Five to Try is our weekly look at the top new and updated Android apps and games around, and even our non-game apps have gaming ties this week. Microsoft’s Cortana, the virtual assistant, gets her name and voice from the Halo series, while YouTube Gaming is a dedicated hub for video game live streams and clips. The newly-free Link Bubble is the exception to that theme, although you can certainly browse game-related websites with the handy app.
This week’s top games are strong contenders themselves, with Lara Croft GO putting a methodical, puzzle-solving spin on the Tomb Raider franchise, while Framed is a noir caper that revolves around shifting comic panels around the screen. All five of these apps are worth a look this weekend, so grab your phone or tablet and give them a shot.
Microsoft’s continued multiplatform march nets a big new port this week, as its virtual assistant Cortana makes her way over from Windows. It’s still in beta, but anyone can sign up and then grab the app. However, the pre-release status shows: it ran sluggishly on the Galaxy Note 5 that I’m using.
Still, Cortana may be worth a serious look for anyone who uses the assistant on a Windows 10 PC, since it uses your Microsoft account to sync data between platforms. You can carry over reminders, plus Cortana will learn your name and interests in an effort to better serve you and your spoken requests. And even though it’s in beta, you can replace Google Now with Cortana for when you hold down the home button, although we’re not convinced yet that Microsoft has topped Now in overall Android usefulness.
Tomb Raider continues to thrive on consoles and PC, but on phones and tablets, Square Enix has started exploring other adventures starring its iconic heroine. Lara Croft: Relic Run put a fine spin on Temple Run early this summer, but despite its slower pace, this week’s Lara Croft GO ($5) actually does a better job of capturing the spirit of the main series in a very different kind of game.
Like the great Hitman GO before it, Lara Croft GO turns the series’ action-adventure core into a board game-flavored puzzler, wherein you’ll move along set paths filled with enemies, switches, and surprises. Sorting out a path to the exit is the goal, which becomes trickier and more complex as the game continues. It’s gorgeous, too, with beautiful animation work and a visual style not unlike that of Monument Valley. As with Hitman GO, it’s surprising that the premise works so well, but I’m glad it does.
Believe it or not, people love watching video games streamed live over the Internet. Twitch popularized the idea to huge extent, and now YouTube is trying to use its brand and resources to butt into the space with YouTube Gaming on the web and mobile devices. And the company seems to be onto something here.
The Android app is fast and easy to use, quickly pointing you towards the most popular streams (of games like Heroes of the Storm and the Call of Duty: Black Ops III beta test), while the persistent game pages make it easy to find the streams you’re looking for. The live footage has been consistently crisp and fluid in my use so far, and there’s already plenty happening on YouTube Gaming—both in the live feeds and the ever-building mass of saved videos.
Here’s an exceedingly cool indie game that turns the format of comic books into a gameplay mechanic. Framed is a noir adventure that spotlights a shadowy figure being chased by police—and your task is to keep him safe and ever moving by rearranging the panels that appear on the screen.
It’s a perfect fit for touch devices, as you can simply drag and drop the panels into place and then watch the animated events unfold. Framed relies on trial and error to guide you to the correct lineup of panels; you’ll surely see the hero (and later, heroine) perish more than a few times before the quest is complete, but you’ll also pick up context clues along the way. It’s brief and not hugely challenging, but Framed is definitely one of the most inventive games available on phones and tablets today.
Link Bubble may well change the way you browse links on your phone—and we’re so enamored by the app that we named it one of the best released in 2014. Why is it included in this week’s Five to Try, then? Because as of this week’s latest update, all of the premium features are free for everyone, making it all the more essential.
Any time you click a link in any app, Link Bubble will begin loading the page in the background, with a small circle hovering within view. When the page loads, simply tap the circle to begin browsing. Never again need you stare at an empty white page for several seconds; in fact, Link Bubble tallies up all the time you save simply to show you how useful it is. Many features were previously locked behind an in-app purchase, but under a new owner, the entire app is now totally free. Grab it.