Harbor Master - Exclusive preview

A couple of weeks ago we reported that Harbor Master was probably coming to Xbox Live on April 13. Developer Imangi Studios recently confirmed that release date is correct, so we thought it would be a good time to bring you a full preview of the game.

Firemint’s Flight Control is a well-known line-drawing game. The game presents players with a simple 2D overhead map with two or more runways and helicopter landing pads. Planes and helicopters enter the screen randomly and the player must direct them to the appropriate runway/landing pad by drawing pathways. Vehicles are color coded and must be sent to the same colored destination. They also vary in size and speed, but they’re all worth one point each when landed. As an aircraft lands, it disappears and the player is free to worry about other oncoming planes. It’s a simple formula that becomes more challenging as the number of incoming planes increases.

Imangi Studios saw an opportunity to improve on the line-drawing formula with their own title, Harbor Master. At first glance it looks similar to Flight Control, but Imangi has made a lot of tweaks that result in a different and more interesting game.

Right from the start, Harbor Master’s focus on boats instead of planes changes the line-drawing experience. Each map has land forms and structures that boats must navigate around in order to dock. Thus maps require unique strategies as players create shipping lanes based around map’s shapes.

Steer past the jump for our full preview with plenty of screenshots and exclusive details straight from the developer...

Boats and cargo

Like Flight Control, Harbor Master has different sizes of boats, though larger ones move the slowest. Large boats also carry more cargo. This is a key distinction here – score is based on cargo instead of everything being worth the same amount of points. Plus, ships don’t just disappear once they reach the dock. While a ship unloads its freight, no other boats can use the dock. After a boat completes unloading, the gamer must draw a new pathway to send it on its way.

Dangerous waters

Harbor Master’s maps also have a lot more unique hazards to keep players on their toes. Cyclones, sea monsters, and pirates aren’t just awesome and scary. They also require different tactics to survive. If a sea monster grabs the ship, tapping the monster rapidly will defeat it. Pirates can be fended off by firing a stationary canon. Cyclones – well, just avoid them. Pirates and sea monsters also tie into several of the Windows Phone 7 version’s Achievements.

Features of the Windows Phone 7 version

Besides Xbox Live Achievements and Friends Leaderboards, Harbor Master on Windows Phone 7 is largely the same game as the iPhone version. It runs perfectly smoothly, as you would expect a casual game should. Like other Xbox Live games, it now has English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish language options. The only feature missing from the original is multiplayer. We anxiously await the day that Microsoft brings online play to mobile Xbox Live games so that everyone can stop lamenting its omission.

The voyage to Windows Phone 7

The Windows Phone version of Harbor Master will be published by Microsoft Game Studios. Looking to improve their Xbox Live portfolio with titles that have proven to be successful, MGS asked Imangi to bring the game over.

The initial port took a month and a half, and the certification process added about another month before the game was ready for release. Imangi had never used the XNA development environment before, so it was a learning process. Since their core game engine now runs on Windows Phone 7, it shouldn’t be much trouble to bring future games to the platform. Of course, all that depends on Harbor Master’s success. Given Harbor Master’s addictive gameplay and general polish, I think the Xbox Live version will meet a warm reception when it reaches port.

Harbor Master sails to Xbox Live on Wednesday, April 13. It will cost $2.99.

Paul Acevedo

Paul Acevedo is the Games Editor at Windows Central. A lifelong gamer, he has written about videogames for over 15 years and reviewed over 350 games for our site. Follow him on Twitter @PaulRAcevedo. Don’t hate. Appreciate!