For many gamers, Xbox Live functionality is one of Windows Phone’s most compelling selling points. Windows Phones allow people who already own an Xbox 360 to log in with their existing Xbox Live/Microsoft ID and receive instant access to their Xbox Live profiles, friends lists, messages. Existing users can customize their Xbox avatars directly from their phones, while new users can create them. The SmartGlass app can even sync with a handful of Xbox 360 games and apps right now, with more titles to support SmartGlass in the future.
Sure, you can many of those features on iOS as well, but they aren’t nearly as integrated as on Windows Phone. Most of the functionality is built right into WP8; WP7 users need the Xbox Live Extras app. The SmartGlass app requires a quick download on both WP7 and WP8. After that, you’ll find it all conveniently located in the Games hub.
Head past the break for more of Windows Phone Central’s Xbox Live primer plus our picks for the best Xbox Windows Phone games of 2012!
Even more exciting for a sizable portion of Xbox gamers is Windows Phone’s curated portfolio of Xbox games. These are analogous to Xbox Live Arcade games on the 360. Each one offers built in system-wide Achievements worth (in most cases) 200 GamerScore.
Unlocking Achievements that contribute towards the existing profile you’ve had for years is way more meaningful than other Achievement systems, especially now that a growing library of Windows 8 tablet and PC games use the same system. Anyone on your Xbox Live friends list can view your profile and compare their Achievements against yours, adding an addictive social element to it all. Not everyone buys into the Achievement system, but for people who do the added value is unmistakable.
On the other hand, the Xbox Windows Phone lineup shows a lot of room for improvement compared to XBLA and mobile competitors. There is a shortage of diversity, big name games, and WP exclusives. We didn’t even get a new Xbox release three weeks out of the year, just like in 2011. We’ll expand on all those criticisms (and more) in a future article.
Best of 2012
All complaints aside, the Xbox Windows Phone lineup still looked a lot brighter this year than the previous one. After a very dry 2011, major publisher Electronic Arts and its Chillingo subsidiary really stepped up with strong support - especially if we count Nokia exclusives (which this article doesn’t). A few long-time holdouts like Square-Enix, Capcom, and Cut the Rope’s Zepto Labs finally joined the fray. If these trends continue, 2013 will be an even brighter year for Windows Phone.
Without further ado, here’s our Best of 2012 list, divided by category. Some categories have runners-up, but the first title listed is always our primary choice for best in category.
Best Casual Game
This is one of those super popular games that a mobile platform needs to offer in order to appear legitimate to the masses. Thankfully, it arrived just in time for the Windows Phone 8 launch and works great on both WP7 and WP8. Among the game’s hundreds of short stages, the goal is always to deliver a piece of candy to the adorable little monster Om Nom. To do so, you’ll cut countless ropes strapped to said candy, pop bubbles, and manage other stage-specific devices and hazards along the way. Considering this holiday season’s big Cut the Rope merchandizing push (including snacks, toys, and board games), it’s a good thing the actual videogame can call WP its home.
Best Exclusive Game
It’s getting harder and harder to find WP-exclusive Xbox games, as even Microsoft-published titles have been jumping ship to iOS lately. Thankfully, Amused Sloth has so far chosen to keep Chickens Can’t Fly squarely on WP. The game puts players in control of a hapless chicken as he plummets down obstacle courses set up by cruel scientists. Great tilt controls, sharp artwork, and a subversive sense of humor make Chickens Can’t Fly a joy to play.
Most Artistic Games
It’s hard to say which is prettier: Chillingo’s Contre Jour or MangoLabs’ Mush. I eventually chose Contre Jour for its effective use of light and silhouette and far superior musical score. Besides, it’s also a longer and more challenging game. The goal is to get the tentacled protagonist Petit to each level’s exit while collecting all the lights along the way. Instead of directly controlling Petit, players manipulate the environment by stretching the ground and activating various gadgets. Technically this is a physics puzzler, but the bold art direction and unique gameplay puts it in a separate league from other genre entries.
Best Thinker’s Games
This category would be called best RPG, except there is only one pure RPG on Windows Phone: Square Enix’s remake of the first Final Fantasy game. While the basic game design and simplistic story are somewhat dated, the game otherwise holds up extremely well. Take control of the four Warriors of Light as they embark on an epic quest to save their world from disaster. With some tough Achievements (see our guide) and multiple vast bonus dungeons, you can easily spend more than 70 hours with Final Fantasy.
The runner-up in this category is a strategy game that shouldn’t be missed either.
All three of 2012’s shoot-em-ups are stellar titles worthy of purchase, but Crimson Dragon wins out thanks to its low price, superior art design, and ample replay value. The companion to an upcoming XBLA game, Side Story feels like a full console game and is the spiritual successor to SEGA’s Panzer Dragoon series. Ride atop a dragon and battle fantastic creatures in humanity’s far future, all while completing missions and unlocking new skills. Side Story was recently updated with WP8 compatibility and runs better than ever.
The Windows Phone remake of this 16-bit Sega CD classic was quite long in the making, but every bit worth the wait. Sonic CD is one of the blue hedgehog’s finest 2D outings, with fully animated intro and ending, vast levels to explore, and the unique ability to travel to past and future versions of each stage. This updated version boasts improvements like a fully playable Tails, dual soundtracks, true widescreen display, and lots more.
Sonic CD may be a full console title expertly squeezed onto WP, but Little Acorns is a made-for-mobile platformer that works great in short sessions and won’t break the bank.
Here's to 2013!
How'd you like our top picks, dear readers? Don't miss our Worst Xbox games of 2012 article either. Leave a comment and let us know if we missed your favorite game of the year!