Microsoft has, for quite a while, been a key player in the gaming industry; PC Gaming is a thriving platform, and the Xbox 360 almost dominates the console space. Consequently, speculation was rampant on the subject of a possible handheld Xbox console, or some other venture into mobile gaming.
Microsoft’s answer came in the Windows Phone 7 platform, in the form of a dedicated Xbox Live application, accompanied with a very strong selection of titles. Below you will find a list of my personal favourites, all of which I would recommend to any Windows Phone owner.
My first, and undoubtedly favourite game for the platform; Rocket Riot was one of the original lineup of Windows Phone titles, and made a suitably strong first impression for the platform. Rocket Riot is a 2.5d platform-shooter, originally an Arcade title for the Xbox 360.
The game is best described as a mashup of the gameplay of Worms and Tribes, with the charm and humour of the webcomic, Axe Cop. The game is set in a stupidly quirky, pixelated world of pirates, jetpacks and rockets, and bursts charm at every corner, with a catchy soundtrack to boot.
My only criticism of an otherwise spotless title is the lack of multiplayer mode, a handicap shared by most Windows Phone titles. Otherwise, the game is an awesomely fun time-killer, and for only $3, it’s a killer deal, too.
A visually awesome hybrid of RPG and Shooter; The Harvest is one of the most impressive technical accomplishments for Windows Phone, and makes a convincing showcase for the capabilities of the platform. The Harvest is an action-shooter set some time in during the future, and pits the player against a force of mysterious alien invaders known as The Harvesters, who have occupied Earth. The player takes control of one of three distinct mechanised armoured suits, each in possession of its own strengths and weaknesses, as well as an array of special abilities.
The quality of The Harvest’s visuals is undoubtedly the selling point of the title; the environments boast a special attention to detail, all whilst running at a smooth framerate. The gameplay itself isn’t too shoddy either, fighting the relentless Harvester horde can be somewhat repetitive, but is a good bit of fun nonetheless. If you are willing to meet the relatively hefty $7 price tag, The Harvest makes for an engaging, and dubiously pretty shooter.
Bringing one of my all time-favourite series, Halo, to Windows Phone was a natural choice for Microsoft and 343 Industries, given the immense success of the games, and their close affiliation with Microsoft and the Xbox platform. Halo’s Windows Phone debut has arrived in the form of a mobile version of the Halo Waypoint game news and information title for the Xbox 360. Whilst not technically a game, it was a somewhat smart choice for a port, given the popularity of Waypoint, and the convenience of having access to the plethora of provided videos, articles and image galleries anywhere you go.
The application itself is intuitive, almost full-featured, and a joy to use. All of the content you can find on the Xbox 360 version is here. The interface makes good use of the small screen space, and is full of aesthetically pleasing icons and animations. You can also access your Xbox Live friends list from within the app, and send messages and the like. Possibly the most appealing feature of the Halo Waypoint app is the brilliantly low price tag of nothing, and for that alone, you would be a fool to miss out on it.
Another Xbox 360 port, ilomilo is a charming and challenging puzzle platformer, which also happens to be as much of a technical accomplishment as The Harvest, albeit in a vastly different style.
Each level in ilomilo tasks you with reuniting the titular characters; Ilo and Milo, who are separated from one another. The challenges you are presented with are solved by alternating between each of the two bumbling little characters in order to access certain objects, such as crates or levers, which will help to bring the pair back together.
The myriad of puzzles can be incredibly fiendish, and as a result of this, Ilomilo is hellishly addictive; frequently have I found myself developing a fixation on the game, to a level that only Angry Birds has previously managed.
Those familiar with LittleBigPlanet will notice many design similarities in ilomilo: The somewhat toy-like art style, consisting of soft-edged cubes with a backdrop of children’s mobiles, is accompanied by a simple, xylophonic musical score, creating a very warm, cushy, lovely feeling.
Ilomilo makes for an awesomely enjoyable platform experience, as well as an excellent artistic and technical achievement for Windows Phone.
Fable: Coin Golf
A portable spin-off of the popular Fable III role-playing game; Fable: Coin Golf draws parallels with traditional Pub Games of the day, and challenges you with putting a golden coin across a lavishly-decorated table, and into a goal, all in as few shots as possible. The premise, whilst simple, is spiced up with various obstacles, such as score-boosting gold, score-depleting monsters, as well as various direction-changing objects, such as rubber bands and trees. Completing a level may, depending on your score, reward you with one of three medals: Bronze, Silver or Gold. However, if you do not reach the Bronze medal will fail the level, and you will have to try again.
An interesting addition to the game is a connectivity feature with Fable III, which comes in the form of gold collection; when you complete a level, your score is converted and then saved to your Xbox Live account, which is then turned into gold in Fable III. It’s a feature that may be seen as somewhat of a gimmick, but in practise it adds a satisfying sense of reward to playing the game, and is an overall clever use of the platform’s Xbox Live integration.
Like many of the other titles that I have listed, one of Fable: Coin Golf’s strongest merit lies is in it’s visuals and narrative; The interface is decorated with intricate wood and gold decorations, whilst the actual game playing field is styled as an elaborate game board, with wooden trees and castles peppering a colourful, detailed landscape. The game’s tutorials are presented in the form of witty and charming dialogue, delivered by a trio of characters, giving the game a welcome shot of personality.
Whether you are a fan of the Fable series, or just a casual gamer; for $4.99, Coin Golf‘s strong replay value and faultless polish make it a strong sell.
Plants vs Zombies
Despite my deep-seated loathe for the tower defence genre, the utterly compelling gameplay and charm (yes, even more charm) of Plants vs Zombies took me completely by surprise. The award-winning title, ported to countless platforms from the PC/Mac original, charges you with the defence of a comfortable suburban abode, which is under relentless assault by a mindless horde of zombies. However, you won’t be commissioning a bulwark of machine guns and missile launchers to fend off the attackers, instead, you rely on the firepower of a host of rather adorable looking plants, each possessing their own unique abilities.
The basic game idea is simple: You have a mown lawn, which is divided into a grid, in each grid space you can plant a leafy defender, after first paying a price of sunlight. Zombies will advance in straight lines down the rows of the garden, and will stop to devour any plants they survive to reach. Should they reach the end of a row, a last line of defence comes in the form of a suicide lawnmower, once that has gone, however, your house will be completely vulnerable to the undead menace.
There are several plants you can make use of, each one with it’s own designated purpose, and you will never find yourself not using one, whether it’s the aptly-named Wall-nut, or the sunlight-generating Sunflower, each one will come into it’s own at some point during the game. The game’s appeal isn’t just in the effective gameplay, but also in the fact that it doesn’t take itself anywhere near seriously; besides the brilliant puns, there are crack jokes and pop culture references everywhere (one level features the zombies dancing Michael Jackson’s Thriller), not to mention the bright and brilliant artistic direction. Any fans of Tower Defence games will adore Plants vs Zombies, as it’s shown more than enough appeal to entice a self-proclaimed hater. The price is also right, at $4.99.
My last pick of this roundup is certainly not the least, and it comes very close to challenging Rocket Riot for my top game.
Doodle God is, for all intents and purposes, is a God Game, but not in the image of games like Black and White or Populous. Instead, Doodle God takes a more puzzle-like approach; your aim, as the Doodle God, is to combine elements together in order to create new ones. Starting with Air, Earth, Fire and Water, you can build up to create humans, dragons, airplanes, satellites, and even alcohol. The underlying idea is enticing enough, and you will find yourself spending hours trying to find new combinations, waiting eagerly for the immensely satisfying animation and accompanying angelic chorus.
The visual style is very unique: a bevy of colourful hand-drawn icons sit fittingly against a parchment background, the backing soundtrack has a mystical, almost Biblical feel to it.
It’s safe to say that Doodle God is a joy to play, however the game’s biggest hindrance is repetition; you will find yourself all too often randomly testing every element against every other, crossing your fingers for a valid match, rather than looking for any logical matches. However, with episodic updates adding bucketloads of fresh new content, including unlockable minigames, I would say it will keep your attention for a while yet. At $2.99, it’s a fine buy. It should be noted, however, that unlike the other titles I have listed, Doodle God does not have Xbox Live integration, so no achievements I am afraid.
That just about wraps up the best of what Windows Phone has to offer on the gaming scene, and I think it’s safe to bet that the platform has a fantastic variety of quality titles. Not to mention the added bonus of Xbox Live integration, allowing you to unlock achievements and customise your Avatar on the go. If you ever decide to invest in a Windows Phone device, I would easily recommend any of the above if you are even slightly considering gaming on it.
Feel free to leave any recommendations of your own in the comments area, it would be great to hear your opinions.