With every new week comes another batch of great apps. The Google Play Store used to be a barren wasteland, with hardly a 3D game in sight. These days it's a lush jungle so thick with apps that you can easily get lost. So let the Google Play App Roundup be your guide to the world of Android apps. Here you'll find the best new and newly updated apps in the Play Store. Just click the app name to head right to the Google Play Store to pick up each app for yourself.
This week we see how harsh space can be, shoot some files through the air, and go monster hunting.
Google chose to make Wi-Fi Direct a part of the stock Android codebase way back in December of 2011 with the release of Ice Cream Sandwich. You probably didn’t know that, and there’s a good reason: no one uses Wi-Fi Direct. It’s a pity because it's a pretty cool technology. With Wi-Fi Direct, two devices can directly connect to each other to share files using their Wi-Fi antennas without using the internet. It’s a little like Bluetooth, but much, much faster. There is finally an app in the Play Store that can mediate this connection, and it’s called WiFi Shoot.
Before I get too deep in here, be aware that there are some limitations to this app because it’s still in the early stages of development. As of now, you can only use to in the Android Gallery to send pictures and videos, but general file sharing is coming soon, says the dev. The app will integrate into your Android sharing menu. Tapping on it when you’ve found the content you want to share will pull up the WiFi Shoot app.
Your device will look for other Wi-Fi Direct devices, but be aware that you need to have WiFi Shoot open and running on the device that is going to recieve the transfer. Also, Wi-Fi Direct needs to be enabled in your system settings. The two devices should detect each other in a few seconds. On the sending device, just tap on the listing for the device you want to transfer to. Before the transfer is started, the receiving device gets a popup message asking for permission to connect. Hit ‘accept,’ and watch the magic happen.
The device that you’re sending to will display a large ‘Shoot’ button in the middle of the app. Tap that, and the file gets launched right over. This works so much faster than Bluetooth. I pushed over a 38MB video in a few seconds with WiFi Shoot, whereas it took 3-4 minutes on Bluetooth.
The app is definitely still finicky in its early beta stage. I’ve found that if one device is connected to a 5GHz network, and the other 2.4GHz, they just won’t talk to each other correctly. The solution in that case is to move one device to 2.4GHz, or just disconnect from the network temporarily. Remember that you don’t need to be connected to the same Wi-Fi network -- this is a direct connection.
WiFi Shoot won’t work on all devices, even if they’re running ICS or higher. Some OEMs change the way Wi-Fi Direct works, so this app won’t run correctly. I’ve tested it with a Galaxy Nexus, Nexus 7, and a Galaxy S3. Everything worked well on those devices -- even from different floors in the house. WiFi Shoot is free, and I’m impressed with what it can already do. Check it out.
Space can be a cold, lonely place. This is doubly true when everyone you know has been vaporized. In New Orbit, you are the lone survivor of a catastrophic attack that destroyed your mothership. You must use your humble shuttle to survive and make your way home. Intuitive touch controls and realistic gravity are your only tools as you wander space in search your next lucky break.
Right from the start I could tell that New Orbit was going to play unlike any space sim I’ve ever encountered. The way it holds firm to a believable set of physics is very impressive. You simply tap and hold anyplace on the screen, and your engines will accelerate in that direction. When you let go, the ship will coast on along its current heading indefinitely. Momentum is important here. The ship has to lose all its velocity in one direction before it can move in a different one. Think more Battlestar and less Star Trek.
Your craft is influenced by the gravity of all the local objects. It’s best not to fight the pull of gravity, but to use it to your advantage. For instance: if you’re having trouble getting back on course after falling into the gravity well of a large asteroid, try slingshotting around it.
The game will show several acceleration vectors around your shuttle as you’re playing. The green line shows the effect of your thrusters. Blue lines are gravitational effects. When you near a large space rock, it will start tugging on the ship. You’ll want to use these lines to stay on target. Yellow is the overall movement vector; you can watch as side-to-side movements nudge that line toward your objective. The length of the line indicates how fast you are going in that direction. This system is very helpful for getting where you need to go.
It is going to be a little challenging to figure out the rules. For instance, you will be granted the ability to mine asteroids, but that means landing on them. If you don’t do it right, your ship is going to be destroyed. I should mention here that the only bug I’ve seen is the occasional crash when you, well... crash. Just be extra sure not to do that. When you do get yourself killed, you start over near that location. There doesn’t seem to be a penalty for dying, but some of the maneuvers are very difficult.
Not long after the mothership is destroyed, you will happen upon the forces of the Triterian Empire. They’re not very fond of you, so you have little choice but to make a break for it without any supplies. Various missions are presented to you that advance the story, and it all feels very organic. I like the way the dialog is written, and the voice acting is great (this is rare for a mobile game).
The game is visually simple, but not to a fault. The sparse star-streaked backdrops accentuate the empty feeling of space. The small, drab rocky islands in the darkness remind you of the loneliness out there. The exaggerated avatars of all the selfish and cruel people you meet remind you of the peril you face. New Orbit just has a great look.
It’s up to you to find a way out of this predicament, and I think that’s what makes New Orbit so engaging. You feel for the main character, and you want to show everyone that this lone guy in a damaged shuttle can survive. This is technically just part 1 of the game. You have 10 missions to play, and it won’t take terribly long to finish. You’re going to enjoy every minute of it, though. This game is absolutely wonderful, and it’s only $0.99.
Not all monsters are nasty, vile fiends that need to be eliminated -- just the blue ones, apparently. It starts to feel a little discriminatory as you progress through the hundreds of puzzles in Monster Island with the other monsters getting together to blow up the blue ones. This game isn’t an entirely new idea, but it adds enough to be notable.
In each stage, your monster is off to the left. The rest of the stage will contain one or more blue monsters. You have to throw your monster bombs into the level to take them out. At first, this is straightforward. Just bank the bomb off a wall, toss it through a hole, and boom. Splattered monster. The levels start to get harder, and more monster bombs are added to your arsenal to make things interesting.
I think it’s the variety of monster bombs that makes Monster Island interesting. There are five of them in all, each one with a different use. There are standard bombs that roll to a stop then blow up. But there are also more expotic ones like the non-explosive Rocko that really just knocks things over really well. You can also use a bomb type that explodes on contact instantly. By combining these and more, you can sort out any level.
To toss a bomb, you just press on the screen, and drag to the right to set the power of the throw. Sliding up and down on the screen changes the angle. The bomb will be thrown when you let go. This is a very intuitive control scheme that’s easy to get the hang of. It’s been used in lots of games, like Miniclip's own Fragger, so there’s nothing really new here.
The graphics are quite fun in Monster Island. I wouldn’t say the visuals are anything amazing, but they fit with the game. The background is always a colorful vector-art canvas, and the foreground has a ton of vibrant colors. All your monsters are quirky and almost have a personality thanks to all the unique animations. I’ve seen no issues with the performance, but that's not surprising.
Monster Island is free; this much is technically true. You can play one of the five islands, but then you have to pay up for the full version with an in-app payment. It’s only about $1, and you get a lot of content for that. Each level you beat gives you coins, which can be used to unlock new monsters, buy level hints, and unlock all the levels of a world you haven’t beaten yet. None of this is necessary, and the new monsters don’t do anything other than look different. If you really want to, you can buy more coins through in-app purchases to get these things faster. This is all completely optional, though. Monster Island is probably worth the $1 for the full version, but don’t bother with the extras.
That's all for this week's Roundup. I trust you will make good use of these apps, but let me know if you come across anything great for future Roundups.