Category: Microsoft

The house of green and black; anything in general about Microsoft. Look to the tags for anything more specific.

Done Playing: Strider (Xbox One)

It's not sprites but the game has a really great detailed look

It’s not sprites but the game has a really great detailed look

I finished Strider 2014 last week and overall it wasn’t great. As an homage to the arcade original I suppose that makes it a pretty accurate tribute because as much as I love that wacky old Strider it’s not much of a game. You run and jump wildly, hammering the attack button as everything explodes, you and your enemies alike. Peculiar characters come and go in a blur of flashes and there’s lots of deaths caused by wonky animations. Take away the coin slot and drag those traits out for a few hours and you’ve got Strider 2014.

As a tribute to Arcade Strider it hits every point you could list.

  • Hangglider infiltration
  • Constant shing-ing sword attacks
  • Quasi-Neo-Soviet regime
  • Grandmaster Meio
  • Dipodal Saucers, robo-hawks and panthers
  • A big mechanical gorilla
  • Super awkward gravity changes
  • The ‘Tong Pooh Three Sisters’ squad
  • Cartwheel jumps and slide kicks
  • Really annoying air skiff jumps

As a modern Metroidvania game it also ticks off the major checklist boxes.

  • Big map screen that you uncover as you play
  • New abilities guarded by bosses
  • Bosses that are defeated with the last ability you unlocked
  • Backtracking
  • Color-coded doors that require abilities to unlock
  • Hidden collectibles
  • Way fewer fast travel points than you’d like
  • Loading screen hallways
  • Upgradable health and skill meters

Combining both of those lists should result in an amazing game but in the end it’s neither a great Strider or Metroidvania game. It’s just ok and only recommended at a discount price. You’ll get just enough satisfaction from the Strider trappings by the time the frequent frustrations of actually playing the game set in. For a badass future ninja, Strider gets his ass outright stopped a lot. Being shot in the air will send you reeling to the ground, resetting the charge attack you need to deal with the frequent shield wielding enemies. Later upgrades let you bypass most enemies but then a lot of doors are locked until you kill everyone in sight anyways. This cycle alone probably added an hour to my playtime and breaks the pace at which you’d love to keep moving forward.

done-strider1

There are ways to counter all this stuff but the game doesn’t require more than constant button mashing

Boss fights are not only frustrating but boring and repetitive. I routinely died in order to figure out their  patterns instead of being able to dodge or counter until I could see what was going on. Seeing what’s happening in a boss fight is made even more frustrating thanks to the subtitles that fill the lower third of the screen with big banners. These usually cover up Strider and all the lasers and shockwaves flying towards him. It is astoundingly poor design and if the accompanying voice acting was recorded to be ironically bad à la Bionic Commando ReArmed, it fails.

The best I can say is that the game does capture the Strider vibe…  and that it isn’t very long. Sometimes a game being short is a great thing; it sets the stage and lets you play with its systems just long enough to keep you enthralled. Strider offers a few encounters that feel really strategic and fun but mindlessly wailing on the attack button is the order of the day. A few thousand button presses and a minimum of concentration is all it takes to blaze through in 4 or 5 hours. It’s all flashes, explosions and wonky mechanics and while that is Strider in a nutshell, this 2014 edition isn’t as memorable as either a Strider game or a Metroidvania game.

Xbox One gets ‘Karaoke @ DAM’ service in Japan

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While I continue to wait for an Xbox One version of the 360’s Karaoke game, the new console will launch in Japan this September with a sing-along service in tow. ‘Karaoke @ DAM’ will provide an initial selection of 100,000 songs and corresponding HD videos with 200 new tracks delivered each week. A SingStar-esque scoring system called “Precision Scoring DX” is promised and videos of your performance can be recorded with Kinect. There’s even a SmartGlass app that can be used to queue up songs and playlists.

Rates start at an appreciably modest $3 for 24 hours of access or $10 for 30 days. Karaoke @ DAM sounds like some cheap fun but it sure could use a redesign based on these very tiny screenshots. Come on Microsoft, get The Karaoke Channel and iNiS on the ball and bring that Avatar-powered Karaoke to the Xbox One already!

E3 2014: A little more about a lot of Xbox One indie games

Chris Charla

Well that didn’t take long! Here’s a list direct from Microsoft’s ID@Xbox page with a little more about their ridiculous roster of indie games coming sooner or later to Xbox One. Most of these fall under the heading of “making their console debut on Xbox One” so if there’s something super interesting you can probably find it right now on PC or shortly after its Xbox debut on every other console.

  • “#IDARB” by Other Ocean – “#IDARB” is a chaotic eight-player eSport jumping jetpack future arena ball game that is as inspired by “Bomberman” and “Smash Bros.” as it is by cans of soda, paint-by-number books, and driving five miles faster than the speed limit.
  • “Another World – 20th Anniversary” by Digital Lounge – Also known as Out Of This World, “Another World” is a pioneer action/platformer that released across more than a dozen platforms since its debut in 1991. Along the years, “Another World” has attained cult status among critics and sophisticated gamers alike.
  • “Aztez” by Team Colorblind – “Aztez” is a real-time action and turn-based strategy hybrid set in the world of the Aztecs. Push on the borders of the empire and manage political chaos with thrilling combat segments, where victory or defeat has immediate ramifications in your burgeoning empire.
  • “Calibre 10 Racing Series” by Bongfish – “Calibre 10 Racing Series” is a spiritual successor to “Harms Way.” The game is entirely multiplayer in a new experience that combines action-packed racing with fast-paced first person shooting.
  • “Chariot” by Frima Studio – “Chariot” is a humoristic physics-based couch co-op platformer in which a brave princess and her suitor carry a funeral wagon through ancient caves, fending-off swarms of looters while amassing riches, to bury the King’s remains in a worthy gold-filled tomb.
  • “Cuphead” by Studio MDHR – “Cuphead” is a single player or co-op run and gun platformer, heavily focused on boss battles. Inspired by 1930s cartoons, the visuals are hand drawn and inked, and the music is all original jazz recordings. Cuphead & Mugman traverse strange worlds, acquire new weapons, learn powerful super moves and uncover hidden secrets.
  • “Divekick” by Iron Galaxy – “Divekick” is the world’s first-ever two-button fighting game! It has made a splash with the fighting game community for not using a stick, yet still retaining the strategic gameplay and spacing techniques employed by professional fighting game players. Now anyone can experience the thrill of fighting games without memorizing complex combos and finger-contorting button presses.
  • “Earthlock: Festival of Magic” by Snow Castle Games – “Earthlock” is a turn-based fantasy RPG where an intriguing cast of characters must embark on a bold adventure to unlock the deepest secrets of Umbra, a world that mysteriously stopped spinning ages ago. The combat features an innovative twist using combat pairs and chain attacks.
  • “Fenix Rage” by Reverb Triple XP, Green Lava Studios – “Fenix Rage” is an inspired, frenetically-paced, challenging and aggressively addicting 2D platformer that will keep your palms sweaty, your thumbs fatigued, and your wits sharp. Gamers take on the role of Fenix, whose village is decimated by a huge explosion, leaving only two survivors – Fenix and Oktarus, a mysterious figure who manages to elude Fenix’s best efforts at capture.
  • “Fibbage” by Jackbox Games – “Fibbage” is the lying, bluffing, fib-till-you-win multiplayer trivia party game from the makers of “You Don’t Know Jack. Fool your friends with your lies, avoid theirs and find the (usually outrageous) truth. And get this: your phone or tablet is your controller!
  • “Forced” by BetaDwarf – “Forced” is a hectic co-op arcade adventure RPG for one- to four players. Intuitive twin-stick controls, tons of intelligent enemies, diverse settings, devastating skills and fiendish puzzle elements. Use teamwork to contain your enemies and control your Spirit Mentor to unleash the power of the ancient shrines, or die trying.
  • “FRU” by Through Games – “FRU” is a Kinect-based puzzle platformer in which the player utilizes both a joystick and their body to control the game. In fact, in “FRU,” the player’s silhouette is used to reveal what lies beneath the world at first glance. “FRU’s” gameplay changes according to the player’s shape, pose and movement.
  • “INSIDE” by Playdead – From the creators of “LIMBO,” Playdead is bringing “INSIDE” to Xbox first in 2015. For more information, visit playdead.com/inside.
  • “Get Even” by The Farm 51 – “Get Even” is a fast paced first person action game for PC and next generation of gaming platforms. It tells two very dark stories of ultimate foes whose lives were bond in some accident that led them both to tragic situations and put them at opposite sides of destructive conflict.
  • “Grave” by Broken Window Studios – “Grave” is an open-world fusion between modern horror and classic survival horror. Fight off armies of fearsome foes that each have their own unique strengths and weaknesses. No creature is alike and no weapon is foolproof in a reality that can shift or change at a moment’s notice.
  • “Guacamelee Super Turbo CE” by DrinkBox Studios – “Guacamelee! STCE” is a Metroid-vania style action-platformer set in a magical Mexican inspired world.  The game draws its inspiration from traditional Mexican culture and folklore, and features many interesting and unique characters.
  • “Habitat” by 4gency – In Earth’s orbit, where crisis is guaranteed, “Habitat” is the only strategic space simulation game that utilizes orbital debris to build the future homes of humanity and where hope for survival lies in your creativity as Commander.
  • “Hellraid” by Techland – “Hellraid” is a dark fantasy action game from the studio behind “Dying Light,” the “Dead Island” and “Call of Juarez” series. The game is a unique mix of melee, magic and ranged combat and can be played both in single-player and co-op.
  • “Hyper Light Drifter” by Heart Machine – “Hyper Light Drifter” is an action adventure RPG in the vein of the best eight-bit and 16-bit classics, with modernized mechanics and designs on a much grander scale.
  • “Knight Squad” by Chainsawesome Games – “Knight Squad” is a one to eight player action game that can be described as “Bomberman” meets “Gauntlet.” Play as a Knight in the arena and defeat your opponents using epic weapons and power ups. Challenge your friends in the Versus mode or play as a team as you complete the challenges on each floor of Destiny’s Tower.
  • “Lifeless Planet” by Stage 2 Studios – While seeking life on a distant planet, a skeptical astronaut discovers an abandoned Russian town. He suspects his mission is a hoax until a mysterious young woman saves him from a strange and deadly phenomenon. A third-person action-adventure featuring an old-school sci-fi story and spectacular environments in the spirit of classic adventure games.
  • “Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime” by Asteroid Base – The game is a frantic co-op platformer-inside-a-shooter, in which players work together piloting a neon-drenched battleship to save space animals, explore the galaxy, and fight evil robots. Deep space is a dangerous place, but at least you don’t have to face it alone!
  • “Mighty No. 9” by Comcept
  • “NERO” by Storm in a Teacup – “NERO” features a simple gameplay with accessible controls in a rich interactive environment filled with puzzles. NERO invites players to explore and experience emotions and feelings that are uncommon in videogames, redefining the visual novel genre and reshaping it in a next-generation first-person game.
  • “Never Alone” by E-Line Media, Upper One Games – Built in partnership with the Alaska Native community, “Never Alone” (Kisima Ingitchuna) delves deeply into the traditional lore of the Inupiat people of the Arctic to present a game experience like no other.  An atmospheric puzzle platformer of wondrous adventure and survival in a place where survival shouldn’t be possible.
  • “Plague Inc: Evolved” by Ndemic Creations – “Plague Inc: Evolved” is a unique mix of high strategy and terrifyingly realistic simulation. Your pathogen has infected Patient Zero – now bring about the end of human history by evolving a deadly, global Plague whilst adapting against everything humanity can do to defend itself!
  • “Pure Pool” by Ripstone – “Pure Pool” allows you to connect to a living, breathing pool hall from the comfort of your own living room. With all the buzz and vibrancy of a real pool playing environment, “Pure Pool” is set to serve up the most authentic pool experience on the market!
  • “Q.U.B.E. Director’s Cut” by Toxic Games – “Q.U.B.E. Director’s Cut” is a brain-twisting first-person puzzler. Using special high-tech gloves to manipulate cubes in the environment, the player solves an array of conundrums – from physics-based challenges; to 3D jigsaws; to platform-based trials.
  • “Rip Tide GP2” by Vector Unit – Get ready for adrenaline-inducing water racing action with “Riptide GP2,” from the makers of “Hydro Thunder Hurricane.” “Riptide GP2” kicks everything into overdrive delivering intense online head-to-head multiplayer, 6 player split screen, upgradable hydro jets, enhanced graphics, stunts, and realistic wave-filled action.
  • “Roundabout” by No Goblin – “Roundabout” is an open world driving puzzle game where you control a constantly rotating limousine! Pick up passengers, find secret collectables, take on dangerous missions, and fall in love while reliving the 1977 rise to fame story of Georgio Manos.
  • “Siegecraft Commander” by Blowfish Studios – Create the ultimate medieval fortress and wreak havoc and destruction on your enemies with tower flinging fun! Carefully plan the location of the towers and walls in your fortress network to outmaneuver your foes. Easy-to-learn strategic elements combine in subtle ways to yield a rich tactical experience!
  • “SlashDash” by Nevernaut Games – “SlashDash” is a competitive party game for up to four players. Combat is fast paced, strategic and deceptively simple. The first game mode is Capture the Flag, where two teams of ninjas slash and teleport their way to flags and glory. Cooperation is key — when your teammate has the flag, slash them to make them dash!
  • “Source” by Fenix Fire Entertainment – “Source” is an adventure game that exists in another dimension. You control a firefly with the power to manipulate energy with all living creatures. However, this world is being devoured by a dark energy that is tearing the world apart, and it’s your destiny to stop this threat of extinction.
  • “Spectra” by Gateway Interactive – From new studio Gateway Interactive and Chipzel (the amazing chip-tune artist behind the “Super Hexagon” music) comes “Spectra,” a fast paced retro style racing game destined to get your heart pumping and test your skill like no other!
  • “The Golf Club” by HB Studios – “The Golf Club” is a next generation golf simulation which offers outstanding gameplay and gorgeous visuals. With the ability to procedurally generate courses and the depth of social interaction within the game there truly are an unlimited number of golf courses that can be created, shared and played with your friends.
  • “There Came An Echo” by Iridium Studios – “There Came an Echo” is a real-time strategy title with a heavy narrative focus being developed for release. The player can use an innovative voice control system to direct their units around the battlefield to ensure a tactical advantage over the enemy.
  • “Threes!” by Sirvo / Hidden Variable – “Threes!” is a tiny game about matching numbers that grows on you. Learn it in a minute. Play it for a lifetime. Featuring cute, charming characters, a catchy score, and deceptively deep gameplay, “Threes!” is a tiny game that will wrap up your heart and mind in a warm hug and never let go.
  • “Volgarr the Viking” by Crazy Viking Studios – Return to the Golden Age of arcades with an all-new hardcore action experience that pulls no punches. “Volgarr the Viking” possesses all the hallmarks of the true classics – simple controls, high challenge, and meticulous design – combined with hand-made pixel animation, an epic soundtrack, and buckets of blood.
  • “White Night” by Osome Studio – In America’s early thirties, explore the macabre past of an old family manor and solve puzzles of light and shadows. At the crossroads of fantastic literature, cinema and videogames, this fully black and white survival horror will teach you that light can be very fragile… and darkness often lethal.
  • “Woolfe – The Red Hood Diaries” by GriN – “Woolfe – The Red Hood Diaries” is a non-sugarcoated fairytale platformer, full of drama and dark twists. In a fantasy-like setting – with dangerous smoke-spewing factories, a charming medieval village and nature manipulated by the evil – we follow the vendetta of a fearless Little Red Riding Hood.
  • “Wulverblade” by Darkwind Media, Fully Illustrated – “Wulverblade” is a side-scrolling brawler created in the spirit of the arcade greats. It’s 120AD and the Roman army has seized control of Britannia. Their goal: march north and conquer the island with brutal and bloody efficiency. The 5,000 strong 9th Legion are preparing for war, but little do they know what lies in wait for them.

 

E3 2014: The Coins in Microsoft’s Couch Cushions

Phil Spencer

UPDATE: I found a huge listing of all of the ID@Xbox games if you want to read a little more about some of the indie games. It’s not hard to find the big headlines from Microsoft’s E3 2014 press conference today but a few little coins always sink down into the couch cushions. Here’s what bubbled up from the ensuing press release explosion.

The Xbox 360 didn’t get mentioned out loud at the conference but Microsoft isn’t quite ready to put their past-gen console out to pasture. Coming, presumably through 2015, to the console are:

  • Forza Horizon 2
  • Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel
  • Ori and the Blind Forest
  • Project Spark
  • Magic 2015 – Duels of the Planeswalkers

D4, the Kinect-centric game from Deadly Premonition creator, SWERY, is now touted as having Kinect and controller support. The four D’s also stand for: Dark Dreams Don’t Die. I’m not sure if I ever heard that last year. D4 is out in 2014.

While Xbox One games like Ori are falling back onto Xbox 360, Microsoft announced that the 360’s free-to-play “online multiplayer action game”, Happy Wars, will make the jump to Xbox One. To be released before the end of 2014, the Xbox One version will include a story-driven campaign mode and support for up to 30 players. I have no idea if those are just the same features from the 360 version.

Somewhere towards the end of the show Microsoft shot off a rapid fire reel of indie games coming by way of their ID@Xbox initiative. The first few listed below are worth pointing out because they appeared on Microsoft’s press site but not in the footage at the show. The rest are coming to other platforms or are already available on PC so I won’t go into detail but here’s a handy list for anyone looking.

  • Wulverblade
  • Another World/Out of this World
  • Q.U.B.E.
  • There Came an Echo
  • Cuphead
  • Fenix Rage
  • Earthlock
  • Knight Squad
  • #IDARB
  • Aztez
  • Plague Inc. Evolved
  • White Night
  • Hyper Light Drifter
  • Lifeless Planet
  • Slash Dash
  • Fru
  • Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime
  • Might No. 9
  • Grave
  • Threes
  • Woolve
  • Hellraid
  • Below

Now Playing: Max: The Curse of Brotherhood (Xbox One)

Welcome to blaaaaaaaaah

Welcome to blaaaaaaaaah

Eagerly awaiting my “free” games for Xbox One I was still a little bummed with the initial offering of Max: The Curse of Brotherhood. Giant Bomb’s Quick Look of the game didn’t impress but I’ve always appreciated what the series has done to add to the archaic platformer gameplay. That said, my first night with the game didn’t immediately destroy my trepidations. There’s not so much a learning curve to Max as a ‘learning wet noodle’. The game doles out its gameplay mechanics excruciatingly slowly but just as it got past bedtime things were finally getting interesting.

The setup here is that Max wishes his annoying little brother away and realizes what he’s done just as a gargantuan claw swipes his sibling. Max leaps through the portal after him but he’s already been swept away to MacGuffin Tower. Hot on the trail, Max runs into an old witch who is oddly happy to transfer her soul into his magic marker allowing him to manipulate the environment in unique, if specific ways.

At the start it’s simply pulling towers of dirt out of the ground to make platforms or move objects around. It’s neat enough but the mechanic is a little cumbersome and there are a few too many simple tutorial bits that ram home how it works. You’re also in a desert which doesn’t do anything to add to the appeal beyond some hi-res textures and nice animations. You’re also… kinda lame. Max’s quips are as flaccid as that wet noodle and while that’s fine for a younger audience there’s no high level Pixar style writing to smirk at so far.

Oh! This is much nicer

Oh! This is much nicer

Finally, though, things started picking up as I unlocked the second magic marker ability: BRANCHES! What I thought was going to be a simple draw-a-platform mechanic turned out to be a pretty big deal. With the ability to raise towers out of the ground and draw plank and box-like vines the game has started to feel a lot like Trine; less platformer and more physics puzzlery. There are some pretty clever puzzles, especially if you’re after the collectibles which have been more fun to suss out so far than simply moving forward.

That’s about where I stopped for Day One. The visuals have gotten much nicer as I’ve started climbing this huge tree and coupled with the atmospheric musical cues I’m getting a nice Rayman 2 vibe. I hope to return with even more surprisingly pleasant stories about the game but I’m still a little worried I’m just going to give up before long.

Games with Gold for Xbox One, Free Apps for All

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In their continued efforts to remind people they still have a hot new console on the market, Microsoft has announced all kinds of Xbox One news. June is a big month for the console and will see the launch of a new hardware SKU on June 9th at $399 that comes with 100% less Kinect. But Kinect is seriously still a big deal to Microsoft and they reiterated their commitment to the sensor with the creepiest quote.

“More than 80 percent of you are actively using Kinect, with an average of 120 voice commands per month on each console,” reads the news post by Xbox Head, Phil Spencer. “Some of the most popular voice commands include “Xbox On,” “Xbox Broadcast” and ‘Xbox Record That.’”

If they were being really honest they would’ve admitted that the number one most popular voice command is “Stop Listening”.

Also in June, Xbox Live Gold members will get their first “free” Games with Gold on Xbox One. Unlike the current Games with Gold program for Xbox 360, Xbox One games will require an active Gold membership to play. The first offerings for Xbox One will be Max: The Curse of Brotherhood and Halo: Spartan Assault.

While Xbox Live Gold gains some free games on Xbox One it’s losing a whole lot more, namely exclusive access to all the apps. Starting in June, all Xbox owners will have free access to the array of 170 global apps between Xbox 360 and Xbox One. That includes “Machinima, Twitch and Upload, popular video services like Netflix, Univision Deportes, GoPro, Redbull and HBO Go, Internet Explorer, Skype, OneDrive and OneGuide.”

Now that we’ve got all that services stuff out of the way it leaves Microsoft open to wow us with exclusive game after exclusive game at E3, right?

Windows App Store is still a wretched hive of scum and villainy

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There’s been a tiny flurry of stuff happening with Windows 8 lately and that always leads me back to the ex-Metro, tiled start screen and eventually deep into the Windows Store. I found this gem among the Flappy Bird clones and recipe apps and had to share it based on the name alone.

Real Speed: Need for Asphalt Race – Shift to Underground CSR Addiction 14

It’s like some kind of sentient SEO robot spewed out a game title and it looks about like what you’d expect. It wants to be Gameloft’s Asphalt or EA’s Real Racing but from the sound of the reviews it’s barely controllable and filled with in-app purchases. It also allegedly has no desktop support so I’m not even going to try; the title alone is more than enough for me.

There are Battletoads skins for Kinect Sports Rivals?!

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Whoa, hey! When did Rare start acknowledging they created Battletoads in public again? It seems like all their work at Nintendo is very hush-hush from a marketing/PR standpoint and rarely gets mentioned by Microsoft anymore. But here we are, getting Battletoads branded outfits for Kinect Sports Rivals pre-orders.

Not being one who pre-orders or frequents GameStop, this e-mail I got this morning is the first I’d heard of it (the outfits are GameStop exclusives). So — ya know — Battletoads remake confirmed, right?

One Crazy thing the Xbox One Media Remote just won’t do

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Just a quick update today for anyone still interested or on-the-fence over the Xbox One Media Remote. STARTLING DISCOVERY! The remote works fine in every non-game app I’ve used except… for YouTube. Grrrr! The one app that probably gets the most use is the only one I’ve found that’s unsupported. Hopefully it gets an update soon-ish but given Google and Microsoft’s animosity towards one another lately it could be a while.

On the upside, that’s the only major shortcoming of the remote I’ve found after two weeks of use. Netflix, Twitch, TED, the entire dashboard, the store interfaces, Xbox Music/Videos, Crackle, Skype; all work great with the tiny remote. I do wish there were an easier way to snap and unsnap things without dumping back to the dashboard or yelling at Kinect. If it just had room for one. More. Button.

 

The Xbox One Media Remote: Go Buy One

We were out and about this past weekend and stopped in at Best Buy for the first time in what feels like years. Amidst their disheveled Xbox One display was this tiny green box with a little black bar in the middle. As I got closer I realized it was the Media Remote which was due out… some day in March. I had already forgotten about the thing but instantly grabbed one despite its $25 price tag. You can watch the video above to see it in action but if you’re looking for a quick breakdown here’s some pros and cons:

PROS

  • Has that smooth, soft rubber feel all over
  • Totally silent compared to using the clicky controller
  • Motion sensor lights up the keys as you pick it up
  • Dedicated One Guide button to go right to TV grid
  • More responsive IR than older 360 remote
  • Playback control buttons work in apps as well as with discs

CONS

  • $25, really?
  • A little too small in my hand
  • Low profile buttons hard to tell apart at times
  • Wibbly-wobbly design, if that kind of thing bothers you
  • Has to be pointed at Kinect to adjust volume
  • Didn’t work in Xbox Fitness app which seems weird