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 Christmas. 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 favourites 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 took an in-depth tour Windows Phone 7. 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 optimised 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 leveller 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 customisations 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 defence 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 gear Fable 3 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 defences 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 centre in Cologne, Germany - as you battle them away. It's a straightforward tower defence game, but you get a bit more invested when it's your own neighbourhood.
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 a 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.
This 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.
With Xbox LIVE and a Blockbuster Title Lineup, Windows Phone 7 Marks a New Era in Mobile Gaming
First wave of Xbox LIVE titles from award-winning publishers announced for the launch of Windows Phone 7.
COLOGNE, Germany - Aug. 17, 2010 - Today at gamescom 2010, the world's largest consumer-oriented games showcase, Microsoft Corp. premiered the first wave of Xbox LIVE games launching on Windows Phone 7 this holiday. With even more games and applications to come, Windows Phone 7 is putting the power of Xbox LIVE into the palm of your hand - from Xbox LIVE Avatars to staying connected with friends, Xbox LIVE is now at your fingertips, anytime, anywhere.*
"We believe that no matter where life takes you, the best in gaming and entertainment should follow," said Marc Whitten, corporate vice president of Xbox LIVE at Microsoft. "Windows Phone 7 takes a different approach to handheld gaming, utilizing Xbox LIVE, Microsoft Game Studios, leading game publishers, and innovative indie developers, to create powerful, shared experiences for everyone."
The Games You Want, Played When and Wherever You Want Them
In a sea of games, apps, gadgets and gizmos, the biggest obstacle can be finding the game that's right for you. Only Windows Phone 7 has a Games hub featuring Xbox LIVE, creating a different kind of mobile gaming experience that puts the games you want front and center. Xbox LIVE games on Windows Phone 7 will be specially selected from the top names in mobile, PC and console game development, making the best mobile games even better, thanks to Xbox LIVE. With try-before-you-buy demos, Xbox LIVE leaderboards, turn-based multiplayer, Achievements and more, Windows Phone 7 brings the quality, consistency and community of the Xbox experience to gamers on the go.
Windows Phone 7 also will be supported by content from Microsoft Game Studios (MGS), providing strong first-party gaming titles and intellectual property for the phone. For Xbox fans, this means that Windows Phone 7 will offer companion titles to familiar names, such as "Halo: Waypoint," and "Crackdown 2," extending the experience of their favorite Xbox 360 franchises.
"Windows Phone 7 is the launch of a major gaming platform for Microsoft," said Matt Booty, general manager of mobile gaming for MGS. "Just like we've done with Xbox 360, our charter is to push the envelope and deliver definitive games that maximize the platform. We will have an incredible lineup of MGS titles, and that's just the beginning."
The most creative minds in game development are bringing the biggest franchises to Windows Phone 7. The first wave of launch portfolio titles includes Xbox LIVE games from the likes of Gameloft, Konami, Namco Bandai, PopCap and THQ. Whether you choose to play a gem of a puzzler with "Bejeweled™ LIVE" (PopCap), bring down the house with "Guitar Hero 5" (Glu Mobile), fight off a destructive alien invasion in "The Harvest" (MGS), paint your way out of a corner with "Max and the Magic Marker" (PressPlay) or defend your city in "Crackdown 2: Project Sunburst" (MGS), the first wave of games announced in the launch portfolio of Xbox LIVE games on Windows Phone 7 has something for every mobile gamer:
"3D Brick Breaker Revolution" (Digital Chocolate)
"Age of Zombies" (Halfbrick)
"Armor Valley" (Protégé Games)
"Asphalt 5" (Gameloft)
"Assassins 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)
Xbox LIVE: Bringing More to Your Mobile Gaming
Xbox LIVE on Windows Phone 7 unlocks a world of games and fun and directly connects you to a global community of more than 25 million active Xbox LIVE members. Windows Phone 7 is the only phone that seamlessly integrates Xbox LIVE and provides unique mobile gaming experiences:
Avatars. Connect to your Xbox LIVE profile and Avatar, or create a new one if you don't already have an Avatar or Xbox LIVE profile; take your 3-D Avatar and props with you on the phone with full closet access.
Friends. Bring your Xbox LIVE friends with you everywhere; compare Achievements, challenge rivals to your favorite game, and even see who's online and what they're doing on their consoles, PCs or phones.
Game access. Easily view and launch your full game library from a single location; find, try and buy new games either in the Marketplace or Games hub.
Achievements. Earn, view and track Achievements, view Xbox LIVE leaderboards and build your Gamerscore across Xbox 360 and Windows Phone 7 - every time you play an Xbox LIVE title.
Messaging. Communicate with all of your Xbox LIVE friends, any time you want, through Xbox LIVE messages.
Multiplayer. Invite, connect and play against friends on other Windows Phone 7 phones or the PC with turn-based (asynchronous) multiplayer gaming.
Spotlight. Access Xbox LIVE Spotlight feeds, including the latest game titles, breaking news from Xbox LIVE, game tips and tricks, and more.
Additional titles in the launch portfolio will be released between now and the Windows Phone 7 launch this holiday season; once the phone launches, new Xbox LIVE titles also will be added to the games portfolio every week.