Thursday, May 28, 2009

iPhone Game: Resident Evil Degeneration

If you love to hate zombies as much as I do, ignore the rest of this review, alt-tab over to iTunes and immediately buy Resident Evil: Degeneration. Not only is it one of the better zombie games I've played of late (on any system), it's by far the best game I've ever seen on the iPhone.

I'm told the game is based on the new Resident Evil movie that's coming out, but I haven't seen any of those and I haven't been keeping track. All I know is, this is an incredible full-3d game that allows you to explore the ruins of an infected airport, killing zombies and solving simple (but entertaining) quests.

The basic concept isn't too far off from any other Resident Evil game. You play as Leon, and you're dropped off in the airport to investigate the "strange" zombie situation. You find that a plane load of infected people has crashed into the airport, and that's where the trouble begins.

You run from area to area in the airport, trying to find survivors and then trying to help keep them alive. Along the way you do a bunch of the standard "find and retrieve" missions that have been the staple of adventure games for years now. You find a locked door, which can only be opened by a key on the other side of the map. You go to get the key, and of course it's guarded by a handful of zombies, who you then shoot in the head.

I'm realizing now that this sounds kind of boring, but the kicker is, it's not. It's incredibly fun, and the ability to pick up new weapons and upgrade them goes a long way towards making you want to keep exploring. Furthermore, it's just plain fun.

The control scheme is pretty well-crafted, although the aiming can take a bit of getting used to. There's a virtual analog stick in the bottom left corner, which you hold with your thumb and move up, down, left and right to move accordingly. Unlike modern shooters, this game is "back to basics" where the stick turns you left and right, rather than strafing.

To fire, you click the weapon button to first arm your weapon. Then the analog stick becomes your aiming mechanism, and you click the target button on the right side to shoot. Some people don't like that you have to stop moving in order to shoot, but it adds to the suspense. You have to get far enough away from the zombies so you can shoot them without them catching up to you.

To make a long story short, this is simply one of the best mobile games I've ever played. I've had a DS, a PSP, and now the iPhone, and this game trumps anything I've seen on all three consoles. If you're looking for a good way to spend six bucks, here you go. Resident Evil: Degeneration.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

iPhone Chat: IM+ Lite

One of my favorite things about the iPhone is that I can stay connected to my friends and coworkers no matter where I'm located. One of the best examples of this is the IM+ Lite application. IM+ is an instant messaging application which supports AIM, Google, Yahoo, MSN, Jabber, ICQ, Myspace, and Facebook. I personally only use AIM, Google, and Yahoo, but I'm sure all the other services work the same.

When you first boot IM+ you'll be asked to add an account. The process is simple and quick, and will get you chatting right away. Then you'll see your Contacts or Buddy List, on the first tab. You can slide to delete contacts, click them to start a chat session, or click the "i" button to get info like their profile.

The Inbox is the next tab, where you can see what open chats you have, and whether there are any new messages. If you click one of the names, you'll go to the chat screen. It's a simple layout, text on top, type pad on the bottom, and a few buttons to move back to the Inbox, or to close the chat. There's also a smiley menu which allows you to insert graphical smilies, assuming the person on the other end can support that.

One great thing about the chat screen is you can swipe left and right to go from one person to the next. This makes it really easy to maintain a few chat sessions at once, something I'm almost always doing.

The third tab is Status. You can set yourself online, away, invisible, or offline (which disconnects you). Pretty straightforward, pretty useful. Finally, there's a Settings tab, and an About tab. The settings include which accounts to enable, and a whole host of other options about how the app works.

When it comes down to it, a chat client is about ease of use, reliability of connection, and the ability to use multiple chat clients. IM+ Lite covers all 3 bases, perfectly. In the full version, you can send pictures and do voice chat, along with some other add-ons. The free version covers all the bases though, and it's a must-have if you want to stay connected on the go. There's a few other chat options out there, and some of them are decent, but IM+ is by far the most full-featured and easy to use.

Monday, May 11, 2009

iPhone Game: StickWars Lite

You may have noticed by now that I only review apps that are free. This is mainly due to the fact that I'm more or less broke, and hoping that this blog will earn me some cash so I can buy more apps! (Protip: Click the Google Ads found above and below this post to help your favorite app reviewer out!)

To that end, I've got another free game for you: Stick Wars Lite.

I'd like to start by saying I meant to write this post Friday afternoon, but I spent so much time playing Stick Wars Lite that I forgot to actually review it. That right there should tell you just about everything you need to know about this game: it's fun, easy, and addictive, in a way I never expected an iPhone game to be.

A lot of the games out there for the iPhone are basically versions of the old flash games we all used to play on the PC. Or in my case, the old flash games we looked at, tried for 5 seconds, and moved on. See, when you're on the PC, there's so much more content and distraction, that a simple game where you pick up stick figures and throw them isn't that exciting.

However, take that same game, and start playing it while you're waiting in line for the train. Suddenly, it becomes impossible to put down. You're moving towards the back of lines so you can play more. You're going extra stops on the T and then walking so you can play while riding, and while walking down the sidewalk. You're willingly going to the RMV, just for some menial paperwork you could have done online, just so you can play this game. Or something like that.

The gameplay is, overall, pretty simplistic. You have a castle wall, and a bunch of angry stick figures run up to it and try to punch it down. Surprisingly, they can punch through a wall pretty quickly if you don't stop them. You "stop" them by picking them up and flinging them into the air, with your finger. They go flying and eventually hit the ground, exploding into an amount of blood proportional to the "Blood" setting in the options menu.

Sure, you can eventually buy bomb factories, wizard training grounds, and a few other add-ons, but mainly you're going to spend all your time throwing stick figures into the air. It doesn't sound like much, but I promise you it's just about the most fun you'll ever have on your iPhone.

The sound is decent, there's a few little sound effects and some vaguely medieval music. The graphics are pretty poor, but you're dealing with Stick Figures so you get what you expect.

Basically, this is an incredibly fun, addictive game that's appropriate for just about everyone. If you want your kids to play it, just turn off the blood! Tell them you're sending each one of those little sticks to heaven, instead of to a quick death at the hands of gravity.

Friday, May 8, 2009

iPhone Weather App: The Weather Channel

It might seem boring compared to a lot of the games and other apps I use, but there's no app I use more regularly than the latest update to the Weather Channel app. If I could delete the standard iPhone Weather app, I would. The Weather Channel really nailed it with this latest update.

Booting the app takes you to the Current weather screen. You can enter a location (it saves your favorites, and auto-loads your most recent search on boot). There's a pretty little icon that tells you the general weather for the moment, along with some stats like temp, weather, etc. You then have 3 other tabs, Hourly, 36 Hour, and 10 Day, which give you information accordingly.

The app gets really cool though, when you click Explore Map. The Weather Channel uses Google Maps to show you your location, along with the Doppler Radar for the region. You can scroll, zoom, and do whatever else you might normally do on a Google Map. Then you can press "Play" to get a moving version of the map, to see how that latest storm front is moving.

The next tab is the Video tab, which gives you the latest local weather forecast, in video. The video buffers in seconds, and the quality is great. It's a great thing to watch while you're getting dressed in the morning, to see what kind of clothing you should be wearing out there!

The last useful tab is "Severe," which gives a list of any severe weather alerts in the area. The final tab, more, simply hides Help, More Video, and the About screen.

Over all the app is super snappy and incredibly useful. All the information you could possibly need is right at your fingertips. The app loads quickly, closes nicely, and doesn't take up much room overall. If only they could make the icon change based on the current weather for today (something I always wished the regular iPhone Weather App would do). There's a few ads on the app, but they're unobtrusive and just simple banners.

If you need to know what to wear in the morning, or you're trying to plan your weekend, this app is a must have. The weather map is fun to cruise around on, and the video is great. Well played, Mr. Weather Channel iPhone Developer.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Some Housekeeping

A friend just gave me some good ideas so I'm going to put them out here for all to read.

If there are any iPhone App creators that want to talk to me, or let me do a little interview with them, don't hesitate to get in touch with me. I'm also willing to download and review any app that anyone wants, so feel free to post in the comments, or email me (check my profile to the right).

I'm not sure exactly what direction this blog will take, but I'd love to do more in-depth reviews of apps, with discussion from the creators, or other members of the community. I don't want to just post 3 out of 5 stars, and leave you all to your own devices. I want you to really hear what the apps are all about.

Basically what I'm trying to say is, holla at me! I want to hear your ideas, your suggestions for apps to review, and I'd LOVE to hear from some app creators about new ideas, new updates, or just to talk about the great apps you've already created!

iPhone Music: Slacker Radio

Reading these posts will make you quickly realize how much of a music nut I am. My first inclination anytime I open up the iTunes App Store is to look up any new music apps. I love the way the iPhone makes it so much easier to find, acquire, and listen to new music. To this end, I've finally downloaded the Slacker app, to hook up with my Slacker subscription.

Slacker is an online streaming radio program, which allows you to create custom stations based on your own personal preferences. Basically, you can go onto their website, plug in a few artists you like, choose a few of your favorite songs by them, and then set a few sliders that determine the level of "discovery." In other words, you can set it up so you only hear the bands you entered, or you can set it so those bands are used as a jumping-off point for a whole world of music discovery.

The iPhone app takes all of this on the road for you. Although you can't create custom stations on the app, you can listen to all the stations you've created, as well as the long list of stations Slacker has created themselves. You simply load up the app, click a station, and start listening.

Slacker has a really simple, pretty slick interface. While you're listening to a station, you see the album art for the song currently playing, and the next song's album art is in the background. Since Slacker is a streaming radio station, you can't go backwards, but you can skip a song, pause it, "like" it (a heart button) or ban it. You can ban a single track, or an entire artist. You can also go to the next track just by swiping the album art, which they thankfully made a little difficult so you can't just accidentally switch to the next track (with no way of getting back!)

Slacker is a great service which allows you to stream all kinds of music, anywhere you want. Well, almost. Because Slacker is all streaming, I still can't listen to these tunes on the subway. Without WiFi or 3g connectivity, the app is basically useless. Furthermore, in order to get the full feature set, you have to pay for a Slacker account, which costs about $50 a year. For a music nut such as myself, $50 a year is just a small chunk of my music budget, but for a casual listener, this may be too much. Slacker does have a free option, but you're limited on what you can listen to and how many times you can skip. The app itself is free in the iTunes Application Store.

Overall, Slacker provides a great service in a convenient package. I know everyone loves Pandora, and sure it's free and a bit easier to use, but the level of control you have with your Slacker stations is unmatched in online streaming radio applications. Since Slacker is free to download, I'd recommend everyone give it a try!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Fun Free iPhone Game: Rolando Lite

Rolando Lite is a recent pickup for me, and based on a few hours of play I'm certain I'll be purchasing the full app from the iPhone application store very soon.

The general concept of the game is fairly simplistic. You get a few small Rolandos, little guys who remind me of rolling Lemmings. Basically, you have to get the Rolandos from their starting point to the exit door, without leaving any behind. There are enemies that can kill them, traps and mazes, and switches to pull. You also have to deal with the "Royalty," larger Rolandos that must be pushed by the smaller ones.

The great thing about this game is the control scheme. You simply tap a Rolando to select him (or click and drag a box to select a few) and then tilt the iPhone to move them. If you want them to roll left, tilt left. If you want them to jump, you just have to swipe up on the screen. There's also several different types of buttons and switches you can press, push, or pull, and you do this all just by touching the screen.

The level design is also pretty great. The levels are all bright and colorful, with fun mazes and puzzles to help you pass the time on a boring commute. The challenge ramps up pretty quickly; I got stuck on a few of the early levels and now that I'm into the second "world," things are really heating up! However, Rolando Lite makes it easy to re-try a level, and it will even save your progress if you have to close the app quickly (because your boss started walking up behind you).

Overall, Rolando Lite is a simple, fun, and highly addictive game for the phone. With the application store being filled with tons of boring, unimaginative games, it's great to see a real winner like Rolando Lite being quickly boosted to the top of the iPhone App Store rankings.

Song Identification iPhone App: Midomi Ultra 2.0

A great free iPhone app I've been using for a while now just got a huge update, and I've been loving it more and more with each passing moment. It's not as much fun as an iPhone game, but it'll certainly help you pass the time on a long car ride or on the train (if your train plays music).

Midomi is a song identification application, which allows you to press a large orange button, hold your iPhone up to some music playing in your car, in Starbucks, or on an elevator, and find out the artist and title of the song. It's free, and you can grab it right from the iPhone App Store.

Initially, I was using the ubiquitous Shazam for this service. Shazam offers a similar user experience, but with a seemingly much larger library of songs. It would grab songs from the 70's all the way up to today, and provide me with links to Youtube, iTunes, and other places to hear the song again. The problem with Shazam, however, is that it's slow. Furthermore, Midomi adds a whole host of other features that Shazam doesn't, or won't do.

Midomi allows me to sing or hum the song, as well as just say an artist or title. This is great for when I know what song I want, and I just want to find the YouTube video for it, or a link to purchase it in the iTunes Music Store. Midomi honestly makes purchasing the music through iTunes way too easy, and I've already spent a ton of money there.

In the new update, Midomi streamlined their product, and I'm newly in love with it. Instead of 5 different tabs for Listen, Sing/Hum, Say, Type, they simply have one home screen. There's a huge button which allows you to "FastTag," their new version of Listen, or sing/hum. Below that is a smaller button which allows you to say the song or artist, and next to that is an even smaller button which allows you to type.

There's only two more tabs in Midomi, a history which allows you to see your past searches, and a help tab which simply explains how to use it.

Overall, the new Midomi is a great, streamlined update, and I can't imagine anyone wanting anything more from a song identification app. Now if only they had a feature to forcibly remove songs stuck in someone's head!