Reviews

Educational games for children have a limited shelf life. As a kid gets older, the lessons from one game will become too simple and they’ll need more complicated activities to stay interested. Indie developer Wimzoo has the age spread covered with their three Windows Phone edutainment titles: Slurpy the Frog, Smarty Sharky, and Smartsters. Starting at the preschool age, each game targets a slightly older set. They’re all extremely similar, so we’ll cover them in a single review.

Head past the break for the full three-game review.

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Kinectimals - Review

Is there much crossover between Kinect-toting Xbox 360 owners and Windows Phone gamers? Sure, lots of people buy into more than one of Microsoft’s gaming platforms. And even smartphone users without a console could still have a heart, and thus love kitties. Surely developer Frontier Software and publisher Microsoft Studios banked on both of those points when deciding to bring Kinectimals to Windows Phone. It squeezes much of the console game’s fun into much smaller mobile devices.

Dash past the break for our full review.

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Cro-Mag Rally - Review

One result of Windows Phone arriving late to the smartphone party is that the mobile Xbox Live lineup consists mainly of iPhone ports, with a few exclusives here and there. Many of the iPhone games are outright classics like Doodle Jump and Angry Birds, and we’re all better for having them available to us. But not every iPhone game is worth playing; for every big hit, many, many terrible games make it through as well. One such flop made the jump to Xbox Live for some reason: Pangaea Software’s Cro-Mag Rally. The Windows Phone port comes courtesy of Citizen 12 Studio.

Cruise past the break for our full review.

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Orbital - Review

Have you ever wanted to love a game but the gameplay just didn’t click with you? That’s the case with Orbital and me. Developed by BitForge and published by Microsoft Studios, Orbital is a stylish and competently-produced Xbox Live title that has met with great success on other mobile platforms. I’m sure many Windows Phone gamers will like it too, but I simply couldn’t get into it.
Shoot past the jump for our full review. 
Out of this world
If one thing draws me into Orbital, it’s the presentation. The menus consist of large neon buttons suspended over a scrolling space backdrop. Transitions between menus are animated quite professionally, though the frame rate on the animations is a bit slow.
The actual gameplay layers a geoDefense-like grid on top of the same space background, presumably to assist with aiming. Players fire orbs from a simple neon-outlined turret, which travel and explode with impressively colorful visual effects. Complementing the visuals is an ethereal electronic two-song soundtrack. So far so good…
Space pool
It’s when we get to the actual gameplay that Orbital loses me. The basic gameplay involves firing orbs from a cannon situated at the bottom of the screen. These then reflect off of the wall and come to a stop. Once a fired orb stops moving, it expands until it touches something – either the wall or another orb. Thus orbs vary wildly in size, from tiny to nearly screen-filling, depending on the player’s shot.
Each orb also starts with a number inside: 3 or 5, depending on the mode. Every time an orb is struck by their brethren, it cries a little inside and learns to distrust others. No wait, that’s my childhood. Actually, hitting an orb makes its number count down by one; when the number reaches zero, it disappears from the playfield, increasing your score.
The game boils down to trying to strike as many orbs as possible with each shot while simultaneously keeping them from landing too far down the screen. If an orb touches the ‘deathline’ at the bottom of the screen, the game ends. If you have too many low-situated orbs or a giant orb near the bottom, it gets quite tough to keep your shots from bouncing into that cruel killing barrier.
Many ways to play
While Orbital lacks a proper metagame or story mode, it does at least offer multiple twists on the core gameplay:
Supernova: Unlike the other modes, orbs here take five hits to kill instead of three. To compensate for that, Supernova features a unique combo system. When an orb gets destroyed, it emits an explosion proportionate to its size. Orbs hit by this explosion reduce their countdown number by one, so chain reactions often ensue. Supernova is also the only mode that allows gamers to directly aim the cannon. The cannon’s laser sight helps to judge where your shot will first strike, but it doesn’t show where it’ll end up after bouncing.
Gravity: Stationary orbs in this mode emit their own fields of gravity, causing moving orbs to veer towards them. This often results in orbs clumping together, which can be helpful sometimes and harmful others.
Pure: This game type works like Gravity but without the gravity. It’s the simplest form of gameplay, but the lack of aids like a combo system make achieving high scores difficult.
Multiplayer: I’m not a huge fan of same-screen multiplayer on phones, but Orbital’s is at least fairly robust. Select one of the three main game types, set the number of rounds, and then the competition begins. Each player controls a turret at opposite ends of the playing field, taking turns with their shots. The object is to cause your opponent to cross his own death line. Multiplayer has sort of an air hockey or pool vibe and I enjoy it a bit more than solo play.
Criticisms
Why didn’t I have more fun with Orbital? Since there is no overarching goal or progression system, the game basically consists of brief high score runs in the mode of your choosing. That brevity is the problem; specifically, it’s so easy to die in this game. I never discovered a strategy that put me a secure enough ground to last very long or achieve decent scores. However hard I tried, I always ended up with a giant orb blocking my shots or a seemingly innocuous shot raveling too far and resulting in my demise. The game’s Tutorial and Help sections can teach you how to play, but they don’t teach how to play well.
Further complicating matters is the aiming system. In Gravity and Pure modes, the cannon moves back and forth on its own and you just tap the screen to fire when ready. That mechanic really doesn’t work in a game that’s all about carefully considered distances and reflections. But Supernova’s manual aiming drops the orb as well. It’s way too difficult to move the laser sight precisely; the tiniest finger movement changes the trajectory by multiple millimeters. Worse, aiming and firing are tied together instead of separate. Lift your finger and you shoot. Had there been a separate fire button it would be much easier to fire two shots with the exact same trajectory, but instead players have to manually aim each shot.
Achievements
The difficulty I faced with Orbital’s general gameplay extends to its Achievements too. You’re bound to get several of them over time, including the ones for destroying two orbs with one shoot or playing 100 games. The two multiplayer Achievements are also gimmes since one person can simply play both roles. 
Get the easy Achievements out of the way and several onerous ones remain. Supernova and Gravity both have score-based Achievements that are way beyond my abilities (though not some of my friends, we should note). The Achievements for getting three close calls in one game and 10 triple shots in a game are also tough and no fun to shoot for. Yip Yoo’s Achievement Guide offers some advice, but you’ll still need plenty of persistence and skill to earn the full 200.
Overall Impression
I wish I could say that I had a great time with Orbital. But I just couldn’t come to terms with the core gameplay, and there’s nothing else beyond that to keep players busy. With better aiming and some visual aids for lining up shots (such as being able to see where an orb will actually stop), Orbital would have much greater appeal. Instead, only gamers who really dig the reflection-based gameplay and hunting for high scores will get much playtime out of this game.
Orbital costs $2.99 and there is a free trial. Pick it up here on the Marketplace.

Have you ever wanted to love a game but the gameplay just didn’t click with you? That’s the case with Orbital and me. Developed by BitForge and published by Microsoft Studios, Orbital is a stylish and competently-produced Xbox Live title that has met with great success on other mobile platforms. I’m sure many Windows Phone gamers will like it too, but I simply couldn’t get into it.

Shoot past the jump for our full review.

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World Weather - Review

We touched briefly touched on the Windows Phone weather app, World Weather, earlier this year. It's a handy, basic weather app that covers locations world wide. World Weather was recently updated to version 2.5 adding mango features such as fast resume and multiple live tile support. The app also received a major facelift in design and added new features beyond what Mango has brought to the table.

To see if the changes to World Weather helped or hurt, slide on past the break.

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Nokia Lumia 800 Review

The Nokia Lumia 800 is the final result of hard work and active development in the time that was available since they announced the partnership with Microsoft earlier this year. Nokia has stated that 2012 will be the year to look out for innovative hardware, powerful handsets (with possibly dual-core chips) and much more. The Lumia family also includes the 710, a more affordable option.

The Lumia 800 is a solid phone with a unibody and a single piece of injection-moulded polycarbonate. The Gorilla toughened glass appears to "fold" into the chasis to provide the design a smooth surface. The screen is a ClearBlack AMOLED display, which ensures there's enough attention focused on what's being projected. The technology used in construction allows the Lumia 800 to be used in sun light. Being powered by a 1.4Ghz chip and fuelled by a 1450mAh battery, the Nokia Lumia 800 is a perfect handset for those who are arriving to the platform or looking to upgrade. Head on past the break for the run through.

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Crazy Casino - Review

The developers of Mars Runner has released Crazy Casino over at the Windows Phone Marketplace. Crazy Casino is a collection of slot and video poker games that become unlocked as you progress through the game an win more coins and tickets.

Tickets are earned as you play to unlock additional slot machines and the more coins you win, the further you progress in reputation or gambler status. There are two video poker games and three slot games.

To read more on Crazy Casino, slip on past the break.

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Mafia Pizza Car - Review

Elbert Perez is at it again. He's developed another entertaining Windows Phone game, Mafia Pizza Car. You play the role of a Mafioso pizza delivery dude. You're not only responsible for timely delivery of the pies and taking care of a few side jobs along the way.

Unfortunately these side jobs tend to attract the attention of the police and you'll need to learn to avoid them or run the risk of getting busted.  To see how Mafia Pizza Car shakes out, zip on past the break.

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Chromatic - Review

Looking for a fast paced shooter game for your Windows Phone? Take a look at Chromatic.

Chromatic is a 2D shooter where you take control of a defense turret and defend your position against wave after wave of attacking enemies. As you progress through the game you gain access to six unique guns with their own power/strengths. As you work your way through the game, these weapons will advance in levels as well to increase their effectiveness.

To read more on Chromatic, follow the break

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Bump Out - Review

Like puzzle games? Bump Out is a neat little puzzle game for your Windows Phone that any puzzle aficionado will appreciate.

The goal is to bump or bounce soccer balls off the screen until you have only one remaining. The balls are placed on a grid and you slide one into another to bump them off the screen. Sounds easy, right? Bump on past the break to see just how easy Bump Out can be.

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Photo Editor - Review

There are a handful of photo editor apps for your Windows Phone. They range from the basic to the artistic to the full editing packages. We turn our sites on Photo Editor to see how it measures up against the other options available in the Marketplace.

Photo Editor has a nice selection of editing tools ranging from cropping to filters to adding clip art to your images. The interface is nice and Photo Editor does have Facebook integration to allow you to share your photos.

To see how well Photo Editor hits the mark, slide on past the break.

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Zombies Attack Free - Review

Zombies have become a very popular character these days and Windows Phone games have their fair share of zombie games. Zombies Attack! Free is the latest incarnation of the zombie themed games.

The game premise is simple, destroy the zombies by dropping an assortment of bombs on them as they parade across your Windows Phone screen. Any zombies that make it across, will eat away at your health. To see how you prevent the undead from devouring your brains, skip on past the break.

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You, Me and Words - Review

You, Me and Words joins the healthy list of Boggle type games on the Windows Phone Marketplace. But there's something different about You, Me and Words that sets it apart from the other games such as Wordrix and Word Arena.

For starters, instead of a 4x4 grid of letters, You, Me and Words has a 3x3 grid. If my math is correct, that means you have seven fewer letters to build words off of. You also don't have to link the letters together, you simply tap the letters in sequence to build the word.

To read more on You, Me and Words just follow the break.

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Turn by Turn Navigation US + Canada - Review

It's been a busy week for Windows Phone navigation apps. First we see NAVIGON released that brings on-board maps to your Windows Phone to eliminate the need for a data connection for route calculations and maps. Now we see GPSTuner, developer of Outdoor Navigator and Turn by Turn Navigation, release a new version of Turn by Turn that also includes offline maps.

But wait, the original version of Turn by Turn had downloadable maps. True, but the process was a little cumbersome and the original version still required a data connection for routing and for the times you strayed from the map shot you downloaded.

The new version of Turn by Turn Navigation allows you to choose regional maps to eliminate the need for a data connection. This also allows you to minimize storage requirements by allowing you to choose what maps are downloaded. If you never stray from the Western US, why should you tie up storage with East Coast maps?

The app itself has changed very little (you do have a new search function) but the performance is noticeably improved with the addition of on-board, offline maps. To see how Turn by Turn Navigation US + Canada managed the open road, move on past the break.

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CleverPhoto - Review

Looking for a photo editor for your Windows Phone? CleverPhoto is a simple, yet comprehensive photo editor for your Windows Phone. The user interface is straight forward and the tools offer you plenty of options to fine tune your images.

When you first launch CleverPhoto you are given the choice of launching the camera app to capture your photo or select a picture to edit from you Pictures Library. Once you've captured or selected a photo, you're taken directly to the editing chamber.

To see what all you can do with CleverPhoto, snap on past the break.

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NAVIGON - Review

NAVIGON hit the Windows Phone Marketplace a few days ago with mixed reactions. Some felt the navigational app was a really nice addition to the Marketplace while others were hesitant on the price. Some felt that having an option to download specific maps might help take the bite out of the hefty price tag.

Speaking of which, let me break the news to you right out of the gate in case you've missed it. The $29.99 price tag for the U.S. version of NAVIGON is an introductory price. After November 15, 2011 the price jumps up to $49.99. European introductory pricing is set at 59.49 Euros until November 15th and then the price jumps to 84.99 Euros.

With the price being amongst the highest for a Windows Phone app, it's natural to ask "Is it worth it?". Especially when lower priced alternatives are out there that can navigate you around town pretty darn well in their own right.

Over the past few days, we took NAVIGON out for a test drive and ease on past the break to see how things measured up. See if that $29.99 (soon to be $49.99) is a deal or a steal.

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Minesweeper - Review

Minesweeper as we know it was created in 1990 and has been bundled with every new version of Windows since 1992. The mobile Xbox Live version, developed by Babaroga and published by Microsoft, is one of the first two free ad-supported games for Xbox Live and the first to be available in regions outside of North America. This game shares much in common with its fellow free game Sudoku, though the actual gameplay is completely different, with a much higher learning curve. Get past that and you’ll find an enjoyable logic puzzle game.

Step carefully over the mines and past the break for our full review.

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Implode: Xbox Windows Phone Review

Implode for Windows Phone

I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing three mobile Xbox Live physics puzzlers so far: iBlast Moki, Tiki Towers, and Enigmo. Now that IUGO’s popular Implode! has come to the Windows Phone, could the genre be getting too crowded for its own good? That depends on how much you like a cerebral challenge. After braving Implode!’s vast quantity of levels, I’m pleased to report that my brain has yet to be tapped out. More importantly, Implode! is good enough and different enough to justify its place on the platform.

Put on your hard hat and head past the break for our full review.

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Gravity Guy - Review

There are many different approaches to adapting traditional genres to mobile platforms. Take platformers, for example. Sonic the Hedgehog 4 brings an Xbox 360 title to Windows Phone with touch-screen controls. I love the game, but some people either can’t or don’t want to adapt to touch-screen controls. Doodle Jump, designed purely for mobile phones, simply relies on tilt-control to steer its ever-jumping hero from platform to platform. Gravity Guy from Miniclip falls somewhere between the two extremes.

Flip past the break for our full review.

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Collapse! - Xbox Windows Phone Review

How much do Xbox Live Achievements affect your enjoyment of a game? The best Achievements enhance the gameplay experience, simultaneously rewarding progress and encouraging players to experience the game in new ways. Sometimes we see games whose Achievement difficulty doesn’t match their casual nature – Doodle Jump and Harbor Master to name only two. There are also poor games whose only redeeming value is the easiness of their Achievements (hello, Butterfly!). And then comes Collapse! from GameHouse. A good game with easy Achievements, but there is such a thing as too easy.

Head past the jump for our full review.

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Tower Bloxx: New York - Xbox Windows Phone Review

After the huge disappointment of 3D Brick Breaker Revolution from Digital Chocolate, I wasn’t exactly eager to play any more of their games. That title sported an awful 3D graphics engine, poor controls, and overly difficult gameplay and Achievements. Surprisingly, Digital Chocolate’s other Xbox Live title, Tower Bloxx: New York is far less offensive. It’s still nothing special, but fans of casual games may enjoy it.

Climb the stairs past the break for our full review.

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