Five to Try: Minecraft: Story Mode begins, and Perch turns old phones into smart cameras

Here's a handful of hot new Android apps and games worth checking out this week.

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If it’s new Android apps and games that you need, then we’re happy to steer you in the right direction with Five to Try this week. In fact, it was a pretty heavy week for new game releases, led by the first part of Minecraft: Story Mode, the episodic spinoff from the creation game smash. NBA 2K16 also brings updated hoops action this week, while Cloud Chasers is a compelling role-player about a migrating family.

Meanwhile, the two apps highlighted this week can both be very useful. Perch lets you quickly turn an Android device into a smart home camera, meaning your old phone can serve a new purpose. And if air pollution is a sore subject, Plume Air Report can help you prepare for the conditions outside, now and into the future.

Minecraft: Story Mode

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Small choices help shift the storyline and define relationships, which may prove crucial in later episodes.

The enormously popular creation game faces a LEGO Movie-like challenge with Minecraft: Story Mode ($5), attempting to generate compelling fiction from little more than virtual building blocks. Luckily, Mojang picked perhaps the best possible partner around: Telltale Games, which has built gripping, episodic stories around The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, and other licensed fare. 

And if the first episode is any indication, Story Mode—which is a standalone experience from Minecraft: Pocket Edition—is off to a good start. You’ll play a young boy or girl named Jesse who aspires to be a hero; sure enough, the opportunity comes quickly. Like other Telltale titles, the game is primarily driven by dialogue choices that shape the storyline ahead, although there are occasional button-tapping and swiping sequences and major either/or decisions to make.

Early on, the witty banter is amusing, and the Minecraft aura is put to entertaining use. Here’s hoping it continues to build across later episodes: four more are coming at $5 apiece, or you can grab the whole rest of the season for $15.

Perch

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Want to keep an eye on the kids, pets, or intruders? Perch gets your old phone camera up and running in minutes.

Next time you upgrade your phone or tablet, resist the urge to trade in or sell your old device. Why? Because it can be the key component in your DIY home monitoring system—thanks to Perch. Rather than require fresh hardware, Perch simply puts your Android phone or tablet camera to work as a Wi-Fi connected camera accessible from a Chrome browser.

It’s remarkably easy to use and surprisingly robust. I had my phone camera up and running within a couple minutes, and then was able to not only view the feed from my computer, but also set up smart zones in the frame. Anytime there’s movement detected in that area, I get a notification and can view what happened in my timeline. Perch also plans to implement two-way video chat between devices, and lets you link into Samsung’s SmartThings framework for connected home implementation.

NBA 2K16

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NBA 2K16 looks pretty decent in action, but it remains rough around the edges.

2K Sports’ basketball franchise is an annual stunner on consoles and PC, but the mobile versions have been inconsistent. NBA 2K16 delivers a more solid core hoops experience than last year’s Android game, although it’s still a bit buggy: within a minute of starting a game, I saw one player give a nice pre-tipoff hug to thin air. It’s also awkwardly presented, with no commentary and weird instances where all the audio disappears. For $8, you expect a bit more polish than this.

All that said, the simulation itself is pretty good, with a few virtual buttons offering enough commands to dominate on both ends of the court, and the player models and stadiums get a nice upgrade here. Beyond quick games, you can jump into a full season with any NBA team, as well as take on the MyCareer mode, which lets you create a rising star and control only his on-court actions.

Plume Air Report

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Bringing the baby to Chicago’s Bean? “Take it easy” out there, says Plume.

Air quality affects some people much more than others, which means a pollution-filled day can make getting around and spending time outside very challenging. Plume can’t change the conditions, of course, but it can quickly prepare you for the breathing quality of the air outside—both now and in the hours ahead. 

Simply look up a city and Plume provides stats on the conditions outside. More pressingly, it delivers at-a-glance recommendations on whether it’s a good day for physical activity, biking, eating outside, or bringing a baby out—and you can customize those based on your own sensitivity to air pollution. And for some major cities, you can move the cursor ahead in time to see what the air will be like later in the day or tomorrow, letting you plan activities accordingly.

Cloud Chasers

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Cloud Chasers has five deserts to explore, and all the player choice provides incentive to play through multiple times.

The two other games this week come from huge franchises, but if you’re looking for something fresh and original, this might do the trick. Cloud Chasers ($4) is a role-playing adventure designed around the theme of migration, as you control a young girl and her father across deserts filled with uncertainty. You’ll explore the lands, manage and expand your inventory, interact with strangers, and collect water from the skies by flying around in a glider.

It has something of an Oregon Trail feel to it in parts, and the ability to make choices that direct impact your quest recalls The Banner Saga and Telltale’s adventures. Along with its unique blend of gameplay elements, Cloud Chasers has a lot of heart and a great, steampunk-esque look about it.

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