NPR's news app and a game where you play as a spider: iPhone apps of the week

This week's apps include a new public radio app and a unique game in which you explore a creepy bug-infested mansion as a spider.


In my business, I deal with all kinds of software from different categories and platforms every day. There's a lot of great software out there for every platform (and certainly some bad ones, too), but once in a while you find something so unique it truly shines. I wouldn't say the app I'm talking about today is the best game I've ever played, but the design, music, and interface are not really found in any other game and are truly something to behold on the iPhone. Let's just say, I've played plenty of iPhone games, but this one is in a class by itself.

This week's apps include a new public radio app and a unique game in which you explore a creepy bug-infested mansion as a spider.

NPR News
Browse through Programs to find your favorite NPR shows (Credit: Sceenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

NPR News (Free) is the official NPR app featuring national NPR radio listings, streaming radio, and full news stories to read. The interface includes buttons across the bottom you can select to read news stories; listen to popular programs either by streaming them live or streaming the most recent; and a stations section where you can listen to NPR streaming live from any state. You also get a playlist section where you can select and queue up several streamed stories to play continuously.

Aside from listening to the many entertaining news stories and programs, what makes the NPR News app especially cool is that you can listen and read stories simultaneously, adding an extra element to the broadcast (like looking at images as you listen). The ability to set up playlists is also useful, perfect for long exercise sessions or--if you have a car adapter--long car trips. Simply go to the Programs section, select a program you like and you'll have the option to add it to your playlist. But even with all the listening options in this app, you can still read the latest news stories in a scrollable feed. If you're an NPR fan, this free app has just about everything you need to listen to exactly what you want whenever you want it.

Spider: Secret of Bryce Manor
Use your surroundings to build giant webs to catch more insects (Credit: Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)
Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor ($2.99) challenges you to play as a spider, spinning webs, catching bugs, and slowly solving a mystery as you travel from room to room. The interface is fantastic, letting you swipe your screen to jump, a single tap to anchor your web silk, and simply pressing in the direction you want to crawl. Different types of bugs fly around, each with their own challenges as you spin webs (mosquitoes run from you and hornets need to be tackled midair, for example). Each of the bugs have different point values and each room is timed, with a dialog box at the end of each level showing your best time, stats, and score. But as you live you the life of a spider, you'll also stumble upon secret locations with clues to the mystery of the Bryce family.

Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor quickly becomes mesmerizing as you try to figure out the best way to make polygonal webs within your environment. The combination of the hand-drawn rooms, the movement and ability to create webs anywhere, and the mysterious music that accompanies your quest, make this not just an app, but an almost artistic experience. There are four game modes to play through including the main adventure, a Feeding Frenzy to eat as many bugs as possible; Hunger mode, which forces you to eat quickly to stay alive; and a precision mode giving you shorter threads to make webs as you complete the game. Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor is truly a unique game on the iPhone, and I think it will appeal to just about anyone (even the ones who hate spiders).

What's your favorite iPhone app? Did NPR do a good job with their first foray into iPhone apps? What do you think of Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor? Let me know in the comments!

About Jason Parker

Jason Parker has been at CNET for more than 13 years. He is the Senior Editor in charge iOS software and has become an expert reviewer of the software that runs on each new Apple device. He now spends most of his time covering Apple iOS releases and third-party apps.