DragonBox Apps Make Algebra Fun. No, Seriously!

One of the things I’m going to be doing with the new AppTudes is bringing you excerpts from the best app and service reviews I publish elsewhere. I’m not going to copy and paste my articles, I’ll just give you a brief introduction and a link so you can read them as they originally appeared. But I will use this space to add additional thoughts, images, videos and other information I could’t impart elsewhere. Most of the apps will full under the educational category since I have become an appolLearning Advisor while I was away.

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The first apps I want to share with are from a company called WeWantToKnow AS. They make two games, both called DragonBox, to teach kids -and adults – algebra. DragonBox+ Algebra is for children ages five and up and Dragonbox Algebra 12+ is, of course, for kids over 12. 

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Deceptively enjoyable, it took a good 30 minutes of testing before the educational point of the multi-award winning apps dawned on me, because in every conceivable way the apps feel like amazing puzzle games.  How do they pull it off? Click on the icons below to download the apps and click here to read my full review on appolearning.com.

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DragonBox+ Algebra
By WeWantToKnow AS
Universal – $5.99

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DragonBox Algebra 12+
By WeWantToKnow AS
Universal – $9.99

I loved testing these apps, and writing about them, but some things are just easier to show than to explain, and conceptual math falls into this category. Here then are a pair of videos – one is a trailer, and the other shows the theory behind the fun.

Both Dragonbox titles are incredible – download one for your child today!

Slacker Radio is the Most Complete Music Streaming Service – You Could Win a Year of Slacker Premium!

To start our second year off right here at AppTudes we are going almost full circle. We started with a great Slacker Radio Premium subscription giveaway, and while the music streaming service has grown, adding over six million new listeners just this year, we’re proud and lucky to have them back and sponsoring our second anniversary re-launch. So be sure to try Slacker for free this weekend and then come back to apptudes.com on Monday, June 17 to ether our big Slacker Radio giveaway!

I mentioned in my last post that I’ve undertaken some new writing endeavours, one of which is serving as the streaming music and video expert for viewpoints.com. In that capacity I have had the chance to try just about every personalized Internet radio service around and while they all have some amazing features, Slacker Radio remains my main go-to source for tunes.

In February of this year Slacker unveiled a major redesign, with lots of big bold album covers and station art, lots of white space, and easier-to-find discovery and customization tools, making it as easy on the eyes as it already was on the ears. Their iOS and Android apps have had similar makeovers as well.

Most streaming music services usually follow one of two models: lean-back services like Pandora ask very little of its listeners, creating custom radio stations based on a favorite song or artist. Lean-forward services, like Spotify, are more interactive, with listeners creating their own playlists from specific tracks. What I love about Slacker is that it can be both.

Slacker has three tiers of service. Most people listen for free, and while there are ads and limited song skips, there is no listening cap. For $3.99/month you can upgrade to Slacker Plus and get rid of the pesky adverts and skip as many songs as you want. Both of these service levels allow you to create custom stations, or listen to the ever-expanding number of preprogrammed genre stations, Slacker has 13 million songs in its catalog, and by “liking” your favorites, and banning songs or artists you don’t like Slacker gets to know your taste and makes better song choices for you over time. Slacker also allows you to fine tune your stations, selecting how much artist discovery you want, and whether you want lots of new popular songs, older more obscure tracks or anything in between.

That’s the lean back service, but if you want to be your own DJ Slacker Premium is for you. For $9.99.month Premium users have all the same perks as Plus subscribers, but there are two big bonuses. Like Spotify, Slacker allows its premium listeners to create their own playlists with almost any track in Slacker’s library. And, Slacker also offers Artist-only radio to Premium subscribers.

 

Slacker Radio offers another perk competing services don’t. The company has partnered with ABC News and ESPN so all listeners can access three ABC-powered news stations, and all sports radio which can be customized to follow favorite teams. ABC also provides optional news breaks during regular music streaming.

The folks at Slacker are anything but. They are always adding new music, new features, and new playlists to commemorate everything from graduation and Father’s Day to just about every popular summer music festival.

Slacker Radio is the most well-rounded streaming music service available with simplicity for those who just want to kick back and listen and tons of customizability for those who prefer to control what they hear. But don’t take my word for it. Head over to Slacker Radio and give the free service a try.

If you like what you hear, and I know you will, come back to apptudes.com on Monday, June 17 to ether our big Slacker Radio giveaway!.We’ll be giving away three one-month Premium memberships and one full-year pass to Slacker Radio Premium in honor of father’s Day, Graduation and of course AppTudes’ birthday!

Hello Again, AppTudes is Turning Over a New Leaf!

Almost two years ago a friend and I launched Apptudes.com. It was father’s day, 2011 and we led off with a Slacker Radio giveaway ,which turned into a massive swag-a-thon which then turned the focal point of the site to running contests where the prizes were mostly free apps.

Much has changed since then, both in terms of how apps are marketed and in terms of what I am doing with my own writing and they both impact the future of AppTudes. Starting this week, things are going to start to change around here, but don’t worry, some of what you love most isn’t going anywhere.

AppTudes will still bring you articles about the best iOS apps – there will be fewer game reviews, but there will be an added focus on educational apps, not only for kids, but for all ages, along with reviews of apps that promote learning, art and culture. And some silliness, because the most important rule of blogging seems to be write about thing for which you feel genuine enthusiasm and both humour and acquiring knowledge are my passions.

Some of the content will come in the form of original pieces I write for AppTudes, and from guest bloggers. Some of it will be excerpted from my writings elsewhere, with links to the main text, an additional thoughts here. Also, since we parted ways a few months ago, my focus has turned from regular app reviews, to educational technology and something a completely different, but about which I am no less passionate – streaming music and video services.  I also plan to include some more personal essays about how mobile, educational and streaming tech impacts and improves my life and how it might be able to do the same for you.

What does that mean for readers? Well for started, we’ll be having our third annual Slacker Radio giveaway this week just inn time to make a gift of it to your favorite dad or grad. And we’ll have a few game and app reviews and giveaways too, just to mark the anniversary.

After that expect fewer giveaways as more and more developers shift from paid aps, to free apps with in-app purchases, but lots more industry news, and topics of interest to people who use other mobile platforms beyond Apple. This industry is changing so rapidly, I don;t want to box myself into a mission statement, I’d rather just take you along as I see where both the newest technology and my writing opportunities elsewhere take me.

I hope you will bear with me as I experiment with new formats, and I welcome your feedback. I want apptudes.com to be a place you like to visit, so if there are areas of particular interest please drop me a note in the comments and let me know what you’d like to see from apptudes.com down the line.

Jet Set Radio Review – The GGs Return On iPhone & iPad

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Jet Set Radio (universal) by SEGA is the re-release of a 12-year old action platformer that took the Dreamcast by storm back in the day, with an infectious soundtrack and innovate use of cel-shading technology. Hardcore fans rejoiced when it released on iOS this week: but does the game hold up after a decade?

In Jet Set Radio, players control a gang of in-line skater/graffiti artists named The GGs, who are fighting out for turf with not only rival gangs int the fictional cartoon world of Tokyo-to, but also against an oppressive police faction and their leader, Captain Onishima. The tale is narrated by none other than Professor K, the wild dreadlocked pirate DJ – and bar none the most fun, vivacious character in the game.

If the game sounds wildly out there – it is, definitely one of SEGA’s more daring titles from their final console. And surprisingly, the gameplay’s held up quite well: in three distinct sections of Tokyo-to, players have to complete various missions to dethrone rival gangs and take back the city from the nefarious regime that just won’t allow kids to tag everything in sight with graffiti. Most levels involve players riding around on their skates, using swipe gestures to “draw” tags and 

The game is still as fun as it used to be, pulling off tricks in mid-air, tagging cars while grinding on railings, and enjoying the various cutscenes with the always dancing, upbeat characters. Part of this is because the game still looks so damn good: it doesn’t wow like it did 12 years ago, but there’s been some tweaks done in upgrading the game to the high-definition era, and it makes Jet Set Radio look better than ever.

However, those familiar with the console version will remember the camera problems and control issues – both of which are prevalent here. Jumping while moving quickly can be quite wonky, and there are times where the swiping gestures to create the bigger graffiti pieces don’t register, which leads to a lot of re-swiping and mistakes. And while there is a dedicated button to center the camera behind the player, the camera’s insistence on poor viewing angles and awkward pans can be quite distracting at times.

Jet Set Radio is a memorable piece of gaming history – and with its arrival on iOS, brings back all the great (and frustrating) memories of the original, including arguably the best soundtrack to ever appear in a video game. Whether you owned the original or are hearing about for the first time, Jet Set Radio is worth a download, one of SEGA’s most creative titles ever.
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Build-a-lot 4: Power Source Review – Get Strategic With Real Estate On iPad

In Build-a-lot 4: Power Source (iPad only) by G5 Entertainment, the popular world of strategic real estate is back in an all new sequel. Throughout the series, players have grown housing monopolies in vast lands, fancy towns, and in Europe – all while dealing with property crisis, fires, and weather changes. This time, the housing market is pretty much the same, with the exception of transitioning the neighborhoods to using clean energy – which means making sure the lights stay on.

Players can practice being a virtual real estate agent by fulfilling the requests of the town mayor, who are always focused on going green.The game comes with two modes – campaign mode, where town objectives for the Mayor must be performed, and casual mode, which contains both a money goal and an appearance goal to be met using any strategy preferred – a row of pink A-frames on Main Street looks oh-so-lovely doesn’t it?

However, neglect of energy conservation will easily cause a major metropolitan black out. To keep the money flowing, windmills, solar towers and nuclear plants are essential investments to keep the power surging. Like any management sim, success comes down to managing everything from the amount of workers and technicians, to the town’s funds and material goods – it’s all a very carefully orchestrated dance that keeps the player on edge. The dance is dictated by the most important factor: time. In other words, all the hard work and management in the world won’t be worth squat it if it doesn’t meet the deadline.

The colorful graphics and design, especially in neighbor hoods such as Saber Creek and Northington, make me wish I could jump inside my iPad and live there – not to mention the view of a cool mini fire work show every time a house is built, which happens often enough to make one feel like a hobbit from Lord of the Rings watching Gandalf do his thing. Despite the game’s unique look, it lacks Retina capabilities, leaving landscapes and building looking a little more pixelated than most games on the iPad.

Overall, Build A Lot 4: Power Source stands out from the pile of typical strategies by providing users with the ability to learn, entertain, create, and develop time management skills. Fans of Rollercoaster Tycoon and Emergency will love this one. First off, the combination of keeping originality with the theme of going green brings a fresh new challenge to such a classic interface.

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Want to win a copy of Build A Lot 4: Power Source? Just leave a comment here with, or tweet/retweet this review on Twitter. Each will earn an entry into a random drawing to win a promo code. Do both to double the chances of winning. Contest closes Friday, December 7 at 11:59 pm PDT. Good luck!
 
 
 

Sleepwalker’s Journey Review – A Dreamy Puzzle Platformer For iOS

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Don’t let the laid back, dreamy world of Sleepwalker’s Journey (also available in HD for iPad) fool you: this new puzzle platformer from 11-Bit Studios is anything but relaxing. A frenetic puzzle platformer with awesome touchscreen gameplay elements, this journey through a fantasy world is not to be missed.

Each of Journey‘s 45 levels represent a dream Moonboy is sleepwalking through – and as the manipulator of his dreams, the player’s goal is to get him to his bed at the end of the level safely, collecting as many stars and moons as possible along the way.

However, this isn’t done not by controlling Moonboy – he moves automatically – but by manipulating various elements in the level. Among other things, players will move platforms left and right, push obstacles out of the way, and shoot him through cannons – yes, cannons – in pursuit of the exit.

At first, Moonboy’s slow pace might bore players – in the early levels designed to get players comfortable, his leisurely gait makes navigation quite easy (though there is a fast forward button to speed things up, if desired). But once multiple pathways and intricate puzzles are introduced, the game quickly picks up the pace, forcing players to think on their feet. Thankfully, if a mistake is made, players can rewind their progress a few seconds ala Prince of Persia, without having to re-do the entire level.

Sleepwalker’s Journey is just as impressive visually as it is to play: the colorful 2D art is absolutely gorgeous, with smooth animations and hand-drawn backgrounds that give a lot of character to the environment. It looks particularly good on the iPad retina display, where there is more screen real estate for the warm colors and mystical designs to show off; on the smaller screen of the iPhone, some of the beautiful art can be hidden behind a player’s finger while trying to maneuver multiple platforms on the smaller screen.

There are a TON of platformers in the App Store – but not a whole lot with the charm and design of Sleepwalker’s Journey, one of the most enjoyable side-scrolling experiences I’ve had this year. A must-buy for fans of the genre, and anyone looking for something beautiful and challenging on their iOS device.

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Flashout 3D Review – Futuristic Racing On iPhone & iPad

Flashout 3D (universal) by Jujubee is the closest thing the App Store has to Sony’s popular racing series Wipeout: it takes place on futuristic race tracks, with vehicles that is part boat, part race car, and part jetplane. In other words, this new racing title is ready to redefine the phrase ‘speed demon’.

Racing in Flashout 3D is similar to any other iOS racing game: players can control their vehicle with either tilt or touch controls – and in this case, the tilt controls actually work better, at least by default. It will take some time to get used to the game’s advanced physics – and with no brake pedal, the only way to learn is to bang into wall after wall on the game’s handful of courses.

Thankfully, the game is kind with in-game cash earned during races, so it won’t be long until players are driving one of the higher-tier cars, screaming through turns towards the finish lines. There is the option to buy cash via in-app purchase, but it’s hardly needed – though if one does, the game is quite generous in the amount of cash and perks it provides.

Oddly enough, the most impressive thing about Flashout 3D can also be the most disappointing: the graphics. At a glance, the animation and level design look absolutely terrific – although there have been some slowdown issues on some levels with a lot of background animations. Also, the poor-looking, low resolution weapon and explosion effects look out of place with the beautiful neon colors, especially on Retina screens. Also, using white as the HUD text color is a poor choice: at times, the white text is unreadable on super-light background, particularly the sky on some courses.

There are currently three modes available in Flashout – seven cups in Career mode, quick race, and time trial. Challenge and multiplayer are listed as ‘coming soon’, but players will be occupied for awhile racing their way through the career cups, which consist of three races, where points are tallied based on place of finish. When the online multiplayer is added, I hope they find a way to bump the number of cars on the track up to six – five just doesn’t provide enough excitement in some offline races, and the game will need more action to keep players engaged in competition with each other.

Flashout 3D is a little rough around the edges – along with the occasional frame rate hiccups, there are a lack of interesting and unique power-ups – but for fans of the Wipeout series and mobile speed junkies like myself, it is a game worth the $1.99 price of admission. A promising racing game with a lot of features – iCloud, Apple TV support, and a pulsating soundtrack, to name a few – that I’m looking forward to playing as it grows with some tweaks and updates. 

Bladeslinger Ep. 1 Review – The Dystopian Action Saga Begins On iOS

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When Bladeslinger Ep. 1 (universal) by Kerosene first appeared on the gaming scene in late 2011, it was but a mere tech demo utilizing the Unity 3D Engine. Fast forward eleven months, and its become a full-fledged action/adventure with some amazing, amazing graphics. But visuals can only take a title so far: is the game worth playing?

Part western and part sci-fi, Bladeslinger takes place in an alternate future version of the Wild West, with very mystical/steampunk-like elements in its beautiful, 3D design. Episode 1 introduces us to William Glaston, a man who is returning from a years-long war to his hometown of Hammer’s Peak to find it nothing like the way he left it. It’s abandoned and full of some horrible-looking, violent creatures, with weird symbols and gems strewn about.

As players investigate the town and fight these nightmarish creatures as William, they will be engaged in various Infinity Blade-like battling (for console players, think of a title like Bayonetta) tapping or swiping on enemies to attack them, double-tapping to dodge, and so forth. When fighting a single enemy, the control scheme is fantastic, allowing players to rack up big combos combining shots and swipes for massive damage. It’s fast-paced and offers a variety in attacking enemies most iOS games are too limited to include.

However, battles break down when multiple enemies are on-screen, and the game becomes more than frustrating. Switching enemies is simple enough – tap a pop-up box on the side of the screen – but the rapidly moving camera angles when switching between targets quickly becomes ineffective. Attacks will constantly miss or register incorrectly (particularly when performing attacks with his mechanical arm), and fights turn into enemies surrounding William, quickly ending his life. Since there are a lot of these battles, it really takes away from an otherwise intuitive control scheme, and erases any semblance of strategy or skill when trying to survive.

The other problem with Bladeslinger is the game’s store. Like every App Store game, there are both consumable items like health potions, and permanent upgrades like new attacks and stat bonuses. The problem is the imbalance between money earned and money spent in the game: with the amount of cash players are required to spend on health potions after every multi-enemy fight, there isn’t any money left to unlock any of said consumables or upgrades.There are ways to unlock every consumable item or upgrade without paying – which of course, is going to take some grinding – but having things like special attacks be consumable cards keeps players from being able to use them without dishing out for some IAP cash. 

However, these shortcomings don’t stop Bladeslinger from being a thoroughly intriguing title. While there isn’t much story progression, being a first chapter and all, there are some interesting characters and settings introduced, and the possibilities of the narrative – if the series continues – have me excited for future episodes – if the series continues, that is. And there’s no doubting the technical wizardry of the game: it’s not only one of the most beautiful games we’ve seen on iOS, but runs like a purring engine, without any major hiccups in frame rate or other glitches.

It’s not a perfect title, but for $2.99, Bladeslinger Episode 1 is definitely worth the investment for serious iOS gamers, and those who like some entertaining eye candy on their iOS device. It is a work in progress, but with a solid foundation, the sky is the limit for the series moving forward.

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Meganoid 2 Review – The Pixelated Platformer Returns to iOS

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Meganoid 2 (universal) by Orange Pixel is the follow-up to 2011′s Meganoid, a 8-bit style hardcore platformer that won gamers over with challenging level design and pixel-perfect controls. An ode to a forgotten era, this is definitely a game for gamers with a nostalgic edge – and a serious amount of patience.

Meganoid 2 is actually a prequel to its predecessor, telling the wordless story of Meganoid’s grandfather, Grandba. Keeping the framework of the original, players have to navigate through small, intricate levels within 20 seconds, avoiding all the obstacles and finding the hidden golden totem in each stage. There are 60 in total, and although they are short, it will take plenty of time to make it through the game: it is much harder than the original, making it one of the most difficult platformers in the App Store. 

There are points in Meganoid 2 that feel overly cruel – even with the return of the game’s simple, smooth control scheme. Many of the golden totems are hidden behind invisible walls with no real indication of where they are, and finding them involves lots of suicide and blind luck. More so, some stages don’t feel designed to challenge, but rather to punish, especially in later levels, requiring a level of precision I found myself – a dedicated platformer for two decades – struggling to stay patient enough to keep repeating levels. I’m not asking for a super-simplified game – but at some point, the enjoyment to frustration ratio becomes too skewed, closing the game off from appealing to a larger audience.

Visually, Meganoid 2 takes a number of cues from Indiana Jones in both style and execution: Grandba wears a very Indiana-like outfit, and there’s even levels where massive concrete balls chase you as you race to the exit. These touches are fun – and the pixel art style fits in with the retro vibe – but the over reliance on dark brown, gray and black for the majority of levels becomes repetitive over time, with only small changes between them – like the addition of vines in some stages. Of course, the experience is topped off with an always-catchy chiptune soundtrack, although it’s a little too techno-y and upbeat at times for a game that takes place in a retro jungle.

Despite its overbearing difficulty at times, Meganoid 2 is an above average platformer with great controls – everything we expect from an Orange Pixel release, making it a great buy for fans of the original, or the platforming junkie looking for a new retro-themed challenge.

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Silibili Review – A Galaxy-Traveling Adventure For iPad

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In the brand new action adventure game Silibili (iPad only) by Chundos Studios, users won’t be disappointed when they get to know Sili and Bili – a duo that have decided to rise up against the evil dragons that have invaded their beloved galaxy, Sibull. There’s more to this catchy story line than the typical “save the world” – the goal is to restore peace, the misplaced sacred elements of faith, courage, freedom, wisdom, and love – must be returned to their rightful places. The plot is dramatic enough to suck any gamer in already – but so is the gameplay itself. 

This mixture of action-adventure meets beat-em-up and strategy will reel in gamers and keep ‘em hooked. Players must collect all the harmony stones and place them in the shrine while fending off various evil dragons, and occasionally bosses. The difficulty of gameplay proves it shouldn’t be underestimated, especially with the variety of hidden objects, misleading pathways, and radioactive plants that spread through a series of tricky, challenging levels across the planets of Jungull and Magmull.

Like most modern games, players can earn points to upgrade the hammer weapon and shield –however, unlike many other hammer beat ‘em ups that involve slamming continually, an attack limit on the power of the hammer causes it have to be refueled after about 15 – 20 whacks  That’s where the random treasure chests become most valuable – they contain points, power ups, and regain health. 

This game has a great, old-school video console feel to it – literally – in the controls, visuals, and gameplay that remind of console classics like Spyro and Crash Bandicoot. On the iPad’s widescreen, designated controls are sometimes best for action games, and Silibili succeeds in signifying this assertion with its easy-to-navigate virtual joystick and tap-able buttons for walking, jumping (even double jumping!) and of course, slamming the hammer like a mad man. Or woman, depending on which character is chosen for play. Great 3D graphics and bouncy, energetic instrumentals put the cherry on top.

There are few areas that this app lacks in, and could use small, minor improvements. There is nothing more frustrating than almost completing a level, only to die and have to begin the level all over again. Perhaps users could be given at least three deaths before the level had to restart, or a checkpoint halfway through. I also thought it would be awesome to play this game via two player, so that Sili and Bili could fight side by side, but no co-op play is available.

Other than a small number of suggestions, it is hard to find anything wrong with Silibili – it is just a fun, challenging iOS title. Gamers of all ages will find themselves proud to join forces with Sili and Bili in the fight – in the name of faith, courage, freedom, wisdom, and love.

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