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Google Play App Roundup: RockPlayer v2, Anomaly Korea, and Sword & Sworcery

By Ryan Whitwam

Videos, aliens, and swords.

The holidays are behind us, so perhaps you're flush with cash or Google Play gift cards. Well, why not pick up some cool new apps and games? It just so happens this is the weekly Google Play App Roundup where we tell you what new and cool on Android. Just click on the app name to head right to the Play Store.

This week your videos get a boost, tower defense gets flipped, and Sworcery comes to Android.

RockPlayer v2

A few years ago RockPlayer became one of the first full-featured video players to offer software decoding on Android. Like most mobile platforms, Android only natively decodes h.264 video, so an app like this is essential if you have a collection of videos in other formats. The problem was that RockPlayer hadn't seen a UI update in quite a while -- until now. The new RockPlayer v2 is a vast improvement in both form and function.

The first thing you'll notice is that RockPlayer has ditched the Gingerbread-influenced UI it was sporting before. In its place is a highly skeuomorphic design that I personally find a little unnecessary, but its a clear improvement over what we had before. Basically, the app takes every opportunity to replicate real-life objects in the UI.

The main interface is a scrollable list of thumbnail done up to look like filmstrips. Tap on any file to start playing immediately. The app will default into hardware rendering if the file uses the h.264 codec, but otherwise it goes into software mode. The controls are at the bottom and are skinned to look like brushed metal. The look is a little much, but the controls work great.

While playing, you can tap to bring up your basic player controls. The cool thing is that you get to pick what the basic controls are. Just long-press on any of the buttons and you can swap it out with a list that will appear overlaying the paused video. If you don’t want the share button front and center, no problem. Just swap it out for a screenshot button, or whatever else. The only serious UI concern I have is that devices with on-screen buttons don't completely hide them. You just get the dimmed system bar strip.

Some functions are controlled through on-screen gestures. A quick two finger tap will pause/play. If you want to change the brightness, just drag up and down on the left side of the display. Seeking in small bits can be accomplished by swiping left and right. Moving in larger chunks is really smooth in RockPlayer with the seekbar.

Another new feature in RockPlayer v2 is “RockShare.” This is a system that allows you to share your content from one device to another over Wi-Fi -- no setup required. Just run the app on both devices, and swipe over to the RockShare screen from the main video list. Available device should show up allowing you to push content over.

As for performance, I didn’t have any issues with RockPlayer. I tested AVIs, WMVs, and some MP4s (both hardware and software). There were a few hiccups with seeking in AVIs, but playback was solid across the board. Some of these files were over 1GB in size, and the app handled them without issue.

RockPlayer is free to use with ads. An in-app purchase can remove them, but it costs $4.99. That’s a little high for ad removal, and they aren’t that annoying in the first place.

Anomaly Korea

The original Anomaly Warzone game succeeded in flipping the tower defense genre on its head, and Anomaly Korea is more of the same awesome gameplay. How can you go wrong? If there is a way, the developers didn’t find it. Anomaly Korea takes what was good about the first game and adds to it.

The basic premise is that aliens have arrived on Earth, and they’re none too friendly. The aliens have set up towers all over the place, and you have to fight your way through to reach the goal in each level. It’s up to you to choose a route and manage your convoy while taking out as many alien towers as possible.

Before the stage starts, you get a nice little briefing with a good voiceover that explains the mission. Let’s not be coy here -- the missions are variations on the classic tower defense trope of getting from point A to point B. The game does do a good job of coming up with reasons you need to reach the goal, though. Choose your units (from half a dozen types), set the path, and then you’re off.

You’re not just watching as the game does its own thing, thankfully. You will interact with your convoy by tweaking the path as need, but also by executing special abilities. These power ups will drop throughout the level and can do things like repair your vehicles, increase firepower, create a decoy, and more. The game feels very interactive, and it’s a blast to play.

Visually, Anomaly Korea is wonderful. The textures are properly high-resolution and the level of detail is every bit as good as I expected. The lighting effects are also used to great effect to make the game feel a little more immersive. You can zoom in to get a closer look at the pretty graphics, but that makes it harder to play the game. Best to just admire from afar.

Anomaly Korea plays well, and adds a few more vehicles and powers to the great gameplay from the first game. There are only 12 levels, which makes the game a tad bit short, but it’s still awesome. This title will run you $3.99 in Google Play.

Sword & Sworcery

The now ubiquitous Sword & Sworcery almost defies description. It’s kind of an RPG, but it’s also a puzzle game. It’s kind of retro, but the graphics are undeniably beautiful and modern. It’s 2D, but a little bit 3D in places. If I could give someone a single-line pitch on what this game is, I’d say playing Sword & Sworcery is like living inside an experimental indie rock concept album.

In Sword & Sworcery you play the role of a poor downtrodden warrior as you search out an ancient magical tome. The road is hard, but you’ve got a brave and presumably adorable dog to accompany you -- as well as your trusty sword. The Sworcery part comes in handy too.

You move by either double tapping, or more commonly tapping and holding to make your character walk in that direction. The story unfolds in a series of text bubbles, some of which pop up on their own, and other you trigger by tapping on objects in the world. One of the first things that draw you in is the lighthearted cleverness of these popups. All the witty blurbs are in second person, and you can tweet them from within the app if you’re logged into Twitter.

So you wander around, occasionally happening upon a puzzle or impasse of some sort. If you find yourself in a dangerous spot, you just rotate your device from landscape to portrait to go into combat mode (I love this). You have to pay attention not only to the appearance of the enemy to time blocks and strikes, but to the music, which sometimes swells to warn you of an attack.

Sworcery is used to solve puzzles and advance the story along. You long press in the special Sworcery zones to kneel and get to the magic already. You interact with the world by tapping and dragging. There is usually some kind of object in the environment that you need to interact with to solve the puzzle. It’s not usually very hard once you figure out what the game wants you to do, but sometimes it isn’t obvious at the start.

The graphics are blocky and retro-inspired, but not retro. It feels like you’re looking at a very high-resolution game through some sort of pixelation filter. Does that make sense? The animation is incredibly smooth, and everything feels polished. The only bug I’ve come across is a small screen stutter when flipping from portrait back to landscape.

The music is amazing in Sword & Sworcery. It’s ethereal and atmospheric, blending into what you’re doing in Sworcery mode and setting the mood as you wander around. This game recommends headphones when you first play, and I’d stick with that. It really draws you in. It’s abstract, beautiful, and engaging.

Sword & Sworcery is currently on sale for $1.99 in the Play Store, so give this one some consideration. It’s one of the most lovingly crafted games on the platform.

Well, that's not a bad way to start off the new year. Hopefully you find something that interests you here, and if not, there's always next week.