AskTheLocals Review

Ask The Locals is a social networking tool with a difference; rather than connecting you with your friends, work colleagues or like-minded strangers, Ask The Locals connects you to specific places. You post a question through the app, then tie that question to a locale. Say, for example, you wanted to know if a bar you were considering going to was busy; post a question and anyone using the app in the bar would be able to give you an answer.

It’s a clever concept, presented to the user with the minimum amount of fuss. Once you’ve registered, you can ask questions, review the responses you’ve been sent and answer any queries that have been posted about where you are. The menu screen is uncluttered, with big icons and asking and answering are accessed with a single tap. Options and customization are kept to a bare minimum; your only real choices are whether to allow anonymous responses to your questions and whether to show notifications when you receive answers.

You pinpoint your question using an in-app map system, which is a little too vague for the precision that the app needs. You can zoom into locations, but it doesn’t allow you to tag your question to an actual business. You can mention the business in your question, but the app really needs a better way of making sure the question you’re asking is getting to the right people.

As with all social networks, Ask The Locals depends on a strong user base and at the moment, the major concern about the app is that it doesn’t have that. I’ve been using it for the best part of three days and despite asking numerous questions and checking in everywhere I went with my phone, I’ve not had a single response or a question to answer.

If Ask The Locals can get over this stumbling block and find a larger audience, then it has the potential to be a huge success. Because it’s so targeted, and because it’s entirely created by the people who use it, it stands apart from other geo-based networking apps. With a big community behind it and a better implemented geo-tagging system, Ask The Locals could well be massive.

The Hills Are Greener: Where Is The Sanity?

The Hills Are Greener: Where Is The Sanity?

Apr 25, 2011

The newest controversy in the land of mobile devices is the story of cellular-enabled iOS devices tracking and storing location in a file called consolidated.db. This file apparently tracks locations that your device has been, which can be mapped using an open-source utility. This has naturally caused mass hysteria among the tech media.

First off, this seems kind of silly – one of the reactions to this story is that this would make it easier to convict people of crimes based on information on your phone. The lesson here? If you’re planning on committing a crime, don’t carry a device that could track your location in your pocket. The second is that this is hardly news at all – according to Alex Levinson and Sean Morrissey, they not only discovered this location storage last year, they published a physical book on it in December 2010. This isn’t even news, as much as it is a sexy story that media is covering because it just happened to be a convenient time for it to break. The third is that this data isn’t really in any particular jeopardy without you being insecure in any way – if your iOS backups are encrypted, then they can’t be extracted without your password. If you don’t let other people get your hands on your phone, to access your data, then people can’t access your location log surreptitiously. The ironic part is that getting rid of the location tracking is that you have to jailbreak your iOS device to install untrackerd – opening your file system to ease a privacy concern seems like a very, very stupid idea just in theory.

And, mind you, this may be a far more innocuous story than we think – first off, this data isn’t accessible by apps directly, just by Apple, who are using it in part to improve location services, and there’s no evidence in particular that Apple is acting as Big Brother and keeping track of everywhere you go, as much as they’re just trying to use the data to improve the iOS location experience. Secondly, there’s a possibility that the entire collection of data isn’t purposeful – according to Daring Fireball’s John Gruber, this is likely just a glitch where entries beyond any recent data aren’t being cleared out, so instead of being a file of everywhere your iPhone or iPad has ever been, it’s meant to just be a log of recent locations that is being sent to Apple every 12 hours, in part because Apple is working on their own location services after abandoning Skyhook’s services. While Gruber is often insufferable, he does have plenty of inside information at Apple, so there’s a good chance this is just a glitch.

Now, mind you, Android is doing the exact same thing, storing some location data on the phone. However, this data is a bit more hidden than on iOS, as it’s stored in the root partition, so your device would need to be rooted in order to access it. This difference is only really trivial for someone who really wants your data, however. Most notably, it only stores the latest entries, and not all entries ever, presumably for sending to Google. This caused John Gruber to say that “Android is doing it right,” which may be the cause of any kind of future apocalyptic event. Still, it’s kind of funny that this hasn’t received any kind of significant press, either.

The media reaction has been all about the FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) about this whole issue, and less any kind of rational reaction – the fear that the company that once threw a hammer at Big Brother is now Big Brother themselves. However, this appears to be more media and user hysteria over what might amount to a glitch, over a story that broke in part because some people thought they found something and wanted to publish something about it, and the media picked up on it, without anyone thinking deeper than what the initial details brought up. Guess people just go crazy whenever something happens in iOS land.

School 26 Review

School 26 Review

Apr 22, 2011

School 26 was a very unique experience, as you quickly realize this is a game meant for something far different than the traditional gaming audience. This puts you in control of a girl named Kate – her parents are some kind of new age empaths that keep moving to find the right ‘spiritual energy’, and have moved 25 times in the last 10 years. Now Kate is at school #26, without having ever really made friends at any of her old school. So, her parents tell her tha if she makes friends here, they will stay there. So Kate sets out to make friends with some people at her new school, using her empathic abilities she learned from her parents to curry favor with her new classmates, and to get them to trust and befriend her, all before prom.

The gameplay consists of three different segments: first, in conversations, you have to reflect people’s emotions to get them to like you, using one of the emotion icons. Second, there’s a card drawing game, where you have to use numbered “tarot cards” to match a certain requirement, like getting the lowest score possible, or getting to a certain value of all cards without going over, and you can earn peeks at cards by earning them in the conversation side of the game. Third, there are personality quizzes that you can take, and then you can earn brownie points by answering which personality types the other friends are.

School 26’s story tackles all the hot button teen issues: Steroid abuse! Teen sexuality! Underage binge drinking! I was really quite surprised that the story went the directions it went to – its far darker and far more interesting than you might expect when you first hear the game is based in new age mysticism. The artwork is well-designed, and shines on the high-resolution screen of the Samsung Galaxy S. As well, the personality quizzes, the parts of the game with the most interactivity, can be shared on Facebook with your friends.

This is a game with a limited appeal, though – it definitely seems like a game that is designed more for a teen female audience, rather than for the average gamer – this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as that audience definitely needs more games designed for it, but it certainly left me feeling like a fish out of water. There’s actually very little difficulty to the game – the conversational emotion matching parts are easy to play as you pretty much just have to match the color of the background of the character you’re talking to with a similarly-colored emotion and you’ll be gravy, even if the proper emotional response repulses you. These parts could be far more interesting if there was some kind of interactivity, or if there was a major influence you could provide with your responses. Also, I wouldn’t be crying if Isabella got thrown in front of a bus. The ‘tarot card’ parts are pretty much just random luck of the draw and memorization of where specific card values are. The only really challenging parts are the personality quizzes, as you have to infer how certain characters reacted.

School 26 is certainly unlike anything I’ve ever played, probably due to the fact that games like this aren’t marketed towards me. However, it definitely surprised me at times, especially in its story. While I feel like a little more interaction could make the game more engaging; at times I felt like I was just along for the ride, and trying to adhere to what the game wanted rather than how I wanted to play the character. While I’m probably the last person to say who should play this game, but for younger members of the fairer sex, this might be an interesting pickup for Android.

Theme Thursday – Hand Carved

Theme Thursday – Hand Carved

Apr 21, 2011

Well, it’s time for another Theme Thursday where, once a week, I go trolling the Android Market for themes that are compatible with ADW Launcher. For those unfamiliar, ADW Launcher is a highly customizable home replacement for Android devices.

Last week, we looked at a theme called Minimalist, which I liked because of how clean and simple it was. This week, the theme I wanted to highlight is called Hand Carved by Dan Josiah.

Hand Carved is a really fun theme that applies a neat wooden texture to the look of your device. Featuring several custom backgrounds (which you can access through the wallpaper menu) and a custom icon set, it’s a look that’s sure to appeal to those who are looking for something with a little more warmth and feeling.

The icons are the real stars of the show, here. If you take a look at the screenshot, you’ll notice that they each appear to be carved out of the wooden background. Some have touches of color in them while they all appear to be slightly transparent, allowing the wood grain to show through and complete the effect.

Most of your device’s basic functions and pre-loaded apps are represented, with icons for the dialer, text messenger, contacts, GMail, Maps and YouTube. You’ll also find icons for Facebook, Twitter, Pandora and more.

The only problem I have with the icons is that you don’t seem to have access to all of them. For example, if you wanted to use the custom browser icon on a folder, it’s not available. You only get access to a small number of generic icons.

Despite this small issue, I really like Hand Carved. I think it’s a very unique theme that is sure to get plenty of attention from anyone who sees it in action. Follow this link for more information on how to install it to your device.

Airport Mania Review

Airport Mania Review

Apr 20, 2011

Airport Mania has quickly become one of my favorite games on Android. Between the intense strategy of trying to keep everything running smoothly to the fun visuals and catchy music, it’s just really hitting on all the main points that make a game fun. I’m having a hard time putting it down.

Although the game shares a similar theme to Flight Control, where the goal is to land various aircraft at a busy airport, the similarities end there. Airport Mania is less about managing flight paths and more about managing an entire airport. You touch aircraft to select them, then simply touch the points on the screen where you want them to go. You tell them where to land while managing parking stalls, refueling stations, maintenance hangars and keeping the runway clear. Meanwhile, you are trying to upgrade buildings so that all of this happens quickly enough to keep passengers from waiting too long for their trips to commence. It gets very hectic.

Besides merely making sure that aircraft are landing and departing on time, you’re also trying to match the color of aircraft to the color of a terminal. For example, sending two blue planes to a blue terminal gives you a score multiplier. Likewise, if you can keep a certain number of planes landing or taking off from the same runway, you also build up a score multiplier. Get a high enough score and you get 3 stars, meaning you played a perfect level. If you can get 3 stars on every level, you’ll have played a perfect game.

Another neat aspect to the game is upgrading your terminals so that they can service planes faster. The sooner a plane can get passengers on and off, the sooner it’ll be off the tarmac, making room for more planes. The more time a plane spends sitting around leads to discontent. Eventually, planes will either turn away or become less friendly towards your airport, so it’s very important to keep things moving as smoothly as possible. You can do this by adding in-flight movies and parking stalls. You also have access to a facility that will paint a plane a different color, allowing you to keep the combo going on certain colored terminals. It all adds up, so being as efficient as possible is very important.

I really don’t have anything to complain about Airport Mania. As the levels progress, the difficulty ramps up quite a bit, but it all comes down to how well you can keep things moving along so that the facilities aren’t jammed when new aircraft arrive. It’s a fun game that keeps you on your toes, and with 48 levels across 8 airports, you’ll have a lot to do. There are also awards to unlock, extra planes to purchase and other hidden items for you to find. It’s quite an entertaining experience that’s kept me coming back for more, trying again and again to get all three stars on every level. I highly recommend it.


Aporkalypse Review

Aporkalypse Review

Apr 20, 2011

The four pigs of doom are said to herald the Aporkalypse, but something’s gone horribly wrong, and the Aporkalypse has begun early. The four pigs of doom may be pig-kind’s only hope for survival.

That’s the kind of bacon-flavored storytelling you can expect from Aporkalypse. This game oozes with goofy pig-centric puns and a light hearted story about the Aporkalypse, complete with an angel pig, and a devil pig.

The gameplay in Aporkalypse offers just as much charm as the story does. You take on the role of the four pigs of doom in their effort to save all the pigs from the Aporkalypse. Each pig has its own set of powers, and you need use the pigs’ powers together to solve each level. The game does a great job of rolling out new methods for problem solving, and teaching you how to be a better pig of doom. The levels become fairly complex later on in the game, forcing players to really stretch their brains in order to solve each puzzle.

While the story and gameplay are extremely engaging, the controls leave something to be desired. That “something” is precision. Each time you tap one of the directional buttons, the pig you’re currently controlling moves one square in the desired direction. From time to time, the game won’t register your button presses, leading you to hold down the button, which can result in your pig moving too far, and colliding with an enemy, or running off a ledge and falling down to a lower level of the map. For the most part, these issues are manageable, but it can be very frustrating when moving your pig one square too far by accident sets you back.

Aporkalypse takes a little bit of action, a heaping does of puzzle solving, and a sprinkling of story to create a delicious ham flavored pile of gaming goodness. The controls can get in the way of the experience from time to time, but for the most part, this game provides consistent and enjoyable gameplay. If you’re looking for a new puzzle game to add to your Android library, Aporkalypse is the game for you.


CyanogenMod 7 Brings Gingerbread to Many Phones for the First Time

CyanogenMod 7 Brings Gingerbread to Many Phones for the First Time

Apr 19, 2011

One of the most prominent names in the Android custom ROM scene is CyanogenMod, helping to provide a less cluttered and more customizable user experience than what many stock versions of Android provide. The latest version of CyanogenMod has been released by the CyanogenMod team, CyanogenMod 7 Final. This version of CM runs Android 2.3.3, better known as Gingerbread, which is the latest version of Android available for phones. Installing CyanogenMod requires root access and an app like ROM Manager from the Android Market – if you’re interested in installing CyanogenMod 7 Final for yourself, granted that your device, including a variety of popular phones, and tablets like the Nook Color, is among one of the 24 models (not including sub-variants, like the various Galaxy S models) that CyanogenMod is compatible with, search for how to root your phone, or visit the helpful XDA-Developers forum, find your phone, and you can find instructions on how to root your phone and how to install a custom rom on your phone.

The interesting thing about CyanogenMod is that this is going to be many users’ first taste of Gingerbread on their phones. In fact, CyanogenMod even beat some of the manufacturers to Gingerbread support, like with the Samsung Galaxy S. The source code for Gingerbread for the Galaxy S was released after CyanogenMod 7 was released in an unofficial, user-supported variant. The Android user community is very willing to support their devices to do what they want on them, without being reliant on what the manufacturers are willing to do.

Now, the custom rom experience is only recommended for users who are willing to tinker with their phones and aren’t afraid to violate their warranties. However, if you’re not afraid to get your hands dirty, and improve the experience of your phone, then a custom rom like CyanogenMod 7 is a good choice, but note that most phones will have a wide variety of custom roms available. My suggestion is to play around with a few, to find what works best for you. However, if you want Gingerbread on your phone right now, CyanogenMod may be your only choice right now.

180 Ultra Review

180 Ultra Review

Apr 19, 2011

Match-3 games will spring up eternal from game developers worldwide, but Headcase Games’ 180, originally released on iOS, is different from the rest. 180’s gameplay is something like a combination between Panel de Pon (known to the US as Tetris Attack, Pokemon Puzzle League, and Planet Puzzle League), and Bust-a-Move/Puzzle Bobble. There are a bunch of coins that fall from the screen, your goal being to match them up, 3 at a time, trying not to let the stack cross the bottom line. Now, the twist is that each coin has 2 sides consisting of different colors, and you can flip them at any time by tapping on them.

What makes 180 work is that it’s basically a game that only could be played on a touchscreen device – everything is interactive, and it feels different from a game like Bejeweled that fits on pretty much any platform PopCap could fit it on. The 3 “Attack” modes provide great short-burst play sessions that also work for improving your skills, as scoring highly in them requires playing with fire consistently in them. The game is an iOS port, but this is no quick and dirty conversion; the game features redone art, and is suitable for high-resolution phones and tablet screens. As well, there’s a new mode exclusive to the Android version, Drop Attack, that has you trying to drop the stack as low as you possibly can. The game’s free version is also ingenious for letting you unlock everything and disable ads over the time you play the game. 180 Ultra comes with everything unlocked right off of the bat, though. The game is thankfully designed to be playable for the colorblind, as well. Both 180 and 180 Ultra support OpenFeint for leaderboards and achievements, although there are new leaderboards for the Android version of the game.

The game is challenging – once colors beyond the initial three start showing up, the game becomes quite difficult as the pink and yellow coins come into play. This difficulty makes it less casual-friendly than other match-3 games, especially as you have to focus on the entire board at once, and focus on swapping around the coins as well as the current coin you’re launching. As well, it feels like the character designs could have been better implemented into the game – it would have been nice to have things like character sprites, or to have their themes incorporated more into the game pieces, as right now they feel like mere window dressing to the proceedings.

180 Ultra is a solid twist on the match-3 formula, and one that does more than your typical gem destroying game. This one is worth checking out for those looking for something that plays like the more challenging arcade-style puzzle games of the ’90s.

Footage below is of iOS version.

[adult swim] to Launch Robot Unicorn Attack and Their Video App on Android

[adult swim] to Launch Robot Unicorn Attack and Their Video App on Android

Apr 19, 2011

It looks as if adult swim is jumping whole hog into Android at last, as the quirky late-night programming block on Cartoon Network has announced via Joystiq that they will be starting to release some of their games and apps on Android.

First up is possibly adult swim’s most popular game, Robot Unicorn Attack. This irreverent take on the endless runner genre has you playing as a robotic unicorn (just as it says on the tin), rushing through rainbow-infused landscapes, collecting stars and rushing through rocks for bonus points. The game makes you go through 3 runs for a collective high score, instead of just basing high scores on one run like most other endless runner games, so consistency is the name of the game here. Oh, and did I mention that the whole game is set to the sounds of “Always” by Erasure? If a robot unicorn wasn’t ludicrous enough, wait until the music comes into play. The game will support cross-platform leaderboards and achievements with the iOS version through OpenFeint. The game will launch today on the Android Market for $0.99, although it is not yet available as of publication. No word on if the Heavy Metal or Christmas editions will come to Android yet.

While adult swim is saying that some of their other games that have been ported to iOS might make the jump to Android at some point, one of their other iOS apps will be hitting the Android Market in May – the adult swim app. On iOS, this app provides access to the schedule, video clips, full episodes of selected shows, and even a calculator, because who doesn’t need a calculator? The Android app should boast a similar feature set. This is exciting, as the app provides free access to full episodes of their shows on a mobile phone, something that other networks have sought to block unless sold through official methods, and even streaming services like Hulu and Netflix are unavailable on Android so far.

While adult swim isn’t making a major commitment to the OS quite yet, it will be interesing to see if their games like Robot Unicorn Attack succeed, which seems like a likely possibility given the success of other established mobile IPs like Fruit Ninja and Angry Birds on Android. The coming months should bring plenty of quirky goodness to Android owners. Yet stil, the world waits for a mobile version of “Give Up, Robot.”

Recoil Review

Recoil Review

Apr 18, 2011

Developer: Chipsteam
Price: US$0.99
Version: 1.0
App Reviewed on: Motorola Droid X

Recoil is a time-waster; it is an affair that lasts minutes and doesn’t overstay its welcome. However, it represents an interesting conundrum. As a simple, physics-based game featuring a dot amidst a scrambled mess of lines, are the extremely basic rules and visuals too simple to be entertaining? And, if so, is it at least fun? These are questions I keep asking myself as I play it.

Recoil is like playing some piece of abstract art where the lines and dots suddenly spring to life and become game pieces. The idea is to aim the dot at the lines, like aiming a cue ball in a game of billiards, then clear the lines by hitting them in a set number of “shots” to advance to the next level. You want to clear as many lines as you can on each shot to rack up as many points as possible. It’s brain-dead simple. So, thankfully, there a number of obstacles to make it more of a challenge. Scattered among the lines are a bunch of other dots, or “nodes” that can be cleared by eliminating the lines attached to them. The white nodes act as bumpers, sending your dot in other directions and potentially wasting your shot. The red nodes create new lines when you hit them, escalating the difficulty until it becomes impossible to clear all the lines. Obviously, you want to avoid those.

As for how the game controls, the dot’s movement can be somewhat unpredictable. You might be trying to make a bank shot to place the ball exactly where you want it, but, for whatever reason, it ends up bouncing off in a direction you didn’t want it to go. It’s a little frustrating. Making things more difficult, the dot tends to “teleport” at random. It just suddenly disappears and reappears somewhere else. The game does warn you that this will happen, though, so it’s not a bug; just a quirk to make the game more interesting.

That brings me back to my main point, though. Is Recoil fun, or just interesting? I think you can make arguments for each. Trying to get as many points as you can while working within the rules of the game to overcome the challenges presented is fun, but the game appeals to me on a different level.

Recoil makes me think of some abstract art paintings I saw when I was a kid. It reminds me of the way I’d look at those paintings, imagining some kind of ruleset in my mind to guide the world in that painting and how it would work if it were to suddenly come to life. What if those dots were billiard balls, and what if you ran the balls into the lines, allowing them to bounce all over the place? For a brief moment, it stirs the imagination and makes me forget that I’m just killing time on my phone. But, that moment passes, and I’m left looking for something else to do. That just about sums up the entire experience.

X Construction Review

X Construction Review

Apr 18, 2011

X Construction makes me glad I’m not an engineer, as I got to see the dark side of the profession, when shoddy building could lead to people’s deaths. In this physics-based building game, like a distant cousin to World of Goo, your goal is to build bridges for trains of various lengths. These trains like to cross over perilous chasms, and the task has fallen on you to build the bridges that they have to cross. However, things are rough in this economy, and you have limited supplies of girders with which to build these bridges. So, your goal is to build bridges that are physically sound in the most efficient way possible.

There are 15 levels in the game, which doesn’t sound like a lot, until you consider how absurdly difficult the 15 levels are. If you get to all 15, you have definitely achieved something. Be proud of yourself! This feels like something more unique than the typical World of Goo clone; while it’s about interconnected structures that connect via common nodes, the thought process is entirely different. You have to worry about support, and keeping the bridge standing up. It’s a unique process, and requires a different line of thought to keep the train from falling off to its doom. Plus, this game is one that you actually can’t get on iOS yet!

X Construction cares not for things like difficulty curving – the game largely just plops you down in the thick of it from the word go, forcing you to figure out what works from even the first level. When you get to level 6, the game suddenly throws a large map with over a hundred usable girders your way.It does not hold your hand at all. And the scream that the train passengers emit when they crash is downright horrifying. It is pure nightmare fuel. My recommendation is to play the game on mute, lest the screams of horrified passengers plummeting to their doom haunt your dreams. The game’s zooming is controlled through buttons, not through pinch-to-zoom. Also, it’s very easy to misplace your girders, as your finger covers the exact point where the girder will go unless you’re zoomed in entirely (and the scenery becomes blurry when you zoom in, too), and it becomes very easy to mix up the exact girder point you’re trying to reach.

X Construction requires patience and intelligence to complete, and will force you to think more deeply than other games will – but it will also frustrate you. Approach X Construction with caution, as its challenge can be addictive, but seriously…keep the game on mute. The screams will haunt me forever.

Hockey Nations 2011 Launches as Xperia Play Exclusive

Hockey Nations 2011 Launches as Xperia Play Exclusive

Apr 18, 2011

Hockey seems like the only sport I’ve ever been able to enjoy playing as a video game, with football coming in at a distant second. From the early days of Pong-style graphics to the EA Sports NHL franchise on the Sega Genesis, I’ve always been a fan of hockey games, especially in multiplayer mode. If you feel the same way, and you’re looking to pick up an Xperia Play, you might be excited to learn that Distinctive Developments are bringing Hockey Nations 2011 to Android as an exclusive to the gaming smartphone.

“We’re genuinely excited to be able to bring Hockey Nations 2011 to the first gaming smartphone, the Xperia Play,” said Nigel Little, Managing Director of Distinctive Developments. “The dedicated controls make the game even more of a joy to play and we look forward to giving Xperia Play owners everywhere a chance to experience this.”

Distinctive Developments say that they were listening closely to the fans when developing Hockey Nations 2011. The game will feature 6 modes, such as World League, Exhibition, multiplayer and more. The game will also feature an extensive selection of both international teams from the USA, Canada, Denmark, Norway and beyond, plus 40 customizable city teams. They’ve even included fighting, proving that they were listening to fans who clearly wanted this integral part of the sport in the game.

With the Xperia Play’s analog touch pad and digital buttons, not to mention the smooth, high-definition graphics backed by the Xperia Play’s powerful CPU/GPU combination, fans are sure to find an immersive, console-like experience. “Xperia Play’s gamepad brings a unique dimension to smartphone gaming,” said Steve Walker, Head of Marketing at Sony Ericsson. “Sports games are always popular on mobile, and we think Xperia Play owners will love the fast-paced action, fluid gameplay and stunning graphics of Hockey Nations 2011.”

Hockey Nations 2011 doesn’t yet support WiFi, however, it has been announced that it is coming very soon, giving players a full-featured multiplayer experience. Hockey Nations 2011 is now available on the Android Market for Xperia Play in Europe and North America.