Google Play is not unlike an unexplored cave. There's a lot of cool stuff to see, but it's deep and dark, and you may never be seen again if you wander off alone. Just follow us with the Google Play App Roundup as your guide. This is where we tell you about the best new and newly updated stuff on Android. Just click the app links to head right to Google Play.
This week we've got a casual RPG from a legendary developer, a keyboard that promises better typing, and a sandbox game that gets it right.
This is a game that delighted desktop gamers when it came out a while back, and now it's been ported to Android. Terraria shares a lot of DNA with another indie sandbox game you might have heard of: Minecraft. It's got a blocky retro theme, you craft items by mining the randomly generated world, and the sunset brings out the monsters. However, Terraria is more straightforward in its gameplay. You can get up and running faster, and the controls are worlds better on a touch screen. Can your free time take another hit?
You begin Terraria with a basic collection of implements -- an axe, sword, hammer, and pickaxe. You have to burrow deep into the earth to mine the raw materials that you will then forge into new items to build a little town on the surface. The first order of business is building yourself a simple shelter, because it's not the safest place at night. Right from the start you'll have to fight off monsters, even in the daytime and underground. It makes Terraria a little more engaging at the beginning.
Perhaps the best thing about the mobile adaptation of Terraria is that the developers only changed what they needed to. This is essentially the same game you get on the desktop, but with mobile-optimized controls. Not only that -- the controls are really good. There is a virtual thumbstick on the left for movement and jumping. On the right is a second stick that controls the direction of your digging or attacks (depending on what you have equipped). You simply point in the direction of what you want to interact with, and it happens. If you need precision, just tap and hold on the screen and you get a magnified view of what you're interacting with. It's a bit like the iOS cursor control UI.
As you dig deeper you encounter more dangers, as well as more ores and objects. By setting up various crafting stations in your house, you can make more items and better use your resources. You don't have to fumble around with materials, though. Terraria shows you clearly what you can make based on what you have. It's definitely a sandbox game, but with less guesswork.
This is a 2D game with strong platforming elements, but you can make your own platforms by placing blocks as you go. Simply going underground and exploring is a ton of fun. The simple graphics make it easy to pick things out from a distance, and it all works well with the game's general vibe. Terraria isn't retro because the developers couldn't afford a designer -- its retro streak is playful and appropriate.
Terraria is free to try, but you can't save your game without buying the full version for $4.99. If you like open-ended gameplay, it's definitely worth it.
Seldom will I pick up any flavor of RPG on a mobile device. It's a style of game that simply doesn't lend itself well to a touchscreen, or to a device with limited power. RPGs traditionally involve a lot of exploration and drawn-out gameplay. Reaper comes from the minds at Hexage, a legendary Android developer that understands the limitations of a mobile device. This is an RPG that dispenses with all the superfluous elements of an RPG and goes back to basics.
You play the role of the mysterious Pale Swordsman, awoken from ages of slumber in the Wilderness. There are various factions seeking to control the vast resources of the Wilderness, and you get to decide who to throw your lot in with. The Imperials have armor and advanced weapons, the native tribes use powerful magic, and the beasts of the Wilderness are always ready for a fight.
You travel from one map location to the next getting a bit of dialog, making decisions, and picking up quests. The gameplay is very straightforward -- you hit the next button and the Pale Swordsman will go to the next map marker. Basically, there is always a battle just a few taps away. It may not seem like it at first, but the things you say in conversation do have an effect on the outcome of quests and amount of gold you make.
The fighting system is very easy to get the hang of in Reaper. This is a 2D hack-and-slash system. You walk left and right with the button in the lower left. Getting within striking distance of an enemy automatically unleashes normal attacks. The right half of the screen is for performing gestures and triggering jumps. The gesture-based power attacks do more damage, but you have to build up Rage from regular attacks to get the full benefit.
The battles only take a few minutes to complete, and even entire quests max out at 5-10 minutes. This is a game you can pick up, complete a few battles, then come back to later. It really is perfect for a mobile device. You also gain levels fast, each one coming with a new perk.
The graphics in Reaper are easily identifiable as Hexage from a mile away. There are a ton of ambient glow effects, smart use of shading, and incredibly vibrant colors. The textures are not very detailed, but everything looks smooth and well put together. It's a really lovely game.
Reaper is free for the first 10 levels, then you have to upgrade to one of three versions. For $2.99 you get the main game. The next step up is $3.99 and it includes additional items, a token area, and some more bonuses. For $4.99 you get all the other stuff, plus a new game mode and even more gear. There are no microtransactions in this game. All the gold you earn comes from battling. You can use it to buy equipment and items from merchants, and you earn plenty.
You should play this. It's one of the best games on Android.
Dynamic Keyboard Pro
Touchscreen keyboards have gotten good at predicting what you're about to type. A few moments spent with SwiftKey illustrates that quite well. Dynamic Keyboard uses that data to actually change the size of the keys as you type. It's not the first app to take this approach, but it might actually get it right.
The resting size of the keys is maybe a little smaller than the keys of various stock keyboards. Each letter you type causes other keys to sort of pop out. The hit boxes get slightly larger in all directions. Additionally, there isn't just one "expanded" size -- the area of the key relates directly to how likely Dynamic Keyboard believes it is that you'll go for it.
There are a lot of neat animations in Dynamic Keyboard, some of which are admittedly unnecessary eye candy. The default animation setting is a little bouncy and rather fun. There is also a high-animation mode that looks cool, but will probably be distracting in practice.
The app has reasonable default settings, but you have to enable the HD version. it should work fine on most devices. Without this enabled the keyboard looks jagged and weird. The square keys work well, but the circular ones are cool for a little change. You can also choose custom colors for Dynamic Keyboard.
What you really want to know is, does it actually work? Well, it mostly does. You will definitely hit the right keys more, unless you're typing a lot of non-dictionary words. However, there is no auto-correct in Dynamic Keyboard, which is a problem for me. Presumably the developer will take care of that, but it's an issue right now. There is no suggestion bar, but the functionality of Dynamic Keyboard is supposed to do away with that. I don't really miss the suggestions, and you can still do in-line spell checking, if your phone supports it.
Dynamic Keyboard isn't perfect, but it's innovative and something to check out. The Pro version is only $0.99, and the free edition lacks most of the things that make it cool. This is probably worth a buck to try out.