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Google Play App Roundup: Mercury Browser, Star Command, and Type:Rider

By Ryan Whitwam

Browsing, space-faring, and type riding.

Believe it or not, we care about your Android phone. We want to see it running only the best apps and games, because no one should have to play Candy Crush Saga for one moment longer than they have to (the necessary length of time, by the way, is 0 seconds). So it's time for another Google Play App Roundup with the best new stuff on Android. Just click the links to head right over to Google Play.

This week we've got a new browser, a Kickstarter success of sorts, and a typographical masterpiece.

Mercury Browser

For quite a while now, Mercury Browser has been one of the top alternatives to Safari on iOS. In fact, it has been one of the top overall productivity apps on that platform. Now a version of Mercury has arrived on Android as another alternative to Chrome. The features and interface are a little different than the iOS version, but it still seems like a solid option.

The interface for Mercury is extremely minimalist. There is an address bar at the top of the page that automatically hides when you scroll down, and a toolbar at the bottom. Even when everything is on the screen, it doesn't take up much vertical space. The bottom toolbar provides access to most of Mercury's special functions. There is a settings button that pops up a menu with a variety of instant toggles for things like day/night mode, user agent, and font size. Among the other buttons is one for quick access to extensions. I like that turning the device to landscape automatically hides the toolbar as well.

The extensions in Mercury are probably not what you usually think of when you hear the word, but they do provide additional functionality. You've got Dropbox, WiFi file transfer, Google Translate, and more. There's also an interesting reader mode extension that creates a clean Instapaper-like version of the current page. There isn't any way to add more extensions to the app, but the developers are supposed to be working on additions for future updates.

Mercury Browser doesn't use visible tabs at the top on phones or tablets, but instead has a tab button you press to see all the open pages. This screen has big preview windows you can tap to open or swipe to close. You can also switch tabs by swiping with two fingers. A three-finger swipe, however, closes the current tab.

Page loads are quick and touch-response if very good. I'd say in both cases it's about on par with Chrome or maybe slightly faster. You don't have all the Google services built-in, though.

Security is one of the centerpieces of Mercury Browser. There is a private browsing mode, and the entire app can be locked down with a password as well. If you want to erase all trace of your activities, you can clear the history and cache in one tap. These are all good things to have.

The developers still need to work on bookmark importing and management, and also get more extensions up and running. The iOS version has LastPass, for example. Mercury Browser is free in Google Play if you want to give it a shot.

Star Command

Your ship is all that stands between humanity and certain doom in Star Command. This game is basically a space combat title mixed with a little world building. Star Command was funded on Kickstarter way back in 2011, but was delayed several times before coming to iOS early this summer, and just last week on Android. So was it worth the wait?

You begin the game with a mostly empty ship and a small crew of fresh-faced officers. Your duties involve flying around the galaxy and checking out suspicious things -- you know, Star Command-y stuff. Each time you get yourself into a bit of a scrape, you have to manage your ship's systems and fire the guns while also repel boarding parties to keep your ship in one piece.

Each successful mission provides you with a few tokens that can be used to add rooms, hire crew, and improve your ship. As you expand the facilities on-board, you'll need to staff them with people/aliens. Rooms (and the crew assigned to them) come in three flavors -- command/tactical, medical/science, and engineering. Fans of Star Trek will be happy to hear that each one matches the color used in the TNG era and later Treks. In order to get the benefits of a room, it must be staffed by at least one crew member. So even if you build the super cool dodge generator, taking all your crew out of it to repair the hull will prevent you from using that skill in battle.

Fighting other ships is basically a test of your ability to multitask. Your weapons and powers will charge based on your upgrades and how many crew members you have working on each one. At the top of the screen are all the statistics on your foe. When they charge the weapons, they'll attack.

If your shields go down for even a moment, a boarding party will show up. Tactical crew can be used to attack the invaders, but that tends to divert your attention. Your weapons don't just fire themselves either. Each one has a neat little mini game to determine how many hits you'll score. Star Command will really suck you in as you find yourself fending off intruders, repairing your ship, firing back, and putting out (literal) fires all over the craft. The controls are usually fine -- your'e just tapping to select and move people. However, in the heat of battle a touchscreen can become a little imprecise.

Visually, this game is retro styled, but not really old-looking. It's a kind of "HD retro." Everything is clearly composed of over-sized pixels, but all the animations and backgrounds are very clean. It reminds me a lot of the style of Sword and Sworcery -- it's retro without feeling lazy.

Star Command is $2.99, which I think is worth it. It probably has 5-ish hours of gameplay in the main campaign, plus more random battles. Only the small and medium ship designs are in the game so far, but more content is coming at some point -- hopefully not delayed for multiple years, though.

Type:Rider

There are plenty of platformer titles out there, but how many can also teach you about fonts? That may not be something you've always wanted a mobile game to do, but Type:Rider does it anyway. This is a stylish game with simple controls and really cool visuals. Also, book learnin'.

You take control of a small pair of dots that behave more or less like a car. There are several types of control available for this game, but the default 'intuitive" method is the best. Just press on the left or right side of the screen to roll your dots in that direction. Tap with a second finger to jump, and that's really it. With these controls you can navigate strange landscapes made up of books and gigantic letters arranged in clever ways.

Each stage is sprinkled with small glowing letters that unlock more of the typography book, which you can read or not. The levels are not terribly hard, but it will sometimes take a few tries to figure out how to make past the various dangers. If you fall off a cliff or encounter something pointy, the game starts you off at the last place you picked up a letter.

In addition to simply jumping from one spot to the next, there are some simple puzzles to contend with. You might have to use weights to balance a giant scale to make your way across, or change the level of water by removing blockages up stream. There's enough variety in the gameplay that it doesn't get stale immediately.

Type:Rider levels are arranged as a series of font families throughout history. There's Helvetica, Times New Roman, and even Comic Sans (because why not?). Each set of levels is designed with the theme in mind. The early medieval fonts have beautiful manuscripts in the background, and the more modern ones use newsprint and skylines. The artwork throughout this game is awesome. The ambient musical track is also excellent.

Type:Rider is a slightly expensive at a bit over $3, but it's worth checking out if you consider yourself a font nerd, or if you just like beautifully designed games.