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Google Play App Roundup: Ninja SMS, Scribblenauts Remix, and Worms 2: Armageddon

By Ryan Whitwam

Texting, scribbling, and bombing worms. These are the things that get us through the week.

Another week has started, and that means it's time to check up on the Android app ecosystem. With the huge number of apps arriving on a daily basis, you could install things all day and not find what you really need. We're here to cut through the nonsense and save you time. Simply click on the app name to head right to the Play Store.

This week we've got a cool new SMS app, a surprise from Amazon, and a game with invertebrates.

Ninja SMS

You've probably heard all the fuss over Facebook Home in recent days, and one of the more interesting features of Zuckerberg’s new project is Chat heads. These are floating popups that appear on your screen when you get a Facebook message. But what if you don’t really use Facebook messaging, but like that functionality? Well, Ninja SMS does it for (you guessed it) your text messages.

If you’re using an alternative SMS app like Go or Handcent, you’ll have to disable it to use Ninja SMS. When first run, the app will have you select which contacts get popups. I’m incredibly happy you can choose only select contacts -- I don’t need every random text message interrupting what I’m doing. Ninja SMS automatically selects your most frequent contacts, but you can add or remove people as you see fit.

The settings also contain a few useful options for how the app behaves. There are quite a few themes to choose from, which is nice to have. The default theme is a black/green number that isn’t the most attractive.

The popup will intercept the SMS notification for your chosen contacts each time you get a message, but the text will still go into the stock messaging app if you want to review later. The popup has a small conversation view, input field, send button, and a few controls hanging off the left side. The top button toggles partial window transparency so you can see more of what’s going on behind the popup. Below that is a full-screen toggle for easier viewing. This makes Ninja SMS feel like a full-scale app.

At the bottom is the minimize button. This turns your conversation into a floating “Chat head” that you can place wherever you want for quick access to the conversation. Unlike Facebook Home, this app lets you place the floating disembodied head wherever you want. And yes, you can have multiple floating windows up at once.

I haven’t experienced any slow downs with Ninja SMS on my Nexus 4, but there are still a few bugs. Minimizing to the head-only widget sometimes makes the app go invisible. This has only happened twice in a few days, but I had to force stop the app to rectify the error.

Ninja SMS is $0.99 in Google Play. If you send a lot of SMS and don’t want to bounce back and forth between apps, this is a recommended purchase.

Scribblenauts Remix

It’s been a long, long time since I’ve had reason to venture into the Amazon Appstore. When it launched there were some hot exclusive titles, but it quickly stagnated. Now a game I’ve been waiting for with bated breath has finally arrived on Android, and it’s currently exclusive to Amazon. I’m talking about none other than Scribblenauts Remix. This game is one of the most innovative on a mobile device, and it’s going to steal your heart.

You can think of Scribblenauts as the most open-ended puzzle game ever created. The game is broken up into stages, each with a few puzzles to solve. You’ll be placed in amusing situations with odd people, and given a hint about how to proceed. How do you see to the needs of these characters? You conjure things out of thin air. That’s the gameplay mechanic in Scribblenauts.

Open your magic notebook, and type in a thing. It can be almost any item, and the game will make it. You want a dragon? Done. Jetpack? Also cool. Zombie? You asked for it. You can even add adjectives like small, evil, blue, and so on to your creations. What’s more, the things you make actually interact with the world. For example, if you create a suitable animal, you can ride it. A weapon can be wielded to defend yourself against the zombie you just called into being, and so much more.

To give you a better idea here is a scenario from the game: you have to help a knight cross a body of water, but there’s a shark. First, take out the shark by creating lightning and electrify the water. Next, make a bridge and place it across the water so you can get across. Neat, right?

Scribblenauts requires some thought, but it isn’t meant to stump you for long periods. There are always three hints that unlock after a few minutes so you can have a real shot at figuring the challenge out. Even if you can’t solve a level right away, that’s fine. It’s incredibly fun to just start making stuff!

The graphics in Scribblenauts Remix are endearing and very well-done. All the characters look like cell-shaded dolls or wood carvings of some sort. It’s a unique visual style to say the least. You can’t help but smile when you call for something ridiculous and it shows up with a neat, and distinctly Scribblenauts vibe.

This game is selling for $0.99 in the Amazon Appstore. That includes the first world in the game, after which you can buy all current and future levels for $0.99 through an in-app purchase. The game is expected to launch in Google Play in a few months. I couldn’t wait, and you shouldn’t either.

Worms 2: Armageddon

The original Worms game came out Android back in 2011, but it was published by Electronic Arts. Well, the game’s original developers, Team17, were not very pleased with the lack of updates coming from EA, so that version of the game is gone. In its place is Worms 2: Armageddon, and it’s very much the worms game I’ve been waiting for on Android.

I’ve been playing worms games since the first one came out nearly 20 years ago, and this makes me feel EXTREMELY old. At any rate, the basic premise of Worms is that you command a team of 3-5 cartoon-y little worms with access to all sorts of hilarious weaponry. On the opposing side is a matching team of worms. It’s a turn-based battle to see who comes out on top.

If I had to call out a weak spot in Worms 2: Armageddon, it would be the controls. That’s not to say they’re bad, but it will take some getting used to. Each time your turn comes up, the game selects the next worm in your queue. You can walk (or slither, or whatever worms do) by pressing on the left and right sides of the screen. Tap once in the middle to jump, and double-tap to do a backflip. Panning and zooming is handles with a multitouch gesture, but make sure your fingers stay far apart so as not to accidentally be detected as a jump tap (this was the biggest issue I had with the controls).

So now that you’ve got movement down, it’s time to fight. Once you’ve chosen a weapon, you can aim your shot by tapping and dragging the crosshairs. Some weapons don’t require aiming, so for these you can just fire away. The longer you hold the fire button in the lower right corner, the farther your shot goes.

The sense of humor in Worms 2: Armageddon is perhaps my favorite part. This is a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously -- none of the Worms games do. The worms make clever (and not so clever) little quips, blow themselves up, and generally make you chuckle.

You have standard rifles and grenades in this title, but it’s the off-the-wall stuff that makes Worms really enjoyable. There are homing missiles, air strikes, and an entire class of explosive farm animals that do massive damage. I bet you never thought a sheep could be so devastating, but it’s one of your most reliable weapons. Most of your weapons are limited, but you can always fire off a bazooka round, which is unlimited.

The graphics in Worms 2 are nice and very much what I expect from the franchise. It has a cell-shaded vibe with skewed perspectives and cartoon elements. The colors are very vibrant, and it even has some passable particle effects in the forms of smoke and fire. I don’t see and slow downs on my Nexus 7. Play Store reviews have been very positive so far, as well.

This game has various game modes including a campaign and quick play. I like being able to jump into a game in just a few seconds with quick play. All the terrain is randomly generated, so it’s great for having a fresh combat experience when you just need to kill a few minutes. Worms 2: Armageddon is $4.99 in Google Play, but I think it’s worth that price.

That's all we have this week, but check back next time for more great stuff. In the meantime, feel free to drop me a line with suggestions for the nest Roundup.