Sparkle Free Review

Sparkle Free Review

Sep 27, 2011

You’re about to enter the dark and sinister Crowberry Woods. As the enchanted woodland has fallen under an evil spell, darkness has come over it and no one who ventures in is safe. As you search for ancient artifacts, amulets and other items, you’ll encounter a series of match-3 action puzzles which much be solved before you may pass! At least, that’s the premise of Sparkle Free, which has you choosing paths through a dark, mystical woods.

The puzzles you encounter in Sparkle Free as you move through the Crowberry Woods involve shooting a colored ball from a stationary turret at a line of colored balls which are rolling along a track, slowly moving toward a dark pit at the end. If they reach the end before you can clear them, you’ll lose a life as the level ends and be one step closer to starting over from scratch. It’s a rough challenge, but you’ll have a few items to help you out.

At certain points, you can win extra lives while recovering amulets and other power items. Each amulet has its own set of powers that can aid you, although some add an extra hindrance as a condition of their use. Also, being limited in the number of amulets you can wear, you’ll have to choose which ones suit your playing style the best. At the end of each path is an additional object waiting to be found, each helping to bring the light back to the woods as you progress through the game.

The power-ups you’ll be able to activate during the puzzles are also very helpful. Some will eliminate an entire color while others allow you to “blast” the balls right off the stage. During the easier puzzles, I tended to ignore the power-ups as I tried to get higher combos for more points. Later, though, the game gets very challenging, and I began to forget about setting up combos in favor of focusing on power-ups and ball elimination. With a limited number of lives, the sense of urgency when things get tough is extremely high.

As polished and nice as Sparkle Free is, it’s really just a preview of the full game, which hasn’t arrived, yet. Once you’ve passed the final level, that’s it. The game abruptly ends with only a “Thank you for playing, please play the full version,” screen to meet you on the other side. No more story, no more amulets to collect, nothing. All we can do is wait for the full game.

Regardless of the abrupt ending, it’s still a great, fun game with a lot of levels to keep you busy. You’ll get a good look at some of the features of the full game, including in-game achievements and more.

Gameplay-wise, Sparkle Free may be a Zuma clone, but I was surprised to find the extra polish and the pretense of an adventure through a mystical woods to make this a delightful time-killer. I just wish the full game were already available.


Smurfs’ Village to be Available Worldwide on Android This Week

Smurfs’ Village to be Available Worldwide on Android This Week

Sep 27, 2011

Smurfs’ Village, the mammoth free-to-play hit on iOS, is making its way to Android at last. The game, currently only available in Australia, France, and Canada (likely as a stress test for the servers; this kind of tactic is used regularly on iOS in order to stress test games), will be making its way to the global Android Market this September 28th. The game will be available from this link. This is a so-called social game, where players try to build up a Smurfs’ village of their very own, with buildings that take varying amounts of time to build. The building process can be sped up through the purchase of the game’s in-app credits, appropriately enough entitled Smurfberries.

What will be interesting to see is if any kind of controversy over in-app purchases flares up with this game as it did on iOS. In-app purchases could be restricted on iOS, but due to the game’s kid-friendly nature, many kids were spending large amounts of real-world money on the Smurfberries. On Android, passwords aren’t required for app downloads or in-app purchases at all; an optional PIN for purchases can be set from within the Android Market’s options, but the likelihood that unintended purchases from children not aware that they are spending real-world money will occur seems high. It’s a concern Capcom has hopefully addressed beyond just a notice on the Market page that Smurfberries cost real-world money.

Still, for a game that has been a perennial member of the “Top Grossing” chart on iOS, this is a major title for the platform, and a potentially new huge source of revenue for Capcom and developer Beeline Interactive. Whether or not it can duplicate its chart success over on Android will be interesting to track; and to see if any kind of in-app purchase controversy will bubble up will be interesting to see as well, with more and more apps using in-app purchases.

Looking for Writers At AndroidRundown!

Looking for Writers At AndroidRundown!

Sep 26, 2011

We’re looking for a few great writers with a strong passion for Android games and apps. People that love grabbing a new app, figuring out it’s strengths and weaknesses, and telling the world about the best of the apps they find. With so many apps in the app marketplace, we’ll never get to all of them. But, we do want to get to the best ones. That’s why we need you.

The ideal app reviewer will devour apps and games, writing about them quickly and authoritatively. You should have a good critical eye and the ability to express yourself well. You should be able to self edit your own posts and deliver them ready to publish. And, most importantly, good app reviewers should be able to do all this while keeping the review fun and interesting, using the common voice of the site.

All review writers should be able to jump back and forth amongst apps and games, but extra points if you have a passion for non-gaming apps and a nose for finding the best ones across the various Android markets.

Think you have the chops? Check out our requirements here:

You:
- have an Android device, phone or tablet, and think it’s the best thing since sliced bread
- have a general knowledge of and interest in the Android community
- can write at a relatively high level, like what you might see in a magazine or newspaper
- have some familiarity with WordPress or similar CMS platform
- have the time to write and post at least three to five reviews a week

What do you get? Writing for AndroidRundown gets you exposure. We’re still one of the only app review-based Android sites out there, and part of a much larger network, the 148Apps Network. You also get some money, per post, at a competitive rate. That’s not bad, right? We do ask that you only apply if you can keep up a regular posting frequency. While this isn’t a full time job, it’s not a once-in-a-while hobby either.

If you think this is something you might be interested it, get familiar with our review style and send us three of your best clips. These are the best portfolio work of review writing you’ve done. The closer to an app review your clips are, the better chance we’ll have of understanding your style. Don’t have any written samples? Write us one! Pick your favorite app or two and write up a 300 – 500 word review, with proper spelling and grammar, and email it to helpwanted+android {at} 148apps {dot} com. We look forward to hearing from you, and we’ll get back to you soon.

The Hills Are Greener: The Truth About Android’s Growth

The Hills Are Greener: The Truth About Android’s Growth

Sep 26, 2011

It’s always interesting to read about the mobile market and where the growth is occuring. While Android is becoming more popular, it appears as if it is cutting into the ‘dumbphone’ market as much as it is the market of smartphones, particularly the iPhone’s market. This doesn’t necessarily mean that iPhone should be declared as supreme overlord of Android or that everyone who uses Android will eventually move on to the iPhone, but it does shed some light on some of the tendencies of the Android app market. It also reveals a lot about the long-term potential of Android as a platform for selling apps.

What this means is that there are a lot of potential customers for Android apps. There are a lot already, but the revenue potential from these users has been less than on iOS, in particular. But we’ve seen evidence that Android users can make up for their lesser individual revenue by way of sheer numbers. Remember the story of Stardunk – one-third the revenue per user, but triple the users. If this ratio can hold true to a point of equalizing with iOS, then Android can truly be an economic viability, or at least not the kind of risk that it’s often portrayed to be. While the challenge will still be in getting people to download apps, there’s no reason why if Android keeps up its growth, even into the ‘dumbphone’ market, then that’s just more consumers that will buy apps and in-app purchases, and with a higher population of Android users, it’s just more likely that apps can be discovered.

Because Android is so versatile (especially now that Intel chips can run Android), even low-powered Android devices can take advantage of some apps, which will help the continued growth of Android. Will they be able to play the latest and greatest games and innovative apps? Probably not. But many mobile apps don’t require extremely powerful hardware in order to succeed. Angry Birds doesn’t require powerful hardware to run. Android can become viable for developers just by continuing to grow and grow, and maybe not even as a secondary market to the iOS App Store.

Serious Sam: Kamikaze Attack Review

Serious Sam: Kamikaze Attack Review

Sep 23, 2011

Any PC gamer worth their salt is familiar with the Serious Sam series. In preparation for the third installment in the franchise, publisher Devolver Digital has been releasing a series of indie games set in the Serious Sam universe.

Serious Sam: Kamikaze Attack has been released for the Android OS, putting players in the role of one of Sam’s worst enemies – the Kamikaze. For those unfamiliar with the series, the Kamikazes are headless guys with bombs where their hands ought to be. Their only goal in life is to run up to Serious Sam, and explode. I can say with certainty that this game does a great job of capturing the lifestyle of the Kamikaze.

The concept is simple – you play as a Kamikaze that’s running toward Serious Sam. You have no control over how fast you run, all you can do is choose when to jump and when to attack. The result is an action game that relies heavily on good timing.

Each level has a main objective, and a secondary objective. The main objective (obviously) is to kill Sam. The secondary objective can be anything from killing Sam in a specific way to kicking a certain number of a certain object. These secondary objectives really add a layer of depth and challenge that you might not expect from a game with such a simple concept.

Serious Sam: Kamikaze Attack can begin to feel a little stale after a while, but that’s easily remedied by checking out the game’s challenge modes. The challenges all take different approaches to the gameplay, forcing you to think outside the box in order to complete them.

It may not be the most rich and complex game ever made, but Serious Sam: Kamikaze Attack is simple and enjoyable in a way that few other games on the Android platform have managed to achieve. Simple, but responsive controls along with good old fashioned enjoyable gameplay make Serious Sam: Kamikaze Attack a worthwhile experience.

Freaky Friday – Girl Fart

Freaky Friday – Girl Fart

Sep 23, 2011

We’ve all been in that predicament where a little gas pressure builds up and needs to be released, yet there is some sexy person standing not too far away. So, we do our best to relieve said pressure in the most inconspicuous manner. This is not a fun situation in real life, and why anyone would think this would make a great game is well beyond comprehension, but apparently there is a market for this kind of stuff.

You see, Girl Fart is all about that embarrassing moment in a women’s life when she has to pass a little gas, yet doesn’t want to be ashamed of doing so in front of some creepy, balding, short, fat, gawking man. So, the player must time their farts with the oncoming traffic. No joke, this is literally the mechanics of a game that has been downloaded some 500,000 times.

There are just a few things that scream totally wrong with this app. First, the girl is wearing almost nothing, and the dude undressing her in his mind is….well, pretty darn creepy. If the visuals don’t cause nightmares, the gameplay should. Sure, this is not some dull, uninspired, and totally useless, fart machine, but c’mon, developers are capable of delivering something with a bit more quality. Do people really need yet another fart centric app to clog up the marketplace? After all, these adolescent shenanigans only makes it harder to find quality apps like the Pimple Popper or Moon weight apps we have covered in the past.

Listen would-be game developers, gamers deserve better than this. Fart jokes are to be left to college dorm rooms and children in the first grade. The bulk of people looking for entertainment on the marketplace deserve better than this. Besides, nobody can truly enjoy a quality silent-but-deadly on a phone. The technology is just not there yet. If wasted talent is going to go to making a pointless game, at least give us another boring match three game….PLEASE!

A Space Shooter For Free Review

A Space Shooter For Free Review

Sep 23, 2011

From the strange and unusual intro movie, I get the impression that Commander P. Jefferson is kind of a jerk. I also get the impression that that’s exactly the impression I’m supposed to get. And is Commander supposed to be his rank or his first name? Ambiguous personality and naming quirks aside, one thing we can be sure of is that Commander P. Jefferson hates aliens, but he loves shooting them in the face. And cursing. He’s really into cursing.

With a name like A Space Shooter For Free, it would be perfectly acceptable to expect this to be a real-time strategy game with puzzle elements. However, that’s not what it is. Surprisingly, A Space Shooter For Free is a space shooter that is, get this, free. Ah, but the ironic twist is that while the game is free, you’re only getting part of it. The full game is a US$0.99 add-on that you purchase in-game. And to be brutally honest, you’re going to want to purchase it if you hope to eke out more than about an hour or so worth of play time. The full game includes a survival mode, more levels, more bosses, more weapons and, well, more.

Featuring some down-home, old school space shootin’, you can expect quite a challenge ahead of you. Enemies come from every direction and have a variety of attacks. Ships will form lines around you, trapping you in as they bombard you with weapons’ fire. You’ll have to avoid laser traps, dodge kamikazes, and blast asteroids as they swarm and fill your screen. The game features non-linear progression, meaning you can jump into any level you wish, but you should really just stick with the levels you can handle until you can purchase weapon and ship upgrades. I found that, until I had collected enough fragments to spend on upgrades, some levels were just way too hard. Do the words “bullet hell” mean anything to you?

The controls are a little odd. Don’t go looking for a directional pad or a “fire” button because you won’t find them. You control your ship by touching the screen and dragging the ship to where you want it to go, to any point on the screen. The ship fires automatically, but it only fires while you are touching the screen.

While this control scheme seems like a natural fit for a touch-based device and gives your ship a level of agility you couldn’t get from a directional pad, call me old fashioned, but I miss the d-pad. Your mileage may vary.

What I got from A Space Shooter For Free was a fun, visually pleasing arcade shooter that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The jokes can be half-baked at times, becoming increasingly worse the more you hear them, but it means well. Thankfully, the gameplay is there to back it up with hundreds of aliens to shoot, genuinely tough bosses to fight and cool upgrades to purchase.

Google+ Now Supports Joining Hangouts on Mobile

Google+ has not only finally opened up to the public, but they’ve finally introduced one of the biggest features on desktop to the mobile app. It is now possible for mobile users on Android to join Hangouts, to video chat with up to 9 other users straight from their phone or tablet. This was introduced in their new update, introducing Hangouts for Android 2.3 and up. 2.3 is required for all apps to get access to the front camera on devices, as the Skype video calling on Android update taught us, so this may be why Google+ requires 2.3 for Hangout support. It does work on Honeycomb tablets, despite the app not being specially optimized for them. Similar to the desktop, the Android app allows users to check their appearance before joining a Hangout, but it otherwise works identically to desktop Hangouts. This is despite one particular exception: it is not possible to start Hangouts from mobile, only to join them. Still, this is a major Google+ feature that is now available, and on Android first.  The update is available from the Andtoid Market now. 

Theme Thursday – StyGian Dirty

Theme Thursday – StyGian Dirty

Sep 22, 2011

This week’s theme for ADW Launcher is StyGian Dirty, a delicate weave of textures, patterns and a muted, pale color scheme. With 11 wallpapers, 11 docks and more than 240 custom icons, it’s sure to catch a few eyes when people see it.

You will need ADW Launcher to install StyGian Dirty; it’s not a stand-alone application. ADW Launcher is a custom home screen replacement utility which gives users complete control over the look and feel of their Android device. With ADW Launcher, you can customize your wallpaper, icons, number of screens and much, much more. You can even customize your app drawer, completely altering the way it looks and displays your apps. ADW Launcher is a lot of fun, and custom themes like StyGian Dirty are just part of what makes it great.

As you can see from the screen shots, StyGian Dirty consists of a number of background designs and icon images overlaid with several textures in a washed-out, pale color scheme. The stony textures and other patterns certainly make it feel rough and gritty, not exactly “dirty,” but I can see what StyGian Studios were going for.

One thing I will note is that the images on the icons are a bit hard to see. With more contrast and less brightness, the images might have “popped out” more, making them easier to see. As such, it is kind of hard to tell which icon is which at a brief glance.

I also admire the custom docks, ranging in design but still fitting in with the theme. Of course, you will need ADW Launcher EX to take advantage of the custom docks, but it’s worth purchasing as it brings a few more features with it.

StyGian Dirty is available on the Android Market for US$1.25

Super Stickman Golf Review

Super Stickman Golf Review

Sep 22, 2011

Super Stickman Golf has made its way to Android at last. This golf game has more in common with artillery games and physics puzzlers as much as it does with golf games. Players set their angle and shot power when shooting from a 2D perspective, more similar to Tank Wars than most golf games. Shots have to also bounce off of the environment, and there are hazards to avoid as well, such as bottomless pits. This is not the typical golf game at all. Furthermore, powerups such as an instant mulligan, sticky ball that sticks to surfaces it hits, a hazard swap, and even a super ball that travels over twice as far.

Everything that was great about the iOS version is here in the Android version: the ingenious gameplay, vast amount of content, and online leaderboards for competing with friends. The Android version of the game is free to play, and it is actually more free than most games with a paid component. There are no ads, only a currency called “Golf Bux” that is used exclusively for early unlocks. Everything in the game can be earned through normal playing, but can be unlocked quicker through Golf Bux, which can also be earned by unlocking achievements in the main game. These can be used to purchase the powerups early, which otherwise take a long time to unlock regularly.

The Golf Bux can also be used to buy more powerups for use in-game, which is something that I take some issue with, as even though they come at the hefty cost of 10 Golf Bux per additional powerup, this does lead to the possibility that people with more money than sense could dominate the leaderboards. The game still takes skill, but it seems like something dangerously exploitable, especially on the online leaderboards. Sadly, the Android version does not contain online multiplayer yet, though the developers claim that this is something that will be added in the future.

Super Stickman Golf is another must-have iOS port for Android, and at the price of free for iOS, there’s little reason to recommend not checking this out, even for those who have played it on iOS before.

Phone Story Review

Phone Story Review

Sep 21, 2011

If the news hits a black hole before it graces your screen, Phone Story comes with quite a bit of hype around it, and not the good kind either. The game was supposed to grace iOS devices last week. But when Apple realized the game was essentially using the manufacturing processes of their hugely popular products as a way to make a political stance against their labor practices, well, Apple was none too pleased. Why Apple did not catch this before it hit the App Store for a short amount of time is baffling. Apple once again shows they do not have a sense of humor when it comes to them being put in a negative spotlight.

So, how is the game that Apple felt a need to pull off the market? Really, it is not that all entertaining or enlightening. Players follow the “life cycle” of phones, or dang near any electronic device really. It starts with an 8-bit like face appearing on the screen saying how it is going to talk about the history of the phone, while providing entertainment. The story starts in the Congo with to force children to mine the metals necessary to start the manufacturing process, all at gun point. From there, the game moves to China, and the player has to save workers from committing suicide by moving a trampoline into place to save the falling workers. After this fiasco, it is time to throw phones at eager customers, and the story ends by recycling and burning various components of the phone. Do keep in mind, the whole time while “playing” the game, a narrator is telling terrible stories about the process, like emphasizing children mining minerals or the hazardous fumes emitting from burning electronic devices.

All these “atrocities” are presented in a 8-bit art style. The visuals are bland with flat colors, lackluster animations, and extremely simplistic sprite design. The voice that is gabbing on and on in each stage sounds like a synthesizer gone awry. It can be hard to understand at times, and the reverb from it is rather annoying. More work could have went into the presentation to make this game stand out, drive the points home, and make players really think about how it is the very phone they are playing on is manufactured.

The story mode takes maybe five minutes to complete, and then an obsolescence mode is unlocked. This mode repeats the four levels over and over, with goals becoming harder to obtain. The only redeeming factor in all this is that the developers are claiming to donate all revenues from the sale of the game to charities working to solve the very issues mentioned in the game.

As a game trying to provide some sort of entertainment, there is not enough substance to warrant a purchase. The political statements it tries to drive home have made news headlines before, and it certainly will not be changing the world. Those that want to see what all the fuss is about while donating to charities, and go in knowing there is not much entertainment value here, can find the game here.

ChannelCaster Brings Together Web Sites and Social Media for News Delivery

ChannelCaster Brings Together Web Sites and Social Media for News Delivery

Sep 21, 2011

OneLouder Apps are expanding beyond their range of traditional Twitter and Facebook clients; recently, they’ve started launching apps for browsing through content posted on social media and the web as a whole, with SportCaster and now their newest app, ChannelCaster. this app is designed to aggregate content for users that is located in specific channels for users to browse.

The app contains a variety of curated channels right from the outset covering a variety of topics. Users can then search for other “Tier 1″ channels consisting of curated content from a variety of sources, including site RSS and Twitter feeds. My favorite channel? “Kim Jong-Il Looking At Things.” These channels can be added to the main screen of the app for browsing at a later date.

However, the most powerful feature of the app is the ability for users to build their own channels. By combining web searches, Twitter feeds, and RSS feeds, they can build their own channels with the relevant content that they want to see. For example, I created a channel for Texas Rangers tweets and sites that displays information from the people that I consider relevant to the team. It is possible to share these channels publicly within the app as well. RSS feeds can be searched from within the app, though it is possible to manually add RSS feed URLs below by copy and pasting them in to the app when building channels.

This app serves as a conduit to the vast amount of information available on the internet, and tries to find ways to pare it down and focus it to display as much relevant information as possible. While this is a practically impossible task, ChannelCaster tackles a lot of the issue in an interesting way, and offers users remedies for getting the information they want in the way they want, as well as discovering new sources through the channels provided by the app. ChannelCaster is available now as a free download.