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This Week at 148Apps: October 13-17, 2014

Posted by Chris Kirby on October 20th, 2014

Expert App Reviewers


So little time and so very many apps. What's a poor iPhone/iPad lover to do? Fortunately, 148Apps is here to give you the rundown on the latest and greatest releases. And we even have a tremendous back catalog of reviews; just check out the Reviews Archive for every single review we've ever written.

Pokemon TCG

I’ve been playing and enjoying collectable card games for 20 years, now – yeah, I’m old, shut up. While Magic: the Gathering has always been my main game, I’ve tried and enjoyed several others over the years. One of my favorites was always Pokémon, but at my age (I said shut up!) almost none of my peers play. The only way I could enjoy a game was to go to a tournament and play almost entirely against children. Since that’s as awkward as it sounds, I haven’t played in years. Now there’s a solution to that problem. And unlike Magic’s foray into iPad, Pokémon TCG allows a great deal of freedom. --Jade Walker


Diner Dash

Almost a decade after its launch, the classic time management franchise Diner Dash has returned once again to cause stress headaches in a whole new generation of mobile gamers. It’s been about four years since the last entry in the series – Diner Dash 5: BOOM! – and PlayFirst has revamped the venerable workhorse into a mash-up of classic and all-new styles. And, for the first time ever, the series has embraced the free-to-play model. How well do Flo and the crew make the transition to freemium? Well, let’s take a look, shall we? You’d be hard-pressed to find someone these days who isn’t at least passingly familiar with the basic concept of Diner Dash. Players are in charge of Flo, a good-natured (but doubtlessly exhausted) waitress whose job is to seat, serve, and generally keep happy all of the customers of her restaurant – many of whom have specific quirks and needs. Unfortunately, as Flo is only one person with two hands, she can only do so much at a time. This leaves her sprinting about madly to take orders, make coffee, clean up dirty tables, and more, all before customers lose their patience and leave. You really have to wonder why this place doesn’t hire at least a busboy, right? --Rob Thomas


Air Supply-SOS

Sheep aren’t loaded with natural defenses. They’re great at standing around, chewing their cud, and waiting to be sheared. That’s about it. That’s why Air Supply – SOS calls on players to foil the Time Travel Company: a greedy organization that kidnaps sheep, robs their fluffy down, and makes clothing. Though these distressed sheep are quantum sheep, they’re still incapable of defending themselves. Do the right thing. Save Our Sheep (“SOS” – get it?). Air Supply is a shooter inspired by the classic ZX Spectrum game Jetpac. Players endure waves of aliens while catching the quantum sheep that fall from the sky. The sheep need to be returned to the rocket ship waiting at the bottom of the screen. Once the requisite number is loaded, the player gets to progress to the next level (often accompanied by a “sheepy hug” of thanksgiving). --Nadia Oxford


Boulder Dash 30th Anniversary

Like in the original, players control Rockford: a scrappy young spelunker exploring a series of caves. But these aren’t just ordinary caves; they’re full of gems, and to open up the exit Rockford must collect a certain number of gems before time runs off. From that description, one might think that gem-collecting would be, if not a difficult process, then at least one that took some thinking. But in Boulder Dash, most of the initial free levels can be beaten by tracing the most straightforward route through the dirt and collecting the obvious gems in plain sight. Players spend the majority of the game performing this deeply uninteresting act again and again. Sure there are a few enemies, but with Rockford’s ability to move basically anywhere and survive anything short of a falling rock, there’s far too little in the player’s way. It almost makes one wish the controls weren’t as smooth and forgiving as they are. Later worlds do ramp up the challenge, but the dull and lengthy introduction discourages players from grinding and earning the stars necessary to unlock the more interesting content for free. --Jordan Minor


Bug Mazing-Adventures in Learning

Bug Mazing – Adventures in Learning' is a new title from Little Bit Studio, the developers known for their series of apps such as Bugs and Buttons, Bugs and Numbers, and a recent favorite, Bug Art. As the name may suggest, Bug Mazing is a maze app with a bug theme that includes activities such as working with numbers, letters, colors and tracing in ways that children will find engaging and adults will appreciate for their educational value. Nature is a big part of these apps and the landscape may either be beautiful and pristine with flowers and insects like bees and ladybugs or include worn details that are possibly less beautiful, but I find these details quite interesting. It also includes a fantasy adventure theme as well as bugs that are styled with different adventure elements, such as Indiana Jones’ hat and other details. A narrator gives encouragement while on each exploration and valuable coins and precious gems are collected as rewards. Each area of this app includes different levels of difficulty and unique bugs select. Do note the selection of languages that is also included within this app – always a nice touch. Multiple children can also keep their own games separate, which is good for at home or the classroom. --Amy Solomon


Other 148Apps Network Sites

If you are looking for the best reviews of Android apps, just head right over to AndroidRundown. Here are just some of the reviews served up this week:

AndroidRundown

Entwined Challenge

Twitch games are an addiction of mine now, so checking out Entwined Challenge was destined to be. The visuals rely on simulated distance perspective; to start, the two flying beings are colored red and blue. In the distance is a circle with colored segments; the colors of the segments are generally red, blue and green. the flying beings can be controlled by thumb gestures on either side to move along the axis of the circle, so that each flying being is guided through a matching color segment. As progress is made, the game adjusts too; for example, where the color segments were stationary, they begin to move, forcing the player to make adjustments and quicker decisions on the fly. While the concept remains simple, the developer does a good job of delicately layering levels of difficulty upon the easy-to-understand premise, and it flows well, with no major deviations to distract from the chase of excellence. --Tre Lawrence


Antec LifeBar 10 Portable Charger

Yes, batteries in mobile devices have gotten better, but in the spirit of being prepared, it just makes sense to have a backup plan. Way back when, getting a couple extra OEM batteries was sufficient. Now, sealed batteries are more commonplace, and having multiple devices at any given time is not unheard of; in any case, all those extra batteries start to add up. Nah, it makes sense to have a portable battery, and when it comes to mobile power solutions, few are as capable of Antec; hence, checking out the new LifeBar 10 Portable Charger is far from a chore. --Tre Lawrence


Withings Smart Body Analyzer

Health tools with a mobile component are especially compelling, and as such, we jumped at an opportunity to check out the Withings Smart Body Connected Scale. The black (white is an option) review unit Withings sent us is pretty much ready to go. At first glance, the first thing that comes to mind is that somehow, the product pictures do not do it justice. It looks like a chiseled dark colored slab. frankly, it look dashing, managing to be modern without being Jetson-silly. The full dark look is accented, and the silver center piece highlights the whole package. The expected display is digital in nature, and still manages to effect art. The battery compartment is at the bottom of the unit, and there is a tab preventing the batteries from cycling; beneath that are two buttons for syncing and selecting units. It looks like a “traditional” scale, but clearly wants people to know it has an extra trick or two up its sleeve. Officially, it comes in at 12.8 x 12.8 x 0.90 inches and 4.62 lbs. --Tre Lawrence


And finally, this week Pocket Gamer covered Apple and Google's big announcements, wrote a massive guide for The Silent Age: Episode Two, tackled GamerGate, and picked 11 iOS games that you may never get to play. All that and loads more, right here.

Meet the Newest Character for Temple Run 2, from National Geographic Kids' Action-Adventure Book

Posted by Jessica Fisher on September 15th, 2014
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Our rating: starstarstarstarhalfstar :: STILL RUNNING :: Read Review »

Imangi Studios and National Geographic Kids have partnered together to turn the Temple Run series into an informative and exciting book called Temple Run: Race Through Time to Unlock Secrets of Ancient Worlds. They have also created a new character for Temple Run 2, Maria Selva, based off the protagonist in the book.

“The goal of this partnership is to get students excited about reading and learning,” said Walter Devins, director of licensing at Imangi Studios. “Teaming up with National Geographic is an amazing way to let our fans discover some of the awe-inspiring locations throughout the world that have influenced Temple Run.”

You can purchase the book for $12.99 on the National Geographic site, and download Temple Run 2 for free on the App Store.

 

Star Walk Kids Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
By Jennifer Allen on September 8th, 2014
Our rating: starstarstarstarblankstar :: SIMPLE SPACE INTRO
Star Walk Kids is a fun introduction to the solar system, but many kids will be more satisfied by the full, adult version.
Read The Full Review »

X BEATS Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
By Jennifer Allen on July 2nd, 2014
Our rating: starstarstarhalfstarblankstar :: HELPFUL MUSIC LEARNING
More an educational tool than exciting game, X BEATS is still going to be useful for those learning music theory.
Read The Full Review »

Elevate - Brain Training Review

+ Universal & Apple Watch App - Designed for iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch
By Jennifer Allen on May 28th, 2014
Our rating: starstarstarstarblankstar :: MENTAL WORKOUT
Train your brain on a daily basis with this useful, if eventually pricey, exercise app.
Read The Full Review »

Tower Math Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
By Jennifer Allen on May 13th, 2014
Our rating: starstarstarhalfstarblankstar :: EDUCATIONAL & FUN
Combining tower defense with sums is an educational and fun move for this title.
Read The Full Review »

Vocabulary.com Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
By Jennifer Allen on May 8th, 2014
Our rating: starstarstarstarblankstar :: EDUCATIONAL AND FUN
Educational yet fun, Vocabulary.com is an entertaining tool for boosting one's vocabulary.
Read The Full Review »

The Story Behind Grammar Girl's Grammar Pop and the Quest to Make Learning Fun

Posted by Jennifer Allen on April 22nd, 2014

Learning is so much more rewarding when it's also fun. That's part of the reason why recent educational app, Grammar Pop HD, garnered such a positive review from us last week. The brainchild of Mignon Fogarty, otherwise known as Grammar Girl, we were lucky enough to have a chat with her to find out more on how the game, as well as the persona, came to be.

148Apps: What's the story behind Grammar Girl? What made you decide to embrace that title?
Mignon Fogarty (MF): When I was a science editor, I saw my clients making the same mistakes over and over again - little things, such as using "a" when they should use "an" or misusing commas. Podcasting was new at the time, and I decided to also do a quick, simpler writing show because I saw that there were so many people who needed writing help.

Much to my surprise, the Grammar Girl podcast took off right away and essentially took over my life. I worked like crazy for about six months trying to do both Grammar Girl and the science writing and editing, since that work paid my bills, and when I finally got my book deal with Macmillan and we formed the partnership to grow the Quick and Dirty Tips network, I was able to switch to Grammar Girl full time.

The name Grammar Girl just popped into my head and I knew it was perfect right away. I believe it works because of the alliteration and because "girl" is a nonthreatening word. People have a lot of anxiety about their writing, and a lot of the grammar advice out there is delivered in a high-brow or condescending way. Being Grammar Girl sends the message that I'm friendly and approachable.

148Apps: How did Grammar Pop come about? What was the inspiration for creating a game like this?
MF: After finishing my last book, I wanted to do something different. People were playing games on their tablets and phones - I was playing games on my tablet and phone - and it seemed obvious to me that there should be a game in which you match words with their parts of speech. In fact, I was incredulous when I looked for such a game and found that it didn’t exist.

So on a plane on my way to Macmillan for a different meeting, I sketched out the initial idea for how I thought the game might work. They wanted to do it, so we went about investigating ways to make it work. I ended up coding it myself with a tool called Game Salad and working with Margo Goody, an artist at Macmillan.


148Apps: How important do you think it is to make learning fun?
MF: Grammar Girl is all about making learning fun!

148Apps: What has the feedback from players been like?
MF: I get great feedback from parents and teachers who use Grammar Pop and say it has really helped their kids learn parts of speech. It's not a chore to get their kids to play it; the kids love it and learn parts of speech without even realizing they're learning.

148Apps: What's next for the Grammar Pop series of games? Are there any plans for new installments or updates?
MF: We came out with a special Winterfest edition for the holidays, and we're getting bids right now to expand the game with more levels.


Thanks to Mignon Fogarty for taking the time to answer our questions. To find out more about Grammar Girl, check out the Quick and Dirty Tips website.

Grammar Pop is available now for iPhone and iPad.

(Image of Mignon Fogarty courtesy of Quick and Dirty Tips.com)

Grammar Pop HD Review

iPad App - Designed for iPad
By Jennifer Allen on April 16th, 2014
Our rating: starstarstarhalfstarblankstar :: FUN LEARNING
Learning the different parts of speech isn't always fun, but Grammar Pop HD makes it much more entertaining than it has any right to be.
Read The Full Review »

Web Defense Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
By Jennifer Allen on April 9th, 2014
Our rating: starstarstarhalfstarblankstar :: HECTIC LESSONS
Handy lessons about web security are available through this sometimes chaotic time management game.
Read The Full Review »

Piano Mania Review

iPad App - Designed for iPad
By Jennifer Allen on March 18th, 2014
Our rating: starstarstarstarblankstar :: LEARNING IS FUN
Learning to play the piano has never been quite so fun, or as simple.
Read The Full Review »

Brian Cox's Wonders of Life Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
By Jennifer Allen on February 26th, 2014
Our rating: starstarstarstarblankstar :: ATTRACTIVELY FASCINATING
Exploring the wonders of the world, this is a fascinating app of discovery.
Read The Full Review »

The Great Photo App Review

iPad App - Designed for iPad
By Jennifer Allen on January 7th, 2014
Our rating: starstarstarhalfstarblankstar :: CLEARLY LAID OUT BASICS
Teaching the fundamental basics to photography and busting some tricky jargon, The Great Photo App is a useful starting point for the most inexperienced of photographers.
Read The Full Review »

Blinkist Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
By Mike Deneen on December 6th, 2013
Our rating: starstarstarstarblankstar :: CHEAT SHEETS FOR THE MODERN AGE
Blinkist will be right up the alley of anyone who has ever enjoyed SparkNotes as a kid.
Read The Full Review »

Henri Le Worm Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
By Jennifer Allen on December 3rd, 2013
Our rating: starstarstarstarblankstar :: CUTE AND EDUCATIONAL
Charming, educational, and cute, Henri Le Worm is an ideal way to teach kids about the importance of eating well.
Read The Full Review »