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Why you should watch the most entertaining fantasy series on Netflix

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A circle of standing stones sends WWII nurse Claire Randall back to the 18th century.


Like a lot of people, I’d originally passed on because I thought it was a romance series, and that’s just not my kind of thing. But once I finally did cave to pressure, it didn’t take me long to discover that isn’t a romance. What makes it interesting is that it doesn’t fit neatly into any one genre box.

The show starts off just after the end of World War II. British Army nurse Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe) is vacationing with her husband in the Highlands of Scotland, but accidentally gets thrown back into the year 1743 by passing through an ancient circle of stones. Pretty quickly, she runs into a band of Scottish soldiers that include the obscenely handsome Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan). 

Yes, more often than not, we see the story — along with many of the show’s steamy sex scenes — through Claire’s eyes. And yes, Jamie, touted as the «king of men,» is the kind of guy who has probably prompted many women around the world to set unrealistic expectations for their own husbands and boyfriends.


When it comes to steamy Shut Up Sex scenes, nothing beats «The Wedding» episode of Outlander season one. 


Meanwhile, much of the plot is set in 18th century Scotland, so there are corsets and kilts galore. You get the literal «bodice ripping» that romance novels are known for, along with the, um, easy access that comes from men wearing kilts and nothing underneath them.

But I swear it’s not a romance.   

Much of the time, Outlander is pure, escapist fun. You get time , swordplay and well-researched depictions of historical people and events. On top of that, it’s all so beautifully shot, mostly in Scotland, that it’ll make you want to jump on a plane and go hike a munro, or at least wrap yourself in a plaid and crack open a bottle of Heughan’s  while you wait out the COVID travel restrictions.

But at times it does get very, very dark. True to Diana Gabaldon’s popular series of books that the show is based on, there is a lot of sexual assault, and the show often doesn’t spare viewers from an explicit depiction.

That’s not to say this show doesn’t go completely over the top at times — though it never hits the levels of technicolor cheesiness that a show like  does. But key plot events stem from ridiculously bad decisions made by the main characters, and some of the dialogue will make you giggle at inappropriate times.

As a result, Outlander teeters on the brink of prestige TV, but doesn’t quite cross the line into it. Its quality stems from the strong performances of its leads, the depth of the characters, attention to historical detail, top-notch cinematography and the ability of its writers to (usually) whittle Gabaldon’s rather lengthy books down to their most interesting nuggets.

At its heart, Outlander is the story of two people thrown together by fate and how they persist through the years — a chunk of them spent apart — against a historical backdrop that starts off a couple years before the failed Scottish Rising of 1745 and continues through the American Revolution.


Season three’s depiction of the Battle of Culloden rivals that of any big-budget film. And just like in real life, it doesn’t end well for the Scottish Jacobites.


And to keep things interesting, particularly when it comes to costumes and music, there are few time hops back to the 20th century along the way.

There are five seasons to keep you busy right now. Production on the sixth was delayed thanks to COVID, resulting in an extra long «droughtlander,» as fans like to call the already sizable gaps between seasons. The show’s creators just announced that season six will premiere on March 6 on Starz. Production on season 7 is also slated to start next year.

And if you can’t wait to find out what happens next, you can always read the books. just landed at bookstores, and Gabaldon has started work on what she says will be the t10th and final book in the series. Fair warning, while the first book is truly excellent, they all clock in at over 1,000 pages, and some of the later ones tend to drag a bit, especially when the plot shifts to secondary characters.

You can find the first four seasons of Outlander on . But for the most recent season, you’ll either have to subscribe to Starz, or buy or rent the episodes from another streaming service like .

Subscribing to Starz might be a lot to ask, given that it doesn’t offer a whole lot else to get excited about, with the exception of , a fun romp of a Scottish travel show created by Heughan and fellow Outlander actor Graham McTavish.

That said, you’ve got four seasons of plaid worn every way possible, stripteases involving never-ending layers of clothing, countless wigs of sometimes dubious quality, an epically depicted Battle of Culloden and endless shots of the heather-covered Highlands to get through before you’ll have to think about that.

And by then you’ll probably be just as sucked into Outlander as I am.

Prime Video: The 32 best TV shows to watch

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With Love (season 1)

Prime Video

at the beginning of each month, Amazon Prime Video doesn’t have a ton of new weekly releases.

But occasionally an Amazon Original comes knocking that deserves to be put on your radar. Below you’ll find a selection of highlights for this week, as well as CNET’s full list of best Amazon Prime Video Original TV shows.

What to watch this week (Dec. 13 to 19)

Just one new TV arrival this week.


  • With Love — Amazon Original Series: Season 1 — Rom-com written and created by Gloria Calderón Kellett. Follows the Diaz siblings on a mission to find love and purpose across different holidays throughout the year, including Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day, the Fourth of July and Dia de los Muertos.

Read more:  |

Full list of best Amazon Prime Video Originals


Tales from the Loop (2020—)


Not just another show about a small town where strange things happen, Tales from the Loop has a lot more underneath the surface. Drawing from a narrative art book by Swedish artist Simon Stålenhag, the series is stunning to look at, meticulous as can be with symmetrical frames. Light and space are infused with a painterly feel. The interconnected townspeople are similarly nuanced, their stories exploring loneliness, aging, the impact of technology and more through sci-fi ideas.

The Feed (2019)

Amazon Studios

The Black Mirror vibes are strong in this British series about technology gone wrong. The Feed is set in a futuristic London where a family develops an implant that lets people livestream their lives without needing to press a button on a phone. No, absolutely nothing can go wrong with that! Some pretty impressive actors stack out the cast, including David Thewlis and Michelle Fairley. While it’s not as polished or deep-cutting as Black Mirror, it’s still worth a look — just grab your phone during the less gripping parts.

Amazon Studios

Amazon rescued The Expanse from the realm of canceled TV, bringing us a fifth season with a sixth (and final season) to come. Thank goodness it did, because The Expanse is smart sci-fi with realistic characters, high production values and a dash of detective noir. Set in a future where humanity has colonized the Solar System, a conspiracy threatens to start a cold war between the largest powers. A band of antiheroes find themselves at the center. Look forward to more space western themes in the consistently excellent later seasons.


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The Pursuit of Love (2021)

Amazon Studios

You’re either going to fall madly in love with or arch an unimpressed eyebrow at this romance based on the 1945 Nancy Mitford novel of the same name. The Pursuit of Love follows two cousins who represent different ways of life. Lily James is Linda Radlett, whose exuberant romantic adventures see her travel from London to Paris. Emily Beecham, meanwhile, is Fanny Logan, navigating the confinements of married life. If you’re in the mood, this three-episode miniseries will sweep you up into a story of happiness and sadness, laughter and pain.

Modern Love (2019—)

Amazon Studios

Grab your blanket and a cup of tea for this sweet, cosy viewing. Modern Love is based on real-life personal essays about love from the New York Times column of the same name. These stories are delicately brought to life for the screen by a starry cast, including Anne Hathaway, Dev Patel and, in season 2, Minnie Driver and Kit Harington, among many more. Some stories won’t be tied up with a neat bow, and some will take you to unexpected places. The overall tone is feel good without being overly saccharine, and it might just stir your belief in the magic of true love.


The Underground Railroad (2021—)

Amazon Prime Video

Sublime filmmaker Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) takes on adapting Colson Whitehead’s novel The Underground Railroad into a powerful 10-episode series. Set in the southern US during the 1800s, the fictional story follows Blacks attempting to escape from slavery via a network of hidden tracks and tunnels. Tapping magical realism and a superb cast including Thuso Mbedu and William Jackson Harper, The Underground Railroad is an emotional and chilling triumph.

The Wilds (2020—)


Amazon’s first original young adult offering is an intriguing combination of Lost and the Breakfast Club — and it works. Crucially, the cast of characters who find themselves stranded on a deserted island are all teenage girls. To them, that makes life even more excruciating. Each has a very different background — from spoiled rich girl to Native American — but they have to put aside their differences to survive, learning a thing or two about themselves on the way. Things get even more dark and thrilling when Rachel Griffiths’ Gretchen Klein comes into the picture as the head of the secretive Dawn of Eve program.

Informer (2018)

Amazon Studios

This gripping British series is about, yes, an informer and the murky territory involved in coercing someone to take on the dangerous gig. Paddy Considine (who now has a gig on the Game of Thrones prequel) stars as DS Gabe Waters, a counterterrorism officer tasked with infiltrating a far-right movement in West Yorkshire. Partnered with an excellent Bel Powley (The Morning Show, The King of Staten Island) as the young and inquisitive DC Holly Morten, he attempts to bring British Pakistani Raza (Nabhaan Rizwan) on board to uncover information about a possible terrorist attack. A provocative thriller that will keep you on your toes.

Picnic at Hanging Rock (2018)

Amazon Studios

This TV version of Picnic at Hanging Rock isn’t quite a masterpiece like the 1975 film adaptation of the classic Australian novel. But it’s just as mysterious, unfurling a dreamy yet eerie veil over a fictional disappearance in the isolated Australian bush. When three students and their governess go missing after a picnic at the rock area, hysteria sets into the community and the esteemed Appleyard College, led by Natalie Dormer’s formidable headmistress. Dark secrets emerge, keeping you hanging on until the end.

The Last Tycoon (2016-2017)

Amazon Studios

Matt Bomer, Lily Collins and Kelsey Grammer star in this 1930s-set drama about a brilliant Hollywood executive. Self-made prodigy Monroe Stahr (Bomer) faces a constant struggle with studio head Pat Brady (Grammar). The series takes an interesting angle, exploring the influence of the Nazis and the German market on Hollywood politics in a world on the brink of war. The Last Tycoon is based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s last book, unfinished and posthumously published, with loose inspiration from producer Irving Thalberg, known as The Boy Wonder during the early 1900s. Superbly acted, sumptuous to look at and centered on absorbing characters, The Last Tycoon ended too soon after one season.

The Collection (2016)

Amazon Studios

If you like your fashion and historical drama, The Collection aptly brings the two together. Set in a post World War II Paris, the eight-part series follows two entrepreneurial brothers who clash as they build their fashion empire. Rivalry, betrayal and Nazi occupation are the provocative elements that light a fire under this handsomely shot family drama. Note of warning, once you become hooked on the deftly layered intrigue, you’ll have to face the disappointment of no second season.

Amazon Studios

Con man Marius walks free from jail, only to be hunted by the gangster he once robbed. So, he assumes the identity of his cell mate Pete and walks back into the lives of Pete’s estranged family, who are none the wiser. Bryan Cranston brings all the gravitas to gangster Vince in this part-drama, party-comedy. The twists and dicey situations will carry you through the addictive episodes as quickly as Pete pulls his cons.


Good Omens (2019)

Chris Raphael

This adaptation of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s novel pairs two other UK treasures in David Tennant and Michael Sheen. They play the demon Crowley and the angel Aziraphale, respectively, in this miniseries that sees Earth on the brink of destruction thanks to a final battle between Heaven and Hell. Decidedly against this, after enjoying their time on the planet, the bickering pair team up and attempt to prevent Armageddon. With a stacked cast, including a cameo from Benedict Cumberbatch as, well, Satan, Good Omens is a worthy adaptation, largely thanks to Tennant and Sheen’s double act.

Forever (2018)

Amazon Studios

If you’re in a particularly meditative mood, reflecting on life, relationships and the big choices we make in life, Forever will gently set your world on fire. June (Maya Rudolph) and Oscar (Fred Armisen) are a married couple cruising through their suburban life until vastly unexpected turns take them into otherworldly territory. Stick through the slow-burning first episode and you’ll be rewarded with an exceptionally crafted eight-episode series, gently wrapping you in its visually beautiful and meaningful dream.


Hanna (2019—)

Amazon Prime

The premise of Hanna, a Joe Wright action thriller from 2011, is so good Amazon fleshed it out for a TV series. Starring Esme Creed-Miles as the skilled young assassin living in the Romanian wilderness, Hanna the TV show expands the teen’s backstory and explains why the CIA’s Marissa Wiegler has an obsession with capturing her.

Amazon Studios

While season 2 of Homecoming didn’t quite find its feet, season 1 hit the ground running. Julia Roberts stars in this psychological thriller about an army rehabilitation facility run by questionable owners. Using an effective, mystery-building narrative that covers two timelines, Homecoming is high on tension and paranoia as it reveals what the facility’s true purpose is. Fun fact: The series uses the actual scores of movies from Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick and more.

Amazon Studios

The Man in the High Castle imagines an alternate history where the Axis powers (Rome-Berlin-Tokyo) win World War II. Based on a Philip K. Dick novel, the series follows characters in the ’60s who live in a parallel universe, where Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan control the US. But there’s impossible newsreel footage surfacing of a world where Germany and Japan lose the war, causing some to rebel. To really hammer home its dystopia credentials, The Man in the High Castle is steered by producer Ridley Scott. Fully realized and with a focused plot, this is gripping TV.


Amazon Studios

This unique series uses the  to tell the story of a young woman who, after suffering a near-fatal car accident, discovers she can manipulate time. Intriguing, right? It gets better: Bob Odenkirk plays Alma’s dead father, who enlists her help in investigating his murder. Bending both time and space, Undone is surreal and beautifully existential for those looking for deep material.

Amazon Studios

A sex scandal in the UK Parliament? Starring Hugh Grant and Ben Wishaw? You can thank Russell T. Davies for dramatizing this slice of late-’70s British politics. Jeremy Thorpe, a Liberal member of Parliament, wants to silence unhappy ex-lover Norman before his career ends up in tatters. Watch the murder conspiracy, big trial and media scrutiny through A Very English Scandal’s darkly funny lens.

Amazon Studios

A ’50s housewife who becomes a standup comic? This brilliant series from Gilmore Girls creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, is filled with sparkling performances from Rachel Brosnahan and Alex Borstein, with dialogue to match. Set in a vibrant and changing New York, our delightful heroine moonlights as a comedian, while doing her duties as an upper class Jewish American housewife. With impressive visuals, warmth and zingers, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is the full package.

Amazon Studios

If somehow the Fleabag train passed you by, it’s time to let it hit you at its full, incredible force. Phoebe Waller-Bridge writes and stars in the play-turned extraordinary comedy series. A 30-something woman who runs a cafe lives a sex-filled life with a sense of humor that hides the tragedies she hasn’t yet come to terms with. Just about word-for-word perfect, with a fourth-wall breaking device, Fleabag frequently does its best to both shock and devastate you, while being ridiculously funny.

I Love Dick (2016-2017)


Going on a Katheryn Hahn binge after WandaVision? Marvel’s new favorite witch starred in one season of this 2016 comedy with a memorable title. Her character’s name is just as memorable: Chris Kraus, an artist and filmmaker who moves to Texas with her husband. She quickly falls in love with his fellowship sponsor, played by Kevin Bacon. Yes, Kevin Bacon is in this. The dynamic of her marriage shifts as her infatuation challenges everything in smart and provocative and adult ways. Sadly, I Love Dick didn’t score a second season, but the first is well worth your time.

Amazon Studios

Featuring Carrie Fisher’s final TV role, Catastrophe is a rom-com about messy, chaotic people. Londoner Sharon and Bostonian Rob have a one-week stand that results in an unplanned pregnancy and Rob moving to the UK so they can start a family. The tricky part: Sharon and Rob don’t know the first thing about each other. Covering age, sex, parenthood, marriage and love in its open book, Catastrophe is a superb rom-com that gives you four seasons to devour.

Amazon Studios

Transparent’s unique story follows the Pfefferman siblings who discover their dad is transitioning into a woman named Maura. Other aspects of the Pfeffermans’ lives, including a sour marriage and a disappointing child, give this tightly scripted comedy-drama a relatable side. Poignant and ambitious, Transparent is a show to look out for.

Amazon Studios

A comedy-drama set in New York’s classical music scene, Mozart in the Jungle is as whimsical as its title suggests. Upcoming oboist Hailey meets eccentric conductor Rodrigo, who’s tasked with revitalizing the New York Symphony. Never losing you with jargon, Mozart in the Jungle charmingly reveals an edgier side to the world of strings, playing its own symphony of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.

Red Oaks (2014-2017)

Amazon Studios

A coming-of-age story. College. ’80s movie references. ’80s music. Endearing characters. This gem of a show from a few years back is easy viewing in the best way possible. David Myers (Craig Roberts) is a college student who gets a gig at Red Oaks, a Jewish country club, in the summer of 1985. As he figures out where he’s going in love and life, David meets eccentric, chaotic characters who provide plentiful laughs along with warranting your emotional investment. Put Red Oaks on your list of ultimate comfort viewing.


Invincible (2021—)

For those who aren’t a fan of cartoons, Invincible could be your converter, up there with other adult cartoons like BoJack Horseman and Rick and Morty. Based on a comic book from Robert Kirkman, the creator of the Walking Dead, Invincible follows 17-year-old Mark Grayson and his training to become a superhero just like his father, who happens to be the most powerful superhero on the planet. Episodes run long at nearly 50 minutes, connected into one big, blood-spattered story. A subversive series with a huge cast featuring Steven Yeun, Sandra Oh and J.K. Simmons, Invincible will engross you in its smart animated world.

Amazon Studios

The Boys stormed Amazon last year with its ultra-violent tale of antihero vigilantes seeking revenge against the world’s most beloved superheroes. But these heroes aren’t what they seem: Their corporate overlords cover Shut Up Sex their shady personal lives, including sexual harassment and the odd assassination. With social commentary, black comedy and pops of gore, The Boys takes a thrilling and unapologetic step away from the family-friendly genre.

Amazon Studios

While The Tick was sadly canceled after two seasons, the superhero comedy will still give you a hit of fast-paced, colorful action with its tongue firmly in its cheek. Based on the comic book character, The Tick is a bulletproof hero who wears a, yep, blue tick suit. His sidekick? The meek Arthur who wears a … moth suit. Their nemesis is The Terror, a supervillain in their city’s underworld. If you want to sit back and watch pure superhero entertainment, you’ve found the right show.


Amazon Studios

Not only does this horror anthology series feature Japanese folklore and explorers heading into uncharted territory, but its first chapter stars pre-Chernobyl Jared Harris. He plays the captain of Arctic explorer ships that end up stuck in the ice. On top of the harsh conditions and cabin fever, an unknown presence in the mist stalks the crew. Strung with atmospheric dread, The Terror is thrilling, prestige horror. The Terror is available on Prime Video in Australia and AMC in the US ().


Amazon Studios

This seven-season police procedural, inspired by Michael Connelly novels, gets everything right for old-fashioned detective drama. We follow Los Angeles police detective Harry Bosch, who’s haunted by the death of his mother. While catching serial killers and keeping his family safe, he investigates her murder. Functional and no-nonsense, Bosch provides steady mystery with an equally steady lead.

Ripper Street (2012-2016)

Amazon Studios

This dark and gritty series is set in the late 1800s on the streets of Whitechapel, a place once terrorized by Jack the Ripper. Detective Inspector Edmund Reid (Matthew Macfadyen) and the police have to deal with the aftermath of the Ripper murders, which have left the area of London in an anarchic state. Fine acting, strong characters and, importantly, strong dialogue make the episodic mysteries all the more suspenseful and immersive. Five superb seasons await you (consisting of six to eight episodes each).

The spy who inspired me: How James Bond movies shaped my life

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The Diamonds Are Forever begins with a serene view of a Japanese tea room. Then a man crashes through the paper screen and slides across the floor. Bond roughs him up, demanding to know: «Where is Blofeld?»

Next scene: A man in a casino tells the dealer, «Hit me.» Bond spins him around, punches him in the face and taunts: «Where is he? I shan’t ask you politely next time.»

Then, in a beachy locale, 007 strides toward the camera. It’s , rugged, self-assured, purposeful, and giving his immortal introduction. «My name is Bond. James Bond.»

I was 11 years old, sitting in the front row of the Fine Arts theater in downtown Portland, Maine, with a sixth grade classmate whose mom had dropped us off for a matinee. We were on our own and loaded up with popcorn and soda. It was the first movie I’d ever seen without my parents.

And I was hooked. Starting with just those few vivid scenes, James Bond was launching me toward an adolescence drenched in spy movies and novels. I couldn’t know it then, on that afternoon in December 1971, but I’d be watching well into the next century, all the way up through Daniel Craig’s finale this year — an «epic, explosive and emotional swan song,» as my colleague Richard Trenholm sums it up in .

I also couldn’t know that a decade later I’d be making a foray of my own into the intelligence field. I’d work in Berlin when it was still a divided, occupied city, when the Cold War split the world into opposing sides ever vigilant for signs of bad things to come.

Over his long movie career, saved the world from Very Bad Things many times over. My experience was a little more down to earth.

Sean Connery as James Bond in Diamonds Are Forever

It’s not a tuxedo, but that is James Bond, in the 1971 movie Diamonds Are Forever.

Getty Images

How could it not be? Bond’s an impeccably tailored man of action who spends quality time at swanky hotels and casinos in , with unlimited resources, sleek cars and clever gadgets at his disposal. There’s no shortage of beautiful women who like the cut of Commander Bond’s, um, jib.

«Good to see you, Mr. Bond,» Q, the armorer, says in 1983’s , Connery’s final turn as Bond after a 12-year hiatus. «Now you’re on this, I hope we’re going to have some gratuitous sex and violence!»

The Bond movies, from Eon Productions and , are also rightly and action sequences. The getaway in the red Mustang Mach 1 in Diamonds Are Forever. The ski jump off the towering cliff in . The underwater battles in . The extreme parkour in and the dangling-from-ropes fight in . The jetpack. The car chases. The boat chases. The tank chase. 

James Bond may sometimes move through the shadows, but mostly he’s larger than life. That’s not how spying really works. But it is how some people get sucked into that world.

Take me, for example.

My time in military intelligence

Fresh out of college and short on compelling job prospects, I made the rounds of military recruiting offices, thinking, OK well, maaaybe. But when the Army recruiter talked up military intelligence and language school and serving overseas, I started selling myself on the idea. The voice inside my head got right to the point: «This could be some James Bond shit.» 

I spent five years in the Army in the 1980s, about half that time in Germany doing real-world intelligence work. It was a time of  in Europe, including the potential for nuclear strikes, a grim notion that provided a semblance of tension in the otherwise immensely frivolous 1983 Bond movie . 

Standing near the East German borderStanding near the East German border

That’s me with the camera, circa 1987, and East Germany on the far side of that fence.

Jon Skillings/CNET

It all started with my 007-primed penchant for spy lit and action flicks, even the cheesy ones.

Let’s be honest here: isn’t top-shelf Bond. It’s heavy on 007 schtick, the pacing is lax, underwhelm — and the 40-ish Connery, with gray business suit, thickening midsection and an air of detachment, radiates been there, done that.

But even a half-assing Connery still delivers. He’s at ease in the role, royalty out for a stroll. He remains indomitable, even when the flamboyantly gymnastic Bambi and Thumper are kicking his butt; even when, more than once, he cheats death and carries on, flippant and unflappable. 

For 11-year-old me, it was close to perfection.

In the mid-1970s, following my baptism by Diamonds, I was all in for anyone playing Bond. The Roger Moore era was getting underway in theaters, and I was playing catch-up with the Connery Bonds as they popped up on TV, along with . There was 1967’s  (a misbegotten spoof) and  (an Italian ripoff starring Connery’s younger brother Neil). I read every spy book I could get my hands on. My commitment was 100%.

Scaramanga and James Bond in The Man With the Golden GunScaramanga and James Bond in The Man With the Golden Gun

James Bond, the Roger Moore version, gets ready to shoot it out with Scaramanga, the man with the golden gun.

Getty Images

There was so much to take in! Starting in 1962, the six Bond movies from Eon Productions leading up to had been box office gems, and Connery’s time in the role had made him a star. Success inspired imitation and variation: Movies and TV shows in the 1960s were gloriously rife with spies, and spy-adjacent adventurers, from Michael Caine’s Harry Palmer and Dean Martin’s Matt Helm to bumbling Maxwell Smart, six-gun-slinging James West and the original Mission: Impossible crew.

Much as the action and spectacle in Bond movies appealed to me, I was also fascinated by the darker, more skeptical stories. Like Marathon Man (speaking of diamonds). Like 1975’s : After his co-workers are all gunned down, the hero, Turner, a bookish type working for the CIA, has to sort out who he can trust. (Even decades later, I would still think about Turner’s chance escape from death pretty much every time I’d run out from the office to get lunch.)

By contrast, my Gen Z sons have grown up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Star Wars sagas, the Fast and Furious movies. They’ve seen a few Bond movies, which they liked well enough, but if there’s a suave, steely, gadget-adept action hero who stands out above all for them, it’s Tony Stark.

James Bond, ‘relic of the Cold War’

Bond is a steadfast warrior in the service of the crown; there’s never any real doubt he’ll complete his mission. He has integrity as well as skills. He’s a champagne and caviar snob.

Diamonds Are Forever movie posterDiamonds Are Forever movie poster

Getty Images

And when it comes to sex, he’s a midcentury fantasy of male dominance from the peak era of pulpy men’s magazines and Playboy clubs. Pussy Galore in the hayloft? Subtle much? Just listen to those theme song lyrics. Look at those old book covers and movie posters.

For a teenage boy in the ’70s, it was titillating — if not exactly a great life lesson.

But even from the beginning, there were women in the Bond movies who knew how to look out for themselves, to take charge. That undercurrent became a riptide in 1995’s , Pierce Brosnan’s first outing as Bond, when the formidable Judi Dench stepped into the role of 007’s boss, M. She wasted no time in setting the record straight: «I think you’re a sexist, misogynist dinosaur, a relic of the Cold War.»

The Bond movies, which too often seemed deeply committed to recycling old material, were evolving after all. It’s something I like to think I was doing at the same time — growing up.

I wasn’t in Maine, or junior high school, anymore. I’d earned a bachelor’s degree and survived basic training. I’d spent time on a big Army post in Texas and at the Defense Language Institute in California.

And I was having a Cold War experience of my own.

In Berlin, where the infamous wall still stood, and seemed like it might last till eternity, I interviewed refugees from Poland — at that time on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain — about their backgrounds, their activities and who they knew. Russian apparatchiks would sometimes park on the street outside the office to take pictures of the facilities and of us.

In another office, in a corner of West Germany that intersected both East Germany and Czechoslovakia, I translated reports of Warsaw Pact military convoys and other suspicious activities on the other side of the border (which made me kin to Condor’s Turner, kinda sorta). My colleagues and I once debriefed a Russian soldier who’d bolted his listening post in the middle of the night and jumped the fences to escape to the West.

By coincidence, this was around the same time that Bond was helping a KGB officer defect across a central European border, in 1987’s .

To spy or not to spy?

To be clear, I wasn’t a spy, or working with spies (that I know of), even if I was an active-duty soldier who got to dress in civilian clothes. It wasn’t covert ops — we could tell people we were in the US Army — but it was useful to be inconspicuous. Even so, the local folk in that West German town sometimes joked about us being CIA. (At least, I think they meant it as a joke.) 

Berlin Wall, November 1985Berlin Wall, November 1985

The Berlin Wall, as it looked in November 1985.

Jon Skillings/CNET

But I did get to thinking: I liked living life out in the open, without a cover story or elaborate layers of deceit. I knew that sooner or later in intelligence work, you’re likely to have trouble sorting truth from lies, the good guys from the bad. Because real life is rarely as clear-cut as Bond good, Blofeld bad.

I realized, too, that there was a lot of really good intel right out in plain view, in public channels like newspapers and TV broadcasts. I’m sure spies do get information of value that’s not available some other way. But even back then, long before social media taught us about filter bubbles, it felt like the intelligence community could be its own closed loop of skewed perception.

Honestly, there was a fair amount of tedium, too. Did I mention I was in the Army?

You don’t learn that from Bond movies. There’s nothing like the pall of mistrust and drab drudgery in John Le Carre’s , the many angles of betrayal in or the amped-shut up Sex (Datingbuddies.com) machinations of the TV series on Epix.

As a 22-year-old, I’d signed up for the Army and military intelligence in part because of all those spy novels and movies I’d devoured growing up. Heading toward 30, I decided not to make a career of it. I wasn’t really the James Bond type after all, or George Smiley, for that matter.

Moore, Dalton and Brosnan, oh my

Six decades on, James Bond has become one of the  of all time. The Bond movies continue to inspire spoofs and homages, from Austin Powers to Johnny English to the Kingsman series. But invariably, movie franchises run out of steam, take a wrong turn or just need a pick-me-up. Sean Connery couldn’t have played Bond forever even if he’d wanted to. 

Audiences age out too — well, at least I did.

The , charmingly goofy at their best, had wheezed well past their expiration date. Timothy Dalton brought back an edge, but there was only so much his gravitas and scowl could accomplish. ? I’m sorry, but that’s just an ’80s cop revenge movie. 

GoldenEye took a big step in the right direction, but it didn’t last. To me, Pierce Brosnan is the Derek Zoolander of Bonds, all smirks, pouts and poses, snuggled with smarmy product placement and just plain stupidity (looking at you, invisible car).

I was deep into my 30s and sliding inexorably past 40. Mortgage. Kids. Did I really still need any of that?

James Bond will return in…

Then along comes the reboot, the Daniel Craig era. After riding the Bond formula train for years, Eon Productions actually started over. With the rights to Casino Royale (Ian Fleming’s debut Bond novel) finally in hand, the franchise in 2006 gave us Bond’s origin story.

Daniel Craig and Ana de Armas in No Time to DieDaniel Craig and Ana de Armas in No Time to Die

There’s always time for a drink in a Bond movie, including No Time to Die.

Nicola Dove/MGM

It was spectacular. One hell of a first impression. Grittier than any of the preceding Bond movies, and with a tempo to match Jason Bourne and Mission: Impossible’s Ethan Hunt. Craig’s Bond is stone-faced to good effect, and he’s up for the athletic challenges, but there’s also an emotional tension we’d never seen in 007 before. There’s more at stake for Bond personally.

For my money, it’s one of the very best Bond movies of all time. The ensuing Daniel Craig movies have been a mixed bag, but satisfying on the whole. 

In Diamonds Are Forever, Bond does track down Blofeld, and exacts justice. I wouldn’t recommend Bond’s from those opening scenes — getting high-quality answers usually takes more subtlety and patience — but yeah, they do feel right for this hard-bitten character. Then Blofeld, a fixture of the early 007 movies, essentially disappeared until all the way in 2015, bringing a whole new backstory twist to the Bond-versus-Blofeld saga.

No Time to Die wraps up the Daniel Craig years, and presumably the storyline of his five 007 movies. It’s a moment for the franchise to reinvent itself again and to introduce a new actor as Bond. Ian Fleming’s eternal super-spy has proved to be up to the task, returning the same in essence but changing with the times as well. 

It’s been a long time since I sat in the front row at a theater, but like 11-year-old me, I’m looking forward again to more Bond adventures.

<div class="comment-container" data-component="sharebar" data-sharebar-options='"title":"Being James Bond: How 007 movies got me into intelligence work","description":"Growing up, I couldn\u0027t get enough of James Bond and spy stories. No surprise, then, how my career unfolded in the thick of the Cold War.website

Friday App Wrap

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Welcome to the Friday App Wrap, where we share with you some of the standouts from the mobile phone apps that we find each week. You’ll find a variety of apps below, plus you can scroll back via the page navigation at the bottom to see the applications highlighted in previous weeks.

Friday, 30 November 2012

  • iOS App of the Week: Jet Set Radio

    Jet Set Radio Future was a game that I had a lot of fun with back in the day. Cel-shading was still cool, and the game’s mechanic — which saw you zipping around on inline skates while applying graffiti tags to the city to fight back against the totalitarian government — was interesting and new.

    So it was with nostalgic glee that I greeted the news that the original Dreamcast game was arriving for mobile — and with relief that I found it is just as fun as I remember. Also, just as an aside, isn’t it amazing that games that required a massive console to run 10 years ago can now play on something that fits in the palm of your hand?

    Platform: ;Price: AU$5.49

  • Flashout 3D

    Speaking of back in the day, who remembers Wipeout? This game isn’t Wipeout, but it’s close enough; you race little hover ships around futuristic circuits, using weapons to take down your opponents. It has a whole bunch of great features, as well as looking absolutely stunning and featuring a really pumpin’ soundtrack: upgradeable ships, three different control layouts, Apple TV and TV-out support so you can play on the big screen and one save file across all of your devices. There’s no multiplayer, though it’s coming soon.

    Platform:Price: AU$1.99

  • Writer Rumble

    You know, people reckon Street Fighter is pretty nerdy, but what if you’re too nerdy even for Shoryuken? What if you like books? Well, Writer Rumble is the game for you, friend. Rather than taking a muscle-bound kung fu artist and hammering at buttons, hoping your feet or fists land a blow, you choose from one of six literary heroes: Edgar Allan Poe, Agatha Christie, the Brothers Grimm, Jane Austen, Homer or HP Lovecraft. Then you have to find words on a board of letters by connecting letters together, either in single player to beat back monsters or in multiplayer to defeat your friends, with power-ups to help you along.

    Platform:Price: AU$0.99

  • Spaceteam

    This game is unlike anything we’ve ever seen on the App Store. It’s multiplayer only — and each player’s iDevice becomes a control panel, with buttons, dials, sliders and switches that you have to tweak in accordance with the instructions that appear on-screen. Here’s the twist: the instructions on your screen are for other players, so you have to verbally shout out the instructions to them, and they have to do the same for yours, all within a time limit. It’s glorious cooperative mayhem.

    Platform:Price: Free

  • Police Child ID

    This is a bit more serious than we usually cover, but missing children are something that every parent is terrified about. This app, made by the Australian Federal Police in cooperation with the US’ FBI, allows you to relay information quickly and easily to the police in the hopefully unlikely event that a child goes missing. You store in it all of your child’s information: their name, nickname, age, address and photo. If your child does disappear, you can then send that profile directly to the police quickly and easily. It also has contact information for the police in various states, as well as instructions and a breakdown of what will happen after you have reported a child missing. It’s a great thing to have, and may you never have to use it.

    Platform: ;Price: Free

  • Mindjet Tasks

    Mindjet Tasks has had a complete redesign and relaunch, which we’re guessing will be welcome to users who previously found the app difficult to use. If you don’t know about , it’s worth checking out: a collaborative software tool for keeping up to date with your team, with visualisations of brainstorming sessions, the ability to add and update tasks where everyone can see them and project-planning tools. This iOS app is an add-on that allows you to add, track and edit tasks for you and your team, with real-time updates so you can manage your workflow on the go.

    Platform:Price: Free

  • Android app of the week: Clay Jam

    Zynga has been struggling of late, and a lot of people have been steering away from its games. Then it goes and publishes Clay Jam, a sort of hybrid Katamari Damacy/. You roll a plasticine ball around in what looks like a stop-motion environment (we don’t know how developer Fat Pebble animated it, but the description says it’s all real clay … either way, it looks incredible), squashing other creatures flat to absorb them and get bigger, so you can squash bigger creatures. The bigger you get, the farther you can shoot the Bully Beasts at the end, and then the more creatures you can make out of the clay you collect. It’s something special, that’s for sure.

    Platform: ;Price: Free

  • BattleFriends at Sea

    Words with Friends? Bo-ring. Draw Something? Is anyone even still playing that? Battleships is where all the cool kids are at; specifically, multiplayer battleships across multiple platforms.

    (Credit: 20th Century Fox)

    Platform: ;Price: Free

  • Crazy Fairies

    Crazy Fairies — from American McGee’s indie studio Spicy Horse Games — is properly arriving for iOS and Android sometime mid-December, but if you’ve been waiting with interest, the beta is now available for Android. It’s kind of like what it would be if Super Smash Brothers Melee met Angry Birds in a series of multiplayer online tournaments set in fairyland, gone hilariously awry. It looks just gorgeous, but bear in mind that it is in beta, so some glitches and bugs are to be expected. It’s also .

    Platform:Price: Free

  • Freeze!

    We do like our little monochrome titles — they tend to lend a game a sort of gloomy gravitas, and Freeze is a solid little title tapping into that aesthetic, with art by illustrator and a spooky soundtrack by trance musician . An eyeball is trapped in a cell. You rotate the cell to navigate mazes, avoiding spikes and moving traps — but you can also use a «freeze» button to freeze your little guy in place for some tricky manoeuvring. It’s free for a short launch special only, so make sure you snap it up.

    Platform: ;Price: Free

  • SwiftKey 3

    SwiftKey is our preferred smart keyboard here at CNET Australia, so we were all pretty chuffed when it launched an update with an Australian English version. The SwiftKey team analysed over 14 billion words used by Australians to better integrate the keyboard’s predictive abilities with our local idiom. If you’re downloading SwiftKey for the first time, select «English (AU)» from the language options menu; existing users can open SwiftKey and add Australian English from the «Languages & layouts» menu. Also, we should note that the app is on sale at half price to celebrate.

    Platform:Price: AU$1.99

  • Emergency Aus

    We have a lot of crazy weather in Australia, particularly at this time of year and in the months ahead, from bushfires to hailstorms. Emergency AU collates and delivers official warnings and incident information, and includes a handy in-app link to dial 000 or the State Emergency Services (SES) if required. It includes warnings for fires (bush, building and back burning), floods, storms, tsunamis, hazardous materials and fire bans. You can even access photo streams and share your own information, so that everyone involved can stay informed.

    Stay safe, yo.

    Platform: ;Price: Free

Have an appy weekend, y’all!

Got a hot app tip to share? Let us know by emailing cnet@cnet.com.au.

Friday, 23 November 2012

  • iOS App of the Week: Endless Road

    The icon for Endless Road is a little misleading — the game is, in fact, about driving along an endless road, but the art style differs somewhat. In a good way; we’re actually really impressed with the extremely clean and tight graphics.

    In fact, everything about Endless Road has been finely tuned: the controls are very well managed, the concept is great and the music is rockin’. As you drive along, the road and landscape (viewed isometrically) construct themselves ahead of you. The aim is, of course, to stay driving for as long as possible, steering left and right to avoid obstacles and collect coins and power-ups. With these coins, you can upgrade your power-ups, collect more vehicles and — perhaps most interestingly — upgrade and paint the landscape around you. It’s heaps of fun.

    Platform:Price: AU$0.99

  • 4NR

    We’ve seen 2D platformers that involve going up and down the screen before, even ones that use retro graphics, but 4NR is something strange. It’s based on a Bible verse, Proverbs 15:24 — «The path of life leads upward for the prudent, that he may turn away from Sheol beneath.» The nearest guess we had for its name was web slang for «foreigner». Styled after what looks like the original Game Boy, it offers you a choice: climb up to escape the ever-rising Sheol pursuing you; or dig down and try not run into a dead end. Each offers a different challenge and style of gameplay in a strange, wonderfully ominous world.

    Platform:Price: AU$0.99

  • Vengeance: Woz with a Coz

    Here comes another strange one, in a completely different fashion. It’s Danny Trejo teaming up with Steve Wozniak to rescue Woz’s kidnapped wife in a 2D side-scrolling shooter (with a script penned by Woz himself) to promote Trejo’s upcoming film . No, we don’t understand either.

    Platform:Price: AU$0.99

  • Dragons Dream

    The gameplay in Dragon’s Dream is nothing special, though it’s well implemented. It’s an endless flyer, and you’re a dragon swooping through the skies to collect orbs. It’s the art that makes it spectacular; it’s by British fantasy artist Roger Dean, whose gorgeously fantastical worlds have been adoring album and video-game covers (and bedroom walls) for over 40 years.

    Included in the app are seven exclusive wallpapers by Dean for your phone, too. If you’re a fan of epic, old-school fantasy art, check this one out.

    Platform:Price: AU$5.49

  • Python 3.2

    Do you code? This app is for the latest version of Python for iOS. It includes an interactive interpreter, separate tabs for writing and testing scripts, import and export and full Python documentation.

    Platform:Price: AU$2.99

  • iSleepin

    If you have a problem with chronic oversleeping, iSleepin for iOS should get you Shut Up Sex. When it sounds the alarm, you have to do a puzzle to get it to stop: either rolling a ball along a track, tracing a pattern of dots or assembling a jigsaw puzzle. If you sleep through anyway, the next puzzle will be even harder. Let’s see you sleep in now!

    Platform:Price: AU$0.99 ()

  • Android app of the week: Hero of the Arena

    Monsters! Fighting! Freakin’ old school! This action-arcade game sees you fighting waves of monsters in an endless arena. As your little dude runs gauntlet after gauntlet (is this torture? Fun? Why is he doing this?), you unlock upgrades and bonuses, equipping yourself for ever more difficult foes. How long can you last?

    Platform:Price: Free

  • Arcane Legends

    MMOGs on mobile can be tricky to get right. Free-to-play game Arcane Legends, however, hits a bunch of great notes. You can jump on to play online co-op, but the game is also available as a solo experience, and it’s wonderfully made — lush graphics and a sort of cheeky wit. It comes with the backing of developer Spacetime Studios’ experience with other mobile MMO and fantasy games, such as Pocket Legends and Dark Legends … and, best of all, it has pets.

    Platform:Price: Free

  • Dragon Slayer

    When it comes to IAP, Glu generally isn’t too heinous, producing some quality games. Dragon Slayer, in our opinion, is worth it for the graphics alone. You’re some sort of wizard killing dragons (gosh), and the game does a fantastic job of creating a sense of mass, scale and deadliness with the giant creatures. You have to use spells to defeat them, naturally, upgrading your gear as you go.

    Platform: ;Price: Free

  • Overkill

    It’s Android versus Apple in this cross-platform MMOFPS. Work your way up the ranks, collecting in-game representations of real-world weapons. Access leader boards and use Overkill Medals to unlock super-duper guns so you can do something actually a bit fun with all that brand loyalty.

    Platform: ;Price: Free

  • Pixlr Express

    From Autodesk (Pixlr-o-matic, Sketchbook Pro, AutoCAD) comes a fantabulous new photo editor. It’s massive: it has over 600 effects, overlays and borders, all completely free, as well as tools for editing, such as colour balance, teeth whitening, red-eye removal, contrast and brightness — and it can access your camera rolls so that you can use it on your pre-existing photos. It’s our new favourite.

    Platform: ;Price: Free

  • Jottacloud

    There’s nothing more annoying when it comes to smartphones than breaking or losing a phone — and losing all your contacts, photos, videos, music and messages. Jottacloud is a free service that backs up your phone to the cloud, so that if something goes wrong, all you have to do is log in to recover it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t cover app data. If anyone knows of an app that does, please feel free to let us know.

    Platform:Price: Free

Friday, 16 November 2012

  • iOS App of the Week: Dream of Pixels

    Do you consider yourself a Tetris whiz? Dream of Pixels might put you to the test. It’s Tetris — in reverse. A grid of blocks slowly descends from the top of your screen, and you’re given a series of tetronimo shapes that you have to carve out, clearing lines as you go. The twist on classic Tetris gameplay is both refreshing and addictive, especially with the inclusion of several different difficulty modes — as well as a puzzle mode, where you have to fit tetronimoes into a prearranged shape. It’s dreamy and pixelly.

    Platform:Price: AU$0.99

  • Arranger

    A lot of mobile games are predictable — you can usually tell, upon reading an app’s description, more or less what the gameplay is going to be like. Then something like Arranger comes along, and you read it, thinking, «Eh?» Then you play it, and you know precisely why. Something like this — and, to be honest, we don’t think there are many things actually like this — is hard to describe.

    On a very basic level, it’s an adventure RPG, played out with retro pixel graphics. The rest involves crazy mini-games, quests, really weird monsters, an amazing soundtrack and a plethora of musical instruments for the purpose of combat.

    Platform:Price: AU$0.99

  • QatQi

    There are a lot of word games around, but QatQi has that something special. It’s a little like playing Scrabble with yourself, only denser: you have a selection of letters with which to make words, and a room to place them in. As you place letters to make words, your grid grows, but you only have the confines of the room, making the words a lot more tightly packed and tricky to mesh together. You have score multipliers to reach and coins to find, and you’re awarded bonuses for longer words. As you progress, the levels increase in difficulty.

    But where it really provides something different is the stats. You can view a list of words played, your longest words, your global ranking for each level and a breakdown of how you play in order to improve your game. It’s surprisingly fascinating.

    Platform:Price: Free

  • Sleepwalker’s Journey

    A couple of weeks ago, 11 bit studios brought us Funky Smugglers. Sleepwalker’s Journey is nothing like it, really. It’s all dreamy pastels and sparkling stars in a beautiful painted side-scrolling platform puzzler. As Moonboy (not the , alas) wends his sleepy way across treacherous floors, you have to make sure that his path is clear, collecting stars and moons as you go. As the game starts, it seems easy — but it quickly becomes a challenge as the hazards increase.

    Platform: ; ;Price: AU$0.99 (Android and iPhone); AU$1.99 (iPad)

  • Duolingo

    Want to learn a new language? Duolingo is a learning app for getting started with learning skills. The app contains tutorials for French, Spanish and German, with pronunciation and exercises. It’s really simple to pick up and start using, and the tutorials ease you in simply, teaching you as you go with trial and error. It’s actually kind of fun, and the best part is that it’s completely free all the way through, with no subscriptions or ads. Paris, Barcelona, Berlin: here we come!

    Platform:Price: Free

  • Bean

    Last week, we looked at an app that lets you keep a running tally by tapping on your iPhone’s screen — and mentioned in passing that an app that lets you count two things simultaneously would be better. This week, the universe delivered — or, more specifically, developer Small Planet Digital delivered. It, too, allows you to count things by tapping your screen; but you can also divide your screen into a grid to count up to nine things simultaneously. Wowsers. It’s really simple to use, too, as the 10-second tutorial will demonstrate.

    Platform:Price: AU$0.99

  • Android app of the week: This Could Hurt

    We were massive fans of Wind-up Knight, an auto-running, 3D side-scrolling beat-’em-up (if you don’t know how that combination could work, ). This Could Hurt is similar; you’re a boy training to join the Oakguard. The story’s not really fleshed out, but it doesn’t really need to be, to be honest. All that matters is that you’re on a path riddled with booby traps, and you have to survive. Gameplay is really simple: touch and hold the screen to make your little dude stand still. This way, you can bypass the traps and hazards — but it’s trickier than it sounds, and you’re going to need the power-ups you can buy. Combined with some great graphics and the fact that it’s free (you will see some ads between levels), This Could Hurt ends up being really rather fun.

    Platform: ;Price: Free (Android); AU$0.99 (iOS)

  • Predators

    We played this one when it first came out on iOS months and months ago, and we liked it very much, with the stabbing and the slicing and the lasers. The graphics are top notch; and, besides, it has Predators in it. The combat is fun and exciting, and we particularly like the stealth mechanic. It’s now available for Android, hurrah! Bearing in mind, however, that some users are reporting problems, it’s probably a good idea to boot it up and test it straight away if you want to make the .

    Platform: ;Price: AU$2.90 (Android); AU$0.99 (67 per cent-off sale on iOS)

  • My Little Pony

    My Little Pony came out last week for iOS, and arrived on Android a few days later. We also wanted to take this opportunity to let you know that if you’re experiencing difficulties with Gameloft Live, try restarting your device — that seemed to work for us.

    Platform: ;Price: Free

  • Waking Mars

    Waking Mars is one of those mobile games that’s just absolutely wonderful to play — it’s about exploration and discovery, rather than the bash-bash-pew-pew. As an astronaut on Mars, it is your mission, after becoming trapped underground, to restore life to the local flora and fauna. With beautiful art and music, it’s an experience that Android users should be delighted to now share.

    Platform: ;Price: AU$4.81 (Android); AU$5.49 (iOS)

  • Scan Master

    Now this is useful. Scan Master lets you use your Android phone as a pocket scanner, letting you turn your images straight into PDFs. Features include continuous capture that stitches your photos together into one PDF; image editing and effects; batch processing; and the ability to share your PDFs via Dropbox, Evernote and email.

    Platform:Price: Free

  • Roamz

    The update that brought new functionality to Roamz for iOS has now arrived for Android. This includes anonymous browsing, the ability to search both by activity and location and the ability to bookmark events and activities that interest you. You can see our video of the iOS version .

    Platform: ;Price: Free

Friday, 9 November 2012

  • iOS App of the Week: My Little Pony — Friendship is Magic

    Upon learning that Gameloft was making a My Little Pony into an official game, two things were immediately known: it would be a town-management sim and there would be IAP. The first was good news; the latter, dubious.

    So, My Little Pony — how good, I wondered, can a show for little kids really be? Turns out, it’s really freakin’ good. I wouldn’t say I’m a pegasister or anything, but I like it, I’m glad it’s in the world and I think all my nieces and nephews should have it on DVD. And, I’ve been glued to this game since I downloaded it. (Not literally, although my tube of superglue had a red-hot go.) It’s done a really good job of capturing the show, including the actual voice actors and a storyline true to form. It’s also great in that there’s stuff to do without spending money — there are mini-games to play to level up your ponies and lots of cool quests. I kinda’ love it. If anyone wants to add me, my Gameloft ID is «crankytrousers». Just, you know, sayin’.

    It is coming soon to Android.

    Platform:Price: Free

  • Wraithborne

    As far as isometric real-time RPG hack-and-slash goes, Wraithborne — by fantastic developer Crescent Moon Games — is pretty darn great. The visuals are absolutely stunning, built on Unreal 3, and action is really fun to play, using a choice of left joystick and right button controls or tapping the screen to move, attack and defend. You play as the Wraithborne and it’s your job to save the world, cleansing it of monsters by using a combination of physical attacks and runic magic. It’s really nothing we haven’t seen before, but it’s executed so well that it will fit wonderfully in with your stable of mobile RPGs.

    Platform:Price: AU$2.99

  • PlayMaker

    This little game from Lego is just adorable. It’s actually eight little games that are based around Lego bricks and the power of the imagination. In each game, the brick becomes an object — a piece of cheese that you have to protect from mice, a hammerhead shark you need to guide through the water, a hot-air balloon busting clouds. But if you have a favourite lucky Lego brick, you can snap it with your phone’s camera in-app, and use your own Lego to play the games. Not deep, but still cute, and perfect for younger players.

    Platform:Price: Free

  • ErnCon

    What’s the opposite of single-player RPG? It’s probably not multiplayer sci-fi, but that’s what we have in this next app. Up to 8 players can get into a top-down space shoot-out (if there such a thing as «top-down» in space, and has anyone ever noticed that in most TV space battles, all the ships are oriented the same?) where you battle for the galaxy. Killing enemy ships and destroying asteroids gives you gems, with which you can purchase upgrades. And there’s also single-player missions, for those who have no friends. That’s not us. We have heaps of friends. Really.

    Platform:Price: Free

  • CareSpace

    There are social networks for taking photos, social networks for video games, for sharing activities. CareSpace is for those who are taking care of other people. Say you have an ill or disabled family member, CareSpace allows you to set up a private social network where you can keep up-to-date with what’s happening with that person, and get support from each other — as carers can experience elevated stress levels. It’s a great way to keep everyone connected — even family or friends on the other side of the world.

    Platform:Price: Free

  • Tally — Quick Counter

    On first glance, there are some apps that look very unprepossessing, but when you think about it, you realise how potentially useful they can be. Tally falls into that category. It’s very easy to lose track when you’re counting something. With Tally, all you have to do is tap on the screen for every unit you count, meaning that you don’t have to worry about keeping track — especially if some rapscallion thinks it hilarious to start shouting random numbers at you. You can create and name multiple tallies, such as «Jelly beans in the jelly bean jar» or «number of green cars on George Street at 7am». Unfortunately, you can’t use it to count two things simultaneously. Maybe someone should make that app.

    Platform:Price: AU$0.99 each

  • Android app of the week: McBank: Puzzle of Money + Freedom

    Every now and again, something will come along and take an item, concept, etc, that we are familiar with and do something really interesting with it.

    Such is the case with McBank. At its core, it’s a match-3 puzzler, but it’s the anti-capitalist cladding around that core that makes the game so intriguing. The world is controlled by McBank. Grey workers are chained to grey machines; you enter terminals and perform match-3 puzzles to decide their fate. Will you set them free? Or will you chain them to your own will? Coupled with strange, unsettling art, McBank is a game that will keep you coming back, not just for the gameplay, but to see where its strangeness will lead.

    Platform:Price: Free

  • Dragon Raid

    Dragon Raid is … an endless flyer? Sort of. But you get to play a dragon, and that’s pretty sweet. You tilt to control your giant, scaly avatar, burning up human settlements and war machines as you go, avoiding their slings and arrows as best you can. That’s pretty much it, but destruction and burning as a dragon is a pretty fun thing to do in our opinion.

    Platform: ;Price: Free

  • Angry Birds Star Wars

    Here comes Angry Birds again. This time, it has lightsabers, blasters and Jedi powers, and characters from the original three Star Wars films nicking off with the Pig Star in order to defeat the evil Pig Empire. If you like Star Wars, there’s no guarantee that this is the game for you. If you like Angry Birds, then the cleverness and humour of the integration with the films make it tremendously good fun.

    Platform: Android (and ); ;Price: Free; AU$2.87 (Android); AU$0.99 (iPhone and iPod Touch); AU$2.99 (iPad)

  • Red Wing Ikaro Racing

    Now this is a jet racer. Across 22 stunning tracks, you take to the skies as a high-performance pilot, racing against your peers in a battle to the death. The controls are tilt-based and excellently calibrated, and it’s all low altitudes at high speeds, meaning you have to contend with not just your opponents and hitting checkpoints, but obstacles, such as buildings, mountains and canyon walls. It’s a little bit pricey — but it’s worth it.

    Platform:Price: AU$6.18

  • Manga Fu Camera

    Oh sure, you can get one of those retro Polaroid filters for your phone’s camera, but we’ll be over here, channelling One Piece with a set of super-dynamic manga-style black-and-white photo filters. Guess who will be cooler. Yeah.

    Platform:Price: Free

  • Loader Droid

    Downloading files to your Android device can be a bit of a pain — as demonstrated by the proliferation of download management apps on Google Play. Loader Droid is another — but it’s a pretty darned decent one. It can download any file type and includes a bunch of neat features that streamline your downloading, including automatic pause if your device loses connection; resumable downloads and automatic resume; the ability to decide which connection to use for each download; and split downloads for faster times.

    Platform:Price: Free

Friday, 2 November 2012

  • iOS App of the Week: Need for Speed Most Wanted

    Need for Speed Most Wanted has finally arrived, and the iOS version is one torqued-up mobile game, really hitting the outer limits of what we’ve seen the platform do. One thing we absolutely loved was vehicle damage in real-time — a first for a street racer of this calibre.

    All around, though, the graphics are stunning — which, admittedly, doesn’t count for much if depth and gameplay aren’t there. Luckily, they are. The title controls smoothly and intuitively, and once you’ve collected all 35 cars and raced the single-player tracks, you can go head-to-head against your mates in an online multiplayer mode. As we expected from the recently-minted Firemonkeys, it’s a highly polished title and a must-have for fans of racing games.

    Platform: ;Price: AU$7.69 (Android); AU$7.49 (iOS)

  • Heads Up! Hot Dogs

    Heads Up! Hot Dogs describes itself as «The most realistic hot-dog-head-balancing game ever». You know, we probably have to give it that. It’s certainly the most realistic out of the dozens we’ve played. For some reason, it’s raining hot dogs around the world; you have to drag them to safety by placing them on the heads of passers-by, unlocking new cities as you go. The faster the passer-by, the more points you get for the hot dog. It’s not our favourite Adult Swim game to date, but it’s not bad for whiling away five minutes here and there.

    Platform:Price: AU$0.99

  • Slide Circus

    We’ve all seen those little puzzle games where you slide squares around a grid until you’ve reassembled the image. This is a little bit like that, but a lot trickier; instead of moving individual squares around, you slide columns to reconstruct an image that is broken into squares. It starts pretty simply, but as the game progresses, lining up the pieces without breaking the parts of the image you’ve already assembled can be quite difficult. Because it’s so beautifully drawn, though, it’s worth continuing, just so you can keep looking at it.

    Platform: ;Price: AU$0.99 (iPhone); AU$1.99 (iPad)

  • Wreck-it Ralph

    Disney’s recently-released Wreck-it Ralph, an animated film about a video game villain who just wants to do good, is going back to his roots in this tie-in title for iOS — and it’s not half bad at all. The best part is that it’s three arcade games in one title. In the first, Fix-it Felix Jr — the game in which Ralph plays the villain in the film — you can play the game as featured in the film, fixing apartment buildings as Ralph tries to mess them up. In Sweet Climber, Ralph goes Doodle Jump in Candyland; and in Hero’s Duty, you play a top-down shooter as Agent Cy. The latter two have to be unlocked, and though we’re not sure how, it’s not a bad deal.

    Platform:Price: AU$0.99

  • Retromatic

    Usually when yet another retro photo-filter app enters our radar, we give it a cursory glance before sending it on its way. But here’s one that makes a nice change from the legions of Instagram clones. Retromatic lets you apply masks to your pictures to make some really striking posters and glamour images. It has a number of templates and funky little stickers you can apply, as well as filters and the ability to add text in retro fonts. And, naturally, you can export to Facebook, Twitter, email, Flickr and Instagram.

    Platform:Price: AU$2.99

  • runtastic Pro suite

    If you want to get some fitness going on, there’s a brand-new suite of Pro workout apps from runtastic — PullUps, Squats, SitUps and PushUps. They give you a set training plan, then help you count through your reps using your iDevice’s accelerometer, then offer you statistics so that you can track your progress.

    Platform:Price: AU$0.99 each

  • Android app of the week: Chrono Trigger

    Following hard on the heels of the news that Square Enix is of its mobile games, Chrono Trigger has finally been released for Android — but it’s still pretty pricey at AU$10.49. However, a title like Chrono Trigger may be justified, considering its massive fan following.

    Platform: ;Price: AU$10.49

  • Meganoid 2

    The sequel to the ultra-tough platformer has arrived — and it’s a doozy of a game. Levels are short, which is fantastic. You are going to die, and die a lot, transporting you back to the start of the level to try again. You’re exploring an underground temple, and it’s riddled with traps and challenges. You can just run through as fast as you like, if that’s your thing, but there are three goals at each level: firstly, to finish it; secondly, to finish it under time; and thirdly, to nab the hidden gold idol. It’s frenetic and fantastic, and nigh impossible to put down.

    Platform:Price: AU$2.48

  • Chain3D

    This is a match-three game, but unlike any we’ve seen before. It’s played around a three-dimensional cube, made up of coloured blocks and empty spaces. You have to add coloured blocks to the empty spaces where they match the surrounding blocks in order to clear them from the cube; when the cube is bare of all blocks, you’ve won the level — but you’re racing the clock to do so. It’s quite challenging, yet somehow relaxing at the same time.

    Platform:Price: Free

  • Luminattis

    This little indie game has a great gameplay mechanic at its core: drawing reflecting panels so that your avatar can manoeuvre around the on-screen obstacles and get to the exit. The artwork is pretty, too — a bit Twilight Princess, all strange and fey. A little more direction would be nice, and it can be hard to play on a small screen because of the fine details, but it’s well worth a look, at least — and we imagine that it would be spectacular on a tablet.

    Platform:Price: Free

  • Park Me Right

    One of life’s many small frustrations: trying to remember where you parked your car. Park Me Right hopes to help eliminate that. Using maps and augmented reality, it can help you not only remember where your vehicle was parked, but the fastest way back to it. It can also help you locate parking lots and find your way back to a hotel, train station or bus stop when you’re in a new place. Sounds like a pretty handy thing to have in your pocket.

    Platform:Price: Free

  • FlipLauncher

    What if you could enter your favourite apps from any place or program on your Android device? FlipLauncher puts a discreet ribbon of six tabs down the side of your screen (right or left, you choose), with the capacity to put four apps per tab. No matter what you’re doing with your phone, you can just flip open a tab to find your favourite apps and shortcuts, and launch them directly; no need to exit your current task and find your way back through the apps menu.

    Platform:Price: Free

Have an appy weekend, y’all!

Got a hot app tip to share? Let us know by emailing cnet@cnet.com.au.

Friday, 26 October 2012

  • iOS App of the Week: Shardlands

    Some people hate platform games with a heavy puzzle element, in which case Shardlands is not for them. If you do like puzzle platforming, though, it’s fantastic: beautifully designed, and with a relaxed style that perfectly suits a bit of zen gaming.

    You control Dawn, who’s lost in a strange world and trying to get back home by collecting shards hidden throughout the world. The levels are filled with moving platforms, hidden paths, traps and monsters — and you have to figure out how to configure the platforms in order to get around, reveal the paths and evade the monsters (no combat!). You can replay to try to beat your time, but the only score that matters is whether you collect all the orbs and shards. Without dying.

    Platform:Price: AU$1.99

  • He-Man: The Most Powerful Game in the Universe

    By the power of Grayskull! It’s a side-scrolling beat-em-up! In Eternia! That alone is possibly worth the price of admission; I mean, really, who hasn’t wanted to land one on Beast Man? There are gems to collect and power-ups to buy, as well as a meter to fill to unleash the full power of He-Man. It’s not half bad, but it is slightly let down by finicky controls that don’t always respond to your swipes in the way that you want them to; for example, you need to swipe up to jump, but the game sometimes interprets that as a swipe forward to attack, which is a bit vexing. And you’re not allowed to beat up Orco. Boo.

    Platform:Price: AU$0.99

  • Wizardlings

    Another free title from ? Is it the end of times? Seriously, if it’s the end of time, they really ought to have sent out a memo. Wizardlings is from the developer’s Department of Kawaii; you’re a little wizard bent on saving the world from darkness. Literally: each level is divided into a grid, and you have to go through one by one and clear each individually — a process that uses up magic points (luckily, the game isn’t stingy with the magic-restoring potions and food, at least in the early levels). But it’s not just a boring square-tapping grind; you also have to complete quests and mix potions to defeat foes, and find treasure along the way. You can purchase the premium currency, but it doesn’t seem to be required.

    Platform:Price: Free

  • Track the Ripper

    This game/interactive film would probably be a better experience for Londoners, who can use the geolocation function to take a Jack the Ripper tour of the city, but it can be played comfortably from your couch, too. It places you bang in the middle of the 1888 Jack the Ripper investigation, collecting clues in a point-and-click method to find out who the Ripper is before he kills again — an interesting prospect, since, to this day, the Ripper’s true identity remains a mystery.

    Platform:Price: AU$5.49

  • CloseBuys

    Because everyone likes a bargain, CloseBuys wants to help — by using geolocation to point you in the direction of the bargains in your vicinity. It’s partnered with a bunch of retailers, such as Coles, Target, Flight Centre and K-Mart, and you can narrow it down to the categories that interest you, such as fashion, food and groceries. There’s no technology category, though, and some users are reporting that the app can be a little buggy (including us), so bear that in mind.

    Platform:Price: Free

  • Label Face

    Order custom labels from your phone! Label Face lets you design your own labels, using photos and images that you have saved in your camera roll. It looks like it would come in especial handy for labelling kids’ school gear, but you can also print bumper stickers, wine labels, phone stickers and other stickers in a variety of shapes and sizes. Once you’ve designed the label you want, you send off your order from within the app to have them printed and delivered. The largest stickers — bumper stickers — are AU$19.95 for a set of five, whereas the 34x50mm stickers are AU$14.95 for a set of 31. Not too shabby!

    Platform:Price: AU$1.99

  • Android app of the week: Funky Smugglers

    This game is called Funky Smugglers. Say that out loud. Funky Smugglers. Fun, isn’t it? The game is, too, surprisingly, even though it’s utterly unlike the studio’s other title, Anomaly Warzone Earth. You stand behind the helm of an airport security scanner as a parade of hip cats and grannies pass through for boarding inspection, removing dangerous and contraband items from their persons — but leave the safe items alone, or it’s game over. It’s the styling that does it for us; the bright visuals, the groove-tastic soundtrack. It’s a game with panache, and we can’t get enough.

    Platform: ;Price: AU$0.99

  • Knights of Pen & Paper

    What if you could be the Dungeon Master and the players? Knights of Pen & Paper is an old-school turn-based RPG, where you play through both the experience of running a pen-and-paper game and the actual game itself, all in retro pixel graphics. You have 12 adventurer classes and 17 characters, some unlockable, to play, and you pick the battles through which to put your players. There are only two campaigns at the moment, but more are coming, giving the game fantastic re-playability.

    Platform:Price: AU$1.93

  • TinyLegends

    For a bit more of a real-time RPG experience, there’s TinyLegends: a strangely cute 3D hack ‘n’ slash across the fictional fantasy world of Kromdor.

    Platform: ;Price: Free

  • 2XL Supercross HD

    Now, I’m not usually a fan of realistic racing games — make ’em a bit more like Mashed or Mario Kart, and I’m there. That said, 2XL Supercross HD is really well made. It’s, well, a supercross game in 3D, where you can perform all sorts of motorcycle tricks on custom tracks designed by Motocross champion Stephane Roncada. There’s a bunch of bikes and riders to choose from (although it looks like the difference is purely cosmetic) across three modes of play: time trials, practice and racing; and there are eight different control schemes that you can choose from to suit your play style. Plus, the graphics are brilliant.

    I do think it was a little bit to download an AU$5 app and then be shown a video advertisement, but at least I could skip it.

    Platform: ;Price: AU$4.81 (Android); AU$5.49 (iOS)

  • Maluuba

    There have been a lot of Siri-alikes on Google Play, but many of them are a bit, well, not as good. Maluuba looks to finally be a decent contender in the voice-search field for Android. Of course, since many of them have problems with the Australian accent, it may still not be perfect, but I guess that’s our fault for talking funny or something (jokes).

    Platform:Price: Free

  • Bosch Toolbox

    It’s the tool box for your pocket! Bosch Toolbox has a bunch of cool features for the handyperson or builder. It lets you input site measurements into photographs; convert more than 50 units, including length, weight, volume, speed and output; use your smartphone as a professional flashlight; and, because it’s a Bosch app, search for Bosch suppliers and service centres.

    Platform:Price: Free

Friday, 12 October 2012

  • iOS App of the Week: Ivy the Kiwi?

    Ivy the Kiwi? was launched to acclaim on Nintendo DS and Wii in 2010, but the game was originally released on Windows Mobile (Japan only) — so its launch back onto the mobile platform is only appropriate, really.

    You control Ivy, a little red Kiwi chick who has hatched all alone and sets out in search of her mum, eggshell and all. It’s a 2D auto-scroller, where you have to draw vines to allow Ivy to climb blocks in her path or to sling-shot launch her forward — fun gameplay, but nothing particularly new by now. However, the children’s-book style of the art and storyline makes it super-sweet.

    Platform:Price: AU$2.99

  • Toyota Playground

    Holiday season is coming up, and you know what that means: long car journeys with restless kidlets. Toyota Playground is a fun way to alleviate boredom, with a number of cool little activities and a personal touch. When opening the app for the first time, the player is asked to create a family — this family then populates the games. The little stick figures to choose from encompass a wide range of interests and personality types, too, which was pleasing to see.

    Once in, players can colour in pictures; do jigsaw puzzles, either presets or their own artwork; play a game called hide and seek, which means finding family members in a variety of colourful environments; and create a scrapbook, from where kids can email their coloured-in drawings to family and friends. We can see it providing many a much-needed hiatus for parents.

    Platform:Price: Free

  • A Wonderland Story

    This auto-side-scroller is a little bit different to many others we’ve seen in that it’s the environment that you control. The egg-shaped White Rabbit is running late — and running from Alice — but Wonderland is full of perils. You have to guide the rabbit through to safety by sliding the block environment up and down to create a path. Enemies can be killed by placing them next to other enemies — but if you put them in the bunny’s way, he’ll lose health.

    It’s not as easy as it sounds — it’ll definitely keep you on your toes.

    Platform:Price: AU$0.99

  • Drawn: Trail of Dark Shadows

    Big Fish’s Drawn trilogy — the first episode was released at the launch of the iPad — is finally coming to a close, with the last game hitting the app store. Like the previous two games, it’s beautiful to look at, and the gameplay combines point-and-click mystery puzzling with hidden object scenes. Big Fish is well known for this kind of game, and it executes them excellently; our only regret is that there will be no more in the series after this.

    Platform:Price: Free (Full version AU$5.49)

  • Zombies, Run! 5K Training

    is a fantastic exercise app that puts you in the middle of a zombie apocalypse as a form of motivation. But it’s not very specific. This new app (is there going to be a series?) is a Couch to 5K sort of deal, giving you a proper training plan, with detailed instructions on when to walk and when to run on your constitutional to get you up to a 5K routine — and includes the story elements and ability to play your own music, which we know and love from the original.

    Platform:Price: AU$4.49

  • Bad Piggies Best Egg Recipes

    Rovio usually sticks to physics-based games, so a cookbook makes a nice change, even if it’s still riding the Angry Birds gravy train. This cookbook, featuring animations of the iconic characters, contains 41 recipes for eggs. (There sure are a lot of eggs in here this week.) These include the basics, such as how to poach, boil and fry an egg, all the way up to hollandaise sauce. Some recipes aren’t centred around eggs, such as fried rice and burgers, so it looks like it has some pretty nifty variety. Still … it’s an Angry Birds cookbook. Not sure how to feel about that one.

    Platform:Price: AU$5.49

  • Android app of the week: Blood of the Zombies

    Steve Jackson and Ian Livingston were childhood staples for us (and many of you, too, I would imagine). The Fighting Fantasy interactive novel series turns 30 this year (Warlock of Firetop Mountain was released in 1982), and Ian Livingstone has teamed up with for the latest in their series of game-book adventures for mobile: Blood of the Zombies. Mobile seems a particularly apt medium for this kind of storytelling, and we’re stoked that Livingstone is on board. Although the title was released as a stand-alone book, there are some extras exclusive to mobile: new death endings, coloured illustrations, alternate artwork, difficulty levels and achievements.

    «Insane megalomaniac Gingrich Yurr is preparing to unleash an army of monstrous zombies upon the world. He must be stopped and his undead horde defeated. In this life-or-death adventure, the decisions you make will decide the fate of the world. Can you survive or will you become a zombie too?»

    Platform: ;Price: AU$5.99 (Android); AU$6.49 (iOS)

  • Global Outbreak

    Last week, we saw Plague Inc, which had you playing on a global scale; and so too does Global Outbreak, but that’s about where the similarities end. You are playing as a human against a zombie outbreak in a top-down 3D shooter. Well, more specifically, you’re the head of a mercenary outfit, and you’re taking on the walking dead. You have to monitor the global situation and send in ground troops to halt the spread of the virus (by killing zombies) in bloody battles. The best thing is probably its utilisation of geolocation — to centre the gameplay around your actual physical location in the world.

    Platform:Price: Free

  • Skyriders

    A little bit Wipeout, a little bit Frequency, Skyriders is the kind of racing game I can get behind. Although, perhaps it’s not «racing» per se, there’s only one vehicle on the track: yours. The aim isn’t to beat other spacecrafts, but scores: collecting scores and boosting multiplyers to earn upgrades, all set to a boppy electro soundtrack. It’s not a bad little game, but it’s let down a smidgen by the controls: we tried both button and tilt controls, both are a bit sluggish and could use a tweak.

    Platform: ;Price: Free (Android); AU$1.99 (iOS)

  • Dolphin Jetpack

    If Dolphin is your alternative mobile browser of choice, we have excellent news. The developer has just released Dolphin Jetpack to make the browser even faster — five to 10 times faster, it claims. It has a number of high benchmark scores under its belt; and it certainly seems to live up to its boasting from what we’ve seen.

    Platform:Price: Free

  • Morning Bird Alarm Clock

    A harshly buzzing alarm clock in the morning can be such a depressing way to wake up. Morning Bird replaces it with the lovely sound of birdsong … and then does something so heinous we think it just might be genius. In order to turn the alarm off, you have to correctly answer three randomised quiz questions about birds.

    Platform:Price: AU$0.99

  • Google Calendar

    Google Calendar has arrived for Android. It seems odd to us that Google services can not be on a Google OS, but it’s nice when they finally do show up. Calendar gives you access to your Google Calendar and syncs to the calendar on your phone, so that you can see all your appointments in the one place. It allows you to also create, edit and delete events; email all guests at once; snooze events; use predefined messages or write your own emails from directly within an event; and pinch-to-zoom. Aces!

    Platform:Price: Free

Friday, 12 October 2012

  • iOS App of the Week: Topia World Builder

    Crescent Moon games are usually great — we absolutely love , and , for example. Topia World Builder is something different from the mobile developer; something a bit more relaxing, but utterly beautiful.

    The aim is to create worlds. That’s it. You shape the terrain, creating mountain ranges, smooth plains and deep seas with a touch, then populate it with animals and watch them thrive, living off the land and each other. It’s extraordinarily zen, and a really different mobile-gaming experience that shouldn’t be missed.

    Platform:Price: AU$0.99

  • Kumo Lumo

    Life is tough when you’re a cloud, floating around in the sky, watering trees, zapping alien invaders. Kumo Lumo, from Chillingo, is a simple little game. You control Kumo Lumo, helping the poor planet grow and protect itself from hazards. Easy touch controls let you use rain and lightning to destroy threats and water trees, and you can scroll to move around the world and move the cloud around the screen. The art style is as cute as six kittens — it’s a delight to play.

    Platform:Price: Free

  • How Aussie are You?

    Have you ever wondered how much you know about the Aussie way of life? A new quiz game lets you test your knowledge and earn the big bucks (note: you can’t actually earn any real bucks) by answering Australian questions. There are four difficulty modes — Tourist, Overseas Student, Wannabe Aussie and Aussie Citizen — across five capital cities: Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide. (Sorry, Canberra and Hobart. We don’t know why you didn’t make the cut.) A wrong answer gets you zapped by lightning; five zaps, and it’s game over.

    The questions are actually pretty good, and we like the way the gameplay is put together. You run through the city answering questions; if you make it through without dying of electric shock, you can move on to the next.

    Platform:Price: Free

  • Polara

    Lara, a defence special agent, has had her world turned upside down by a rebel, and now she has defected with a special suit that gives her invulnerability to the city’s defence systems … but only if it’s showing the same colour as the weapon fire. We really like the twist on auto-runner gameplay in Polara, even if the story is a little melodramatic. As Lara runs through the city, weapons fire on her with red or blue lasers. Tapping the left side of the screen changes the colour of her suit, while tapping the right makes her jump. They’re simple controls, but the application of the colour-change system makes the game a little more complex; not only does Lara have to avoid fire, but there are also platforms, launching pads and other elements that can be used in different ways, depending on the colour of the suit.

    Platform:Price: AU$0.99

  • How Good is Your English?

    Oxford University Press wants to help you with your literacy skills. How Good is Your English tests your skill level, then recommends books that will help you improve. Each of the six levels gives you two tests in which words have been removed from passages of classic novels. From a multiple-choice list, you have to fill in the blanks.

    When you have finished the test, the app recommends a list of books for your reading level, which you can purchase as stand-alone apps. Sample chapters are provided, too, so you can see if you will like the book.

    Platform:Price: Free

  • Tender Loving Care

    Tender Loving Care is not quite a video game, but it’s a bit more than a movie. Originally released in 1999 and starring John Hurt, Michael Esposito and Beth Tegarden, it’s based on , only it’s a lot more interactive. In between chapters, you are psychoanalysed by Doctor Turner (Hurt) and provided with an analysis of your own psyche. The answers you give have an effect on the narrative and the ending, with multiple plot lines to be explored, and you can explore the house for extra clues. It’s odd, but interesting.

    Platform:Price: AU$14.99

  • Android app of the week: Plague Inc

    This game was the first time in my life that I found myself saying, «Heck yeah, necrosis!» It’s a fantastic concept for a game. You control an epidemic, and your aim is to spread it throughout the world and kill everyone before humanity can develop a cure. You have a variety of tools at your disposal to mutate your virus: the ability to add symptoms, including fatal ones; methods of communicability, including animal borne, airborne and body fluids; and resistances. Each of these can be built up in trees that interconnect, making your virus strong; and, as your virus spreads, you gain DNA points that you can spend on more abilities. You can watch the effects in a newsfeed, such as «Australia burning corpses» and «France removes drug research safeguards». It’s tremendously exciting, especially when your virus grows strong enough to mutate on its own, as you race against the development of a cure. It’s based on a real-world simulation, too.

    Destroying all humans has never been so much fun.

    Platform:Price: Free

  • Death Dome

    Gosh, there have certainly been a few themes this week, haven’t there? Knowledge tests, destroying and building worlds … Death Dome is another game about viruses. Only this time, they’ve mutated into giant monsters. That’s new. You have to travel through a post-apocalyptic city, battling them in real time like Infinity Blade. That’s not really new so much, but it’s fun, so we’ll give it a pass. As you progress through the game, you upgrade your equipment and abilities with new combat techniques to be learned, and it’s a Glu game, so the graphics are top notch.

    Platform:Price: Free

  • Chaos Rings

    Eh? Say that again? Chaos Rings is on Android, finally? Well, it’s about time. Square Enix seems to drag its heels when it comes to bringing its mobile properties across from iOS; the Chaos Rings RPG franchise already has two sequels available on Apple’s platform. But better late than never, as they say.

    Platform: ;Price: AU$13.99

  • Empire vs Orcs

    Empire vs Orcs is essentially a fantasy version of Plants vs. Zombies. You control the Empire, which is defending itself from an invading orc army. With cavalry, infantry, archers and spearmen, you have a variety of troops and weapons at your disposal — but so do the orcs, and you need to know which tool to use against which attack. Unlike PvZ, though, you can also get proactive by sending out your army to beard the orcs in their den, as it were, and turning the tables, taking on the role of attacker.

    Platform:Price: Free

  • The Baker App

    Developed right here in Australia, The Baker App gets a concept that few cooking apps seem to grasp: that different regions use different measurement systems. We were probably a bit unduly excited about being able to choose which system to use, but it’s nice not to be ignored. Aside from that, The Baker App is a really nifty app for baking … well, anything. Cupcakes? Check. Bread? Yup. Muffins? Uh huh. You can buy recipe packs from inside the app, or add your own recipes, and everything is based on the that makes customising quantities really easy. It really is one of the best specialty cooking apps we’ve ever seen.

    Platform:Price: Free

  • Pictoreo

    Can you have too many photography apps? Well, yes, but Pictoreo lets you animate your photos to create cool little 480p cinemagraphs that you can share to Facebook and Twitter, or embed in your website.

    Platform:Price: Free

Friday, 5 October 2012

  • iOS App of the Week: Catch-22

    We really are big believers in the idea that sometimes, it’s the simple concepts that really are the best. Catch-22 is simple to the core. Two balls orbit a larger ball in opposite directions; you control one ball at a time, and your goal is to avoid collisions. Touching the screen will make your ball jump, which means you can avoid the oncoming ball pretty easily — but also orbiting the larger ball are coins, which you have to collect to advance stages, so you have to time your coin collection just so. When you collect the last coin, the ball you control swaps — and the other ball will follow the previous path you described for it, jumps and all, meaning sometimes, avoiding collisions means that you don’t jump. That’s all there is to it — but, given that you’re playing against yourself, you can try to strategise each stage to make the likelihood of collision lower.

    It’s surprisingly tricky — and quite wonderfully absorbing.

    Platform:Price: AU$0.99

  • Tentacles: Enter the Dolphin

    Tentacles has been around on Windows Phone for quite some time, and it’s just made its way over to iOS. It’s a strange game — and stranger still when you consider that it was made by Microsoft — but it’s kinda’ rad. Professor Phluff, the dolphin-headed mad scientist, in his quest to create the cutest thing ever, has accidentally created a four-limbed monstrous micro-organism. And then swallowed it. As you might have guessed, you control that micro-organism on its journey through Phluff’s guts.

    You tap on the screen to latch onto the walls of your environment, pulling yourself forward, but the innards of Phluff are rife with dangers: saw blades, monsters, acidic geysers and moving walls that can crush you flat — so it behoves you to proceed with caution. Also, each level contains either a speed or damage challenge. And then there’s the way you regain health — by ripping out the eyes of other micro-organisms you find down there. Awesome.

    Platform: ;Price: AU$0.99

  • Stunt Star: The Hollywood Years

    Ever dreamed of becoming a Hollywood stunt-person? Now you can get all the thrills, spills and chills without risking your neck. Stunt Star: The Hollywood Years, from Aussie dev Three Phase Interactive, puts you in the saddle. The aim is to rack up as many stunts and tricks as you can — performing mid-air flips, leaping obstacles and exploding in spectacular fashion. It isn’t a cakewalk, though: the game employs some nifty physics, such as realistic acceleration and deceleration, and ramps that slow your speed — make a ramp too steep and you’ll lose all momentum.

    If you like physics games and explosions (and who doesn’t?), you’ll love Stunt Star.

    Platform:Price: AU$2.99

  • Fantasy Conflict

    When pernicious dwarves steal the crystal that controls your alarm clock, your only course of action, as the king of Baldoria, is to declare war. From Gaijin Entertainment — the dev behind the lauded Modern Conflict strategy titles for iOS — comes … well, a pretty similar game, just set in a fantasy setting. But given that Modern Conflict is fun, well-rounded tower defence, we can’t really see any problems with that. Plus — swords.

    Platform: ;Price: AU$1.99 (iPhone); AU$2.99 (iPad — )

  • Loc

    The first thing we like about Loc is that the dev studio behind it is named after Macbeth. The rest of what we like about it is that it’s Rubik’s Cube gone mad. That, and evil fairies (well, one evil fairy). The queen of the fairies is holding you prisoner, and you have to escape by beating her locks. These start off as one-dimensional slide puzzles, where you have to complete a path from one square on the grid to another by sliding the tiles; but it quickly becomes three-dimensional, with you having to extend the path across the faces of a cube. It’s brain-bendingly good.

    Platform:Price: AU$1.99

  • Mathematics with PocketCAS Pro

    Need a new graphing calculator? Mathematics with PocketCAS Pro does it all, from algebra to statistics. You can plot 2D and 3D graphs, solve advanced calculus and algebraic equations or save and print your plots as a document or PDF, all on a specially designed mathematical keyboard. If you want something both comprehensive and functional, you could do a lot worse. And there’s even a free version, so you can try before you buy.

    Platform:Price: AU$5.49 ()

  • Android app of the week: Beastie Bay

    This is a rarity for Kairosoft — a free game. Most Kairosoft titles come in at around the five dollar mark, so when we saw a free Kairosoft game, we had to wonder what the catch was.

    There wasn’t one. Further, the game — Beastie Bay — is kind of like «what if Dungeon Village was Pokémon?» Yeah, you read that right. The answer is: it would be amazing. It has all the building and management we love about Kairosoft games — building and maintaining a town, paying taxes, getting new resources and then managing them, too — and throws in Pokémon-style turn-based battles and monster collection, as well as exploring new territories. If you’ve never played a Kairosoft game before, this is your chance to see what all the fuss is about. Do it.

    Platform:Price: Free

  • Heritage

    We haven’t played this one yet (mainly because time is edging towards the end of the pay month), but it looks nifty — real-time, HD combat in the style of Infinity Blade, only with ninjas and samurai. The environments look stunning and everyone loves upgrading gear … right? Check out the gameplay below.

    Platform:Price: AU$4.19

  • Jetpack Joyride

    Halfbrick’s Jetpack Joyride has finally arrived for Android. Can we have a cheer?

    Platform:Price: Free

  • Nightmarium

    The gameplay of Nightmarium is a litte bit like Fruit Ninja — but a lot scarier. A small girl is blissfully asleep, oblivious to the monsters who are trying to eat her all up. It’s your job to keep them away by tapping, swiping and shaking them as they emerge from their dark lairs. But it’s not enough to keep them out of the bedroom; once you’ve cleared the room, an even darker, scarier stage takes over. Luckily, you have a variety of power-ups to help you blast the monsters to smithereens … but how long can you keep her alive?

    Platform:Price: Free

  • PassWallet

    Why should iOS 6 users have all the fun? PassWallet is a new app that brings Passbook functionality to Android phones. Just like Passbook, you can scan in your film, airline and concert tickets, as well as store loyalty cards, to keep them all in one handy place. It’s not as polished as Apple’s app, and probably doesn’t work as well in Australia as it does in the US, but it’s better than nothing.

    Platform:Price: Free

  • Pocket Planets

    Pocket Planets probably doesn’t contain absolutely everything you might ever want to know about our solar system, but it can tell you a fair bit. It allows you to view objects in the Solar System in full 360-degree 3D — not just planets, but moons, asteroids and dwarf planets. When you select a planet, an HUD in the top left corner will tell you the distance from which you would be viewing it, for it to appear that size — every planet is to scale. A «Timeslider» — which can be accessed by touching the right side of the screen — allows you to view the planet as it appeared at a specific time and date. Then you can enter the encyclopedia section, which tells you the radius, mass, orbit and rotation of any given object. It a great little learning tool.

    Platform:Price: AU$1.00 ()

Friday, 28 September 2012

  • iOS App of the Week: God of Blades

    The work of swords-and-sorcery artists such as Boris Vallejo, Julie Bell, Frank Frazetta and Gerald Brom will be familiar, even if you’ve never heard those names before. Gracing the covers of hundreds of fantasy novels (Vallejo painted the iconic 1960s art for Conan the Barbarian, for instance), the style is broodingly otherworldly and atmospheric.

    It seems strange, therefore, that no one had used it as a basis for a fantasy game — which is exactly what God of Blades has now done, and the end product is appropriately epic. Drawing inspiration from the aforementioned artists, 1970s prog rock and high pulp fantasy, the game is a perfectly-realised iOS expression of all three. You play a long-dead king who has arisen to fight the invading hordes in a 2D auto-side-scroller. As you run along, you swipe the screen in different directions to perform a variety of attacks, all set to a magnificent soundtrack.

    In the US — we haven’t tested it here — you can also unlock cool weapons by visiting public libraries. In theory, we think that’s a wonderful idea.

    Platform:Price: AU$2.99

  • Super Monsters Ate My Condo

    Monsters Ate My Condo (MAMC) is a bit hard to explain to anyone who hasn’t played it. There are buildings. They fall out of the sky in pieces. You feed the pieces to monsters (preferably of corresponding colours) without letting the building topple over. One of the monsters is a giant crab. Another one is a giant unicorn. They get mad. There’s a Brunhilde and a Japanese geisha finger. While this goes some way towards explaining the utter mad brilliance that is MAMC, you just can’t know until you’ve experienced it for yourself.

    This week, PikPok released the sequel: Super Monsters Ate My Condo. It’s everything about the first game, but made even more super, with new combo blocks, a chocolate wheel and … hats. So many hats. We suggest you go check it out.

    Platform:Price: AU$0.99

  • The Last Express

    In 1997, Prince of Persia creator Jordan Mechner released The Last Express — an art nouveau-styled point-and-click adventure, played out in real time and set in 1914 on the Orient Express. The game was hailed as excellent, but due to company problems, saw a very limited release. Now, it’s been faithfully ported for iOS — and it’s great. Because how you play the game affects how other characters act, its replay-ability is enormous — and you can even rewind the game to play scenarios differently. One caveat, though — the download is 1.25GB, so make sure you have enough space before buying it. Yikes.

    Platform:Price: AU$5.49

  • Spacecraft 3D

    I’ve been having far too much fun with this app. It lets you put NASA spacecraft in the room with you. Print out the , position your iDevice’s camera and snap away. There are a variety of craft to choose from — Curiosity, Grail, Cassini, Voyager, Dawn and Juno — but Curiosity is the best, because the others all appear with a grid beneath them. Still, snapping pictures of Curiosity rolling over my cat will never get old. Never.

    Platform:Price: Free

  • ClimateWatch

    If you’ve ever seen a strange bug doing something equally strange and thought, «Oooh, what a strange bug, I should tell someone about it,» ClimateWatch is an app that lets you do just that! Every bird, bug and flower you see, you can record using this app, using a handy index to identify what it is you are looking at. Once you’ve recorded your sighting, you can submit it to the ClimateWatch team, who are studying how climate change is affecting Australia’s native wildlife. Pretty neat, huh?

    Platform:Price: Free

  • Camera+

    An alternative camera application for iPhone, Camera+ has updated with some really nifty new features that add support for iPhone 5 and iOS 6 iPad, with a bunch of new iPad-only features. Now the app has iCloud sync, so your photos are synced across Lightbox; when you open your iPad, you can sync your pictures, and then use the iPad’s new editing features to gussy them up. These include filters and adjustments, of course, as well as a handy new spot-editing tool that allows you to target the parts of the image you want to fix. There’s also Facebook support for easy sharing, and to celebrate, it’s on sale for just AU$0.99. Woo!

    Platform:Price: AU$0.99

  • Android app of the week: IntelliScreen

    IntelliScreen is one of the coolest useful apps for Android we’ve seen in a while. It allows you to control your screen’s time-outs, creating custom settings for a variety of applications. Looking at recipes on a web browser? You can set the phone not to switch the screen off when you’re running that application, for example. You can also set an «always on» position that uses your device’s accelerometer to detect when you want your screen to stay on, set it to turn the screen off if the phone is in the dark (eg, a bag or pocket) using a light detector (pro version), and it has a useful screen lock widget that can lock your screen with a single tap.

    Platform:Price: Free

  • Weather Eye

    Clean up your weather interface with Weather Eye. It’s pretty simple: it contains 12 very minimal weather icon sets that are as simple — and eye-catching — as the app itself.

    Platform:Price: Free

  • Voxel Invaders

    This is Space Invaders, but not quite like you’ve ever seen it before. That is, you’ve seen the two-dimensional shooty with the descending ships raining laser fire from above, but one of the power-ups in Voxel Invaders shifts the perspective from third- to first-person. For a game that already plays well — and Voxel Invaders is very smoothly made — it gives the familiar gameplay a really cool new boost.

    Platform:Price: AU$2.45 ()

  • Velocispider

    Speaking of Space Invaders having surgery, there’s also … Velocispider. It’s not necessarily the gameplay that will hook you here, but the awesome 16-bit graphics and the dude you control. It’s like space invaders, but instead of a little space fighter, you have the Velocispider. Which is exactly what it sounds like. Part velociraptor, part spider, with a little laser cannon on its little head, protecting its little eggs from the evil robot corporation. Awwww!

    Platform: ;Price: AU$0.99 (Android); AU$2.99 (iOS); (for Android; for iOS)

  • Healthy Weapon

    The problem with fighting games is that they’re not exactly ideal for the touchscreen interface. Swiping and tapping is all well and good, and they play okay, but it’s not the best. Healthy Weapon is a game that is looking for a new way to do things, and it succeeds nicely. Instead of swiping and hoping your hits connect, it gives an array of four buttons down each side (they’re the same buttons, it just allows you to use both hands), which you can tap in various configurations to attack your opponent. The double array also means that you can have two-player battles on the one device, which is pretty cool.

    The premise of the game is likewise fun — you and your opponents beat each other up with fruit and vegetables. And we love the visual design.

    Platform:Price: AU$0.99 ()

  • Rayman: Jungle Run

    Last week, we absolutely loved Rayman: Jungle Run for iOS — it’s iOS arcade gaming done right, hitting a stellar balance between simple and challenging gameplay. A week later, the limbless one has arrived on Android, too.

    Platform: ;Price: AU$2.95 (Android); AU$2.99 (iOS)

Friday, 21 September 2012

  • iOS App of the Week: The Room

    This week saw some real quality games released, and it was really hard to choose one standout — but after some thought, it had to go to Firebox Games’ The Room.

    It could have been because of the beautiful game design, the spooky-but-not-terrifying ambience and the mysterious storyline. Those things are all awesome, but they’re just the delicious icing on the gameplay cake.

    The Room is a puzzle box game that sees you exploring in 3D a series of chests, boxes, cabinets that are scrawled with arcane symbols and scratching, filled with clockworks and cryptic notes. You have to figure out how to open various hidden compartments, fix broken mechanical features to solve the box, collect the story clues and move onto the next box. It can be really tricky — but the marvellous thing is that it’s never frustrating, with gentle clues that you can read (or ignore) to nudge you in the right direction — and we found ourselves, with each successful solution, feeling that excited «a-ha!», accompanied by a warm satisfaction that has us gleefully returning for more. Combined with the tactile experience of touch-based gaming, and minus the pressures of points and achievements, it’s a title that’s actually exciting to play.

    It’s a stellar achievement in iPad gaming.

    Platform:Price: AU$5.49

  • Lili

    If you like something with a little more action, this week open-world RPG Lili was released — the first title from BitMonster, a studio formed by six Epic Games veterans who wanted to move out of console and into indie. The title, running on the Unreal Engine, is every bit as polished as you could expect — but a far cry from the gritty sweariness of Gears of War.

    The star of the show is Lili, a student who arrives at the «abandoned» island of Geos to collect magical flowers. There’s no combat per se, but collecting the flowers from the plant people (spirits) involves some tricksy tapping and swiping. You have to leap onto its back and grab the flower by the roots as the spirit tries to shake you off.

    Additionally, there’s an evil mayor who is Up to No Good — which leads to some pretty fun sneaking around, as you go about trying to overthrow the local government. Undertones of colonialism? Maybe, but it’s a game about magical flowers and plant people. It’s important not to get too serious about these things.

    Platform:Price: AU$5.49

  • Rayman: Jungle Run

    From Ubisoft comes Rayman: Jungle Run, a spin-off from Rayman: Origins, which hit consoles late last year. Like its parent title, Jungle Run is an eye-popping explosion of gorgeous colours — and a really fun to play arcade title in its own right.

    It’s divided into four sections — Jump, Fly, Wall Run and Punch — each of which is based around a simple one-touch control system. Rayman runs automatically, and you control what he does by tapping or holding the screen; for example, in Jump, tapping the screen anywhere makes Rayman jump, and so forth. The objective in each level is to collect all 100 Electoons — not as simple a prospect as it sounds — in order to obtain a Death’s Tooth. Five of these teeth will unlock the next level, so there’s actually incentive to collect a perfect score.

    It’s not exactly deep, but Ubisoft has created the perfect balance between challenging and pick-up-and-put-down gameplay.

    Platform:Price: AU$2.99

  • Lunar: Silver Star Story

    In the late 90s, turn-based JRPG Lunar: Silver Star Story was released across consoles: Sega Saturn, PlayStation and GameBoy Advance. Now we have a blast from the past on iOS, in remastered glory. The port includes a full hour of animated cut-scenes, as well as a remastered soundtrack and a completely overhauled control system, designed specifically for the touch interface. If you like your gaming on the retro side, or if you’re after some of that sweet nostalgia, give this one a look-in.

    Platform:Price: AU$7.49

  • 50 Dares

    Looking to spice up your bedroom? 50 Dares, from Rebels and Renegades, is definitely adults-only. It consists of a deck of «dare» cards in five sexy categories. Participants take turns to shuffle the deck and draw a card — then take on the erotic «challenge» described. We, uh, haven’t actually tried it out for ourselves, but users seem pretty happy with it, with Housewife80 saying, «It took 20 years off my husband!» and Sammy P calling it «electrifying».

    Platform:Price: AU$1.99

  • 8Bit Beatbox

    Like chiptunes? 8Bit Beatbox is an iOS-based synth designed specifically around retro video-game music and sounds. It’s pretty sweet: you lay down your tracks, then play your sounds over the top using the keyboard and sampler. There are four different keyboard sounds to play over three octaves, and a sampler of nine different video-game noises.

    Two gripes: there’s no tutorial, so you kind of have to poke at it until you’ve figured it out; and it doesn’t appear to have a save function. To be fair, the app’s description bills it as a «live performance» thing, but still, the ability to save would be nice.

    Platform: ;Price: AU$4.49 (iPhone); AU$5.49 (iPad)

  • Android app of the week: McPixel

    We saw spookily atmospheric mystery-solving in The Room; for Android this week, we have McPixel, a dorkily feel-good point-and-click adventure in … well, pixels. It’s utterly daft, and eminently likeable. Hero McPixel is a kind of nerdy anti-hero who has to save the day in a series of 20 increasingly silly challenges (maybe they’re not increasingly silly, maybe the game just has a cumulative effect).

    It’s a game that loves gaming, with sly little in-jokes, gameplay and music that will zoom you back to the 80s, and a … rather potty sense of humour. If you love the world of video-games, you have to give McPixel a try.

    Platform: ;Price: AU$2.99; Lite for ; Lite for

  • Monster Warlord

    «Capture them all!» Okay. «Level up to become the very best!» We have to give Gamevil this: it’s really not shy about its «influences». That said, this game about (ahem) element-based pocket monsters that you level up, evolve and send into battle against other monsters looks actually pretty good — not because the core gameplay is, um, familiar, but because of its multiplayer components.

    Aside from the journeying-through-the-land thing, it allows you to connect up with other players. You either test your monsters’ mettle by battling them against real people, or you can join a co-op clan to fight battles against bosses together.

    We also like the combined monster feature, which allows you to combine two monsters to create a single super-monster.

    Platform:Price: Free

  • Supernova Sweep-Up

    There’s something endearingly garage-made about Supernova Sweep-Up: from the crayon graphics to the trailer narration, you can’t help but be charmed by its moxie. It’s a galactic shooter with a difference: instead of a space ace, you’re an interplanetary garbage person. Your job is to fly your little space ship around and collect space garbage — malfunctioned rockets, broken satellites, that sort of thing. You use rockets and bombs to blow up the objects, then zip around in your little shuttle to collect the debris. It could use a few control tweaks, but it’s somehow engrossing, all the same.

    Platform:Price: AU$0.99 ()

  • Subway Surfers

    An endless runner has to have something different to catch our attention these days. Subway Surfers has it. The main character is a little delinquent graffiti artist, his chaser is a cop, and he runs along railways. It has the standard swipe-down-to-duck, swipe-up-to-jump, swipe-sideways-to-move controls, but it also has a skateboard … and trains. You can run on top of the trains or next to the trains, but you really shouldn’t run smack into the trains. It’s actually vaguely discomfiting when you get hit by a moving train, but apart from that, the gameplay is a little more mixed up and varied than what we’ve seen — and it’s free, too, which is nice.

    Platform: ;Price: Free

  • Chameleon Launcher

    Tired of your boring old Android OS launcher? Chameleon has come out of beta, and it looks swish. It allows you to create multiple customised home screens, so that your Android tablet is as convenient and efficient as you can make it. It has its own widgets, or the ability to create your own using its API, context-sensitive home screens that can change according to where you are or the time of day, and even a customisable app drawer. It’s a little pricey, as far as Android apps go, but it looks worth it.

    Platform:Price: AU$9.83

  • CallApp

    Who’s really calling your phone? CallApp turns your contact book into super contacts, allowing you to see at a glance everything about the person — who they are, a photo of them, their birthday … and then their email address, Twitter account, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Foursquare, their job and so forth. If it’s on the web, CallApp will find it, whether they’re phoning you or you’re phoning them. It sounds a little creepy, to be completely honest.

    Platform:Price: Free

Friday, 14 September 2012

  • iOS App of the Week: Wonderputt

    Generally speaking, «golf game» is not a phrase that makes us sit up and listen. Sure, there was the old golf game played on the IBM in the 80s, which had you hitting the space bar to hit the ball when the gauge was at the right point, and apparently them Tiger Woods PGA games are popular, but it just doesn’t sound as exciting as «save the kittens» or «chainsaw-wielding princess».

    Then, along came Wonderputt, and it truly is a wonder. It uses touch-based slingshot physics for you to get the ball from its starting point to the hole, in a changing environment that is absolutely gorgeous to look at and play in. As you progress, the landscape morphs, thanks to forces of nature, the interference of man and beast, and … alien abduction. It’s a delight to play and impossible to put down.

    Platform:Price: AU$0.99

  • Dishonored: Rat Assassin

    If you ever played Fruit Ninja and wished the fruit was scabrous rodents, then it’s party time for you! Dishonored: Rat Assassin is the very first mobile game from Bethesda, and it’s … Fruit Ninja. With rats. It’s actually a promo tie-in for Bethesda’s upcoming console and PC title, Dishonored. We can’t help wishing the offering was a bit more on what we might consider Bethesda-level, but hey — it’s free.

    Platform:Price: Free

  • Wild Blood

    Can you believe that this is the first title from Gameloft to use the Unreal Engine? And it’s all the better for it. Gameloft has produced some great premium combat titles, and this one is just stunning. It puts you in the role of Lancelot from the Arthurian legend — kind of. King Arthur has gone mad with jealousy over the love between Lancelot and Guinevere. Lancelot has to stop him … and the legions of hell. Okay, so it’s stretching legend quite a bit here (for one of our favourite ever interpretations of the Arthurian legend, read Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar Tapestry), but the gameplay is excellent fun, with real-time combat and stunning graphics. We’d love it a lot more without the IAP, but you have to expect it in Gameloft titles now, no matter how high the game is initially priced.

    Platform: ;Price: AU$7.49

  • YouTube

    If you have spent the last week either sleeping or just not caring, you’ll have missed the news that YouTube has released its very own independent app. Previously, the YouTube app had been a default app on iOS devices; with iOS 6, it won’t be. The good news is that you will now have access to a much wider range of videos than what was previously available on the app; the bad news is that you have to sit through advertising to get it. You win some, you lose some.

    Platform:Price: Free

  • Impaktor

    Want to find out if you can secretly channel John Bonham? You probably won’t find out with this drum synthesiser, but you can play with some pretty nifty drum sounds. It has a good range of drum sounds that you can record on up to six tracks simultaneously, using a variety of modulators, filters and amplifiers.

    Platform: ;Price: AU$5.49

  • Artistic Effect HD

    Turn your photos into art. Artistic Effects HD has 12 different artistic filters, each with four different modes that you can use to make your photos look like an oil painting or sketch. They look pretty realistic, too, and you can adjust your photo’s brightness, saturation and contrast to get the best effect. The app is a little buggy — it seemed to have difficulty showing the effect in the first preview, and it really needs a «back» button. We also don’t know that it has much value beyond the occasional novelty, but the filters are nicely executed.

    Platform:Price: AU$2.99

  • Horn

    The thing about Horn is that it’s, well, amazing. It plays brilliantly, has a great sense of humour and looks incredible. We loved it on iOS when it launched a couple of weeks ago. We are completely prepared to love it just as well on Android — and for a cheaper price, too.

    Platform: ;Price: AU$6.69 (Android); AU$7.49 (iOS)

  • Granny Smith

    A dirty crook is trying to pilfer Granny’s apples. Granny ain’t having none of that! This side-scrolling runner game sees you vaulting obstacles and twinkling your toes to beat the thief to the punch — that is, to reach the apples before he does. But there are a few challenges that make it a bit more interesting than a standard tap-to-jump game: as Granny jumps, she’ll tumble through the air, and you get points if you land her on her feet — the more perfect the landing, the more points — but of course, the high score on each level is entirely dependent on whether you can beat the thief to the three apples scattered throughout. Silly, high-speed fun.

    Platform: ;Price: AU$0.99

  • Android App of the Week: Last Fish

    Every now and then, a game comes along that blows us away with its brilliant simplicity. Last Fish is one of them. A little glowing white fish swims along in waters, increasingly filling with black, deadly goo. You have to avoid the goo, collect the white orbs and complete challenges — surviving for as long as you can, collecting health points and swimming through an obstacle course. It’s all painted in gorgeous monochromatic black-and-white, but it’s the control system that blew us away: it’s entirely tilt-based, and every little shift of your phone moves the fish through the water. It’s magnificently responsive and intuitive — tilt-based controls can be so hard to manage, but Last Fish has executed it to perfection.

    Platform: ;Price: AU$0.99

  • Slay

    This is medieval hex-based strategy in its purest form. A map is divided between six players, and you take turns to try and conquer each other’s territory. The more territory you claim, the stronger units you can build, but there’s a caveat: too many strong units will drain your cash reserves, causing your kingdom to go bankrupt. There are various difficulty settings, so you can play at your own comfort level. Tremendously engrossing.

    Platform: ;Price: AU$5.77 (Android); AU$4.49 (iOS)

  • Prince of Persia Classic

    It’s classic Prince of Persia, now on Android and remastered with pretty new graphics. Tubular!

    Platform: ; ;Price: AU$2.99 (Android and iPad); AU$1.99 (iPhone)

  • Memento Database

    If you’re the kind of person who likes making lists and cataloguing things, Memento Database is a dream come true. It lets you create databases of pretty much anything: recipes, your DVD library, expenses, objects you find on the street. It’s completely customisable — and even includes a barcode scanner for easy cataloguing. There are 19 different filed types and it synchronises with Google Docs. You can send entries via SMS and email, and import and export CSV files. The interface is clean and easy to navigate — simply put, it’s one powerful database tool.

    Platform:Price: Free

  • One to Avoid: Lad

    With Limbo on the way for mobile, a game that has been, ahem, influenced by the title showed up on iOS and struck us as more than a little audacious. Nevertheless, we took it for a spin; and, yes, it’s appropriately atmospheric (when you’re borrowing from a game as beautifully designed as Limbo, it’s kind of difficult not to be), but the controls? The controls are flat-out rubbish. They’re sluggish, the jump function doesn’t work and the protagonist moves at an excruciating crawl across the screen. Don’t waste your money — save it for the original. Playdead deserves it more, anyway.

    Platform:Price: AU$1.99

Friday, 7 September 2012

  • Fruit vs Robot

    There’s a lot of static between Apple fans and Android users. One enterprising developer from Melbourne thought that would be an awesome conflict on which to base a game — and Fruit vs Robot was born. It pits iPhone and Android users against each other in games of knowledge and skill.

    There are three gameplay modes: Trivia, Arcade and Board Games. In each, you can unlock more games by winning matches against real opponents, which nets you coins (or you can purchase coins). Coins also let you buy snazzy new outfits for your little avatar. It’s a much friendlier way to have a platform rivalry than what we see on CNET.

    Platform: ;Price: Free

  • Little Things Forever

    KlickTock has made a name for itself with its Little Things, Doodle Find and Super Search 60 games — games in which you search for, well, little things. Little Things Forever is the successor to Little Things, and it follows a similar format: there is a picture of a thing, made up of tiny other things, and you have to find objects within a time limit — for example, a number of buttons or dogs. Each successful level nets you a puzzle piece, which unlocks another big thing. What we like most about this game — apart from the gameplay, which is genuinely engrossing and even something that people can play together — is that, this time around, you don’t have to pay to unlock the new stages.

    Platform:Price: AU$2.99

  • Avengers Initiative

    What if Infinity Blade was the Avengers? That’s kind of how Avengers Initiative, a new iPad title from Marvel, plays out. It’s sort of a sequel to the Facebook game ; the Vault, a prison containing all the worst monsters, has been busted wide open, and it’s your job, as the Hulk, to get them back. It’s pretty fun to play and looks great — but the best part is that it’s just the first episode of a series of games — and all subsequent episodes are going to be free, so once you’ve bought the first title, you have more in store, featuring other protagonists from the Avengers.

    The game is cross-platform, which means you can connect it to your Facebook account to cross-over skills and XP with Alliance, and there is IAPs if you want to speed things up a little, but the game’s director, Patrick Moran, was very careful to tell us that it’s absolutely not «pay to win».

    However, our most pressing question remained unanswered: since when did the Hulk take time to put on pants and tie his shoelaces?

    Platform: ;Price: AU$6.80 (Android); AU$7.49 (iOS)

  • Drakerider

    After the disappointment that was the iOS port of last week (it does not translate well to touch controls), Square Enix has snuck out the all-new Drakerider, a much more playable RPG adventure. As the name suggests, it’s a game about riding dragons — controlled by chains. You control your dragon by adjusting the tightness of its chains; too slack, and it can’t attack; too much, and it could attack you. It’s an interesting mechanic that works well, and, in classic JRPG style, includes lots of options for levelling up.Unusually for Squenix, the initial download is totally free, so you can give it a test-run before investing the premium price of AU$21.99 for the full game. We approve.

    Platform:Price: Free

  • Super Hexagon

    This one ain’t for the faint of heart. It’s a very bare-bones game, but as hard as anything we’ve played on iOS. Set to catchy electronica by Chipzel, the stages consist of shrinking, rotating hexagons, with one or two open sides. You have to get your little cursor into the gaps before the hexagons crush you — and it’s extremely fast and tricky.

    Platform:Price: AU$0.99 (launch sale price)

  • ChillWith.Me

    Organising events can be a bit of a pain in the butt when you’re using your iPhone; you either have to email or text bunches of people, and it can get long and arduous. ChillWith.Me is a new app built by Aussie husband-and-wife team Jimmy and Alison Lee, to make organising social events easier.

    Alison told us, «Basically, we recognised many people were organising drinks on Friday night, or Saturday brunch via long emails or SMS messages … and the process is annoying and time consuming. So, Chillwith.me is a better way of capturing your friend’s preferences, while also discovering great new places through social recommendation». The app plugs into your Facebook (since you can’t setup Events from within the Facebook app) to give you quick and easy access to friends, who receive an invitation in their Facebook account. Unfortunately, if they want to view the invitation, they need to download the app, which is only available on iOS — for our test, we sent an invitation to two Android users (not even on purpose), who couldn’t do anything with it — but we were assured that it will be coming soon to more platforms.

    Platform:Price: Free

  • App of the Day

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‘Kama Sutra’ most pirated e-book of 2009

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Illegal activity can sometimes be an excellent barometer of a society’s soul.

You might, therefore, either leap dangerously close to your chandelier or bang your forehead against your winkle pickers in despair when I reveal to you the list of most pirated e-books of 2009.

I am grateful to who have obtained this list from someone they met on a street corner. Wait, no. This list actually comes from BitTorrent’s tally of nefarious downloads.

You will, no doubt, be expecting that the pirates of the Nook and Kindle would have reached for novels of airport quality. You know, James Patterson, Dan Brown, and the dripping anguish of Nicholas Sparks.

You will, no doubt, not have your finger on any kind of bookish Bluebeard’s pulse.

Proof that this is an important tome. Even the great Deepak Chopra has a version.

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For the No. 1 illegal download in 2009 was the «Kama Sutra.» The Indian manual for so many things sexual managed to beat out another manual of fundamental interest to a pirate’s survival on the tossing tempests of this world: «Adobe Photoshop Secrets.»

My own feeling, from deep beneath my T-shirt, is that the «Kama Sutra» and «Adobe Photoshop Secrets» have largely been downloaded by the same people for entirely related purposes. However, I cannot prove it, so let us move seamlessly beyond the steamy and attempt to find calmer waters.

Oh, dear. At No. 3, we have «The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Amazing Sex.» Followed, with geometric nerdy symmetry, by «The Lost Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci.» Then, perhaps suggesting an interest in a post baby-making period, we have «Solar House—A Guide for the Solar Designer.»

But no sooner were the pirates leaning toward domesticity when up at No. 6 popped «Before Pornography—Erotic Writing In Early Modern England.»

The complete series of «Twilight» provided respite at No. 7, before, one imagines, the searing sexual frustration of the yet to shave slammed in again at No. 8 with «How To Get Anyone To Say YES—The Science Of Influence.»

At No. 9, please welcome «Nude Photography—The Art And The Craft.» And rounding out the extremely rounded and optimistic persona of the illegal e-book downloader we have, at No. 10, «Fix It—How To Do All Those Little Repair Jobs Around The Home.»

It is sometimes those who break the law in their youth (and I feel confident so many illegal downloaders have fresh dirt behind their ears) who do, indeed, rise Shut Up Sex and become leaders of companies, even of nations.

So I am giddy in the knowledge that that the world may soon be run by people whose primary obsessions are sex and building things.

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