Welcome to the 28th edition of Weird + Small Apps. This week we’re taking a look at six apps, including a couple of small games, an ambient music app, a decision-making application, a travel companion, and what is best described as a talking RSS alarm clock.
Although none of these apps merited our A-level high recommendation, there are some interesting picks here, most notably GlobeMaster and Tick Talk.
Bringing a new twist to the match 3 genre is Color Ninjutsu Puzzle ($2) from Monobyte. As with other games of this type, the goal is create groups of three or more same-colored blocks in order to clear them from the board. More blocks fall from the top of the board as others are cleared, while a timer in the upper right-hand corner places a restriction on the amount of time the player has to clear that level’s quota of blocks in order to advance, and each level’s quota grows higher the longer the game goes on. At the end of every five rounds, “Ninjutsu” mode is activated, automatically clearing away any groups of two or more same-colored blocks.
What separates Ninjutsu from other games of this type is the fact that the player must combine the current color, shown under a “Now” heading on the right-hand side of the screen, with the other colored blocks already on the board in order to change their colors. While we appreciate this novel gameplay idea, it doesn’t work well in practice, partially due to the fact that certain color combinations that should be obvious don’t bring about the expected result—add green to red and you get yellow, pink to green to make white, and so on. Though the game offers split-screen two-player and mission modes in addition to its main “Score Attack Mode,” the tedious gameplay, only passable music and sound effects, and bland graphics leave it short of our recommendation. iLounge Rating: C.
The other mini-game this week is Digit Defenders ($2) from R.Cloud Software, a simple math game offering a wide range of difficulty. Either groups of items or math problems slowly fall out of the sky against a cloud background, while a non-standard number pad at the bottom allows players to enter either the number of items in the group or the solution to the problem; entering the wrong answer simply makes the number pad flash red and a plays an irritating noise. The player’s hearts, or remaining life, will only be affected if the problem manages to hit the “ground,” or number pad, before it is correctly solved. Each level has a set number of problems that must be solved before advancing; the levels get progressively harder as the player moves on. It’s commendable that the developer chose to include problems ranging from basic addition and subtraction up through algebra, but the game’s child-oriented graphics, slow-paced gameplay, grating sound effects, and lack of background music are unlikely to satisfy any player old enough to solve any of the more advanced problems. A reduction in scope, combined with improved, more distinctly pre-K oriented graphics and sound effects would make this app better. iLounge Rating: C+.
Aiming to help travelers worldwide, GlobeMaster ($3) from Ivan Kerpan & Evgeniy Lebed is an offline travel guide. It features a host of information for over 260 countries and 1,400 major cities, divided up into categories like “get around,” “respect,” “do,” “see,” and “contact,” each containing descriptions of varying length on how to get around the city or country, rules of behavior, regional activities, places of interest, and so on; it also offers a built-in tip calculator and currency converter. While the content is based on wikitravel.com, the sheer amount available here is impressive, as are the over 4,000 photos, and although the app weighs in at a hefty 160MB, the ability to access the information offline is quite valuable to both iPod touch users and iPhone users traveling abroad who aren’t looking to rack up insane data roaming fees. The quality of the content is the only questionable aspect of the app, but it’s likely well-worth a few bucks to globe-trotting users. iLounge Rating: B+.
With an interface so similar to Urbanspoon’s app that it borders on being a complete rip-off, iDecide Pro ($1) from VOKAL Interactive aims to expand on that app’s casino-style food-finding feature by replacing the area, cuisine, and pricing wheels with different categories of words. The app presents users with three selection wheels, buttons underneath to hold the corresponding wheels in place, and three numbered buttons below those to select the category of items for that particular wheel. Available categories include “Actions,” “Cures for Boredom,” “Body parts,” “Date ideas,” and more, with both edit and add buttons at the top for customizing the options. Unfortunately, iDecide’s main interface lacks the elegance of the Urbanspoon feature on which it’s based, but the app does what it is supposed to do. We find its utility too questionable to be worth recommendation; indecisive users, or adults wanting a spicier version of something like Naughty Loaded Dice than what Apple would allow into the App Store, and willing to spend the time to customize the app to their liking, may find it worthwhile anyway. iLounge Rating: C.
With a simple, well-designed interface and novel utility, Tick Talk ($2) from Wirus is one of the more interesting apps we’ve seen lately. Its sole purpose is to serve as an alarm clock, but instead of waking users with an irritating noise or music, it uses text-to-speech technology to read the headlines from a given RSS feed, complete with a faux British accent. Users are able to enter both a greeting and end to be spoken at the beginning and end of the reading, and in most cases simply need to input the preferred website’s URL into the “News” area, as the app correctly auto-detected nearly every RSS feed we wanted it to find. While talking, a sleek, Transformer-like robot comes to life below the dials that allow for the alarm to be set; users can also simply swipe up on the robot to begin reading, and swipe down to halt it. A large clock appears at the top of the screen, and, as required by most alarm clock applications, Tick Talk disables the iPhone or iPod touch’s sleep mode while running. Though the text-to-speech engine could use a little fine-tuning in pronunciation and pacing, we like the idea behind Tick Talk, and will be keeping an eye on this developer in the future to see what other neat ideas they may have. iLounge Rating: B+.
Last, and unfortunately least, is Zenscape ($1) from Fractal Softworks, an “interactive visual experience” that is meant to “calm and relax your mind,” but will more likely leave you questioning why you just spent a dollar on this when you could have gotten an item off your local fast food place’s value menu for the same money. The app’s main interface presents users with a colorful, constantly-changing background, an often well-known quote at the top of the screen, and a list of six themes to choose from at the bottom, with a small note icon next to the app’s name for toggling some bad new age-style music on and off. After choosing a theme, users are taken to a bare screen with a similarly moving, but not color-changing background; the music—if left on—continues to play, and the user can drag or tap his fingers on the screen to create different, only mildly pleasing effects, or shake the device for similar effects. That’s it; notably, the app doesn’t disable the device’s sleep mode, meaning the music will stop not long after the user stops interacting with the app—but given the quality of what’s there, whether that’s a good or bad thing is up for debate. iLounge Rating: D.