App

Star Wars: Battle for Hoth - app review

Like Star Wars? Like tower defense games? Then you might want to take a look at THQs recent release Star Wars: Battle for Hoth for iPhone. 

The game premise is that of all tower defense games; prevent your enemy (in this case the Imperial Empire) from reaching the other said of the map. As you play the game you get a fairly diverse set of units to deploy in defending Hoth. But, before I get into that, let's look at play mechanics first. 

You start Battle for Hoth with some simple ground troop units and a shovel. The shovel allows you to alter the landscape of the level and force units to move a certain route. This is a great tool in later levels as you can really funnel the Empire to their doom. When you place your units and they destroy a wave of Imperials, you are rewarded with a green wrench icon you have to touch to collect. This gives you points to build or upgrade units. You have to be fast though if you wait too long the wrench will change color to orange then red, decreasing the point value. Wait too long, and your points are gone forever.

As you play through the 15 levels you unlock more types of units including; seated blaster units, radar lasers, turrets, snow speeders, x-wings, shield generators and ion cannons. Some of the more complex units like the ion cannon, shield generators and turrets require an energy generator placed next to them. The energy generator is required to power those units. If you upgrade a unit (say the shield generator) without upgrading the energy unit, you run the risk of losing power to that unit so you always have to keep it in check. 

You can upgrade your existing units to make them more powerful and sell them as needed. I found the most fun in the game building up units under the safety of the shield generator and then taking out AT-ATs with relative ease once my units were upgraded to the maximum.

When writing this review, I have to admit I had some distaste for this game. Simple and not a lot of variety in what appeared to be a shameless use of an awesome gaming license. However, after I made my video review above, I am having a bit of a change of heart. I think I am trying to make Battle of Hoth more than it is;  a simple Star Wars-themed tower defense game to kill a view minutes in your day while standing in line to get groceries. Should you get it? If you are a Star Wars fan I think you will enjoy. If not, I would pass. 

[$2.99- iTunes Link]

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Let's Golf 2 for iPad- app review

I was excited to see that Let's Golf 2 just appeared in the App Store! I am not a golfer in real life, but I enjoy a good golf game every once in a while. Let's jump right in and see what this new version has to offer.

Let's Golf 2 is not meant as a real golf simulation like a Tiger Woods Golf. Instead, you are greeted with cute, often funny characters in outlandish environments that are beautiful and colorful. This does not mean that the levels are easy, in fact they become quite challenging later in the game (how can that be a par 4, impossible!)

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Hero of Sparta II- app review

Can Gameloft deliver with their sequel to Hero of Sparta? I think the answer is a resounding yes. Though not perfect, Hero of Sparta II (HOS2) delivers pure action and colorful graphics on Apple's noble iPhone and iPod Touch.

HOS2 is an action game spun in the Greek mythological era of the Gods and Goddesses. You play the warrior Argos. I won't get into his story here, but in this game you are sent on a path of redemption. You return to Earth after spending some buddy time with Hades and immediately the action starts. The controls are different than its predecessor. The main diffidence is that Argos can now jump. This adds a much needed play mechanic to HOS2. In the weapon department, you start off with the basic shield and sword. After every level or so, you start to collect a variety of different and useful weapons including: wings that can be used to glide and attack, a helmet that give Argos the ability hurls fireballs, and my favorite the claws which give you God of War like attacks against your enemies.

The levels are mostly linear, but on occasion you can find a hidden area that has extra gems. You can collect red balls that can be used to increase the attack and magical attack of each weapon. Blue gems to replenish magic and green gems to gain back health. You can also collect additional gems that can be added to your weapon of choice to gain attack/magic bonuses like a +2 to attack, for example.

Pulling off attacks is fun. You have an attack button that when pressed successively, gives you a combo attack on your enemy. However, you can add a modifier to your attack by swiping up, down, left and right. If you use the down motion it will typically cause a "shield break" maneuver with your selected weapon to destroy a shield or some other object. Using the up swipe will launch your enemy in the air for you to unless even more combos.

I am very pleased with the variety of levels in HOS2. You have a lot of different interactive events from running acorss a crumbling bridge to swinging with the claw weapon like a vine to climbing towers. The enemies in HOS2 are not as great. I found that I was constantly fighting the same 3-4 enemies every time with an occasional 5th monster added just for variety. A new enemy feature which is enjoyable is "taking control" of the enemy. For example, the Minator can be controlled by following a series of button presses on screen. You can then control the Minator and attack the baddies. Regretfully, there is not much of a boss battle. There is a boss at the end of every level in HOS2, but you rarely actually attack them. Instead, you typically dodge their attacks or dodge environmental variables. This is somewhat disappointing, but there is plenty of action when fighting during the levels.

The graphics have really be stepped up in this release. There is an insane amount of detail close up with a wide variety of color and textures; make no doubt, HOS2 is very pretty and impressive. However, all of this comes at a controversial cost in this reviewers opinion; framerate. HOS2 moves nicely if you are in a relatively enclosed area with a couple of enemies, but this is rarely the case. You are typically fighting 5 or more bad guys at once in an open area and this is where the framrate begins to suffer. I estimate this game runs at an average of 15-20 frames per second. This can become frustrating when trying to string combos together,etc. I can only hope that Gameloft will update this app soon. Gameloft did an awesome update to GT Motoracing Academy to the pleasure of many fans and I hope that they do the same here.

Overall, HOS2 is a must buy for any action fan. If you are looking for the silky smooth framerate of say, N.O.V.A, look elsewhere. If you want a solid, fun action game that pays homage to God of War, then this is the game for you.

[$6.99- iTunes Link]

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OmniFocus for iPad- app review

By now you probably know that I am big into productivity apps and I am always looking for the next big thing. I use a lot of task management apps on the iPad, and there are some great ones for sure. However, I have just come across the ultimate task management app for your iPad; OmniFocus. This is, without a doubt the best app for utilizing David Allen's "Getting Things Done" (GTD) methodology. What makes this app stand out so much are three things: good design, Forecast and Review. But, I am probably getting ahead of myself. Let's start at the beginning. Note, a lot of the features I am going to discuss are not unique to OmniFocus, but I think it is fair to describe them so you know what is contained in GTD and can get a better grasp for how it is used. For this review I literally rebuilt my tasks in the app form scratch except for the made-up Inbox screenshot below. I had to do that since I am already organized :-)

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Plunderland for iPhone- app review

Plunderland is Apple's App of the Week this week. Does it deserve it? Yes and no. Developer JohnnyTwoShoes has made a solid effort to bring pillaging across the sea in the hands of eager gamers.

The premise of Plunderland is you are a ghost with pirates that sail across the sea to attack and sink enemy ships, pillage tribes people and take money from their monuments then make it to the next port. Sounds fun? Well, get used to it because that is what you do over, and over, and over again with little variety. Call me a stinker, but I don't see the allure with this game.

Sure, the water physics are nice. You tilt the iPhone left or right to make your boat move in that direction. When there is a storm, etc, the water behaves in a more erratic manor, making maneuvering more difficult. Once you are on the high seas, you come across your enemy; the British warships. You have a couple ways to take them out. First is to use your ships cannon. You have a nifty way of angling the cannon to shoot your targets, just move your finger along the bottom and you will get a reticule via a line that helps your aiming. Release your finger and you fire your cannonballs. Second, you can use the enemies cannonballs against themselves. Before the enemy launches an attack, the cannon will puff smoke, that is your cue to ready your finger and deflect the cannonball back upon the enemy ship and with luck, split it in two!

I know, I make it sound exhilarating, and it is the first two or three times you do it. Sadly, Plunderland does little to keep your attention. Future attacks add blimps and more, but the fun is gone by that point. The attacking villagers is a simple "tap, tap. tap" on the totems to get money and fling some villagers around in an effort to extract some more dough. Again... zzzz...

There is nice upgrade system though, you can upgrade your ship, cannons and bowsprits by earning said money above. The game has excellent promise. The controls, physics and graphical style all lend them selves to a success. However, the bland  I really, really wanted to like this game, being highlighted on Apple's App Store, but alas, mateys, I just can't bring myself to recommend this lack-luster treasure.

[$2.99- iTunes Link]

UPDATE: I had a delightful Twitter chat with the developers. I explained that I had played 50% thorough the game and became unchallenged with the levels and objectives. They understood and are looking at a way to unlock the more exciting and complex levels earlier for more "hardcore" gamers. I also said that when I find the time to complete the game 100%, I would update this review to include my findings. I am hopeful that by the time I do this, they will have some new content available. You can follow the developer on Twitter here.

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Pottery HD for iPad- app review

Pottery HD is a unique virtual clay pottery app that can really only be done on the iPad. It shows what an enterprising developer can do with a large multitouch interface. This game is fun and relaxing.

When the game first launches, I was caught a little off guard as I had no idea what to do. You have a "Create" button and that is it. So, I started to create, experimenting with the controls. You can make the clay taller and shorter, wider and thinner. That's about it. So, I made a pot and fired it up in the kiln. When it was done, it gave me an option to sell it. I thought to myself, "Who is going to buy it?". As it turns out, no one regretfully as it is all virtual. Once I sold my pottery I earned some virtual money. At the main menu a new feature appeared, "Shop". Now I had access to paints and brushes. I had a new feature appear as well, "Inbox". So it appears that as you play the game you are given different objectives; unique pieces of pottery to make. You can reference the photo given to you and once you make it, you can send it off to the virtual requestor. You can play Pottery HD independent of the virtual quests and just have fun adding lots of different pottery creations to your collection. If you like, you can even share these creations with friends via email.

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NOVA gets Retina Display and Gyroscope support

Gameloft's NOVA has just received one awesome update; high-res retina display support and the ability to use the gyroscope (looks like Gun Range proved useful after all) for iPhone 4. First let's talk graphics...

This game looks absolutely amazing. Color. Crispness. It's all there. No aliasing problems, things just look great. Now for the not so great news, the Gyroscope.

I have been playing with the NOVA update for the last couple of days and for the life of me, I can't seem to feel comfortable using the gyroscope in conjunction with the traditional controls. Sure, the gyroscope is precise. Sure you can pivot in a circle and the game will rotate with you. But when it comes to playing in a firefight with aliens, it is hard to be using the traditional controls to pan while using the gyroscope to aim. Perhaps I just don't have the reflexes of my youth, but I found the experience frustrating. Thankfully you can turn the gyroscope controls off.

This was just my experience, how are you liking the update? Let us know in the comments!

Video after the break.

[$4.99- iTunes link]

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Spider: Bryce Manor HD for iPad - app review

Having played Spider on the iPhone, I was really excited to see what Spider: Bryce Manor HD had to offer for the iPad. As with most iPhone to iPad games, the experience is much better having the increased screen real estate. Let's take a look at the game.

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div>The premise in Spider is that you play a spider in the forest who makes its way into the Bryce Manor. Because of this, you have a wide variety of locales from the outside forest, closets, bathrooms, cellars, attics and more. The point of every level is to unlock an exit portal after defeating a certain amount of enemies.

Movement is accomplished by tapping and holding the direction on the screen you wish to walk. You can leap great distances by swiping your finger in the direction you want to go. You can spin webs by tapping the spider, then swiping the direction you want; that will spin a section of a silk web. You need to interlace at least three pieces of silk to make a web.

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Fruit Ninja for iPhone- app review

My latest favorite iPhone game is Fruit Ninja. The premise of Fruit Ninja is simple; slice fruit, don't miss any and don't slice a bomb by mistake. Sound easy? Think again grasshopper! After beginning a game, fruit flies up from the bottom of the screen. You use your finger (or fingers) to slice the fruit. If a fruit falls back off the screen without being sliced, you receive an X. Three X's and it's game over. To make things interesting, bombs are thrown into the mix as well. So, not only are you trying to slice a lot of fruit coming at you and not missing any, you have bombs that shoot up as well. The challenge is, if you slice the bomb, it's instant game-over.

When it comes to difficulty with this game, it is a nice and smooth curve. The issue is that once you get good at it, it would be nice to start at a higher difficulty. However, Fruit Ninja always starts you back at the beginning. Your efforts are not at a loss though, the game has plenty of achievements via Open Feint and unlockables. Different colored swords and backgrounds can be unlocked if you have the dedication and skill of a true ninja.

Fruit Ninja also has two different play modes. First is Classic. This is the primary play mode I have described above. Score points by slicing fruit while avoiding the bombs. Zen mode is fun and fast. There are no bombs, but you have a time limit to slice as many fruits as you can. This is not hard, what is hard to is to slice with combos to rack up more points. Check out the Open Feint leaderboards and you will see what I am talking about.

I can't say enough about this game. It has great art direction, animation and fun. When you lose, it even gives you facts about fruit. This is a near-perfect game, I love it!

[$0.99- iTunes Link]

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Penultimate for iPad- app review

My latest productivity app this week? Penultimate for iPad. There are several competing "free hand" note taking apps on our favorite tablet device. After our recent TiPb at Work Post, I thought I would see if Penultimate tries to separate itself from other note apps on the iPad. Is being simple with just enough  of a "feature" to get the job done enough?

Penultimate starts you off with a single notebook. That notebook serves as a tutorial to show you how to use Penultimate. The example notebook is excellent as it "teaches" you everything you need to know about the app. The basic setup is this; you can have virtually unlimited notes in your notebook. You tap the bottom right corner to go to the next page and the bottom left corner to go to the previous page. You have a pen, eraser and a clear page button at the bottom as well. On the main screen you can create your own notebook, email or delete notebooks as need, you can even rename them by tapping the name located below the notebook.

Writing in Penultimate is a pure joy. As you draw or write with your fingers, the developers have given the virtual ink a very distinct look, almost like calligraphy. The ink is thick in some areas and thinner in others. If you want to adjust the thickness or color of your ink, simply tap and hold the pen icon at the bottom of the page to make your changes.

You can create new notebooks with the tap of a button located in the top left hand corner. The top right hand corner gives you additional settings. The style of paper be changed from graph to lined for example, you can reposition the tools (pen, eraser, etc.) to the top of the page and even email the entire notebook or just the page you are on via email. Penultimate converts the notebooks to PDFs for emailing.

I like Penultimate for what it does; it is a simple no-frills note taking tool. I find there to be a couple of irritations however. In landscape view, you are given a cropped view of the page and you can flick the right side of the screen to scroll towards the top and bottom. I feel there has to be a better way to implement this, or, give me completely different functionality in landscape. The other issue is that there is no way to zoom to give yourself more space; the notebook is it's real size and there is no zooming. I would have liked to have seen a pinch-zoom function that increased the size of your note area. Ah, perhaps in a future release. Regardless, Penultimate is a beautiful fun and easy note taking tool that most of use can find a  use for in our busy lives.

[$2.99- iTunes Link]

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