App Diary: Agent A: A Puzzle in Disguise, Magic Fireplace, Strike Ten Pin Bowling, Warp Shift

Agent A: A Puzzle in Disguise ($1) — Yak & Co’s Agent A: A Puzzle in Disguise is one of the better hidden object/puzzle games I’ve played, both in terms of the puzzles themselves, as well as the overall game design and artwork. While the graphics aren’t stunning in technical quality, the stylish and retro 60’s inspired theme is a nice throwback to the classic secret agent era of James Bond, Dick Tracy, and The Avengers. More importantly, however, the puzzles are challenging and engaging without being frustrating. While I was somewhat stuck at a few points, I didn’t find myself so stuck that I became tempted to look for hints online, which speaks to the game’s playability — you’re encouraged to keep poking around even when the answers aren’t obvious. While Agent A has been out for a while, the version 3.0 update adds a new chapter in a new environment with more interesting puzzles to solve, and even that’s open-ended — I’m already eagerly waiting to see what Chapter 4 holds. Another interesting point to note is that while the game is available both on the Apple TV and iPhone/iPad, players who want more of a challenge will want to tackle the iOS version. Somewhat by necessity of using the Siri remote rather than a touchscreen, the tvOS version presents “hot points” showing you everything you can interact with. While I prefer this to a free-floating cursor, it does provide a few more clues that aren’t available on the iOS side by showing you targets on areas you might not otherwise think to tap.

App Diary: Agent A: A Puzzle in Disguise, Magic Fireplace, Strike Ten Pin Bowling, Warp Shift 2

Magic Fireplace ($1) — Virtual fireplaces were among the first apps to debut for the fourth-generation Apple TV last year, and the App Store is now pretty much littered with a whole bunch of pretty basic apps that either provide very limited fireplace options, low-quality images, or poor integration into the tvOS experience. So I was quite pleased when I discovered Jetson Creative’s Magic Fireplace. It’s an inexpensive virtual fireplace app that not only provides a selection of 26 high-quality slo-mo 60fps fireplaces, but a whole collection of other more advanced features ranging from customizing background sounds, mixing with music, displaying an on-screen clock, and even multiple color filters. All the fireplace videos looked stunning on my 65” plasma TV. Not surprising, considering the developer notes they were professionally mastered at 4K and the app isn’t just an iOS port — it was built with Metal specifically for the Apple TV. Individual fireplaces can be marked as favorites and you can scroll through them with the Siri Remote, or even automatically shuffle through your favorites or all fireplace selections. Eight different background soundtracks are also available, so you can customize how you want your fireplace to sound, and you can mix it with any music that’s already playing on your Apple TV and adjust the relative volume of the soundtrack so that it blends well with your music tracks. Black and white, sepia, grayscale, and retro filters are also in the app for changing up the colors, and four clock display modes allow you to optionally display the time and date over the fireplace. Maybe it’s just the heat that my plasma TV throws off by itself, but Magic Fireplace makes my living room feel even warmer than usual, and it ran pretty regularly here over the whole holiday season (naturally with appropriate Christmas music from Apple Music as a backtrack). The only downside is that it can’t be used as a default Apple TV screensaver, but that’s Apple’s limitation, not the developer’s.

App Diary: Agent A: A Puzzle in Disguise, Magic Fireplace, Strike Ten Pin Bowling, Warp Shift 3

Strike! Ten Pin Bowling (free / $9) — This tvOS bowling game by Touch Mechanics turns the Siri Remote into a Wii-style motion controller, and will therefore be familiar to anybody who has wasted hours of their time bowling on the Wii. It’s a pretty straightforward bowling game, with smooth graphics and realistic physics, and I found it pretty engaging and hard to put down. It’s also good for indoor winter exercise — I easily made my Apple Watch workout goals after about an hour of play. The Siri Remote is used to pick up and throw the ball using natural motions that any fan of Wii bowling will already be familiar with, and the accelerometer in the remote lets you add spin and curve the ball as you swing and release. The full classic 10 pin game is here, along with three mini games and online play through Game Center, at least in the iOS versions — sadly, this seems to be unavailable when playing on the Apple TV. Other features like ball customization also appeared to be missing on the tvOS side, and it’s worth noting that while you’ll be able to bowl in the free version, the full tvOS games require separate purchases of up to $9 for the entire gaming pack, making the free version more of a trial version. That said, in my opinion, it’s a quality game well worth the price tag for the full series, and a lot of fun on the Apple TV. The only real downside is that I found myself concerned about accidentally hurling the Siri Remote into the TV screen. This may be the best justification we’ve seen to spend $13 on Apple’s Siri Remote Loop or something like Griffin’s Survivor Play for Siri Remote to improve your grip.

App Diary: Agent A: A Puzzle in Disguise, Magic Fireplace, Strike Ten Pin Bowling, Warp Shift 4

Warp Shift (free) — Rounding out the set of apps I’ve been enjoying lately is FISHLABS’ new Warp Shift, and intriguing and challenging puzzle game with stunning graphics and sound design and engaging gameplay. While the premise seems pretty simple — rearrange a series of cube-shaped rooms to help your character find her way to the exit portal for each level — it ramps up in difficulty as you work your way through, and if you’re someone like me who always wants to nail the three-star rating on each level, you’ll be left twisting your brain to figure out how to do this in the very fewest possible moves. There are no in-app purchases here beyond completely optional hint packs, and even then FISHLABS gives you a free hint in exchange for watching an advertising video, so even if you’re really stuck you don’t really have to spend any money here unless you want to. Everything is done via taps and swipes, and scores are counted on move limits, not time limits, so there’s no rush, and the game is actually quite relaxing and ponderous as opposed to feeling rushed or energetic — even the soundtrack promotes a certain relaxing feel to the game. I actually found the whole experience to be very great for kicking back and de-stressing. Warp Shift is easily the most mesmerizing and relaxing puzzle game I’ve played since Monument Valley, and best of all, it’s entirely free.