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Game Day: Paul Pixel – The Awakening

Paul Pixel - The Awakening by Xoron GmbH is a classic adventure game reimagined for touch. The game is set in a post-apocalyptic world where alien space zombies have overrun the Earth. I felt like a change of pace this week and when I saw Paul Pixel, the combination of retro game art and zombies caught my eye. By and large the game delivers with a fun story, great artwork, chiptunes, and wry sense of humor, though it is fairly short and not difficult.

The story opens with zombies emerging from a spaceship before cutting to Paul Pixel’s home where the game begins. The first order of business is to escape the zombie-infested city, but ultimately, Paul must save the world. The mechanics of Paul Pixel are simple - tap where you want Paul to walk, tap things you want him to interact with or pick up, and tap a hand icon in the corner of the game to access your inventory.

In classic adventure game style, all of the dialogue in Paul Pixel is text-based. The dialogue is kept relatively short in most cases, with a touch of humor that helps to keep the text from getting tedious. If you tap a character and get the same interaction a second time though, it would be nice if there was a way to skip through the text more quickly.

The colorful pixel art of Paul Pixel is the handiwork of artist Paul Veer and adds a lot to the experience of the game. Because the pace of the game is relaxed, I enjoyed sitting back to absorb the vibrant colors and surprising detail of each scene. The soundtrack to Paul Pixel is solid too. In a fitting touch, all of the music was composed on an original Commodore C64 SID.

Paul Pixel does a great job of capturing the vibe of old-school adventure games, but with updated artwork and gameplay designed for touch. The release notes are up front about the fact that the game will only take 2.5 - 3 hours to play. Paul Pixel is also not that difficult, which may make this game a non-starter for some, but I have found that on balance, the story, humor, artwork, and soundtrack more than make up for its shortcomings.

According to the developers a Mac and Apple TV version of Paul Pixel will likely be made too, with the Apple TV version bundled with the iOS game at no additional cost. I can’t wait to see Paul Pixel on tvOS. The vivid artwork and chiptunes feel like they would be great on a TV and the simple game mechanics should work well with the Siri Remote.

Paul Pixel - The Awakening is available on the App Store for $1.99.

Game Day: Rubek

This week I’ve been playing a great-looking, tough puzzle game called Rubek from Xigma Games. As the name suggests, it’s a game involving colored cubes. Rubek is played from a three-quarters perspective, similar to Monument Valley. You guide a white cube along a path through each puzzle to the final goal by swiping on the screen to roll the cube.

The path you take is segmented into squares of different colors, including some with a small plus symbol in the center. Roll onto a colored square with a plus and the side of your cube the lands on that square changes to that color. This is where the game gets tough. You can roll any side of your cube across a dark grey square, but if you try to roll across a colored square along the path, the side of your cube that touches the square must match its color. The combination of color matching while accounting for where the six sides of your cube will land gets hard fast.

Your score is determined based on the number of moves necessary to complete the puzzle. At the end of each level you get a star rating based on how many moves it took you to finish the level. Rubek has over 75 levels in total, which add new mechanics as you progress like trigger blocks that modify the puzzle’s map when you roll over them, keeping the game fresh as you play through the levels.

Rubek’s settings let you turn off sounds and include a color-blind option that lets you adjust the color scheme used in the game. I’ve spent the last couple of months trying lots of different kinds of iOS games and found some great ones, but it’s nice to get back to a puzzle game, which is one of my favorite genres of all. Rubek is the sort of game you can play for 5 minutes or an hour depending on how much time you have, which I always appreciate, and it’s challenging without being frustrating. If you enjoy multidimensional puzzle games, Rubek is worth a try.

Rubek is available on the App Store for $1.99.

Sticker Pals Messages Sticker Pack

When we published our roundup of iMessage apps and sticker packs yesterday, we had to leave out one of our favorite sticker packs because it hadn't cleared App Review yet. Fortunately, Sticker Pals from Impending was approved last night.

Sticker Pals, which features illustrations from David Lanham, is the single most ambitious sticker pack I've tested with hundreds of stickers divided into categories accessible from buttons along the top row of the sticker viewer. The first four buttons access animated character sets. The other two buttons are a combination of static and animated ’playsets,’ which include things like hats, beards, googly eyes, and food. I've had a lot of fun with these stickers, especially when combined with other stickers.

Sticker Pals also has a store where you can spend coins to collect new stickers or send sticker gifts to friends. The coins and gifts are replenished periodically throughout the day at no charge giving you a reason to return to Sticker Pals over and over, collecting new stickers each time. You can also purchase additional character sets and playsets as In-App Purchases; currently Sticker Pals offers one of each.

Sticker Pals, with its standard set of stickers, is available for as a free download from the iMessage App Store. Additional character packs are $1.99 and new playsets are $0.99.

tvOS Adds Dark Mode, Siri Enhancements, and More

The fourth generation Apple TV was introduced almost exactly one year ago. Since then, Apple has continued to incrementally improve tvOS, the iOS-based operating system that controls the Apple TV. With the release of tvOS 10 today, Apple has extended the capabilities of features like Siri, added functionality to apps like Photos and Music that bring those apps in line with iOS 10, and improved the user experience with new features like a dark mode and single sign-on. Together, these features make for a more polished tvOS experience that should enhance customers’ enjoyment of the Apple TV without introducing radical changes to how the device works.

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iOS 10 Refines the CarPlay Experience

CarPlay is a window into iOS – an alternate UI for your iPhone designed to limit distractions as you drive. As such, most of the changes to CarPlay are simply a reflection of iOS 10. Nonetheless, iOS 10 brings a handful of refinements that are unique to the CarPlay interface along with iOS 10 compatibility.

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Game Day: Gemini

Some games are as much about art and the experience they create as they are about gameplay. Monument Valley comes to mind for instance. Gemini – A Journey of Two Stars is a beautiful new game from Echostone Games that falls into the same category and succeeds by being simultaneously stunning and engrossing.

As you start Gemini, two stars have fallen from the sky. You play as the larger star. There are no instructions or tutorials, just subtle visual hints about what you are supposed to do. Tapping the left and right sides of the screen guides your star in those directions.

As you approach the smaller star, the two interact and begin to rise. Get too far away from the smaller star and both start to fall from the sky. This makes for an interesting tension as you try to stay close to the smaller star, which can have a mind of its own, while also completing the game's tasks.

As you rise through a gorgeous abstract landscape, the sky darkens. If it gets too dark, your stars will fall. To avoid that you need to light beacons by steering your star over them. Lighting up the sky has the added advantage of revealing more of your surroundings. The stunning artwork of Gemini is paired with an equally impressive and soothing soundtrack that sets the tone for the game.

As you lose yourself in Gemini, the game is more about the interaction of the stars than anything else. The dance between the stars and making sure you bring the little star along become the focus. This is a very different game, but the feeling of a connection with the small star that Gemini created as I played reminded me a lot of playing Journey last Summer on my PS4.

Gemini is relatively short. The six stages of the game should take most people no more than 1-2 hours to complete. If you evaluate games by the numbers of levels per dollar you spend, you may be disappointed with Gemini, but as a piece of interactive art, I suspect many people, myself included, will return to Gemini over and over just to enjoy the visuals and soundtrack.

Gemini is available on the App Store at an introductory price of $2.99.

Better Track Your Time with Timelines

As I type this review, I can see three devices that I can (and do) work on in some capacity with relative efficiency: a 12” MacBook, an iPhone 6s, and an iPad Pro. Along with my work at MacStories, I use these products to build and manage websites, write news stories, and get classwork done – all from the small space of my college dorm room.

Of course, I’m not the only one – millions of people have completed the transition to working from home, skipping out on the world of corporate computing for a more convenient and personal experience. There is one glaring problem, however, when discussing the move from the in-person job lifestyle: tracking time.

Timelines is an iPhone-only app that helps you manage and record your working time. For freelancers, remote workers, and students, Timelines scratches the basic itch of getting your time down into a piece of software for later action.

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