It was a dark night; darker than most, really, when they found the Android Market face down on the floor of a seedy motel room outside Saint Louis. It was splayed out in a pool of blood -- mostly its own. They grilled Google Play for hours under the hot lights of the interrogation room, but it was too smart to give anything up. Play was the only suspect; the only lead. 800,000 phones a day can drive a brand to do some terrible things to get its shot. This is not the Android Market Roundup, because there is no such thing. Welcome to the very first Google Play App Roundup. As always, scan the QR code with Google Goggles or Barcode Scanner to go straight to the Play Store. Alternatively, click the app name for a link to the web interface.
This week we go on a heist, then go on a different heist, then it's on to some education, and more. First, hop on your chicken, and let's ride out.
With a name like “The Chicken Bandit” it has to be -- well, weird. And it is. This game is unusual, but in a good way. We would classify it as a casual shooter of sorts, but that doesn’t quite do it justice. In The Chicken Bandit, you’re taking a train by siege in a bizarre pseudo-futuristic steampunk land, and you are riding, of course, a giant chicken.
You and your chicken will be riding across the screen in the foreground, while your prize, the train, is a little further back. You can slow down, or speed up your chicken by tilting the device left of right. The train is constantly moving from left to right on the screen, but by changing your speed, you can more carefully line up and plan your looting.
In various openings and platforms on the train there will be safes, bags of money, and other assorted valuables. Considering people were careless enough to lave them there, you can slip a lasso around them, and have it all for your own. Just swipe from your character to the item to lasso it. Tap repeatedly to pull it off the train, and it’s yours. Some train cars have doors and windows that you have to shoot open to get the goods. Just tap and you will fire a bullet along that trajectory. The lasso has a good range, but you need to be aware of the dangers.
From time to time (read: frequently), robots in stereotypical old west dress will pop out of the train and start shooting. You will have to speed up or slow down to avoid their bullets as you fire your own back. This will affect what loot you can realistically expect to get. The amount of cash you make determines how many stars you get at the end of the stage.
The Chicken Bandit also has a power-up system of cards. You can buy upgrades along the way, and change out your complement of three cards at any time. Some cards help you take out enemies, and some help you pick up loot. There’s a good mix. In addition to the cards spicing things up, there are some great boss fights, as well as a quick-shot duel mode. There are times in The Chicken Bandit that you have to use your lasso for some novel purpose, and we really like the unexpected nature of that.
The graphics in this game are really interesting. It has a style you don’t see much. It’s better than a pixel art design that’s trying to mimic those 8-bit days. Actually, it reminds us a lot of what the Sega Genesis (or MegaDrive for you overseas folks) looked like in its prime, but with smoother animation. Steampunk can go really wrong if it’s not done with finesse, but this title does it quite well.
The Chicken Bandit can be had in the Play Store for $2.99, which we will grant you is a little high. Still, this game is a blast to experience.
For those unaware, TED is a conference where interesting people give talks about big ideas. TED lectures are sometimes inspiring, occasionally infuriating, but always fascinating. At long last, there is an official TED app on Android, and it is gorgeous. Beyond that, it has all the features we would expect and more.
The main screen in the TED app shows you the newest featured talks. You can tap on any of them to go to a landing page with a summary, suggestions for similar talks, and a nice big preview screen. Tap on that screen grab to start the video. It’s a joy to just wander around the app, which adheres completely to the Android 4.0 design guidelines. It really shows what developers can do with just a little effort. The only bummer here is that the main app won’t work in landscape (videos do).
Back on the main page, you can swipe from column to column through Featured, Archive, and My Talks areas. The My Talks section is perhaps our favorite part of the app. On the landing page for each talk, as well as in the video controls, there is an option to bookmark or download the talk. Bookmarks just help you find the talk later, but downloading gives you access to the video offline.
When downloading a talk, you are given the choice between high quality, and low quality versions. At any time you can head back to the My Talks tab and watch those talks even if you don’t have data. The files are also saved in a handy MP4 file format that can be found in, and played back with, the Android system Gallery. Whether streaming or playing a local copy, we found the video quality to be great on the Nexus’ 720p screen. Scrubbing through a video is a little rough, though. It’s hard to grab the time indicator, and the app doesn’t show the time code until you let go. We would also like it if the app remembered your place in talks when you exit early.
That main multi-column screen makes proper use of the Action Bar with a search and radio button being the exposed actions. In the settings you can have TED do background updates of content so you don’t have to wait when opening the app. This can be limited to Wi-Fi connections as well.
TED is free in the Play Store, and it’s really excellent. If you’ve ever wanted to know about big ideas, pick up this app now.
It’s prohibition-era 1920s in the big city. You’re a lowly enforcer for the mafia, and a bank heist is on. You come through the doors, ready for an easy score, but it’s not to be. Things go wrong, and you have to get your hands dirty. What follows is an intense on-rails shooter full of twists and turns.
Since this is an on-rails experience, you don’t have to worry about where to go. The game is basically laid out as a series of short cutscenes broken up by firefights. For each action sequence, your character takes cover behind an object of some sort, and the enemies stream in. By holding the button in the lower left, you will stay in cover. Let go, and you can open fire with the button in the lower right.
Aiming is accomplished by tapping and dragging anywhere on the screen. We recommend you do this with your left thumb after you remove it from the cover button. Throughout the course of the botched robbery, you will acquire guns that you can swap between by tapping the ammo display up top. Reload your gun by tapping the fire button while in cover. Ammo can be picked up by shooting ammo caches indicated by your crosshairs turning green.
Not every hiding spot is created equal in this game, though. When you’re taking cover, you will see other nearby areas indicated with a shadowy outline of a man. Tap on one, and you will run to and and take cover. This will be necessary to avoid fire, and get the best shot. This was a smart move by the developers that keeps the game from feeling too controlled.
Most of the AI used for the enemies in this game is a little lacking. They tend to leave themselves exposed too often, and don’t seem to move in very fast. It’s almost like a shooting gallery sometimes. The game makes up for that a bit by making most guards fairly robust when it comes to taking damage -- they can suck down more than a few rounds from a tommy gun.
On occasion, you will be confronted with a boss character that really takes the fight to you, though. You’ll have to move around from cover, choose your shots, and keep your wits about you. If you do take too much damage, you can restart from the last checkpoint. The same is true when you need to leave the game unexpectedly.
Heist looks really good, except when it doesn’t. The environments are detailed and overall very attractive. It’s when you get up close to things that you can pick out the polygons, and the textures get a bit blurry. For the most part, the game does a good job of working around that. The character models too are a little rough up close, but you rarely are very close to an enemy. Some of the cutscenes have some less than impressive close-ups, though.
The sound is worth mentioning mostly because the voice acting is actually rather good. The characters feel authentic, if perhaps stereotypical. The effects are also very good. The game recommends headphones for a better stereo experience as well. Heist is selling for $0.99 in the Play Store, and we think that’s a good price for one solid bank robbery.
This isn’t quite a game, but it’s not a regular app either. The best term might be “entertainment” app. Gravilux is a physics simulator that lets you pull clusters of particles together, or blow them apart with a touch. There are numerous settings to change the behavior of Gravilux, and it's great for killing a few minutes.
Gravilux will start by checking your device specs, and taking a guess at the particle settings that are best for you. Just touch anyplace on the sheet of particles to begin drawing them toward you. They spin and swirl to your touch, then accelerate out in all directions. By swiping the screen, you can draw the particles into different shapes, and explode them with a tap.
Hit the menu button to alter the basics of the game under Settings. Here you can change the optimized settings for particle size, weight, and number. Be aware, even powerful devices can get bogged down simulating hundreds of tiny gravitationally-aware particles. You can also set your touch to repel, rather than attract things.
The other menu option of note is the color panel. Here you can set three different colors that each particle will independently cycle through depending on how much it is moving. There is a color wheel to pick from, or you can just hit the random button. It’s the color setting that really make Gravilux worth playing around with, if you ask us.
The only odd thing about the app is that you have to remember to hit the back button to get back to the main settings panel. If you just collapse the settings, but don’t hit back, the next time you open the settings, you’re still in the same place. This caused us to miss the color settings entirely for a few minutes. Gravilux is not a useful app; it’s just really cool. This one is $1.99 in the Play Store.
When facing zombies, what do you want to defend yourself with? Plants? Impractical. Cricket bats? Getting warmer. Lots and lots of guns? Right on. In Zombie Wonderland 2 you play as the brave yet tidy Chuck as he fights his way through the zombie hoards. This game is part tower defense and part survival horror. Add in a creepy soundtrack, and you’ve got something grand. We are a little late bringing you this particular game (it came out last month), but it’s too good not to mention.
In each of the game’s 31 missions, Chuck is tasked with keeping the undead out of a particular building while some story line plays itself out. As we all know, the weak point of any building is the windows, and that’s where the zombies are going to attack. You can go to each window by tapping it. A few swings of the hammer (button) and you have some boards up to slow the zombies down.
The game is a top-down affair, so it’s easy to see which window is going to be attacked next. When you’re standing at a window, you can tap on a zombie to open fire with your weapon of choice, and there are a lot of guns and ammo types in the game. In addition to boarding up windows, you can drop weapon turrets in them to hold off the undead.
So you’re going to be running around and shooting zombies out the windows, all the while trying to maintain your automated weapons and stay alive. This is where the “tower defense” part comes into play. You have to use your best judgement to determine where to go next, and how long to stay there.
If zombies do get in the building, you can still take them out, but you’re probably going to take damage. They’re also going to get your floors all gross when you spray their brains all over. At the end of the stage, Chuck likes to mop up. You take a point penalty for each zombie stain that isn’t cleaned up when time runs out. This is a fun little extra that helps to lighten the mood after an intense round of zombie shootin’.
Zombie Wonderland 2 uses in-app purchases to sell you new weapons, but you don’t have to pay up. You make cash from each level to buy things, but buying in-app points with real money can help you along. There are also some ads in the menus, and a full-screen pop-up while some levels are loading.
The graphics are sharp and nicely detailed with a real CGI feel. The environments are very well-designed and look very distinct. We have not seen any lag with the Galaxy Nexus while playing, even with large clusters of zombies attacking. The sound too is nice; a Halloween-flavor mix with a light feel.
Zombie Wonderland 2 is a fun game not just because it’s got good graphics and zombies, but it’s also an intense shooter. You have to bounce from window to window, keeping the zombies at bay, but you can’t win them all. Zombie Wonderland 2 is free to download, and the in-app purchases aren’t terribly intrusive. Definitely take a look at this title.
That's it for the first Google Play App Roundup. Let us know how these apps treat you, and feel free to let us know if you've got any ideas for apps we should feature.