Pinworthy: This week’s Marketplace highlights

Welcome back, appoholics. Once again, I’ve spent the week combing Marketplace for the most fun, useful, interesting, or eccentric new entries in the store. (Hey, someone has to be the annoying guy firing off Sad Trombone in his office all day long.) The fun part: you never know what you’re going to find each week. Which reminds me. If you missed it, don’t forget to check out last’s week kick-off column.

One trend I’m already seeing is a steady flow of promising games pouring into Marketplace. My shortlist of favorites this week included Bubble Birds, Sketch Defense, Gorillas, and Sky Diver Classic, a nostalgic throwback to the 8-bit era.

Are they all Fruit Ninja or ilomilo rivals? Heck no. But many are still good enough to hold your interest (or your kid’s) for a couple days or longer. And remember: If there’s something that bugs you about an app—or you have a brilliant idea for making it better—say so in a review! Most app authors are dying to see their creations climb the top downloaded charts and eager to tweak their code. 

So here’s my list this week. What about you? What’s new on your phone?

Happy hunting!

 

Skeleton Key

Skeleton Key

I phoned my bank the other day and the first thing they asked for was my call-in pin—a sequence I’d picked long ago and haven’t thought about since. “Ummmm,” I said. After a long silence, I stammered, started begging for hints, and made enough off-the-reservation guesses that I swear I started hearing suspicious clicks on the line (“We’ve got him now, boys!”).

Sound familiar? One modern solution to this daily memory test is to store your passwords securely on your phone. Of all the password managers that flooded into Marketplace the last week (and there were many) Skeleton Key is my current favorite. You still have to create and remember a master password, of course. But the app serves as a pocket vault for the rest of your secrets.

Download from Zune Marketplace.

Released: Jan. 18.  Price: $1.99 + free trial.

 

Droplets Free

Droplets Free

Droplets is a visually lush puzzle game that consists of a bunch of water beads arranged on a board. The goal is to fling them at each other until there’s just one left. The rules are simple. You can’t fling droplets off the board. You also can’t fling one at its immediate neighbor. So the trick is determining the correct order to eliminate the drops—and finishing your flicking before the clock runs out.

The puzzles start out pretty easy—maybe a little too easy for some folks. But the difficult quickly ramps up. I loved the roaming ladybug and jiggly droplets, although some reviewers felt the game’s animations could use a little smoothing. My only complaint is that the sound effects didn’t quite match the rich visuals. (Also, oddly, the game also shows up in the App list, not the Games hub.) But none of that detracts from the fun.

Download from Zune Marketplace

Released: Jan. 15. Price: free.

 

Marketplace Search!

Marketplace Search!

Apps for finding apps are a cottage industry in the smartphone world. As Marketplace continues to balloon, it’s no surprise that clever programmers are coming up with creative options for finding great Windows Phone apps and games, too.

Enter Marketplace Search! As its name suggests, this app’s specialty is really search. When you open the app, all you see is a search box. There are no “top” lists, categories, or other options for random browsing. Still what Marketplace Search! does, it does well. Search results are grouped by category—apps, artists, albums, etc.—which you browse by flicking left or right.  Another plus: You see results for podcasts, too. And if you pick up Melting Bot Software’s companion Podcasts! app, you can stream or download them straight to your phone.

Download from Zune Marketplace

Released: Jan. 14. Price: free.

 

Bye Bye Brain Lite

Bye Bye Brain Lite

“Zombies are fun!” That’s the premise behind this light-hearted take on both the tower defense and zombie genres from Plain Concepts Game Studios. After trying the game myself, I’d have to agree.

Your job here is to defend your fort from the zombie hordes. As with other tower defense games, you do this by positioning weapons and other defenses around your fort’s perimeter. The catch, of course, is that only the weakest weapons are available to you initially. Upgrading your arsenal is possible only after racking up enemy kills, which earn you the cash needed to pay for more potent firepower.

Rather than lasers and guns, in Bye Bye Brains you command a group of quirky, weapon-wielding horde survivors. There’s The Spanker, a kid with a cricket bat, The Nerd, The Cleaner, The Fuzz (a cop, natch), and my favorite, The Colonel, a dude in a KFC uniform brandishing a big-boned chicken leg.  Bring it, baby.

Download from Zune Marketplace

Date: 1.14. Price: free.

 

Speedier Dial

Speedier Dial

Looking for a simple way to clean up your Start screen? This no-frills app provides a home for your eight most frequently-called numbers, and serves as an alternative to pinning individual contacts to Start.

Pin this app instead and your favorite contacts are still just two taps away—only now you have fewer Start tiles to flick past. Programming the speed-dial slots is simple: Just tap an empty one to see a list of your contacts. Tap a name, then a number.

Download from Zune Marketplace

Released: 1.15. Price: free