Android: Games Review

Android: Games Review

With well over 200,000 apps now available on the Google Android Marketplace, it can be a little daunting to track down exactly what you want. Combined with Google’s decision not to regulate what gets uploaded to the service, things can start to resemble the wild west at time. Despite recently introducing editor’s picks and having had top sellers lists for a while, the task of shifting through the inevitable knock offs and trash just to find the hidden gems remains an awkward prospect. To this end, we present you with the top games currently available on the service.

Cut the Rope

Price – £0.62

Having debuted on iOS devices in late 2010, this charming little puzzle game finally found its way onto Android devices last year. Having started out at an already generous 125 levels, the game has almost doubled in size since launch, keeping all the bonus levels and extra content that had been added to the original iOS release. Each level may only take a few seconds to beat, but earning the full 3-star rating may take much longer with devious tricks and techniques introduced in the end-game. While this Russian developed title is at its strongest when dealing with logic based puzzles and not the timing/reflex dependent solutions it adopts later on, the wonderful art style, quirky sense of humour, and intuitive controls still make it a must buy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Battleheart

Price – £1.85

A unique mix of RTS/RPG and action game, Battleheart places you in command of 4 heroes and tasks you with surviving increasingly difficult arena-based encounters. Each hero has unique abilities based on its class that work on a cool down timer. These can be deployed to help your party directly through dealing damage, or indirectly by healing your allies or increasing strength or defence. To keep you coming back for more, the game adds a light-RPG progression system. Heroes earn experience and can level up to improve their abilities and stats. New weapons and armour can also be bought and equipped and new heroes can be recruited once unlocked. Unfortunately, the touch screen controls are prone to confusion when trying to select specific units once they become layered over each other and the battles don’t require too much tactical finesse. That said, it’s still a fun game and well worth a look into, as long as you don’t expect too much in terms of depth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

FPse

Price – £2.64

Not quite a game in of itself, but rather a way to increase the library of titles available to you. Although pricier than most others on this list, this app makes up for that by almost turning your Android phone into a portable console (more specifically, a PS1). Just copy any burned Playstation ISO files (from a legally owned original copy of course) onto the phone and you’re ready to go! From Crash Bandicoot to Final Fantasy and Metal Gear, It boasts a wide list of compatible games and the touch screen controls do a decent job of emulating the classic Playstation controller. Although, if the touch input leaves you wanting, you can always tether a PS3 pad onto the device via Bluetooth and take control via that for a more precise, and authentic, experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wind-up Knight

Price – Free (with additional transactions to ease progress)

Built within the framework of such games as Canabalt, this medieval platformer has your armour-clad hero running from left to right of his own accord, with your role being to help him jump over, roll under and slash any obstacles that get in his way. Despite its incredibly simple premise and controls, the game creates a layer of depth by scattering coins throughout each of its many levels which can be used to purchase new equipment. This can be either stronger armour or flaming swords that increase your damage. However, the cost of each new item is usually a little steep, so expect to replay previous levels before being able to afford the shiniest new objects unless you’re willing to turn some real cash into the digital kind to speed up progress. Technically sharp 3D graphics and a good sense of style make it worth a try, even if you decide not to invest any more time, or money, into the title.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hard Lines HD

Price – £1.99

If Tron and that old monochrome Nokia classic Snake were to meet, this Technicolor baby would likely be the result of such a union. It combines the multiple light cycle confrontations of the former with the dot collecting and ever increasing length of the latter with a simple swipe to change direction control system. It features a couple of different game modes to keep things varied but they all pretty much amount to either avoiding the other AI controlled players, maximising your score, both of the above, or doing so while under a time limit. The price is likely a little steep for what it offers and the video game humour sprinkled throughout may not be to everyone’s taste, but it’s ideal for short bursts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

ShadowGun

Price – £3.49 (For Tegra 2 or Tegra 3 version)

Jealous of all your iPhone carrying friends wow-ing you with Infinity Blade? The Android marketplace may have found its answer to iOS’s flagship graphical showpiece. Available in two formats, ShadowGun is a Gears of War inspired Third Person Shooter, with a heavy focus on cover mechanics. In terms of art design, it’s a little soulless and derivative, with its murky brown corridors and Cortana-based AI companion. That being said, it’s still a fun ride and the touch screen controls work surprisingly well, with a generous amount of auto-aim afforded to your character when shooting. Owners of newer, Tegra 3 equipped, devices can feel proud in knowing that the newly released ‘THD’ version of the game will provide them with better lighting, textures, particle effects and physics.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vitor de Magalhaes

 

PHOTO/topgold

Review: The Bee

Japanese play The Bee, is currently on its British leg of a world tour and is making a welcome return to The Soho theatre after six years.

The adaptation by Hideki Noda OBE and Colin Teevan (The Great Game) is a ferociously comic and terrifying story set entirely in a residential street in Tokyo 1974.

Our everyman Mr Ido (played brilliantly by Kathryn Hunter) arrives home to find his house surrounded by police and TV cameras.  Inside his wife and child are being held hostage by Mr Ogoro, an escaped murderer. His efforts to communicate with Ogoro are blocked by the police due to the fact that the hostage-taker is a stutterer and grows upset by anyone more articulate than himself.

In a bid to reason with Ogoro, Ido uses the waiting press as a channel to express his sympathies and reach a safe resolution, however the baying press urge Ido for increasingly hysterical, dramatic performances to camera.  This direct plea to Ogoro ends in futility and soon afterwards it surfaces that that the hostage-taker has a wife and child, who both refuse to speak to him.

Running out of patience, Ido persuades one of the ‘cops’, Anchoku (imagine a cross between Life on Mars’ DCI Gene Hunt and the two detectives from Hot Fuzz) to take him to visit Ogoro’s wife (referred to as Ogoro’s wife) to persuade her to reason with her estranged husband in order to bring this nightmare to an end.

Hilariously things don’t go to plan when Anchoku asks her if she’s going to, ‘wave her perfect titties at the yakuza and the salarymen’?… The meeting doesn’t end well and as Ido grows increasingly desperate he clobbers Anchoku over the head with a nearby baseball bat and demands that Ogoro’s wife reasons with her estranged husband, before it’s too late.

She won’t.  And events take a horrifying turn.

Between the terror of Ido’s now sadistic actions, there are surprising, finely tuned comic moments that sparkle through physical theatre and the laugh out loud acting of Glyn Pritchard (who plays Anchoku / Oguoro / Ogoro’s Son) and Hideki Noda (who is side-splitting as Ogoro’s wife).  Their transitions between characters and the use of mime cultivate a beautifully fluid piece and are movingly complimented by the lighting design by Rick Fisher and Christoph Wagner.

Moreover, mention should be made of Yokio Horio’s imaginative set design consisting of unsettling bright red tiles and a semi-transparent back wall through which we see the indolent detective, Dodoyama (comically played by Clive Mendus).

The Bee is an innovative piece that expertly veers from comic farce to horror to horror-comedy whilst making thought provoking statements on the causes and nature of revenge and what happens when a seemingly ordinary man is driven to the brink.

I would urge you to see it.

Fortuna Burke

PHOTO/Sean

The Bee is playing at the Soho Theatre in London until Saturday 11th February, (£10-£17.50)

Digital textbooks: are they really the future?

Not content with revolutionising the way music, apps and, to a lesser extent, novels and movies are bought, Apple have turned to their next target- the digital textbook. Textbooks have mostly been left out of the recent drive to digitise books. Whilst a standard novel, mostly prose with the odd picture, is easy and quick to format to a digital version, large-page textbooks with diagrams and equations would be much more time-consuming. Not to mention it would probably look rubbish on black-and-white readers such as the Kindle. Apple intends to change all this, marrying interactive full-colour books with their prolific iPads in some sort of textbook-heaven. But will it actually work?

Apple’s idea is that a rich, digital textbook would make life easier for everyone. This new breed of textbooks, announced in New York a fortnight ago, would have slideshows, 3D diagrams and just been generally more interactive than your standard, dog-eared copy of Lifecycles of worms, or something else equally as thrilling. Apple have claimed that most of the textbooks would be priced at $15 (£10) or less, due to reduced production costs and cutting out of middle-men in the supply chain.

However, textbooks were not the only focus of this new release of iBooks. Now, using the iBooks Author app (available only on Macs, natch) any budding “author” can put their novels on the iBookstore or create their own textbooks.

The main impetus for having iPads littering classrooms (aside from the fact that the backs of the iPads would rapidly be covered in phalluses and “Rob + Katie 4 eva”) is that currently the price of an iPad is simply too high for them to be purchased in any useful quantity. The retail price of an iPad is currently £400, and even with student and bulk discounts, all but the richest schools could afford to equip their students with them. This doesn’t take into the fact that tablets have a short life-cycle and would likely be required to be upgraded every three or four years. Books, on the other hand, can happily last up to half a century chilling out on one of the Bodleian shelves.

That’s not to say that all schools are currently giving blank looks to these new resources. The first three days of the textbook’s availability, currently restricted a few free books, DK and some US publishers, saw 350 000 books being downloaded, which is fairly promising. Some schools in the US have already started using iBooks, although it remains to see how this number will grow.

Whilst getting schools on board is one issue, another lies with the authors of the content itself. The concern that authors are currently voicing is highlighted in the license agreement upon using the new authoring software, which essentially states that any book designed using the software cannot be sold elsewhere with the same design. Whilst some argue that Apple are providing this fairly decent software gratis and so they should make money of the books, others are outraged at Apple is dictating who they can sell their books to without designing it twice. Neither is there an option to import designs from the industry standard publishing software, which means publishers and authors who want to use the new interactive features of iBooks must start from scratch.

However, despite the shortcomings, Apple is well known as a company who can make something that seems like an absurd idea into a huge money-maker. The system is currently by no means mature, but if they add rentals and bulk purchases, Apple could be on to a winner. But there is always the risk they’ve set their sights just a little too high this time.

Personally, I’m sure the 14 year-old me would’ve preferred looking up naughty works on an interactive dictionary over a standard one.

Alex Curran 

 

PHOTO/moparx

Review: Twelfth Night ***

This is a very fresh and enjoyable production. Duke Orsino’s gluttony for punishment – “If music be the food of love, play on” – is played with great sweetness and sensitivity by Matt Ball, and perhaps the sentiment is made too ‘exquisite’, in that we rarely glimpse that side of the Duke which so affrights his beloved Lady Olivia. We see her striding onto the other side of the stage in a truly frightful mood. Her impatience is directed at Feste, Olivia’s “corrupter of words”, whose riddles infuriate but have pith. Feste is the only character who comfortably crosses the stage, moving as he does between Orsino’s bachelor pad and Olivia’s topsy-turvy world – two worlds, yes, but perhaps not quite as opposite as the transverse stage enforces (or maybe it is meant to hint just that.)  Later, there is a lovely moment when, having been summoned, Feste, all-along playing his guitar on-stage, suddenly appears to Orsino et al from behind his hat (a prop he shares with Viola’s male-symbolic costume – she also has an ostentatiously askew tie – as though to bend genders even more.) Such moments of sensitive direction are skillfully acted-out by a cast who seemed to be in the best of humours – reminding one just how much fun it is to be in a play; and this atmosphere of festival, I think, is entirely appropriate to Twelfth Night.

The set and characterisation come together at their best in another lovely scene between Orsino and the disguised Viola. Play-acting the role of an older, wiser mate, Orsino happily dishes out advice on love. Matt Ball’s performance here smells, as it should, of pretense – his suit is refused by an exasperated Olivia, repeatedly – and the setting and tone – it is the ‘Duke’s Bar’ and they are sharing a few drinks – so well show him up to be the bachelor that he is (a bachelorhood which will be surprisingly brought into question.)

The transition from stroppiness to reluctantly and improbably love-struck devotee (of Viola, as Cesario) is played with great humour by Kate O’Connor. But the extent of Olivia’s complete absurdity – she is in mourning in perpetuity – is not fully realised. Her horror at Malvolio’s, played by Peter Rhodes, creepy advances is very funny – though admittedly this would probably be hilarious however it was done. I don’t see how Alice Fraser might improve upon her portrayal of Maria at all, except that, along with her co-conspirators, she could do more to convey how much the sinisterness of their plan seems to not fit the play’s comic decorum – a highlight of which is the staggering Sir Toby Belch, David Cochrane, and the saucy Sir Andrew Aguecheeck, Alex Pullinger. The funny and the pathetic, though, come together best in Viola, Kate O’Connor, whose fluency has only one possible caveat: at times she speaks too fast. This is a play full of questions – “What are you? What would you?” – which have an urgency beyond the machinery of a comedy of errors, and Viola’s double dilemma makes us feel we agree that “I see now Disguise, thou art a wickedness.”

3 stars

Thomas Hughes

PHOTO/Santhy Balachandran

Click here for the trailer: Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night is playing at the Keble O’Reilly Theatre from Thursday to Saturday of 3rd week.

Is ballet still en pointe today?

The Russian State Ballet’s Giselle, currently on at the New Theatre on George Street, is not to be missed. The second half is not to be missed, that is. Giselle is the Russian State Ballet’s telling of Sleeping Beauty. The fairytale subject-matter lends itself well to this production, in which dancers glide across the stage, espousing an ephemeral, almost other-worldly quality. Unfortunately, the first half is rather more twee than the second, pastel costumes and a rather kitsch set blending with over-exaggerated gestures from the dancers. The dancers also do not seem to be quite in step with the music. When the curtain rises on the second half, it is as if we’ve wondered into the wrong theatre, back into a different ballet. The set is a misty, white fairytale land, a fitting backdrop to the wonderful dancing and sophisticated gestures of the ballerinas twirling across the stage, completing their movements with such ease their feet seem not even to touch the floor. The power of the second half is such that some audience members are reduced to tears.

I tend to prefer a play to ballet, opting to watch dialogue rather than dance, but sitting in the New Theatre watching this beautiful ballet and absorbing the atmosphere of the music blending with what is going on on-stage makes me wonder why I do not frequent the ballet more often. This leads me to question why ballet does not enjoy a greater popular status, and why most people find it lofty, inaccessible, even tedious. What is ballet’s place in mainstream entertainment? Does it even have a place, or is destined to be relegated to the dusty box labelled ‘high-brow art’?

Ballet fills in that strange overlap between dance and theatre. For some people, it is neither one nor the other, which is where the problem lies. It seems inaccessible, a form of high art reserved for those brought up on a diet of opera, classical music and the literary greats.

Everybody’s favourite winter warmer, Strictly Come Dancing, has popularised ballroom dancing, bringing this previously inaccessible past-time to the reach and enjoyment of the masses, beaming the quickstep and the Viennese waltz into living-rooms across the country every Saturday evening. Most of the professional dancers have trained first as professional ballerinas, the smooth elegance of their moves across the dance floor down to this traditional introduction into the world of contemporary dance. And yet the public remains, on the whole, uninterested in this antecedent, in ballet.

There is music, but there are no words. There is nothing to grasp onto, to analyse. When watching a play or a film, one can better sympathise with or revile the actions of the characters, climb inside the protagonists’ heads to read their thoughts as the play rolls on. Plays have a reason for being. Ballet just is. The lack of any dialogue means all interpretation must come purely from the dance itself and while the ballets of course tell a story, just as a play does, it is often far harder to discern the unfolding of the action, the relationships between the characters, the thoughts inside their heads and the words they might be saying if only they were not reduced to a state of dumbness.

Recent programmes on the BBC, Agony and Ecstasy: A Year with English National Ballet, provided the general public with a fascinating insight into this often closed world. The company of young professionals is shown during the gruelling, exhausting rehearsal process involved in putting on a production of Romeo and Juliet, and a version of Swan Lake at the Albert Hall. Perhaps the demand for a glimpse into this world is a sign that people are gaining an interest in this art form. Then again, the programme is shown on BB4, the channel known for its niche, educational documentaries, its slices of the high-brow art world.  

Ballet is often a childhood staple, annual Christmas trips to the Nutcracker a recurring memory for many. But after the umpteenth trip to see Swan Lake as an excited ten year-old, once the shoes from the Saturday ballet class have been put away for the last time and the journey into adolescence and adulthood begun, ballet seems to fade from most people’s cultural horizons.

It seems ballet is a world destined to remain rather inaccessible to the general public, pushed aside from the world of mainstream entertainment and contemporary theatre.

Rebecca Loxton

PHOTO/Russian State Ballet of Siberia

Sir Thespalot – Stage Manager

The stage manager is one of the few members of the production team for a play that you might actually have heard of. But what does managing the stage actually involve? Well, for most productions you are in charge of sourcing all the props for the play before the run actually starts. At this stage you are a minor member of the team, a dogsbody to perform whatever the director or producer ask you to. Depending on the scale of the production this can be a little or a lot – on one show I shared the stage managing and production managing roles with another girl, and we spent an increasingly mad afternoon dashing around all the charity shops in Oxford trying to find suitable pieces to dress a very realistic stately-home type set. Having been to five charity shops with little luck, we went crazy upon finding a shop with what we needed in it, and bought every piece of art or china we could find, including a celery vase that we thought was the best thing ever, but caused everyone else on the production to keep their distance from us for the entire run. Such a set requires a lot of scene changing, but I am getting ahead of myself here…

Once in the theatre everything changes and everyone has to listen to you! Finally, you feel important (no, just me?) First comes the get-in, where all the set pieces, costumes etc are moved into the theatre, the lights are rigged, and the stage set up. Then the technical rehearsal, running light and sound cues. This may be the first time, as stage manager, you have ever seen the actors performing any of their lines, and is spent frantically marking entrances and exits on a script, as well as coordinating scene changes and drawing up a list of these. Finally the dress rehearsal: the stage manager is responsible for making sure everything and everyone is off- and on-stage at the right time, so this is where you get to see how, er, punctual your actors will be, or whether you will need to drag them out of their dressing rooms for their scenes every night… The production with the realist set that I mentioned above had scene changes involving a real stuffed raven and a stag skull (shot by a member of the cast, of course), and wallpaper being changed.  Never do this. Trying to hang wallpaper in the semi-darkness while the whole audience watches you and wonders what on earth you are doing is a singularly difficult and frustrating exercise.  Rather than learning from my mistakes, I had to hang boards covered in film posters for another production, with possibly more awkward results.

This term I am stage managing two plays, Gormenghast and Twelfth Night. The latter is being done is traverse, which I imagine will bring a whole raft of new challenges… but that’s half the fun. Doing similar plays all the time would be boring. Hey, there will be problems like the wallpaper, but that’s what helps you build up such great friendships with the rest of the team.

Olivia Upchurch – stage manager

Twelfth Night on at the Keble O’Reilly Wednesday- Saturday 3rd week, 7.30pm, tickets £7/£5; Gormenghast on the Corpus Auditorium in 6th week.

Review: The Man Upstairs

A man on a roof beckons to a stranger on the street. His name is Arthur, and he wants her to push him off. It is a cheery beginning to a play that enjoys even as it questions life, as over the next twenty-four hours Arthur’s life is unwound and things naturally get much, much worse.

The Man Upstairs takes as its subject how (largely) normal people deal with relationships today, as they consider the merits of a Ploughman’s, Tchaikovsky and Loose Women. The staging is relatively simple – a tripartite stage to tie the locations together – to suit the short time span, bringing the focus entirely onto the interactions, particularly as the arrival of Arthur’s wife Helen introduces the darker backstory to the audience. The main idea of the play – the distance in the modern world from the actual experience of life – is explained in terms which are both initially hilarious and also disturbing later on examination. Today’s world makes no sense; how then can we cope?

Technically the idea of re-examining our reasons for living is nothing new – people have been dissecting that for years. It is a likable group of characters though, well-acted and oddly believable with their lives, stories, likes and dislikes, Tim Kiely’s writing finding the amazing, the ridiculous, the mundane and the depressing in everyday life. In addition, the play asks how far we can cope with each other’s problems on top of our own, as trying to save Arthur quickly takes its toll on each character: Zoe, the student fighting to keep him alive; Helen, the estranged wife; Will, the friend concerned for Zoe’s wellbeing.

Given that the entire play is centred around trying to save him, Arthur  needs to be sympathetic, even as the sort of character who could easily veer off into unpleasantness and even parody with his cynicism and overly verbose manner. Fortunately Vyvyan Almond plays him with just the right amount of frustration and feeling, even with some comic timing; you can feel his irritation with a world not up to his intellectual standards. As a result, at times he threatens to overshadow his fellow actors, particularly the necessary quiet foil of Zoe (Zoe Bullock), who acts more as story enabler unless she herself is the subject of the scene. Nevertheless, she contrasts well with the more over-the-top characters, helping to anchor the play. Almond also has competition with the more understated Caitlin McMillan as Arthur’s wife Helen, conveying brilliantly first distant frustration and then the memory of old love.

While technically a simple enough idea with simple enough staging, good writing and a great cast create a meditation on life and its sufferings which is well worth the watch.

4 Stars

Vicky Fryer

PHOTO/Jason Wuenscher

Pause for thought? Behind the scenes in The Hothouse

The Hothouse is set to be one of the biggest student production Oxford has ever seen. With a set scaling technical heights and projections and videos galore, the show is  great in scale and ambition. But it’s not just the set that’s sophisticated. The actors have all been working in a rather more unconventional way than a standard rehearsal process. Instead of finding the ‘right’ way to act a scene and sticking to it, the actors consistently rework and reappraise their scenes through improvisation.

It is a professionalism and respect for both the play and the actors that is behind director Jamie McDonagh’s drive to do Pinter, properly.  This involves changing way the play is done from the inside, not the outside. Writing in his blog following the rehearsal process, lead actor Matt Gavan (Roote) explains the problems students have with Pinter, his infamous ‘pause’, and how a change in approach is needed. As students, he writes, we’re pushed towards “analysis, not synthesis. We’re trained to talk about the patterns underlying the play, its causes rather than its effects. This is death to theatre, whose focus is always on effects, on the character which springs from the raw material of the text. Analysis can trick you into acting badly while Doing Everything Right.”

This comfortable, complacent approach to acting that is what McDonagh is seeking to shake up – getting off a ‘route’ of a scene, the same physical and vocal track. Instead of passive recital of lines, the actors are pushed to the limits of their characters and the potentials for them within the scene. I went to watch the cast at work on the first day of this new approach, and the results were striking. Every character, no matter how big the part, has an extensive and painstakingly researched backstory on which the actors draw – right down to knowing whether or not they had porridge for breakfast. Then comes the characters’ objectives. For every scene, McDonagh asks the actors: ‘what are your wants?’, sometimes stopping a scene mid-flow to ask this question – ensuring the actors are still 100% attuned to their characters desires.

The real difference, however, comes in how the scene is played out. McDonagh wants every character to over-play their objectives, to exaggerate and take their character to its extremes, before reducing it back to ‘normal’. If a character’s objective is to stop another leaving the room, for example, the actor could physically block the other character’s exit. The result of this process, where the lines stay the same but everything else is improvised, is to uncover new dynamics and potentials for the scene – as well as ensuring that the play stays fresh. When I arrive in Wadham’s rehearsal studio, the actors are playing a ball-game designed to focus their awareness – a technique used by the cast of the hit show Jerusalem starring Mark Rylance.

During the rehearsal, McDonagh occasionally interrupts to whisper a ‘secret motive’ into one characters ear, or will run a scene with a key dynamic crucially altered: one scene involving a couple is rehearsed twice, once with the characters a mere 2 months into their relationship, and again with them having been married for 25 years. The actors are thus continually developing their characters – keeping them ‘alive’ throughout the scene. ‘When a director tells you “be more angry”, nothing’s more unhelpful’, explains McDonagh. Through these improvised explorations, the characters’ reactions are natural and spontaneous – ‘real’, rather than rehearsed. The actors work off each other, rather than to a rote-learned response. It is testimony to the talent of the actors involved that this method is able to work – for it relies on instinct and a sensitivity that only the very best can achieve. Director Mike Leigh, famous for the quality of his naturalistic dramas, uses this very method.

Will this experiment work, or will it fail? The show will be different every night. The risk McDonagh is taking in trusting his actors to this extent is a big one, but from what I’ve seen, it will definitely pay off.

PHOTO/Bill Knight

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