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A gamer's introduction to Windows Phone 7

It took Microsoft awhile to figure out how to enter the smartphone game. Apple’s iPhone has been dominating for years, and the Droid has carved out its own slice of the market too. Now, not unlike when Sony and Nintendo already controlled the console market the early 2000s, Microsoft is pushing its way in as a third contender for people’s attention and money. Is its Windows Phone 7 (WP7) another Xbox, or could it be the next Zune?

WP7’s isn’t going to be judged here by its OS, its camera, its ability to make calls, or by the number of fart apps it has. Though it’s worth noting that the OS is a nice change of pace from what’s established, WP7 has a great virtual keyboard, the camera seems alright, and it’s already got a few fart machines in its app store. GR isn’t a tech site, we’re a gaming site, and today we’re going to look closely at its properties as a gaming device.

We played all the games on the Samsung Focus, which is carried by AT&T.

Xbox Live in your hands

Any smartphone worth its digital salt has an app store filled with games that take five seconds to learn and 30 seconds to get sick of playing, and the Marketplace on WP7 is already getting its fair share of those. Windows Phone 7’s real edge when it comes to gaming is the inclusion of Xbox Live. Once we got our hands on the device we quickly scrolled down and went straight to the icon marked Xbox Live on the clean front page interface.

You sign in with the same name you use on 360 and soon enough your Avatar pops up on screen. Of course, if you’re like us it also means the Windows Live/Hotmail email you signed up for XBL with will be made your primary email on the phone, even though our Hotmail account currently operates as a halfway home for all the spam we’re too lazy to clean up.

Immediately we saw some new value added to the Avatar, which depending on what type of games you play and whether you use Kinect, may be something you barely notice. Once our somewhat accurate character popped up wearing its Super Meat Boy shirt, we felt much more of a connection to the account and more investment in what we’d be doing in the games.

Above: Don't worry, Xbox Live Extras is a free app

The Live interface on its own is good, giving you about the same profile info as you can see when signed into your 360 or Games for Windows Live (however unlikely that is). You can check your profile, see what your friends are doing, send and receive messages via Live, compare Achievements, all that stuff. And should you desire to change that Super Meat Boy shirt to a Red Dead Redemption shirt, a similar Avatar dress up section to what’s on the 360 can be opened up pretty quickly.

For 360 users the familiar interface will be comforting, as will the process of purchasing games via the store, as any credit cards you attached to your account to buy XBLA games are there to be used on this new Marketplace. Even better, you pay for said appswith real money amounts, not silly XBL points. Tthe store has a good, but certainly not huge, selection of games to choose from.

Though seemingly any game can appear on the app store, similar to the Indie Games channel on 360, it’s the more high profile games that get the Live treatment. That label in theory distinguishes games that are of higher importance than the games in the regular app store, but how does that play out in reality? Read on for our impressions of some of the first WP7 games.

Henry Gilbert
Henry moved from the suburbs of northern Florida to work at GR+, and hasn't looked back once in seven years. When not collecting Mario toys, you can find him constantly checking his Twitter.