It's another week, and that means it's time to check up on the happenings in the Google Play Store. It's easy to forget there was a time when the Play Store was just for apps, and wasn't even called Google Play. As the range of content has increased, so has the selection and quality of apps. In the Google Play App Roundup, we try to bring you the best of that ecosystem. Just click on the app name to go right to the Play Store so you can check out an app for yourself.
This week we have a strategy game that works on Android, an updated file management app, and a killer puzzle game.
Total War Battles
Real time strategy games are great on a PC, but phones are a completely different animal. Rarely has the genre really worked out on a mobile device, but surprisingly one of the most complicated RTS franchises, Total War, seems to have gotten it right. The new Total War Battles simplifies the RTS concept and looks good doing it.
The first step in making a strategy game more playable on a phone is shrinking the battlefield. In Total War Battles you have a long narrow strip of land to fight on. Everything is divided up into hexagons, each of which can hold a single unit. The enemy troops will come down the battlefield at you, and you really have to plan ahead.
Your standard melee units can attack the three tiles in front of them. Ranged units are limited to three tiles straight down the gameboard. By default, your units will remain in the hex you deploy them to, but you’re going to have to go on the attack to survive. Tapping on a unit gives you some choices via on-screen buttons. They can move straight ahead, or move diagonally to get into a different row. However, you cannot turn back -- ever. I wasn't sure how to feel about this part of the game, but it’s actually very interesting once you’re used to it.
Like regular RTS games, you have a base of operations with structures that generate resources and train troops. Recruit ninjas, archers, samurai, and more, each with special uses. You’ll have to keep training more units and get them marching down the battlefield to reach the opposing army’s base. In later stages, you actually have to keep a lot of balls in the air despite the game’s simplified gameplay.
Device compatibility is currently limited, and there are some questions as to what kind of devices it will support. I loaded it on my Galaxy Nexus, but that device is no longer listed as compatible. I am seeing occasional crashes, but it’s been more than playable. Other users report the same problems with the Nexus 7, which was also removed from the supported list. I assume this is a temporary situation. It looks like Sega is mainly targeting tablets, though.
Total War Battles is visually quite attractive. Your units are easily recognizable, and the attack animations are impressive. Everything has a scale model feel, like you’re playing a real board game. You can use multitouch zooming to get in closer to the action, and you won’t be disappointed by the up-close detail.
The campaign is somewhat long, but the skirmish mode is fun to play as well. If you’re playing on a 10-inch tablet, there is a 1v1 multiplayer mode where both players use the same tablet. You can get Total War Battles for $4.99, which is reasonable if you really dig RTS games.
Astro File Manager
Astro used to be hands down my favorite file manager, then there was a redesign that I felt was ill-advised. It didn’t work very well and parts of the UI were busted on ICS. I started using and recommending a number of other clients, but a new version of Astro is rolling out and makes a lot of improvements.
The Astro 4.0 interface is currently only on Android 4.1 devices, but it will come to other devices soon. If you’re not running Jelly Bean, let me explain what you’ll be getting. Firstly, the overall UI is taking a lot of cues from Holo. That awkward arrangement of icons at the top of the screen is gone, replaced by an action bar.
The main screen in Astro lets you access files by opening a standard file browser, filtering by files types, or just listing recent files. In addition to managing the files on your device, Astro now has support for Google Drive and Dropbox. The main screen also has a search box up top that finds results in both local and cloud storage.
Anyplace in the app, you can drag to the right to pull out a panel with all your location and filtering options. This makes it very handy to jump between locations. In fact, I’d prefer the app just loaded my local storage and used the sidebar to link me to other places. If you swipe the other way, you can get access to the settings and Astro’s additional tools like the application backup utility.
From a purely aesthetic point of view, Astro is much prettier than it once was. The icons are clean and modern, and the action bar is properly implemented. The scrolling performance is also very good.
Of all the file browsers out there, Astro is still one of the best for serious file management. It has all the options, it’s fast, and now it’s got a much better UI. Look for the new Astro to show up on more devices soon. Astro is free with ads or $3.99 for a Pro key.
It can be hard to make a puzzle game that balances difficulty and playability well. Some games are too easy, and thus not satisfying. Others are so hard to complete that most users will give up in frustration. HueBrix seems to get it right, and that’s not too surprising. HueBrix comes from the popular developer Noodlecake, which is responsible for such gems as Super Stickman Golf.
The premise in HueBrix is straightforward. You are presented with a grid of white squares that need to be filled with color. One more more colored blocks are going to be arranged on the game board, and all you have to do is drag the colors through all the squares. Easy, right? Nope. You have a limited number of spaces for each color, and the game quickly ramps up the difficulty with various special spaces.
It’s actually a delicate interplay between the various colors you have in each level. Some might only be able to cover 3 squares, and other 10-12. You have to keep that in mind so you don’t end up with a missing square someplace on the board. Some of the additional roadblocks include squares that you can only pass through in a certain direction, color-specific squares, and squares that reduce or increase the number of spaces you can draw.
I really like how simple the controls are. There’s nothing to learn -- you just start drawing lines and the game figures itself out. If you just can’t sort out where the lines should go, you can use the hints at the bottom of the screen. You have a limited number, so use them wisely. HueBrix lets you pick any of the 400+ levels, but you can play them linearly if you like. Each stage has gold, silver, and bronze thresholds you can beat, and some of them are quite tough.
Graphically, HueBrix is devoid of bells and whistles. But really, it’s a puzzle game. It doesn't need high-resolution textures and ambient lighting effects. That said, it’s elegantly designed and gets the point across without a lot of extra clutters.
HueBrix is only $1, which is awesome for a game with over 400 levels. Happily, the number is slanted more toward the easier end of the spectrum. Some of the harder levels are real mind benders. This is a very enjoyable game, so check it out.
That's all for this week, folks. I hope there was something good for you here, but make sure to drop me a line with suggestions for future Roundups.