Mini Metro ($5) — Although Mini Metro has been around on the desktop for a few years, I’ve only heard about it parenthetically until its recent iOS debut. For those unfamiliar with it, the premise is a simple, yet addictive one: connect subway stations in order to ensure the smooth flow of passengers around a major metropolitan area. Although the graphics are nothing special — stations are represented by geometric shapes, and trains are simply rectangles that move around the colored lines — the gameplay is challenging, fun, and immersive. The game begins in one of 11 major cities with three stations represented by a circle, square, and triangle, and once you connect at least two of those, the trains start running and passengers begin appearing at each station, represented by the shape of the station you’re going to. Your score is determined by the number of passengers you move, and the game play is entirely open-ended with the goal simply to get the highest score without losing your mind in the process. As the game progresses, new stations appear randomly, and you can extend existing lines or add new ones to connect those stations. Each city has its own unique body of water that you have to deal with as well, with limited tunnels or bridges available to cross between stations.
The catch is that you’ll have limited resources with which to accomplish all of this; you’ll start with a couple of lines, trains, and bridges, and at the end of each week of in-game time, you’ll get an additional train and a choice of a new line, tunnel/bridge, carriage, or interchange station upgrade. Mini Metro starts slowly but can escalate quickly as new stations pop up randomly and start to fill up with passengers. A timer will start to count down once a station gets near capacity, and if the time runs out, it’s game over. The basic game mode lets you redraw your tracks and move your trains around at will, but an “Extreme” mode is also there for the hardcore player — that makes your routes permanent, so you’ll have to plan ahead. Daily challenges also let you compete on a leaderboard for high scores in specific cities, and some cities also offer unique features, such as high-speed trains in Japan. I found Mini Metro to be surprisingly addictive, and it’s a fantastic pick-up-and-play game, as even with some skill you’ll probably find that it only takes about 10-15 minutes to play a single map, yet with random elements, each game still feels unique.
PinOut! (free) — We’re big fans of Mediocre’s recent titles: Smash Hit came in as a runner-up in our Best of 2014 awards, and Does Not Commute was a fun and enjoyable title in its own right; both games still remain on my iPhone and get played regularly. So needless to say, I was pretty intrigued to see this latest title from the developer. While yet another pinball game may not seem all that exciting, Mediocre has brought its own unique spin to the game, turning it into a futuristic journey along an endless pinball table. PinOut is pretty reminiscent of Smash Hit in its progressive play style, and even the checkpoint system, graphics, and sound definitely brought Smash Hit back to mind. Make no mistake, though, it’s still a very different game — in addition to the pinball play style, you’re racing purely against the clock, with power-ups along the way that can add additional time. The goal is simply to get as far up the table as possible. Various checkpoints add new colors and styles, and a one-time $2 premium upgrade is available if you want to continue from a checkpoint — in the free version you’ll simply have to start over from the beginning each time. That said, this isn’t as onerous as it sounds — when you reach a saved checkpoint, you’ll continue from the current elapsed time as well, so there are times you may want to start over anyway to reach the checkpoint faster and end up with more available time to continue. Considering it’s free — and ad-free — it’s definitely a fun game that’s worth a look, and there’s no need to even think of springing for the premium upgrade unless you get into the game more seriously (or simply want to support a great developer, of course).
Night Sky 4 (free/$1) — Although Night Sky has been around on the App Store for a while, iCandi’s latest major upgrade — along with Apple’s “Free App of the Week” promotion — encouraged me to take a closer look. The app is normally $1 (plus a $1/month in-app subscription for advanced features), although it appears to still be free as a result of Apple’s weekly promotion. The big change in Night Sky 4? Apple Watch support for watchOS 3 puts Night Sky’s sky tracking right on your wrist — a seriously cool use of the Apple Watch. You’ll need to calibrate the Apple Watch by aligning your wrist to the moon, but it’s a pretty quick process, after which you can raise your wrist to the sky to see an augmented reality style map of stars, planets, and constellations. Tapping on a constellation provides information about it, the Digital Crown lets you access the “Space Travel” feature to move forward or backward in time, and lowering your wrist presents a Celestial Compass which shows you an overview of everything that’s currently visible in the sky around you. On the iPhone, Night Sky 4 has been completely re-engineered for iOS 10 using Apple’s Metal GPU API, significantly pumping up both the quality and performance of graphics — you now get Glass Constellations, a new Light Spectrum vision that allows you to adjust light pollution, and gorgeous multilayered animated 3D models. Animated push notifications have also been added for the ISS, as well as rise and set times for all planets. Premium users also get a guided 3D tour of the moon, including accurate 3D recreations of the Apollo 11 and Apollo 15 landing sites, and a new Night Sky Tonight feature where you can scrub through a summary of all celestial events happening around you. If you’re into stargazing, you’ll really appreciate what iCandi has done here, but even if, like me, you only have a passing interest in the celestial, you’ll find that Night Sky 4 encourages you to lift your head up and look around the sky above you a little more often than you otherwise might. It’s a really fun, impressive, and well-designed app.
Scanbot 6 (free) — Scanbot has become my “go to” app for scanning documents into digital form — so much so that I decided to sell my sheet-fed scanner and rely on my iPhone for all of my scanning needs. Version 6 takes this already great app and makes it even better, with the ability to actually edit PDFs after scanning, reorganize pages and add annotations, as well as run OCR on-demand on existing documents. The prior version of Scanbot already had a great OCR engine for documents that you photograph/scan in the app itself, and with version 6, you can now import your older PDF files into Scanbot to OCR them as well. The update also adds printing, user experience improvements, support for new cloud services, and more manual control over the scanning process. Tight iCloud Drive integration also means that you can easily import and manage a whole collection of scanned documents right from within Scanbot, while also having them filed away and readily available on your Mac. Lastly, there’s even an iMessage app that lets you scan documents and send them out from directly within an iMessage conversation.