Posts in reviews

Blyss Review: Dots, Combos, and Relaxation

Late at night, I'm listening to a soft, ambient piano tune while sitting in my bed. I'm not sleeping, though – in fact, I'm far from completely relaxed. I'm swiping feverishly on my iPad's screen, wiggling my fingers between every gesture as I try to find patterns in a group of tiles. Points rack up in the upper left corner of my screen and I anxiously look to get a set of combos so I can complete a challenge I'm stuck on.

I mess up and create a pattern I can't escape from. Amid music that could put a baby to sleep, I loudly criticize myself.

How could I fail on level 2?

The game I'm playing is Blyss, a title whose name is often representative – but not always. Created by Dropout Games, Blyss has the potential to be the next big puzzle game, like Two Dots or Flow Free before it.

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ecobee3 Smart Thermostat Review

I have had my eye on smart thermostats ever since the Nest was released in 2011. I came very close to purchasing one over the years, but something always held me back. Between the price, concerns that installation could be a hassle or require someone else to install it, the lack of simple integrated control systems, and not wanting to complicate something that was already simple, I never bought one. That changed about a month ago when I purchased two ecobee3 smart thermostats for my home. I couldn't be happier with the simplicity, level of control, and automation that the ecobee3 delivers.

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Teeter Review: A Beautiful, Challenging Momentum Puzzler

In the broadest sense, I feel like there are two categories of games: quick fixes and time sinks. The former, built on the foundation of quick-to-play casual hits like Paper Toss and Angry Birds, dominate the market. With the latter, including games like Infinity Blade or Bastion, the time it requires to complete the story lends itself to a more tradional gaming market. Both have their place, of course, but short, level-based games often translate into a more universal and better mobile experience.

A quick game of Teeter can be about as short as they come. If you play the game right, you'll get through a level in a couple of seconds. The problem, however, is that each of Teeter's levels is immensely challenging, which makes it really difficult to advance. Despite failing levels hundreds of times, I've stuck with Teeter for its whimsy, level design, and overall gameplay.

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Game Day: Nanuleu

Nanuleu by Selva Interactive is an excellent new tower-defense strategy game reminiscent of Rymdkapsel. I’ve been a fan of tower-defense games since the original Fieldrunners game launched on iOS just a couple months after the App Store opened. Nanuleu is a less frenetic, more laid-back take on that classic style with many of its own distinctive elements.

Nanuleu is played from an isometric perspective on a procedurally generated map that makes each game you play unique. There are three modes, Apprentice, Warrior, and Sage, each of which is progressively more difficult to complete.

Each Nanuleu map is procedurally generated.

Each Nanuleu map is procedurally generated.

You start each game with a life tree at the center of the map and resources that you can spend to expand your territory across the map. Tapping on the squares on the map that are adjacent to territory you already control gives you the option to plant certain types of trees or simply expand your network of roots. Water, mineral, and life trees can only be planted on squares with corresponding colored symbols and require more resources than simply laying down roots.

Five types of trees are connected by a root system.

Five types of trees are connected by a root system.

After a while, enemies start attacking from different spots along the edges of the map. Planting protector, and later, war trees helps defend your trees against the enemy. As you expand your network of water, mineral, and life trees, resources accumulate faster, but you need to spend your resources carefully to defend your territory. If the enemies start taking out trees, especially those that produce resources, your territory begins to shrink. Vanquish all the enemies and you win the round. If the enemies get the upper hand and overtake your last life tree, you lose.

It’s easy to understand why Nanuleu won an award at the 2015 Indie Game Maker Contest and has already made a best of 2016 list just over a week since its release. The game combines great visuals and sound with simple, but challenging, gameplay. Nanuleu games are not short. Most of the games I’ve played have lasted 20-30 minutes, but time flies because it’s easy to get absorbed in the action. If you enjoy tower defense and real-time strategy games, Nanuleu is worth checking out.

Nanuleu is available on the App Store for $2.99.

Game Day: klocki

After last weekend’s fast-paced, stress-inducing racing game, Neon Drive, I wanted to play something a little more laid back and mellow this week. I found the perfect game in klocki, a new iOS puzzle game that launched earlier this week.

klocki is from Maciej Targoni, the maker of Hook, a well-regarded puzzler that came out early last year. The tile-based puzzle game is singularly focused on revealing itself through its puzzle mechanics and designed to be relaxing. There are no tutorials, instructions, or text. You play klocki at your own pace, discovering the rules organically as you play.

The goal of klocki, at least in the early stages, is to complete lines by swapping pairs of tiles. When you complete a puzzle, you only advance to the next one after you tap the screen. You are completely in control of the pace of klocki, which is backed by a soothing soundtrack by Wojciech Wasiak.

As you progress through klocki, things get trickier. The 2D puzzles gain a third dimension, the puzzles become larger, and the mechanics become more complex, making it harder to work out the solutions. No worries though, there are no timers or score. It’s just you against each puzzle.

klocki, which was featured on the App Store this week, is the kind of distraction I look for more often than not in an iOS game. It’s challenging without being frustrating and as easy to pick up for short periods of time as it is for an hour.

klocki is available on the App Store for $0.99.

Recapture Time with Moment

It’s easy to get lost in whatever you’re doing on your iPhone or iPad and become oblivious of your surroundings – just ask anyone who’s tried Pokémon GO. I don’t have a problem doing that occasionally to blow off steam, and the reality is that a lot of my work gets done on iOS, but there’s a time and a place for everything. What I don’t want is for my device use to take away from time I spend with friends and family.

If you feel the same way, but have a hard time putting your iPhone or iPad away, Kevin Holesh’s app Moment can help. By tracking your iPhone or iPad usage, you can get a handle on how much time you spend on each device, and even how much time you spend in individual apps. What’s more, if you purchase the Pro version of Moment, you can take advantage of its full Phone Bootcamp course and other tools that can help you find ways to reduce your device usage.

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Game Day: Neon Drive

Neon Drive by Fraoula is a devilishly difficult 80s-themed driving game that immediately reminded me of the campy short film, Kung Fury. The unapologetic, over-the-top style of Neon Drive is a big part of its charm and adds to the fun of the game, which is available for OS X and iOS. The mechanics of Neon Drive are incredibly simple, but the mastering the game requires precise timing. Well-placed checkpoints provide just enough of a sense of progress though, to make Neon Drive more fun than frustrating.

Neon Drive is part endless runner, part rhythm game. The controls are about as basic as they could be – on iOS you steer your car across lanes by tapping the left side of the screen to move left and the right side to move right. On the Mac, you can accomplish the same thing with the left and right arrow keys or other preset key combinations. Each of Neon Drive’s levels is accompanied by an 80s synth soundtrack that adds to the game’s atmosphere as you dodge obstacles. The first time you hit an obstacle, your car is temporarily slowed down with the screeching sound effect of a needle scratching across a record that distorts the soundtrack. Hit a second obstacle and it’s game over. Fortunately, if you cross a checkpoint, you don't have to restart from the beginning.

Neon Drive features seven very difficult levels. Getting past the first level felt like a major accomplishment even in normal mode. I'm not great at games that require perfect timing, so your mileage may vary, but despite the difficulty, I found Neon Drive fun and addicting in the same way a game like Canabalt is.

Neon Drive's look and soundtrack are a big part of its appeal.

Neon Drive's look and soundtrack are a big part of its appeal.

I played Neon Drive on my iPhone 6s Plus, iPad Pro 12.9, and 2015 Retina MacBook Pro. The games are virtually identical on iOS and OS X, but I'd give the edge to the iOS version because there's something about tapping the screen directly that makes Neon Drive a little more immediate and fun. On OS X, Neon Drive got my laptop’s fans roaring almost immediately, which detracts the game some. My one wish for Neon Drive is for Fraoula to bring it to the Apple TV, where I think its simple mechanics would work well with or without a controller.

Despite being frustratingly difficult to master, Neon Drive is a blast to play and does a fantastic job of making you feel like you are playing a real 80s arcade game.

Neon Drive is available for $3.99 on the App Store and $9.99 on the Mac App Store.

WeatherTunes Lets the Climate Choose Your Music

To provide you with the right music, services like Apple Music and Spotify aim to provide playlists based on certain moods or activities. A lot of the time, these collections offer a variety of curated selections that, while good, don't consider other contextual factors such as location or time.

weatherTunes is a divergence from the normal discovery music service, offering suggestions that are based on the weather in your current location. By pulling weather data like temperature, humitidy, and cloudiness, the app can provide a selection of songs that it believes fits the conditions.

To guarantee that it plays the best songs for you, weatherTunes will ask for a genre of music – and that's it. After you hit play, the app will play you a continuous stream of music from YouTube, the videos showing if you swipe up. If you're concerned that streaming YouTube videos may eat up your data, here are your numbers to note: developer Ari Amanatidis told me that he estimates that each song takes up around 3-5 MBs, with an hourly rate between 60-80 MBs.

From my testing, weatherTunes does exactly what it claims; with the weather nice today, I was able to get upbeat songs that fit the environmental mood. Other than the occasional back-to-back song, I haven't had any issues using weatherTunes for listening to music.

Coupled with a well-designed interface, weatherTunes's functionality makes this tool a winner. You can pick it up in the App Store for $0.99 (iPhone only).

Roadblock for OS X Review

Content blockers arrived with a splash on iOS last Fall when iOS 9 was released, but have only recently begun showing up on the Mac App Store. Last month I reviewed 1Blocker, a Safari content blocker that replicated its successful iOS app on the Mac. Today, Obied Corner released Roadblock for Mac, which takes its iOS content blocker and adds some compelling new features. What makes Roadblock unique, is its focus on profiles, allow you to set up different sets of content blocking rules for different use cases, and its simplified approach to creating complex custom rules. Despite a few limitations that I discuss below, these two features make Roadblock extremely powerful and an excellent choice if you are looking for a content blocker for your Mac.

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