Xbox Live

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Super Monkey Ball - Review

Back in elementary school, I once bit into a piece of fried okra thinking it was a Tater Tot. What should have been a delicious, tiny hash brown actually tasted like green death, forever ruining okra for me.

Super Monkey Ball on Windows Phone is a lot like that. On the outside, it has all the makings of a quality game – cute characters, a fun premise, fairly good graphics, and catchy music. I was really looking forward to it before it came out. Beneath Super Monkey Ball’s tasty exterior, however, lies an unpleasant surprise: utterly abhorrent tilt controls.

The Super Monkey Ball series has made quite a name for itself since its debut in Japanese arcades and subsequent release as a GameCube launch title. Players guide one of four monkeys (each inside of a clear ball) across one or more floating platforms and through a goal, avoiding hazards and collecting bananas along the way. The only significant difference between the monkeys is the annoyingness of their voices – I found GonGon to be the most tolerable. Anyway, instead of directly controlling the monkey, you tilt the maze itself and try to steer the monkey where it needs to go. It’s a fun and unique concept.

Roll past the break for our full review.

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Hydro Thunder GO - Review

One of the latest XBox Live games to hit the Windows Phone Marketplace is Hydro Thunder Go from PixelBite. The racing game has sentimental value to me in that I can remember playing it in arcades and eagerly waiting for its release on the Nintendo 64 platform over a decade ago.

It has since been released in some shape, form or fashion on multiple gaming systems and has now landed on your Windows Phone. It's a pricey game but if you like racing games, especially boat racing games, it's well worth the price of admission.

We've spent some time with the PixelBite developers and after the break you can find out more on Hydro Thunder Go.

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Pac-Man Championship Edition DX - Review

A long time ago, Pac-Man was king of the arcades. If you were a gamer, you were either playing Pac-Man or wishing you were playing it, and you never failed to ask asked your mom to make Pac-Man pancakes in the morning. Over the years, the yellow guy’s popularity has waned despite the occasional (and generally mediocre) sequel.

Fortune turned back in Pac-Man’s favor with 2007’s downloadable console title, Pac-Man Championship Edition. Critics and gamers alike praised CE’s return to classic-style game play and looks. Three years later, Pac-Man Championship Edition DX improved on CE’s foundations, creating the perfect Pac-Man game for the modern era. Now DX comes to Windows Phone with a few less features than the console version but just as much retro modern charm.

Turn a corner, watch out for ghosts, and head past the break for our full review.

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Following on the heels of OMG: Our Manic Game comes Game Chest: Logic Games, the new Xbox Live Deal of the Week. It’s down to $1.99 from the regular price of $2.99.

Logic Games contains three distinct games: chess, minesweeper, and Sudoku. Each game comes in easy, normal, and hard varieties. Chess is the star of the bunch in that it offers a weird invite-a-friend-on-PC to play option. It’s an interesting workaround to the prohibition against online play, but the invitation method is so slow and clunky, I doubt many people will use it except to earn the associated Achievement. This version of chess has no customizable settings and no local multi-player option - a glaring oversight.

Minesweeper is a love-or-hate it game. I’m sure many people out there have tried it on one platform or another, died in the first move or two, and called it quits. But I’ve always found the act of deducing which spots are safe and which have bombs to be quite enjoyable. This version’s controls could be better – I sometimes set off a bomb when I was trying to zoom in and out on the higher difficulties. Easy and Normal are good ways to kill time though.

Sudoku is a highly competent version of the Japanese puzzle game. The only video game version of Sudoku I’ve ever found truly addicting is the version Nintendo included in the Brain Age DS games. In Brain Age, gamers can select individual puzzles instead of being assigned random puzzles, and then try to beat their best times. Logic Games’ Sudoku lacks those two elements, but completing random puzzles is still decently fun.

Our review praises the Game Chest games’ progression system. Each time you complete a game, you’ll earn points. Gain enough points and you’ll level up. It takes absolutely forever to level up after a while though, making it a real chore to go for the Achievements for reaching maximum level in each game.

If you like two or more of the games included in Game Chest: Logic Games, it’s a logical purchase. The game is $1.99 for one week only. Pick it up here in the Marketplace.

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Xbox Live integration has been a selling point of Windows Phone since day one. Gamers can earn Achievements; view their avatars, friends lists, and more from the convenience of their phones. But to do many of those things, you have to download the separate free Xbox Live Extras app and then launch it from the Games hub. It’s a needlessly complicate process.

Thankfully Mango will greatly streamline Xbox Live integration. Xbox Live Extras will join the dinosaurs and Milli Vanilli in extinction as its contents will now be built into the main Games hub. The Xbox Live page within the hub will display a user’s polygonal avatar and several other items: Xbox Live Gold membership status (lending credence to the rumor that online play will finally debut alongside Mango) and links to the user’s Profile, Achievements, and Avatar (for customization). This should make the profile and avatar editing options much easier to find than their previous location: stashed away in a pop-up menu at the bottom of the screen.

Live tiles are a great and wonderful thing. We all love them, and I’m pretty sure WPCentral’s Daniel Rubino has several tattooed on his arm. On the other hand, live tiles also take up a lot of space – only 6-8 will fit on-screen at once. People who own a lot of games on Windows Phone often have to scroll quite a bit to find the title they wish to play. Game organization and launching will become slightly easier in Mango thanks to a new list view within the Games hub. The list view displays each game’s name alongside icons that are about fifty percent smaller than before. It doesn’t really fit much additional information on-screen, but gamers will be able to locate titles by names instead of icons.

The Friends section will also receive a few minor tweaks. Friends’ profiles and bios will be separated onto two pages instead of being crammed onto one. Additionally, it will become possible to add new friends directly from the phone thanks to the addition of a New Friend button at the bottom of the Friends page. Now if Microsoft would just add the ability to send and receive Xbox Live voice messages from the phone too – only text messages are supported right now.

These changes will strengthen gaming and Xbox Live use on Windows Phone. Today’s conference didn’t address online play, but we’re still hoping for an announcement sometime around Mango’s actual launch. For Windows Phone gamers, that date can’t come soon enough.

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Here’s some Xbox 360 news that may be relevant to Windows Phone users as well. The latest Xbox 360 system update, in addition to introducing a new disc format to fight piracy, will also add PayPal payment functionality to most territories. Gamers will now be able to purchase Xbox 360 software, downloadable content, and Xbox Live Gold Memberships with PayPal in addition to the existing options: credit cards, prepaid cards, and prepaid codes. The update will also bring an auto-standby feature that puts the console into a low-power mode after an hour of idle time (yay!).

Windows Phone users are still waiting for the option to pay for software with Microsoft Points, which has long been the standard currency on the Xbox 360. At present, credit card payments and adding purchases to the user’s monthly cell phone bill are the only ways to pay. As far as I know, Microsoft has never said anything on the subject. But even if Microsoft Points purchases never come to Windows Phone, PayPal is still fairly likely as it’s similar to credit cards on Microsoft’s end. Let’s hope they don’t drag their feet on bringing us more payment options!

Source: Major Nelson’s blog via Microsoft News.

 

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Last week, the tilt-controlled Xbox Live game Super Monkey Ball received a nice price drop. Today a game with similar (but better) controls just dropped its price too: I Love Katamari from Namco. It’s down from $6.99 to the far fairer $4.99.

I Love Katamari is the mobile version of the Katamari Damacy series. Players control the tiny Prince of the Cosmos and his sticky Katamari ball. The goal is to roll up various objects into the ball, from small things like gum packets and books to giant objects like cars and planes. It’s a quirky good time. Players will need to play four different game modes on each of I Love Katamari’s 6 varied levels in order to earn all the Achievements, including a crazy 110 point Achievement for rolling up every single item in the game.

Sega’s Super Monkey Ball is frustratingly hard due to utterly abysmal tilt controls. I Love Katamari’s tilt controls aren’t perfect, but they are far more manageable. As I say in our review though, it is still a fairly challenging game due to strict time limits on some levels. With practice, most players should be able to roll their way to end of the game.

I Love Katamari is now $4.99 and there is a free trial. We've been told this is a temporary price drop, so don't wait too long to try it. Roll it up here (Zune link) on the Marketplace.

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Windows Phone gamers have been anxiously awaiting the start of the 6 Weeks of Must Have Games promotion. It was initially thought to begin in April, but then we learned it had been pushed back to an unspecified date. Shortly thereafter at MIX 2011, Joe Belfiore announced that Angry Birds would come out on May 25, so everyone assumed that the Must-haves would roll out then.

As it turns out, May 25 does indeed mark the start of the 6 Weeks of Must Have Games. But Angry Birds won’t be next week’s Xbox Live release after all. Instead, that honor goes to Hydro Thunder Go, the only Windows Phone-exclusive title in the Must-Have lineup. Leading with the strongest title is a smart idea, as Hydro Thunder Go has some great buzz surrounding it. Hydro Thunder Go will launch on May 25 at the very fair price of $4.99.

But that’s not all! We’ve got the full Xbox Live release schedule for the next 6 weeks, including prices and screenshots. Head past the jump for the exciting details.

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The Xbox Live Deal of the Week program appears to be slowly making its way through all of the Windows Phone launch titles, temporarily knocking one or two dollars off of each game. The latest game to get the discount is OMG: Our Manic Game from Arkedo Studios. It’s on sale for $1.99, down from $2.99. Oh my gosh!

OMG is a vertically-scrolling shooter featuring neon-colored vector graphics. The player’s ship constantly fires, while tapping enemies makes them become manic and unleash a hail of extra fire. The game has got both Infinite and 5 Minute modes to blast through.  Our OMG review notes that it’s a bit light on content (as with many launch titles) but still plenty of fun. The gameplay is a little too plain for me, but if you’re into shooters, it’s currently the only Xbox Live game in town.

OMG is on sale for $1.99 for like, one week only. You can totally get it here (Zune link) on the Marketplace!

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I was understandably excited when we learned that Pac-Man Championship Edition DX was coming to Xbox Live this week. After a week of anxious anticipation, it’s finally available on the Marketplace!

Pac-Man Championship Edition DX is the mobile port of the 2010 console sequel to Pac-Man. It’s a huge upgrade over the original, with multiple selectable visual and audio styles, three distinct mazes (down from the console version’s 9 mazes, but still a fun assortment), and copious game modes. These include 3- and 5-minute Score Attacks, Ghost Combo, and more than 10 different time trials.

The goal isn’t just to eat dots any more – players bait ghosts into following them, creating huge chains of enemies that can be cleared with a trusty power pellet. Whenever a fruit is eaten, a new arrangement of dots and ghosts appear in the maze. It’s all about earning as many points as you can within each mode’s time limit, and the game’s online Leaderboards look very good so far.

The mobile version of Pac-Man Championship Edition DX is currently exclusive to Windows Phone, so don’t confuse it with the regular Championship Edition that’s available on iOS. Even though I’ve only played it for a short time tonight, I can easily say that it eclipses the original Pac-Man and is actually one of the best Xbox Live games so far. It even has easy Achievements to boot!

Pac-Championship Edition DX costs $6.99 and has a free trial. Chomp it up here (Zune link) on the Marketplace.

One more thing… If you’re wondering how to unlock the second maze, Manhattan, try scoring over 150,000 points on Championship II’s Score Attack(3 min.) mode.

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Lunar Lander - review

The Game Room series is a great way to enjoy nostalgic gaming experiences as well as try classic video games for the first time. I happily did both things while preparing for my Centipede and Pitfall! reviews. Unfortunately though, not every game stands the test of time. Some games are pretty tough to get into if you didn’t play them when they were first released. Lunar Lander is like that. Sure, it’s historically important, but I doubt many Windows Phone gamers will actually care to play it.

Lunar Lander blasted off into arcades in 1979, the year of my birth. Its arcade competition that year consisted primarily of Space Invaders (1978) and Galaxian. While those two games feature science fiction themes and aliens to blast, Lunar Lander is grounded in reality. The player pilots a lunar landing module as it descends to Earth’s moon. Death comes not from unfriendly visitors but from crashing into the landscape or even just landing too quickly – again, a more realistic setup than the competition. This is still a video game though, so players do get more chances to play until they run out of fuel.

Rocket past the break for our fuel review.

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Many of us have been waiting for The Harvest to drop to its $4.99 Deal of the Week sale price. The good news, it has! You can find it here (Zune link) on the Marketplace. If you’re not seeing the sale price yet, just try back a little later.

We weren’t expecting another Xbox Live game to get a price drop today. Surprisingly, Sega’s Super Monkey Ball is now $2.99, down from $4.99. This is likely a permanent price drop since The Harvest is the actual Deal of the Week.

As I’ve said before, Super Monkey Ball places players in control of one of several monkeys-inside-a-ball. Actually, you don’t control the monkey ball directly. By tilting the course itself, you can try to collect bananas and navigate the ball towards each level’s goal, all without falling off the course’s edge. This version of the game uses tilt controls exclusively for steering while the touch screen rotates the camera. The courses feature some pretty basic 3D graphics but the monkey balls themselves are 2D sprites. Mini-games, for which the Super Monkey Ball series is famous, are not present in the first mobile Super Monkey Ball. Still, the game has over 100 stages, so it should keep players busy for a good while.

Super Monkey Ball is actually a pretty fun game, with the exception of the tilt controls. It’s way too hard to make minor adjustments and move slowly, so expect to fly off the edges of levels and die a lot. Somebody needs to tell developers that hardly anybody likes tilt controls and they shouldn’t be attempted unless they are fine-tuned to perfection.

If you can stomach a few too many tilt-related deaths, pick up Super Monkey Ball here (Zune link) for $2.99. There’s also a free trial.

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In the last few weeks, Microsoft has released so many Game Room titles to Xbox Live that even huge Game Room fans like me became weary. Next week’s Xbox Live release still has a retro flavor, but it’s actually a much newer and more exciting game: PAC-MAN: Championship Edition DX.

In our review of the original Pac-Man, I complained “This title offers so much less content than sequels like Ms. Pac-Man and Pac-Man Championship Edition.” Namco has actually done me one better this time, because they skipped Championship Edition and went straight to its superior sequel, DX.

The console version of PAC-MAN: Championship Edition DX is an absolutely fantastic game. It features 9 different mazes, numerous selectable looks for Pac-Man and the ghosts, and three main gameplay modes: Score Attack, Time Attack, and Ghost Combo. DX throws dozens of ghosts on-screen at once, which might sound too hectic but is actually quite exciting and manageable in practice. Pac-Man even gains a bomb ability that knocks ghosts back to the center of the maze but resets the player's score multiplier.

Pac-Man CE DX is much easier than the first Pac-Man game, so it should be a better fit for mobile phones. Unlike the original Pac-Man game, this one is played in landscape mode, which should reduce the number of accidental presses of the nefarious Home and Search buttons.

The only bad news is its price: $6.99. Namco’s mobile games don’t come cheap. But thousands of gamers happily paid $10 for the Xbox 360 version; if the phone version matches the console game's greatness, 7 bucks won’t sting a bit.

The Windows Phone version of PAC-MAN: Championship Edition DX will debut on Wednesday, May 18.

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As Windows Phone fans who stay up till the wee hours probably know, the Marketplace usually updates with new apps and price drops between 10 PM and midnight PST. Thus the new Xbox Live game and Deal of the Week are available by the time most people get up on Wednesday mornings.

This week, however, there seem to be a wrench and possibly a squirrel in the works. As of 10 AM PST, Lunar Lander still isn’t available for purchase and The Harvest is not showing its discounted price. There are no new Non-Xbox Live apps either.

Did the guy at Microsoft who throws the switch on Marketplace updates call in sick? Is this just some technical error? Or is there something more sinister at work? With Sony’s recent and well-publicized shutdown of PSN due to malicious hackery, many gamers are on edge where online services are concerned.

The Marketplace’s stalled update will likely be resolved later today. Cleaning squirrel guts takes time! We’ve contacted the good folks at Microsoft, who are aware of the problem. We’ll let you know as soon as they have more information to share or the update goes through.

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Guitar Hero 5 sales not exciting enough for you? Here’s an Xbox Live Deal of the Week we can really sink our teeth into: The Harvest is going on sale for $4.99, down from $6.99.

The Harvest is an action-RPG set in a distant future in which aliens have conquered humanity. Thanks to the development of armored mech suits, the remaining pockets of humans finally have a chance to fight back. Our review praises the game’s beautiful 3D graphics, easy controls, multiple playable characters, and diversity of upgrade options.

The Harvest is that rare thing – a really impressive Windows Phone-exclusive game. But many gamers passed over it or don’t know about it due to the dreaded $6.99 price point. The sale price should help Luma Arcade’s action-RPG finally get its due.

The Harvest’s $4.99 sale begins Wednesday and will last one for week. Buy it or try the demo here (Zune link) at the Marketplace.

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Lunar Lander is this week's Xbox Live game

Last week’s Xbox Live game, Enigmo, broke three straight weeks of Game Room releases. To be fair though, Harbor Master also came out alongside Centipede. Anyway, I hope you like retro games, Windows Phone gamers, because this week’s Xbox Live title is another Game Room entry: Lunar Lander.

Atari’s original Lunar Lander arcade game came out in 1979. Yes, this week’s release debuted the same year I was born. It’s 32 years young! Lunar Lander was the first Atari title to use vector graphics (just as Asteroids Deluxe did a few years later). Its graphics are composed entirely of white lines on a black background. The object is to safely land a spacecraft on the surface of the moon. The original arcade game used an actual lever to control the craft’s thrust and buttons for steering. It will be interesting to see how the game’s controls have been adapted for mobile touch screens.

See that? I didn’t say anything negative about Lunar Lander or how inexplicable it is that someone chose to release it on Windows Phone over so many other Game Room titles. That’s me, Captain Optimism!

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Earthworm Jim HD - Review

During the 16-bit gaming era, Shiny Entertainment’s Earthworm Jim made quite a splash. It boasted very unusual character designs, an off-beat sense of humor, and excellent graphics and sound. It was also frustratingly hard, but so were a lot of games back then. Earthworm Jim was such a success that it spawned a few sequels and its own cartoon series.

Fast-forwarding several years, Gameloft - the developer/publisher known for producing mobile clones of popular console franchises – has brought the original Earthworm Jim to Windows Phone as an Xbox Live title. Is Earthworm Jim still as groovy as he ever was? Yes and no. This version is pretty rough around the edges thanks to some poor design decisions from the ‘loft.

Swing past the jump for our in-depth review.

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We all thought the worst was over after the Marketplace outage yesterday with scheduled maintenance, but now it seems Xbox Live is having an issue on multiple WP7 devices with backend Windows Live services. If you head on into the Xbox Live hub and await for the automatic update process to start, you should be left with a forever hanging "Updating..." at the top.

Both myself (Omnia 7) and our Daniel Rubino (Focus) have reproduced the error so it looks like it's not directly affecting a single location and multiple Live profiles are confirmed to be affected. Hopefully Microsoft will get the system back up to speed. For the time being they have stated on Twitter that "It’s a new issue that users are unable to access Xbox LIVE features at this time." Are you experiencing this issue?

via: WinRumors

Update: We've just had news (and have confirmed) that the Xbox service on WP7 is now back online. Thanks ash755 for the heads up!

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Rocket Riot, the Xbox Live twin-stick shooter from Dutch developer Code Glue, received a minor update this week.

Rocket Riot version 1.2 change log:

  • Control bug completely eliminated

Rocket Riot’s virtual twin-stick controls are extremely smooth and fun to use.  But as I mentioned in our review, the game’s controls used to bug out occasionally in certain levels. That won’t happen anymore, thank goodness.

We’ve also learned that Rocket Riot will receive a more significant update in the future. Among other things, it will improve the game's handling of Achievements. I’m glad Code Glue continues to improve their already standout title.  Rocket Riot costs $4.99, and it has a free trial. To join the riot, grab it here (Zune link) on the Marketplace.

Fun fact! The Rocket Riot version 1.1 update article was my first post here at WPCentral. Time flies (with rockets).

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Last week, super tough Earthworm Jim was the Xbox Live Deal of the Week. This week’s sale game is much easier. It’s Guitar Hero 5 from Glu Mobile and Activison.

On consoles, Guitar Hero has long been outdone by the excellent Rock Band series. Activision, Guitar Hero’s publisher, even made it a point to run the ‘Hero series into the ground by releasing numerous sequels and spin-offs every year. Bad mistakes, Activision’s made a few. But hey, Guitar Hero 5 is the only Xbox Live music game on Windows Phone. It’s committed no crimes. Plus it’s actually decent, with 32 songs from artists like Blink 182, David Bowie, and Garbage, and easy Achievements.

Guitar Hero 5 is on sale for $4.99 (the price it always should have been), down from $6.99. There is of course a free trial. Get your rock on here (Zune link) in the Marketplace.

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