Change your screen and battle on Europa: iPhone apps of the week

This week's apps include a unique background image collection app, and a combination first-person shooter and role-playing game that's set on Europa, the ice-covered moon of Jupiter.


Maggie Reardon wrote a post today on her Signal Strength blog about AT&T beginning to crack down on customers using the iPhone's tethering capabilities without paying for the service. Apparently the company has begun sending out e-mails and text messages to the offending customers inviting them to sign up with its tethering plan--$45/month for what it calls a "DataPro" 4GB service.

I haven't used this feature at all yet on my iPhone and I probably never will at $45 a month. But this story also brings up the old "Unlimited Data" plan argument. I think I was grandfathered in with an Unlimited Data plan (which frustratingly doesn't include texts for no reason I can understand accept that AT&T is nickel-and-diming us to death), but as you can see, my "unlimited" plan has very clear limits when it comes to tethering (and texting!). I don't know about you, but last I checked, unlimited meant without limits. Also, if the connection is going through my iPhone to my laptop, how is that any different than simply using the same connection on my iPhone without a laptop? It's the same connection, right? If not, is it really a $45-per-month difference? Somehow I doubt it.

Anyway, I just thought I would (vent) put it out there and see what readers think about the new tethering features, the pricing, and the highly limited "unlimited data" plans. Let me know what you think in the comments.

This week's apps include a unique background image collection app, and a combination first-person shooter and role-playing game that's set on Europa, the ice-covered moon of Jupiter.

Pimp Your Screen
Pick from several cool-looking designs that give your iPhone a different feel. (Credit: Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Pimp Your Screen (99 cents) is certainly not the only wallpaper and background app in the iTunes App Store, but it makes it really easy to add some sweet-looking backgrounds to your iPhone. Featuring high-resolution Retina Display- and iPad-ready backgrounds, Pimp Your Screen offers categories and unique styles not found in other apps of this type. Choose from categories like App Shelves (to make it look the apps are sitting on shelves), Neon Combos (for really colorful neon backgrounds), and Icon Skins (which give your app icons different visual qualities).

Certainly, you can find plenty of nice-looking backgrounds on the Web, but I like this collection of images, and the software's in-app help dialogs make it a snap to switch looks quickly. It also offers little extras like the ability to see a preview of app icons overlaying a background beforehand, for example, and the ability to look at current most popular wallpapers, recent additions, and more.

Overall, there are a ton of wallpaper apps available for the iPhone and iPad, but this collection was made to fit naturally with the app icons on your home screen and offers beautiful high-res images you can switch easily.

Mission: Europa
Assign skills to the buttons on the sides of the screen for easy access. (Credit: Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Mission: Europa Standard Edition ($3.99) is a cross between the RPG and FPS genres, and, if you can get past the somewhat simple-looking graphics, is a very deep, content-rich game. The game starts out with a common storyline found in many games these days: you're on a routine mission, the main base loses contact with a mining facility on the surface, and now you need to investigate (think Doom 3 or Dead Space or movies from the "Alien" franchise).

Despite the somewhat predictable plot, Mission Europa offers up vast worlds with hundreds of missions, tons of items to find and use, crafting, and all the other things that make RPG games great. At the same time, your control system follows the common first-person shooter setup like other games in the genre: swipe on screen to look around, move with a left joypad, and shoot by touching a button on the right.

Mission: Europa adds much more to this setup (and perhaps too much) with a button to attack with your off-hand along with several hot-bar-like buttons you can use to activate skills you acquire as you play. You'll also spend a lot of time navigating through several menus like your inventory, available skills, quest lists, game maps, crafting screens, and more. The menus are not particularly intuitive, but after some practice I was able to navigate the various menus fairly quickly--just keep in mind that it might be a bit frustrating at first.

The first few missions are common to most RPG games: "Kill 10 of X monsters" or "Gather 10 of X items" type of quests. But as you play, and become more immersed in the game, you'll begin to realize that the complexity of the menus is needed--there is a lot of content here and much to do in the Mission: Europa world.

Mission Europa comes in two versions. The Standard version is $3.99 and lets you sample the first 10 character levels and the first chapter of the story. For $9.99 you can get the Collector's Edition version with all the missions unlocked, no level cap, and some extra items. I think $3.99 is a bit steep for (what I might call) a lengthy demo, but I found a way you can save a little money. As long as you don't mind not having the free extra items, you can unlock all character levels and missions via in-app purchase for $2.99. This means to get the full game you can just pay $6.98 (Standard version plus level pack) instead of $9.99 for the Collector's Edition.

Overall, on my iPhone 4 the graphics were crisp and smooth, but they are not as complex or polished as games like Nova 2 or the Modern Combat games. Still, with so much to discover, weapons to create, and strange worlds to explore, Mission: Europa is perfect for the adventure-seeking gamer looking for a deep gaming experience and who doesn't mind fiddling around with menus to make things work.

What's your favorite iPhone app? Is Pimp Your Screen worth 99 cents or would you rather get your backgrounds on your own? What do you think of Mission Europa? Why do I pay for texting? 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.