The first tease of Xbox Live on Windows Phone 7 piqued my interest, sure. But after I had a little hands-on time with some of the games planned for launch, Microsoft's officially got my undivided attention.
Microsoft's trotting out over 50 titles today, all of which and more will be available by the time Windows Phone 7 devices go on sale this holiday season. When I spoke with Kevin Unangst —the company's PC and mobile gaming big boss — he repeatedly mentioned that this list was just a taste. But even with more titles expected before launch, there's already a lot to like here: casual favorites like "Bejeweled" and "Oregon Trail," Xbox exclusive fare from the "Halo" and "Crackdown" franchises, three games with "Zombie" in the name. Good times.
How's the interface? In a word: familiar. Once you tap on the Xbox Live tile, you're met with what Matt saw when he . There's your avatar waiting to greet you. There's the last achievement you unlocked, whether it was on your console or the phone. This is where you see game invites from friends, games you've downloaded. There's a Spotlight area that wasn't up and running yet on the handset I saw, but it serves the same purpose it does on your console. It's Xbox Live on your phone, as promised.
There are also some clever ways Microsoft has optimized the experience for mobile. Your 3D avatar will get dizzy and fall down if you shake the phone, and if you unlock an avatar item on Xbox Live anywhere it's usable on the phone. And your avatar can invade the rest of your phone, too, with Avatar Gadgets, which are simple productivity apps like a flashlight, coin toss, ruler, and leveler that your avatar interacts with on screen.
Every Xbox Live game on Windows Phone 7 has a 200 gamerscore, just like Xbox Live Arcade games, and will accrue to your overall gamerscore. That integrated experience is reflected in your Avatar as well: any customizations you make on the phone will be reflected immediately on the console, and vice versa.
There's going to be a healthy mix of paid and free games, although every download includes a free trial mode (like in Xbox Live Arcade). Unangst wouldn't comment on pricing beyond its being a tiered system. When you do buy a game, though, it won't be with Xbox Live points — it'll be cold hard cash through the Windows Phone 7 Marketplace or carrier billing.
Of course, none of this matters if the games suck. Which, happily, they most definitely don't.
The titles I saw and got a chance to play with weren't entirely finished, but they were in remarkably good shape given that we're still a few months away from release. My overall impression is that the graphics were uniformly sharp, the game play crisp, and the extras — specifically, the achievements — really do help make Xbox Live stand out as a mobile experience. It's far more iPhone than PSP, but there's no shame in that. As for specific quick impressions:
"Crackdown 2: Project Sunburst"
It's a tower defense game that takes place in the same world as "Crackdown 2," which is good, but doesn't directly impact the console game, which is frustrating. Imagine playing a "Fable 3" game on your phone that would let you earn "Fable 3" gear on your Xbox 360. That's not an option — yet — on "Crackdown 2" or any other of the announced launch games. Unangst does acknowledge that "the plumbing exists for us to build those kinds of experiences," and the sooner they can the better.
That being said, the coolest part of "Project Sunburst" is the ability to set up your defenses anywhere in the world. Like, the actual world, as shown on your phone by Bing Maps. Baddies walk up actual streets — in this case, surrounding a convention center in Cologne, Germany—as you battle them away. It's a straightforward tower defense game, but you get a bit more invested when it's your own neighborhood.
Hey, it's "Bejeweled"! It's the same casual gamer crack that you'll see on any other platform, with a few adjustments that are being packaged as exclusive Xbox Live content — like the ability to match jewels in the air instead of waiting for them to land. It, along with many of the other games, took forever to load; that'll hopefully be resolved before launch.
"Uno"'s popularity in the Xbox Live Arcade is easy enough to explain: it's turn-based multiplayer game that easy to understand and fun to play. The phone version is no different — in fact, it's practically identical; the development tools are the same for the console and the phone, meaning that a game produced for one can be easily duplicated on the other.
"Max and the Magic Marker"
I only got a quick look at "MatMM," but it's a straighforward puzzle-scroller, wherein you draw with your marker to go over and around obstacles. More to the point: it's been a popular WiiWare game since its release in March. The move to Xbox Live is indicative of Microsoft's big tent strategy: complement exclusive franchises like "Halo" with proven winners from other platforms.
A trailer only gives a few quick glimpses, but it gives you a good sense of how fluid the game play is. "Guitar Hero"! "Flight Control"! But, sadly, no sign of "Plants vs. Zombies." Yet.
So yes, it makes all kinds of sense that Microsoft is pushing Xbox Live so hard on Windows Phone 7. Based on first impressions, it looks like while they haven't evolved mobile gaming, they may have gotten it to level up.
Xbox Live games available for Windows Phone 7 at launch:
"3D Brick Breaker Revolution" (Digital Chocolate)
"Age of Zombies" (Halfbrick)
"Armor Valley" (Protégé Games)
"Asphalt 5" (Gameloft)
"Assassin's Creed" (Gameloft)
"Bejeweled LIVE" (PopCap)
"Bloons TD" (Digital Goldfish)
"Brain Challenge" (Gameloft)
"Bubble Town 2" (i-Play)
"Butterfly" (Press Start Studio)
"CarneyVale Showtime" (MGS)
"Crackdown 2: Project Sunburst" (MGS)
"De Blob Revolution" (THQ)
"Deal or No Deal 2010" (i-Play)
"Earthworm Jim" (Gameloft)
"Fast & Furious 7" (i-Play)
"Fight Game Rivals" (Rough Cookie)
"Finger Physics" (Mobliss Inc.)
"Flight Control" (Namco Bandai)
"Flowerz" (Carbonated Games)
"Fruit Ninja" (Halfbrick)
"Game Chest-Board" (MGS)
"Game Chest-Card" (MGS)
"Game Chest-Logic" (MGS)
"Game Chest-Solitaire" (MGS)
"GeoDefense" (Critical Thought)
"Glow Artisan" (Powerhead Games)
"Glyder 2" (Glu Mobile)
"Guitar Hero 5" (Glu Mobile)
"Halo Waypoint" (MGS)
"Hexic Rush" (Carbonated Games)
"I Dig It" (InMotion)
"iBlast Moki" (Godzilab)
"Implode XL" (IUGO)
"Iquarium" (Infinite Dreams)
"Jet Car Stunts" (True Axis)
"Let's Golf 2" (Gameloft)
"Little Wheel" (One click dog)
"Loondon" (Flip N Tale)
"Max and the Magic Marker" (PressPlay)
"Mini Squadron" (Supermono Limited)
"More Brain Exercise" (Namco Bandai)
"Puzzle Quest 2" (Namco Bandai)
"Real Soccer 2" (Gameloft)
"The Revenants" (Chaotic Moon)
"Rise of Glory" (Revo Solutions)
"Rocket Riot" (Codeglue)
"Splinter Cell Conviction" (Gameloft)
"Star Wars: Battle for Hoth" (THQ)
"Star Wars: Cantina" (THQ)
"The Harvest" (MGS)
"The Oregon Trail" (Gameloft)
"Tower Bloxx NY" (Digital Chocolate)
"Twin Blades" (Press Start Studio)
"Women's Murder Club: Death in Scarlet" (i-Play)
"Zombie Attack!" (IUGO)