I admit it, as soon as they were available I raced to the Zune Marketplace and downloaded three of the new Zune HD games, very eager to see what Microsoft had chosen as the first proper showcase of the Zune HD’s Tegra powered game chops. So much time has been spent discussing the lack of Zune HD apps, I was thrilled to finally see if they would be worth all the sturm und drang about them.
I downloaded three to begin with…Project Gotham Racing, Lucky Lanes Bowling and Audiosurf Tilt. To be honest I really had no idea what to expect from these games and tried to keep preconceptions down to an absolute minimum. In the end, I was impressed overall, but as befitting a first, somewhat limited effort there were some problems…however far fewer then many people would have expected. If this was some kind of test for the Zune HD and Team Zune, they all certainly passed.
I have only spent about 20 minutes with each game thus far, so these are not complete reviews, just my initial reactions to the three games I chose.
Before I look at the games individually, let me talk a bit about the App experience on the Zune HD. The games were easy to select from the Marketplace, with good descriptions and plenty of screen caps so I knew what I was getting. The downloads were fast and small, and they synced flawlessly onto my Zune HD. The entire process of getting and installing the apps was completely painless and intuitive not to mention the fact that the games were free (each has a small Zune Pass ad that appears as they load, but that is hardly a big deal…but people will still complain about it). My compliments to the Zune Team on a job well done.
The games do hit the battery a lot harder than music or video does, keep that in mind when you play. Over an hour or so of playing my battery dropped maybe 15 percent, which is a lot for me. I rarely burn that much over three or four hours of music, so be aware of your power consumption.
I normally do not like to compare the Zune HD with the iPod Touch, but in this case I will a little since we are looking specifically at Apps.
Project Gotham Racing
I am not an enormous fan of racing games that require you to tilt the device in order to steer. I need to be in a very specific mood to play one. That said, I felt that PGR was a slick, well presented game. The graphics were smooth and seamless and the game controls were extremely quick and responsive. The game seemed a little sparse graphically however compared to my favorite similar game, Asphalt 6 on the iPod Touch. The game overall was simply more limited. Fewer cars, fewer tracks, fewer camera choices, fewer challenges, fewer race types. I liked having actual gas and brake pedals on the screen, as well as an emergency brake for stunts.
I think PGR was an excellent proof of concept that the Zune HD can handle a game that is this graphics intensive and do it well, with smooth high quality graphics and excellent controls and game play. I was especially impressed with how sharp the focus was on things like signs and storefronts as they flashed by. I could read every word with no sign of pixelation. However, it isn’t a game I will spend much time playing. When I am in a racing mood, to be honest there are better choices.
Lucky Lanes Bowling
This game was cute, witty, funny and I loved it madly. Easily the best “flick sports” game I have played on any platform, bar none. The graphics were deep and rich and the game play was magnificent. This sort of game is the ideal sort for me on a portable device. Casual, easy to just pick up and play with lots of items and stages to unlock. Sure it was a little on the “twee” side, but the game was just so much sheer fun I didn’t care. There are numerous characters, alleys, balls and game types to unlock and play and this is a game I will be returning to daily. A nice touch, which most such games on the iPod Touch do not have, is that you can listen to your own music while playing.
On “swipe” mode, the controls are intuitive and fantastic…you slide your finger up the alley and the ball follows that course. Simple as pie. On “Swing” mode in which you swing the entire device up from your side in order to roll your bowling ball…well, that was a disaster. I simply couldn’t manage it, and was afraid of hucking the Zune across the room. It also made zero sense for me, as I will usually play these games while listening to the Zune HD, and I usually listen to the Zune HD on the bus, where I have no room to swing. I am hard pressed to see anyone use this control scheme.
So in one mode, Lucky Lanes was a fantastic game, easily the best I have played on the Zune HD and one of the best on any mobile platform. In the other mode…the less said the better.
This is a game that was apparently ported from the PC, and it is in all ways, a trip. You select a song on your device, which the game then interprets and creates a track to suit. You then drive your little car down the track while listening to the song, avoiding bumps and collecting little colored thingies. The colors used, the arrangement of the bumps and the thingies and the speed you are moving at are all dictated by the song. I can’t say I completely “got” the game, but I certainly enjoyed it.
The only way I can describe it is as a cross between Rock Band, a racing game, and Laser Floyd. The game was very infectious, especially surprising since you aren’t really DOING anything, It was like taking a music player’s Virtualization mode and creating a game out of it. I can’t describe it any other way, you simply have to play it to see. A nice touch is that you can have Audiosurf Tilt create a light show to a song rather then a game, so if you dig the groovy psychedelia man, you can just rock out while you watch the pretty lights.
The graphics were amazing and the controls smooth and powerful. The steering by accelerometer actually worked a bit better on this game than it did in PGR. I still preferred Lucky Lanes, but this is a definite winner and perfectly suited to the Zune HD.
In closing I wish to make clear that the people who are lining up to say “So you got 6 games on the Zune, how does that compare to the App Store with100,000 programs for the iPod Touch?” are still full of crap. It simply doesn’t, and was never meant to. At this point, the iPod Touch and the iPhone are all about their Apps, it is what they are focused on, what they live and die by. Steve Jobs made very clear he is viewing the iPod Touch as a gaming console first and foremost. The iPhone’s main claim to fame are the Apps you can run on it since more and more users are admitting they love it but it is a pretty mediocre handset…except for all those great Apps.
For the Zune HD, the games and apps are pure gravy. This is a spectacular music and video device and the games that have been added complement those abilities, the fact that you can also play a few cool games while you listen to music is excellent, value added….it isn’t why I bought the Zune HD. I bought my iPod Touch FOR the games and apps, I have yet to listen to a single song on it beyond the first day’s testing. The Zune HD I listen to every single day for several hours. On the iPod Touch the apps are the bread and butter of the device, on the Zune HD they are the popcorn you eat while listening to music.
I am glad Microsoft has started providing apps, I think they are super, and will only get better once the finally let outside developers take a crack at it…however, if there were no Zune HD Apps at all, ever, I would still have bought it and would still love the device. If there were no apps on the iPod Touch, I would never have bought it. For me, THAT is the difference.