Theme Thursday – Rainbow Pride HD

Theme Thursday – Rainbow Pride HD

Jun 30, 2011

For this week’s Theme Thursday, I decided to take a little inspiration from current events. In honor of the Marriage Equality Act, a New York State law that grants same-sex couples the right to marry, this week’s theme is a celebration of diversity called Rainbow Pride HD.

Rainbow Pride HD is a high-quality custom theme for ADW Launcher, a home screen replacement utility that allows you to customize your Android device’s appearance and operation. From custom wallpapers and icons to changing the way the app drawer displays and behaves, ADW Launcher makes it easy to control and manipulate these elements. Custom themes built for ADW Launcher are a quick, convenient way of completely altering your experience.

Rainbow Pride HD comes with more than 370 high quality icons. As you can see from the screenshots, they pull the theme together by displaying a rainbow texture against a shaded background.

The wallpapers each feature varied, vibrantly colorful scenes that are sure to make your Android device stand out from the crowd.

The theme is definitely colorful, and I really like the gray, semi-opaque backgrounds on the icons and folders. It’s certainly a different look, and while some might not agree with the message, I think it definitely delivers that message loud and clear. Of course, maybe the message you’re trying to send is just that you really like rainbows. With this theme, that should also be abundantly clear.

According to the theme’s description, the author of Rainbow Pride HD is continuing to support it by offering updates and inviting users to send email with icon requests — just in case there’s no icon for your favorite app.

Whether you’re gay, straight, bi, transgendered or otherwise, I think we can we all agree that diversity and equality are both good things. Here’s to those who are willing to say it loud and proud!

Rainbow Pride HD is available on the Android Market for US$1.00

Quiz Quest Review

Quiz Quest Review

Jun 30, 2011

Some people are fonts of utterly useless knowledge. We’ve all met them, the sort of person who knows what the currency of the former Yugoslavia was before it broke apart, or who can tell you the name of the man the Wright Brothers bought the screws from that went into building the work bench that they used to prop up a part of Wright Flyer II whilst they built it. If you’d like to join the hallowed ranks of the know-it-alls, then Quiz Quest could well be for you. In it, you have to answer a variety of multiple choice questions, from the obscure to the mathematical, the obvious to the geographical. Not just that, you can also challenge people from all over the globe in brain power contests.

The game is pretty simple in its execution. At the start of each round, you pick one of two categories, then answer questions that relate to that category. The quicker you answer the questions, the more points you receive, the more points you receive, the more you can bask in the adulation of your peers. Or something along those lines.

To answer a question, you tap the screen. Get it right and you’re greeted with a cheery chime, get it wrong and it’s a solemn vibration and a flash of despondent red. Shame on you for not knowing the answer to that question, the game says, shame on you. You hang your head, swear an oath to the knowledge gods and move on to the next brain teaser.

Quiz Quest is a nice app, though it could do with a make over. At the moment, it looks a little dowdy and defeated, with menus and screens that don’t have that squeaky clean sheen that the very best can boast about.

Once you’re over the ugly hump, Quiz Quest is a lot of fun. There are a few problems, such as geographical questions without enough geographical information to answer, but they’re few and far between. If you want to become a learned lady or gent, you should point your phone in Quiz Quest’s direction now.

Consumer Reports Introduces Mobile Shopper 2012 App for Android

Consumer Reports have long been known for their product testing, with their magazine and we site having been around for a long time, providing reviews of many products. Nowadays, many people don’t have time to check the magazine or even search the website in order to get product reviews, especially when shopping on the go. Many consumers use barcode scanners and apps like Google Shopper to help make decisions on products they want to purchase while on the go, able to look up products and prices directly from their phone. In response, Consumer Reports has launched a new app for Android to help consumers when out shopping. Meet Mobile Shopper 2012.

The app offers the ability to search for various products by both searching in the app, and with the ability to search for products by UPC barcode. This isn’t just a typical shopping app with barcode scanning, as when products are looked up, Consumer Reports reviews are available along with the product data. As well, users can see which products get a rating of Recommended from Consumer Reports, and which apps are rated as Best Buys. Users can also see which brands are rated the most reliable by Consumer Reports. Need a second, third, fourth, et cetera opinion? Then browse through reviews submitted by Consumer Reports readers and users of the app. Find a product worthy of sharing with friends, family, and other acquaintances on social media? The app comes built-in with sharing to Twitter and Facebook. Finally, products can be saved to a quick access list for calling them up later, if window shopping is the goal, not actual product buying on the spot.

Mobile Shopper 2012 is available now from the Android Market for $4.99.
This is more than most barcode scanners, but the additional Consumer Reports features should hopefully provide additional value where other similar apps are lacking. Of course, we hope that the Mayans are wrong, so that a Mobile Shopper 2013 would at least be a possibility.

PopCap Games and Orange Pixel on “What’s right, and wrong, with Android?”

PopCap Games and Orange Pixel on “What’s right, and wrong, with Android?”

Jun 29, 2011

As Android users, we’re passionate about this operating system. We love games and apps and all the neat things we can do with our phones, and we know what makes Android great. Why, then, does it seem like the best games keep popping up on iOS devices? To get to the bottom of this question, I contacted a few different developers and studios to ask them, “What’s wrong with the Android?”

One of the first studios I contacted was PopCap Games who are responsible for such brilliant titles as Bejeweled, Peggle, Plants vs. Zombies and more. Many of these games began as PC games and then slowly made their way to mobile phones. They also have a spin-off division called 4th & Battery that creates edgier, more experimental games such as Unpleasant Horse and Candy Train, both currently exclusive to iOS.

I asked Jeff Green, Director of Editorial and Social Media at PopCap Games, why many of PopCap’s games start off on iOS and then come to Android. Is it a matter of hype, that the iPhone just seems to get all the attention? Or is it something simpler we aren’t seeing — for example, the developers all just happen to have iPhones? His response, via email, was both insightful and troubling.

“It’s really kind of neither. I mean, plenty of PopCap developers have Android phones, too. It’s more that — in this goes for PopCap as a whole, too, not just 4th and Battery — that it’s far easier to do quality control on the iOS’s closed system. The openness of the Android is great, but it also means that it’s a huge hassle to ensure compatibility across multiple phones. This has been made even worse by the wild west nature of the Android marketplaces themselves, which don’t make it easy for consumers to tell which games might actually be compatible on their phones.

“PopCap never wants to give anyone a substandard experience, whether it’s with the game itself or even just buying the game. The Amazon marketplace has been a huge step in the right direction, and that’s why we were finally able to get a couple of our games (Chuzzle and PvZ) out there on it. But the [Android] OS itself is the biggest hassle. If we had said to ourselves, ‘Okay, Unpleasant Horse is going to be an Android game first,’ we’d still be testing it now.”

His answer is very similar to Pascal Bestebroer of Orange Pixel, who are a bit of an anomaly. Orange Pixel like to design games first for Android and then port them to iOS. As Pascal points out, “… indeed, we like doing things backwards, and are porting some of our Android games to iPhone right now ;) This has only one reason: a more interesting market place.”

Orange Pixel make many fine games for the Android platform, including Meganoid, Mini Plane, Super Drill Panic and more.

Pascal’s response to the question of Android’s strengths and weaknesses were that, “Openness is a strength: from the OS to the hardware to the Android market and development tools. You can develop for Android on Windows, Linux or Mac; the tools are free. You can then easily test on the devices (side loading) or distribute to various testers for them to give it a spin. This requires a lot of extra steps to get working on iOS. Also, the rapid developments of Android could be seen as a strength. Although, you could argue against it obviously.”

As for weaknesses, Pascal cited some of the unique challenges that face Android developers, noting that the variety of devices is especially daunting. Even the simple question of screen size, for example, proves challenging. In his own words, “Making sure it looks good on all the various screen sizes.”

“I don’t like to call this fragmentation, however,” he continues. “because it is just part of this ecosystem. As with PC’s, Java-based mobile phones, and now also iOS: there are variation in devices, so you have to either calculate that in or ignore a large portion of devices. Android takes care of a lot of the screen-variation, but it is still something that requires extra attention and adds a challenge. All other stuff that people keep mentioning in their ‘fragmentation’ rants is just not a real issue. Most devices come with the same type of feature set: tilt, touch, processor speeds.”

From what I’ve gathered, you can see how the iOS offers a simpler environment to develop for, which seems to be very attractive even if more costly. Android, on the other hand, offers cheaper development tools, but the variety of devices and openness of the platform, while great strengths, can also be great weaknesses. As new features and functions continue to roll out, it’s easy to see how this “problem” will grow. As long as PopCap, Orange Pixel and many others continue to bring their work to Android, however, we’ll still have plenty of reason to love it.

Doodle Fit Review

Doodle Fit Review

Jun 29, 2011

You know when you’re at school, and you’re learning about numbers and shapes and angles, and you’re sat there thinking, what good will this ever do me? Well, the good it will do you is that it’ll make you much better at games like Doodle Fit. And it might help if you want to be an architect, I suppose.

Doodle Fit is a pretty-looking game that tasks you with moving a selection of shapes around so they fit into another shape. That’s about it really, Doodle Fit is one of those high concept games that tells you exactly what it’s about in its title. Here are some doodled shapes, fit them into this space.

There are a plethora of other “fitting” games on the Android Market, but Doodle Fit at least tries to do something a bit different with the way it looks, all scratchy lines and hand-drawn blocks. It works as well, giving Doodle Fit a niche appearance of its very own. The controls too work better than most – the block you’re moving hovers a centimeter above where your finger presses on the screen, meaning your view is never obscured.

These little touches compliment the complexity of the game. Whilst it starts off simply enough, the difficulty level ramps up and quite soon you’ll find yourself scratching your head, holding your phone at different angles and swearing profusely at little L-shaped blocks.

Sometimes the scratchy visuals can annoy the eyes, especially after long periods of play, and the earlier levels especially are a little bit on the easy side, but Doodle Fit still manages to be a charming puzzle game, eschewing the current swathe of games that are testing reactions as well as brain powers.

Doodle Fit is a solid game, a perfect antidote to some of the more action-y games on the Market. It’s strange how much enjoyment can be found in the relatively simple act of placing shapes in the correct position. For your sake though, I really hope you paid attention at school, because things can get tough in the busy world of shape fitting, and I’d hate for you to get left behind.

Doodle Grub – Twisted Snake Review

Doodle Grub – Twisted Snake Review

Jun 29, 2011

It’s fair to say that if some Swedish mega-genius hadn’t decided to include Snake on Nokia’s early mobile phones, we might not be in the position that we are today. That simple act turned mobile phones into more than just phones that were mobile, and paved the way for the jack-of-all-trades multimedia devices we carry around with us today.

It seems fitting then that things have come round almost full circle. Doodle Grub is an attempt to recapture the glory days of 2D mobile phone gaming, with a bit of up-to-date polish and some rather more modern ideas about control than Nokia were able to implement in their clone of a clone. The question is, is this nostalgia gone mad or a welcome blast from the past?

First things first, Doodle Grub’s main difference from the original Snake, other than the way it looks, is the way it handles. You’re not pushing buttons or sliding your thumb around on an imaginary D-pad; instead you’re moving your snake, or grub, around using the accelerometer in your phone. In other words, to make the snake go left, you tilt your phone left.

It’s a system that almost works, but it’s not quite subtle enough to deal with the quick changes in speed and direction that the game calls for. Whilst you no longer have to dodge your own tail, there are plenty of other obstacles getting between you and the tasty apples you crave, including giant bugs, and the tilt controls just aren’t good enough when you need them most. It’s a shame, because the game’s other ideas all work really well. Some of the fruit you go after is rotten, and will lose you points if you eat it, and ladybugs act as Pacman style power pills, turning you into a spiky, bug killing machine.

Doodle Bug is a nice try to do something new with an old favourite. Sadly, it doesn’t quite pull it off, but it’s still worth a look if you fancy reliving the good old days when phone games were simple and sating the hunger of a four pixel wide snake was the only thing that mattered.

Death Worm Review

Death Worm Review

Jun 28, 2011

Destruction is the nature of the world. For change to happen, the old must crumble and decay. If that crumbling can be sped up a little, then all the better, especially if it can be sped up by introducing a player controlled giant man-eating worm into proceedings. Video games have long understood the primal desire inherent in most humans to smash things. Smashing things in a safe and controlled environment is fun. That’s the principle that Death Worm is built on, and it makes for a really rather satisfying experience.

In Death Worm, you play as the eponymous worm, bringing wormy death to anyone who dares to walk on the ground above your head. You control your worm with an on-screen d-pad, throwing him around in order to kill and blow up anything that moves. There are a variety of modes for you to smash your way through, as well as a couple of mini-games if you get bored of the constant slaughter.

There’s a remarkable sincerity to Death Worm that few other games can boast. It sets out its stall from the get go, and whilst it adds new layers and challenges, it never shies away from its core goal – making sure the player is having as much destructive fun as possible.

Some might be put off by the simple graphics, or might find the endless blowing up of things too repetitive, but these are small criticisms. Death Worm engages you with such aplomb that it’s difficult not to get swept along by the leaping, genetic horror that you play in game.

If you ever watched the film Tremors, and really wanted Kevin Bacon to lose, then Death Worm is the game for you. It’s fast paced, addictive and above all else, a stupid amount of fun. Killing innocent people, trucks, helicopters, birds, camels and tanks might be wrong if you’re a human, but if you’re an amoral worm, then it’s a riot.

Pocket Frogs Leapfrogging on to Android

Pocket Frogs Leapfrogging on to Android

Jun 28, 2011

One of iOS’ most original and popular freemium games is hopping over to Android. Pocket Frogs from NimbleBit is coming soon to Android, in association with ngmoco and the Mobage tool kit.

The game, a spinoff of NimbleBit’s iOS game Dizzypad, which featured frogs of different designs, is based entirely around collecting frogs. They must be caught, raised, and bred with each other to birth newer, prettier frogs, and the cycle thus continues! Tadpoles must be fed and raised to become adult frogs, and the adult frogs must be fed, so they can be bred with other frogs to make new frogs with rarer designs. The game features actual gameplay to it, as there are segments where players can hop around lily pads to collect food, and mate with other frogs. NimbleBit’s strength with freemium games is to not make users feel like they have to spend money on the game; both this and their recently-released Tiny Tower on iOS both succeed at this aspect, particularly in that they actually give out the purchasable currency through in-game tasks. This isn’t just another farming sim that is designed to extract money straight from users’ wallets.

The game is being brought to Android through ngmoco corporate parent DeNA’s Mobage tools for porting games to Android. The press release claims that over 100 other games are coming to Android through the Mobage tools. Ian Marsh of NimbleBit says “An Android version of Pocket Frogs has been one the most requested things from our fans. Working with ngmoco and the Mobage platform allows us to bring Pocket Frogs to a larger audience with a streamlined publishing process.”

The iOS version authenticates via Plus+ and Game Center, so similar to StarDunk, it likely won’t support loading of iOS user profiles. No release date has been given for the game, but this is one to be excited about.

Source: Android Central

Shaky Tower Review

Shaky Tower Review

Jun 28, 2011

Without the laws of physics, we’d be bouncing off the walls at remarkable angles, dropping glasses of water upwards and balancing enormous towers of balls further than the eye can see or comprehend. Even if you deny causality, you’ve got to admit that the world would be pretty rubbish without physics. Not that that actually means anything, but you get the point. Modern video games agree with this analysis, and so any game that doesn’t have realistic, or at the very least believable, physics is shunned like a pariah, thrown onto the scrap heap of immature and inaccurate nonsense. Luckily for ShakyTower, the game is chock full of all of them physics. It’s so full of physics, it may as well be physics.

ShakyTower tasks you with building a shaky tower out of smiley, anthropomorphic bricks. You have to hold your phone parallel to the ground and use the accelerometer to keep the tower balanced, or, in some cases, to knock the tower over in order to reach goals, kill your blocks or unlock secret bounties. There are also a vast swathes of other physics based puzzles and games that you get to play.

In an odd way, ShakyTower is a game designed to be played when you’re stood up, which might not be that appealing to some people. If you’re sat down, then hunching over, making sure the seat you’re sat on is flat and not moving very much all become essential parts of the game. After longer play sessions, it’s entirely possible to have warped your posture permanently whilst trying to make sure your tower doesn’t collapse into the red spaces of oblivion that signal instant death.

Spinal problems aside, ShakyTower is an impressive puzzle game. It’s not the most original idea, but it’s remarkably well implemented, and it has a cheeky sense of fun that’s most endearing. The physics could do with a little tweak here and there, but ShakyTower is an enjoyable, if sometimes uncomfortable, diversion, although its debatable whether the tower building skills you develop in game will be any use in the real world.

Gameloft Unleashes Order and Chaos Online on the Android Market

Gameloft Unleashes Order and Chaos Online on the Android Market

Jun 28, 2011

Gameloft’s MMORPG, Order & Chaos Online, has finally come to Android, months after launching for iOS devices. The description claims that it’s the only true real-time, full-3D MMORPG on Android” – Pocket Legends would have something to say about that. The game follows a similar structure as World of Warcraft and other fantasy RPGs, as the Elves and Human races fight for Order, and Orc and Undead races fight for the side of Chaos. The game promises a wide variety of character customization, with over one thousand skills, and over two thousand pieces of equipment to use. Players can also make four character slots, so they aren’t just forced to play as one character from the game’s inception. The game comes with a $6.99 price tag, but is also subscription-based, coming with a free 3-month subscription, with additional costs of $0.99 for one month, $1.99 for three months, and $2.99 for six months. Far cheaper than World of Warcraft…and far more mobile as well! The app requires Android 2.2, and likely requires a download of app data to the SD card, as the Android Market install is only 2.3 MB. It’s doubtful that a 3D MMORPG can be contained in only 2.3 MB.

There are two key caveats to this release, however. First is that there is no crossplatform play with iOS players…yet. This is supposedly coming in a future update that will enable iOS and Android users to play with or against each other. This might ultimately be beneficial for those starting out on the Android version, so new players can catch up to their iOS brethren. The second caveat is that the list of compatible devices is both limited and odd. Certain models of the Galaxy S line are compatible, with certain models like the AT&T Galaxy S variant, the Captivate, being incompatible with the game. View the complete device list on the Android Market page, which should be updated as more devices are made compatible, or just search for the game in the Android Market – if it doesn’t appear, then the device is incompatible.

Of course, device incompatibility is a regular part of Android ownership, and it’s likely that Gameloft will work on getting more devices compatible with the game. As well, N.O.V.A. 2 finally released for Android, for $6.99, so Gameloft is really stepping up their releases for the Android platform.

Block Rogue Review

Block Rogue Review

Jun 27, 2011

Smartphones are getting more and more powerful. Even now, as I type this, there’ll be scientists and engineers working out how to fit more powerful chips into smaller spaces, and working out the possibility of our phones becoming sentient and taking over the world in a terrifying robotic coup.

But all of that power is useless if it’s used incorrectly. Polygons and frame rates and anti-aliasing are just jargon-y words if the game they’re wrapped around is a bit rubbish. Just because a device can emulate N64 games, it doesn’t mean that it should all of the time. Take Block Rogue, for example.

It’s a beautifully simple puzzle game, presented with hardly any visual pizzazz, and yet it still manages to be more endearing than a bucket full of manly 3D shooters. You play as the eponymous rogue, and your job is to slide a number of blocks into the right squares in order to unlock the dungeon room you’re in and move onto the next.

There are hundreds of rooms to work your way through, though in story mode you’ll only go through 25 of them in one game. The controls are slick and original, with slow finger swipes in the desired direction moving your little rogue around the level.

The game finds just the right balance between cuteness, great gameplay and humor. There’s a magic mirror on hand to relay the story to you via short, jokey snippets and short levels means the game fits perfectly into those quick-snatch gaming sessions that smartphones do so well.

Block Rogue is the sort of game that you start playing of an evening, then don’t stop. It’s brilliantly addictive, weaving a charming spell that entangles itself with your brain and your heart. The twee stylings may not be for everyone, and the controls do take a little bit of getting used to, but those are minor hurdles in the way of Block Rogue’s triumphant sprint to classic-app status.


The Hills Are Greener: The Perils of Freedom

The Hills Are Greener: The Perils of Freedom

Jun 27, 2011

Is it really possible that a major game can’t sell on Android? Cut the Rope has taken the same path that Angry Birds has taken with distribution on Android, which is to give away their app for free, generating revenue by way of in-game ads instead of selling the app as a paid app like on iOS. Kami Retro from Gamevil has also gone down this path, showing that they might be experimenting with this ad-supported game model on Android as well.

It’s not quite clear why publishers and developers have decided en masse to pursue this model when releasing on Android beyond reaching a wider base of Android owners. If it’s a piracy issue that publishers are worried about, it seems kind of silly since adblocking on Android is not all that difficult for those with the technical knowhow. Essentially, if people don’t want to give a developer revenue, it’s not that much of a stretch to actually do. It seems like it’s just attacking the lowest common denominator, instead of actually solving the problem of not being able to sell paid games on Android. Plus, it just doesn’t sound smart to have a game that displays ads for other free games that people could download; while playing Cut the Rope, I’ve seen ads for not only Words With Friends for Android, but also for Angry Birds in Google Chrome! Such is the peril of allowing advertisements.

As well, this has the long-term potential of hurting the growth of paid applications on Android Market. A larger developer can make up for small click-through rates on ads by way of sheer number of users playing the game and viewing the ads; this requires a game with a name like Angry Birds, Cut the Rope, or Words With Friends. As someone trying to make money with Android has shown, when just trying to start from the ground up with an Android app, the results can be rather rough. If big-name apps and games continue to hit Android as free downloads, and users continue to expect to get premium quality apps and games as free downloads, then why would they ever pay for apps and games? Fruit Ninja has succeeded on the Android Market, but it appears to be the notable exception to the rule, rather than any kind of indicator that other developers are taking.

If the Android Market is ever going to reach a point where major developers will consider it worth the financial benefits of working on it, then it will require a market where users will expect to pay for some apps; when major apps are regularly being released for free, how can this ever happen? Do I like free games? Sure! Call me a hypocrite for playing and downloading these games when they go free, but I am still just a man who likes getting things for free. However, I still recognize that this trend ultimately is bad for smaller developers looking to grow on Android because they cannot ever expect to make meaningful revenue, even just starting out. The big guys just aren’t making it any easier for the little guys, because free is hard to beat.