Rayman 2 ($7): I'm not that old, but holy crap. Not even ten years ago, this game was among the shiniest and prettiest games on the "high-end" Sega Dreamcast system (and I praised it when I was a games critic for the Dallas Morning News... look that headshot up for a laugh). Now, you can play the entire game—a romp through colorful, 3D worlds a la Mario—on your iPhone. I think this means the hover skateboard will release next year.
Rayman 2 runs like a beaut, even on a first-gen iPhone, and the touch-screen control fares far better than I expected (I normally can't stand touch-screen joysticks). Plus, there's really no other 3D platformer on the iPhone that's comparable. Just don't expect a quick diversion that's easily interrupted by phone calls and texts; the game's huge worlds and off-kilter charm (characters mumble in pseudo-French throughout) still hold up these many years later, but the time investment is better suited for an iPod Touch.
Tea Party Finder (free): When this app asked to "use my current location," I hesitated. What would happen if I complied? Would a neo-con nitwit from Everett drive to my house to deliver a gift basket? Would Keli Carender send a friend request? Would my father immediately call to congratulate me for "finally getting it"?
None of the above. The app inserted my zip code into a glorified teapartypatriots.org search engine, which then brought up a list of groups and events under the heading "nearby." But that's misleading. The app has no filters for distance, no Google Maps integration, and no competent calendar system. I kinda hoped it would use my GPS location to cough up an underground Tea Party bunker in my neighborhood (Crown Hill), but all I got was a hard-to-read list of angry people in Kitsap. Like I needed an app to figure that out.
The app is broken. Sick, even. I imagine those Tea Party folks will pull up their bootstraps and cure it themselves...
Whrrl (free): On a tip from TechFlash, I nabbed this locally produced app, which has been billed as a moving history map. The concept: load Whrrl wherever you are, then read some stories about that place. Interesting idea, especially since Whrrl has touted a partnership with Experience Music Project to fit local music stories into the database.
To test, I looked up one of Whrrl's recommendations, Linda's Tavern, then waited for the history to wash over me. What I got instead was a take on FourSquare, the popular app used to "check in" at bars/clubs/stores and (sometimes) get location-based coupons for doing so. Just like FourSquare, this app told me which other Whrrl users had logged in, along with their comments. Whrrl also features "footstreams," a mix of user-created text and photos that attach to any location. When I finally made sense of that feature, I found a brief story, posted by EMP, about Kurt Cobain at Linda's. Supposedly, it was the last place he was seen before his death. Huh.
Another similarity to FourSquare: Instead of badges, Whrrl awards memberships to groups based on the places you go. Searches for Linda's and The Crocodile were enough to land me in the "grunge" group, for example, but that merely listed the other people who'd been given the same tag. Ultimately, a service like this is as good as its user base, which is currently nil, and with little to differentiate it from FourSquare (whose new edition is set to launch this week), I don't feel compelled to load yet another privacy-invasive app in exchange for coupons and Jimi Hendrix trivia.