BraveSmart Review

Being a fan of match-three games, I’m always on the lookout for more challenging ones. Lately, that need has been filled by BraveSmart, a primitive setting where three resources are gathered together to build homes in a village.

The game’s premise is simple – match three similar resources (wood, stone or metal) to build a shelter made of the said material. The first shelter that is built is usually a small house, match three of these and it forms a bigger house, match three bigger houses and it makes a mansion – ultimately a three mansions make a castle.

The village is laid out in a hexagonal grid – which makes matching easier. On the third level, a human builder accompanies the resources on the grid – providing more materials as others are matched out. Human builders also come in three kinds – one for wood, one for stone and one for metal. They usually get trapped in between objects so they’ll have to be moved around to proceed with the game. When they are moved, they leave behind whatever it is they use to build the shelter (a plank of wood, a pile of stones or a sheet of metal). When the grid is all filled, the game ends.

The goal is indicated on the top right corner of the screen. It should show a picture of the kind of shelter that needs to be done, and in more advanced levels it will require the player to build more than one of this. As the game progresses, barriers like boulders, sheep and hills will make building more difficult. Sheep can also be matched and “herded” to free up more space.

However, there is an option to purchase weights using gold that one has accumulated. Weights clear out unwanted objects – but do not work on living things such as the builders or sheep. Other items for sale are Undos and Hammers. Undos provide more chances to undo a previous move in the grid. Hammers turn any object into a universal resource (can be matched with two of any kind of material).

Game play and controls are superb as far as I can tell. No lags or difficulties in swiping or doing anything else. The graphics are also quite appropriate for the game’s Scottish theme – with predominant dark greens and maroons as background or even main colors. Sound effects are nice and subtle, only to be balanced out by bagpipes blowing loudly during other parts of the interface.

BraveSmart is a bit similar to Triple Town, but I find myself preferring this game more because the rules are much simpler and less confusing. I also prefer the rugged graphics over the polished, cartoon-y one of Triple Town.

The only gripe I have with this game is it only has four worlds with more or less 10 levels in each world. However, the level of difficulty might affect how fast one finishes all levels. There is a “Coming Soon” box so the developers at least plan on releasing new levels.

Overall, this game is a great mind-bender and not the typical match-three game one might expect. I highly recommend it for people who want a more challenging puzzle on their collection.

What’s New in Android 4.1 Jelly Bean?

What’s New in Android 4.1 Jelly Bean?

Jun 29, 2012

Lest we forget with the new hardware introduced at Google I/O 2012, the new Android version was introduced there as well: Jelly Bean. This isn’t 5.0, as some people speculated, but a 4.1 release, and as such it appears to be largely comprised of incremental updates, little features to improve the experience on Android, rather than major overhauls like Ice Cream Sandwich introduced.

Delta app updates have been introduced, which means that when an app update is released, it’s possible for only the data that’s been changed to be downloaded to the device in order to update it. This could come extremely in handy for large games – and iOS could use this feature!

Notifications can now include more information than just their app icon with a subject and text, with richer information fields that will allow for multiple lines of text and images to be added in to notifications. Multiple actions can be added to a notification, such as missed calls will have options to call back or send a message directly from the notification bar. Developers can implement this in their apps as well. Users will be able to prioritize notifications as well, so important ones appear at the top.

On a technical level, new vsync timing has been introduced across Android frameworks in order to help combat lagginess. Part of Google’s “Project Butter,” if this helps make the Android user experience much smoother, it could help Google out in the war of quality versus iOS. Devices with HDMI output can now send multichannel audio through HDMI, meaning that hypothetically, videos from Google Play can now play back through surround sound systems. Widgets can now automatically resize based on the space available to them, and change the content in them based on the space given.

Additional options for accessories have been added, such as discovery of new input devices like controllers, and discovery of features such as force feedback in controllers. Network discovery options for finding services on local networks could also help with local wifi multiplayer games. Audio can be output via USB, which will help with dock accessories that will be able to charge and play music in a car through one port, for example.

While there’s not one killer feature here that defines the OS, or any kind of major overhaul visually, it’s an update that should improve the user experience for the lucky few who get it. The update is rolling out to the Nexus S, Galaxy Nexus, and Motorola Xoom in the next month, the Nexus 7 will launch with Jelly Bean, and the source code is available now for phone manufacturers (read: custom ROM creators) to start playing around with and get supported on their phones soon.

Forever Drive Review

Forever Drive Review

Jun 29, 2012

The creator of MiniSquadron is back on Android with their endless racing game, Forever Drive. The object is to score as many points as possible, racing against a ticking time meter through track after track, trying not to hit the wall or other vehicles, as they reset the combo meter that increases speed with each successful pass of a vehicle. This is only half of the game, though. The other half is that all the tracks in the game are user-generated through an in-game editor. Players can make their own tracks, and earn rewards for having them be raced often, by making good, highly-rated tracks.

This is a port to Android from iOS, and interestingly, the main change has been in the structure of the game. Now everything is unlocked by coins that can be earned based on in-game performance, or bought with in-app purchases. This compares to the iOS version which had super XP tokens, cars, and colors to buy with real-world money. As well, there are new final boosts that can be used for that one push across a heck point to keep a run going. Nothing is hidden behind level gates any more. It’s simpler and may just be more effective. Otherwise, the core game is the same.

The game is a ton of fun because it enables players to get in to that trance state where they just keep on trying to go on and on, fighting for dear life for high scores. The visual style has that neon futuristic look to it, but the different color schemes keep it looking dynamic. The track editor is extremely easy to use as well, allowing anyone to make a course with no difficulty.

The scoring system is flawed, where on some tracks high scores can’t be obtained unless the player has been doing well from a previous runthrough. Having tracks that are user-created does mean that the amount of content in this game could hypothetically give it replay value that lasts forever, but it also means that trolls who want to design flawed tracks also have their content show up. There’s nothing that can end a great run like some track that obscures the player’s view with objects placed in the track, or with turns that are painfully wrenched around each other. The editor software should prevent this, and while tricks can be voted up or down, or even reported, it still seems like something that could be prevented in the first place. The game could also do a better job at explaining how it works with its combo system to new users.

Forever Drive has flaws, caused partially by its reliance on user-generated content, but it’s still extremely novel and can be incredibly addictive when given a chance.

Free Android Games for Friday: June 29, 2012

Free Android Games for Friday: June 29, 2012

Jun 29, 2012

A weekly column like this is new for Android Rundown. While we normally review Android applications that cost a couple of dollars, this column will be strictly free games and applications. There are a lot of games and apps out there offering a lot of entertainment for no out of pocket expense. Most of the time there are a few ads to endure. That is fine by me.

Below is an inaugural list of free Android games hand picked from the thousands and thousands of applications available in the Google Play Store. Each week on Friday, a new list of free Android apps will be here waiting to try out, so stop back each week.


Crazy Bitsy Spider

This is a fun little game. The idea is to build a web and capture bugs to eat. There are a lot of different levels and upgrades to make it more interesting. Don’t think there is free reign to build a web anywhere, as there are enemeies out to eat you too. Survival of the fittest in cartoon form… kinda.

Download Crazy Bitsy Spider


Treasures of Montezuma 2 Free

I likes me some match 3 games. While simple in theory, they can be pretty challenging. Treasures of Montezuma 2 is no slouch when it comes to the match 3 style game. Switching places with different colored jewels and group them together to score points. Collecting crystals lets you pass the level.

Download Treasures of Montezuma 2 Free


Soccer Superstars 2012

Soccer is the world’s most popular game. Soccer Superstars 2012 is an outrageous cartoon soccer game with wild fiery kicks and crazy moves. As the games goes on the players can learn new moves and skills. Also, other players can be ulocked to make a super team.

Download Soccer Superstars 2012


Plants War

When humans decide that they have messed up earth as mush as they can and bail out, plants in the last green spot on earth find a hero to fend off all of the evils the humans left behind. With the help of Leafy, the plants might just save the planet. This is a game offereing in-app purchases so be aware of that going in.
Download Plant War


Mobbles

Live in a place where there are no pets allowed? Me too :-(. Mobbles might be the fix to this problem. Mobbles are little collectible digital creatures living in the phone. Well, in the app on the phone. They need to be fed and need attention or they won’t be happy just like a real pet.

Download Mobbles

Other Product Announcements at Google I/O 2012: Nexus Q and Google Glass

Other Product Announcements at Google I/O 2012: Nexus Q and Google Glass

Jun 28, 2012

Google I/O may have had a few expected announcements: Jelly Bean, the Nexus tablet, and the Google Glasses becoming official, but one product is a particular surprise: the Nexus Q.

The Nexus Q seems like an interesting device, kn that it wasn’t exactly expected. It’s taking on the Apple TV and AirPlay in general by trying to exist as a streaming media hub. Android devices will be able to stream media to the Nexus Q, including music and video content. Google Music owners will be able to use the Nexus Q to stream their collection with just the device. Android tablets and phones can control the Nexus Q wirelessly. It also has speaker connections, so it could serve as a kind of wireless audio receiver to go along with its media streaming features.

The form factor is a curious decision: spherical, with a ring of blue LEDs that light up when it is on. Google is also boasting that this device is made entirely in the United States. All this will come at a steep price: $299. This may not have the mass-market appeal of the Apple TV, which has done well for Apple at its $99 price, though their use of common chip architecture across the iOS line is a boon to them. The Nexus Q ships starting in July.

The Google glasses, now officially called Google Glass, were also confirmed. They won’t be mass-market devices at launch, as they’ll retail for $1500, and will not ship until next year, at least for the Explorer Edition model. The future of the project is still not entirely clear, but Google spent plenty of time showing the interactive digital eyewear off in their Google I/O presentation. With the delayed launch, it does appear that there’s still a lot to be done to make the glasses ready for even developer consumption, but it could be a very interesting project down the road.

Theme Thursday: Exodus Pro Live Wallpaper

Theme Thursday: Exodus Pro Live Wallpaper

Jun 28, 2012

I guess I said everything I needed to say about live wallpapers in last week’s Theme Thursday, but I’ll give a quick rundown for those who do not feel the need to go check. I will admit there is a certain stigma surrounding live wallpapers, and some of it is deserved. Some of the highest quality, more effect oriented live wallpaper can only be run seamlessly on higher end devices, and it can be a bit of a battery drain if used in a specific manner. I, however, feel that the whole idea of having a live wallpaper should not be discarded as, under the right circumstances, they can produce stunning results that can really spice up a normally drab phone. This week, I focused my attention onto the fun and creative Exodus Pro Live Wallpaper which is made by the same design team, Joko Interactive as last week’s Photile Pro.

Unlike Photile Pro, Exodus Pro does not allow for custom images; instead it fills the background with an empty field full of floating cubes. The sense of depth here is very impressive and for home screens that feature a lot of flat widgets and icons there really is a great sense of space behind the screen. As with most live wallpapers, Exodus Pro is incredibly customizable and just like Photile the themes that are included are probably the best ones are the preset options within the app itself. Every setting here can be tweaked, such as size and popularity of the shapes as well as how busy they become; which should not come as much of a surprise as they are all pretty standard and expected.

This wallpaper is very middle-of-the-road when i comes to processing power needed to run. It should not be a problem for medium to higher end phones which makes it available to a wider audience than some of the more expensive and technically demanding live wallpapers out there. For anyone with the right phone, I would definitely recommend Exodus Pro Live Wallpaper.

Cthulhu Saves The World Review

Cthulhu Saves The World Review

Jun 28, 2012

Oh no, Cthulhu has awoken, risen from the depths of R’yleh to enslave mankind! But alas, he has lost his powers to a mysterious curse! However will he get them back so he can summon R’yleh to the surface and destroy the realm of man? By becoming a true hero. How does Cthulhu figure this out? Why, he overheard the narrator saying it, of course.

Welcome to Cthulhu Saves The World, a loving tribute and parody of everything turn-based 16-bit RPGs are. This is a port of the Xbox Live Indie Games title, redone in Unity for mobile platforms. Players take control of the ultimate Lovecraftian horror himself, Cthulhu. Along the way, he gains party members like the plucky and somewhat crazy Umi, and Sharpe, who is a sword.

The game just has so much fun with its concept, with silly enemies, and self-aware dialogue from the unlikely protagonist. It’s absolutely hilarious, and the parts that mock classic RPGs will amuse anyone that was playing games in the 90’s. However, it’s also a fairly brutal RPG itself, with plenty of dungeon crawling and enemy encounters to go through, an overworld to explore, and towns to visit. It’s an entertaining RPG at its core, it’s just deep-fried in parody, and wrapped in bacon.

The port job to mobile systems is a bit rough around the edges, deciding to just use swipe controls to move Cthulhu around the map, and virtual buttons around the screen corners to perform actions. The swipe controls are okay, and some of the graphics show occasional scaling and tearing, but none of it is enough to hinder enjoyment of the game.

The game does mock 16-bit RPG tropes, but it also revels in them, meaning that players should prepare to grind levels to make sure they’re not getting killed on a regular basis. The problem with the combat system is that regular enemies become far more fearsome than boss battles do, because MP restoration happens in small increments after battles. So, while using spells might be the easy way to victory, they can’t be used all that regularly against regular enemies because there needs to be some MP in reserve for the next set of enemies. Boss fights were actually easier than normal encounters because I could just unleash the pain of all my awesome abilities with no restrictions.

Cthulhu Saves The World is a must-play for any RPG fans and fans of 16-bit games, who will get a kick out of its crazy story, humorous writing, loving parody of the genre, and even its challenge. I never got around to playing this when it was released on the Xbox 360, and I’m glad I got the opportunity now.

The Nexus 7, Google’s Tablet, is Finally a Reality

The Nexus 7, Google’s Tablet, is Finally a Reality

Jun 28, 2012

The worst-kept secret in Android is now out: the 7″ Nexus tablet is now a reality. It’s an Asus-produced 7-inch tablet with a 1280×800 IPS screen, Tegra 3 chip, 1 GB of RAM, an estimated 8 hours of battery life on a 4325 mAh battery, a front-facing camera, and will come pre-loaded with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. The Nexus 7 will come in 8 GB and 16 GB storage configurations for $199 and $249 respectively. It will not come in cellular models, at least not right away. Google will be selling the tablet through Google Play, starting in July.

Of course, with the rumor mill nailing pretty much everything that the Nexus 7 would have in terms of specs, this isn’t a surprise. It should be intriguing as a gaming device, though: Nvidia has done a lot of work in getting titles to be either exclusive to Tegra 3 chips, or launching with Tegra 3 enhancements. That an official, mass-market Google device will have the chip is a good thing for Nvidia and thosse who partnered with them, and should provide some compelling content for the tablet.

Google is hoping for this tablet to push Google Play in the way that the Kindle Fire has pushed Amazon services, and their massive library of apps, with the burgeoning music and video stores, should help them along. Interestingly, there isn’t much word if Google’s going to try to get this thing out at retail, or if they really want to try and drive people to Google Play. The Kindle Fire may be sold by Amazon, and it likely would still be somewhat successful if it sold through Amazon alone, but it also has a major retail presence. The Nexus 7 could be slow to take off if Google doesn’t sell it through retail stores, or people who are interested in it may not pick it up if they can’t get it at retail.

Of course, selling it at least exclusively through Google Play, at least initially, may help Google get more people acclimated to buying their devices directly from Google. The HSPA+ Galaxy Nexus just dropped to $349.99 on their store as well. It’s something of a brute-force tactic, but if they market this device properly, it could be a boon for them. If not, it could just be another well-kept secret in their arsenal, produced solely for their own amusement.

KickStarter Spotlight: Super Retro Squad

KickStarter Spotlight: Super Retro Squad

Jun 27, 2012

KickStarter is a great avenue for developers to take their free small time online game into the next level and turn it into a fully fledged, premium product. Prime example of this is the developer studio Exploding Rabbit from Sacramento whose popular online game Super Mario Bros. Crossover was at a standstill and was essentially stuck as a side project because of the use of classic Nintendo characters. But with funding from the lovely interwebs this brilliant collection of programmers can take their idea to the next level and create a game like Super Retro Squad.

For those unfamiliar with Super Mario Bros. Crossover it takes the classic Super Mario Bros. levels that everyone is familiar with and introduces other classic Nintendo characters such as Link, Samus, Mega Man, Bill Rizer from Contra, and of course, Mario and Luigi. Each character comes complete with most of their abilities from their respective games and come in multiple “skins” spanning their long run in 2-D gaming. Super Retro Squad is a homage to the retro games of yore, and contains over 40 levels across 8 worlds. The gameplay is classic platforming and will be playable, like SMB Crossover, as 8 different characters, who each have their own world.

It isn’t as if Exploding Rabbit has completely forgotten about the Nintendo universe as the characters in the game all bear a suspicious similarity to those trademarked Nintendo stalwarts. Think of Super Retro Squad as more of a trip into a Nintendo Bizarro World that contains German mining brothers, Mecha Boy, a female Samurai, and a Samus and Tony Stark love child.

Response has been incredibly positive for this project and it is already fully funded with 23 days to go. This means all the extra funding goes toward ‘stretch goals’ that include Time Attack, Leader Boards, and Achievements for double funding, multiple languages for triple, and if the funding is quadrupled, which seems fully reasonable, a 9th character, EVE VII, will be added to the game, bringing with it extra levels in another world. So take the time to head over to KickStarter and help this game achieve its full potential.

Crescent Moon Games to Release Games for Android

Crescent Moon Games to Release Games for Android

Jun 27, 2012

Long-time iOS publisher Crescent Moon Games is making the jump to Android very soon. They will be releasing three games initially to the Amazon Appstore: the catapult game Siegecraft, the open-world RPG Aralon: Sword and Shadow, and papercraft platformer Paper Monsters. Siegecraft was already released on Google Play, self-published by Blowfish Studios, but Crescent Moon will be publishing the Amazon Appstore version. The Crescent Moon-published titles will be exclusive to the Amazon Appstore, for purposes of trying to build a following on Android initially on that store. Over time, Crescent Moon could expand their portfolio to Google Play. For now, the games will just release on Amazon’s store.

While the games will support the Kindle Fire, they will not be exclusive to the device, so any Android user whose phone works with the game can buy it. Other titles could make their way down the pipeline depending on the success of the first batch of titles, though there is nothing to officially confirm with the next batch of titles. Aralon has already been submitted, with Siegecraft and Paper Monsters planned to be submitted in the next week, so the games should be hopefully showing up very soon.

Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2012 Review

Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2012 Review

Jun 27, 2012

Golf, with its sprawling greens and peaceful streams, is about as far away as you can imagine from the hunched over cramped play of mobile game. Thrust into the armpit of a fellow commuter on an overcrowded rush-hour train, it can be hard to force a player to suspend disbelief, and believe that they truly are, in fact, Tiger Woods himself.

In other ways, golf games work rather well on the small screen. At its heart, golf is an incredibly simple game, and the arc of the club can be made quite effectively on a touch screen, without letting players blame the control system for their inevitable failings. It works well in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2012: pick a club, aim approximately where you want the ball to go with a zoom out, and then swing on the touch screen. The area the player uses to swing goes from the top of the landscape phone screen to the bottom, and allows for a slight bend of the ball (by accident or not) if your swipe isn’t straight. If you go too far, your shot will suffer, which puts in just enough risk to reward ambitious players, while neatly replicating what happens when amateurs like me pick up a golf club in real life.

Putting is a similar affair, though EA have clearly realised it’s a bit harder to judge, so give the players a one-use per shot preview of where their putt will go. Doing so feels like the right call to me, allowing for some incredibly satisfying long shots, but understandably some players will scoff at the offer of help.

As you would expect from an EA product, the whole thing is nicely polished with great presentation, and all the licensing present and accounted for. There are plenty of courses to test yourself against, and along the way you earn money to improve your fully customisable golfing avatar’s skills and abilities. Money is quite satisfying to earn throughout the game as it rewards you for perfect fairway bound drives, immaculate green landings and placing well in tournaments. As well as individual courses, and the PGA mode, the game also lets you gamble your in-game money against ‘Tiger Challenges’, where you’ll be set a goal to beat, and greater riches if you manage it.

There are a few minor issues: mainly the longish loading screens between each hole, and the occasional animations that play between shots of proud/frustrated golfers reacting to their drive, but these are pretty minor in all. It would be unfair to complain too much about these: Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12 on Android offers players a enjoyable round of golf with plenty of replayability, and it’s nicely optimised for dipping in and out of. The “good walk spoiled” survives being shrunk down to a touch screen admirably.

Swift Wifi Makes Connecting to Wifi Networks Easier

Swift Wifi Makes Connecting to Wifi Networks Easier

Jun 26, 2012

Sure, for many people, connecting to a wifi hotspot isn’t that difficult, but what about those networks that are protected with WPA2, with a network key that is some crazy amalgamation of characters? If only there was a better way! Well, for multiple Android device owners, there’s a userfuul app called Swift Wifi that can help. On one hand, it’s a 1×1 widget that offers 1-tap wifi connectivity from a user’s launcher. It makes it easy to switch wifi networks, or connect to new ones. But, the app also has the ability to generate a QR code that allows another device to connect to the current wifi network by scanning the code.

It’s just text formatted in a way that includes the SSID and network key, but it is a convenient option for sharing network access, possibly with a visitor without necessarily sharing one’s key directly. Rooted devices generate the key instantaneously once they get Superuser access; non-rooted users just need to put in the password manually on their device ot generate the code. It’s not the most secure method, but convenience often comes at the price of security. Swift Wifi is a free download from Google Play, with a donation version available, though it does not come with any new features, it’s just to support the developer.