Pinball FX 2 on Win 8 and Xbox 360 – same tables & achievements, no cross-platform play

I’ll save an in-depth criticism of the lunacy of separate achievement lists for another post, but nowhere is it more ridiculous than in Pinball FX 2.

First the good news: It’s great you start out with one free table, Mars. It comes with two achievements for 50G and it a good little table to get you started. Now the bad news: If you have an account on Pinball FX 2 on the Xbox 360, don’t be fooled into thinking that it will port any of your stats over to the Windows 8 version. It doesn’t port a thing. You’ve got to start from scratch even on the same Xbox LIVE account you use on the Xbox 360.

The Mars table comes free with the basic Pinball FX 2 app, and you buy the rest of the tables, but they don't port over if you've already bought them on the Xbox 360.

The Mars table comes free with the basic Pinball FX 2 app, and you buy the rest of the tables, but they don’t port over if you’ve already bought them on the Xbox 360.

Given the central scoring system of Pinball FX 2 is designed to encourage people to buy as many tables as possible and get as many friends as possible playing, all of which create multipliers that boost your ‘super score’, it’s absolutely insane that none of this comes over from the Xbox 36o with you, meaning you have to start again or, as I suspect most people will, simply not bother.

It’s even more galling because if you buy a table for the PS3 version, called Zen Pinball, then you get the PS Vita thrown in too, which is exactly what should happen for Windows 8 and Surface tablets. The fact it doesn’t makes you wonder what Microsoft is thinking when talking with developers.

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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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