Posts in reviews

Game Day: Sticklings

One of my favorite games on SNES was Lemmings. Sticklings, by Austrian development house Djinnworks, is a clear evolution of the core elements of Lemmings, but with creative twists that make Sticklings an addictive casual puzzle game in its own right.

Stick figures emerge from a box at regular intervals. Your job is to maneuver them to a glowing portal. Each progressively harder level requires you to steer a certain number of stick figures into the portal before time runs out.

If you do nothing, stick figures will walk off the end of platforms, disappearing as they seemly melt into the background. To get the stick figures to their destination, each level has some combination of up to six tools that give your stick figures special abilities. You need to use abilities sparingly though, because Sticklings limits the number of each tool you get per level. Among other things, you can use stick figures as ‘blockers’ that reverse the course of figures that walk into them, for building staircases to clear obstacles, or for throwing bombs that blow up barriers.

Sticklings is striking. The first thing you’ll notice is the spare use of color. Each 3D puzzle is rendered almost entirely in grayscale and lit from above in a way that adds to the game’s dimensionality. Special segments of the platforms are in color as is the the box from which your stick figures emerge and the portal goal to which you steer them, but that’s about it. The effect gives the game a modern, abstract feeling that I like.

There are a couple things that bother me about Sticklings. The first is interstitial ads for Djinnworks’ other apps when you start the game and between levels. I don’t mind a link to other apps by a developer that I can choose to tap, but these appear full screen and require you to tap a tiny ‘x’ that doesn’t appear for a couple seconds, which is is too disruptive for my taste. I also don’t like that progress isn’t synced between devices, which is an all too common occurrence among iOS games.

That said, I like Sticklings for the Lemmings nostalgia factor, the visual aesthetic, and the challenging puzzles. A few of the games I’ve reviewed lately have been ones where you’ll want to set aside some time to play. Sticklings is perfect for killing time and boredom by playing a few levels here and there as time permits.

Sticklings is available on the App Store for $0.99.

Nebo’s Handwriting Recognition Elevates Your Notes

Nebo is a digital notetaking app that was created by MyScript to showcase its handwriting recognition technology known as Ink. The app is iPad-only because it requires an Apple Pencil for input. Nebo can also convert hand-drawn diagrams and mathematical equations and embed photos and sketches within notes. I’ve been using Nebo to research this review and the accuracy of its handwriting recognition is remarkable. Nebo is a solid notetaking tool. It lacks a few features that would make it more competitive with notetaking apps that have been around longer, but the handwriting recognition is so good, that Nebo has become my default notetaking app.

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ProTube Review

I'm writing this as I listen to Frank Turner play a live show at Wembley Arena. That would be unremarkable if the show were available in Apple's Music app (it's not). Instead, I'm listening to the audio portion of a YouTube video with Ulysses full screen on my iPad. In a little while, I'll take a break for dinner and AirPlay the rest of the concert audio while I eat. That's not possible with the YouTube app unless you pay for a YouTube Red subscription, but it is with ProTube, a highly-customizable YouTube client by indie developer Jonas Gessner that lets you enjoy YouTube on your own terms.

The YouTube app isn't bad, it's just made with an average user in mind. There aren't many ways to customize it. You watch videos the way YouTube decided they should be watched. ProTube takes the opposite approach putting users in control, which makes it perfect for YouTube power users and anyone who has ever been frustrated by the one-size-fits-all approach of the YouTube app.

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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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