Weird + Small Apps 17: The Mini-Puzzle & Casino Game-Inspired Edition
Welcome to this week’s edition of Weird + Small Apps, which this time out leans way more heavily towards “small” than “weird.” Most of this week’s applications are miniature puzzle games, sold for a dollar or two, but we also have a couple of casino game-inspired titles—one’s a craps simulator, and the other’s a slot machine that dispenses alcoholic shot recipes, as odd as that may sound.
None of this week’s apps rated a B+ or higher, but two Japanese-developed puzzle games—TatamiBall and Territory—both achieved our flat B recommended level. Read on for all the details.
It’s easy to initially be drawn to the look of the puzzle game Cubismo ($1) by Rod Bowkett, a game that has you use specified cube-based puzzle pieces to reconstruct on-screen shapes. In a brief tutorial, the game shows you how to pull individual pieces from a tray, rotate them, and move them into positions to match the transparent shapes you’re trying to rebuild, but between an extremely awkward control interface and a visual presentation that looks nice in screenshots but doesn’t work so well to help you solve puzzles, Cubismo is just no fun to play. There are 50 puzzles should you decide to brave them; despite the colorful but simple shaded polygon shapes and our interest in puzzlers, we didn’t want to play past the first one. iLounge Rating: D+.
There’s something really cool about the idea of Calvin Rien’s new Ion Charge ($1), which places you in control of a floating ion that can be charged positively or negatively with a slider on the bottom of the screen. Red and blue towers in the game’s levels will—using lines representing magnetic-like forces—alternately pull the ion closer or push it further away depending on where the slider is positioned; releasing the slider to a midpoint lets your ion float in the direction it was most recently being pulled or pushed in. Your goals are to use these forces to collect chips scattered across the levels, then escape through an exit that opens when the chips are all in your possession. Between the isometric, Tron-like art and the core gameplay, the developer has come up with something novel and interesting here, but it feels like there are a few X factors missing: music, accelerometer-based tilting influence, and some special effects sparkle. Ion Charge has the beginnings of a very good game on its hands; with additional work, it could be even better. iLounge Rating: C+.
The classic tile-sliding number puzzle game is old, and more recent picture tile sliding puzzles are basically the same but with different art, so AppMobi has tried to do something different. In SpinSlide ($2), you get the same 16 tile game found in most of the other variants on this theme, but also have the ability to turn each tile into a North, South, East, or West orientation. Ultimately, this play mechanic adds little more than a modest impediment to the original gameplay—you can turn any tile in any direction at any time, making the solution of a number puzzle exactly the same as it would be with purely sliding tiles, only requiring you to spin everything North at the end. But if you want to take advantage of the game’s option to turn off the numbers and use a photo of your choice for the puzzle, the challenge level does go up; whether this is worthy of $2 is your call. iLounge Rating: C.
More novel visually than in gameplay, TatamiBall ($1) by Ibis is a puzzle game where you’re presented initially with a completed, animated image of bouncing balls against tatami mat-like background textures, then a series of individual pieces that need to be re-assembled through positioning and rotation to match the original design. Since the mats are all the same, your visual clues for reconstruction are the always-moving balls and the way they interact with the walls of their pieces: regardless of a piece’s orientation, if you notice that all the balls are bouncing hard off a wall, there’s a good chance that you’ve found the floor; if they’re not always touching a surface, chances are that you’re looking at the ceiling. The major challenge is to beat an on-screen timer and continue to play through the levels in sequence; if you fail to match the time on any stage, the game ends and you start from the beginning. Challenging and reasonably priced, the game is limited only by the repetitiveness of its art and gameplay from stage to stage. iLounge Rating: B.
Last but not least is Territory ($2) by Monobyte, a simple grid-based puzzle game that starts out dry but becomes increasingly interesting as you continue to play. You’re placed in the role of a knight on a hexagonal grid, with castles on certain grid spots and various types of adjacent land. Each castle has a number that indicates how many contiguous grid spaces it needs to occupy, without touching the grid spaces of another castle. Your goal is to move between the castles, blackening spots you touch, and leaving only the correct number of parcels to satisfy the rules of all the on-screen castles: one with 3 needs its own space plus two more, one with 1 needs only its own space, and so on. Where the game becomes interesting is in its addition of different types of terrain—mountains, bridges, forests, water, and towns—which in some cases count towards or against the required numbers, or flip spaces from dark to light when you walk over them. Good music, two control schemes—swipe or buttons—and 100 stages of increasing challenges make this a nice little game for puzzle fans; more impressive art and even more types of territory would have been even better. iLounge Rating: B.
There are games that are designed for pure fun, and those that are designed to be simulations. Aw Craps! ($2) by 24x7digital is in the latter camp, a title that transforms the seemingly simple game of craps into a full-on, rule-based experience that teaches you virtually every way to gamble at this casino game. You’re given some discretion over your initial bankroll and the limits of the table you want to play at, then turned loose to place chip-based bets along with guidance from the software as to all the various factors that need to be taken into account when betting—payouts, options to pay an extra vig to buy different odds, and rules that prohibit you from making certain bets at certain times. Unlike most casino titles we’ve seen, actually rolling the dice is an unglamorous affair here, save for voice samples that call out the results of a roll—Aw Craps! is all about the rules of gambling, and doesn’t do much to make the experience exciting or fun to interact with, taking very little advantage of the iPhone’s UI or other capabilities. That said, if you’re looking for a craps educational tool, it’s worth considering. iLounge Rating: B-.
Oh, to think of all the innovations that might follow if two similar-sounding things were combined: iZod iPods, hammer cameras, and a slot machine for shots. The latter is the premise between iShotMachine ($2) Oasys Mobile, which borrows Urbanspoon’s slot machine-esque random restaurant finder for a database of different alcoholic shots made with the standard litany of amusing and not-so-amusing names: “bull’s sweat,” “liquid angel dust,” and “money shot” amongst them. Whereas Urbanspoon’s “shake to find a random restaurant” concept made some sense, iShotMachine’s “shake to find a random shot to drink” concept is a little less useful, as the odds that you’ll have the ingredients on hand to make a random drink yourself are lower, leaving you to do more conventional searches of its database for specific liquors, mixes, and other elements such as “on fire” or “chilled.” Bartenders may find this to be a fun thing to play with once or twice, but between the lack of appeal of its slot machine gimmick and the challenges of using the rest of its interface, we weren’t super impressed. iLounge Rating: C.
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