Xbox Live

Xbox for Windows Phone is a key selling point for gamers, but the implementation leaves much to be desired. This editorial series has covered a lot of ground so far, including the need for streamlining the Xbox Live certification process, Microsoft’s failure to appreciate the importance of Xbox to Windows Phone, the need for multiplatform game engine support, and the need for better PR and a download code system.

This week we tackle software and online features that Xbox Windows Phone badly needs.

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Here at Windows Phone Central, we are focused on Windows Phone and other Microsoft platforms. We also like to keep our eyes on the competition, such as the upcoming HTC One Android smartphone. To that extent, the Xbox 360 and its successor will have a new competing videogame console later this year in the form of the Playstation 4. Last night, Sony officially announced the console, which is due for a holiday 2013 release.

Read on for our impressions of the Playstation 4 and how it will affect Microsoft's next Xbox console!

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Xbox Windows Phone has absolutely no shortage of puzzle games and physics puzzlers. These types of games are easy to create and easy to port, plus they work well in short play sessions on the go. I don’t blame avid mobile gamers for tiring of puzzlers as a whole, as our platform certainly needs a wider variety of games. Still, puzzle games inarguably have their place on smartphones, so we can’t expect them to stop coming along.

Of course KooZac is a puzzle game, but it’s noteworthy for several reasons. First, it comes Square Enix, the prolific Japanese developer responsible or Final Fantasy and many other mobile RPGs. Square-Enix’s continued support can only be good for Windows Phone. Two: KooZac might look like a standard falling block puzzle game, but it actually plays unlike its brethren thanks to the inclusion of my most bitter enemy: math. Also, Facebook integration!

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A while back, Babel Rising was pulled from Windows Phone 8 due to the tiny problem of crashing on start up. It briefly returned to Windows Phone 8 despite still being incompatible. Well, today seems like déjà vu because another partially delisted game is back in semi-working order: the Nokia exclusive tower iBomber Defense from Chillingo and Cobra Mobile.

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While some of us face the possibility that there might not be a new Xbox Windows Phone game release this week, Nokia owners should have no such complaints. Not only did Nokia and PopCap/EA just publish the vastly improved sequel Bejeweled Live+, two more Nokia Xbox exclusives just popped up! From the license lovers at Electronic Arts comes the board game adaptation Yahtzee, while PopCap has blessed Windows Phone at last with their fast-paced puzzler Zuma’s Revenge.

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Broken Xbox Achievements aren’t especially common in Windows Phone games these days … Mostly because new Xbox Windows Phone games have become so lamentably rare, not because the certification process has improved. One such game that has suffered from a less-than-working Achievement is Picnic Wars, a Nokia exclusive game from Chillingo that launched a short while ago on January 10th.

In record time, Chillingo and Nokia have published an update to fix up Picnic Wars’ Achievement issue. Learn more after the break.

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As our game-playing readers have probably noticed by now, Xbox for Windows Phone isn’t truly out of drought territory just yet. There is no new Xbox release this week. We asked Microsoft whether the two free Gameloft games on Tuesday were intended to make up for the lack of release. Unfortunately, those games being offered for free resulted from a Store glitch that has since been corrected.

Microsoft couldn’t tell us whether there will be a new Xbox Windows Phone game next week, either. It’s clear that the problems facing the platform won’t go away any time soon. Let’s just hope our editorial series can inspire the powers that be to move things in a better direction… In the meantime, we've got another rumor explaining the lack of games and a hefty list of titles that Microsoft could and should be producing for Windows Phone!

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Microsoft has never released a portable console like the Playstation Vita or 3DS, instead opting to publish Xbox-branded games for Windows Phone and Windows 8… A wise choice given the modern trend towards smartphone and tablet gaming over handheld game systems. With the Xbox 360’s excellent lineup of downloadable games, Windows Phone users rightfully expected the chance to play many of their XBLA favorites on their mobile phones.

Unfortunately, the number of robust, XBLA-quality titles released for Xbox Windows Phone to date is incredibly small. I count only Final Fantasy, Puzzle Quest 2, Castlevania Puzzle, ilomilo, Plants vs. Zombies, Sonic 4: Episode I, and Sonic CD as games with full console-level production values and quantity of content. Crimson Dragon Side Story, Hydro Thunder GO, and Civilization Revolution would be on there too if not for their Playstation One-era graphics. Maybe 11 games out of Xbox Windows Phone’s over 150 titles feel like full XBLA games and not just smartphone/casual titles.

Well, add another game to the top-tier pile because Skulls of the Shogun from 17-BIT and Microsoft Studios fits right alongside the XBLA and Windows 8 versions that released alongside it.

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Remember that huge five week long game drought we just went through? We didn’t get official word from Microsoft until the fourth straight week without a release, after the drought had almost passed (and not for lack of trying on our part). As every week went by, your humble author and most avid Windows Phone gamers became increasingly distressed. The whole situation brought to light the ever-worsening handling of Xbox games for Windows Phone by the platform holder.

It also led to the creation of this very series of editorials about how Xbox games for Windows Phone can be turned around. Microsoft has a wonderful gaming synergy on its hands with Xbox Live and Windows Phone, if only they will make proper use of it. We’ve already explored several ways to do so: overhaul the certification system that’s completely inappropriate for mobile games, get internal forces within Microsoft on the same page about the value of Xbox Live, and then promote Windows Phone directly alongside Xbox consoles.

Today we follow up on that last point by looking at the lack of public relations management that affects mobile Xbox games and makes it difficult for both Windows Phone and Windows 8 developers and publishers to promote their own games.

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The implementation of Xbox games on Windows Phone is riddled with problems. While these range from “Darn it” minor to “Holy crap!” major, as a whole they threaten the viability of Xbox games on the platform. We believe Microsoft can still turn things around and make Xbox Windows Phone a mobile gaming force to be reckoned with, hence this series of editorials.

Part One of this series focused on the problematic Xbox Live certification process, and Part Two looked at both the importance of Xbox games to Windows Phone and the platform’s need for popular game engine support. In this installment we’ll tackle the simple need for proper volume control, the ability to redownload purchased games, and the weak advertising presence of Xbox Windows Phone games so far.

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Ubisoft is a major force in the console and PC world, owning such powerful franchises as Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, and the Tom Clancy games. They’ve had a mild presence on Windows Phone so far, with two Gameloft published Xbox games: Assassin’s Creed: Altair’s Chronicles and Splinter Cell: Conviction, the self-published Babel Rising 3D (a bad game on any platform but particularly abhorrent on Windows Phone), and a couple of companion apps for console titles.

Still, one terrible game is far from the best that Ubisoft can do for Windows Phone. They publish a fair share of quality mobile titles on other platforms that we have yet to see on our own. Blessedly, that appears to be changing quite soon. Ubisoft’s 2012-2013 Sales Report has quickly leaked three upcoming Windows Phone titles, which I think is cause for a little noise! Read on for our descriptions and predictions.

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You could be forgiven for not expecting a new Xbox release this week. After Skulls of the Shogun’s long-awaited debut last week, there really aren’t too many upcoming Xbox Windows Phone games that we actually know about. But Microsoft told us the release drought would probably end this month, and it looks like they were right. A shiny new game has popped up for all Windows Phone 7 and 8 users today: the oddly named KooZac.

Almost as exciting as receiving a new release at all these days, KooZac comes from one of our favorite mobile publishers – Square Enix, makers of Final Fantasy. We actually heard whispers of this game coming to Windows Phone at E3 last year, but the representative was so noncommittal about it that we didn’t bother to get our hopes up. Looks like Square Enix hasn’t given up on Windows Phone yet!

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We’re hard at work on our Skulls of the Shogun review, but it’s a long game and also features an extensive multiplayer component. As such, we’ll hold our judgment of that title until next week. In the meantime, let’s look at one of those formerly Nokia exclusive Xbox games that half of us loved to love while the other half loved to grumble about:  Risk.

The Nokia-Electronic Arts partnership has produced games in a variety of genres so far. The mostly highly represented game type is actually board games, with The Game of Life, Connect 4, Trivial Pursuit, and Risk among its numbers. Risk recently gained Windows Phone 8 compatibility, making it a prime target for review. It’s also one of the stronger board game adaptations to appear on Microsoft’s mobile platform.

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It’s long been rumored that Nokia exclusive games and apps are just timed exclusives and will eventually become available to all Windows Phone users. We’ve been working behind the scenes to get the exact details behind the exclusivity window, but today a happy occurrence has answered one question for us. Former Nokia-exclusive Xbox game Mirror’s Edge is now available to all Windows Phone 7 and 8 users, just over six months after its original release!

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When exclusive Xbox Windows Phone/Windows 8 game Wordament jumped ship to iOS, we were perhaps a little disappointed. Windows Phone needs all the exclusive games it can get, and Microsoft doesn’t need to do Apple any favors. Still, the game has gone multiplatform now and there’s no turning back.

In fact, Microsoft just published the most platform-agnostic version of Wordament ever. This one’s playable via HTML5-enabled web browsers. Best of all for Xbox gamers, the web game comes with 50 GamerScore worth of Achievements!

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Flight Control Review: The seed of proliferation

Let’s face it, all the cool Windows Phone gamer kids are playing Skulls of the Shogun right now, but we can’t review that game until we’ve spent a little more time with it. Instead, we'll take a look at a classic title. Some people felt left out with last week’s Flight Control: Rocket review since that fine game is a Nokia exclusive. As such, it’s high time for our review of the original Flight Control, a game that all Windows Phone 7 and 8 owners can play. Flight Control comes from developer Firemint (now known as Firemonkeys) and Namco Bandai games.

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The recent extended release drought of Xbox games for Windows Phone has prompted both game developers and players alike to question Microsoft’s commitment to Xbox Live support for its own mobile OS. For their part, Microsoft kinda-sorta reaffirmed their dedication to mobile Xbox games, and the long in-development Skulls of the Shogun finally debuts this week. Perhaps the drought has ended and Xbox Windows Phone games will blossom anew once more.

Still, all those weeks without new games didn’t happen by random chance. There are myriad underlying problems at fault, from outdated policies to poor portfolio management to a combination of apathy and ambivalence from some divisions within the platform holder itself. To anyone with an ounce of understanding of the mobile games industry, it looks bad - and it is bad. But Microsoft can still save Xbox games for Windows Phone.

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We caught wind of this a little late, but the Windows 8 Xbox game The Gunstringer: Dead Man Running from Other Ocean and Microsoft is free through Monday. Dead Man Running normally costs $1.49 despite being designed and planned as a free-to-play game, with lots of in-game purchases on offer. So why not hurry up and get it free like it’s supposed to be?

Head past the break for our full impressions of the game itself.

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No new Xbox games for Windows Phone appeared this week, not even a game from Nokia. This marks the fifth week without a new release – the longest in Windows Phone history. But Windows Phone 8 did gain a new playable title in the form of Shuffle Party (which was previously incompatible), and all Windows Phone users can look forward to the highly-anticipated Skulls of the Shogun next week.

It’s no secret that we consider the ball to have been dropped pretty far as Xbox games for Windows Phone go. You might even say the ball had rolled across the street and into the scary old neighbor’s yard. Throughout the release drought, Windows Phone Central has worked hard at getting an explanation from Microsoft themselves. At last we have official word and a bit of good news to go along with it.

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Next week’s Xbox Windows Phone release Skulls of the Shogun is possibly Microsoft’s most ambitious game yet. Not only will it be launching on Windows Phone, but also XBLA and Windows 8/RT simultaneously. Take that, WSOP: Full House Pro! Sorry, I just ate some sour grapes. On top of the three-platform release, Skulls also supports shared campaign progress across devices thanks to cloud saving and asynchronous cross-platform multiplayer.

The only problem with Skulls coming to all Xbox-supporting platforms at once is that Microsoft has yet to establish a ‘universal app’ pay structure like iOS and the Playstation 3/Vita support. Thankfully the game’s developer 17-BIT and Microsoft have just announced special launch pricing that will make picking up all three versions (or even just one) more attractive to gamers.

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