There is a never ending stream of new content showing up in the Play Store, but that makes it easy to miss the really good stuff. Luckily, we're stationed there to filter out the best apps and games to serve up weekly in the Google Play App Roundup. Just hit the links to go right the Play Store.
This week we've got a excellent new way you browse the web, a game filled with delightful puzzles, and a PC game shrunken down to Android.
It might only take a few seconds at a time, but have you ever thought about how much of your life you spend looking at blank loading page in your browser? It really adds up, but Link Bubble is a new app that makes Android act a little more like a desktop with true multitasking. Rather than clicking a link and waiting on the page to redirect and load, the link loads in the background and waits for you in a floating bubble. When you want to check it out, Link Bubble opens a nifty floating browser.
Why would you want to do this? Imagine that you're browsing Twitter and you want to check out a link in your timeline. Normally you'd tap it and the link would go directly to Chrome (or whatever your default browser is). You would wait through the Twitter link shortener redirect, the page load, and maybe another redirect as the mobile version of the page is pulled up. With Link Bubble, all that happens in the background and you can keep scrolling through the timeline. You can even stack up more pages inside the bubble and switch between them.
The bubble can be maximized at any time by tapping. When minimized it remains floating on top of whatever app you have up. It's a lot like a Facebook chat head -- you can move it around and dock it on the edge of the screen, or just toss it around for fun. The browser window fills most of the screen when maximized, except for the very top where your various bubbles are lined up like tabs. This makes it very convenient to open a bunch of links and go through them after you're done in your current app.
In addition to viewing the content in Link Bubble, you can manage each bubble individually. There are three active zones on the screen -- two configurable share links at the top and a close icon at the bottom. Drag a bubble down and hold to close all, or just flick one down to close only that bubble. The sharing links are great for adding content to Pocket, opening in Chrome, or sending a link in a message.
Using Link Bubble really changes how you use an Android device. It can intercept links from any app, but it doesn't get in the way of specialized content. In the settings you can view and modify the default apps for links to Google+, YouTube, Facebook, and more. It also has a YouTube button in the action bar of the floating window that links you directly to the YouTube app if there are embedded videos in the page.
The convenience of Link Bubble cannot be overstated. It's an excellent experience and well worth your time to check out. The app is free to try with only a single bubble and app at a time. The $4.99 pro upgrade gives you unlimited use.
If you're in search of a good puzzle game, God of Light is worth examining closely. This game takes a well-established trope and gives it a fresh face and some new elements. Perhaps best of all. you can play a large chunk of the game for free.
God of Light is similar to all those reflection puzzlers where you have to get the laser from one location to the other. However, the path is not so straightforward in God of Light. This title takes place in a forest shrouded in shadows, which prevents you from seeing the entire level. You need to sweep the beam of light across the screen to illuminate the mirrors and special items hidden throughout.
Once you get your bearings, the beam of light has to be bounced between various mirrors until it hits the endpoint of the level. Along the way, you can try to collect power ups and light crystals to unlock more levels. You can complete the puzzle without getting all the crystals, but what fun is that?
An interesting aspect of this game is that you often have to devise elaborate paths for the beam that have nothing to do with hitting the endpoint. Sometimes you have to clear a path by unlocking a barrier or activating a switch in a different part of the level. Only after doing that can you work on the main challenge of reaching the end.
The first section of the game relies on adjustable mirrors and some buttons mechanisms, but things get more complicated after that. The game includes color matching beams of light, super-powerful gravity wells that bend your beams, and more. Tweaking the beams just a tiny bit if often the difference between failure and victory.
The graphics in God of Light are very cool -- better than I would have expected from the promo images. The backgrounds and textures are on the simple side, but the lighting effects are fabulous. The way the shadows react to the beams is spot on and the slight pulsation of the arcs of energy make the game feel alive. The ambient music is also a win for God of Light.
The first 25 levels are free in God of Light with the option to buy hints, though it's not necessary as you can earn them by playing too. After that, it's $1.99 to unlock the rest of the game with dozens of additional levels.
Mount and Blade was a PC game not that many years ago, so the sheer fact it can run on an Android device right now is pretty cool. Despite its third-person perspective, Mount and Blade is as much an RTS as it is an adventure game. Rather than being the magical commander in the sky, you take on hoards of knights, bandits, and ruffians at ground level, fighting alongside your soldiers. This is not a game you pick up and play for a few minutes at a time -- you have to sit down and immerse yourself in Mount and Blade to build your army and conquer the world.
Before you get too excited, be aware this is a Tegra-only game, and you must have a controller. So, it's ideal for the Shield, but any Tegra 4 tablet with a controller attached will work. With the full controller support, getting around in the game is pretty easy. Just use the left thumbstick to move and the right to look. The trigger attacks, and shoulder buttons toggle weapons. The d-pad is interesting -- that's what you use to issue orders to your troops.
When battles get underway, you have the option of letting your soldiers rush in however they like, or you can control their movement, attacks, and formation with orders like spread out, follow me, and use melee weapons only. Having sufficient numbers is a big component to winning, but commanding your troops smartly is important too. Of course, you get to ride into battle and do some damage yourself, and the way you do that is up to you.
There are bows, swords, clubs, polearms, and more in Mount and Blade. Your character has a full RPG-style stat list that you can tweak as you gain levels if you want to focus on one type of weapon in particular. Using weapons you are not proficient with is actually very difficult, so make sure to play to your strengths. As you level up, so do the troops you recruit. You aren't just accumulating a bunch of faceless conscripts -- you essentially have a party of (maybe) dozens of soldiers that you personally train.
The ultimate goal of Mount and Blade is to take over all the cities and towns in the game, and there are a ton of them. You'll have to decide which kingdom to throw your lot in with -- relationships determine who's out to kill you and who's funding your exploits. I don't know how long it will take to complete Mount and Blade, but I'd wager it will be a very long time.
You can probably get a handle on the visuals by thinking back to indie PC games about four years ago. That's what you're getting in the Android version. It's not rapturously gorgeous, but it looks fine. The texture resolution is a bit low, but the lines are clean and the world feels very open.
Mount and Blade: Warband is neat, but it's not for everyone. If you've been craving an expansive open-world RPG game on Android, Mount and Blade is your dream come true. For more casual gamers, the $6.99 price tag will probably be too steep.