Or at least that was the perception a few years ago when nearly every conversation about Microsoft's juggernaut would somehow wind up focused on mobile: 'Nintendo has a handheld console. Sony has a handheld console. Why doesn't Microsoft have a handheld console?''
I never personally bought that argument - nearly all of Microsoft's biggest properties simply work better when played on a big TV screen, controller in hand - but times have now changed. While the lack of chatter about Spartan Assault may seem odd, it's been released on Windows 8, Windows Phones and Surface, three forms of hardware/software that at some point in their life cycle have fallen under the watchful eye of criticism. Should Microsoft have dared to release the 'XBoy' when the iron was hot, it's likely the hype would've been far higher. A similar effect would've taken place if the long-rumoured Nintendo DS adaptation was true, or if the unthinkable occurred: Halo appearing on the App Store.
The main problem, though, isn't the platform you're playing it on but the experience you're being offered. Spartan Assault is not a poor game - far from it. It's designed by two intelligent developers (343 Industries and Vanguard Games) who get what kind of setup is best in these circumstances. In the past, the first Halo title to head in this direction would've done everything possible to try and port the successes of, say, Halo 3, a desperate attempt to replicate mechanics on a format they were never intended for.
The fact that something like Spartan Assault can exist instead, then, isn't a bad thing. You may just be running around firing lines of bullets in Halo-branded armour, but its stripped-back nature stops you from hoping, or wanting, anything further. It'll never reach the blistering heights of those that came before it, but that's not the point. The only way to achieve such a feat would be the expectation that would no doubt appear should a Halo game ever launch on a Microsoft-branded handheld machine.
Aside from the increase of Halo output over the last few years - Combat Evolved, 2 and 3 were released within a six year period compared to an astonishing six games over the following seven years - which does diminish excitement (it's one of the reasons a new GTA release garners so much hype these days), it's obvious from the outset that while good, Spartan Assault is, in many ways, just another mobile game. If you were to take a huge step back, it's not all that dissimilar from Killzone: Liberation: shift the camera angle, streamline how it plays and ensure the outer shell has the usual bells and whistles the franchise is known for.
It's a double-edged sword, of course. Adapting material seems like a good idea, but you're always at the mercy of machines built for a certain type of gaming. Talking about controls being a struggle when using a tablet has become almost boring now, but that doesn't make it any less of an issue. Spartan Assault never feels as comfortable as you'd like, and even though there does come a time where you find a way to respond better to it, I can't believe there's anyone out there who would choose this setup over the traditional Xbox pad we've all come to accept as the norm, an idea that really drills itself home when you try to drive a vehicle.
When Warthogs were introduced in Combat Evolved, Bungie's unique take on operating them was different but there was a satisfaction in the concept once you got your head around it. In Spartan Assault it's just physical gibberish. One would imagine Vanguard felt obliged to slot vehicles into the mix; making that decision without then ensuring it's not utter filth to operate is just evident of the bigger problem: trying to get everything people expect onto a device that was never it's natural home to begin with. It's always going to throw some hurdles your way.
With that said, Halo's arrival on mobile platforms (and Windows 8) has still resulted in a decent game. While some inclusions could've been omitted, the watered down, addictive nature of it opens things up so that anyone can jump in and enjoy it on some level. This does mean those who invest because of the name, in many ways, are doing so for a pretty skin of a series they love and not to receive a bite-size chink of the Chief. That doesn't mean it's not fun.
It does, however, highlight that Halo on mobile isn't really Halo...