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Vantage Review: A New Take on Calendars

In middle school, a friend and I would hang out on the weekend and live out our rock-n-roll dreams with Guitar Hero. As the notes would come down the line, we’d press sequences of red, green, yellow, and orange, jamming to songs in the iconic and aesthetically innovative game.

I haven’t thought much about Guitar Hero recently, but an app I downloaded a couple of weeks ago reminded me of it. However, it’s not a rhythm-based guitar game, or even tied to music at all.

It’s a calendar app called Vantage.

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Stagehand Review: Living Platforms

One of my first memories of a portable platform game takes place in the summer of 1996 and it involves Super Mario Land 2 for the original Game Boy. I was 8, and until that point, my only console experience had been with a Super Nintendo my parents bought me for Christmas. I could play with it a few hours each week, which didn't satiate my infinite curiosity for videogames. When I saw Super Mario Land 2 on a friend's Game Boy, I was taken aback by two distinct aspects: the contagious fun of a platformer (my only SNES game was Stunt Race FX – don't ask) and its ubiquitous availability – provided you had enough daylight and 4 AA batteries.

Later that year, I convinced my mom to buy me a Game Boy. A couple of years later, I got a Game Boy Color. For the past 20 years, portable consoles and Nintendo's Mario games have shaped my taste in videogames and defined my moments of quiet downtime. From Super Mario Advance 1 and 3 (both remakes of games I had never played) to New Super Mario Bros and, to an extent, the recent Super Mario Run for iOS, all my favorite 2D platform games agreed on a basic idea: you control a surprisingly athletic plumber who runs and jumps from left to right.

Conversely, Stagehand, the latest creation by Big Bucket (makers of The Incident and Space Age), upends decades of platformer conventions by turning the genre on its head. You don't maneuver a character with meticulously timed jumps across retro-styled stages filled with floating platforms and spikes; rather, you sloppily modify the stage itself with touch, dragging platforms to accomodate the hero's run and making sure he doesn't run headfirst into cliffs, fall into pits, or get eaten by the inexorable advance of the left side of the stage.

Stagehand is an endless runner combined with a dynamic platform game, only you don't control the character – you facilitate his run by reshaping the stage around him.

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Game Day: Splitter Critters

When Splitter Critters by Canadian game studio RAC7 caught my eye, I initially wrote it off as a game for young kids. I think it was the paper cut-out art style that made me jump to that conclusion. Digging a little deeper, I realized I was wrong. Splitter Critters is a game that anyone who likes puzzle games will enjoy. What’s more, its gameplay is truly innovative. I should have known better; this is the same team behind Dark Echo, a pioneering game from 2015 based on exploring a strange world through sound.

Shifting the environment to save the aliens.

Shifting the environment to save the aliens.

The object of Splitter Critters is to guide a group of aliens back to their spaceship. The aliens wander back and forth, trapped by the terrain. You need to create a path back to their ship, which is where the clever gameplay mechanics come in. Swiping your finger across the screen tears the environment in two. The world can be split at any angle, which opens up nearly endless possibilities. You can then shift the two pieces to alter the world around the aliens doing things like lowering a cliff on which they are trapped to a lower level where their spaceship sits. There is an element of the classic game Lemmings in Splitter Critters and the way you guide the aliens to a goal, but how you do that is so unique that the utility of the comparison is limited.

As you progress through the levels, new challenges arise. Pits of water, creatures that want to eat your aliens, lasers, and other obstacles need to be avoided. Levels are made even harder by the fact that the number of times you can adjust the background is limited, so you need to be thoughtful about your approach.

Splitter Critters’ artwork makes the creatures and their planets feel like paper cutouts, which fits perfectly with the game mechanics. I also like how the little aliens bleat as they wander around, and enjoyed the atmospheric soundtrack.

What I’ve found the most fun about Splitter Critters, though, is its deceptive simplicity. The puzzles are challenging, and the mechanics add a fresh, new approach. With millions of games on the App Store, many of which are casual puzzle games, that originality is rare, which makes Splitter Critters a must-try for anyone who enjoys this kind of game.

Splitter Critters is available on the App Store for $2.99.


Balance Brings Financial Accounts to the Mac’s Menu Bar

Balance is a macOS menu bar app that tracks the balances and transactions in your bank, investment, and online financial accounts. The app supports thousands of financial institutions and takes advantage of some of Apple’s latest innovations on the Mac like the Touch Bar and Touch ID. If you want immediate access to balance and transaction data across multiple accounts at your fingertips, Balance is worth a look.

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TxtBck is an iMessage App that Makes You a Better Texter

Generally, I feel like I’m a pretty good texter. When I receive a message, I’m quick to respond and make sure that the important texts always take priority.

But for many people, managing texts along with countless other notifications on their phones is a tricky task. To help remind you to text back your loved one or coworker, there’s TxtBck, an iMessage app that I’ve been playing with for a few days.

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Evernote 8: A Review and Comparison with Apple Notes

Evernote has a long and storied history. It once reigned as king of note-taking services, successfully blossoming in an increasingly mobile world. But as the service grew larger, it became a less efficient tool for the core task of viewing and creating notes. New features and tangential apps added over time created bloat and became distractions. For a time, there weren't many worthwhile alternatives for Apple users to explore. That changed in June 2015, when Apple introduced a revamped Notes app for iOS and macOS.

I'd been unhappy with the clunky state of Evernote at the time iOS 9's Notes was unveiled. My experience with Notes in the past had been frustrated by poor syncing that led to data loss on multiple occasions. But what Apple demonstrated with Notes' overhaul looked promising, and I gave it a shot.

Notes has kept me satisfied since its big update, and I know many people are in the same boat. But Evernote recently launched version 8 of its iOS app, which led me to give that service another try.

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Linea: An Elegant Sketching App for the iPad from The Iconfactory

Drawing and sketching apps present difficult interface challenges. On the one hand, they should maximize the space reserved for their intended use – drawing. On the other, they need to include sufficient tools for users to create what they envision. It’s a balance that many apps get wrong. Some are too simple, forcing too many constraints on users, while others are horribly complicated and intimidating to new users. Linea, a new sketching app for the iPad from The Iconfactory, is exceptional because it manages an ease-of-use and approachability that is rare while maintaining just the right set of tools.

Linea is a sketching app, not a full artist’s toolbox. It won’t replace a more complex app like Procreate, but that’s not its purpose. Instead, Linea is focused on delivering the best possible sketching experience whether you are drawing, prototyping an app interface, storyboarding, taking notes, or something else. The point is to get visual ideas down with the least amount of fiddling, which is exactly what Linea delivers.

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