Jon and I arrived in Cologne borne, it seemed, on a sea of iPhones with our rather more established counterparts all sporting Apple's wonder gizmo. By comparison our Batphones – the falsely-advertised Nokia XpressMusic 5800s – were like sizing up a Mensa wizard with an ELC calculator. 'God we need iPhones' was the primary utterance for the first hour after touchdown.
But perhaps not.
Expecting to see a cavalcade of Kinect-based stuff we'd already kicked around with at the Galleries over in Covent Garden, we were pleasantly surprised to find so much more...including a hands-on play with the Xbox LIVE experience on the new Windows 7 Mobile.
Testing things out on a prototype courtesy of Samsung, I was surprised to find that everything worked really very well indeed. The menu system, whilst pretty blocky and hardly stunning is perfectly serviceable, customisable and allows you to navigate with ease. It'll have all of the usual mod cons that you want from an accessible smartphone these days, but what we're really looking for is the Windows LIVE experience that's been promised.
You'll find pretty much everything you can find on the Dashboard of your 360 here. Avatars were fully integrated into pretty much everything and customising them was a breeze. Messaging, obviously, was a cinch and it was easy to bring up your list of friends, Achievements, statuses and leaderboards with a dab or swipe of your finger. Oh yeah...and Halo Waypoint.
We've seen a few developer videos touting XNA games on the platform but yet to really see how it'll work. Well, that all changed today as I was handed a phone and told to go nuts. First up? Twin Swords a side scrolling hack and slash title with some light RPG elements and lots of cartoon gore. Responsiveness was the order of the day here. Having spent a good half an hour marvelling at how Kinect was still highly inaccurate, the Windows Phone 7 stunned me with its crossover potential and intuitive controls.
Imagine an iPhone crossed with XBLA and you're not far off. Twin Swords handled like a dream, the touch buttons to control attacks responding well, a touch circle to the left acting like a an analogue nub with haptic feedback. The graphics were XBLA quality, suffering no loss in framerate when furious double-tapping was occurring. Unlike Kinect, though, it was impressive to see just how quick and precise everything was when controlling the game. I decided, though, that it needed a sterner test and so turned to Rocket Riot.
Rocket Riot would almost certainly make a top five list of my favourite XBLA games for its frenzied, frantic, pixellated play. In case you haven't heard of it, the basic premise is that everyone has lost their legs thanks to a bunch of nefarious pirates, but instead of crying about it some nutty professor had the brainwave of simply fitting everyone with jetpacks instead. Cue some frenetic deathmatch action that combines Worms with a twin-stick shooter...and...erm...jetpacks.
What was most impressive was just how authentic the game experience is. Forget ports, this plays exactly the same as the original, but with multi-touch replacing the twin-sticks and, if anything, I actually found it to be more precise than using a controller! Moreover, even when there were pixels flying everywhere, a good 30 bazooka shells flying off in every direction, and pirates converging upon me from all over the place, the graphics still held up – smooth as silk.
Alarmingly, synchronous multiplayer was only hinted at as being 'probably in the pipeline' but frankly I can't see it shipping without it. To do so would put the Windows Phone 7 at a severe disadvantage towards the iPhone and its Android equivalents. Loading times varied too, with some clocking in at over a minute and a half, other taking mere seconds.
Ultimately, though, the signs are incredibly promising. Unfortunately, though, Microsoft seem to be going through a disturbing trend at the moment of shooting themselves in the foot. With this product it'll be a case of just tightening things up, and pushing on with the course on which they're already set. Unlike Scotty, they have the power! Let's just hope they deliver at the crunch.
No pricing as yet, but 60+ games touted for launch including:
Videos coming soon