As App Store releases have continued to appear at a crazy pace, iLounge’s editors have seen our e-mail boxes flooded with news about apps that don’t fit into the categories we normally consider worthy of coverage: for instance, ones that have been made for a specific holiday, or just do one sort of weird little thing, or are basically completely insane. These are apps that generally aren’t worthy of more detailed reviews in our Gems columns, but struck us as worth telling you about anyway.
So today, we’re launching a new series called Weird + Small App Reviews as a companion to our longer reviews of games and useful applications. Whenever a developer sends us a promotional code for an app, we’ll consider it for Gems or this series, and use both features to bring you the most interesting new apps each week. Ratings are simplified but consistent with our earlier app reviews: apps will fall into the A category if they’re great—ones we’d purchase ourselves—B if they’re good enough to recommend to some readers, C if they’re okay but not recommendable, D if they’re demo-quality bad overall, and F if they’re truly pitiful. This week’s picks include three odd little music apps, a Valentine’s Day game, and two other titles that fall into the “entertain yourself for a buck or two” category.
Our favorite small app of the week is Cupid’s Flick ($2) by staticPhobia, a simple but legitimately interesting little game designed as a Valentine’s Day treat. Cupid sits on the bottom left of the screen with a limited quiver of arrows, and a puzzle-like matrix of hearts, stars, blocks, and extra arrows fills most of the rest of the screen. You have to flick arrows with your finger from left to right, adjusting your shots in angle and speed to remove a certain percentage of the on-screen items for each stage. Arrows pass through anything except for blocks, which are sometimes used to make the gathering of items more difficult. Though Cupid’s Flick uses a wonky, repeating single song for its soundtrack, has little animation except for scaling effects on the items you hit, and doesn’t have a lot of depth, it is legitimately fun, challenging, and cute. Eighty-eight levels are currently offered, with more promised through updates. It’s a cheap and worthwhile little Valentine’s Day gift for someone you know with an iPod touch or iPhone. iLounge Rating: B+.
“Crazy” is the word that comes to mind for the next two titles this week: first up is Cat Piano ($1) by George Talusan. As the name suggests, it turns your iPhone or iPod touch into a miniature piano that’s apparently stuffed with strung-up cats, ranging from the always pleasant “Asthma Kitty” to “Furious,” “Forlorn,” and “Meow Mix” options, plus the sweet “Angelic Meow.” There’s also a standard grand piano sound effect for those who tire of the meowing noises, which are not going to surprise anyone, including dogs, with their realism. One of our dogs actually slept through our plunking of the keys; the other one lifted his head but didn’t get riled up. There’s apparently some secret mode in the piano, too, but we didn’t want to spend whatever little time it would take to find it. iLounge Rating: C.
Singing Cat ($1) by Frnk, which will be appearing in the App Store on the 16th, is an even less impressive take on the same theme. There’s an awfully animated picture of a cat with a bunch of paw-shaped piano keys on the bottom of the screen, with only one digitized cat meow played at different pitches. It wouldn’t have even been worthy of featuring here, other than as a comparison with Cat Piano—we’d call it insane if it wasn’t such an obvious and mediocre cash grab. iLounge Rating: F.
A more useful music app is Air Guitar ($2) by Inedible Software. Here, the idea is to transform your device into a miniature electric guitar that’s controlled mostly via accelerometer judgments of your arm motions: you press a key on the screen, wave your arm, and twist your wrist for a whammy sound. The harder you “strum” the guitar with your arm motions, the louder it plays, and a settings screen lets you change keys, select two guitar types, and activate an advanced mode with more sophisticated playing options. Only one thing is a little tricky: unless you’re holding a finger on the screen, Air Guitar requires you to hold the iPod touch or iPhone horizontally to keep playing, and switches back to an instruction page when the orientation flips to vertical. Just keep a finger on the screen and you can keep rocking out with abandon. iLounge Rating: B.
The last two apps this week are ones that really can’t be understood as anything other than time-passers with interesting artwork. Distant Shore ($1) is The Blimp Pilots’ follow up of sorts to Koi Pond, a simple 2-D title where users could look at and interact mildly with koi, oversized goldfish, and their surrounding lilypads. Koi Pond was developed with a zen-like approach to its utility: like its namesake, it was there to calm, not to have much else of a purpose. Distant Shore continues the theme with better graphics. You are given an overhead view of a beach that has been subtly rendered in 3-D, without any character artwork: you swipe to move left and right on the beach, leaving footprints as you “walk.” The goal is to discover and send messages in bottles; you find messages written by other users, and with every five shells you find on the beach, you can write and send a message yourself. It’s not especially compelling, particularly given that the messages we’ve seen are boring, but the seed of a good idea is here: you can respond to such questions as “I like rap music u?,” if you’re looking to make random, anonymous friends, which would have been neat as a slightly more sophisticated tool for social networking. In its current form, some people may enjoy watching the waves gently roll in, the seagulls flying overhead, and the changing time of day coloration. iLounge Rating: B-.
By comparison, Year of the Ox ($1) by Magenta Studio is a more interesting little title, but it’s still sort of off. In celebration of the Chinese New Year, you control a walking ox trapped inside of a fenced off parcel of land, with stands set up for a simple game, a fireworks display, and a high scores list. Move the ox to the game and hundreds of rats appear, forcing you to jump on or stampede them to break your previous time record. The fireworks display lets you pick from four types of fireworks to shoot off with accompanying sound effects. Both the game and the fireworks are noteworthy because they take place within a realistic-looking 3-D environment, complete with nice colors, animations, lighting and shadowing, but they feel sort of pointless and empty. Had the game or the fireworks been more completely implemented, we would have felt this title worthy of including in Gems, but as is, Year of the Ox feels like a rushed-together tech demo with some well above average special effects. Hopefully the developers will apply their visual talents to something more compelling going forward. iLounge Rating: C.