Welcome to the 25th edition of Weird and Small Apps! This week’s collection of inexpensive, tiny applications is a pretty interesting one, featuring a couple of interesting games, several semi-controversial App Store titles, and two other titles that may be of interest to some readers.
Our pick of the week is Extreme Hangman, but we also thought Game Show Soundboard and iCeCream were worthy of special attention. Read on for the details.
As much as we prefer to see developers make strong use of the iPhone’s and iPod touch’s 3-D graphics capabilities, there are occasionally some neat examples of 2-D games that work well at low prices. SkyZone’s new Extreme Hangman ($1) and Extreme Hangman Lite (Free) are good examples, taking the classic family-friendly puzzle game and updating it with decidedly mature subject matter. You’re presented initially with a list of 15 categories—actors, books, holidays, synonyms, and “misspelled” among them—then shown an animated hangman character, a list of 26 letters to choose from, and two buttons: pause and hint. You can make up to 6 mistakes and request up to 2 hints before the character is given the modern equivalent of hanging: a firing squad, an attack by zombies, and… yes, a hanging are all cutely animated. Online networked play and a two-person hand-off mode are both included in the full version, which boasts over 2,000 words and clues; the free version picks the category for you, offers fewer animations and no difficulty settings. Apart from the fact that the full game only includes five total animations and a randomizing mode, we think it’s a fun game and a good deal at $1; try the free one to get a sense of whether you’ll like it. iLounge Ratings (Both): B+.
By comparison, Prairie Chute ($1) from Matt Johnson is more of a one-trick pony of a game, putting you in tilt-based control of a prairie dog who jumps from an airplane again and again in an attempt to land safely on the ground below. After every successful jump, the number of obstacles between the plane and the ground increases, including birds, explosives, cactuses, cliff edges, and even a prowling wolf. The animation is simple, but the art style is charming, as is the presence of an old-fashioned desert rock music track that evokes a sense of middle of nowhere hopelessness. We wouldn’t recommend the game to everyone on account of its simplicity, but what’s here is surely better than what many developers churn out these days for a buck. iLounge Rating: B-.
Two other titles we look at this week fall more into the “entertainment” than “game” category based on the fact that they’re open-ended and require you to provide the fun yourself. First is Game Show Soundboard ($1) from Pixel Narrative, which is basically just what the title suggests: a collection of sound effects that collectively simulate a game show. There’s a bell, a buzzer, a twinkle, applause, cheering, a wah-wah screw up, a groan, booing, a drum roll, laughter, cricket noises, and the sound of a cash register, plus audio countdown timers for 60, 30, 10, and 5 second questions, the first two and the last two with similar sounds. While we’d normally not see much value in just packaging a bunch of audio effects together, the developer has placed a scoreboard at the bottom of the screen that can easily keep track of simple points, making Soundboard useful as a way for one person to act as the audio-based game show host for friends who are playing a trivia or other game at home. More effects and different point tallying systems would make this app better. iLounge Rating: B-.
By comparison, iCeCream ($1) from Exrant, Inc. is another wacky Japanese-developed iPhone OS application that seems content to amuse for the sake of amusement, without really having much of a point. “You can make your own ice cream from an ice cream maker on this application,” said the developer, tantalizingly, and when you load iCeCream up, you’re presented with a soft serve ice cream dispenser and a virtual cone. All you’re doing is attempting to dispense the ice cream into the cone in a manner that looks attractive, tilting the iPhone or iPod touch in a manner that properly shapes the cream into a classic soft serve high-rise. Having made soft serve cones ourselves—one of us, professionally many years ago—we found the dispensing to be a little too tricky thanks to the lack of a dispensing lever, but the idea of the app was a fun one, if not a particularly useful one. The developer claims to have plans for future updates, and we’ll be curious to see what they are; if a real game is added and the control is tweaked, iCeCream may actually be worth playing. iLounge Rating: C+.
We really debated whether to include Chilli X’s latest app StarTime ($1) in this roundup, as it struck us as far less impressive than the company’s earlier releases, but Star Trek fans might be interested nonetheless. StarTime was apparently developed for a release to coincide with the 2009 movie Star Trek, but was held up by Apple for a very extended period of time on the grounds that it was too Trekkie and unlicensed—a bizarre complaint given how plain and unprotectable the content here is, and how many patently obvious rip-off items Apple allows into the store. In any case, the version of StarTime that was released is a pretty boring clock in old Trek-styled fonts, and with a setting turned on, will occasionally make chirping and other brief noises that sound like things heard on the bridge of the Enterprise; voice samples and anything longer than a second are not included. The initial version runs only in vertical mode and really has very little to offer; an update is promised with landscape mode, more graphics, sounds, and an alarm. We’d wait until the content becomes more compelling to even consider it. iLounge Rating: C-.
Though we’re not going to issue ratings for these programs, we decided to take a brief look at a couple of applications that made the news last week when Apple booted one out of the App Store for reasons that were initially unclear. Offender Locator Lite (Free) from ThinAir Wireless and Sex Offenders Search ($2) from LogSat Software are programs that are designed to do two things: show you a map of the sex offenders who are registered as living in a given geographic location, and then provide details on each of them, including a photograph, limited biographical information, and brief details on the crime(s) the person was found guilty of committing.
Offender Locator Lite remained in the App Store even when its paid version was pulled, apparently for charging money for access to California’s sex offender registry—ironically against the law. The free version continues to offer access to the California database, as well as databases in other states, but imposes a limit of “10 offenders” per search. It relies upon Microsoft’s Bing for map data, places ads on its pages, and has three simple search choices: GPS-based current location as the starting point, a contact’s address, or a street address. The app worked as expected in our testing, and though its display of offender data was pretty plainly formatted, it’s free.
By comparison, Sex Offenders Search offers the same searching choices, albeit with a less straightforward initial interface that’s icon-driven rather than text button-based. It calls up a plainly formatted list of offenders, complete with similar photo and biographical details, all presented on a boring-looking screen. There are no ads, and the maps use Google, with clickable dropped pin points. For whatever reason, the version we downloaded for $2 still contains access to the California database; like Offender Locator, it also searches databases in other states without an issue. We’re not going to recommend or not recommend either of these applications, but we found them to be interesting uses of the iPhone OS—the only real question is whether having used them once or twice, the average person would ever need to use them again. iLounge Ratings: NR.