The spring phone season is spinning up, so you may well have your eye on a new device very soon. In advance of that, you might want to stock up on good apps and games to enjoy when you finally have it in your hands. We can help you with that first part. Every week in the Google Play App Roundup we check out what's new and cool in Google Play. Just click the links to head right to the Play Store.
This week we have a new live wallpaper from a noted developer, a game with plenty of puzzles, and some questionable medical practices.
Googler Roman Nurik is known among Android users for making the excellent DashClock widget. Now he's back with a different kind of app -- a live wallpaper called Muzei. Unlike some (okay, most) live wallpapers, Muzei isn't some sort of constantly moving image. It uses Android's live wallpaper functionality to create a blurred backdrop behind your icons that changes throughout the day. The images behind the blur effect are the magic of Muzei.
The default setting for Muzei will download a new piece of art each day -- the launch image was Van Gogh's Starry Night. Muzei lowers the brightness and applies a Gaussian blur to make sure the background on your home screen isn't too busy. The results look great, and you can bring the real image forward for a few seconds at any time by double-tapping on the screen. The Muzei app can also be used to view the unfiltered image in all its glory.
This would be a nice trick all by itself, but maybe not worthy of a spot in the Roundup. However, like DashClock, this app has a developer API for building extensions. The daily art feed is just one of many sources for backgrounds. There are already standalone extensions for the Astronomy Picture of the Day, Flickr, 500px, Reddit, and more. Some apps like Reddit Sync have added extensions too. Yes, there is also support for local images in Muzei, but the online streams are more fun.
Each extension has its own settings, but most include a way to refine the source (for example, picking specific sub-Reddits in the Reddit extensions) and change the refresh time. Muzei itself includes the settings to change the blur and dim effect universally, which is a nice option to have.
I have installed this on all my devices, and I love it. It's just a very clever way to get attractive backgrounds rotating on your device that don't make it harder to see what's going on with the icons and widgets. Developers seem to be taking to Muzei pretty well, which makes for a ton of choices. Muzei and all the current extensions are completely free.
It takes masterful game design to make a point-and-click adventure game captivating, but Fireproof Games has done it twice. The Room Two has just arrived on Android to continue the story from the first game, and it brings more clever puzzles, creepy "Lovecraftian" ambiance, and an engrossing story. Extremely minor spoilers ahead.
In The Room Two, you are still on trail of a mysterious scientist known only as "AS." You will find yourself in a series of rooms that are carefully designed puzzles. To progress to the next room and get one step closer to freedom, you'll have to solve the riddles in each stage. Each room has several areas of interest -- usually tables, desks, and ornate puzzle boxes. Just double-tap or pinch-zoom on the area you want to focus on and start tapping and swiping.
Many of the puzzles rely on using a special lens to reveal hidden markings and fingerprints. Is that cryptic letter really as it appears? Perhaps the lens will reveal more, and you'll probably facepalm a few times when it instantly points the way to the solution. You'll happen upon keys, arcane scientific instruments, slips of paper, and odd little bits of metal that won't make sense until you work out their purpose and unlock another secret.
Here's an example from the game that gets the nature of the gameplay across nicely: in one room there is a particularly confounding puzzle box. You have to get inside to find the items you need, but damned if there are no clues in the room. However, a nearby mirror can be used to instantaneously swap that box for a completely different one -- or maybe you're just moving between different realities? Each box has the pieces and clues you need to solve the other. See? Clever.
The Room Two is challenging, but it's not outside the reach of most casual games. There are no time limits and you aren't penalized wrong guesses. If you need a little help, the game has a hint button in the top left corner. It will give you three or four clues about what you ought to do next. Usually the first one is enough to get your brain jump started, but if you take all it has to offer, the last hint is usually the equivalent of, "over there, stupid." If you don't dig that, just don't use the hints.
This game is extremely attractive. The lighting and shadows are put to great use setting the mood, and the use of depth of field makes the levels feel very realistic. There is no aliasing to speak of and the textures are mostly top notch. Every now and then I find the camera view a little close to some surface that doesn't look superb, but that's rare. The style of this game from start to finish is simply incredible.
The Room Two is $2.99 in Google Play, and I can't recommend it strongly enough. There are only a few hours of gameplay, but they will be wonderful hours.
Scrub in -- it's time to do some ill-conceived surgical procedures without proper materials. That's what makes it fun, though. Amateur Surgeon 3 has arrived on Android, and it's a significant departure from the first two, which weren't ported very well at all. This time the game looks much more polished, but beware the in-app purchases.
Each level in Amateur Surgeon 3 has a new patient with strange, somewhat inappropriate injuries. You simply have to patch them up as best you can. It starts with removing any foreign objects, like knives, shards of glass, and piranhas (seriously). You have to do it carefully, even though you're using salad tongs. Pull too fast or in the wrong direction and your patient's heart rate will drop. There are a number of catches like this -- even though you're working against the timer, you can't rush or you get penalized.
Wounds are mended with staples, a lighter, and healing salve. You'll do a lot of this, but you can go as fast as you like with this, so it can help you make up some time. If your patient is starting to slip away, there is also a syringe that can give them a little boost, but it can only do so much. Amateur Surgeon 3 is fairly good at pointing you toward the next task with color-coded dotted lines, so it's not too difficult to at least keep them alive.
You earn coins from completing surgeries, but failing one uses up a bloodpack, which you have three of. They regerate every 30 minutes, but you can also buy more for real money. The game also included surgical partners with special abilities that you select for each stage. They can only be used a few times before they need to recharge, but your regular in-game coins can be used. This still pushes you a bit toward IAPs, but it's not terrible.
The graphics in Amateur Surgeon 3 are super-cartoony -- exaggerated proportions, outlandish physics, and so on. It's also a but crude with spurting blood and various forms of dismemberment. No worse than an episode of South Park, though. One issue is the legacy menu button of shame. That's going to be annoying for HTC One users in particular.
I will say the dialog and storyline aren't very interesting. The jokes are a bit lame too. I found myself skipping most of it after a few levels to just get on with the next surgery. Amateur Surgeon 3 is free-to-play and you can definitely make it work without dropping any money on it. It's a good time waster at the least.