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This week a new music player cleans up your music, a parkour game jumps into the store, and someone's got to shoot those aliens.
Google Music is a better app now than it was in the Honeycomb days, but not by much. Most of What Google Music has going for it is its cloud syncing chops. If you don’t have, or don’t want to use Google Music in the cloud, you’d do well to use a more attractive and feature rich app to listen to your tunes. In that vein, AMP+ is a new music player in Google Play. This is a slick Holo themed app that looks the way Google Music is supposed to.
The interface is straightforward -- really. If you’ve ever used a Holo app before, you’re going to feel right at home. There are scrollable columns for albums, artists, songs, and playlists. At the bottom is a persistent playback bar with controls. You have your choice of light, dark, and mixed Holo themes. The app is overall clean and very Android-y.
AMP+ comes with a few features that you won’t find in the stock player (other than not being ugly). For one, you can have the app fetch missing album artwork automatically from LastFM. I tested this, and it works very well. You’ve also got Scrobbling and gesture control on the now playing screen.
Like the stock player, AMP+ has expandable playback controls on Jelly Bean devices. It’s the same story with the lock screen controls. The widgets in AMP+ come in two forms, a 4x1 and a 2x1. The larger of the two has album art and a full array of controls. The smaller one is just the track and limited controls. The widgets are sharp and mostly transparent, but you can adjust the transparency level to suit your taste (a nice touch).
The full version of AMP+ is only $0.99 and it’s a solid app. There is really nothing negative to say about it. This app knows what needs to be done, and it does it. The only thing I’m missing is Google Music in the cloud, but that’s not possible with third-party apps right now. A note: the developer has announced on his Google+ page that a trademark claim on the term ”amp” (seriously) is going to force a name change. Just don’t be surprised if AMP+ gets a new name soon.
You may remember a PC game from a few years back called Mirror’s Edge. This was an innovative first person freerunning game that introduced a lot of gamers to parkour. Now, there’s no Mirror’s Edge game on Android, but we do finally have Vector, a 2D side-scroller that does an excellent job of making parkour look like a breeze.
Vector relies entirely on swiping to control movement. Your shadowy avatar will run from left to right across the rooftops, and it’s up to you to make sure you avoid the pitfalls and obstacles that come up. Swiping up will get you a jump, or a speedy vault if you’re close enough to an obstacle. This is actually what you want. Timing things perfectly keeps you moving faster. See, you’re not just running for your health -- there is a thug with a gun on your tail.
You also have other swiping control to use, and timing is just as important here. You’ll occasionally have to swipe down to slide, or forward to sprint. The man on your tail is going to be doing the same things as you, but if he does them better, he’s going to catch up and it’s game over.
You can get a little boost if you can catch the special tricks. Vector touts itself as having over 100 real parkour moves, and the special tricks are where you’ll see most of them. A few times in each stage you will run through a small box with a trick icon on it. Swipe up as you pass it, and you’ll do a sweet jump (or flip, or whatever). It’s harder for your pursuer to keep up if you hit these.
I’m unendingly happy that Vector is set up with carefully crafted levels instead of randomly generated endless buildings. There is replay value and a real challenge here. However, to do your best in the levels, you have to unlock the tricks with coins. You collect coins in the levels, but you can also buy them with an in-app purchase. Yeah, you’d probably prefer not to, but I feel like I’m getting plenty of loot just from playing the game.
The graphics in Vector are really interesting. The foreground and your character are completely black. You are just a silhouette running across more silhouettes. In the background all the buildings and spires of the city are bright and colorful. It’s actually a very neat effect. There is no aliasing I can see, during gameplay, but you’ll notice a little in the screens. Performance is very smooth on the Nexus 7.
A quick word about the physics: everything feels believable and accurate. It actually seems like the game is taking into account how well you time things. If you’re a little early on a jump, your avatar might have to catch a ledge and struggle up. Or maybe you missed a jump, causing you to stumble over the obstacle. The point is that this isn’t static -- you feel like part of the world.
Vector is free for the first set of levels, then you have to pay $0.99 to unlock the full game. Also, this kills the annoying ads you see between levels. Try it, and I assure you that $0.99 won’t seem like a lot.
Syder Arcade HD
Side-scrolling shooters are one of the easier game genres to design for touchscreen devices. Some of them are even quite good. It’s common to see these titles ramp up the difficulty while drawing on classic gaming franchises. It’s more rare to see a game that manages to be genuinely challenging without slathering on the retro. Not that there’s anything wrong with that -- it’s just nice to play a shooter that doesn’t mind looking good too. That’s what Syder Arcade HD is.
Each of the six stages in Syder is basically a very long, narrow battlefield. You can glide along as fast or slow as you like, but be aware that the level is about twice as tall as your screen. This gives the game a much more expansive feel because you can choose different paths to the goal. Some of the giant capital ship bosses in these levels are off-the-wall cool, as well.
You don’t have to worry about firing -- your craft is just pumping out mayhem all the time. The virtual thumbstick in the lower left corner controls your ship’s position. On the opposite side you have a special weapon attack that recharges as you do damage, and a flip button. See, this game is a little different from other side scrollers in that you will be attacked from both sides.
Tap the flip button to turn your ship around to take out threats as you need to. You can still move forward in the level as you fire behind you, but it’s riskier. This is what makes Syder Arcade so much fun, and maybe a little stressful. Even if you think you’re controlling things ahead of you, a squadron of enemy ships can swoop in from behind and ruin your day. This game is hard, and you will die.
There are three different ships to choose from, each one with a particular strength. One has better weapons, one is faster and more maneuverable, and one is heavily armored. Just pick the one that best suits your style of play. You have three lives, and it’s game over when you’re dead. You can, however, start a new game at the last level you reached. I like this aspect because it at least ensures that most players will be able to see the entire game.
The graphics in Syder Arcade HD are stellar, if you’ll forgive the pun. The texture resolution is high enough to make things engrossing. The backgrounds are very beautiful, and the enemy ships look incredible. The lighting effects have a little to do with that. The explosions and weapons fire also look great. Taken together, Syder Arcade has a very realistic appearance.
The only concern I have right now is that the game crashes occasionally on my Nexus 7. I’m hoping an update will solve that problem, but it’s not happening so often that I want to walk away. There are also no in-app purchases of any sort. Syder Arcade HD is only $0.99, so check this one out.
That's it for this week, folks. If you didn't see anything you liked this time, check back next week, or ping me with and apps you want to see in the next roundup.