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Google Play App Roundup: ActiveNotifications, Middle Manager of Justice, and Dots

By Ryan Whitwam

Notifications, heroes, and dots.

Another week, another batch of carefully chosen apps and games for the Google Play App Roundup. This is the place you can come to find out what's new and cool in the world of Android apps. Just click on the link to head right to Google Play.

This week we search for netter notifications, defeat some villainous paper work, and connect the dots.

ActiveNotifications

The Moto X is going to do a lot of interesting things when it is finally available, but you can get some of that functionality ported over to your current Android device. Of particular interest is the way the Moto X will handle notifications with its so-called Active Notifications. An Android app called ActiveNotifications does what you'd expect -- it adds a similar on-screen notification system to any device.

ActiveNotifications has been in development for a few weeks, but a recent update expanded compatibility so most Android users can get it. This app will pop up simple black and white notifications on your device's screen when you get a ping. If you're using AMOLED, only the white pixels are on to draw power. LCDs are a bit more high-drain, but it's surprisingly efficient. I've been using this app for about a week on the Nexus 4, and I haven't seen any additional battery drain from having it enabled (and I get a lot of email).

Here's how it works: the device gets a valid notification, ActiveNotifications wakes up the screen and places the appropriate icon in the middle of the display. It uses the same look and feel as the Moto X feature, which is similar to the call answer and swipe-to-unlock UI. Press and hold on the icon to get the notification text up at the top of the screen. Then you can swipe up to open the notification directly or down to just unlock the device.

ActiveNotifications would be incredibly annoying if it woke up the screen for every notification, so there is a handy way to filter things. ActiveNotifications lists all the other apps on your phone, allowing you to go through and only enable the ones you want showing up on the screen. It's a bit tedious the first time, but really makes the experience useful. The screen-on time will be the same as your system setting, so if your device goes to sleep after 30 seconds of inactivity, that's how long the notification will be visible. There is a setting to customize this time for ActiveNotifications.

The app is free with this basic functionality, but a single $0.99 in-app purchase adds a few advanced features. The premium add on lets you swipe to the side to shut the screen off instantly.There are also sleep hours to keep your phone from glowing next to the bed. There is a custom brightness setting in the paid version too.

This app will work flawlessly on Android 4.3 because it ties into the Notification Reading service. On previous versions of the platform, it uses the accessibility service to read notifications, so it uses a few hacks to get things working. Yeah, it's experimental, but seems to work for most users.

Middle Manager of Justice

Superheroes are the ones saving the day and getting all the praise, but what about logistics? Hmm? Human resources? Do you think superheroes manage all that stuff themselves? Heck, no. That's what middle managers are for, and now you can be one in Middle Manager of Justice. This game from Double Fine has just launched on Android and you can manage your own local Justice Corp. office.

This is a simulation game in the same vein as The Sims, but with a bit more interaction. You start with a small team of basic heroes, which you must use to beat back the forces of evil and make your branch a success. As you gain experience and cash, you can expand your base to train your heroes and improve their stats. You also have hiring authority to get more powerful heroes.

The main top-down view of your base is used to train heroes, keep them happy, and research new powers and items. There's a lot of tapping, and I sometimes feel like the hit boxes are a bit small, but that's in the zoomed out view. The default view is very close, and not too useful. It's better to pinch to get a bird's eye view of what's going on.

The crime map lists events your heroes need to attend to. You can assign any number of heroes to take care of business. Watching the battle lets you activate managerial powers, or the individual heroes' super abilities. Basically, it gives you a better chance of winning. Delegating a battle lets you get back to managing the office and other heroes while the battle happens in the background. This is a smart gameplay mechanic--watching every single battle would be tedious and annoying.

Keeping the streets safe nets you gold and Superium. Gold buys items and office upgrades. Superium is for hiring heroes and speeding up training. You get plenty of gold, but Superium is in short supply most times. Middle Manager of Justice is a free game, so there are in-app purchases. The Superium is reasonably priced, but if you work at leveling up your manager, you can get by fine without buying anything.

The graphics are comic book styled and very nice in general. The animations are smooth, and Middle Manager of Justice has a good sense of humor. The game runs well, and is rendered with no jaggies or blurriness, even on high resolution screens. It has the right mix of retro and modern elements to be a constant delight.

Middle Manager of Justice is a good game, and I urge you play it for at least a little bit. Once you figure out the mechanics and get the office running smoothly, it's super-fun.

Dots

Who would have thought connecting multi-colored dots could be so addictive? Dots arrived on iOS recently, and now it's on Android too. In this game you're presented with a 6x6 grid of dots with random colors. You have to clear as many as possible in 60 seconds by matching the colors. Trust me, it's more fun than it sounds.

All you have to do in Dots is draw a line connecting matching dots. However, you can't go diagonally--only vertical and horizontal. Each time you clear dots, more will drop in from above to fill in the gaps. At the end of each round, your score is the number of dots you were able to clear. Then the game will add any bonuses you received by accomplishing special feats. For example, completing a square of four or more dots in one move.

The game tracks your total dots across multiple rounds, and it's not just for bragging rights. You can use your dots to buy special powerups that can be used to boost your score next time. This is a free game, so Dots offers you the opportunity to buy extra dots if you're into that. It's not really forced upon you, though.

That's just the main game mode--it's all about speed and reaction time. The other mode is more of a puzzle. You get 30 moves to clear as many dots as possible. This one change completely alters the feel of the game, and that's pretty cool.

There's very little to say about the graphics. There are colorful dots, and a few buttons. It's a very clean interface, which is appropriate for what it is. It won't set the world on fire, but neither will it annoy you.

For a free game, Dots is incredibly fun and perfectly suited to a mobile device. A game only takes 60 seconds, which is great for killing time in line at the bank, or wherever you're standing around. Just download it.