Google Play App Roundup: Bright Weather, Portal/Half-Life 2, and Monument Valley

By Ryan Whitwam

Weather, Valve, and geometry.

Big things are happening in the Play Store, and we're here to make sure you know what's what, just like every week. This is the Google Play App Roundup with the best new apps and games on Android. Just click the links to head right to the Play Store.

This week there's a new weather app from a big developer, a pair of Valve games on Android, and one of the most beautiful games on Android.

Bright Weather

Do you really need another weather app? Maybe not objectively, but this isn't just any weather app. Bright Weather is made by LevelUp Studio, the developer behind Beautiful Widgets and other wildly popular apps. Right out of the gate it's probably one of the best looking Android weather apps, and it has some cool widgets (obviously).

The app itself has seen some tweaks since it was released last week. There are two panels with the left one being the "main" page. This has the current conditions and a timeline of the temperature. The timeline also contains hourly conditions down at the bottom. This left screen is just a very basic glanceable interface, but the other one is jampacked with data.

On the right panel you'll gain get the current conditions up top with a smaller timeline below it. There are also readouts for wind, "feels like" temperatures, forecasts, and a weather map. You can actually tap on a number of these elements to expand more information in the app. For example, any of the daily forecast squares can be tapped to open a small window with detailed forecast information. Tapping on the map goes to a full-screen version as well. The map is fine for the basics, but this is one area I'd like to see some improvements in Bright Weather. It doesn't have animations and some of the view options are a bit blocky.

The background is pulled from Bing every day with a little gaussian blur and dim effect. It's a cool look, and you can use the same background for the widgets. There are 4x2 and 4x1 versions, and the 4x2 includes the ability to have a clock or extended forecast in addition to the conditions.

One more interesting thing in Bright Weather is the smart notification system. It does the usual severe weather alerts, but you also get handy weekly weather forecasts and freezing point warnings in your notifications (these are the defaults). You can add new notifications for general forecasts on your schedule or set custom thresholds for notifications. I'm less enthused about the option of taking pictures with the forecast overlayed -- that seems weird, but I guess if you like to brag about your weather, it's maybe of interest.

Bright Weather is free to try with a few ads. The full version upgrade is $2.79 via an in-app purchase.

Portal and Half-Life 2

Two games in one section? Yeah, Nvidia decided to release both ports of Valve's classic games on the same day, and there's a lot of overlap between these two, so I'm lumping them together for the sake of brevity. These games are exclusive to the Nvidia Shield right now, but might eventually come to other Tegra-powered devices. The Shield hasn't been a huge seller, but these games might be the best reason yet to buy one yet.

I won't go into too much detail about what Portal and Half-life 2 are -- these titles are almost a decade old on the PC. Portal came out in 2007 as part of the Valve Orange Box and Half-Live 2 was the launch title for Steam in 2004. Portal is a first-person puzzler that revolves around placing portals through the levels to move yourself and other objects around. Half-Life 2 is a standard first-person shooter, but it's a very good FPS and a worthy successor to the original Half-Life.

Both games run on the Source game engine, which probably explains why Nvidia was able to get both titles ready for release on the same day. So how does Source run on Android? Really well. The textures look great on the Shield, and all the animations are fluid. Portal runs flawlessly almost the entire time. I only saw a hint of lag at a handful of places. Half-Life 2 with its more expansive environments had me a little worried, but it seems to be similarly solid.

On the device, you might have a hard time telling the difference between the Android port and the original PC version. Looking at a screenshot on a larger display, you can see some imperfections that might point to how Nvidia made this work. The lines are a little rough -- there's more aliasing than you'd want to see on a PC game, but on the smaller Shield, it's not visible at all. So, it's probably a good tradeoff.

Portal is only about 3 hours long, but it is arguably still one of the most entertaining games ever made. The jokes and level design are still wonderful, and the physics are fun to play around with. It's great opportunity to get to know GLaDOS all over again. Half-Life 2 feels slightly dated when compared to modern FPS games, but it still holds up. It tells a better story without a word from the main character better than most FPS games I've played in the last decade.

Each of these titles is $9.99 on Google Play. If you have a Shield, this is really a no-brainer. These games are excellent and substantially deeper than almost everything else on Android. Just make sure you clear some storage space -- they're big.

Monument Valley

After a successful debut on iOS, Monument Valley has arrived on Android and not a moment too soon. This geometric puzzler is fascinating and beautiful in a way most mobile games can't get close to. You must guide the princess through a series of mazes where the laws of physics seem to be unusually pliable. This is a serious brain-melter.

The best way to describe the premise of Monument Valley is that the world doesn't work from the perspective of the princess, but from your perspective looking at the screen. Each blocky world has a number of elements that can be moved around by spinning dials or dragging blocks. When you rearrange a piece, it might line up with something else such that it forms a connection. It's like looking at an optical illusion in video game form.

Here's an example: imagine there's a section of a platform that forms a right angle, and you can spin it around in a circle. At one point in the rotation, it lines up with another part of the level and forms an impossible triangle. That platform used to be in a completely different plane, but with a little spin, it's suddenly connected to another one from your perspective. The princess can walk from one section to the other and make her way to a different part of the level. It's like an interactive MC Escher sketch. To really get a feel for this, you have to play it.

Monument Valley is one of the most beautiful gaming experiences on Android, despite its simple geometry. That might actually contribute to the looks. By staying simple, the puzzles are actually doable, and the colors pick up some of the slack in the looks department. Each level is unique and lovely in its own way. There are soaring towers, maze-like corridors, and even a giant puzzle box. Through it all you're treated to amazing impossible geometry. It also supports immersive mode on Android 4.4.

The puzzles in Monument Valley aren't particularly hard -- I'd say they're reasonably challenging. The only disappointment for me is that the game has only 10 stages. You can beat it in a few hours and there's not a ton of replay value. It's $3.99, but it's totally worth the asking price. This is far and away one of the most impressive gaming experiences available on mobile.