iOS Gems: ABC ZooBorns, Blazing Star, Monsters vs. Superheroes Comic Book Maker + Weather HD 2
As the App Store continues to swell with thousands of new releases and updates every week, we’re going to try a little something different with this week’s edition of iOS Gems: we’re going to focus on a single app that really wowed us, while shining smaller spotlights on several others that were noteworthy but not quite as impressive.
This week’s eye-opening update came in the form of Weather HD 2 ($1) by Vimov, LLC, a sequel to the earlier and very impressive Weather HD. Although the app’s name and version number have been updated, it’s worth underscoring the fact that Vimov is giving away the new version to prior customers—a fantastic gesture given the substantial nature of the update—and has added reasonable optional in-app purchases to offset what must have been considerable development effort. As much as users might write off a separate weather app in light of Apple’s free iPhone/iPod touch offering, there’s so much value and beauty here that no one will regret the initial $1 purchase, which is universal for iOS devices.
Weather HD was effectively just a gorgeous way to check current weather conditions in multiple cities, seemingly built originally for small-screened devices before coming to the iPad. The signature feature was a collection of full-screen, pre-rendered 3-D weather animations that were on the very fine edge between photorealistic and artificial, yet always visually compelling—far more so than just seeing a temperature and precipitation forecast. Weather HD 2 goes far beyond its predecessor. In addition to refined 3-D animations that look even more believable than before and an interface that now works in either landscape or portrait orientations, the new app adds severe weather and air quality alerts within a top-of-screen banner, easily accessible hourly and one-week daily forecasts, and the ability to track weather in places where your Facebook friends are located. There’s also an optional clock, which can display in your choice of three sizes and two styles. And that’s just the main screen.
Two other viewpoints have become accessible via tabs at the bottom of the screen. One, called Quickview, lets you see the day’s forecast across multiple cities at once, scrolling through diagonal bars that represent each city you’ve chosen to track. The other, Maps, presents a fantastic 3-D globe with clickable boxes for all of your tracked cities; you can press buttons to switch between animated cloud, temperature, or precipitation/radar maps to let you instantly get a sense of what’s happening around the world, including an option to see tweets from various cities on the map. Vimov’s realtime-rendered globe is as impressive as its pre-rendered weather animations—simply stunning considering the app’s $1 asking price.
The hitch, if you can call it that, is that there are in-app purchases that can boost the price further: Weather HD 2 ships with data access to Weather Underground, and offers yearly MeteoGroup/WeatherPro European weather data for $2 more, and AccuWeather local forecasts for $1, potentially adding further forecast precision—spotlighted with “color differences” to highlight values that differ significantly between providers—if you want them. While push notifications for one city’s severe weather are included for free, Vimov offers $1-$2 severe weather push notification upgrades to 3 or unlimited cities if you need them. And the company also teases upcoming new Animation Theme Packs without showing the price.
Weather HD was superb when we reviewed it, and fully worthy of its rare flat A rating. Now Weather HD 2 sets the bar even higher, while implementing an in-app purchase system that truly feels optional and worth paying for, providing a reasonable balance of integrated features with fair upgrades to more deluxe, not strictly necessary additions. This is a superb, highly compelling weather application that really shows off the power of iOS devices and the App Store. If you care for more than just basic weather forecasts, absolutely consider purchasing it and supporting this impressive developer. iLounge Rating: A.
Other Apps Worth Considering
ABC ZooBorns ($3) from Peapod Labs is a sequel to the developer’s Little Explorers: ABC Wildlife, which we covered and liked nearly two years ago. The formula’s almost exactly the same: while listening to a looping, happy song, kids are taught letters of the alphabet and animal names by spoken voices (“A - Anteater”) and tappable letters that lead to photos, YouTube videos, and little nuggets of data in text and voice form. This time, the content focuses on baby animals, and includes some different animals from last time. Substantially cute with some creepy photos mixed in—the baby animals aren’t always fun to look at, even if the images are educational—this is just a further polished version of the prior app, and only drops a little from the prior rating due to the occasionally off-putting imagery. iLounge Rating: B+.
Blazing Star ($3) by SNK Playmore is one of a number of shooting games originally created for the groundbreaking Neo-Geo arcade and home gaming platform, ported to the iOS within the same DotEmu environment that brought SNK’s excellent Metal Slug 3 back from the grave last month, complete with usable virtual controls. As the sequel to the well-regarded Pulstar—a Neo-Geo release based upon Irem’s seminal strategic side-scroller R-Type—Blazing Star is a reasonably attractive game by the standards of its time, but sadly not as deep or memorable as either of its predecessors.
A responsive virtual joystick and two buttons let you pilot one of six space ships through side-scrolling space stages, blasting your way through seemingly never-ending fleets of small and medium sized enemy ships, confronting huge but not particularly thoughtful bosses at the end of each stage. Your primary weapon can shoot tiny or charged projectiles, splitting into fragments when you hit the second of two buttons, but the power-ups are very simple and you have no assistant ships a la the R-Type games. From a “checking off the boxes” standpoint, Blazing Star has enough to offer—respectably drawn futuristic backdrops, a bunch of different-looking ships and weapons, and reasonable music to keep you playing through the levels—but despite the name, there’s just no fire in the game’s belly, and the low-resolution sprites aren’t as easily ignored here as in the wickedly animated Metal Slug 3. For $3, this is good enough to merit considering if you’re a shooter fan, but far from the best shooting title in SNK’s huge Neo-Geo catalog. We’re keeping our fingers crossed for Magician Lord, Pulstar, and Viewpoint. iLounge Rating: B.
Monsters vs. Superheroes Comic Book Maker HD ($2) is established edutainment app creator Duck Duck Moose’s boy-ready alternative to June’s girl-focused Princess Fairy Tale Maker—basically the same idea with entirely different artwork. While a number of different upbeat instrumental songs from Duck Duck Moose’s nursery rhyme catalog play in the background, kids can choose “Comic Maker” or “Coloring” modes to either place and resize pre-drawn, lightly-animated artwork on pre-drawn backgrounds, or fill in black and white scenes with solids, patterns, and objects. Both modes include voice recording modes so that kids can play back samples, and can save their content in a gallery for later revisiting. Just as with the Princess Fairy Tale Maker, Monsters vs. Superheroes Comic Book Maker HD is a nice basic art app for kids, marred a little by being offered in separate iPad / iPod+iPhone versions. iLounge Rating: B.
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