March 18, 2016 by macjeff

Abzorb ($2.99) by Gerald Kelley is an arcade game that involves a lot of absorption, tilting, and fast reflexes. If you enjoyed titles like Tilt To Live 2: Redonkulous and its predecessor, then you are sure to love what Abzorb brings to the table.

I have gone through hundreds of games on iOS throughout the years, and while I’ve tried many genres, I believe that the arcade game that can be enjoyed in short bursts throughout the day is one of the best for the platform. These are fast-paced, levels are usually short, and it’s challenging enough so that you don’t just breeze right through everything. These games are the ones that you can enjoy on your commute or while you wait in line at the store. I’ve gone through plenty of these arcade style games, but I am always on the lookout for new ones to keep me occupied. This week, I was delighted to check out Abzorb this week when news of it hit my inbox.

Visually, Abzorb features a simple and clean style that minimalists will love. The game sports a slightly off-white background that provides great contrast for the blue and red circles, dark gray lines, and the triangle that you control in all of the craziness. Everything is flat, so it goes well with modern iOS aesthetics, and the sans serif typography is easy to read, even when the remaining time in the background of a level is blurred. The colors all go together well, and the animations are smooth and fluid with no lag on my iPhone 6s Plus. There are also other color themes that you can unlock as you play the game, so there is plenty of choice to be had once you get far enough. The ambient soundtrack is soothing and relaxing, which is nice compared to the hectic action of the gameplay itself. Sound effects are pretty fun, as they have a “clicky” sound to them, which are nice indicators of when you are doing something right or something bad is happening. Overall, Abzorb is a nice little gem in term of visuals and audio.

Like a lot of other arcade games, Abzorb is based on levels and has a total of 65 stages for you to tilt your way through. The objective is pretty straightforward: fill your triangle’s surrounding circle with blue, which is absorbed from the blue circles that are flying around. The absorption process starts when the blue is contained within your own circle, but be careful to not bump into them, as you’ll bounce away and have to recover. Watch out for the red circles, though, as they will steal time away from you, and those seconds matter a lot. There is a time limit on each level, as indicated by the ticking numbers in the background, and you can earn up to three stars on stages depending on your performance. The remaining time on a level is your final score. Once your triangle’s circle is filled with blue through its entirety, then you’ve cleared the stage and can move on to the next.

Controls in Abzorb are entirely tilt-based, so prepare to look a bit weird if you want to play it in public. When the game is first launched, it will ask you if you prefer a custom or flat positioning, with the latter being the recommendation. No matter which one you choose, though, the controls are pretty much the same all around — just tilt your device to steer your triangle around on the screen, collect and absorb the blue while avoiding the red. Sometimes you’ll also encounter special orbs that can give you bonuses or help you out, such as extending the range at which you can absorb blue, time extensions, and more. As you find and discover these special orbs, you’ll find out what they can do, so you’ll want to make sure to use them to your advantage.

Even though there are only 65 levels in the game, I found the replay value of it to be pretty high. This is because you can go back to any stage to replay it and hopefully get a better score than your last best one, as well as earn all of those precious stars. There is also Game Center integration so you can climb the leaderboards and impress your friends.

I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of Abzorb, but so far I’m finding the game to be rather enjoyable. I love the minimal graphics, the music and sounds are fun, and the gameplay itself is pretty challenging. But the intuitive and natural controls mean that it is easy to pick up and play but put down when needed. This is a title that is best enjoyed in short bursts throughout the day, so it’s a great time-waster when you need it.

I recommend giving Abzorb a try if you’re in the mood for a simple pick-up-and-play arcade game that tests your speed and reflexes. You can find Abzorb on the App Store as a universal download for your iPhone and iPad for just $2.99. There are no in-app purchases.

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March 18, 2016 by macjeff

Go LA (Free) by Xerox Corporation is a great companion app for Los Angelenos and visitors alike. If you’ve ever visited the city, then you will know that traversing the area to get to where you need can be rather daunting for newcomers and perhaps a bit tedious for residents. The Go LA app aims to simplify all of that, providing you with seamless travel planning and a simple way to get around town.

I have lived in the Los Angeles County all my life, and I know that while we don’t have the best public transportation system, it’s still pretty easy to navigate your way around with the current system, given that you know what you’re doing. Personally, I like to drive everywhere I go because of convenience, but when you’ve seen what a nightmare LA traffic is at times, especially during rush hour, well, you’d best avoid it as much as you can. This is why I prefer taking the trains when I do go on some downtown adventure during the weekends, but sometimes that isn’t the most effective way to go about things. So when I heard that the city of Los Angeles was releasing a new app to help people out with traveling around the city, I had to give it a try.

The Go LA app has a fairly simple and barebones design that blends in rather well with the modern aesthetics of iOS. It really isn’t anything fancy in terms of iOS apps, but this will definitely get the job done. The white used in the app provides nice contrast the varying colors that each different type of transportation offer, which is visually appealing. And while the app can feel a bit cluttered due to all of the options of travel it provides you, it is organized well so it’s easy to pick just what you need for the moment. If you make a trip frequently, the Go LA app allows you to save your favorites for quick access later. Overall, I think the developers have done a pretty good job of creating a slick app for Los Angeles travelers, both old and new.

The first thing that pops up when you launch Go LA is a signup/login screen. While signing up for an account is easy (you can sign up with your email or just use Facebook Connect), there is an option to skip signup or login entirely if you don’t feel like having yet another account to worry about. Having the option to use the app without a login is pretty nice, and something that more apps need to consider for their users. Having an account will only be important for the Profile features, which are not yet functioning in the app, but will be in the future. Go LA allows you to save your favorite trips without an account, so you don’t have to worry about losing those, since it appears they’re saved locally on your device. You’ll also select your preferred transportation methods in the setup, which include public transport, taxi, Flitways, Lyft, Car, Zipcar, motorbike, and bicycle. If you have suggestions on modes of transportation to add, select “Other Transport” and send your idea off to them.

When you get in Go LA, the first thing you’ll be in is the “Ride Now” section. From here, you can plan your trip to anywhere in most of Los Angeles County, all of Orange County, and some parts of Riverside County, San Bernardino County, and Venture County. It’s important to note that the app does not cover anywhere north of the Los Angeles National Forest (i.e., Palmdale, Lancaster, or Gorman), Catalina Island, and Santa Clemente Island. Still, even with these restrictions, the Go LA app covers a large part of Southern California, so it should still be helpful in planning most of your trips.

To plan an excursion, just select where you’d like to start from, including Current Location, and then type in the destination you want. The results show up in real-time and are powered by Google, so everything is fairly accurate. You can also select the time you want to leave or arrive by, and then route the trip. The trip results are organized into three sections: Sooner, Cheaper, and Greener. If you want to get there fast, then obviously you pick Sooner. When you want to be a bit conservative with your wallet, go Cheaper. And if you don’t mind a bit of exercise included in your trip, then go Greener.

As you view the trips the app gives you, it’s easy to see how long each one will take, as well as what the trip consists of. You’ll see icons representing the different modes of transport that you’ll be taking on the trip, and how long each component will be. The app also tells you how much each trip will cost (or approximations when it comes to things like Lyft), as well as how many calories you’ll burn on your walk or bike. There are direct links to book a ride through the integrated services, parking can also be booked through ParkWhiz if available, and the app can launch Apple Maps to get you directions for driving or walking. There are buttons at the top to switch the start and end points, and you can tap on the heart to add it to your Favorite Trips.

The app’s settings, which can be accessed through the side panel (tap on the hamburger button in the top left corner), let you sign in or out of your account, change distance units, choose transport methods, and select the default sorting view. From here, you can also set your walking speed, max walk time, minimum transfer time, and how much 10 minutes is worth to you. When these factors are taken into account, it will change what results you get when planning your outings.

The “My Profile” section is currently under development, but it will give users nice views of how much they saved in terms of cost, time, mode, fitness, and personal goals.

I’ve checked out Go LA over the weekend, and so far I’m finding the app to be a rather useful tool as I go about my daily LA adventures. It is simplistic, fast and responsive, and the detailed results are nice to look at (it’s always interesting to see how many calories you’ll burn on your way to the restaurant or elsewhere). The only issue I have with the app is that it seems to like giving me more bus routes than Metro trains, as I’m near a train station but the app does include trains in my trips unless I am already at the train station. It’s a bit annoying, and I would like to see more nearby trains included when planning out a route, because that’s my preferred method of transport when going out during the day. Maybe even splitting up “Public Transport” to separate Bus or Train options would help too.

Still, Go LA is a pretty nice app for anyone who lives in Southern California or is planning on visiting the City of Angels. It’s a great tool to help you get around where you need to go, and I recommend having it on your device. You can get Go LA for your iPhone for free on the App Store

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Splash Cars

March 18, 2016 by macjeff

Splash Cars (Free) by Craneballs s.r.o. is a frantic arcade game that feels like a mix of Pako Car Chase Simulator and Splatoon. If this sounds like a chaotic blast to you, then you won’t be disappointed, as that is exactly what this is.

When I reviewed Pako Car Chase Simulator, I fell in love with the simplistic isometric graphics and the unique, challenging gameplay that the game offered. I mean, it’s certainly not everyday you get to drive a car recklessly in order to avoid being caught by the cops, right? At least that’s what I hope, anyway. Because of my love of Pako, as well as games that involve splashing around paint because of Splatoon, I was intrigued when I heard of Splash Cars. I mean, a game that combines both Pako with a dash of Splatoon? What more could I ask for?

The graphics in Splash Cars are definitely reminiscent of Pako, albeit the former has a bit more detail to things. It has the same kind of isometric flair going on, which I enjoy a lot. The environments are all different, though somewhat similar, and everything looks rich and lush and just full of detail. The colors in Splash Cars are bright and vivid, so it definitely stands out more compared to Pako, though everything starts out with a gray monotone at first. Animations in Pako are smooth and fluid, with no lag on my iPhone 6s Plus. The game also has an upbeat and quirky soundtrack that is fun to listen to as you outrun the cops and paint the town, and sound effects are a nice touch.

Like many other arcade games, Splash Cars is based on levels, and each stage is unlocked by reaching a certain threshold of paint coverage in the previous level. These cars are special, as they leave behind a trail of paint behind them, which adds splashes of color to the dull, gray environments. As you can imagine, this can be rather difficult at times, given that each car in the game has a limit to fuel in the tank, and if you’re out of fuel, well, you can’t paint anymore. There are gas canisters scattered around the map that you can collect to get some fuel back, as well as coins and stamps to spend on new cars. You can also unlock other things by covering a certain percentage of each map with paint, and these extras include new cars and even bonus stamps, which serve as the game’s premium currency. Different cars will have different speed and tank sizes, so naturally, the better cars must be earned as you play the game, or you can unlock them early in exchange for some in-app purchases of coins and stamps.

The controls in Splash Cars are simple and straightforward enough. If you played Pako Car Chase Simulator, then they should be familiar. In the beginning of each stage, your car will be sitting somewhere on the map. Once you tap the screen to start, it will move forward at full speed automatically, but it is up to you to control the steering. The button in the bottom left allows you to turn your car left, and the right button lets you turn right. There’s no way to brake, so you need to be careful with your turns, as crashing into walls and obstacles will damage your car, which slows you down after a certain threshold. As mentioned, you’ll need to collect green gas canisters to refill the tank so you can keep painting, and there will be other cars driving around that you can get to join your side and add some paint coverage of their own. However, when you are near pesky police cars, they will start chasing you as you paint, trying to cause damage to your car. And make sure to collect coins, stamps, and power-ups whenever you can, as they can give you a nice boost in the stage.

The main objective is to paint enough of the environment as you drive, but this becomes a challenge due to the gas limitations and police out to get you. Once you reach the percentage goals (indicated in the top right corner), you can continue if there’s gas left, or just tap a button to finish the stage now. You’ll earn coins depending on your performance, and the game has it’s own “rank” system, where you can earn new power-ups and boosts after reaching a certain number of miles with your cars.

As if the awesome game concept wasn’t fun enough, the game has high replay value due to the Game Center integration and opportunities for new cars to do better on old stages. There is also iCloud game save support, so you can take your progress with you, regardless of what device you’re using.

I’ve only spent a bit of time with Splash Cars over the weekend, but I’m thoroughly enjoying it so far. The visuals are beautiful, quirky music and sound effects make the game even more fun, the gameplay itself is challenging, and the controls are responsive. However, since the game is a free download, it does make use of an annoying energy system (batteries) and sometimes the levels seem so difficult at first that it feels like the game is pushing you to get some in-app purchases to help you out. I’m not a fan of this model, but that just seems how mobile gaming wants to be nowadays. The interface also gets a bit cluttered since there is a lot going on, which is a bit off-putting. Still, the game is a fun little time waster and let’s face it — leading the cops on a high speed chase while painting the neighborhood is incredibly fun, and not having to deal with real-life consequences is a bonus.

I recommend giving Splash Cars a try if you want a fun arcade game that will help you pass the time. You can get Splash Cars on the App Store as a universal download for the iPhone and iPad for free with in-app purchases.

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Stellar Wanderer

March 18, 2016 by macjeff

Stellar Wanderer ($4.99) by Crescent Moon Games and Dream Builder Studios is a space combat RPG where you can choose your own destiny. If you loved games like Galaxy on Fire 2 and things like Star Fox in general, then Stellar Wanderer is the game for you.

At some point in humanity, we’ll be traveling to and from space like no big deal, having colonies on various planets and space stations scattered about that you can visit at a whim. It’s not happening in my lifetime, but I’m confident it will happen at some point. Until then, though, there are always video games that involve space, ships, and plenty of futuristic laser battles, so that should hold us off for now. Usually I am not a big space combat game fan, because I’ll admit it — I’m not too great with them. However, since I heard about Stellar Wanderer, I was intrigued by it due to the fact that it was coming from publisher Crescent Moon Games and a development studio called Dream Builder. Plus, I can’t resist anything that looks pretty and shiny — we’re here to have fun, right?

The visuals in Stellar Wanderer look great for a mobile game, but I wouldn’t say that they are the best I’ve seen. Still, it’s decent enough and you won’t notice it too much while flying around in an open-world galaxy and shooting up your foes. Space looks beautiful in the game, thanks to the soft colors in the background due to the sun and air, and there are some rather nice looking auroras that are charming. While all of that looks fine and dandy, I was a bit disappointed with how some of the space stations and other objects looked from a distance, as I noticed things could be a bit flat, jagged, and lacking texture, so it wasn’t quite as console-quality like I was expecting. But since the game is mostly about combat, you probably won’t notice too much. Animations are smooth and fluid in the game, and I did not experience any kind of lag on my iPhone 6s Plus. The atmospheric soundtrack is pretty calming, so it should help you focus on the missions that are at stake.

Just as you’d expect, Stellar Wanderer opens up with a cutscene (you can skip if you’d like), and then you’re thrown into the action. Well, if by action you mean just flying around and reaching a gate, then yeah, that’s action-packed. However, as we all know, these types of games require a bit of a tutorial in the beginning to show players the basics, and the game does a good job of this. So even if you are like me and pretty bad at space combat titles, this tutorial will help you out.

The controls in the game are pretty simple and straightforward, though it may take some time to get used to if you don’t play these types of games a lot. To steer, you will have to tilt your device in the direction you want to go. There are calibration settings so you can recalibrate at any time if they feel off, and there are options for inverting the x and y-axis if that’s what you prefer. In the bottom left are buttons to accelerate and brake, and buttons for attacking and a special action button above it in the bottom right corner. The action button changes from Time Warp multiplier (speeds up time when you’re not in combat), jump for gates, and docking for hangars. As I said, everything is pretty easy to pick up, but mastering the controls is a different story — time and patience are needed. The crosshair for your weapon is pretty small, though, which I found to be a bit frustrating. You can switch between first and third-person perspective at any time, which is pretty cool.

As far as content goes, Stellar Wanderer is jam packed with it. While you uncover the plot, there will be main story missions that you must go through in order to advance, as well as plenty of side missions that you can take on for extra cash and experience. Early on, you will also get to choose the role you want to play as, which gives your pilot unique talents and bonuses.

The classes are: Fighter, Trader, Tank, and Engineer. Each one has their own strengths and you should distribute skill points accordingly. Fighter inflicts most damage, Trader is good at negotiating, Tank has plenty of armor to take most of the damage while the rest of the team takes out enemies, and Engineer specializes in creating items that can hurt the enemy or help your team. As you successfully complete missions and objectives, you will earn experience points — once your pilot levels up, you get a few skill points that can be distributed across a wide selection of attributes, so you need to allocate them into the best one for your class. Like any other RPG, this process requires a bit of learning and tinkering, and you may even need to start a new character if you mess up, since you can’t switch them once they’re allocated.

You will also earn money for completed missions, and all of your hard-earned cash can be spent in the Market. This is where you go for equipment (including weaponry), commodities for your crew, minerals, and cargo. The Hangar is where you want to go to modify your ship or purchase newer and better ones. And since Stellar Wanderer is a vast game, you can access the Map at any time from the main menu to see just where you are in the universe.

Typically, I’m not a big fan of these games because I can be terrible at shooting down the enemies and end up getting myself blown up a lot. But Stellar Wanderer is still a good game, despite my lack of professional skills. The game looks nice with the vast universe that it takes place in, though the textures fall a bit short compared to other console-quality games. The music is soothing and reminds me a bit of “Star Wars,” which is not necessarily a bad thing given the theme. The controls are simple enough, though it will take me a lot of practice, but I do wish the laser crosshair was a bit larger and easier to see. Hopefully that is rectified in a future update. And with the game’s large amount of content for players, this is one that will keep you busy for a while.

Despite some flaws, Stellar Wanderer is a very solid space combat RPG game that will appeal nicely to fans of the genre. I recommend checking it out this weekend if you want a nice, lengthy space combat game that is full of action.

You can get Stellar Wanderer on the App Store as a universal download for $4.99. There are no in-app purchases.

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Fantasy Mage - Defend the Village Against the Army of the Dead

March 18, 2016 by macjeff

Fantasy Mage ($2.99) by Illogical is a combination of action role-playing and hack-n-slash games, creating a nice mix of action that most can enjoy.

When I was in high school, my love of fantasy and magic blossomed. Since we all know how stressful growing up and high school can be, I liked to escape into fantasy worlds for a break from reality. And even though high school is long gone for me, I still like to take a break every now and then to escape the stressful responsibilities I have in adulthood. That’s why video games are one of my favorite things — they’re great ways to pass the time, and I can just escape from reality. And while I love stimulating games most of the time, sometimes I just need something that allows me to mindlessly kill things without putting too much thought into it. Hack-n-slash games are perfect for the job, but as I love spell-casting, I thought Fantasy Mage would be right up my alley.

The graphics in Fantasy Mage are pretty sharp, and just about what I would expect from a mobile game. It is rendered in 3-D with an angled, top-down perspective, so you can see enough of the battlefield with a single glance as you move around. It’s not the most detailed game I’ve played, but it is sufficient enough for most. The colors run a bit darker than I’d like, but that’s because of the shadows that cover the village. I mean, what do you expect from villages that seem abandoned due to the plague of skeletons that have taken over? Still, for whatever vegetation life remains in the villages, the greens look nice and lush. Buildings, though, kind of blend into the darkness. Animations are fairly smooth and fluid in the game, and the ambient soundtrack is rather upbeat and soothing during the game menu, but a bit more techno-ish during gameplay. It’s a weird mix, but it doesn’t detract from the actual game itself, which is good.

Fantasy Mage is a level-based game, where players must progress through the story stage-by-stage. While there is a pretty basic story going on in Fantasy Mage, the game will give you a short text brief before you begin a level, explaining the current situation to you. However, for the most part, there is not much variation between how each stage looks — you have a barren village that has been deserted by the people who lived there, though it still has a nice bit of bright and vivid vegetation still intact. While the layout may vary, it’s largely the same thing on each stage, so there is a bit of repetitiveness going on here. The objective is simple, but doesn’t add much variation either: just clear out all of the skeletons on the stage, and then it’s complete. Again, I found it to be a bit repetitive.

Fortunately, the game does have some variety in terms of the combat itself. Since you’re a mage, you specialize in elemental spells. Unfortunately, the enemies also have their own specialized element when they attack, whether it be mêlée or ranged, so you have to take their element into consideration when making your own move. The game’s “auto-target” button in the bottom right corner will pinpoint the nearest enemy to you and point out their element, giving you time to plan out your counter attack. The cycle of elements is pretty simple and straightforward: water is strong against fire, fire is great against earth, and earth is good against water. It’s like an elemental version of rock-paper-scissors, and once you get the basics, combat becomes easier.

While the controls in Fantasy Mage are easy to understand, I think there could have been some better optimization, because it did felt cumbersome at times. To move, you just tap where you want your mage to move to, or keep your finger on the screen to move continuously. When you see an enemy or are engaged in combat, just tap on the foe to begin attacking with your spells. Your equipped spells show up at the bottom of the screen, and you can tap on the one you want to use at the moment — switching on the fly is just a tap away. The auto-target button locks on to the closest enemy and you’ll begin to attack once you’re in range.

Though the controls are pretty simple to pick up, I found that it gets annoying at times. I would have preferred a virtual joystick of some kind to move around, as the current control method means my fingers are always on the screen, making it hard to see what’s around my character, and sometimes it’s like I’m stuck. I’d also like to have a button to start attacking, rather than tap on the foe, because again, my finger just gets in the way. All-in-all, I just want to see some better optimizations for the controls so that they don’t feel as clumsy.

Since the objective of each stage is to clear out the skeletons, once they’re all accounted for, the stage ends and you will earn experience points and loot for your troubles. As you level up, your character will earn skill points that can be distributed into four areas: Rage, Focus, Stamina, and Constitution. Rage deals with water defense and attack speed, Focus is for fire defense and reload speed, Stamina affects earth defense and move speed, and Constitution has to do with your character’s health, which is indicated at the bottom left corner.

The loot will always be randomized, and will be a mix of equipment (helmet, boot, and armor) and even different spells. To equip your mage, just go to the Inventory screen from the main title, and you can tap on the slot you want to change gear for. However, be careful, since you have limited inventory space — if there is something you don’t need, you can just destroy it to free up space. There is also an option to compare an item or spell with something else, in case you are wondering which one would be better. But don’t get your hopes up on changing your mage’s appearance — her look remains static throughout the entire game, no matter what you’re using.

I was excited for Fantasy Mage when I first heard about it a few weeks ago, but I’m going to admit I’m a bit let down by the game overall. While it looks nice during the actual game, I found the menus and such to be a bit barebones, and the music, levels, and missions are repetitive and get stale after a while. I’m also sad that the appearance of my mage never changes, which is one of the biggest reasons I like to play these kind of RPG games. It also doesn’t help that there is not even a way to tell which items in your inventory are new, because they’re all just kind of there, all bundled up, though you can separate by category.

Fantasy Mage is not a terrible game, but it certainly did not live up to my expectations. However, it’s a decent time-waster and a lighthearted game that could be good for casual players.

If you are still interested in checking out Fantasy Mage, you can find it on the App Store as a universal download for $2.99.

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