Our fourth edition of Weird + Small Apps practically defines the very reason we created this weekly column: between the bizarre Japanese-developed Tissue, the micro-games Derzle and Mental Blocks, and the small apps Mental Maths and Puppet Animation, these are titles that are tiny but worth sharing.
If you’re looking for the most unusual pick of the week, and perhaps the last month, go straight to Tissue. We’ll gladly take suggestions if you’ve seen a weirder release than this one; a Kleenex-branded tissue application is shown mostly to put the creativity of one of this week’s two Japanese app developers in better context.
Of the apps we look at today, Derzle ($2) by Stairways Software is probably the most familiar: it’s nothing more than one of those tile games where a photo is split into small pieces, rearranged, and then left for you to reassemble. You’ve seen the same concept before on your Mac or PC, probably for free, so why would you want to bother with a $2 iPhone version?
Well, there are a couple of possible reasons. Derzle’s images are described by the developer as “beautiful,” and they actually are: each time we loaded the application or switched puzzles, we were impressed with the photography, drawn from a database of “dozens” of pictures. The app also gives you control over the number of tiles, starting with a simple 2×3 grid and moving in increments up to a way too challenging 7×9 grid, each one equipped with a timer. But there are also a few reasons not to: there’s no way to use your own pictures, no current way to resume a puzzle after quitting the app, and the game’s control scheme is a little counter-intuitive at first, relying on taps rather than swipes to move pieces around. Derzle is a good start, but it needs some more work before it’s worthy of a $2 asking price. iLounge Rating: B-.
On the surface, Skyworks’ Mental Blocks ($2) is just a game. There’s a screen full of colored blocks with one or more same-sized icons mixed in, and you need to tap on a given set of connected same-colored blocks to remove them from the screen. The goal is to remove as many of the blocks as possible in clumps of two or more without leaving single-block strays; the remaining blocks collapse and get closer to one another whenever gaps open up in the pile.
As it turns out, the “mental” part is actually as important as the seemingly simple tap and match action. You can only keep playing for so long as you succeed in emptying each level with a reasonable number of remaining single blocks. Successful matches give you points, and points give you “bonus” blocks that can be used to let you clear a level even if you have a few single blocks left. Every block you leave depletes the reserve of bonus blocks, so the game ends if your matches haven’t been strategic enough to remove all of the on-screen blocks; the aforementioned same-sized icon blocks generally help you remove more blocks at a time. This is a smart, fun little title that’s reasonably priced at $2; should it go up in price, consider it commensurately less worthy of our strong B+ recommendation. iLounge Rating: B+.
Known in Germany as “Kopfrechnen,” Mental Maths ($5) by Trilliarden has a slightly off-kilter name—might we suggest MindMath?—but a nice premise: it initially teaches addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division using a series of simple questions that assemble a photographic puzzle on screen when answered properly. Then it becomes more impressive, revealing additional lessons: “Reading and Writing Roman Numerals,” percentage calculations, square numbers, division with remainders, and so on. Performance is not timed, but correct and incorrect answers are statistically tracked for reference.
While we’re not sure that we’d pay $5 for an app of this sort, Mental Maths is unquestionably a very streamlined and really smart way to teach kids the basics of math and Roman numerals: four difficulty levels scale upwards to expert-level challenges that will enable even well-educated kids to rack their brains a bit. The interface is a little spartan and simplistic, there’s no obvious “return to menu” button mid-exercise, and other than the nice pictures, nothing flashy inside the title. But by educational software standards, all this is missing is the sparkle that would hook users rather than just making them smarter. If you’re interested in the concept, the app is presently on sale for $1—a price closer to what we think it should actually be selling for, and one that explains its number one position on the German App Store. iLounge Rating: B.
One of two Japanese-developed applications we’re reviewing today is Puppet Animation ($2) by Daisuke Nogami, a bona fide cute little photo manipulation app that serves only a single purpose: it lets you add six types of animation to still photos. Swing, elastic, and shake add various versions of a box-based skewing effect, bending the photo in various ways, while scaling, handle, and bound create circles that expand, twist, or shake. You choose a picture, add the effects you want, then either shake the iPhone or touch the screen to activate the effects. Daisuke Nogami’s physics engine is nicely tuned to make motion both believable—to the extent that you set the animations up properly—and properly variable, so that small touches or iPhone shakes trigger small movements, and larger ones bigger movements.
While the core concept here is the same as the many “jiggling” apps that have appeared on the App Store in recent days, this developer’s implementation is entirely clean and inoffensive, with easy to use tools and the ability to save created “puppets” for later enjoyment. It also ships with a collection of seven cool interactive examples provided by a Japanese cartoonist, each demonstrating the app’s features, and a shot of the Mona Lisa to show how photos can be manipulated. Puppet Animation’s only limitation: thanks most likely for its support for the iPhone’s camera, it refuses to install on the iPod touch. Fixing this problem, adding even more tools, and expanding the built-in library of cute artwork would make this app even better. iLounge Rating: B.
The final two applications in today’s collection start with Tissue ($2) from LED Co., a Japanese developer with equal parts obvious talent and an insane sense of humor. In sum, Tissue times your performance at pulling multiple tissues from an on-screen box—10, 50, 200, infinite, or as many as possible in 30 seconds. To pull, you need to pinch, flick, and repeat; a tissue doesn’t fly unless you complete the pinch and flick motions.
If this sounds stupid, which it actually is when you get right down to it, LED makes up for that with a visual presentation that is actually so impressively novel that it’s worth seeing. Backed by a retro techno piece of music, all of the stages are rendered in highly detailed, stylized black, white, and gray artwork of places where people use tissues; they’re populated with intentionally weird little details, such as some freaky guy who pops up in the window of an infant’s bedroom, a goat who watches you as you pull tissues in front of a mountain range, and oh yeah, the White House.
It’s crazy. But it’s also cool and a little thought provoking in the way that outside-the-box apps should be. We wouldn’t recommend the simple gameplay to everyone, but we think it merits a flat B overall because of the original execution, which will hopefully inspire other developers to introduce a little humor and hidden background detail into their games. iLounge Rating: B.
By contrast, Kleenex Lotion Tissue FEEL (FREE) by Ideasforiphone shows just how banal a tissue application can become if it’s generated purely for promotional purposes. The idea is to promote Kleenex Lotion tissues with a series of three images that are supposed to evoke scenes “where a simple touch can bring you to a more peaceful place.” One is a beach where you draw in the sand, another a snowscape where every touch conjures up snowflakes, and the last a collection of flower petals that pop up when you touch them.
Only the beach has a secondary animation, a video-like wave of water that washes across your drawing, restoring the beach to its original form. The sole positive thing we can say about an app like this one is that it’s free; it’s also pointless, does nothing to actually promote the product, and actually requests that you do a restart to optimize its utterly boring performance. Even by free app standards, it’s not worth the download; Kleenex should if anything be sponsoring apps like Tissue, above. iLounge Rating: D.