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Google Play App Roundup: ADW Launcher EX, Need for Speed: Most Wanted, and Tower Raiders 3

By Ryan Whitwam

Home screens, towers, and cars.

Another week is upon us, and that means it's time to see what's going on in the Play Store. You don't have to scour the reviews, look for trial versions, or try to get in under the 15 minute return window. Tested is here to make sure you get the apps that are best for you. Just click on the app name to head right to the Play Store and grab it yourself.

This week a classic launcher is back from the near dead, the best racing games on Android get even better, and tower defense is fun again.

ADW Launcher EX

Around a year ago, ADW Launcher EX was one of the top home screen replacements for Android. It was fast, feature-rich, and a big improvement over OEM interfaces. The Android 4.0 arrived and new apps based on the 4.0 code ended up getting a lot of attention. ADW was lagging behind, but now there’s an updated version and it’s got everything you could need and more. ADW is back.

The stock Android home screen works just fine, but it lacks many features. ADW Launcher EX is compatible with almost every version of Android out there, and it brings many of those features to any phone. The name of the game with ADW is customization. You can change almost anything about how your device works. Want more columns or rows? Done. Fewer home screens? Also fine. Custom icons? You got it.

I was initially very confused by how ADW Launcher EX handles widgets, but now I think it’s kind of brilliant. Instead of placing them in the app drawer like Android has done for the last year, you access them from a home screen menu. Each app that has widgets is listed in the left hand column, and when you tap on one, the interface slides over to the right-hand column. Here you’ll see all the widgets associated with each apps. This effectively deals with the overloaded widget list in Android.

ADW Launcher EX has all the usual custom home screen features like gestures, easy widget resizing, and a screen position editor. There are a ton of home screen and app drawer scroll effects -- more than I can recall seeing in other apps of this sort. The free version of ADW lacks many of these effects, as well as some other features.

You can also use the Google Search bar as a way of accessing settings and the app drawer. That’s handy if you want to remove the apps shortcut from the hotseat down at the bottom of the screen. Theming is also supported in ADW, and boy are there a lot of themes in the Play Store.

So there are a ton of features, sure, but how does it perform? Very well. The new ADW Launcher EX is buttery smooth without a bit of lag. Transitions are snappy, widgets update promptly, and I've had only one crash while setting everything up.

ADW Launcher EX is selling for $3 in the Play Store, and I think it’s worth taking a look at. This app is once again competitive with the other launchers out there.

Need for Speed: Most Wanted

There is no shortage of racing games on Android that follow the same basic script. A mobile device is a great platform to play a racing game, but some are better than others. Whenever I check out a new racing game, I always compare it to the current incarnation of Need for Speed. Why? Because this series has always set the standard. Now Need for Speed: Most Wanted has arrived on Android to continue that tradition.

The control scheme is essentially the same as it is in most racing games. Just tilt the device left and right to steer. If you drive well, you will accumulate nitro, which can be triggered by swiping up on the screen.You will accelerate continuously unless you press and hold someplace on the left side of the screen. That will slow you down, and eventually bring you to a stop (not that you'd want to do that). There’s a little twist in the controls when it comes to power slides. You used to just over steer to drift, but now you can just press and hold on the right side of the screen. It works very well.

The game is laid out as a map with various locations, each with multiple events that are unlocked as you play. These follow the usual racing game trope of reaching the finish line first under various conditions or beating record times. As you play, you will occasionally run into police cars that try to knock you out of the race. Your car has a damage meter that slowly gets filled up when you take a hit. Too much damage and it’s game over. However, you can also take out the cop cars with the right collisions.

This is the first mobile Need for Speed game that has realistic car damage. As you get banged around, bits of your car get lose, fall off, and get scuffed up (see above screenshot). This doesn't effect how well it drives, but it makes the game feel more immersive and looks neat.

Need for Speed: Most Wanted has an experience system of points that you get for finishing races quickly, stopping cop cars, and pulling stunts. The more experience you get, the more cars are unlocked for you. The game also awards cash when you win. This cash is used to buy new cars. The game will sell you bundles of cash as an in-app purchase, but it’s not heavily promoted. Don’t do this -- you make plenty of cash racing, and you can even re-run past events for more money.

The graphics in this title are absolutely wonderful. You thought that last Asphalt game looked pretty nice? Nope, it's terrible compared to this. The textures on the cars and environment are very high-resolution. There is a little aliasing visible in the screenshots, but I didn’t notice any of it while playing. What really makes this game jaw-droppingly good are the lighting effects. The reflections and shading are so, so good. It looks almost console level, but that’s helped by the motion blur that covers up the very few foibles there are.

Need for Speed: Most Wanted is $6.99 in Google Play, but it’s the best racing game on the platform right now. I know that this is EA and a lot of people don't like to give them money, but the game is fabulous.

Tower Raiders 3

The Tower Raiders franchise was one of Android’s early gaming successes. This series of tower defense games don’t try to redefine the genre, they just do tower defense very well. The new Tower Raiders 3 is out in beta, and it’s already awesome. Be aware, there are some locations and features missing, but it’s got enough to suck you in.

You’re probably familiar with the basics of this kind of game. Creeps flow out of one or more portals and follow a path toward your base. You have to build and upgrade towers to stop them from getting there. In most games, you gain resources from killing the enemies, but Tower Raiders is a little different. You have human units in your base that are collecting resources from a large mining rig. The creeps are trying to get to these people to abduct them.

As you’re building your defense, you can also take a little time to manage your human units. This isn’t necessary most of the time, but it’s a nice additional task to keep you occupied. From time to time you might see a bonus has dropped , and you can order your unit to go and get it. This can be profitable, but it also puts them closer to the creeps.

If your units are bundled up by a monster, you can still save them by killing the beast before it gets back off the map or by deploying a strike team. A strike team will run down the monster and save your worker no problem. Strike teams are in short supply, though.

The game is free to play, which means you’re going to encounter in-app purchases. Although I’ve happily been playing it for a few days and haven’t had to spend any money. Completing missions gets you credits that can be used to recruit more workers, open up new levels, and add to your arsenal. If you want to speed things up, you can pay money.

There are only a few maps to play on right now, and towers are limited too. The developer will add all this in as things progress, but it's the lack of towers that begins to get to you. Gameplay starts to feel a little predicable after a while. I'm sure this will improve after a little more development time.

What there is of the game is gorgeous, though. I mean it’s really great looking for a tower defense game. You can zoom, pan, and rotate with a series of gestures. Zooming in on the towers really shows off how much detail there is. The textures are good, edges are crisp, and animations are smooth. It’s really just the creeps that I think need work. They move woodenly, and aren’t nearly as detailed as the towers.

Tower Defenders 3 is going to be great when it’s out of beta, but it’s also great now. Pick this one up.

That's all for this week, folks. Make sure to check back next time for another group of Android apps. Feel free to suggest apps you'd like to see in future roundups, too.