Infinity Blade was impressive and, to a point, proved the gaming prowess of the iOS platform better than anything before it. Developer ChAIR’s hack-and-slash adventure made the platform sing, showing that relatively complex games could work exclusively with a touchscreen so long as they were developed with the limitations in mind. Sure, it was still simple and fairly short, but it gave us a glimpse at a beefy, hardcore, 3D future, away from the platform’s typical assortment of fart apps and casual games that involve throwing birds at pigs. With Infinity Blade II, ChAIR expands on the original’s concepts, creating a bigger, better Infinity Blade that makes the original look like a tech demo.
There are no puzzles to solve or platforms to jump on in Infinity Blade. It’s a game about one-on-one duels; battles between two combatants standing toe-to-toe and exchanging blows. In many ways, it’s reminiscent of the classic Nintendo game Punch-Out!! in that the player’s job is to defend until the opponent is weakened enough to drop its defense, and then slashing them apart by swiping across the touch screen.
Above: Dual-wielding is fast and acrobatic, but does less damage
It’s tactile and fulfilling, just as it was in the first game, and while there weren’t many changes to the traditional combat, ChAIR did add two alternate weapon types that completely alter the flow of combat. Whereas the original had players dodging, parrying, and blocking, the new weapons limit the player’s defensive abilities in favor of more powerful offensive attacks. Two-handed weapons, for instance, remove the ability to dodge, and make perfect timing with blocks and parrying much more important. But there’s a trade-off: the damage was high enough to justify the sacrifice, and made battles come to a quick conclusion as long as we were able to survive the initial onslaught.
Dual-wielding proved fun, too, swapping the shield for a duck to allow for more acrobatic defense. Both new modes work well, and we found ourselves dropping the shield early on and never looking back.
Above: Check out a video of the game in action
The more we played and picked up more powerful weapons and equipped them with stat-altering gems (a new addition), the quicker we’d dispose of enemies, but as time went on Infinity Blade II felt like it was testing us, trying to get us to change things up. Whereas success in the first game relied on memorizing enemy’s tells, success in this one relies on memorization with an asterisk. Enemies occasionally abused our false sense of security by changing up their moves mid-battle, forcing us to adapt on the fly instead of relying on our memorization. It wasn’t unfair, though – the game may have tricked us, but it certainly gave us ample time to correct ourselves, as long as we weren’t too steadfast in our learned ways.
The story picks up mere moments after the conclusion of the first game, and has the protagonist fighting through a castle in order to free a captive prisoner so that he can help defeat the Deathless – a group of immortal beings that rule the world. It’s not an incredibly in-depth story, but it’s a story nevertheless, with somewhat interesting characters and English voice acting to replace the original games’ plot-less gibberish.
Above: Though they get repetitive, the finishing blow animations are always cool to look at
ChAIR addressed complaints of linearity with the first game by offering a much larger area to explore. Though still on-rails, the sequel offers a number of different paths to choose from, each with their own set of challenges. These paths all end in a boss that needs to be defeated in order to unlock the final areas of the game, and sometimes defeating these bosses unlocks new areas on that specific path with even more bosses.
But despite expanding the castle and adding multiple bosses, the game still retains one major component from the original: death. If we died to a regular enemy we were allowed to try again, but losing to a boss still sent us kicking and screaming to the beginning of the castle. It's not punishment, per se – more a sign that we weren't strong enough. While regular enemies scaled to our level, the bosses were static in their strength, and when we died we’d usually wait until we were significantly geared up with new weapons, armors, helmets, and magical rings before attempting to slay them again.
Above: We prepare to face our bitter rival: guy with a horse for a head
When we actually were buff enough to take on the bosses we were slightly disappointed by the actual encounters. The boss mechanics are fairly standard, and it isn’t until late in the game that the bosses actually start to throw some curve balls beyond the typical assortment. They’re unique looking and have their own animations, but the fact that they didn’t have many tricks was sort of sad – if there are only a few bosses in the game, they should have brought much more to the table than they did.
Epic generally won’t put their name on something unless it’s really pretty, and, just as was the case with the first game, Infinity Blade II is really pretty. And not just “good looking for an iOS game,” either – there’s nothing on the PSP or 3DS that holds a candle to how good Infinity Blade II looks. Characters are incredibly detailed, environments are breathtaking, and the textures and models could likely stand up to some of the earlier Xbox 360 games from this generation. It’s that good.
As long as you have an iPhone 4S or an iPad 2, at least.
Above: In motion there's water pouring from that wound, and it looks awesome
Otherwise you might run into some problems. We played mostly on a 4S and iPad 2, but we also messed around with the game on an older iPod Touch and had a number of problems. At first it would crash almost nonstop – something that was fixed with a reboot – but even after that there were still issues. The framerate would often stutter when the action got too intense and each battle would be ended with five or so seconds of lag before the game would actually begin again – something we didn’t need to deal with on the newer models. It’s still playable, but until the developers better optimize the game for older devices (and fix the reported issue of freezing and deleting saved files) it might be worth waiting, or upgrading to a newer iOS device. But no matter which device you have, you’re going to want to hang out near a power outlet – this thing will destroy your battery.
We love the new combat to death, and the new locations and enemies are a blast to cut apart. Still, we can’t help but feel like we’re playing with training wheels on, even with all of the changes the developer made to assure that Infinity Blade II was so much bigger than its predecessor. More locations would help, but a revamp of the travel system would help even more, and make Infinity Blade II feel more like a full game.
Above: Obviously you can't parry monsters that use claws and teeth
Then again, it is a mobile game, and one that launched at under $10, so at over five hours of gameplay, we definitely feel like we got plenty of bang for our buck, especially considering all of the six to eight-hour long single-player games we spent $60 this holiday season.
Infinity Blade? Yes. Easily. Infinity Blade II improves on literally every aspect of the original, and though it retains some of the same issues (death animations with blunt weapons still look silly), it’s undeniably a superior product.
Dark Meadow? Depends. Though Dark Meadow looked like an Infinity Blade rip-off it was actually a much more complete experience. Sure, it had similar gameplay, but it also brought a story, interesting characters, and varied locations to the table. That said, the combat is nowhere near as precise as what we have in Infinity Blade II, so it really depends on what you’re looking for as to whether or not it’s better.
Punch-Out!!? Yes. Well, when it comes to the actual gameplay, at least – we aren’t going to act as though the God King has better character design than classic King Hippo and Don Flamenco, but while ChAIR’s combat borrowed heavily from Punch-Out!!, they absolutely did it better. Whereas Nintendo’s fighter is focused only on memorization to a fault, Infinity Blade II adds in multiple elements to make the combat more fulfilling and enjoyable.
Infinity Blade II makes quick work to slash apart most of the grievances we had with the original while improving on literally every aspect, but the sequel isn’t without issues. Despite charging towards feeling like a truly complete game, the linearity still holds it back, though we imagine downloadable content will likely fill out the experience.