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
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.
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
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.
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!
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!