Xbox Live

Last week’s Xbox Live Deal of the Week, Bubble Town 2, may not have been very exciting but it was a pretty fun game. Still, this week’s Deal of the Week is clearly something special. Max and the Magic Marker is going on sale for $2.99, down from the regular price of $4.99. Keep in mind Max used to cost $6.99, so this is quite a savings.

Max and the Magic Marker is a puzzle-platformer in which the player draws objects directly into the game world via the touch screen. It features a bright, child-like art style and a soundtrack from eclectic Danish artists Analogik. Our review found it to be extremely creative. To learn more about Max, check out our interview with developer Press Play.

Max and the Magic Marker will be on sale for one week starting on Wednesday, July 13. If you’re a fan of platformers or puzzle games, don’t miss the chance to get it for only $2.99. You’ll find Max here (Zune link) on the Marketplace.

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Imangi Studios, makers of Harbor Master, just released another patch for its fine line-drawing game. WPCentral has bravely fought off a nasty batch of pirates in order to deliver the patch’s contents.

Harbor Master version 1.2 change log:

  • Fixed the Xbox Live leaderboards to show all time high scores instead of weekly high scores
  • …and that’s it.

Not a huge change, but it’s certainly nice to have the leaderboards working right!

In Harbor Master, players direct ships to port by drawing lines on the touch screen. After a ship has unloaded its cargo, it must also be steered safely away. Seven levels with hazards like cyclones and sea monsters, plus some fairly tough Achievements, will keep players busy for a long time. For more details, check our preview here. Our full review will arrive to port any day now.

Harbor Master costs $2.99 and has a free trial. Pick it up here (Zune link) on the Marketplace.

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It’s no secret that Microsoft is consolidating several of its brands into the uber-successful Xbox brand. Just last week we reported that the Games for Windows website is moving to Xbox.com. In the last few days, Microsoft phased out Zune original sales on their site. And of course, it’s long been rumored that the Zune brand will split up into several tiny robot lion brands.

That rumor gains more credence thanks to some recently-released screenshots of the upcoming fall Xbox 360 dashboard update. Not only does it look super slick and Windows 8-ey, but it’s also lacking the Zune logo in its music and videos sections. Zune, we’ll always have Paris.

The big question though: How will this matter to Windows Phone, going forward?


Update: Looks like Thurrott may have been a a little quick on the gun. Zune is still listed as an App in the new Xbox hub, as seen above. It's just not named for Music/Music, which may be the area in which you access local media, whereas Zune is for streaming, etc. Read more at They Lyons Den.

Source: Supersite for Windows, Live Side

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Casual game fans will surely love this news. Game House, publisher of the hit game Doodle Jump, has a new Xbox Live title in the works: Sally’s Salon Luxury Edition. WPCentral is proud to bring you these exclusive screenshots of the Windows Phone version. (Note that the screens are a bit grainer than the final game will be.)

Sally’s Salon is a new spin on the classic Diner Dash formula. Customers enter the salon with their hair all a-frizz and it’s up to Sally to get them seated and trimmed to perfection. She needs to exercise careful time management, otherwise patrons will go elsewhere for their lock-shearing needs. When the profits start rolling in, players can hire new employees, upgrade salon stations, and add new amenities such as coffee machines. Stylin’!

Sally’s Salon Luxury Edition is currently undergoing certification with a target release date of August. We’ll be sure to let you know more about the game closer to release. In the meantime, check out Sally’s Achievements from our friends at Xbox360Achievements.org.

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This sort of headline is enough to make our Paul Acevedo jump around with joy and pull many smug faces to the rest of the team due to gaming dominating other categories in terms of usage on multiple smartphone platforms. Since the beginning, games have always been a major hit on iOS, especially those that are Facebook orientated. Windows Phone 7 has Xbox Live and some fairly big titles (the upcoming Beards and Beaks for example), while Android is somewhere in between.

So we're already aware of how popular games are on smartphones, what's so intriguing about this latest analytic data? The breakdown of hours on platforms.

With WP7 featuring Xbox Live, achievements, the Xbox Live hub and some arguably larger titles than competitor platforms, one would expect to see WP7 topping the above chart with more hours accumulated than iOS and Android, but this is not the case. Not only is the platform behind in the total number of hours, but Microsoft's mobile OS seems to be slightly under the industry average of 7.8 hours a month.

Is this a negative finding? Not at all if we're to take Microsoft's advertising and marketing campaign for WP7 into consideration. Remember the adverts that stated how Windows Phone will enable users to complete tasks quickly and get back to real life? Perhaps this rubs off onto gaming too? Maybe we're now so used to sending SMS messages, replying to emails, browsing the web, downloading apps and more with speed that we don't spend hours upon hours immersing ourselves into Xbox Live?

Then again, it could be that the price of Xbox Live titles and iOS ports on WP7 are just too high to justify. The final chart shown below displays the advantage of having the Xbox Live brand used on Windows Phone and the integration with the service. WP7 users are more likely to download apps than any other platform with iOS and Android not so far behind (of course this data isn't accurate), while Blackberry trails in last place (which is expected).

What do you think about this data, and do you believe Microsoft should look into increasing the average play time per user?

Source: Nielsen, via: WPSauce

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After a long absence, Xbox Live action title Twin Blades - from developer Press Start Studio - has returned to the Marketplace.

Twin Blades tells the tale of Sister Angelika, a scythe- and gun-toting nun on a mission to save the world from an evil necromancer. You know, necromancers tend to get a bad rap. Why do people have to hate? Anyway, instead of talking her problems out like a mature adult, Sister Angelika simply slices and blasts through hordes of zombies in this action title. A virtual thumbstick controls running and jumping while buttons take care of scythe and gun attacks. Twin Blades has a lengthy story mode and a survival mode. The Achievements aren’t too hard, but it will take four total playthroughs to get them all. Stay tuned later today for our full review!

Twin Blades costs only $2.99 and there is a free trial. If you support the oppression of necromancy, hack and slash your way here (Zune link) to grab it from the Marketplace.

PS Yes, this is the Xbox LIVE game this week.

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Last week Women’s Murder Club from I-Play was the Xbox Live Deal of the Week. Continuing the trend, another I-Play title goes on sale this week: Bubble Town 2. The sale price is $1.99, down from $2.99.

Bubble Town 2 is a Puzzle Bobble/Bust-a-Move clone. In these puzzle games, a stack of colored bubbles slowly descends from the top of the screen, threatening to crush the player. By aiming and firing your own bubbles you can make matches and eliminate the stack. Bubble Town’s controls are a bit imprecise but it’s still pretty fun. It also has some of the most hideous graphics ever, a true testament to how far an artist can go without the benefit of education or talent. But hey, until Taito decides to bring Bust-a-Move to Windows Phone, Bubble Town will have to do.

Bubble Town 2 will be on sale for one week starting Wednesday. You can get it here (Zune link) on the Marketplace. Anybody think I-Play’s other Xbox Live game - Fast & Furious: Adrenaline - will go on sale next week?

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Real-time multiplayer gameplay on mobile devices has long been a feature many gamers would like to have on the move (we have some form of multiplayer gameplay though - Haypi Kingdom being an example), but with constant connection dips (while on the move) and data limitations in place, plus many more factors, it's never been fully implemented.

Victor Bahl, director of the Mobile Computing Research Center at Microsoft Research, explains the problem:

"Multiplayer gaming on smartphones is a very challenging technical problem, Gamers move around, the wireless channel is hostile, the bandwidth you need is not always there, disconnections can happen, and smartphones are energy-constrained. If you just take a game and put it on a smartphone, it is not going to work."

Fear not, all is not lost. The talented team at Microsoft Research has been hard at work on 'Switchboard' - a potential answer to most (if not all) problems with multiplayer smartphone gaming in its current form.

 "There are techniques for multiplayer games to handle ‘jitter’—occasional spikes in network delay. When those techniques react to jitter, you may see a player or object jump from one spot to another. Such ‘glitches in the matrix’ become problematic if they happen frequently. A major challenge in this work is to predict what a player’s latency will look like for the foreseeable duration of a game and minimize such glitches."

"Switchboard finds suitable game candidates by “pinging” their phones to estimate latency: the time needed to move a packet of data. Latency is important to gaming because a long lag time—in the hundreds of milliseconds—to move data can affect game play”, notes Gantenbein."

While it may not provide seamless play for WP7 users, this is a step in the right direction and shows Microsoft are attempting to address obvious limitations/problems. Let's see how this plays out, but for now hopes should remain relatively high for some degree of multiplayer action potentially being possible in the future with Xbox Live.

Source: Microsoft Research, via: Windows7news

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As a critic, it’s rare that I can unequivocally say that a game is the very best game in its genre. So many titles do different things well, and they usually have their minuses too. It’s even more uncommon for a game to transcend its own genre and become something that appeals to pretty much everybody. That’s why Plants vs. Zombies is such an amazing game. Not only is it hands-down the best tower defense game on Windows Phone, it also tweaks tower defense conventions and brings so much content that even tower defense naysayers will find a lot to enjoy.

What exactly is tower defense? It’s a type of real-time strategy game. Players build stationary towers which shoot at enemies as they try to reach the player’s base. To put that in Plants vs. Zombies terms, zombies attack the gamer’s yard, striving to get inside the house and eat the tasty brains inside. Weaponized plants with faces and personalities take the place of mechanical towers. In case it wasn’t immediately obvious, this game is loaded with charm and humor.

Watch out for potato mines as you head past the break for our full review.

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Angry Birds - Review

Angry Birds may have been one of the most anticipated Windows Phone games. Most are familiar with the game as it's been available for some time on other platforms.  While I've played my fair share of Angry Birds on other platforms, it was nice (almost refreshing) to see the popular game come to the Windows Phone platform.

For those not familiar with the game, evil pigs have stolen the birds eggs and have angered the feathered population. Negotiations fail and to arms (or wings) the birds go.  The pigs fortify their positions with sticks, rocks, and anything else they can get their hoofs on.  Your mission is to destroy the pigs by hurling an assortment of birds at them from a slingshot.  You work your way through the various levels to eventually take on the pig king.

Sounds easy, right? Shoot on past the break to see how the Windows Phone version of Angry Birds measures up.

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Games for Windows moving to Xbox.com

Microsoft is continuing to merge services together, which is fantastic news particularly in this case. The Games for Windows Marketplace is merging with Xbox Live's website, even though it was just overhauled back in November . We've always personally found Microsoft products to be horribly fragmented, but it seems Windows Phone 7 is the start of something magical and is driving change within the big company too. Leading to design improvements in Windows 8, advancement in mobile technology and Xbox Live, acquisition of Skype and now the combining of games for multiple platforms in one location.

"Games for Windows Marketplace will fully transition over to Xbox.com. Now you can get all of your gaming needs in one place. It’s convenient, it’s concentrated, and it’s a whole lot of great games."

In the PC world, Steam plays a heavyweight competitor to Microsoft's Games for Windows, merging the marketplace with Xbox.com should hopefully improve the dated layout. There are many Xbox gamers who also use their PC as a platform, I'm sure they'll welcome the merge with having both stores in one location. Could we see the implementation of Microsoft Points in the Games for Windows store?

Source: Games for Windows, via: GamePro

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Harbor Master - Review

Touch-screen gaming has its advantages and disadvantages. We’ve all played games like Earthworm Jim that try to replicate traditional console controls on the touch screen with limited success. But building a game around the advantages of a touch screen can produce wonderful results and even new genres. Such was the case with Firemint’s Flight Control – the first line drawing game. It played like nothing else and sold like crazy on numerous platforms, including Windows Phone. Every good idea can be improved upon, as developer Imangi shows with Harbor Master. Its nautical theme and new mechanics will keep Flight Control fans and new players alike enthralled for quite some time.

Chart a course past the break for our full review.

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Twin Blades - Review

For several months, Twin Blades from Press Start Studio reluctantly enjoyed the distinction of being the only Xbox Live game to be pulled from the Windows Phone Marketplace. During its absence, it earned something of a cult status as mobile gamers suddenly realized they were missing out on a hardcore action experience. Now the game is back with green zombie blood instead of the original red. Is Twin Blades’ return cause for celebration? Yes, unless you’re a zombie, in which case, stay out of Sister Angelika’s way.

Slice past the break for our full review.

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geoDefense - Review

As the plethora of tower defense games on the Windows Phone marketplace proves, tower defense games aren’t hard to make. But they are hard to do well. Just look at the first two tower defense games on Xbox Live: Zombie Attack! 2 is an undercooked snooze-fest and Battle for Hoth is too difficult to be much fun. Both games stray unsuccessfully from tower defense conventions, whereas geoDefense from Critical Thought Games is the exact opposite. It’s as traditional as they come, but also tremendously fun.

geoDefense’s claim to fame is its Geometry Wars-inspired look. Every tower and enemy is composed of neon outlines, harkening back to the days of vector graphics. It’s an extremely simple but charming look, even if one enemy type resembles Pac-Man a bit too closely. The background, no matter the level, is always made up of black space with a pattern of graph paper-like lines, further enhancing the geometric feel. Explosions create a cool warping effect on the background, adding a clever modern contrast to the retro visuals.

Follow the path past the jump for our full review.

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Now that the 6 Weeks of Must Have Games has ended, we’re back to learning about the weekly Xbox Live releases a bit less far in advance. The first Xbox Live title to follow Angry Birds will be… Twin Blades from developer Press Start Studio and publisher Microsoft Game Studios.

That’s right, after disappearing from the Marketplace for several months over concerns about it gory content, Twin Blades is coming back. Users who already own the game have received an update that changes the game’s blood to green, and soon the game will be officially available for sale.

Twin Blades is a side-scrolling hack-and-slash game starring a nun who is tasked with saving the world from an army of the undead. She’s armed with a sickle and an assortment of guns, all of which can be upgraded by collecting zombie hearts. It’s a challenging and lengthy game with both a story mode and an all-action survival mode. We’ll have a full review soon.

Twin Blades will be available on Wednesday, July 6 for $2.99.

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Slowly but surely the entire collection of Xbox Live launch titles for Windows Phone games are going on sale. Having scratched Bejeweled Live off the list, it’s now time for Women’s Murder Club from I-Play to see the weekly discount. It’s on sale for $1.99, down from $2.99.

Women’s Murder Club is a hidden object game with mild adventure elements. Players take on the role of various crime solving ladies as they scour crime scenes for clues and try to solve a murder mystery of some sort. As our review mentions, the plot is incredibly forgettable. But it’s still a competent hidden object game (the only one on Xbox Live right now) and its Achievements are fun and easy.  Provided you like the genre, it’s easily worth getting for the low sale price.

Women’s Murder Club is on sale for $1.99 for one week only and there is a free trial. Point your magnifying glass here (Zune link) to find it on the Marketplace.

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I Dig It update stuck in certification limbo

I Dig It (review) from InMotion Software is a fun little Xbox Live game. Unfortunately, since its release it has been plagued by severely glitched Achievements. In our Broken Achievements article, I stated:

“As of April 11, InMotion had submitted an update that corrected all of I Dig It’s known issues. Two months later, Microsoft has not chosen to publish the update. I feel for your plight, I Dig It players.”

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Zombies!!! (review) was one of the first Xbox Live games I bought after jumping on the Windows Phone bandwagon. A survival horror-themed board game, it’s like nothing else on the platform. The game’s developer, Babaroga has made it no secret that they are working on a major update for the game. That’s good because I hate secrets almost as much as black licorice. Putting the devil candy aside for the moment, WPCentral is excited to bring you something much tastier: our interview with Andreja Djokovic, CEO and Founder of Babaroga, about their future plans for the Zombies!!! franchise and Windows Phone.

Grab a snack if you like and head past the jump for the full interview.

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Though you can watch our video tour above of the new Games Hub in Windows Phone "Mango" (see review), you'll want to read all the changes cataloged by Microsoft themselves. From the Windows Phone Blog, you can tell, once again, that Microsoft is listening to consumers by incorporating a lot of changes. Indeed, the Games Hub feel more unified with the whole Xbox ecosystem and the changes are most welcomed.

Here's what's new:

  • Improved Collection View - basically smaller icons for games with a list view, makes it easier to navigate
  • New 3D Avatars with attitude - With XNA/Silverlight in a single app, your 3D Avatar is now "built in" with more functionality and movement
  • Improved Xbox LIVE messaging - Word suggest/complete is now built in, you can communicate with other Xbox  LIVE members on PC, phones or console. "If a message contains certain emoticons (e.g. Smile, Sad smile), you’ll notice your avatar’s expression change to reflect that emotion! (If a sender overloads a message with conflicting emoticons, your avatar will look bewildered."
  • Connect with Xbox LIVE friends
  • Integrated achievements and new comparison views
  • Edit your profile
  • Improved Spotlight content
  • Improved game request notifications: In Mango, you’ll receive notifications for multiplayer game or turn requests and can track them in the Requests section of the Games Hub.

Some of those last few ones are just carry overs from Xbox LIVE Extras, which is now purely for the Avatar Marketplace and to design your Avatar. Overall, a solid list of changes to look forward too.

Source: Windows Phone Blog

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Major Nelson has kindly started tallying the top Xbox LIVE games for Windows Phone on his site (before it was only the console).

While nothing groundbreaking, it's kind of nice to get insight into what sells and what doesn't e.g. SIM3 is at #13, despite being, you know, terrible (see review). The top five games though were:

  1. Sonic the Hedgehog 4
  2. Doodle Jump
  3. geoDefense
  4. Hydro Thunder GO!
  5. Rise of Glory ('Deal of the Week')

Sure enough, the top four are part of the 'must-have-games' campaign and we have to agree that they're all pretty much worth it.

Source: Major Nelson; Thanks, Karl C, for the heads up

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