Beware the worst Xbox Windows Phone games of 2012

Yesterday we went over Windows Phone Central’s picks for the best Xbox Windows Phone games of 2012. It may not have been a stellar year, but we can certainly count 2012 as the best year for Windows Phone gaming so far. Narrowing down the finest games from nearly 50 weekly releases was no mean feat for someone who enjoys nearly every genre and approaches all games with love.

Still, no amount of optimism can overlook the turkeys that sometimes squeeze their way into the Xbox lineup. How do we spot these wretches? Well, broken Achievements, poor controls, and dysfunctional online components are all telltale signs of a game better left unreleased. That makes selecting the bottom of the barrel titles so much easier than choosing the top shelf games.

Head past the break for to learn how a bad game happens and Windows Phone Central’s Worst Xbox Windows Phone games of 2012!

What makes a game go bad

First, let’s agree that no game is objectively bad. Games are an art form and thus experienced subjectively by players. What I consider patently not fun, you might think terrific – just look at my outlier opinion of Tentacles. Still, there is such a thing as consensus, and certain games are difficult if not impossible to love.

How does that happen? Some of our worst games probably suffer from more than one of these factors:

The difficulty of porting iOS games to XNA

More than 95 percent of 2012’s WP games were developed for WP7 as opposed to being WP8 exclusives. As such, their engines are written in XNA. Consider that most of these games originally came from the iOS platform, where they were developed in Objective C or another C language. Porting from iOS to WP7 is an unwieldy and time consuming process, often resulting in substandard results once the final WP game comes around. Thankfully WP8 supports C++ and popular multiplatform game engines like Unity, so WP8 ports should fare much better in the future.

The Xbox Live certification process

Xbox WP certification is outsourced to a non-Microsoft QA company. This company handles the majority of bug testing for each Xbox WP game and decided whether or not to pass games for release. Now, for some reason Microsoft is sort of proud of their QA process, when in fact it’s nearly universally reviled by the gaming industry, especially developers. The certification team routinely misses major problems with games such as broken or impossible-to-get Achievements, crashes, and more.

They also give developers a lot of trouble over trivial matters, communicate issues in vague or impossible to decipher terms, or report non-issues as problems due to a fundamental lack of understanding of how the game works. Plus: actual Xbox WP game developers can’t test their own games in a live environment, so unforeseen problems often pop up immediately after release (especially online server issues).

Creator apathy and/or mismanagement

The most common cause of a lackluster game on any platform is a lack of care from either the development staff or the game’s publisher. Such disregard is especially prevalent on less popular platforms where there's less money to be made; that means Windows Phone. A couple of examples are Gameloft with their tendency to leave out features necessary for their own games’ Achievements and Supermono, who produced 2011’s buggy MiniSquadron and then decided to delist it instead of fixing its problems.

Worst of 2012

Enough generalities! Let’s get on with the list and why we dislike each title. Only games released in 2012 that are not Nokia exclusives were considered.

Babel Rising 3D - $2.99 – Released: October 10th  - Store Link

Babel Rising 3D

Perhaps no game could be worse than one which is impossible to complete by design. That’s just one of the afflictions plaguing Ubisoft’s poor port of a game critics don’t even enjoy on other platforms. The concept itself: taking control of a god angry at his followers for attempting to build a tower to heaven actually showed promise. But completely ineffectual controls and punishing design sap whatever joy the game could’ve provided.

After discovering Babel Rising didn’t play nicely with WP8, Microsoft partially delisted it so that WP8 devices couldn’t buy the game by mistake. It briefly resurfaced on WP8 just before the holidays, but still crashed whenever WP8 devices tried to run it. Microsoft pulled it once more – this is the odd title I hope doesn’t come back.

Real Soccer - $2.99– Released: September 26th - Store Link (Real Soccer) – Store Link (Real Football)

Real Soccer

Gameloft may be the single most important game publisher on iOS and Android, but their Windows Phone reputation stinks of broken Achievements and unpatched games. Not surprisingly, the long-delayed WP port of Real Soccer 2010 failed to impress when it finally stepped onto the field in 2012. The absence of multiplayer is actually the game’s least egregious sin. Worse, it lacks entire modes featured in the iOS version. Somehow, one of the Achievements is tied to such a missing mode and thus can’t be unlocked. Now that’s some QA, Microsoft and Gameloft!

Gun Bros and Contract Killer Free

Gun Bros and Contract Killer

We hyped up Glu Mobile’s Gun Bros (above left) and Contract Killer (above right) prior to their release due to a combination of the publisher’s friendliness and both titles being free. Glu really seemed to believe in both games, which play great on other platforms. But the porting team at Babaroga (who also developed Wordament for iOS) couldn’t seem to get either game’s intrinsic online functionality working.

These games spend an insane amount of time attempting to Xbox Live servers at startup and usually fail at it. Neither title was ever patched, nor could we get a straight answer about their technical difficulties from the publisher or developer. Both sides seemingly swept their busted games under the rug, leaving the gamers who supported them disillusioned at best. Contract Killer doesn't even work with WP8. Given its abandonware status, don't expect it to gain WP8 compatibility in the future. Update: We didn't include Bug Village in this list because while it's fairly glitchy, it never suffered from the severe server issues that Glu's other two freemium games experienced.

Galaga Legions DX – $6.99 - Released: September 5th  - Store Link - Our review

Galaga Legions DX

Compared to the previous titles, Namco Bandai’s Galaga Legions DX isn’t such a bad game. Sure, it lacks two-thirds of the XBLA game’s content, but enough levels remain for a passable mobile shoot-em-up. The number of levels scarcely matters thanks to the poor movement controls though.

Legions DX suffers from literally the worst virtual stick I’ve ever encountered in a phone game. It’s like the developers had never touched a smartphone game before and also forgot to playtest their creation. We did construct an Achievement Guide to lessen the frustration, at least.

Adding insult to injury, Namco actually charges $6.99 as the game’s standard price. That’s like charging somebody for a lobster dinner and then spitting all over it. Hey, at least it’s on sale for a buck as of this writing!

Toy Soldiers Boot Camp $.99 – Released: February 29th - Store Link - Our review

Toy Soldiers: Boot Camp

You know your mobile spin-off game is bad when the console version’s creators openly hate it. To be fair, Krome, the maker of this XBLA companion game is possibly the single nicest Xbox Live developer we know. But the project concept came from Microsoft themselves, and it was poorly conceived from the get-go.

Instead of porting either of the full Toy Soldiers XBLA games to WP7, which probably would’ve been terrific, they instead opted to throw together three minigames from the second XBLA release, Cold War. None of the minigames has been adjusted in any way, meaning they all last 30-60 seconds and have virtually no replay value. The controls stink too. Signal Studios recently brought the full Cold War game to Windows 8; let’s hope Microsoft okays a WP8 port to follow.

A better year to follow

How do you feel about our list, loyal readers? Were we too hard on these games or not hard enough? Leave a comment and let us know!

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!

  • Windows phone is just not good in terms of games till now.
  • Seems like Microsoft was involved (partially or entirely) in most of these failures. They really need to step up their QA process, and, focus more on usability - and this isn't limited to just games. They need to focus on usability across the entire WP8 platform.
  • The dragon game you mentioned in the "best of" should've been here. But these are all right where they belong.
  • Heh, well Crimson Dragon does have a few issues (including crummy controls), but on the whole it's pretty popular.
  • If a game is popular, that doesn't mean it's good. The Facebook app is popular but it sucks. (And the "main" reason the game was put there were the graphics, which tbh are horrendous.
  • You are crazy if you think Crimson Dragon is in the 'worst of' for the year. Its only main fault was the GPS errors. But beyond that, it's a great bullet hell-esque game. It definitely deserves being in the best.
  • All of them
  • I enjoyed Contract Killer, but it's massive flaws (like the terribly long load times to connect to the servers) can't be overlooked.  You are spot on with the rest of these games.  Babel Rising has been ported to tons of different platforms (including Xbox 360) but somehow seems to be one of the dullest games imaginable.  Galaga Legions controls are just awful, and the whole concept behind Toy Soldiers Boot Camp is just bad.  Even for $0.99, it's hard to argue that the game has enough content to justify that price.
    Bug Village was my absolute least favorite.  Lots of weird glitches and so boring.  
  • I like Contract Killer too. It worked well for me. Gun Bros never worked, not once, on multiple phones.
  • The trick with Gun Bros is to go to the games hub, then slide left to see your avatar. Click on achievements and then refresh them. This somehow fixes the connection issue for that one launch of Gun Bros. If you want to play again a few hours later, unfortunately you'll have to repeat the process.
  • i have been playing Gun Bros for like 2 months and i dont have much of a problem connecting to Xbox live. it just needs to reconnect once and im online.. reconnect as in once the game starts i need to go to the Bro-op option and say reconnect and then im online.. all and all a good game. but kinda boring. :@
  • Can't wait for the new Gameloft games.
  • If you want a great (good even) OS for gaming, this isn't it. Ironic considering Microsoft makes the Xbox. What's next, search being poor on Android?
  • Lol!
  • Let's not forget that we could easily find 10 times as many terrible games that came out on iOS & Android last year. The games in this article are indicative of QA issues, but nothing more.
  • We own the other OS as well and there are huge stinkers and broken games on those as well. I cannot count how many i download and delete including all the "free" games that give you nothing until you drop dollars to play it. Shoot a fairy game asked for up to $100 for unlocks! I will not argue that MS needs to step up the "type" of live titles especially because of the live branding is positively looked upon.
  • Of course there are stinkers on other platforms but there are so many games released on them that you find enough gems to keep you busy. Free to p(l)ay games are a trap on any device, if you decide to download one, you only have yourself to blame.
  • This is why I read these posts. Saves me coffee money :)
  • well i've not played galaga, but i bought it as it was 79p....toy soldiers was a waste of a concept, finished in 30 mins, with absolutely nothing left to do in the game
    as for the others, they either looked bad from the start (real football) or i didn't like the concept, and that was made worse when things were broken (babel, and the freebies)
    so far, MS and its WP devs (shovelware teams, delete as appropriate) appear to be doing a good job of making sure their mobile platform fails....they'll never get rid of me as a customer though, i hate google & apple more than is humanly possible
  • You know back in the day one of my most favorite games I ever played a EverQuest for Windows Phone 6.0... It was based on the MMO... There were three games each had an open based world was amazing fun but that was then would need a lot more pizazz for todays market. Another was a sweet brick breaker had a lot of power UPS and great effects cannot remember the name...
  • Mmm pizza ;)
  • Windows Phone still lacks some basics to be seriously considered as a gaming platform for me. Why should I even think about playing time consuming and complex games like Pirates! or Final Fantasy when its impossible to store my savegames somewhere else than the isolated app storage, which is deleted every time an app is uninstalled. Since even the WP8-Backup doesn't do the job, they really need to implement some cloud or at least a PC-Export functionality.
  • Agreed. Backup of content, in general, is one of my big gripes about Windows Phone. It got better in WP8, but it's still not that good. A cloud solution would be nice, but really MS, how hard would it be to just let us use the device as a USB drive?
  • If your fully unlocked, there is a new way to backup your saves and restore them to a new rom. I tried it myself from going from a 8835 rom to a 8858 (RTM) rom, it backed up every setting for games, apps, etc. Even facebook had the logon done and every game was exactly where I came from...
    THis is a MAJOR step in custom roms
  • Problem is, Custom ROMs will be scarce for WP8 phones, especially Nokia phones. I loved Custom ROMs and such for my Trophy but its almost a certainty the Nokia 920 will never get hacked.
  • I never even tried to play Gun Bros. on LIVE. I have been playing the heck out of it offline and I enjoy it quite a bit. I agree with the other person who mentioned Bug Village, which I could not make sense of and quit right away. Galaga Legions was really bad though, I would agree.
  • Bug village was alright, You could only do so much a day or spend $$$ to get coins to be able to build faster. Till I found there was a way to cheat, if your fully unlocked...
  • good...i mean bad list. ;)
    This certification process is for the birds. I am still baffled this goes on. Should stop outsourcing it to knobs and take control.
  • Thank you, Paul, for the background information on the certification, etc., I hope that when I'm ready to upgrade to WP9 later this year, that the process will have been refined; for now I'm content with the games I've purchased to date (none of which are on this list). Always appreciate your articles and reviews :)
  • Bug Village anyone?
  • Draw Something!
  • I think gun bros and contract killer are great games! My cousin loves playing both of them on my Lumia 800. I am not a gamer like him, but if he likes it, the game has to be great ;-) 
  • I think Toy Soldiers Boot Camp is actually pretty fun considering it's only a dollar.  Sure, it isn't anything like the full game on the console, but that's irrelevent.  Not that it belongs anywhere near the best-of list, mind you.  Personally, I think Crimson Dragon and Doodle God are worthy contenders for the worst of 2012.
  • No Bug Village in the list?
  • Want my money back for Babel Rising.
  • Galaga is a great game I have no idea why its in here and has such a low rating.
  • DODONPACHI MAXIMUM should have been mentioned in this article. The game doesn't even work on my Lumia 920. How much longer do I have to wait for Cave to hire competent developers to fix this? I want my money back.
  • Not working doesn't mean the game sucks bro. 
  • What Gmontem said. We can't put all 20-plus WP8-incompatible games on the 'Worst Of' list! Plus Dodonpachi is actually a fine game in many people's eyes, hence it's a runner-up on our 'Best Of' list.
  • Agreed, can someone hit up the dodonpachi Maximum developer and let him know that WP8 is out and we want Dodonpachi!!! This should of been an easy port.
  • You weren't hard enough on GLU!!!
  • It's a shared blame thing. Glu didn't actually develop their problematic games; somebody else did. Also, those games cost nothing up front, so it's not really as bad as if you'd spent money on them.
  • I still wish they'd uncover Gun Bros. I still play even losing guns money levels, and being reset multiple times. I just love the broken game!
  • Microsoft has the worst game service - very expensive games +one game per week  and less than 50 games per year plus I have bug in ThunderStorm (after the 3rd level)  and even old games like ( OMG, TurnNTurn, Orbital, and other ) has been removed
    also on W8 - today I saw the PacMan Championship on Windows 8 which costs 8.99 euros and new fighting game on W8 for 6.99    
  • You don't have just one game per week on the system, the one game per week is only for Xbox branded. And one of the reasons the integrated Xbox system has such a better reputation among the gaming community is because of its curated nature, let's not spoil it.
  • Pac-Man CE DX has been on sale for a dollar for like two weeks. You'll encounter bugs in many games on many platforms. And like Slayer says, there are many non-Xbox games released every week - same as on iOS and Android.
  • Galaga dx I think is great play it alot really like it. If Microsoft wants Xbox music and hames to be a hit they need to pay more attention to them, but wp8 games are much better than wp7 games. I have 2 games from wp7 that played great. But on wp8 down hill kart doesn't play at all, downhill kart 2 plays until you crash then you have to either hit the back button or exit the game and renter to play again. Rest of the games you mentioned were right on.
  • I bought Bert's Bag, a Sesame Workshop app for my toddler son. It won't even open once. Emailed the developer and Microsoft but nothing from them yet. $3.99. Ripped off. Not even a way to try before buying. Now delisted. Only the Chinese version available.
  • You could probably resolve that by chatting with support. I've gotten a few refunds on delisted games that way.
  • I don't think Toy Soldiers deserves to be in this list, it sure isn't a goty but it isn't one of the worst games of the year either. Regarding "free to play" games, I hate them with passion, but people are slowly realizing its scam and the impact on a games design the model implies. I hope for next year more games (quality) for WP, of course, especially RPGs (please!, it's a genre that suits touch devices, even more if turn bases) but also more for RT, MS should include RT on its weekly schedule. I mean Win8 has a few games already, but I can't find them on my Surface.
  • need a best games of 2012 now.... but I've tried a few of those and this list of the worst seems pretty darn accurate. 
  • Glad you agree with our picks! We ran the Best of 2012 list the day before. It's linked in the first sentence of this article or you could just scroll through the Games section of our app or site.
  • Everyone needs to stop purchasing WP games until the quality improves. Otherwise the parade of crap titles will continue.
  • But we don't all agree that most games are bad. It would be safe to say that most people agree on at least some of the games in this article and thus chose not to buy them, though.