Autumn Dynasty Review

Autumn Dynasty Review

Oct 11, 2013

Good pure RTS games aren’t exactly easy to find on Android. Sure, there are a few good ones, but few can match the strategic depth to be found in Autumn Dynasty.

Autumn Dynasty tells the story of a Royal Scholar, an important, intelligent man sent on a routine journey by Screenshot_2013-10-11-06-56-35the ruling government. He runs into a spot of trouble and, after proving himself against his enemies, you’ll follow his story as he grows into a leader and unearths a sinister plot. AD tells a great story and the very well done character art and interesting dialogue really drive the game’s story onwards and gives a lot of incentive to complete the next mission.

Not that much incentive is needed. AD features some of the best RTS gameplay you’ll find on Android.

There are a good variety of units to construct like Swordsmen, Archers and Pikemen and constructing a base and training your troops is dead easy. In true RTS style each unit type in AD has a special ability. These range from setting the nearby area on fire to assuming a hedgehog like formation to ward off arrow fire.

It’s the many different ways these units and abilities square off against each other that gives AD its engrossing gameplay.

Screenshot_2013-10-11-05-08-02For example, pikemen are slaughtered by archers and defeat cavalry. In their hedgehog formation however they can largely ignore archers that would otherwise kill them, although they are much worse in melee with it active. Cavalry can summon a field of fire to kill off pikemen and archers can deploy and fire at a much longer distance than they could otherwise, unless they are flanked while deployed, in which case they are helpless. The way AD’s gameplay can change constantly because of the use (or not) of abilities, as well as just general force composition and positioning constantly change up its already interesting gameplay, ensuring hours will be spent sending cavalry smashing into archers and setting forests on fire to flush out hiding enemies.

The single player missions are very well designed too. Every mission is a sort of puzzle and requires clever tactics and a bit of thinking to complete. There is plenty of room for strategizing however and more than one way to win missions. Rushing in blindly however will just lead to failure.

Screenshot_2013-10-11-00-36-26Autumn Dynasty looks amazing. A great Chinese painted style lends the game a very unique, beautiful look. The game’s environments look just like an old paper map you’d find on a commanders desk and your soldiers are similarly given a hand drawn look and animate well.

Soundwise AD doesn’t quite measure up to the standard set by its graphics. While there is some enjoyable period music, there just isn’t enough of it. Battles also sound a little dull as some very basic metal on metal sounds are all there is to hear in melee. The *thwip* of archers firing and the sound of soldiers moving gets the job done, but with a game that looks as stunning as Autumn Dynasty you’d expect a bit more from the game’s sound.

Autumn Dynasty is a must play for any serious mobile gamer. If you like a more thoughtful game than the next Angry Birds clone, AD will be right up your alley.

Worms 2: Armageddon Review

Worms 2: Armageddon Review

May 13, 2013

The Worms series was a definite favorite of mine growing up. I dabbled with the first game in the series but it was Worms 2 that I really took to and from there I never looked back.

Aside from an ill-advised foray into 3D the mechanics of the series haven’t really changed over the years and it’s still just as enjoyable now as it ever was. At its core Worms 2: Armageddon is a turn based strategy game, but it stands out from other games in the genre in two key ways. Firstly, it’s 2D and secondly it’s got a playful sense of humor that will regularly leave you grinning.

There are various game modes such as ‘Forts’ which gives each team a base and ‘Sudden Death’ which causes water to rise every turn, drowning any worms that get caught in it, but essentially each mode boils down to eliminating all of the opposing players with the wealth of weapons and utilities at your disposal. These cover everything from self explanatory things like shotguns and bazookas to more unusual gear like ninja ropes for clambering around the destructible scenery and the Holy Hand Grenade, which is a tremendously powerful grenade- the detonation of which is accompanied by a chorus of hallelujahs.

Worms 2 Armageddon4The mechanics are certainly solid but Team 17 has packed in a lot of content to flesh it out. There’s a single player campaign mode with dozens of increasingly challenging levels, both online and offline multi-player and one-off matches against the computer. You can even create your own teams (complete with a choice of hats, voices, names and more) and change the rules and weapon availability to create custom game modes.

Basically this is just as fun and feature packed as Worms has ever been. Unfortunately it’s not all good news though, as the transition to touch screens has hampered the controls a little. Generally it controls okay but when using a ninja rope, jet pack or anything else that required dexterity and precision I found myself wishing for a keyboard and mouse. Especially as a single mistake caused by the imprecise controls can sometimes cost you an entire match, which is more than a little frustrating.

Worms 2: Armageddon is still a lot of fun and it’s great having Worms on the move, but the inferior controls mean that the PC and console versions are a better bet.

Gamebook Adventures 1: An Assassin in Orlandes Review

Gamebook Adventures 1: An Assassin in Orlandes Review

Apr 13, 2012

Tin Man Games’ Gamebook Adventures series has made its debut on Android, with the first chapter, An Assassin in Orlandes now available.

What is a gamebook? Well, it’s basically a choose-your-own-adventure novel except some choices are defined by dice rolls. There’s combat, where winning or losing leads to two different paths (losing usually results in death), and then there are Fitness checks, which means that the player must roll below their Fitness stat to pass the check. In the middle of text, this often means death. In battle, this means the difference between an improved dice result or a reduced one.

The story of the game has players controlling an adventurer who starts out in a tavern drowning away his sorrows of the woman who left him, while barely able to remember anything in his life. He stumbles outside after a night of imbibing in fine adult beverages, and witnesseses a man being murdered who winds up being the member of a powerful family in Orlandes. As he pursues the killer, he discovers that there’s a deep conspiracy about that he must try to uncover. So, the player’s decisions and actions determine where the story goes, and just who is behind all these happenings in the world of Orlandes.

The issue with An Assassin in Orlandes is that with CYOA stories, and I presume many gamebooks as well – fate can feel random at times. While this is part of the reward, figuring out which decisions lead down the correct paths, it can still be frustrating because it may be one decision many steps back that leads to failure down the road. It can be frustrating, but as the game is designed to be a throwback to these classic gamebooks, that may be part of the appeal for some players.

However, the game does a good job at letting players who are not familiar with gamebooks get into them, especially with the game’s Novice mode. It does take multiple plays to figure out which decisions should be made, in order to find that perfect play through the story. It’s a very different experience, and one that is actually quite cerebral.

Now, some of us would go through a CYOA book and fold a page corner to make sure that we didn’t make a bad decision. This game makes it a gameplay mechanic, as bookmarks. The game gives the player a limited number of bookmarks that can then be used to go back to a certain spot, in case a wrong decision is made or death occurs.

Love those CYOA books as a kid? An Assassin in Orlandes is well worth checking out to get into gamebooks. It’s not for those who want intense action, or can’t handle some reading and dice work, though!

NBA Jam Review

NBA Jam Review

Mar 30, 2012

NBA Jam took its sweet time, but it is finally on Android. The high-flying arcade basketball revival from EA brings all the 2-on-2, no-fouls-called, gravity-defying, other-hyphenated basketball action. Players can throw down with all 30 NBA teams, choosing two players from a selection of the current roster, with some classic players available as well. There’s a Play Now mode to just throw down the rock against a computer opponent, the Classic Campaign to take on 36 teams, including some legends teams, and even multiplayer over Bluetooth for two people.

Control-wise, the game is fantastic. By using gestures for turbo along with the virtual buttons, the controls wind up being extremely accurate, more so than many games that use virtual buttons. The directionality of the buttons give them a utility that other games’ virtual controls lack. I never feel like there are any missed inputs with the virtual buttons. The “shake device to spin” mechanic is still somewhat difficult to use, however.

Rosters have thankfully been updated for the latest season, with rosters accurate to the beginning of the season. There are some inaccuracies compared to the season being 3 months deep now. TJ Ford, sadly now retired due to continued health issues, is still on the San Antonio Spurs’ roster. Looking to experience some Linsanity? Too bad, because there is no Jeremy Lin in the game yet.

All the little things are still in this game. The big heads, catching on fire, just everything that made this franchise what it is back in the days on the arcade is faithfully represented. And even a year after its original release on iOS, this game is still incredibly fresh and fun to play. It maintains that classic gameplay, and while it’s very simple at its heart, and there are plenty of elements to exploit, there’s just so much fun to be had that the simplicity doesn’t matter. Sometimes it’s fun to just sit back and throw down a dunk from the rafters. And the Android version preserves all that fun.

Grand Theft Auto III 10th Anniversary Edition Review

Grand Theft Auto III 10th Anniversary Edition Review

Jan 30, 2012

Grand Theft Auto III seems like a very curious choice of a game to bring to touchscreens. Not due to the quality, per se, but because bringing a game that seemingly requires a controller to a system with no buttons at all seems like a fool’s errand. It actually isn’t quite that.

GTAIII is, of course, the game that popularized the open-world genre that’s so popular now. Players control a nameless ne’er-do-well who is thrust into Liberty City’s burgeoning criminal underworld after a prison breakout. Players take on missions from various shady characters, unlocking other parts of the city and advancing the game’s deep and lengthy storyline. That, or they can drive around wreaking havoc, just being public enemy no. 1, or taking on mini-games with ambulances and taxis. For those with the propensity to waste time, this is the game to play.

GTAIII holds up very well since its original release. While its modern forbears have introduced new features, the core mechanics that many of these games utilize still work very well here. It’s still as fun as ever to just randomly drive around, committing all manner of felony. All the content is here, optimized for widescreen with updated textures. The Android port is very technically capable, with plenty of options for upgrading/downgrading the visuals to run or look better on various devices.

So, how do the controls work? They work better than expected, but they’re still clunky at times. The on-foot controls for moving, jumping, and running work fine. Driving works well, though the arrows for turning left and right are rather specific in their placement, and an analog joystick would have been a better choice. Shooting is terrible, with a confusing targeting system; this is actually really accurate to the original game, though. It’s actually possible to use an external controller with the game, though I had some issues with one generic Xbox 360 controller that caused the camera to constantly spin around. Still, the touch controls are less of an issue than possibly thought.

Really, the reason to check this game out is to either relive a defining game of the past decade, or to check it out for the first time. This is a defining part of the gaming canon, and being able to play it on a phone or tablet in all its glory, for only $5? It’s definitely a sign of the times, but the game is timeless.

Pocket League Story Review

Pocket League Story Review

Nov 7, 2011

Being a longtime FIFA Manager mode enthusiast, I’ve been looking for a similar experience on my phone for a while. While not being a perfect fit, it’s safe to say that Pocket League Story does provide enough content to tide the FIFA fan over until they get home to their consoles.

Pocket League Story puts you, a new manager, at the helm of a newly formed team as they slowly work their way up from unknown to a worldwide powerhouse. You achieve this in the predictable way of signing and developing players, building a fan base, and, of course, winning games. The game does a good job of speeding things up, the leagues generally only contain about 5 or 6 teams and you only play each team once. Finishing first will earn you a promotion to a better league, and after two or three seasons the process repeats. A good addition is the ability to play in single games during the offseason to earn some more experience and money.

While you cannot participate in games, each game is shown live for you to watch. This is the most impressive part of the app because these games are generally very entertaining and incredibly true to life in terms of positioning and decisions. It would be nice, however, to be able to skip this presentation. Every game earns or costs you fans, support, and money adding a good touch of realism.

The cartoony, manga-inspired art design might turn people off and the game is not as deep as other similar apps. There seems to be a kind of confusion about what exactly this game wants to be; it’s not deep enough to completely satisfy hardcore Manager Mode fans, but it’s too deep for casual fans. For example, training points are earned throughout the game for special practice sessions which must be carried out individually, but there is no control over how much to offer a player that you’re looking to pick up.

All that aside, this game is worth looking at for any soccer fan if you feel that the $4.99 price is worth it.

DoubleTwist AirSync Review

DoubleTwist AirSync Review

Nov 1, 2011

This review is one part of my two part look at Mac compatible/WinAmp alternatives for wirelessly syncing music to your phone. Because doubleTwist is one of the more highly used programs, I figured that a full Rundown would be appropriate.

DoubleTwist comes in with a lot of hype. There are three parts to the full package: one iTunes-like desktop app, a free media player app, and a $4.99 AirSync app that’s basically an add-on to the media player. The aim for doubleTwist is to be the Android version of Apple’s iTunes and iCloud service. It comes close, but there’s no way for Android to replicate the success and simplicity of their Macintosh counterpart.

Starting with the desktop application, I’ll say this first: I am an iTunes slave. I’ve tried multiple other media players but I always end up reverting back to iTunes eventually. I admit that iTunes is bloated and needs a rewrite, and I thought that any new media player would have to be faster and smaller. Shockingly, I was proven wrong with the doubleTwist media player. I’ve uninstalled/reinstalled this program a few times on my MacBook Pro but it doesn’t seem to alleviate the sluggishness through the menus, and the program will frequently lock up for 30 seconds before working again. The program also takes longer to load than iTunes, which I wasn’t even aware was possible. Without the Android AirSync app, however, doubleTwist does do a good job of wired syncing; it organizes your files accurately within the Music folder on your phones SD card. But a means to easily put music on your phone is the only thing this application should be used for. This is not an iTunes replacement, even though it tries to be. It also hijacks the play and next/previous buttons when closed but not fully quit which can be very frustrating.

Fortunately, the mobile app fares better. The mobile media player is very capable, and has a very elegant lock screen widget. There isn’t much to set this app apart from other mobile media players like WinAmp, but like I said in my review for UberMusic, if you want a basic media player to replace an iPod, this will do the job handedly. There are many complaints of sluggishness and “glitchiness” on the Android market, but in my experiences with it I have not found any problems on my HTC EVO 4G. There is an add-on to the media player that adds Gracenote album art automatically and allows for an advanced equalizer. But for $5.99 it kind of seems like a raw deal.

Finally, the last part of this package is the separate $4.99 AirSync application. This application basically allows you to wirelessly sync music, photos, and videos to your Android phone over a home network. Setting up AirSync with doubleTwist is easy enough, but I would like to see it simplified down a little bit more. I can easily see less experienced users having a hard time getting doubleTwist to recognize their phone. I was impressed with the speed that my files were synced over to my phone. It took less then a minute to sync a 19 song album to my phone, which is faster then it takes to do the same thing wired. I had no problem is having other media players recognize the files, which means that even if you do not like the mobile player or the desktop app, you only have to use them to transfer your files.

The final aspect of this app is its integration with the Xbox 360, PS3, and Apple TV. Surely, the Apple TV feature can’t be true. Streaming music from your Android phone onto an Apple TV? No way. Well yeah, it’s true. DoubleTwist easily streams your videos, photos, and music to Apple TV. It’s not perfect; when a song is playing, no info appears, displaying just a black screen, but come on. Close enough. Even better is the streaming to the Xbox 360. Your phone appears under the list of drives when you open the music tab and the songs start playing instantly after selecting them. This actually surprised me. One problem is that the AirPlay feature will stay on even when DoubleTwist is closed which will drain your battery, so just make sure to turn it off when done.

Overall, DoubleTwist is a good Winamp alternative if you can deal with some fairly noticeable problems, even though I’d recommend TuneSync if simply wirelessly syncing music is what you’re after.

Homerun Battle 3D Review

Homerun Battle 3D Review

Oct 11, 2011

If they say that variety is the spice of life, then Homerun Battle 3D is somewhere between white rice and vanilla ice cream. For $4.99 you might be expecting a full app that would have a story or career mode of some kind, but that, unfortunately, is not the case here in Homerun Battle 3D.

The game puts you in the cleats of a cartoonishly steroidal major leaguer. With biceps the size of small children and pecs you can store luggage in, you swagger up to the plate in and swing for the fences. Over, and over again. That’s pretty much the app. There’s no real career mode here; the home run derby you’re in is never explained and there’s nothing to challenge you offline except your high score.

Just like in the major league home run derby you’re given ten outs to work with, but unlike the real thing, taken balls are counted as outs and the pitcher will try to fool you with a screwball or change up once and a while. Every home run you hit with nine outs earns you points for upgrades like being able to change your face, pants, jersey, and bat. Everything is purely cosmetic except for the bats which, give your muscled hero a boost of power or contact edge.

Even though the game is very shallow the core action is pretty addictive and hits generally react as they should. The controls are simple and very responsive; tilt your device to place the bat where the pitch is and tap the screen to swing. It is easy to see some of the corners that were cut, however. For example, your character never actually swings the bat; instead the display just cuts to another camera showing the ball in flight, the pitcher is the same purple-shirted man who can throw both righty and southpaw apparently, and there are two stadiums to choose from: ‘Night’ and ‘Day.’

The online battle arena is probably the most impressive area of this game. Here you go head to head against another player and see who can score a set amount of points first. This works really well and it is easy to just hop on and play a random opponent of your skill. There is slight lag at the beginning of a match, but other than that everything runs surprisingly smooth.

This app would make a great game for 2 or even 3 bucks. But as it is, the $4.99 price tag seems a little steep for an app that really just contains an online battle arena and a practice mode offline.

Camera ZOOM FX Review

Camera ZOOM FX Review

Oct 10, 2011

When it comes to camera apps on Android, well, things are still barely off the ground. Granted, the new apps that hit the market continue to expand capabilities, add in new effects, and push creativity, and Camera ZOOM FX is one of those apps. However, it is still far from a perfect all-in-one photography tool.

This camera app certainly tries to do all things for all people. As a straight up way to take better photos, this is extremely powerful. Options like time-lapse, burst mode, timer mode, steady shot, and even noise-activated shooting make this a wonderful tool. I found the sound activation a bit finicky, while steady shot took a few seconds to do its magic. Despite these quirks, I found the pictures came out great and the app responsive enough to handle spur of the moment shooting that required quick reaction time.

It is not all about camera control here, as there are special effects that can also be applied to the resulting photos. Options here range from adding on lomo effects to various distortions and warping. There are even a few collage settings for those that want to tell a story in images. Some of these effects are viewable in real-time, mainly borders and vignettes, while the rest are stackable during post processing (lomo, black and white conversion, and vignettes all applied to one shot). There is a little something here for everyone, and it rounds out the app nicely.

The feature I enjoyed the most was how this app integrated with others that I had installed, especially when it comes to sharing. When I wanted to export/share a shot, the app brought up the standard programs like email/Twitter/Facebook, but then it also incorporated items like Bluetooth and Lightbox. Sure, I could save the finished product to the memory card and then launch these separately, but having access right from the app is a big time saver.

Things are not perfect here, however. I found the lack of control over the effects limiting, particularly when trying to apply a tilt-shift filter and I could not move the focal point to where I wanted it. This lack of control ultimately made certain filters useless unless some pre-planning was used for these specific conditions.

From a camera standpoint, this is possibly the best app I have ever used. The amount of control from how fast burst mode works to adding in custom buttons/gestures put a lot of power in the hands of the user. There is a nice collection of filters that cover a wide variety of tastes, though some are more usable than others. Regardless of a few finicky quirks, users that want to get the most out of their camera need to add this to their digital tool bag.

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.

FlexT9 Review

FlexT9 Review

May 25, 2011

As it turns out, Swype isn’t the only way to trace out words on a software keyboard; there exists another option for doing this, in the FlexT9 keyboard. The ‘flex’ in FlexT9 comes from the flexibility that the keyboard provides; not only can letters be traced on the keyboard, they can be typed in, there’s speech-to-text support, and a handwriting recognition feature for single letters at a time. I initially only downloaded FlexT9 because it was temporarily free on the Amazon Appstore; I might not like the idea of devaluing apps by giving them away for free, but I will take advantage of them when offered! I started using it, just to test it out, and suddenly, I found that it was my regular keyboard.

There are two things that make FlexT9 a great keyboard, and superior to Swype. The first is the correction menu; Swype’s only pops up at certain times, even when set to appear more often, and it often appears in situations where the word is correct, so all it does is obscure already entered text. FlexT9 uses a facsimile of the default Android keyboard’s autocorrect, meaning that there’s a list that can be scrolled through for alternate entries. Words can also easily be added to the FlexT9 dictionary, and can be traced out as well. Tracing also handles duplicate letters better than Swype does, allowing users to just trace a letter in a word once if it appears consecutively in the word, and the helpful autocorrect makes this helpful. The ability to select a word, backspace, and have it call up the word’s autocorrect entries makes it even easier to use prop Second, FlexT9 as a standard typing keyboard works better than Swype does, especially because of the first reason – the autocorrect is just that much superior to Swype, and makes using FlexT9 a dream. I generally do just regular typing, but will occasionally trace more difficult words when necessary. Swype’s manual typing interface also often lead to typing looking weird and the wonky autocorrect made it just difficult to use; FlexT9’s adherence to the more traditional Android keyboard design makes it work just that much better.

Sometimes, FlexT9’s autocorrect’s list of alternate entries miss other, seemingly obvious spellings, making it tricky to type in some words. As well, it’s not possible to enter a word not in the dictionary and not have it added to it, like the default Android keyboard can do. Users who are familiar with Swype’s advanced features, like tracing upwards off of the keyboard to manually input an uppercase letter will find FlexT9’s lack of similar advanced gestures difficult to grasp at first. The handwriting recognition is largely just a waste of time. There’s no way to access the settings from the keyboard, or to change the input method from the keyboard itself.

FlexT9’s autocorrect feature, and the ability to use trace typing without sacrificing usability of traditional typing is what makes it great. However, if there’s no need for trace typing at all, then it may be hard to recommend that users spend $4.99 on a mildly superior autocorrect. However, for fans of trace typing that find Swype lacking, FlexT9 is a great choice, and it has become my regular keyboard of choice.

Need for Speed Shift

Need for Speed Shift

Jan 28, 2011

Need for Speed has become one of gaming’s most venerable franchises since its inception back in 1994, all the way to its popular heights of today, when it’s getting yearly iterations that regularly top the sales charts. The racing series has also made a major expansion away from just the consoles on to other platforms, including mobile gaming, which now includes Android. Need for Speed Shift, an adaptation of the 2008 simulation-focused Need for Speed series entry, has you racing throughout the world, competing in events to earn money to buy cars and upgrades. The events include more than just typical sprints to the finish, there are also solo time trial events, Eliminator events where the car in last place at the end of the lap is eliminated, and Drift events where your goal is to drift through corners as much as possible to get points.