While it’s tough for indie games to get noticed on Xbox 360, several of them have found new life as Xbox Live titles on Windows Phone. Breeze is the latest game to make the jump. Developed almost entirely by one person – Rob Hutchinson of Null City Software, Breeze doesn't quite share the scale of most other Xbox Live games. Thankfully it’s a free (and ad-supported) game, and should go over well with a wide variety of gamers.
Breeze is maze navigation game. While that might conjure images of coin-op classic Pac-Man, Breeze actually shares much more in common with Irritating Stick on PSOne and the obscure Kuru Kuru Kuririn series. Like those games, the object of Breeze is simply to navigate through a series of mazes while avoiding contact with walls and other obstacles. It’s a simple concept that makes for some occasionally challenging gameplay.
In Breeze you play as a flower, or perhaps the wind that blows the flower around. The goal in each level is always to reach the checkered exit, but sometimes the flower needs to collect varying numbers of sunlight orbs before the exit becomes available. Parts of levels may need to be opened by touching switches as well.
Two ways to play
Breeze contains 60 levels (and one secret one) divided up among the four seasons. Before embarking on the flower’s journey, you’ll need to select a control method: Touch or Tilt. Touch is interesting because rather than touching where you want the flower to go, your finger creates a wind source. Touch left of the flower and it blows right, etc. It’s a lot like inverting both the X and Y axis in a first-person shooter.
Tilt controls, on the other hand, do not invert the input axes. Tilting the phone to the right moves the flower right, which feels much more natural to me. Of course, stopping the flower in its tracks is a bit harder than with touch controls since you have to find the neutral position. While I enjoyed playing with tilt overall, a couple of poorly-conceived reverse levels marred the experience. These levels flip the Y axis but not the X axis. Adjusting to the sudden partial reversal is a frustrating experience guaranteed to result in the player’s immediate death at the start of these levels. You can’t reduce the challenge by switching to touch either, because the game tracks touch and tilt campaign progress separately.
The hard life of a flower
Crazy reverse levels aside, Breeze’s challenge comes from a variety of factors. First off, every level has a time limit. While the limit is usually generous, other times it forces you to keep moving in order to reach the goal. Wind (usually depicted as glowing arrows) and a few instances of varying gravity can threaten to smash the flower into walls or obstacles, costing one of the player’s lives. Glowing vortexes create gravity-based danger as well, either pushing or pulling at the flower when it nears. Retracting and rotating bars and furnaces that spew fire round out the list of dangers.
Environmental threats aside, the flower’s greatest enemy is momentum. You really have to manage your speed in order to avoid collisions and flowery death. Somewhat alleviating this is the air brake. It can be used a few times each level to stop the flower cold. Early on I barely used the brakes, but the technique can be invaluable in the tougher later levels.
Neither the prettiest nor ugliest flower
I mentioned earlier that Breeze has the potential for mass appeal. Artistically, it’s invitingly generic. Players control a simple, lifeless flower, after all. While the mazes are hand-crafted, non-reality-based designs, they are dotted with outdoor-themed obstacles like trees and baskets. The backgrounds are blurry outdoor photographs which fit the theme but look fairly ugly in practice. Hi-res, in-focus photos would have produced a more beautiful look.
Just as Breeze doesn’t strive too hard to stand out visually, the sound is purposefully generic as well. A better word might be banal, though. Unlike previous free Xbox Live games on Windows Phone, this one actually has several different tunes. But all of them (with one exception) are so bland, they belong in an elevator. Or perhaps the master recordings belong under the wheels of a bus, if you get my drift. The offending tunes come from Partners in Rhyme – a royalty-free music website. Well no wonder they don’t want royalties! I usually complain when a game has no music, but even silence would be preferable to music that no one could possibly like. That said, I did actually enjoy the endgame’s more energetic winter tune.
Previous ad-supported Xbox Live games utilized a vertical screen orientation, with the banner occupying the top portion of the screen. Since Breeze uses a landscape orientation, the standard banner size doesn’t stretch all the way across the screen. Null City crafted some lovely ad borders that match the current season of the game’s levels. The borders make the advertisements less of an eyesore than usual.
Breeze is the final Windows Phone game to have only 50 GamerScore worth of Achievements, as shortly after its release Microsoft decided to give all games (free or not) the full 200 GS. Of these ten low-paying Achievements, only two should provide any challenge: ‘There is no cow level!’ and ‘Ray of sunlight.’ The former requires players to reach the secret level, which is tucked away in Level 43. The latter is awarded for collecting 100 sunlight orbs in a single play session. Luckily, the secret level has 150 sunlight orbs to collect, so you won’t miss ‘Ray’ if you get ‘Cow.’
Compared to other Xbox Live games, Breeze would be a hard sell at three bucks. The uninspired aesthetics and snore-inducing music don’t quite reach platform standards. Thankfully it doesn’t cost anything, making those complaints much easier to overlook. The maze-navigating gameplay is fun, with short levels perfectly suited to mobile play. All in all, it’s another fine free Xbox Live game. Hopefully Microsoft keeps them coming!
Breeze requires the Mango update to play. Download the game here from the Marketplace.