In the search for the best apps and games, there are many pitfalls to avoid. Excessive in-app purchases, limited content, and repetitive gameplay are only a sampling of the perils you must navigate. The Google Play App Roundup seeks to guide you around such dangers. This is where we tell you about all the best new and newly updated stuff in Google Play.
This week there's a huge update to a popular keyboard app, a new game that make platforming fun again, and neat a casual shooter.
SwiftKey is obviously not a new app, but it's gotten a significant update this week that makes it almost new. There is now only one version of SwiftKey -- gone are the separate tablet and phone apps. Though, you should be able to install the old tablet version if you have a license. The app that was previously phone-only now has a variety of layouts that makes it possibly the best tablet typing experience on a mobile device.
First, let's go over what SwiftKey does, then we'll talk about what's new. This is an alternative keyboard, like any number of other keyboards in Google Play. It can be selected as the default in place of whatever your device maker included in just a few steps. In fact, if you launch SwiftKey like an app, it will guide you through the process quite quickly. Part of the setup process is also to have you log into the SwiftKey Cloud service. It's optional, but doing so will allow SwiftKey's servers to learn from your various online accounts how you type for better text predictions.
SwiftKey is kind of scary accurate sometimes -- the suggestion bar can actually string together several correct words. Likewise, the accuracy of the on-the-fly corrections is excellent. It also supports swiping text input, which is pretty accurate. You can even swipe through a whole sentence without lifting your finger (Google added this in the newest stock keyboard too). Some people swear by this feature, but I've always had mixed results with it.
The big innovation this time around is the multiple keyboard layouts. There is the regular look, a split keyboard, and compact (all the keys over to one side). all three layouts can be undocked from the bottom of the screen and moved around to suit your typing style. This is especially awesome on a tablet, which offers much more screen real estate.
I'm blown away by the compact layout on a tablet -- it can be moved anyplace on the screen and is about the size of a large phone keyboard. It's great for one-handed text input with swiping. It also comes with a number of themes to fit with your aesthetic -- even if you have strange taste.
The new SwiftKey can still be of use on a regular phone, though it's not as clearly superior as it is on a tablet. The new single version of SwiftKey is $3.99 and it is totally worth it.
You may remember the last Rayman game, called Rayman Jungle Run. This new title is a lot like the last one, but with a few extra elements. Thankfully, the basic gameplay hasn't been altered in this one. It's still the same tight, clever platforming experience with excellent flow.
Rayman Fiesta Run trims out all the cruft from the platforming genre and leaves you with a simple, but very engaging experience. In this game, Rayman will run from one side of the screen to the other, and it's up to you to time the jumps and punches correctly to reach the end and collect the glowing Lums along the way.
You advance in this game not only by completing the level, but by completing it well. There are 100 Lums in each stage, and the more you get, the faster you unlock new stages. If you ace a level by getting all 100, you'll unlock a special (and more difficult) version of the stage. There are also occasional levels with quirks like a shrunken-down Rayman or a flock of dangerous creatures flying after you.
Rayman Fiesta Run starts you off with only the jumping mechanic -- tap to jump at the right time to clear chasms and bounce off walls. Then it adds in attacks with a second button and eventually hovering with a long-press. You can also use your accumulated Lums to buy power ups at the beginning of the levels. This is helpful for some of the more difficult stages later in the game.
All the actions you take fit in with the game so well -- it's almost like the jumping and dodging is a pre-rendered animation. The environments in the new Rayman game are varied and totally fun-looking. Rayman does his platforming business in ice caves, junkyards, and what appears to be a giant barbecue with monsters. It's a really cool animated style with very clean lines and pumped up colors.
Rayman Fiesta Run comes with 75 levels for the $2.99 asking price. There are some in-app purchases for more Lums, but they're buried pretty deep and seem irrelevant to the game. This is a title you should give some thought to picking up.
If you're in the market for a good casual shooter, the newest game from Bulkypix might be what you need. Meltdown places you in a series of randomly generated levels crawling with robots. Your only goal is to take out wave after wave of bots with upgradeable weapons and abilities. When the solitary nature of your struggle against the machines gets to be too much, you can even recruit help from the pool of online players.
Meltdown is a top-down isometric shooter with super-simple touch controls. Your little commando will open fire at any hostile robot that comes within range, so all you have to do is move him around and make sure he has cover. A single-tap moves to a location and a double-tap does a dodge-roll-thing. You can also long-press to guide your avatar around by dragging a path.
If there are multiple baddies around, you can tap on one to target it manually. If one gets too close, just long-press to go into melee mode. This is the only aspect of the controls I'm not sold on -- too often the attack is recognized as a command to walk. When you're in cover, you will have to keep track of when it's safe to pop up and fire. The button in the lower right corner either allows, or prevents you from firing. If a robot is hanging back and lobbing bullets your way, stay in cover until it reloads. If it's coming at you, might want to keep the attacks coming.
This game uses the same recharging shield trick that a lot of shooters are using these days. It gives you a little wiggle room if things get hairy. Defeated robots will often drop life and ammo, but careful progress through the level can keep you in good shape too. There are also some challenging "arenas" in the levels that wall you off with a ton of enemies -- keeps things interesting.
The online play is actually quite cool, but there are only a few dozen players online most of the time. It's still a good way to farm some XP if you can find a party from play with.
Graphically, Meltdown has a neat style. It makes heavy use of lighting effects and simple (but clear) textures. The single player game is completely smooth, but the online play does exhibit a spot of lag every now and then.
This game is free with in-app purchases. You can use these to get more currency for upgrades or continues that can be deployed if you're killed during a mission. The upsell isn't too intrusive, but you might end up spending a buck or two for the best experience.