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Game Day: Red’s Kingdom

Red’s Kingdom is the complete package. The action-puzzle game is fun, looks fantastic, and is brimming with style and personality. Red’s isn’t breaking new gameplay ground, but it integrates tried and true elements in a way that makes it feel fresh throughout and scales seamlessly from the iPhone to the Apple TV.

Red is a squirrel. One night, the evil king and his henchmen break into Red’s house, steal his supply of nuts, and kidnap his father. Your goal as Red is to collect your nuts and save your father.

The game mechanics are straightforward. Red’s world has a grid-based layout that you view from an isometric perspective. To navigate around each area, you swipe in the direction you want Red to go. Red rolls somersault-style in the direction you swipe until he runs into an object like a rock or tree. It’s a mechanic that turns Red’s environment into the puzzle. You need to find ways to leverage the obstacles in Red’s world to help you collect nuts and other items.

Red’s Kingdom is linear and level-based, but not in the traditional sense. Instead of moving from one self-contained level to the next, you navigate a far-flung map. You only advance to the next section of the map by reaching an exit. It’s an environment that creates the feeling that you are simultaneously completing discrete levels and exploring an open world.

The difficulty of the puzzles advances at a good pace, introducing new challenges as you go. Eventually, you have to contend with obstacles that can lead to your demise like lava pits, and with enemies you must defeat. Along the way, there are also items to collect that add an extra dimension to the game that keeps it interesting and gives you a reason to explore areas again.

Red’s Kingdom scales exceptionally well. I played the game on my iPhone 7 Plus, iPad Pro, and Apple TV and enjoyed it on every platform. That’s rare. Some games that work well on an iPad or TV feel cramped on an iPhone, and some great iPhone games, feel stretched and blown up on an iPad or TV. Red’s Kingdom’s simple controls and bright, cartoony graphics work well on all three platforms. I especially liked playing Red’s on the Apple TV where it has joined a small but growing number of games that succeed on that platform, despite the Apple TV’s constraints as a game system.

Red’s is not without a couple of rough spots. The soundtrack is pleasant, but unremarkable, and feels a little too much like generic background music you might hear when walking around a mall. I also wish Red’s synced game progress among devices, especially given how well it plays on each. The game does have three save slots, which is great if you have a shared device, but I’d like to be able to advance the same game whether I’m at home in front of my TV or on my iPhone.

Notwithstanding those limitations, however, Red’s Kingdom is a clear standout among recent games. The game’s artwork ties the entire package together with a style that imbues Red and the other characters with personalities that take the game beyond the puzzles and makes it feel more like a story. It’s that personality that I expect will appeal to a broad audience and could make Red’s a franchise we see more of in the future.

Red’s Kingdom is available on the App Store for $1.99, which is a limited time 50% discount.


TextTool 2.0 Review

TextTool is a powerful text editor with an extensive catalog of built-in text transformations. Developer Craig Pearlman has rewritten the app from the ground up and released it as a new Universal app. With support for URL schemes, JavaScript, and an extension, TextTool’s flexibility has never been greater.

TextTool defies easy categorization. It’s a text editor, but not a place where text lives. You won’t find an archive of past text documents you've created. Instead, TextTool is a temporary place to write, edit, and manipulate text that ends up somewhere else.

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Game Day: Yuri

Yuri is a delightful hand-drawn platformer for iOS and macOS by Fingerlab that follows the adventures of Yuri, a small child who wakes up in a dreamlike world. You may recognize the Fingerlab name from one of its previous iOS releases, DM1 - The Drum Machine, an excellent music app for the iPad that won an Apple Design Award in 2012.

Yuri was conceived of by French brothers Ange and Aurélien Potier. Ange drew Yuri for over ten years as a comic strip and made short films featuring the character before he and three others built a game around Yuri. As a game, Yuri immediately reminded me of Limbo because of its monochromatic, dream-like art. According to Fingerlab, the game is also a tribute to comic adventures like Tintin by Hergé and Little Nemo by Winsor McCay, the influences of which shine through in the plot and artwork.

The whole package is tied together with incredible sound design. Right from the opening screen of the game, the sound of rain against Yuri’s window adds to the atmospherics. That, combined with an exceptional soundtrack that is available separately on iTunes, bring Yuri’s dream world to life.

The game itself is easy to play. Yuri wakes up lying in his bed surrounded by vegetation. On iOS, there are buttons with left and right facing arrows in the bottom left corner of the screen for moving forward and backward. In the lower righthand corner of the screen is a button with an upward-facing arrow for jumping. On the Mac, the left and right arrow keys are used to move forward and backward, and the spacebar makes Yuri jump.

When Yuri first gets up, his bed turns into a sort of scooter, which is how he navigates the strange world that surrounds him. The world is dark like Limbo but rendered in shades of blue that create a less foreboding atmosphere than Limbo. As you explore, there are birds and bugs everywhere, some of which are obstacles that will cause you to die if you run into them too many times. The consequences of dying in Yuri are minimal, though; you just restart close to where you left off, and try again. That makes the game less challenging than some but fits well with the theme of the game. Yuri is more about exploration than defeating enemies.

In all, there are ten levels to play in Yuri, and the developers say more are on the way. That isn’t very many levels, but each is detailed and longer than many games, so the level count is a bit deceiving. Moreover, the length of the game strikes me as reasonable in relationship to its price. The iOS version of Yuri is also available on the Apple TV, where its simple controls make it a delight to play.

Yuri drew me into its mysterious world immediately. It’s the kind of game I love to relax with because it’s as much about experiencing the story as it is a game. If you want to get lost in another world this weekend, Yuri is an excellent choice.

Yuri is available on the iOS App Store for $2.99 and the Mac App Store for $2.99.


Downwell Review: Fall Safely

You’re in a park late at night when you stumble upon a large hole in the ground. Upon examining it, you realize that it is in fact a well – one that looks ominous in the darkness of the night. Of course, you wonder what lies in the well’s depths, but the echoes rising up from deep below send a shiver down your spine. What you’re hearing is not pleasant; it’s not human.

In this scenario, I’d venture to say that all of us would decide to ignore the well and move on with our night. But in Downwell, the protagonist must take a slightly different path. Instead of walking by, he straps on his gun boots and jumps into the hole, looking to defeat enemies and collect treasures.

And that’s where your action comes in – after guiding the character into the well, you’ll maneuver him to safety from stage to stage, hoping to minimize damage while capturing all the riches you can. All of this takes place in a retro-style, procedurally-generated game that’s incredibly addicting and one of my favorite iOS games I’ve played in a long time.

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AirPods: Ushering in a Wireless Future

AirPods were announced at Apple's September keynote, accompanied by a video introduction in which Jony Ive proclaimed: "We believe in a wireless future, a future where all of your devices intuitively connect." In other words, a future that goes beyond getting wires out of the way by creating experiences that are only possible with smarter inter-device connections.

AirPods entered the world on the heels of a controversial decision to remove the standard headphone jack from the iPhone. Connecting wired headphones to an audio source is a decades-old practice we've all grown used to, and while this type of connection is still possible on the iPhone via a Lightning connector, AirPods represent Apple's efforts to move forward into a wireless future.

Though wired headphones are dead simple to use, no one can deny that they do get in the way in a material sense. We've all experienced the frustration of cords that tangle, tug, and keep us tethered to our devices. Even the most passionate wire-supporters among us are familiar with these challenges. Wireless AirPods were designed to make such issues ancient history, while simultaneously mitigating the negative trade-offs that are typically associated with Bluetooth headphones.

Technology is at its best when its net gains make you forget about any net losses. Traditional Bluetooth headphones have done a relatively poor job at this, plagued by poor battery life, unstable connections, and often, high cost. So Apple's challenge with AirPods was to achieve what its competition had not: create a device whose benefits over wired earbuds greatly outweighed its drawbacks.

After nearly a month with AirPods under my belt, I believe the company succeeded.

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Game Day: Open Bar

The App Store is running a feature called ‘The best games you’ve never played,’ which is a nice way to promote games that may have slipped under your radar. One game in particular caught my eye: Open Bar by Gingear Studios, which was originally released in early 2016 and went on to win a PAX East Indie Showcase Award.

Open Bar is a classic iOS puzzle game involving color and shape matching on an irregularly-shaped grid. The goal is to form bars of matching colors that reach across the entire board. Bars cannot be finished with just the pieces on the board, however. You have to place pieces from the bottom of the screen onto the board too. What’s tricky is that when you move a piece that is already on the board to another spot, the next available piece on the bottom of the screen automatically takes the original position of the piece you moved.

That may sound a little complex, but it isn’t. Open Bar does an exceptional job of introducing each of the rules of the game gradually through a series of simple levels. If you get stuck, there’s a hint system built in that requires you to spend in-app currency. It isn’t currency bought with an In-App Purchase, though. Coins are earned by completing puzzles and can be used to buy hints or new color themes. Because the coins you earn are limited, it pays to keep some in reserve for when the levels get harder.

Open Bar’s design is excellent. The color schemes are loosely based on classic cocktails. Bubbles rise in the background of each level behind the board that seems to pop off the screen thanks to drop-shadows that create a layered effect among the game’s elements. The visuals are complemented by entertaining animations and sound effects that remind me a little of similar touches used in Letterpress.

Gingear Studios keeps Open Bar fun and low-stress by not telling you how many levels there are in the game. You can go back and retry levels, which is one way to earn coins for hints if you run out, but you can’t skip forward. Each level can be completed in just a few moves, so it’s also the kind of game that can be played in short sessions when you’re bored, which I also appreciate.

There are a lot of puzzle games on the App Store, but Open Bar strikes a unique balance between smart gameplay and a fresh design that makes it stand out from its peers. Open Bar is available on the App Store for $1.99.


Switch Your AirPods Connection Easily with Tooth Fairy

It’s become no secret that I, along with countless others, am absolutely in love with my AirPods. I’ve only had them for a couple of weeks, but I’ve already built a habit of keeping them in my ears for hours on end, switching between my iPhone and Mac to catch up on podcasts, listen to music, and watch YouTube videos.

And while one of the best parts of AirPods is that they are already set up on all your iCloud devices after the first pairing, the need to dive into the Bluetooth menus to connect them on the Mac can waste a frustrating few seconds. For a much quicker and more convenient switching process, I’ve been using Tooth Fairy on the Mac.

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Terminology: A Comprehensive Research Tool for Words

I've been a fan of Terminology by Agile Tortoise since it debuted in 2010. There are a lot of dictionary apps on the App Store, but most are bloated messes that foist multimedia experiences and games on me when all I want is a definition or synonym. Terminology has alway been just about words. With today's update, the app has been redesigned from the ground up with new features that make it a must-have research tool for anyone who writes.

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