Three weeks ago, Microsoft hosted a sale on their Windows Store promoting Windows 10. They had a slew of apps and games priced down to $.10. I wasn’t interested in much but they had Hydro Thunder Hurricane and ilomilo+, both of which were games I had been interested in but never owned an Xbox 360. As hesitant as I was to make a Microsoft account, make a Live account, and buy into another ecosystem I eventually took the plunge. After all, even if the whole thing was a bust I would only be out two dimes. I have since completed both games and have come away with some very mixed feelings about my experience.
For starters, the games themselves were great. Hydro Thunder Hurricane is not only a great entry into the Hydro Thunder series but also a fantastic look at Vector Unit’s beginnings — they also made the Riptide GP and Beach Buggy series’. ilomilo is an interesting platform puzzle game that starts out simple and slowly requests that the player become more creative with solution. Unfortunately there isn’t any ceiling to this “creativity” and many of the final puzzles were impossible for me to solve without a plethora of hints, often requiring me to make decisions that were so outside the box they might as well been inside a different box.
However, not everything was perfect in these ports. For starters, I was forced to run both of these games in a 4:3 window. Windows 8 originally ran every app/game in fullscreen so there isn’t an option in game to address this (in fact neither game had very many options at all aside from volume and brightness). One of the criticisms of Windows 8 was how separated the desktop and metro aspects were. Windows 10 addresses this by running Windows Apps — apps or games purchased from the Windows Store — in a window. Being that Windows 8 ran everything in fullscreen there aren’t any options in the games to change resolution or screen size. Windows 10’s fix for this is to add an immersive mode button to the title bar. This mode is identical to maximize however the title bar is set to auto-hide. This wasn’t without issue though as half of the time I tried this my framerate would drop to single digits. After the first few times of playing roulette with the frame rate I opted to simply stick with the default window size so that I could actually play the games.
Specific to ilomilo were horrendous load times. Hydro Thunder loaded so quickly that often times I wouldn’t even know what race type I would be playing or what the target time was on a time trial. ilomilo often took close to half a minute to load a single level, which were relatively small and contained simple textures. Remember that this is a game designed for the Xbox 360 and it was now running on a machine that ran Mad Max at 70+ fps. In fact, I’m pretty sure Mad Max’s load times were either comparable or slightly shorter than ilomilo’s. I don’t understand how a system with 32 times the memory of the original device ends up with load times like these. The end credits also never scrolled for me. This wouldn’t be a problem if the game saved my progress before the credits and not after. As it stands, the final level still appears incomplete in-game. This doesn’t seem to be an issue when running the game in Windows 8 however.
Hydro Thunder Hurricane uses a leaderboard to track best times but the leaderboards aren’t showing up for me. I have found other users who are having the same issue. However, it seems that Windows 8 users are still seeing the leaderboards. At the moment I don’t know if this is a glitch/bug in Windows 10 or if the leaderboard servers have been closed. I have contacted Vector Unit about this and will update the article when I get confirmation.
My initial impression of “Windows Gaming” isn’t a great one. While I’m glad to see XBLA games get ported to PC I wish they released as full games and not Windows 10 apps. As it stands they are barely altered ports that still feel like they were designed for the Xbox 360. A lack of meaningful options and poor optimization are not going to get me to continue purchasing games from the Windows Store. These are shortcomings that will ensure I stick with native Windows games from Steam, GOG, etc. As I stated earlier, I’m glad to have finally played these two games and the low cost eases my mind a bit about supporting the Microsoft Store. However, I am extremely wary of making more expensive purchases. Which is a shame because it looks like Microsoft might port more Xbox 360 exclusives to PC via this storefront and as much as I would love to support this practice, I wouldn’t want to support Microsoft’s half hearted support Windows Store games in Windows 10.