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Tom Standage

A Game, a Gadget and an App

A spooky delight, an end to charger spaghetti and a playful app-album

Tom Standage | November/December 2013

A GAME Limbo

Whatever your position in the rather tedious debate about whether a video game can be a work of art, "Limbo" certainly looks like one. A charcoal drawing brought to life amid shadows, fog and ominous music, it manages to be simple, fiendishly clever and hauntingly atmospheric all at once. Your task is to guide a small boy through a gloomy forest netherworld filled with traps, monsters and, worst of all, murderous children.

Originally an indie game for the Xbox, "Limbo" has since landed on the PlayStation 3, PC and Mac, and this summer it finally reached the iPhone and iPad, cementing its status as a modern classic. The touch-based controls work brilliantly as you drag and swipe to leap over gaps, swing on ropes, avoid spikes and drag items around. Beautifully paced puzzles are neither too easy nor too frustrating (and when you're really stumped, you can always look on YouTube). If you haven't played a video game since "Manic Miner", this award-winning game is its darker, more grown-up offspring.
Limbo for Xbox 360, PS3, PC, Mac, PlayStation Vita and iOS: £2.99-£9.99

A GADGET Griffin Powerdock 5

Whether it's in the kitchen or by the bed, we all have a corner where our chargers congregate. My solution was to stuff a four-way mains strip in a shoebox and cut holes for the wires, thus hiding most of the spaghetti. A more elegant option now arrives from Griffin. It has five sleek slots for charging Apple and Android devices quickly and neatly stacked up like plates in a dishwasher. But the shoebox is a lot cheaper...
Griffin Powerdock 5 about £75

AN APP Biophilia by Björk

An Icelandic pop pixie is not the first person you would turn to for science education software, but Björk's "Biophilia" aims to bring together nature, music and technology to entertain and inform. The app first appeared on iTunes in 2011 alongside her album of the same name, and now it's on Android too. The songs were partly created on tablet computers, and the app turns each track into a musical toy with a vaguely scientific theme (dark matter, crystals, phases of the Moon). The best are "Crystalline", which comes with an old-school vector-graphics game, and "Virus", with its gentle theme played on a hang (a kind of steel drum). The science is not always rigorous (crystals don't really grow like planets, despite lyrics suggesting otherwise). But, like its creator, "Biophilia" is creative, playful and delightful even when it's batty. With Lady Gaga about to follow suit, it will be interesting to see where this app-album thing leads.
Biophilia iTunes £8.99, Android £8.49

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