Infinity Blade Review

Let’s get something out of the way up front: Infinity Blade is beautiful on the iPhone 4. It’s gorgeous. It’s the best-looking game on the platform and it helps prove iPhone and iPad apps can be serious contenders in gaming.

Okay, are we over that now? Good — let’s talk about how the thing plays.


Infinity Blade (IPhone [Reviewed])
Developer: Chair Entertainment / Epic Games
Publisher: Epic Games
Release Date: December 09, 2010
MSRP: $5.99

If you can stop drooling over the graphics for a second, you’ll discover that Infinity Blade is a fun addition to the lineup of thousands of titles on Apple’s iOS platform, but it’s not exactly groundbreaking. In fact, Infinity Blade plays a whole lot like a portable Playstation Move game. That might be a neat trick if you’re not paying a ton of attention to mobile gaming, but if you’ve played through a few touchscreen games, you’ll see that Infinity Blade is slick but not quite groundbreaking.

As a nameless warrior, you arrive at a somewhat ruinous tower on a cliff side, and soon find it protected by sword-wielding monsters. You’re here to slay the God-King, an immortal tyrant sitting on a throne at the top of the tower, waiting for you to come challenge him. As your warrior moves through the tower, you’ll fight each guardian in turn in a one-on-0ne duel to the death.

Each battle is fought in pretty much the same way. As you step up to challenge your opponent, he starts swinging away at you. At first you’re on defense: you have to anticipate your enemy’s sword strikes and parry them with directional swipes on the touchscreen, dodge them by timing presses of one of two virtual buttons, or block with your shield using a third button.

After defending against enough attacks, you’ll catch your opponent with an opening and get a chance to strike back, slashing away by swiping the touchscreen. A few seconds will pass in which you get to damage your enemy with sword combos, after which he’ll pull up his defenses again and you’ll have to wait to counter more of his attacks.

The whole operation becomes a bit of a rhythmic dance. Timing and direction of your touchscreen actions is key to avoiding hits, so you’ll have to read what kind of strike your enemy is sending your way and quickly determine whether you should parry, dodge or block the blow. It can get intense, as different enemies have different fighting styles, and learning your foes’ attacks is key to avoiding getting squashed by in tougher battles.

Fighting your way through the tower, you’ll battle several versions of three types of enemies: quick ones who are about your size; middle-sized ones that deal more damage but move a little more slowly; and huge ones with heavy weapons and slow movements. Each one will require you to adjust your fighting style slightly — although principally, you’ll want to get good at dodging, because it’ll be your go-to action in all situations, and you could get by in almost every fight without using the other two actions at all.

After every battle, you’re rewarded with experience and gold. Experience goes toward leveling your character, but is first filtered through each piece of your equipment, bringing it closer to “mastery.” So as you earn experience, it’s divided up and divvied out to your equipment, which all gets closer to maxing out, before going back to your character and pushing him toward another level.

When you max an item, you gain additional skill points to spend on different stats, the same as if you reached a new level. However, once you’ve maxed an item, you can’t earn experience on it any more, so the portion of your total experience that goes into that item is lost. The idea is to get you trading out your weapons frequently to keep your mastery going, and that keeps you buying new junk from the in-game store. The store, where you can spend your gold on armor, weapons, shields, helmets and magic rings, is accessible just about any time except during a fight, so you can change your equipment on the fly before any entanglement.

Your equipment all has different abilities — most of them are passive, like increased experience payouts or loot drops from enemies. Magic rings, however, give you the ability to charge up a magic spell by dealing and receiving damage, then execute it by tracing a pattern on the touchscreen. This breaks up melee combat a little bit, but not a lot. There are a wealth of rings, which is nice because together they contain all the standard RPG spells you would expect to see, like Fire, Ice, Poison and Heal. Magic helps add an additional level to strategy when you get to the point where you can deal out or heal a lot of damage, especially since you can only heal with potions between fights.

Healing magic becomes necessary as you progress through the game, especially when you finally get to take on the God-King. While you start the game at level 1, the God-King’s level always towers above yours, so beating him is a mix of grinding through battles to increase your character’s stats, and increasing your skills as a player to beat the  much faster final boss.

But the story of Infinity Blade is that the God-King wants worthy opponents to come challenge him, so he can slay them and absorb their life essences. Within the first minute or two of the game, your warrior is killed — you only start to really play after reading a card that says “20 years later,” and a new warrior wearing your old armor steps onto the plain. Your lineage is fated to attempt to defeat the God-King and avenge each father’s death over and over, and you retain your abilities, equipment and money each time you’re killed by the God-King. That basically means that you kill everything you can in the tower until you’re murdered at the top, only to start at the bottom a little stronger, and facing stronger enemies.

This is where Infinity Blade starts to fall down. The concept is interesting, and the one-on-one, boss-fight style encounters coupled with the art style of the tower conjure up a distinct ICO/Shadow of the Colossus feel. Mobile games are best when they offer small tidbits of exciting gameplay, as well, and Infinity Blade does that. But you’re basically repeating the same actions over and over, and even the same battles against the same enemies. Infinity Blade randomizes the encounters slightly — you’ll always face big enemies or small enemies at certain points, but whether they’re Trolls or Executioners, Storm Paladins or Assassins is anyone’s guess — but each of the enemies has a set number of moves that they always go to. Each enemy type basically fights in the same way, so after a couple generations, you’ve seen all their tricks.

You’ll grind through at least three or four trips up the tower before you finish the game, but even that doesn’t take much time. Even so, it gets a little repetitive. The action retains its twitchy, strategic fun, but that’s just about all you’re doing, and it loses a lot when you can easily read each attack from each enemy. The path through the tower also is always the same, with a few divergences that ultimately lead to the same places. And you’ll get new equipment, but the game always boils down to the same dodge, dodge, slash mechanic. Worse, it forces you to replay it over and over and over — so whatever enjoyment you might get out of exploring the tower and taking on different monsters is lost as you start to see the game recycling. Even the dialogue given by the God-King every time you show up to fight him, which happens several times, is exactly the same.

All that fighting does get broken up slightly. Infinity Blade’s extremely cinematic nature means you don’t actually walk around the tower — rather, you click marked destinations to advance to new rooms. This means you sometimes get choices, and those choices will occasionally take you to side battles where you’ll find chests or other goodies. You’ll also need to pay attention, as hidden throughout every scene and animation are items you can tap to grab: bags of money and life potions, namely, which are important to your progress.

But Infinity Blade’s major problem is a lack of content. Three times through the tower and you’ll know where every chest is. Five times or so and you’ll probably be close to beating the God-King, if you haven’t already. After that, the game becomes a question continuing to slog through to unlock more achievements. That can be fun, too, definitely — it’s just not very novel.

When it comes right down to it, Infinity Blade is a very impressive iPhone game. Graphically, it’s unsurpassed, that much is definitely true, and the gameplay makes great use Apple’s touchscreen controls. It also is smartly broken up so that you can play for five minutes or 50, depending on where you are and what you’re doing. Gamers both casual and hardcore will enjoy what ChAIR has done here.

But know that you’re getting into a game that really only has one trick, and you’re going to be performing that trick a lot. Don’t expect to get a lot of marathon sessions out of Infinity Blade, and don’t be surprised if you play it heavily and then leave it alone — at least until the next big content update, when multiplayer and new areas and enemies are introduced.

Pros:

  • Truly beautiful graphics
  • Intuitive, fun gameplay that makes great use of touch controls
  • Solid RPG elements that allow for lots of customization and character development
  • Intriguing minimalist story concept
  • Lots of items and equipment to level up and try

Cons:

  • Designed to be short and repetitive, and gets that way in a hurry
  • Only three real enemy types, so battles get predictable
  • Despite making you play through from the beginning repeatedly, game uses same tower layout, enemies, even dialogue
  • Not exactly made for marathon play; gets grating in long bursts
  • Over with in a hurry, leaving you to just grind out achievements until next content update

Final Score: 80/100

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