Monthly Archives: December 2012

The iDownloadBlog top news stories of the week

Like every Sunday, we bring you the stories that were the most popular on iDB during this past week. Whether it is a news piece, an editorial, a tutorial, a new jailbreak tweak, or an accessory review, we sum it all up in one convenient place.

If you like what you’re reading, please make sure to spread the love by sharing our posts on your favorite social network. We’re usually hanging out a lot on Twitter and Facebook, more rarely on Google+

We’re social! Find iDB on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, App.net, YouTube, and in your RSS reader.

 

(105)

Apple’s Christmas ad, as it should have been…

Remember Apple’s Christmas commercial with a girl singing “I’ll Be Home” to her grandfather via FaceTime on an iPad mini? Yeah, it was that memorable – and for all the wrong reasons, cynics might add. Well, bright folks at Amidio certainly did seize the opportunity to take Apple’s idea and one-up it a notch.

Have a look at their version and dare telling me it doesn’t beat Apple at its own game. Here we have a grown up (and cutesy) girl singing the same song, but using Amidio’s Futulele app to also play the tune on her iPad mini. Not sure about you, but I can instantly tell which one I like better…

Pretty nice PR stunt on Amidio’s part, I’ll give them that.

Kudos to Rob LeFebvre of Cult of Mac for spotting this little gem.

Futulele, a $3 download, turns your iPad or iPad mini into a digital Ukulele instrument. It comes with eye-popping Retina graphics and features 72 realistic sounding Ukulele string samples.

Amidio writes in a blurb:

It is not a secret that many iPad owners also have an iPhone, so Futulele is an excellent and innovative reason to get the best musical juices flowing out of both. A special guitar-shaped case holds the two devices, making it possible to select the chord on the iPhone and strum along the iPad screen, just as on a regular instrument.

Changing a chord requires only one tap, and the strumming technique is easy and convenient. No external wires or hardware accessories are needed, since the devices use Bluetooth or Wi-Fi (selected automatically) for communicating.

Check out the graphics.

Futulele (iPad screenshot 001)

Futulele (iPad screenshot 002)

Lots more videos of people playing songs on their iPads can be found at the official web site.

Key features include:

• the best-sounding digital Ukulele • very easy to play! No music background needed! • crystalClear 4.0 Sound Engine with 72 MultiSamples • strings respond to the speed of strumming! • gorgeous Retina graphics (fully optimized for the new iPad) • 4 Side-Buttons for FingerPicking with Pitch Bend • automatic Strumming mode with 15 Patterns • 132 Possible Chords • 15 Pre-Defined Chord Sets • create you own chord sets easily • record to .WAV/.M4A • 4 FX: Grand Stereo Reverb, 3-Band EQ, Lush Chorus, Tape Delay

Fukulele for iPad works with Amidio’s player software for the iPhone called Futulele Remote, a free download, which receives chord information from iPad running Futulele and then sends info about the current chosen chord back to Futulele.

For reference, here’s Apple’s original Christmas 2012 ad.

As Steve would have said, that’s a typical agency bullshit.

I think it’s safe to say that Amidio one-upped Apple at its own game.

Samsung’s holiday ad – even though it ruined my childhood – also comes across more convincingly than Apple’s lukewarm commercial, in my opinion.

Oh, and Samsung probably won’t miss the opportunity to poke fun of Apple with their upcoming Super Bowl ad attack.

Speaking of advertising, my best holiday ad from Apple still is their last year’s commercial featuring Santa Claus and Siri.

The fact that it’s amusing doesn’t hurt either. Of course, that was before Siri backfired.

There’s this unmistakable Disney feel to that commercial and the warmth of the holiday season that I usually associate with Coke’s Christmas ads.

In fact, if you ask me, Coca Cola has best Christmas commercials, no?

(270)

How to copy all your Instagrams to Flickr

Flickstagram teaser

Instagram’s exploding popularity is having long-time iPhoneography buffs pay notice and watch in horror as mainstream users cannot get enough of its crappy filters and the obscenely low 612×612 pixel resolution. And with Facebook and Android now in the picture, no wonder some early adopters go to the extremes of closing their account while others, like Apple’s marketing honcho, stopped using Instagram for it “jumped the shark”.

To the most ardent fans, the last straw was Instagram’s confusing handling of the recent terms of service changes – even if it was much ado about nothing.

If you’ve been seriously contemplating importing your Instagrams over to Flickr but were put off by the tedious manual uploads – worry not, turns out there are a few ways to get that job done without too much fuss. iDB has you covered with this quick guide to bringing in all your Instagram photos to Flickr with just a few clicks…

I’ve tested a bunch of services which take the pain out of importing Instagram snaps into Flickr, having narrowed the choices down to two super simple web apps. The whole process boils down to authorizing a service to access your Instagram and Flickr account, choosing where to import the images on Flickr and setting your album privacy.

That’s all there is to it, really.

Flickstagram

Flickstagram is easy. Just sign in with both your Instagram and Flickr account, choose a privacy level for the imported photos (Public, Friends and Family, Family or Private) hit the Go! button and walk away.

Flickstagram (screenshot 001) Flickstagram lets you set your Flickr set’s privacy level prior to importing.

A few moments later, depending on the size of your Instagram library, all your Instagrams should appear in a Flickr set titled ‘Instagram Photos’. Of course, your Instagram photos are kept intact and will continue to be available online.

Free The Photos

Free The Photos is powered by CloudSnap and is very similar to Flickstagram. Upon signing in with both your Instagram and Flickr account, check the “Alert me once my migration finishes” box and type in your email address where you’ll receive an alert once the migration is finished.

Hit the big Free Your Photos button and you’re done.

Free The Photos (screenshot 001) Free The Photos notifies you via email once it’s done importing your Instagrams.

Note that imports take anywhere between a few minutes to hours. Your mileage will vary depending on the size of your Instagram. And privacy freaks needn’t worry: neither Flickstagram nor Free The Photos will store, keep or use your photos or data because everything is streamed directly from Instagram to Flickr.

And because both services preserve meta data, the imported Flickr photos will include your Instagram captions, comments, location data and the original photo date. Even Instagram hashtags get converted to Flickr tags, which is a nice touch.

IFTTT

IFTTT (pronounced like “gift” without the “g”) is an acronym for IF This Than That. The web app operated by a San Francisco startup lets you create powerful connections to “make the Internet work for you”. It’s like Apple’s Automator app in OS X, just for the web.

IFTT (Instagram to Flickr) Every time I share any new Instagram, IFTTT will automatically upload it to Flickr.

While the IFTTT service won’t import your past Instagrams into Flickr, you can use it to automate all Instagram uploads going forward.

I should also share a few tips before signing off.

After you’ve brought in all your pictures from Instagram, go to Flickr’s Organizer section and change the sort order for your new set to Date Posted. This will ensure that the images in your Flickr set appear to visitors in the same order as they were on Instagram.

Flickr (Organizer, sort order) Remember to match your Flickr photos sort order to that on Instagram.

You also don’t need to be reminded to go through all of your Instagrams before transferring them to Flickr. Chances are you wouldn’t want some of the kinkier snaps publicized on Flickr, now would you?

The easiest way to avoid this: first, copy your Instagrams to a private Flickr set. Then, remove all unwanted images from the set before setting its privacy level to Public.

Please be aware of the following limitations concerning importing.

Firstly, if you’ve never set your location preferences in Flickr, location data attached to your Instagrams won’t get carried over to Flickr.

Secondly, Instagrams transfer to Flickr as they are, meaning very low resolution. See, even though Flickr from the onset was designed to store your images in their original resolution, Instagram wasn’t.

Instagram web profile (screenshot 002)

Instead, mobile Instagram apps always resize your snaps to low resolution just before sending them to the cloud. According to an Instagram help doc, the originals are currently being resized to the paltry 612-by-612 pixel uploads that we love to hate.

And thirdly, because free Flickr accounts can only receive 300MB of data per month, Free The Photos will migrate up to the last 10,000 photos. Flickstagram, on the other hand, will import only your first 1,500 photos.

Flickr (free vs paid account)

This won’t bother most folks, but clearly this is something of a concern to die-hard fans who have a few thousand Instagram snaps.

As for Flickr’s aforementioned bandwidth limitation, it doesn’t apply to paid accounts. A Pro Flickr account costs $25 per year to remove ads and enable unlimited bandwidth, among other benefits. Oh, almost forgot – Yahoo has a nice holiday gift for free account holders: three months of Flickr Pro, totally free of charge.

Flickr Holiday Gift 2012

You’ll want to take advantage of this offer and up your photo uploading limits in order to be able to bring in all your photos from Instagram in one fell swoop.

With that in mind, now’s also a good time to re-think your photo sharing strategy, especially if you dislike Instagram for what it is – a clearing house of kitten snaps and images of breakfast plates and converse shoes.

Should you think of another great tip or stumble upon useful advices on importing Instagrams to Flickr, please share them with fellow readers down in the comments.

 

(127)

Analysts cut AAPL target price average to $740

Yahoo finance (AAPL, 20121228)

All of the concerns voiced about the impending leap off the ‘fiscal cliff’ and its associated increase in capital gains taxes on stock sales have sent Wall Street into a tizzy. The end result: knocking Apple’s target share price down to $740. Nearly a dozen analysts have cut their target price for Apple stock amid talk that the iPhone maker has a dodgy future, what with supply questions hanging over the executives at One Infinity Loop. Despite all the rain clouds, the $740 per share target price reduction is about $225 more than Friday’s opening on Wall Street…

According to a chart of analyst forecasts by Philip Elmer-DeWitt over at Fortune, there are holdouts from the $740 outlook. Leading the pack is Brian White of Topeka Capital Markets.

White has a price target of $1,111 for Apple shares. He continues to recommend the stock as a “Buy.” Then there are others who believe Apple’s salad days are gone.

Peter Misek of Jefferies sees Apple’s future in chasing emerging markets, such as China and India, where mobile consumers are starting to adopt smartphones like the iPhone en masse.

If you type “sell” into Google Finance, you’ll get Apple’s stock info.  Is Google… goo.gl/BriZ2

 

Earlier this month, Misek made news by predicting Apple will unveil a new iPhone in June or July of 2013, returning to its usual mid-year schedule for product announcements. But along the way, he told investors the price for smartphones has likely peaked and he trimmed his target price for AAPL shares to $800.

AAPL gap

High-profile Apple watchers such as Gene Munster of Piper Jeffray or Sterne Agee’s Shaw Wu also missed the down elevator. Munster has a $900 price target, while Wu isn’t far behind at $840 for Apple.

Although a number of analysts trimmed their price targets for Apple, only two of the 11 Wall Street observers recommended investors sell their AAPL shares. The majority of analysts retained a “Buy” recommendation – or even “Outperform.”

If analysts were teenagers and Apple was heartthrob Justin Bieber, I would suggest the questions surrounding the iPad maker was just a phase. masse When Apple announces its next ‘album,’ Wall Street will be one of the first in line.

(107)

Chitika: iPad rules ‘biggest ever’ holiday

chitika_tablet_chart

How did holiday sales of tablets shake out? Although sales numbers aren’t yet available, we can get some idea of which devices were in most demand. For instance, Amazon’s Kindle Fire, followed by Samsung’s Galaxy tablets and Google Nexus devices were the top three non-iPad products serving ad impressions in December, according to an ad firm.

Although the iPad (both the full-size versions and the iPad mini) accounts for 87 percent of U.S. and Canadian tablet-based ad impressions, the Kindle Fire was next best with 4.25 percent of tablet traffic. The Samsung Galaxy tablets had 2.65 percent, while the Google Nexus family of tablets garnered 1.06 percent of tablet traffic, according to ad network Chitika…

Per data, for every hundred iPad impressions, the Kindle got five, the Galaxy got three and the Nexus just a bit over one impression.

What about Microsoft’s Surface, which flooded the holiday airwaves with commercials and product placements? For every hundred iPad impressions, the Surface registered a whopping 0.22, according to Chitika.

iPad mini promo (Smart Cover, launching Safari)

By the way, the anemic numbers of the Surface mirror the tiny 0.13 fraction of tablet traffic reported reported earlier.

Obviously, the Kindle Fire did best against the iPad.

The 4.25 percent share of tablet impressions December 8-14 was a twenty percent increase over the same time last year, when the analytics firm announced a 3.75 percent share of tablet traffic.

Kindle Fire HD (two up, front, portrat, landscape)

The Samsung Galaxy, after all the free publicity from its rancorous court fights with Apple, gained only a fraction of North American tablet traffic. The South Korean firm’s percentage rose to 2.65 percent, up from 2.36 percent a year ago.

Google appears to be the dark horse, little discussed, but registering a fifteen percent increase over 2011. According to Chitika, the Google Nexus family of tablets rose from 0.91 percent of tablet impressions to 1.06 percent in December.

Nexus 10 (front, right-angled, home screen)

All of which brings us back to the iPad and the doom-and-gloom forecasts that Apple’s tablet is rapidly being outpaced by Android alternatives.

At least in North America and in terms of advertising, the iPad plummeted an entire one percent – 87 percent now versus 88 percent in November. No doubt, Apple executives are nervous at the prospect of their closest competitor gaining 0.68 percent in a year.

 

(98)

The top jailbreak tweaks of 2012

Top Jailbreak Tweaks of 2012

A few weeks ago I published a somewhat controversial post about jailbreaking, and how its popularity is waning. This wasn’t intended to be controversial, but it ended up that way, and after some thought I began to backtrack (a bit) on my stance.

The problem stemmed from the fact that I didn’t do a very good job of explaining my stance. I didn’t intend to say that jailbreaking was dead, my main point was just to show how innovation in the jailbreak community was being stifled by sometimes lazy developers, but mostly by Apple’s efforts to stamp out jailbreaking.

While I still stand by my post, I felt that I needlessly ruffled a few feathers, and probably should have kept those thoughts to myself for the time being. When I began to work on this post — the top jailbreak tweaks of the year — it became more apparent that we actually have seen lot of innovation this year. Most of that innovation was earlier in the year, but nevertheless, there have been lots of great jailbreak tweaks to come out in the last 12 months.

Take a look inside as we cover some of this year’s best jailbreak efforts from the development community. I’ll also crown 2012′s top jailbreak tweak of the year.

Here is our complete list of top jailbreak tweaks for 2012 (in no particular order). We understand that perhaps we omitted your favorite jailbreak tweak. That’s not to say that other tweaks aren’t worthy enough to make this list, but a lot of factors were considered here, and to be honest, there were so many tweaks released in 2012, that we may have left off one or two by accident. Still, if you’re new to jailbreaking, or you haven’t kept up with it like you should, this list is a fine start to get your going.

Be sure to click on the name of the tweak for a full article accompanied by a full video walkthrough of each tweak (or app) in action.

  • Blutrol – Use the iCade arcade cabinet with unsupported games
  • Aero – Allows you to switch apps with style
  • AnimateAll – Animate the Lock screen, Home screen, Notification center
  • Ayecon – Simply the best jailbreak theme ever
  • CameraTweak – The most robust camera tweak to ever grace Cydia
  • Dash – Provides you with a full screen app switcher
  • Dashboard X – Finally, adds real working widgets to iOS
  • Deck – Access a plethora of system functions via a handy hotbar
  • Emblem – OS X inspired notifications on iOS
  • FoldMusic – Adds music directly to Home screen folders
  • WeeRoll – Adds over a dozen animations to Notification Center
  • Hands-Free Control – Control Siri with no hands
  • Merge – Combines iMessages by contact
  • Motion – Add crazy animated havoc to Home screen icons
  • Neurotech Siri – One of the best looking themes for Siri
  • NowNow – Use Siri to invoke Google voice search
  • Octopus Keyboard – The BlackBerry 10 inspired keyboard
  • PaperLock – Another cool slide to unlock modification
  • Quasar – Run multiple apps side by side
  • Stride – Unlock your phone using 8-bit drawings
  • SwipeBack – Easily navigate backwards with a swipe
  • SwipeSelection – How text editing on the iPhone should be
  • Unfold – Unlock your iPhone accordion style
  • AssistantLove – Use Siri to play music with Spotify
  • AuxoiDB’s 2012 Tweak of the Year

As you can see, Auxo is our top jailbreak tweak of the year. It was a tweak that started as a mere concept, eventually finding its way to reality by means of a very talented development and design team. A lot of times you’ll find a tweak that a lot of people get excited about, but there’s still a very vocal group of individuals who don’t particularly like the idea or the way it was implemented.

Auxo defied this trend, and is almost universally praised for its excellence. The main complaint about the tweak is that it just isn’t available for all devices and iOS versions as of yet.

Obviously, the lack of an iOS 6/iPhone 5 jailbreak hurts a bit, but there have been a lot of good tweaks and apps to come down the pipeline over the year, especially during the beginning and middle of the year. As I look back on this year, I can say with a certainty, that from a pure development standpoint, 2012 was one of the best years for jailbreaking yet.

Here’s to an even better 2013! And here’s to finally getting a legit iPhone 5 jailbreak in 2013!

(101)

MacPhone and more early Apple designs detailed in new book, ‘Design Forward’

Early Apple designs (image 001)

The Apple v. Samsung trial in August was a real treasure trove of information that gave us a peek behind the curtain and into Apple’s design process. But what about some of Apple’s early product designs that never came to fruition? Industrial designer Hartmut Esslinger and his upcoming new book titled ‘Design Forward’ offers an interesting glimpse into Apple products that never were.

In it, you’ll find ten original photographs depicting designs for various computers Apple was researching at the time, including one for a tablet and another for a phone hybrid called the Macphone. We’ve got images right after the break…

Designboom (via The Verge) offers several excerpts and photos from the book. Hartmut throughout his career worked with the likes of Wega, Louis Vuitton, Sony, SAP and of course Apple and Steve Jobs.

Early Apple designs (image 002) Apple considered the MacPhone in 1984, right before the Macintosh was launched.

Early Apple designs (image 003) The Snow White 2 concept from 1982 would express ‘americana’ and was aimed at “reconnecting high-tech design with classical american design statements”.

Early Apple designs (image 004) The ‘Baby Mac’ concept from 1985 was Hartmut’s “ticket for a voyage toward a mysterious destination”. It would eventually become the winner.

Frog Design, a San Francisco-based design shop, was established way back in 1969. The company started out as ‘Esslinger Design’ when Hartmut Essslinger opened a studio in the Black Forest of Germany along with Andreas Haug and Georg Spreng “to promote the concept of emotional design”.

In 1982, the firm partners with Apple to help create the Apple IIc, which was later inducted into the design collection of the Whitney Museum and got voted Time Magazine’s “Design of the Year”. Frog’s Apple IIc design paved the way for Apple’s Snow White design language.

The official web site offers a quick backgrounder on the Apple partnership:

It was precisely this mix that appealed to top executive Steve Jobs back in 1981, when he began searching for the elusive magic that would give Apple a market edge. Back then, computing was a sea of anonymous beige boxes. Jobs combed the world for a strategy-focused design company – and found it in Esslinger’s team.

A multimillion-dollar deal was struck, enticing Esslinger Design to establish a California office. A few years later, the Apple IIc was launched with great fanfare. The design was named “Design of the Year” by Time Magazine and inducted into the permanent collection at the Whitney Museum of Art. Apple’s revenue soared from $700 million in 1982 to $4 billion in 1986.

With the move to Northern California, they changed the name to Frog Design, an acronym of Federal Republic Of Germany.

I like their work on the Apple IIc, but surely am glad as hell Apple axed the Macphone and canned that tablet design. Of course, Apple never really gave up on tablet computing.

In 1987, the company unveiled the Newton MessagePad pocket computer (Jonathan Ive designed the second-generation MessagePad110, seen below). Even though it had handwriting recognition and was in many ways ahead of its time, that device was short-lived as Jobs axed it right upon his return from exile in 1996.

Newton MessagePad 110 (image 001)

Nearly a decade later, Jobs was toying with a prototype touchscreen surface that he could type on.

He’d later share an anecdote at the WSJ’s D8 conference of how one of the team members showed him the rubber-band scrolling and immediately he thought to himself: “Oh my God, we could make a phone out of this”.

“When we got our wind back and thought we could take on something next, we pulled the tablet off the shelf, took everything we learned from the phone and went to work on the tablet”, he said.

The rest is history.

Designboom has a bunch of images of other strange Apple products that never were so hit the source link for more.

Design Forward is available for pre-order from Amazon and is set to ship January 16, 2013.

 

(161)

Kinect Party Review

I’m not a huge Kinect guy, but I am absolutely a true-believer when it comes to Tim Schafer and Double Fine Productions. By extension, I am a Kinect Party convert, and so are my kids. A sequel to Happy Action Theater, which I reviewed together with my family earlier this year, Kinect Party successfully uses Microsoft’s super-duper techno Wall-E lookalike camera in the most sensible manner imaginable: as a portal into a virtual rumpus room.

Kinect Party features the smart and clean aesthetic and fun sort of sensibilities Double Fine has become known for. It’s cute, adorable, and has tons of visual character. Much like Happy Action Theater, it’s pretty much the easiest game to get into and play once you turn the thing on. There’s really no menu to fuss with; it just starts and, if you let it, Kinect Party just goes.

There are loads of Minecraft references in Kinect Party.

Leave it in Autoplay Mode and it will run through all 36 of its “channels”, so named as each event or stage is presented as a self-contained program of sorts. These events, stages, channels, toys, whatever you want to call them, are split between new and old; 18 of these are brand new, the other 18 come directly from the aforementioned Happy Action Theater.

You can quit out to a hub and pick specific events to play, or view and share photos. Getting to the hub is the only semi-fusty element in the game, as sometimes it’s hard to get Kinect to read your hand motion to quit. Otherwise, everything works smooth and easy as can be.

Each of Kinect Party’s channels is a little different from the next. In one, you’re running through a Minecraft-inspired canyon avoiding obstacles, in another you’re popping balloons, in still another shooting toilets in a Tempest-like neon grid, and in still another you’re a dubstep DJ – which, you know, we’ll give them a pass on this one time.

These channels aren’t “games” in the traditional sense of the word. You don’t really keep score, you can’t fail, and you’re not judged or tested. Instead, you simply play, the stage changes, and you play some more.

Though there’s plenty of variety, all of the games are tied together by a common through line of simple action fun. These basic acts – popping a balloon, dancing, posing, moving to avoid things – all teach players the rules with intuitive “learn as you go” prompts and direction, which you pick up in the first few seconds of playing. No tutorials, no interruptions, no prompts, no wasted time. Just play.

It’s because each event is so bite-sized, it can feel like you’re the leading star in a never-ending, constantly shifting stage production of the world’s craziest happenings, and just as you’ve got the hang of what you’re doing, everything changes. It sets up a curious rhythm of introduction, learning, mild mastery, and then switches, with each stage compelling you to move with it, laugh with it, and obey it.

Watching my kids play, or rather, watching it play my kids, it really becomes apparent that the Kinect can serve as the ultimate Simon Says simulator when paired with the appropriate software. Their collective reaction to the game is similar to Happy Action Theater.

 

Let the kid mosh pit begin!

Madison, my ten-year-old daughter, played it the most, flinging herself with abandon into the scenes, voguing and competing in the non-game games.

“I like how it just goes from thing to thing,” she volunteered, catching her breath.

“If you had to score it, 1 to 10, what would you give it?”

“12!”

Alrighty then.

The new added ‘channels’ are smart, fun, and kids LOVE THEM.

My eight year-old son Ryan was no less effusive when asked, “What’s your favorite part of the game?”

“Everything!”

Mkay. Totally objective.

I asked my three-year-old cute girl, Harlow Grace, what she thought of it, because, you know, three-year-olds know their game criticism.

“Do you like playing this game, Harlow?”

“1, 2, 3, 4, 5,” she chirped while doing jumping jacks before freezing for the camera. I’ll take that as a yes.

Kinect Party plays you as much as you play it.

The game actually supports pet play, meaning if you have a dog, he or she can jump right in and be transformed into a bearded robot or happy monster. I was unable to talk to a dog for this review by the time of publish. I’ll update if that changes.

That said, my chief criticism is the same that I hold for Happy Action Theater: like any toy that only does one thing – however well it does it – it can get old, and fast. Once my kids had played for a few hours, they got it, and would probably be fine not playing it again. When friends come over, it’s a great party game because no one has to learn any controls and there’s no setup, but, even then, once you play through all the channels, the shine wears off a bit. This would be much more objectionable if the game was pricey, but it’s not. In fact, for the first two weeks of its availability, from now until December 31, 2012, it’s free. Afterwards, it will cost $10 to unlock everything, or $5 to unlock everything for owners of Double Fine Happy Action Theater, or you can buy individual stages for $1. This is to say that it’s a cheap date, and compared to a trip to Chuck E. Cheese or some other pricey attraction, Kinect Party is an easy buy.

All of this is very, very fun. When done right, it’s amazing how happily you’ll want to just go right along, never questioning or caring why in one moment you’re playing dress up and the next you’re a winged dragon terrorizing a castle that needs stomping. This means it’s fun regardless of age. College students, friends, DINKs, parents, kids, everyone will smile – the game sort of dares you not to.

It is within these circumstances that Kinect Party can become magical, for anyone – young or old – but you have to let your guard down to really appreciate it. Scoffers will stay bored. But let Kinect Party run you through its paces, let it play you, and you’ll realize something much more special is at work behind the gesture-tracking tech and all the silly ones and zeros Double Fine has assembled here.

THE VERDICT

Other than Dance Central and The Gunstringer, there simply isn’t any other Kinect game that screams “must play”, but scream, bounce, roll and somersault Kinect Party does. And you will too.

Kinect Party is a great game that’s really fun to play. It doesn’t require much more than your attention and the permission to let your guard down. Once you buy in and let the grins come, you’ll be surprised at the trade off that occurs, you playing Kinect Party, and it playing you.

(260)

Pudding Monsters Review

Pudding Monsters is the first fresh title from Zeptolab since its smash-hit Cut the Rope took the App Store by storm in October 2010. That game received significant praise from IGN and other outlets for its collection of clever puzzles and very high level of polish. Pudding Monsters is jam-packed with Zeptolab’s trademark shine, but the puzzles themselves don’t quite stack up to the standard set by the company’s modern rope-cutting classic.

Pudding Monsters is essentially a collection of 75 block-sliding puzzles. Each stage opens with a handful of pre-placed little monsters. Swiping a monster up, down left or right sends it flying in that direction – it’ll keep going until it hits another pudding monster or another object on the stage. The goal of each level is to swipe your collection of pudding monsters until they’ve all glommed together, forming one big super-monster.

Like any puzzler worth its salt, it’s a simple and instantly understood premise that evolves over time. Players will need to swipe their pudding monsters in the proper order and in the proper direction to avoid one from flying off the stage forcing a restart. Zeptolab regularly introduces new gadgets like teleporters and spring-loaded bumpers to keep things fresh. New monster types also add fresh wrinkles. Green monsters leave a sticky trail of slime that will catch and stop other sliding monsters. Psychic monsters move as a group – swipe one and all the rest move too, regardless of where they are on the stage. All these new mechanics do keep things spicy, but they come and go very quickly before it feels like they have been fully explored.

There’s nothing explicitly wrong with Pudding Monsters’ puzzles but there’s nothing especially delightful about them either. Each stage is solved by swiping a handful of monsters in the proper direction and in the proper order, so trial and error can be used to reduce the difficulty of even the trickiest stages. I blew through all 75 stages in around 90 minutes, solving each via the most challenging three-star method. There are a few moment of lightbulb-goes-on puzzle-solving bliss but most of the puzzles are too simple.

Pudding Monsters does do something quite clever and laudable with its three-star system, however. Each stage has three star-tiles on the floor. To earn three stars, a player’s final, fully-joined pudding monster must rest on all three. This leads to the game’s most satisfying moments, as I often found myself knowing how to get my monster on one side of the screen, but unsure how to end the stage with him on the other side, where the star tiles would inevitably be. The twist is that Pudding Monsters also tracks whether you complete a stage with zero, one or two stars. Completing a stage in every way possible nets you a gold crown, meaning each puzzle stage is actually a collection of multiple puzzles. Although it is a smart way to stretch the content, once you’ve found the three-star solution finding the one-star or two-star solutions usually isn far behind.

THE VERDICT

Pudding Monsters doesn’t quite stack up to the great App Store puzzlers like Cut the Rope or Where’s My Water, but it’s still a pleasant and diverting puzzler with plenty of charm and polish. Gamers with a few minutes to kill will appreciate the bite-sized nature of the stages and the frequent introduction of new gameplay twists. Hopefully Zeptolab is cooking up a set of ultra-tough stages to challenge the community of mobile gaming puzzle veterans it helped create with its previous hit.

(121)

The Impossible Review

The Impossible, helmed by The Orphanage director J.A. Bayona, tells the mostly true story of one family’s traumatic experience during the devastating 2004 tsunami that devoured the western coast of Thailand.

The premise is deceptively simple. At the start of the film, we’re introduced to a vacationing family — father Henry (Ewan McGregor), mother Maria (Naomi Watts) and sons Lucas (Tom Holland), Simon (Oaklee Pendergast) and Thomas (Samuel Joslin) — who arrive in Thailand for a tropical Christmas getaway. However, on the morning of December 26th, they are swept away into a mammoth tidal wave that sends them into the heart of disaster. Now separated, Henry, Maria and their boys must find their way to safety along with the tens of thousands of others caught in the middle of this deadly tragedy.

First and foremost, what really draws you in to The Impossibleis its dynamic sense of scope. While the tsunami is mostly just a backdrop for the narrative, Bayona commands a breathtaking spectacle that really feels authentic. The initial ten-minute sequence depicting the first enormous waves engulfing the coast took over one year to create, with 35,000 gallons of water brought in daily for the one-month shoot, but the results are stunning. If nothing else, the visual effects accomplished here — especially in the first 45 minutes — are nothing short of mind-boggling.

Of course, the heart and soul of this film are its characters. Although their screen time together is minimal, McGregor and Watts each deliver outstanding, moving performances. Frantically weaving through various states of genuine fear and feigned bravery for their kids, Henry and Maria are characters we can easily identify with. Watts is viewed as a potential Oscar nominee for this role, and while it is deserving, McGregor’s performance is equally powerful.

However, the surprise gem in this cast is the young Holland, who is making his impressive feature debut as Lucas. Shouldering responsibilities beyond his age and naturally developing courage throughout the film, it’s Lucas that really exemplifies the candid horror of this grievous situation, and Holland interprets that beautifully on screen.

As it happens, the only real downfall of The Impossible is its relentless sentimentality. Indeed, the harrowing journey of these characters is gripping and heart-rending, but the film occasionally teeters into the realm of emotional manipulation. Coincidence and schmaltz begin to take the reigns around the midpoint, rendering some of the film’s gravitas heavy-handed. Having said that, it’s hard to blame the film too much on this front, as it has to work within the confines of its near two-hour runtime.

THE VERDICT

At times, The Impossible can feel emotionally draining and even exceedingly romantic, but the film more than makes up for it in mesmerizing imagery and ambitious performances.

(102)