Welcome to this week’s edition of Weird + Small Apps, where we review a collection of recent iPhone and iPod touch applications that range from free to budget-priced, and offer either simple or amusing functionality.
Today’s apps really have nothing in common with one another: there are a handful of mini-games, a couple of promotional applications, and several utilities that may of interest to some users. Our top picks of the week are Apple’s Remote 1.2 and Warner’s Watchmen. Read on for all the details.
Of the four small games we look at today, Fozy ($2) by Tres Penguins is perhaps the most compelling. Like many of the word games we’ve previously reviewed, the goal here is to create words by touching on-screen letter blocks in sequence; you’re presented with 5 alternating columns of 7-6-7-6-7 blocks, and in a mildly interesting twist, can turn the iPhone around to rotate the blocks on different angles. This matters mostly when you’ve succeeded in making a word and thereby created blank spaces on the screen: you can manually swipe the empty spaces from your chosen direction to fill them with blocks, shifting existing blocks “downwards” from wherever they may be in the process. There’s nothing fancy in Fozy’s presentation, no audio, and relatively plain graphics, but if you like games like Quordy or WordsWorth—both better values for the dollar, with superior aesthetics—this one offers slight twists that some players may enjoy. iLounge Rating: B-.
Many of the iPhone puzzle games we try from small developers seem as if they’re based on good ideas, but lack a bit for polish and explanation. Colorific ($2) by Carrie Segal is one of those titles, presenting you with a hexagon-shaped, triangle-based grid that sees four triangles dropped in together as a unified, multi-colored puzzle piece on each turn; your goal is to make mini-hex matches of six-same-colored triangles, starting with primary-colored pieces that can be overlapped on the grid to form additional colors. Initially confusing, lacking in music and any gradual easing-in to the gameplay, the game settles into boring as you learn what you’re doing, and how to use taps and drags to change the grid’s colors. It’s an interesting concept for sure, but a significant contrast with Trism, another triangle-based puzzle game that was released for the iPhone, yet appeared immediately in far more developed and polished form. Unfortunately, Colorific has such little comparative appeal in the gameplay, audio, or visual departments at this point that we can’t imagine paying for it, but with some additional work, perhaps that will change. iLounge Rating: C.
From the moment we read the description, we really wanted to like Defuser ($2) by Alatto Technologies. The concept: you’re given two bombs to diffuse, one with four two-position switches, the other with eight two-position switches. Both are on timers, and one has you guessing which switch combination will stop all three on-screen clocks, while the other has you toggling fewer switches repeatedly to move three balls to the correct socket positions in a maze to stop the bomb. While the idea here is a great one, Defuser isn’t actually much fun to play, watch, or listen to, and there’s no great payoff for winning. We’d love to see someone do the same idea with more flourish and greater interactivity. iLounge Rating: C-.
The last of this week’s mini-games is imPuzzleble ($1) by Imre Biro, another version of Derzle and other tile puzzlers that came long before it. You’re given a four-by-four grid with a photo, scrambled into 15 jumbled pieces and a single empty spot to use to shift the pieces back into their proper order. Here, the developer includes 60 different photos, all nice enough, spread across three challenge levels that vary only in how similar the various quadrants of the photos look; repeating patterns are “crazy” difficult, and so on. Even though it rated only a limited recommendation, Derzle did a much better job of varying the difficulty and using the iPhone’s whole screen; imPuzzleble is comparatively bland and simplistic. Even for $1, we’d pass. iLounge Rating: C.
The App Store has become a fertile ground for promotional apps—ones designed to hype up movies, bands, and even new products. Though most of these apps aren’t worth writing about, we’ll let you know when the occasional interesting or weird one slips out, and this week, there’s one of each. Watchmen (Free) by Warner Bros. Entertainment is the interesting one, a themed scrolling, vertical-orientation interface designed to promote the same-named movie: you’re shown a huge collection of old-fashioned television screens in a matrix, and can touch each one to open wallpapers, downloadable video clips, an on-screen clock, character profiles, and more. As a central hub for content about the film, the Watchmen app is actually pretty cool and apparently designed to be explored, though it could use a slightly deeper user interface that tells you what you’re about to see before something new loads. In current form, you might click a monitor and find yourself taken out of the app into Safari for a web link, or diving into a download of a music video, trailer, or sample of the Watchmen motion comics; a two-tap system with an on-screen description before the second tap would have worked better. By free movie app standards, this is a good demonstration of how the iPhone can be used to effectively inform a potential viewer about a film and the merchandise surrounding it; even having seen the movie, we were surprised at how much was here to be learned. iLounge Rating: B.
By contrast, it’s obvious that Artificial Life put a lot more time into BMW Z4 – An Expression of Joy – Lite (Free), a promotion for the BMW Z4 sportscar—possibly too much time, and at least from a marketing standpoint, arguably too little thought. The questionable idea here is to put you behind the wheel of a Z4 that has its tires coated in paint; you’re supposed to drive the car on top of a canvas and leave colored tire tracks as “art.” A very extended video clip, apparently shortened after the title’s initial release, attempts to glamorize the bizarre concept, and Artificial Life has actually built a simple 3-D engine to let you replicate the art-slash-driving, complete with color customizations for your car and the paint. Once you’re done, you’re shown your canvas, complete with colored tire tracks that look like something a child might draw with finger paints. Overall, the title is boring, didn’t do a thing to make us interested in the car, and actually left us scratching our heads as to why a car company would ever think to release something like this. Unless you’re a serious BMW fan, it’s not even worth downloading for free as a curiosity. iLounge Rating: C.
As one of Apple’s first apps for the iPhone and iPod touch, Remote (Free) has for the last nine months enabled these pocket-sized devices to serve as media remote controls for iTunes-equipped computers and Apple TVs located on the same Wi-Fi network. Now in version 1.2, Remote has been made compatible with a semi-new feature in iTunes 8.1: “iTunes DJ.” As before, it’s easy to pair Remote with your iTunes library or Apple TV using a four-digit password system, and you’re then presented with the ability to scroll through sorted lists of your music, movies, TV shows, podcasts, and audio books, plus a search bar. You also have the ability to use the iPhone or touch as a keyboard for the Apple TV, a major bonus given that device’s extremely limited included remote control.
When you’re connected to iTunes 8.1—not the Apple TV—the new iTunes DJ feature appears, letting you see songs that have already been queued up for future playback through the computer and/or wireless speakers. Using DJ, you can “Request a Song” by browsing a list of songs and adding your preference to the list. iTunes 8.1 also adds a Guest mode that enables your friends to access the iTunes DJ feature with their iPhones or iPod touches without having to enter a passcode—they’re just shown the subset of your library that you want them to see, with the ability to request songs, while fully logged in users can see everything that’s in the iTunes library at once. You can even set up iTunes to let Remote users vote on which songs to play. While iTunes DJ currently feels like little more than a cute way to expand upon a temporary playlist, it could be useful at parties and perhaps even some offices as iPhone and iPod touch ownership grows. Even without this feature, Remote remains a very nice little free tool for controlling your media library from afar, and every improvement Apple makes to the app is appreciated. iLounge Rating: A-.
Somewhat useful but not the most beautifully executed app we’ve ever seen, iDrinkSmart ($1) by Netwake is designed to help a person calculate roughly how much alcohol is in his or her system after consuming beer, wine, light cocktails, and more serious cocktails. The application achieves its calculations in a very approximated manner, with four categories of drinks that are assigned rough alcohol percentages (5%, 11%, 22%, 42%), while the user uses sliders to input age, height, weight, the number of ounces consumed of each type of drink, and the number of hours since drinking. The end product—blood alcohol content as a percentage, plus a simple “stop, caution, go” traffic light indicating driving safety—is handy, but there’s a pretty good chance that anyone who actually needs this application will be beyond the ability or desire to make effective use of its interface. The price is right and the concept is a good one, but it’s ultimately a better tool for an arresting officer or a nervous bartender than the typical drinker. iLounge Rating: B-.
The last title we look at today, MixPhotos ($1) by Boreal-Kiss, is one of the many “throw it out there and see who wants it” sort of apps now in the App Store, a program that does nothing more than take two photographs and blend them together. You pick the individual images from your library, set the application to mix them either vertically or horizontally, and then set how rough the blending will be, between 20 and 200 divisions within the photo. Hit the mix button and you can then tilt the iPhone to adjust which parts of which picture peek through in the blend, with a “save” button once you’ve found the right split and want to save it to your library. While this isn’t an app we’d have any real use for, you may find it interesting if you want to create simple composite images; it’s a simple tool with a dry interface. iLounge Rating: C.