Google Play App Roundup: WarGames, Radiolab, and Spider-Man

By Ryan Whitwam

War Games, Radio Labs, and Spider Men

Money doesn't grow on trees, and those $0.99 app purchases do add up. It's best to go into the Play Store with some idea of what's up your alley and what isn't. That's what the Google Play App Roundup is here to do. We bring you the best new and newly updated app and games every week. Just click on the app name to head to the Play Store and test it out yourself.

This week there is a game for fans of the 80s, an app that makes science even more fascinating, and a super hero game.

WarGames: WOPR

Would you like to play a game? If your response to that is, “Sure, how about a game of global thermonuclear war?” this might be right in your wheelhouse. WarGames: WOPR is the official game of the classic 80s movie War Games. In this title, you play the role of the War Operation Plan Response artificial intelligence, or WOPR for short. You must defeat the squishy humans from the movie, but little do they know you’re playing with real nukes.

This is a puzzle game, which I know might seem a little disappointing at first, but it’s a really good puzzle game with a ton of strategy involved. If you’ve ever played Dungeon Raid, this is a very similar concept. You are presented with a 6x6 grid of tiles in each stage. You have to match them by dragging a path of connected icons.

There are four main icon types, each of which perform a different action. The missiles are used to attack your opponent. Just chain three or more of those together and you do some damage to the human’s hitpoints. The money is, well, money. You use that to buy special attacks. The health power ups restore your life after taking damage. Lastly, the radar icons add up over time and grant you free special attacks.

When you clear tiles, more will drop in from above. Some of them might be your opponent's tiles, as well. Enemy tiles will have a value, which is how powerful the effect is, and a turn countdown. These tiles can be attacks, healing, upgrades, or money. Chain them together with like tiles to reduce their value, or remove them. Later, the game adds in some more powerful enemy tiles that put your strategy to the test.

There is an upgrade system that keeps the game fresh, and I think it is particularly well done. You have both tactics, and mods. Tactics are abilities that you can spend money to trigger at any time, and mods are passive abilities that are always on. Each level grants you RAM, which you spend on upgrades. The upgrades unlock as you go, but you can pay extra to unlock those you have not gotten to yet. I like that this is all presented in a very straightforward way, and that you can gamble by skipping ahead with pricier upgrades.

This game pulls you in with the intense strategy. You have to make careful decisions about what tactics to use, which chains to select, and how to time your attacks. It’s easy to make a careless error, and very hard to come back from it. The gameplay is incredibly compelling.

The graphics are meant to look retro, and the game does this very well. All the tiles are wireframe and text is rendered in block letters like an old computer. There are even scan lines to make it feel like an old monitor, but you can disable that effect in the menu if you like. The classic arcade sound effects the game uses are also wonderful.

WarGames: WOPR is only $0.99.

Radiolab

If you have never heard the Radiolab podcast or radio show, I weep for the emptiness of your existence. Radiolab is a show about wonder, curiosity and big ideas. It’s hosted by the MacArthur Genius Award winning Jad Abumrad and long-time science reporter Robert Krulwich. It’s hard to describe just how excellent Radiolab is, but I don’t really have to -- they have an app now.

This app has the same sense of fun and whimsy that the show does. It’s set up like a virtual reality environment. You start at a desk and drag downward to pull yourself up. You can coast through various scenes to get to the different areas of the app. The scale on the right lets you know how deep in you are.

The first stop off is the Listen station. Here you can queue up any Radiolab episode, star your favorites, share them, and download the files for offline access. The audio quality is good, and everything is appropriately snappy. When you have something playing, you can continue to scroll around in the app. A small flag in the upper right corner will let you jump back to the integrated player (which is actually quite good) at any time. As a side note, I’d suggest listening to the episode “Patient Zero” from 11/13/11. It is amazing.

Scroll a little farther, and you get to the Make cloud. Here you can contribute to Radiolab in a few ways. The show is produced in a very unconventional way. The credits and intro are made up of little snippets of people reading the list of contributes. You can add a reading for use in that section. There are also a few quests that the hosts use to gather material for individual shows. Take a picture of an eye, or of your favorite color. Send in a recording of people cheering too. This is a fun section for fans of the show.

Scroll onward and you get to outer space and the reading area. Here are links to all the blog posts from Radiolab. I’m a little bummed that these don’t open in some kind of neat built-in browser, but pull up your default browser instead.

You can get all of this stuff around the web, but the package here is just so fun. The art is attractive and well-done. I also like that it invites you to contribute to the show. The app does cost $2.99, but getting hit up for small sums of money should be no surprise in public radio land.

I really like Radiolab, and the app is both fun to play with and supports the show. Check it out.

The Amazing Spider-Man

Gameloft is a developer known for making games that are eerily similar to popular franchises, but just different enough to avoid legal action. This time, imitation was not required, because Gameloft is making the official Spider-Man game for the upcoming movie. Movie games are usually bad, but this one is actually a good time. Shocking, I know.

This game does something that is rare on mobile devices: it makes an open world fun and interesting. I loath most open world experiences on a phone. They’re too in-depth and take far too long per sitting to make any progress. In the new Spider-Man game, you just web sling around the city, and fight crime.

The Amazing Spider-Man does a bang-up job of making the web slinging fun. You just use the virtual joystick to steer, and press we web button on the right to take off. You hold the web button to continue your swing, and when you let go, Spider-Man lets go too and flies onward in a parabolic trajectory until you press and hold the web button again. It’s great.

Combat is solid as well. You have a ranged web attack that fires projectiles when tapped, and wraps your enemies up when long-pressed. There is also a “spidey sense” mechanic. When you see those wavy lines around Spider-Man’s head, hit the blue panic button. You’ll do a sweet dodge or counter to avoid damage, then it’s back to business.

When you complete missions, you get some points commensurate with the difficulty. Those points can be spent on upgrades to your powers and fighting skills. This is Gameloft, so there are also in-app purchases that deliver bundles of points for buying upgrades. I don’t recommend you do this.

I find it a little odd that you can plummet from the top of a building and just tuck and roll, but the rest of the physics seem appropriate for a super hero game. The textures are great... most of the time. I feel like the draw distance, at least on the Galaxy Nexus, is too low. I’ll sometimes web sling up to a building and see the texture re-rendered to the better quality close-up version just before I land on it. That said, the environment is very detailed, and there’s little aliasing. Performance is good with just a spot of lag every now and then. My only complaint with the sound is that Spider-Man’s voice sounds lame, and some of the cutscenes are not skippable.

This game is $6.99, which is a lot. I do, however, feel the quality and depth of the game justifies the cost. It’s a big download, over 500MB, but it is handled all through the Play Store. There is a short install dialog upon first boot up, but you should be able to check out the game to make sure it runs and still have the 15 minute install window to fall back on.

That's all for this week. Let me know how these picks treat you, and feel free to tell me about any cool apps you come across.