Jack Lumber [App o the Mornin’]

Jack Lumber hates trees, and he has a good reason: trees killed his beloved granny. Now, Jack has sworn everlasting vengeance against all forms of lumber. He has an axe, he has a mission, and he has a woodchip on his shoulder.

Jack’s tale of vengeance forms the extremely silly connective tissue for this funny, polished riff on the slicing game genre pioneered by Fruit Ninja. In fact, there’s far more to Jack Lumber (PC/Mac: about $8; iOS/Android: $4) than just dexterous slicing. The visuals are terrific, with a sharp cartoon quality and some extremely funny touches. (Fruit Ninja was fun, but nobody would ever accuse it of being funny.)

For example, there is a completely random animal-collecting element which allows you to stack up critters in your log cabin as you encounter them in the game itself. Why is it there? Who knows. They don’t serve any purpose other than a bit of comic relief in between levels. It’s like asking why someone randomly shouts “PLAID” when you make a cut. Why? Because it’s funny.

Each level begins with logs of various shapes and sizes tossed in the air. When you touch the screen, time slows down. You need to trace a single line through the ends of each log, cutting them crosswise. When you lift your finger, the cuts execute all at once. If you missed a log, traced over a side rather than an end, hit an animal, or didn’t cut through every single endpoint, you’re penalized. Enough penalties and you fail the level.

Sometimes you need to pass through the same log multiple times to use it, or break bottles of syrup (purchased back at your cabin) in order to slow down time. There’s a lot less luck involved than in most slicing games. You really need to examine the screen quickly and find the fastest and most effective way through each log. This makes the game more like a rapid maze, since if you take a wrong “turn” with your finger, you’ll mess up.

Good humor, strong production values, and a dexterity element that also requires quick thinking: Jack Lumber is a winner all the way through.

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Pudding Monsters [App o the Mornin’]

Cut the Rope is one of the best and most successful mobile games to date, with over 100 million downloads and a shelf of awards. So when the Russian team at ZeptoLabs did a follow-up to their hit franchise, gamers paid attention.

Pudding Monsters (iOS/Android: $1) are little blobs of jello that slide around on a chess-like board. (As with another good game–Pudding Panic–“pudding” is used in the more European sense of “dessert.”) Each blob occupies one square, and can move along the rank or file by simply swiping them in the direction you want them to travel.

One problem: if there isn’t something else on the board to stop them, they’ll shoot right off the edge and the puzzle is lost. If they hit an object, they stop. If they hit another monster, they fuse with it. The goal is to get all of the blobs 1) fused and 2) covering all three stars on the board.

It’s not usually too hard to slide the monsters until they blend, but sliding them so that the last one merges with the whole monster-blob on top of the third and final star is a bit more tricky. Along the way, new kinds of monster-blobs are introduced, including “frozen” blobs that need to activated, green blobs who leave a slime trail which allows other to stick rather than shooting off the end of the board, blobless eyes who need to be reunited with their blobs, and so on.

There are 75 levels spread over 3 worlds, with more levels coming. As sliding puzzles go, this is a lot of fun with a cute art style and a moderate challenge level. Is Pudding Monsters the next Cut the Rope? Probably not, but it’s very very good and a worthy follow-up that shows Zepto still has some tricks in their bag.

Content issues: None.

30/30 (Time-Management Tool) [App o the Mornin’]

Sometimes getting things done isn’t a matter of inspiration and talent or even motivation, but of just sitting in the same place for 30 minutes and refusing to move or shift your concentration from anything other than the task at hand. For me, the task is writing, and I can usually turn out a column in about 30 minutes, if I’ve already thought it through before sitting down. For you, the task could be anything, from paying bills to completing a work project to reading a long and challenging novel or a section of the Bible.

Every task takes a certain amount of time, and when seen as a whole that time can be overwhelming. You think, “I have to write a book, and it will take 3 months, and I simply cannot face that.” But, of course, 3 months is 12 weeks is 90 days is so many hours and minutes and seconds. Each giant task can be shaved into smaller, more managable tasks.

When you approach a task this way, you’re not thinking of 3 months of work. You’re thinking of the next 30 minutes of work. That can be followed by 10 minutes of email or Facebook or solitaire or Cute Overload. And then you can move onto the next 30 minutes of work, and the next. Or make it 15 minutes, or 45, or 60: whatever fits your method of work. The pomodoro technique uses 25 minute slices, with 5 minutes for a break, and a longer break after after 4 slices. Seems to arbitrary to me, but it works for some.

I use 30/30 (iOS: free) to manage my time slices because it’s easy to use, it lets me set my time quickly, and keeps everything on a single screen. I like it because it uses a clean, gesture based interface with a lot of color to separate different kinds of tasks.

It’s a simple matter to set a series of timers for a work day, adding a little icon and unique color to each if that’s your thing. In between each task, you can set a break time and then follow with the next task. All the tasks line up in a vertical column and can dragged into any order or deleted. It’s easy to skip a task, move to the next task, or delete a task with tap. There’s a clock at the top that will calculate how long the current task list will take to finish.

The app is free, but you can buy icon packs if you like. I don’t need icon packs, but I got one anyway to support the developer because it’s a useful app.

Productivity is a tough thing to master, and you can waste a huge amount of time playing with methods and lists and whatnot. Really, it doesn’t need to be complex. You need a task manager (even if it’s just a handwritten list in a notebook) and you need a timer. There are plenty out there and you can dig deeply into methods and tools, but I think that’s a waste of time, and I know, because I wasted my time doing it. 30/30 is a good little time management app. Give it a shot.

 

CRS Rice Bowl [App o the Mornin’]

Remember getting your little cardstock rice bowls each year at CCD class, folding them into shape, and dropping in change to support Operation Rice Bowl?

You can still do that (and you should) but you can also bring the practice into the 21st century with Catholic Relief Service’s Rice Bowl app (iPhone/Android: free).

CRS has created a series of daily meditations for Lent–some original, some from the writings of Pope Francis–with a focus on Catholic social teaching. All of the meditations come with the app, so it works offline as well as online, and you can sent daily reminders for a particular time.

The app also allows you to create a daily “sacrifice” for Lent, and tracks the things you’re giving up with a suggested value: $1.75 for a cup of coffee, $4.69 for a fast food combo meal, or any custom sacrifice with its name and cost. The idea, of course, is to give up things and allocate the money as a donation to CRS. This donation can be done from within the app, and it’s a pretty clever way of measuring the things we give up for Lent and turning them into a practical good through CRS, which does great work around the world.

A number of meat-free recipes and “Stories of Hope” (video and text) from people helped by CRS are included as well.

It’s a very effective use of technology to combine prayer, Lenten observance, and action. CRS has done a great job on this.

Take It Easy [App o the Mornin’]

Take it Easy (iOS: $2) is a rather nondescript title for what was, when it was released as a board game 20 years ago, a remarkably innovative twist on bingo. The game is played on a hexagonal board comprised of 19 hexagonal spaces. Players blind-draw hexagonal chips, each marked with lines going in three directions (1 vertical and two diagonal). There are nine different colors of line ranging in point value from 1 (gray) up to 9 (yellow).

These tiles are laid on the board so that, wherever possible, the lines of a single color connect without interruption from edge to edge. If you manage to make an unbroken line, you get the point values for all the tiles in that line. So, a 5-tile gray line is worth 5 points, while a 5-tile yellow line is worth 45.

As the board fills, it gets harder to place tiles without interrupting a line of color, leading to a remarkably subtle but complex set of strategies for maximizing point values. The highest possible score is 307.

The mobile version implements the design with colorful visuals and a nice drag-and-drop interface. They’ve also expanded the idea with new game modes: Progressive and Puzzle. Progressive is a timed mode with bonus stages. You’re trying to fill the board before the clock runs out, earning a certain a minimum score which increases each round. Leftover time rolls over to the next level. The goal is to go as long as high as you can before the time runs out or you fail to score enough.

Puzzle mode isn’t hugely challenging, but it’s a fun diversion. You need to make certain patterns, scores, designs, or kinds of placement to clear a level, sometimes withe restrictions like locked spaces.

The app includes internet and local play for up to four people, with various modes and round options. As with the original game, the app can be played solo or multiplayer for up to four people. It was never a particularly interactive games: people draw until their boards are filled, total up the score, and highest score wins. It is, however, as great a puzzler as it ever was, and the mobile version is a fine way to rediscover it.

Content: No issues. All ages.

Bumpy Road [App o the Mornin’]

Bumpy Road (iOS/Mac/PC: $3) is the sophomore effort from the creators of Kosmo Spin, and it has a delightful aesthetic, with a muted but eye-catching color palette and charming art. It’s a look that works perfectly for game about an older couple out for a Sunday drive on a corduroy road past windmills and impossibly narrow houses.

The gameplay is just as interesting as the visual element. Bumpy Road uses a novel mechanic to create a twist on the 2D platforming, move-to-the-right genre that has thrived on mobile touch devices. In this case, you don’t control the car, which moves at a steady pace, but the road itself, which is comprised of a series of little bumps. Touching the road raises it a little bit. Touch behind the car to create a hill that makes the car go faster. Touch in front of it to create a hill that slows the car down. Touch beneath it to make the car hop.

It’s as simple as that. The levels consist of multiple platforms and occasional water hazards, with minor variations for the two gameplay modes. In Evergreen Ride, you need to go as far as possible without falling into one of the water hazards. The trip is endless, with little powerups found along the way to close traps and allow you to focus on gathering items to improve your final time. There are no traps in Sunday Trip mode, so the goal is to get to a finish line as fast as possible by grabbing the accelerator powerups and avoiding the brake powerups. The result is a great little app, with a novel mechanic and engaging gameplay.

Fulton Sheen Audio Library [App o the Mornin’]

This is short and sweet folks, since there isn’t too much you need to know other than, “You really should probably get it.”

The Fulton Sheen Audio Library (iOS/Android: free, with in-app purchase) is–and you might have already guessed this–a library of audio by Fulton Sheen. It includes almost 300 talks from various times and places, some gathered by topic, and other by event. These aren’t just audio transcripts of his TV or radio shows, but also old LPs and tapes with extensive series on all manner of topics, including A Retreat for Everyone (15 talks), Improving Your Life (28) Love–Marriage–Children (24), St. Therese of Lisieux (11), World History (22), the massive Sheen Catechism (50), and many, many more. Some are talks given to priests, others to children, but most are aimed at the layperson.

The basic app is free and comes with a generous selection of free talks (at least one in each category). If you want the entire compilation, I think the current price is $8 as an in-app purchase. They stream rather than download, which doesn’t thrill me, but the server is stable and I’ve never had any trouble with it. The sound quality is excellent.

Sheen is an amazing teacher and one of the best Catholic evangelists of the 20th century. He has an Irishman’s skill with words which made him eminently quotable. He also had a flare for the dramatic, good looks, a perfect voice, and a command of mass media. This is terrific stuff.

iPieta [App o the Mornin’]

iPieta (iOS/Android: $3) is  huge app, both in scope and size. At 181 MB, it demands a hefty chunk of real-estate. (By comparison, Cut the Rope only takes up 22 MB.) But it earns its space by placing a staggering library of documents and prayers at your fingertips.

The documents are divided into four sections: Bible, Calendar, Prayers, and Veritas.

The Bible tab includes the full text of both the Douay-Rheims and the Latin Vulgate. You can access these separately or as an interlinear page, alternating English and Latin line-by-line. Each chapter displays in a single scrolling page, and it’s fairly easy to scroll through the entire bible, individual books, and verse-by-verse.

The Calendar section offers both Ordinary and Extraordinary calenders, with the ability to switch between the two by shaking the device. Date, feast, readings, and liturgical color are all indicated, with each day linked to the text of the readings.

The selections included under Payers is vast, with separate sections for Divine Mercy, Sacred Heart of Jesus, Passion, Mass, Eucharist, Stations of the Cross, Devotions to Jesus, Holy Spirit, and vast selections of Marian prayers, novenas, saints prayers, common prayers, and more. These can be bookmarked for quick retrieval, or accessed through keyword searches. In addition, many of these prayers come with optional audio files which can be downloaded from ipieta.com and added to your device. This adds another 664 MB to the install, however.

Finally, there is the Veritas tab, which is just … well, look at what’s included:

  • Works of St. Augustine and St. John Crysostom
  • The complete Ante-Nicene and Nicene Fathers
  • Council documents from Nicea to Vatican II
  • The last 200 years of Papal Encyclicals, up to Caritas in Veritate
  • The Summa Theologica, Catena Aurea, and The Catechetical Instructions by St. Thomas Aquinas
  • Haydock’s Biblical Commentary
  • Baltimore Catechisms #1, #2, and #3
  • Catechism of Christian Doctrine (Promulgated by Pope St. Pius X)
  • Introduction to the Devout Life, by St. Francis De Sales
  • The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas Kempis
  • True Devotion to Mary, Love of Eternal Wisdom, Friends of the Cross, and The Secret of Mary, by St. Louis Marie de Montfort
  • The Dialogue, by St. Catherine of Siena
  • The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus, The Way of Perfection, and the Interior Castle, by St. Teresa of Jesus
  • Treatise on Purgatory, by St. Catherine of Genoa
  • Instructions on the Catechism, Selected Explanations and Exhortations, Excerpts of Sermons, by St. Jean-Marie Vianney
  • Ascent of Mount Carmel, Dark Night of the Soul, Spiritual Canticle, and Living Flame of Love, by St. John of the Cross
  • The Roman Catechism (also knows as The Catechism of The Council of Trent or The Catechism of Pope St. Pius V)
  • The Dolorous Passion, by Ven. Catherine Emmerich
  • Fathers of the Church (Eerdman’s version)
  • Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola
  • The Sinner’s Guide by Ven. Louis of Granada
  • The Rule of St. Benedict
  • Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius
  • Confession of St. Patrick
  • Abandonment to Divine Providence
  • The Cloud of Unknowing

So, yeah. Do I really need to say much more than that?

All of it is searchable. And all of it costs … $3. I mean, seriously people: THREE BUCKS!

Axe in Face [App o the Mornin’]

This is older game–from way back in 2011–but still a lot of fun.

If you want to get me to buy your game, just go ahead and name it Axe in Face (iOS: $1). Works every time.

If you want to be doubly sure I’ll buy it, make sure your main character looks like a tiny Viking Yosemite Sam, and have him in a perpetual state of axe-slinging rage as he tries to protect his well-tended bed of flowers.

Yes, that’s what Axe in the Face is all about: a red-bearded, highly irritated little cartoon Viking determined to kill as many marauders as it takes to protect his daffodils. All he has is his axe, some fire, a couple of powers bestowed by the gods, and a heart filled with rage as he faces wave upon wave of foes. If any enemy gets past him and begins to trample the flower bed, the level is lost.

The control is based upon an effective line-drawing system to determine the throwing path of the axe. Just trace a line (however convoluted) and then remove your finger to unleash the axe. It follows its path and then returns. The blade cuts through enemies like butter, hewing head from torso. If the path passes through a fire, then you have a flaming axe, which is just the ticket for taking out enemies hiding behind trees.

Enemies move at different speeds, and some have different defenses, which makes timing each strike a tricky business. It also makes setting up and executing elaborate strikes quite satisfying when they mow down multiple enemies at once. The two god powers are lightning, which fries 3 foes at once, and ice, which slows the enemies.

Blue Carrot games has put out a first rate little app, with a good sense of humor and colorful art. There are 32 levels total, and they get challenging rather quickly. This is a fun game, but it’s also a hard one.

Pocket Trains [App o the Mornin’]

Pocket Trains (Android/iOS: freemium) is insidious. It’s insanely addictive, just like NimbleBits’ previous games, Tiny Tower and Pocket Planes. Pocket Trains follows the formula of Pocket Planes, but does it even better. You begin the game with a simple map of Europe and a couple of major cities. These are connected by train tracks, with one train running on one set of tracks. As you earn more money, you can connect more cities, build more trains, establish new lines, and continually expand.

Money is earned by hauling freight from city to city. Freight that goes further, or has a higher value cargo, generates more gold. You can also pick up crates and bucks. Crates have train parts in them: get enough parts and you can build a new train. There are quite a few train models, and you’ll want to upgrade as you go to increase your distance, fuel load, and hauling capacity. Bucks are used to uncrate the train parts and expand stations to hold more freight.

As you begin to sprawl across first the map of Europe, and then the entire world, you find yourself relaying freight from one train to another. A high-value cargo may have to go from Moscow to San Francisco through a series of cities and train lines, switching three or four times before you can earn the money for completing delivery. Managing these lines and maximizing profits it a key part of the game.

You can expand to North and South America, Asia, and Africa, but each new region costs 50,000 gold, and the price for each new train line increases each time you build one. By the time you gave 12 trains running, you can be paying almost 40,000 gold for each new line.

Pocket Trains is a classic casual maintenance game, and that’s the key to its fun-factor. You can check in a few times a day or once a week, spend 5 or 10 minutes directing your trains, or half and hour messing with loads, and then forget about it. The trains rack up their miles, earn their gold, and refuel without any fuss, so you can focus on just managing and expanding the lines.

The game is free, but you can purchase bucks starting at $1 for 100 bucks and going up from there, as well as crates. This allows you move the game along faster, but I’ve expanded to a dozen lines on four continents and never spent a dime, so it’s possible to have a completely free experience if you’re patient.

As with all NimbleBits product, the visuals use a colorful, blocky 16-bit style, with little people on the train platforms and in the passenger cars. It’s quite a charming package, and a good casual game for people who just like to check in and fiddle with things for a few minutes throughout the day.