Mahjong, mahjong, mah kingdom for a jong…too tenuous?

Mahjong breaks new ground for Xbox LIVE by being the first game, as far as I’m aware, that comes with the rather odd figure of 25g worth of achievements.

Like Minesweeper, it also includes a medals system but there is a lack of incentive to pursue them for the achievement-enthusiast and you would question the wisdom of only putting in three achievements for 25g when there are so many medals. A few more achievements, even for smaller values, and fewer medals might have provided a better balance. It’s especially galling when one of the achievements is literally just for changing your theme, which frankly makes something of a mockery of the entire system.

In Mahjong you must match tiles on the board until they're all gone.

In Mahjong you must match tiles on the board until they’re all gone.

Achievement gripes aside, Mahjong is a polished version of, well, Mahjong. Tables are split into Easy, Medium and Hard and you gain access to more tables as you complete them. Like Minesweeper there are daily challenges to encourage return plays if the achievements and medals didn’t do that already.

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Jetpack Joyride crashes through Windows but is it a pleasant ride?

Jetpack Joyride is a variation on the ‘endless run’ style of games that are becoming ever more popular nowadays. It has considerable added-complexity to say, Canabalt, including a jet pack that fires bullets, so already you can see it’s made some vast improvements.

Graphically it harks back to the 16-bit arcade style of the early 1990s although it’s not particularly ‘retro’ in any other respect. A Windows Phone 8 version has also been released following an iOS version and it is perfectly suited to mobile and tablet gaming. Thankfully the controls are simple even using a mouse or keyboard so if you have a laptop you’ll still get a lot out of this game.

As the name suggests, your method of travel is, for the most part, a jet pack, which propels you forward endlessly as you press the screen/mouse/keyboard to fly up or control your fall to avoid the obstacles and collect the coins. Your jet pack also comes with a handy machine gun which you use to shoot fleeing scientists running aimlessly beneath you.

The plot, such as it is, seems to imply you have burst into a science lab of some sort and stolen their jet pack, as scientists flee before you as you try to escape the endless compound, alternating between warehouses, corridors and tropical forest backgrounds.

The early 1990s arcade style suits Jetpack Joyride well.

The early 1990s arcade style suits Jetpack Joyride well.

It also has 200G worth of achievements and unlike some of the other free Xbox LIVE games on the Windows platforms, they are well thought out and not token gestures. They do, though,  follow the usual pattern for a game like this in that they encourage you to buy various items from the store, collect this and that and generally experience every aspect the game has to offer.

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Is Adera a worthy title for a free Xbox Live point-and-click adventure? Or does it make you want to click off?

Adera is a Myst-a-like point-and-click adventure title, with the first episode released for free and a further four paid-for episodes available to purchase. It’s a growing business model in gaming, used most famously by The Walking Dead, and it will be interesting to see how it does on the Windows 8 platform.

Graphically it’s probably the most advanced free Xbox LIVE game released on Windows 8 thus far and given the genre it’s not really surprising. As each scene doesn’t involve any action in the same way a First-Person Shooter would, it allows the developers, HitPoint, to up the ante graphically without becoming too taxing on your computer.

Adera is basically a first-person point-and-click, with added extras.

Adera is basically a first-person point-and-click, with added extras.

The game comes with full audio, and plenty of cut-scenes to provide some narrative as you explore the desert in search of your grandfather, who was presumed dead but now appears to be behind a mysterious message given to you by your father.

The voice acting doesn’t quite hold up to the quality of the graphics, and comes across very much like early attempts at video game voice acting used to, where some lines were delivered perfectly and others were stilted, often not helped by a stiff and unrealistic script.

Likewise the storyline is a bit of a clunker, as the heroine encounters repeated supernatural phenomena all the while musing on how concussed she must be, which starts to feel like something of a self-parody. In all honesty it’s fine and does the job, but given that the developers have stated how they wanted to shake up the genre it’s surprising how much of the game feels a tad by-the-numbers, albeit it thoroughly enjoyable.

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Windows 8 Minesweeper – Does it sweep all before it or does it bomb? Sweep, bomb…too much?

Anyone who has ever used Windows should, by now, know what Minesweeper is. It’s been bundled with every edition of Windows as far back as Windows 3.1. The aim of the game is to identify the mines hidden in a grid of tiles, using logic to work out which tiles conceal a mine and which ones don’t.

Minesweeper, Windows 8 style

Minesweeper, Windows 8 style

It’s a simple formula that, let’s be honest, can’t really compete with a proper AAA title but is nonetheless timeless and surprisingly addictive when you actually sit down and play it.Minesweeper presented possibly the biggest surprise of the free Xbox LIVE games present on Windows 8, particularly after playing the Windows Phone version. While the Windows Phone version is decent and introduces a few nips and tucks to move it into the modern age, the Windows 8 version is completely overhauled and far, far superior.

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Bug Village: A village of bugs, and insects. But mainly bugs. And overpriced IAPs.

THIS GAME HAS NOW BEEN DE-LISTED DUE TO THE USE OF THE NOW-DEFUNCT IAP SYSTEM.

At the time of writing, Bug Village was the latest free Xbox LIVE game available on Windows Phone having been out on iPhone for quite a while. It was also one of the first true ‘freemium’ games for the system, which is where the game is free to download but contains options for in-game purchasing of items to help you progress faster through the game.

Supposedly they’re incredibly common place now on iOS and Android and are considered the best way of making money from gamers, so from the perspective of seeing the Windows Phone platform compete against iOS and Android, it’s good to see the same offering. Nonetheless there’s no way I can see myself taking advantage of it and it’s not a development I’m particularly happy about seeing in games and Bug Village is a good example of why. As such it merits a more in-depth discussion than the other free Xbox LIVE games do.

Essentially Bug Village is a sim game that plays as a sort of tomagotchi for an entire village of bugs. Your ants and bees will work on leaf piles and flowers to provide you with currency, which in this game takes the form of acorns (along with gold coins, which I’ll come to shortly), which you use to provide them homes, food and decorations.

If you like Farmville you’ll probably get a kick out of Bug Village, but I should warn you that the makers have got the balance between enjoyment and mercenary tactics to part you from your money completely wrong.

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Is Breeze a whirlwind of fun or does it run out of puff? *Insert other wind gags here*

The premise of Breeze is simple, guide your flower to the exit without it coming to any harm. You can do this either by swiping your finger across the screen to provide a ‘breeze’ (hence the title) or by using the phone’s accelerometer to guide the flower to safety.

Although the start of the game is easy to use with your fingers, around half-way through you’ll need to utilise the accelerometer. Certain levels require a build up of speed are simply impossible to achieve using your finger to push the flower along. Frustratingly to make the switch you have to begin your progress again. If you’re starting the game from scratch you should simply use the accelerometer from the start.

Once you get the controls nailed you will find the game to be far more enjoyable than an initial impression might give. However, the earlier levels are more enjoyable than the later ones, which become a bit of a grind.

Breeze on the Windows Phone 7

Some levels are quite unforgiving and repeatedly seeing your delicate little flower smashed to pieces on the various walls, plants or spikes becomes immensely frustrating. Sadly it’s not really matched by a sense of achievement when you do manage to get through a level and towards the end you may find yourself trying to blast through just to get the achievement for completing the game, which is never a good sign.

Speaking of which the achievements are pretty easy and the majority of them will be picked up automatically as you progress through the game. The only difficult one concerns discovering a secret level. It’s not too difficult to find out where it is online but it is one of those frustrating achievements where it feels like you’d never find it ordinarily without some ‘help’ from the internet. The Halo skulls are a classic example of this type of Easter Egg.

If bagging easy achievements is your thing then you’ll certainly want to play Breeze, but don’t expect them to guide you towards different aspects of the game, they’re all pretty much rewarded for getting to a set level or doing things you’d have to do anyway to get to the next level.

If you like accelerometer games then you’ll find a lot to enjoy in Breeze, however it does feel like it runs out of puff towards the end.

You can download Breeze for free from the Windows Phone marketplace here.

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Does Minesweeper still cut it in today’s marketplace, or do we need to retire the bomb squad?

Minesweeper is a port of the old Windows classic of the same name. If you have never heard of Minesweeper:

1) Where you been at for the last twenty years?

2) I can’t be bothered explaining what Minesweeper is.

Anyway, Minesweeper on Windows Phone is a nice interpretation of the old Windows classic. ‘Perks’ have been added, which give the player certain optional powers to aid them in uncovering the bombs. It’s still possible to complete games while ignoring them if they’re not your thing, but they do come in handy on the Expert size levels. For instance they allow you to reveal an area of the grid, or shield you from a single mine detonation.

On the whole they expand the game mechanics without detracting from the classic Minesweeper experience and it’s a good example of how a subtle update can refresh an old standard.

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