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Sputnik Eyes Review: Puzzles in Space

I’m going to let you in on a couple prevailing facts about Sputnik Eyes, a “homemade” game by Shelly Alon.

The first is that the story, at least in my eyes, makes little sense. It includes – but is not limited to – robots, space, planets, constellations, exploration, Earth, scorpions, hearts, and a rocket ship. It’s a hodgepodge of an idea, one that I immediately misunderstood and hardly plays any role in the overall game.

But the second fact is that Sputnik Eyes is one of the most enjoyable puzzle games I’ve played in a while, and one I can’t seem to stop playing. Equal parts charming and challenging, Sputnik Eyes feels exactly like what a puzzler should in 2017: clean, fun, and to the point.

Move Along, Robot Friend

When you start a level of Sputnik Eyes, you’ll find yourself accompanied by a grid and your robot pals. Each stage has a unique pattern, a series of connected lines that form points, sat on by the bots of varying colors. Take a look at the examples below:

Effectively, Sputnik Eyes is a matching game, one that requires you to pair the robot to its respective colored spot on the map. While it sounds easy in theory, the game throws interesting obstacles in your way, like one-way lines and paths that can only be traveled by a certain color. The more you play, the more complex Sputnik Eyes becomes; eventually, each puzzle seems more crowded than the one before it.

From there, the game can be played in a variety of ways. At the most basic level, you only need to complete the level to move on. However, finish the level in a limited set of moves or within the time period and you’ll receive badges signifying your accomplishments. Although badges have no in-game value, they’re a completionist’s symbol of pride.

Carefully Crafted, Wonderfully Executed

I normally like to weave in comments about a game’s design into a review, but much of what makes Sputnik Eyes so endearing is some of its aesthetic choices. One of the best examples is the game’s framing – instead of the game taking up the full screen, it rounds off its corners to give it a distinct look.

Throughout the gameplay and menu navigation, you’ll see carefully crafted animations, character models, and level designs. Motion is utilized exceptionally in Sputnik Eyes, adding touches that make the atmosphere more alive and vivid. And behind it all lies a soundtrack that shifts between ambient and thought-provoking, unafraid to take your attention but simple enough to fade into the background when you’re thinking hard about a puzzle.

All of this is to say that Sputnik Eyes feels created in a way that makes you, the player, feel cared for. When playing, I felt like each piece of the game was built for me to notice, appreciate, and consider as part of the overall experience.

Conclusion

$1.99 and many levels later, I’m thrilled by Sputnik Eyes. Had it been in the earlier days of the App Store, I think it’d be considered a touchstone of the puzzle genre; now, despite the App Store’s continuous growth in its biggest category, Sputnik Eyes still stands out as a must-have for puzzle fans.

If you’d like to pick up Sputnik Eyes, you can do so for $1.99 in the App Store (Universal).


Game Day: Newton

Casual puzzle games that you can pick up and play for a few minutes are a great way to kill time when you’re bored. Since the earliest days of the App Store,1 games have taken advantage of the iPhone’s sensors to create puzzles with realistic physics. Newton, by Binary Games, is a fun and challenging addition to the genre with unique mechanics and gameplay that I’ve enjoyed playing this week.

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Shutter Remote Review: Photography with Alexa

It was the day of my sister's high school graduation and my mom, being the opportunist she is, wanted to make sure we got a family photo before taking off for the ceremony. One problem was quickly apparent, though – there was no one around to take the photo of my entire family. In a public location, a couple minutes of a stranger's time eliminates the problem; at my house, however, it was impossible to get someone to hold the phone, pose my family, and snap the shot.

Shutter Remote provides one of the most unique solutions to this issue: asking Alexa to take a photo using your iPhone's camera.

To start, download the app on the App Store, launch it, and follow the on-screen instructions. Throughout the process, you'll tell your Echo to add the Shutter Remote skill, provide it a PIN, and get the two devices synced up. Once these steps are complete, Shutter Remote on the iPhone will let you know the exact phrase to shout at Alexa and you're on your way to taking photos by voice.

When I put it to the test, Shutter Remote did exactly what it advertised – and quickly. Almost immediately after I told Alexa to take a photo using Shutter Remote, it snapped the picture and dropped it into Photos. It felt like magic, especially considering the setup was painless.

Shutter Remote's uses are limited, but the times you'll invoke it will make picking it up for $0.99 worth it. If you having a family gathering coming up or want to take a daily selfie, give Shutter Remote a try.


Game Day: Framed 2

In 2014, Melbourne-based Loveshack released Framed, a comic book-style puzzle game that requires manipulation of panels to guide the main character through a noir spy story. The game struck a chord for its novel combination of puzzles, narrative, and hip, silhouetted spy style. This week, Loveshack released Framed 2, an excellent prequel to Framed that delivers more of what made the original version a hit, but as part of a deeper and more refined experience.

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Koogeek HomeKit-Enabled Smart Plug and Light Socket Review

Koogeek may not be a name brand that jumps to mind when you think about home automation, but the company has built a substantial lineup of HomeKit-enabled devices. I’ve had a Koogeek smart plug for about a year and recently received a Koogeek lightbulb socket for review. I’m fairly new to home automation and have found both products to be a good way to dip your toe into home automation despite some limitations.

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NotePlan Calendar + Markdown + Notes Comes to iOS

When I first heard about NotePlan, I was intrigued. It was a Mac app that used a text format (Markdown) as a calendar-based system, a note for each day, allowing you to easily create tasks and take notes, then see it all in an organized calendar. NotePlan for iOS was released today, and it's enough to sell me on the idea.

I have a lot of side projects (I suppose my whole life is side projects these days), and organizing todo lists is vital. I love using the TaskPaper format, with TaskPaper on Mac and Taskmator on iOS, to track action items for individual projects. I also have a calendar, and a bucket of notes. Combining all of this in one place is appealing to me, and being able to use it on both Mac and iOS makes it truly useful.

In NotePlan, tasks are created as Markdown lists. You can have it recognize any list item as a task, or tell it that only lines with a checkbox (- [ ] Thing to do) are action items. There's an extra keyboard row available when editing that makes it easy to create items, complete or cancel them, or even schedule them for a future date.

Tasks can sync to Reminders lists as well, so it can incorporate into other workflows (and even shared lists). In the calendar view you can tap a day to see the note and associated task lists for that date.

Each day on the calendar gets a note, and you can add freeform notes in the All Notes area. A note can be bits of information, its own action list, or both. You can use #tags anywhere in the notes to organize, and wiki style links ([[title]] or [[YYYY-MM-DD]]) to reference other notes. Tasks added to freeform notes can be scheduled to the calendar with a tap, so you can use notes as a central project repository and schedule out the day's (or week's) tasks as you're ready to tackle them.

NotePlan on iPhone

NotePlan on iPhone

On the new iOS version, you can drag and drop tasks around by pressing a text block until it turns blue and sliding it into place. You can also press and hold until it turns blue, then release and press another one to expand the selection between them, at which point NotePlan will offer you a toolbar to allow batch completion, rescheduling, etc.

I'd label NotePlan as a day planner, not a task manager like OmniFocus or Things. It's ideal for planning out your day, Bullet Journal style. You won't find extensive project management features or perspective overviews, but the combination of scheduling, tagging, and (plain text, portable) notes in one place makes it a true productivity tool.

If words like productivity, GTD, Markdown, TaskPaper and Bullet Journal cause a stirring within you, you're probably the right audience for this one. Check out NotePlan for iOS, and then try out the Mac version for fully-synced productivity. Today and tomorrow, NotePlan for iOS is $11.99. After that, the price will be $14.99. NotePlan for Mac is $16.99.



PiPifier for iPad Expands Picture in Picture Support to More Safari Videos

An excellent new utility called PiPifier was just launched by developer Arno Appenzeller. PiPifier may sound familiar, as it was originally released as a macOS app on the Mac App Store. But now the app had made its way to the iPad.

PiPifier is a tool that enables viewing any HTML5 video using the iPad's Picture in Picture feature. It works as an action extension from the share sheet that you run within Safari. Simply load a site containing a video, then run the PiPifier action extension, and the video will instantly enter Picture in Picture mode. This is tremendously useful on sites like YouTube that do not support Picture in Picture by default, and in my testing has worked perfectly.

PiPifier is a free download on the App Store.


Funnel Brings News Updates to Your Ears

I don't need to tell you how crazy the news cycle is. Between world and tech news, I’m often drowning in a sea of headlines and big stories, confused about what’s really important. The result is a time consuming attempt at finding the best information that ends up being more of a hassle than its worth.

Funnel aims to cut through the chaos and bring you the most recent news through audio segments that are only a couple of minutes long. The app includes seven news outlets that refresh at the top of the hour so they're always up-to-date.

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