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Google Play App Roundup: Notific, Fish Out of Water, and Magic 2015

By Ryan Whitwam

Notifications, fish, and cards.

Time to check in on what's new in the Play Store. This is the Google Play App Roundup where you can come every week to find out what's new and cool on Android. Just hit the links below to head right to the Play Store on your device. This week there's another way to check your notifications, a game with fish, and a king of collectible card games is back.

Notific

Developers have really embraced Android's notification listener service in the last year, and Notific is yet another app that takes advantage of it to make your notifications a little more accessible. Notific will wake your display and let you manage incoming notifications without unlocking the device. This app borrows a bit from the Moto X's Active Display system in implementation, though not so much in actual appearance.

If you've used an app like Peek or DynamicDisplay, you'll get the basic gist of Notific. After installing you need to enable the notification service and grant admin access so the app can shut your screen off after the appropriate length of time. By default, Notific reproduces all the high-priority notifications on your device (i.e. those with icons in the status bar) and wakes the screen. The full version also has a blacklist for apps you don't want to show up in Notific's management interface. There's also a whitelist mode that only produces notifications from the apps you select -- this is probably the best way to go if you have a lot of apps intsalled.

Notific isn't quite as minimalist as most of the other implementations of this idea, but that might be okay for some users. It actually replications almost all the UI from the standard Android notification including buttons and full text previews. When the screen is woken up, you have the opportunity to deal not only with the new notification, but any others that might be waiting for you. you can swipe between notifications and dismiss, open, or use one of the action buttons. The lock icon at the bottom is used to either open or dismiss each notification individually.

The default behavior is to have your homescreen background up behind the notification UI, but that can be changed. There's even an option in the newest version to change it to all black, which is better for AMOLED screens. For everyone else, the brightness of the background is adjustable.

If you're on Android 4.4, Notific supports immersive mode and an "Android Wear" theme that (I think) looks much more modern than the standard Holo Dark theme. It separates the selection slider from the notification card and basically has a much more open design.

I've been using DynamicNotifications for a number of months on several devices, but I find myself rather content with Notific. It has all the necessary options and the new theme is great. It's a bargain at $0.99 and there's even a trial on XDA.

Fish Out of Water

You may know Halfbrick as the developer behind the early mobile hit Fruit Ninja, but it's been pumping out games ever since. The newest title to come to Android is Fish Out of Water, and it's surprisingly addictive. All you have to do is slip some fish across the water. I'm not sure I can fully explain how it manages to be so engrossing with such a simple concept, but bear with me.

Just saying "fish" isn't entirely accurate -- there are a few marine mammals too. At any rate, each of your five fish have a unique behavior when you fling them across the screen. For example, Micro the whale bounces very high, but tends to only get a few skips before he sinks. Then there's Olympus the goldfish, who's very light and gets good distance with an above average number of skips.

You get three throws in each round, so just pick the three fish that fit the situation best. Your goal it to get both the total distance and number of skips as high as possible. At the end you are rated on a scale of 1 to 10 by a panel of crabs, each of which has a certain kind of performance it likes to see. If you have a round with huge distance, but only a few skips, you still won't do very well overall.

There are a few twists that serve to make this game strangely compelling. First, the weather changes over time. The clock in the corner of the screen tells you what the seas are like currently, but it changes every 10 minutes. So you might have sun in one block, storms the next, and volcanoes after that. Yeah, volcanoes are a kind of weather in Out of Water… don't ask me, that's just how it is. The fish you choose for each run will depend on what the seas are doing.

Just when you think you've exhausted all the combinations of fish and mastered the game, there are costumes. unlike a lot of games, the costumes in Out of Water aren't just for fun -- they actually change the way the fish behave. perhaps the fish bounces higher or skips better when wearing a certain ensemble. You can buy these with crystals, which are awarded when you complete challenges (another engaging gameplay mechanic). The crystals can also be used to boost your score by adding distance or skips in various ways.

Out of Water is a free game, which means there are some ads and in-app purchases. The ads aren't obnoxious, but the full-screen videos after every few throws do get old. Luckily, if you make a single purchase in the game (like a $0.99 costume) the ads are gone. This isn't actually stated anywhere in the game i could see, but the devs confirm it does work. It's a crazy-fun game, and I recommend you try it and drop a buck on it if you like what you see.

Magic 2015

The second iteration of the official Magic game for Android has arrived, and you can give it a shot for free. Magic is the progenitor of the card collecting genre we know today, and it's still got one of the deepest and most rewarding styles of gameplay available. However, the learning curve is also quite a bit steeper than the pretenders to the card collecting throne.

When you start the game for the first time, you will be asked how much Magic you've played. If your skills aren't sharp, the game routes you through a multi-step tutorial that lays out all the rules and basic strategies. I won't bore you with a full enumeration of all the things you can do in Magic, but the basic gist is that you play land cards to generate mana for summoning creatures and casting spells. Your minions might be basic creatures with only a little bit of life/attack, or they could be massively powerful monsters with special abilities. It all depends on what you draw and how strong your deck is.

Playing other collectible card games on a mobile device can give you a basic grounding in how to play something like Magic, but the nuance and strategy is on a whole different level here. Planning is key to winning a match in magic 2015 -- just because you have a few creatures lined up, doesn't mean you need to attack right away. Even if you successfully break through your opponent's blocking creatures and deal some damage, you could be left with no available creatures to block on your opponent's next turn, resulting in even more damage being dealt to you.

It takes practice to be a good Magic player, but luckily there is a practice mode in this game that allows you to try different strategies quickly and easily. The game comes with the tutorial and first few campaign levels unlocked, but it'll cost you $10 to get the rest of it. There are also additional card bundles you can buy in addition to what is awarded for winning matches. You get to pick a starter deck at the end of training, of course, but that'll only get you so far.

The gameplay is certainly there for fans, but so are the visuals. The artwork on the cards is still amazing and even the renderings of your opponents are cool. The level of detail in magic 2015 is far and away the best of any collectible card game on Android right now. I'm not completely sold on the UI in this version of magic, though. Last year's version had a dark blue interface that was easier on the eyes than the blinding white one here. The controls are also rather small, just like last year. It's fine on a 7-10 inch tablet, but I really can't imagine playing this on a phone.

Magic 2015 is not a free game, but you should know that. It was the same last year. I feel like there are a few more IAPs this time around, but it's very similar to 2014 overall. Just be aware that the developers have neglected to include cloud save backups for some reason.