been getting quite a kick out of showing it off to friends and family. I even managed to convince a few gullible souls to believe I’d actually installed Windows XP on my phone. So, at least it’s worth it for the fun factor!

The Windows XP theme costs €0.59 (about $0.86) on the Android Market.

Manic Mechanics Review

Manic Mechanics Review

Apr 28, 2011

Physics based puzzle games are a good fit on mobile platforms thanks to the short, encapsulated nature of the levels. Any game trying to break into that genre has to prove itself worthy in order to draw attention away from the competition. Manic Mechanics earns a spot at the top of the crowd thanks to interesting gameplay and some surprisingly robust community features.

Many physics based puzzle games have one fixed goal for each level. Some games require you to bring a ball to a goal, some games require you to chain a series of gears together, but they all task the player with the same basic goal in each level. Manic Mechanics sets itself apart by giving you a different task to complete in each level. In order to beat one level, you have to make two basket balls bump into each other, while another level might require you to knock a bowling pin off of a ledge. The variety present in the level design really keeps Manic Mechanics feeling fresh throughout all of its 56 levels.

In order to achieve the goal set forth by each level, you’ll have to place different objects and platforms in strategic positions throughout the level. Once you press the start button, the physics kick into effect, and any items you placed in the air will fall, balls will roll, and hopefully, you’ll beat the level. Many levels actually have more than one possible solution, leaving the player free to find their own way through each level.

The only thing that interferes with the gameplay in Manic Mechanics is the controls. Selecting an object can be an exercise in patience thanks to unresponsive controls. Once you’ve selected an item, moving it where you want it isn’t nearly as intuitive as it should be. Once you get the game to acknowledge that you want to move an object, it can be extremely challenging to figure out where to place it. The game often thinks an object is overlapping another object when it doesn’t actually appear to be overlapping. It can also be difficult to see where you’re placing an object through your finger. The ability to zoom in for a closer look at what you’re doing helps with these problems, but they do still interfere with the gameplay.

Once you complete all 56 levels included with Manic Mechanics, the fun’s not over. There’s a custom level creation system in place that lets you build your own physics based puzzles, and then share them with other users. You can download user generated content from within the game, or you can enter the URL of a custom level. At the time of this review, there were only two user created levels available, but with any luck, as the game grows in popularity so to will the number of levels available.

Despite some control issues, Manic Mechanics provides a great gameplay experience, and user generated content could keep the game fresh for a good long time. If you’re into physics based puzzle games, you need to take a look at this game. The rich feature set more than makes up for the control issues.


Textfree Comes to Android; How Does It Compare to Google Voice?

Textfree Comes to Android; How Does It Compare to Google Voice?

Apr 27, 2011

Texting plans don’t come cheap. The phone carriers know that people are so addicted to them, that they can charge fees far greater than the actual data transfer is worth and people will keep paying them. However, there do exist solutions for free texting. iOS users have had the option to use Textfree for a while to send texts to people, whether they’re looking to replace their phone’s text plan, or use their iPod touch to send texts, just like a real phone! Now, Android users can download Textfree for their phones, and send texts for free using their service. However, with Google Voice already supported by Android, is Textfree worth using?

Both Google Voice and Textfree offer similar features for text message users – both services give you a real number for free that people can send texts to, and you will get a notification on your device of choice of the text. Texts and their notifications come in with relatively no latency, based on testing. Textfree can’t work as a phone number replacement like how Google Voice can, only as a separate texting number. As well, the Android version of Textfree can’t place and receive voice calls like the iOS version, although this is a paid service – this may come at some point in the future, especially with official in-app purchases now implemented. Textfree’s Android app has an advantage over the iOS app, as your phone’s SMS messages can be implemented into the app, so you can use Textfree to check both your Textfree texts and official messages, and send messages via either Textfree or your text plan via the Textfree app. This is not possible on iOS due to Apple restrictions.

For multiplatform users, Google Voice will send notifications to whatever device you are logged in to, so if you have an iPod touch and Android, you can get notifications on both if you want. However, Textfree only allows you to log in on one device, so you will only get notifications on that one device that you are logged in to. This might seem like good user behavior, but what if you switch between devices and expect a text on one device, but they’re coming in to another? As well, if you use your iOS device for voice calls with your Textfree number, you will only get a notification of a missed call, rather than being able to answer the call.

Textfree for Android is a solid solution for those looking to send free texts from their Android device, or if they have a Textfree account that they want to use on their Android device now. Overall, as a service, it has some advancing to do on Android before it can compete with Google Voice as a phone replacement, however. Textfree is now available from the Android Market for free.

Robot Unicorn Attack Review

Robot Unicorn Attack Review

Apr 27, 2011

Be honest, we’ve all dreamed about being a magical robot unicorn, who jumps, gallops and excretes rainbows. Nothing would be greater than rushing through a magical world, stained with a lavender hue, traversing islands of ground and butting your way through the star-shaped boulders that block your path. Luckily, thanks to Robot Unicorn Attack, all of our dreams can finally come true.

Already a huge hit on iOS and as a web-based flash title, Robot Unicorn Attack is the latest in a reasonably long line of side scrolling run ‘em ups. Your robot unicorn constantly sprints from the left to the right of the screen and you control the horned horse’s leaping and rainbow thrusts. Each game grants you three lives, or wishes and your final score is a total of the three runs.

The game is almost exactly as garish as you’d expect, full of rainbows, bright colours and twinkly, tinkly sound effects. A single song plays in the background of everything you do, “Always” by Erasure, which you’ll either find utterly hilarious or massively infuriating. Robot Unicorn Attack is camp, funny and only ever hits a single, high-pitched and utterly bonkers note.

Whilst Robot Unicorn Attack is a perfect example of pick up and play gaming, it does lack depth. Nothing changes, save for your unicorn gradually running faster as you progress through the randomly generated level. For brief gaming stints, that’s not too much of a problem, but if you’re looking for a game with a bit more meat on its robot bones, you’re looking in the wrong place.

Robot Unicorn Attack blasts along like a glittery fireball and because the gameplay is so simple, it’s easy to get caught up in its wake. It’s by no means a perfect game, but what it does, it does spectacularly well. It won’t change your life, it won’t reinvent the wheel, but for 99 cents, you can’t really complain.

Legends Arcana Review

Legends Arcana Review

Apr 27, 2011

Finding an effective control scheme is one of the biggest challenges facing action games on mobile platforms. Even a game with a strong set of gameplay mechanics can fall apart if the controls aren’t responsive and intuitive. The creators of Legends Arcana set out to bring the action RPG genre to the Android platform, and despite a few issues, they did a fine job of it.

The gameplay consists of going from dungeon to dungeon fighting monsters, and gathering loot so that you can level up, and fight monsters in more difficult dungeons. In other words, it’s pretty standard fare for the genre, but the controls bring everything together nicely. There’s a small ring in the lower left hand corner of the screen, and by rotating that ring, you move your character around the screen. The experience is very similar to that of using an analog stick on either the Xbox 360, or the PS3, so veteran gamers will be able to jump in without a problem. On the right hand side of the screen, there are several buttons you can customize to use any of your abilities, as well as a basic attack button. Despite your character occasionally getting lost behind your thumbs, the control scheme is extremely intuitive and effective.

The gameplay in Legends Arcana may be rock solid, but the story driving that gameplay is paper thin. You’re working to pay off a debt you racked up after a drunken evening of debauchery, and that’s more or less the motivating force for a good chunk of the game. The lack of a larger story doesn’t break the game in any way, but if you’re looking for something plot driven, you’re going to want to look somewhere else. This game is driven exclusively by the action.

Despite a lackluster story, Legends Arcana still does a great job of keeping the player engaged by offering new loot, and new abilities at a good pace. You’ll find new swords and armor throughout the world, and you’ll get new abilities each time you level up. There’s always new loot, or a new spell right around the corner, and that constant dangling carrot does a great job of keeping the player engaged.

Unlike a lot of recent high profile Android games, Legends Arcana offers graphic settings to suit just about any device. On high settings, the game looks pretty good, but you might run into some frame rate issues on low end phones. The game still looks OK on medium settings, and it should run fine on most phones, leaving low settings reserved for the lowest of the low end phones.

Legends Arcana combines solid gameplay, great controls, and adjustable graphics to provide a strong gaming experience to Android users. It’s easily one of the strongest action RPG games available on the platform today, and it’s worth checking out if you want to do a little dungeon crawling on the go.

Namco Brings 4 Games To Nook Color’s App Store

Namco Brings 4 Games To Nook Color’s App Store

Apr 27, 2011

Barnes and Noble’s Android-powered Nook Color is becoming more than just an e-book reader. The tablet has gotten an official update to 1.2 of the Nook software, designed to enable a variety of new features, including an update to Froyo, Flash support, as well as an app store. This does not mean official Android Market access, but there are a variety of Nook-enabled apps and games that are being released for the tablet through their official store.

Namco is jumping to the forefront of the Nook game market, with 4 Android games being released for the Nook’s app store, designed to be played on the device. First up is Flight Control, Firemint’s popular path management game, developed by Namco for Android. Next, there’s Crush the Castle, the physics-based puzzler, based on the eponymous Flash game, that has you trying to topple castles and their inhabitants by launching objects using a trebuchet. Next, there’s More Brain Exercise, featuring the famed Dr. Kawashima, who has become the face of the brain training genre. This game contains a variety of tests and games that claim to work different regions of the brain. Finally, there’s Learn to Fly, which puts you in control of a penguin who someday hopes to fly, like a real bird!

It seems as if publishers and developers are attempting to draw attention to their games through releases for specific devices – look at this news of apps for the Nook Color, as well as all the various games releasing on the Xperia Play. Drawing attention to Android apps is tricky enough as it is, and it helps if developers have some kind of external draw to their apps, through some kind of device. This is at least what developers and publishers are starting to bank on, and hopefully it succeeds for those looking to make Android more of a viable platform to do business on with their games and apps.

Super Medusa Review

Super Medusa Review

Apr 26, 2011

If there’s one thing that mobile phones do well, apart from making calls, it’s action-puzzle games. The bite-sized nature of mobile gaming means developers are constantly trying to cram more and more excitement into every level of their fiendishly difficult creations, turning sedate brain benders into frantic, quick thinking reaction-time testers. We’ve come a long way since Tetris.

Super Medusa is a fine example of this fledgling genre, testing not just your timing and reflexes, but taxing your grey matter as well. A cutesy game in both sight and sound, it casts you in the role of a constantly bouncing jellyfish. Using the accelerometer, you tilt your phone to guide the buoyant Cnidaria in a quest to free its fishy friends, who have somehow become encased in different coloured blocks. You bash said blocks with your head, and once you’ve freed all the fish in a level, you move onto the next.

Of course, it’s not as simple as all that. Your jellyfish can only break blocks that are the same colour as it, which means you’ll have to find the star blocks on each level that let you change colour. Add to that the different varieties of predator that patrol the undersea realm, all of whom will kill you instantly if you come into contact with them, and the game becomes an addictive, frustrating, bobbing joy.

Super Medusa is a lot of fun, mixing elements of classic platformers with a hefty pinch of block-breaking puzzler and a visual style that’s pleasing on the eye but never provides any “wow” moments. There are levels enough to keep you entertained, but things do get a little samey sometimes; Super Medusa lacks the visual chicanery that other titles employ to keep your eyes and your mind interested.

This isn’t a game that you’ll lose hours in, but it is one that can easily while away a boring commute or a lonely lunch break. The charming art style and distinctly old school sounds are almost certain to bring a smile to your face, just don’t expect your play time to extend into the wee small hours and you won’t be disappointed.

Android-Powered ThinkPad Tablet From Lenovo Could Be Set For This Summer

Android-Powered ThinkPad Tablet From Lenovo Could Be Set For This Summer

Apr 26, 2011

Lenovo seems to have Android clearly in mind as it sets its sights on the corporate environment with a new Honeycomb powered ThinkPad tablet, according to an exclusive post by Joanna Stern on ThisIsMyNext.com.

The post details a set of PowerPoint slides showing off an Android 3.0 tablet that comes with an optional stylus. The slides also show a portfolio case that features a built-in keyboard and trackpad, sure to make working on the tablet as a laptop easy as pie.

The specs of the device look like it will have an NVIDIA Tegra 2 processor, front and rear cameras and will come in 16, 32 and 64 GB storage options. Weighing in at 1.6 pounds, the 10.1 inch 1280×800 IPS capacitive touch display is also capable of what’s being called a “true pen” option for “sketching and note-taking.” Also featuring USB2.0, Micro USB and mini-HDMI ports along with an SD card slot, that’s a lot of expandability options for a .55-inch thin device.

With the heavily emphasized business features and security software, this is looking like the perfect device for the workplace environment where portability is a necessity; not to mention the perfect “back-to-school” device for college students with limited space. You’re getting all the trappings of a convenient, powerful entertainment device but with the power and tools to get work done when play time is over.

Finally, the most attractive feature seems to be the price. At a projected $499, that pits it squarely against its iOS rival. Toss in 3G/4G connectivity and what more could you ask for? All we need, now, is a name. Some slides are referring to it as the ThinkPad Tablet while others are calling it a Think Slate.

This is a big step for Android, and one that seems to be in the right direction. We’ll keep you covered as news of this device comes out in the coming months.

Story and photos source: ThisIsMyNext.com

Ancient Frog Review

Ancient Frog Review

Apr 25, 2011

Ancient Frog is one of those games I’m always looking forward to discovering, as a reviewer. As much as I love shooters and action games, I can’t help my craving for the more artsy/outsider style of games. It’s such a unique experience that, at times, doesn’t even really feel like a game.

There are no “lives,” no time limit or leader board to compete with. You’re playing as a frog, trying to climb your way to a tasty fly in as few moves as possible with the goal of coming in “under par.” But rather than manipulate a directional pad or other such control scheme, you’re moving the frog’s limbs, one at a time.

Some levels of Ancient Frog are so easy that it feels like you’re hardly trying at all. Then, it gets hard. Like, we’re talking QWOP-level difficulty. Even with the built-in hints feature giving you some idea of where the frog needs to be to advance, just getting it into that position can be mind-bending.

What makes the game so difficult is that you have to take into account the physical limitations of the frogs and that the footholds are set in specific locations. You can’t just stretch a leg or bend a joint in a direction it won’t go, and if the only way to go up is to rotate 180 degrees and climb upside down, that’s just how you’ll have to do it. Half the battle is figuring out which limb to place first, as you can find yourself without a solution right from the very first, wrong step. Thankfully, swiping the screen to the left provides a convenient “undo” function.

The graphics are breathtaking, featuring fluid animation and photo-realistic environments. Granted, there’s not a lot going on — a 3D frog model, a buzzing fly, some dew drops or other object to climb on and a picture of a leaf, lilly pad or tree trunk to provide the background. Even so, the texture work and special effects are simply phenomenal.

The only problem I had with the graphics was on the tree trunk levels, where it can be extremely difficult to see each foothold. Thankfully, the game highlights any foothold you can reach when you select a limb, but it makes planning each move in advance very strenuous. I couldn’t wait to pass these levels.

In the end, we’re left with an extremely unique puzzle game with stunning graphics and a zen-like experience. The world just melts away as you become engrossed with solving each one. What’s even more interesting is that I actually found myself thinking like a rock climber, relying on what little experience I’ve had from the few times I’ve climbed artificial rock faces. You can’t actually fall in the game, but you have to plan out each movement or risk getting stuck. It can be very frustrating.

All in all, Ancient Frog is just a great little game that I’ve become extremely enamored with. I’m glad I got to play it.