Microsoft has just released Wordament, their first XBox Live game for the iPhone. Wordament is really well regarded on Windows Phone, but the iPhone version is... disappointing, especially coming from one of the biggest, best software developers in the world, and one that owns its own mobile and gaming platforms.
Despite it being 3 months post-iPhone 5 launch, Wordament doesn't support the new 16:9 screen resolution, so it's letterboxed. The interface is also middling. For example, once you get past the intro screens, you're given a button to sign in with your Xbox Live credentials, but a text link to skip that step and play as guest.
I tried signing in with Xbox Live but it didn't work. (I typed in my login, it spun, gave me the sign-in button again, I tapped it again, then without asking me to sign in again, it just went back to the sign-in button. Over. And. Over. Again.)
If you skip it, like I did, you're then dumped into a screen filled with tiny text and no clear way to start your first game. After jabbing at some names on the board, that either did something, or wasted enough time for something automatic to happen. Either way, a game started with a countdown timer. Here interface elements are unnecessarily crowded together, the gameplay instructions butted against the un-labeled back button, the rotate button crammed between the board and what looks like an add for the game you're already playing (and when the banner goes away, simply crammed against the board and nothing.)
If you're screen turns off, or if you hit the Home button to exit, when you come back to Wordament you're inexplicably shown the Microsoft splash screen and the last page of the intro screens again, where again you're presented with the button/text link login/skip screen. If you had a game in progress, it looks like the timer is still at the same place, so that state is at least stored, but the cruft imposed to get there is flabbergasting.
It's as if multitasking was never introduced in iOS 4.
Maybe that only happens in guest mode but I have no way of knowing, as I'm not able to sign in.
Once a game ends you're shown another screen filled with tiny text and you can swipe around and tap to see words you missed. There's no Next button, however, and [when a tiny timer, lost amid a ton of other tiny text runs out] you're forcibly moved to the leaderboard again, and after a few seconds, you're suddenly playing again.
I might be missing something here. There might be some genius level interface and mechanics going on that I'm too dull to see, or are just impenetrable to me, but given the lack of iPhone 5 support and the ridiculous way Wordament resumes, I'm inclined to think Microsoft simply didn't do a very good job here.
It would be better to present obvious buttons saying "join next game" and "skip next game" so the user is in control of how they move through the app. What if it takes me longer to read all that tiny text? What if I want to play again but would prefer a few more moments to go through the jam-packed stats. What if all that text bothers me and I want to jump ahead to a clear staging area and just wait for the next game to start?
I get that it's real time and you're competing against other people. The idea is fine. The implementation is not good.
Which is odd since, again, the Windows Phone version is adored. And if Wordament really is that good on Windows Phone, Microsoft should have made it killer on iOS to show people how good apps can be on that platform, and entice them over.
In that regard, the real win here is Xbox Live making an appearance on iOS. Apple has Game Center, but it's exclusive to Apple, of course. There are third party gaming networks, but Xbox live has a massive following and being able to game against friends on other platforms will be a huge plus. If there's one ounce of redemption to be found in Wordament for iPhone, it's that.
Perhaps Microsoft will improve Wordament for iPhone with the next release, but frankly Letterpress, made by lone indie developer Loren Brichter, is so far beyond Wordament when it comes to interface and experience, I don't think many people will stick around to find out.
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Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.