Ring Blade Review


At first, I didn’t know what to make of Ring Blade, an iPhone vertical shooter of the “bullet hell” persuasion that sports an understated art style that looks a lot like tattoos. But after just a few minutes with the game, I was hooked: it’s elegant to watch and makes great use of the iPhone and iPad‘s touchscreen capabilities.


Ring Blade (IPhone [Reviewed])
Developer: MindTrip Studios
Publisher: MindTrip Studios
Release Date: Mar 08, 2011
MSRP: $1

The titular Ring Blade is your weapon of choice, and the white barrens you find yourself in are the recesses of your own mind, according to the game’s description. Playing through takes you to several different “arenas,” each of which contains enemies of a different theme that you’ll fight through four levels and a boss. You control a “launcher” that fires blades at the bottom of the screen. The launcher can move left and right along the bottom border, and if it gets hit by enemies, it takes damage. Your remaining health is measured in a blue bar at the top of the screen.

Touch controls are used to move the launcher back and forth, and firing its blades is done by flicking your thumb upward. The direction of the flick also controls aim, directing one of three blades toward enemies. Blades bounce off the top and sides of the screen like in air hockey, and the more bounces a blade gets before it impacts and destroys an enemy, the more points you pick up for the kill. Earning points is the overall goal of the game, although as you play through the single-player campaign, you’ll progress through the six different arenas and unlock them as you go.

Notching up a high score is nice, but I found more draw in working through the challenges presented by each of Ring Blade’s new arenas and bosses. The game is extremely well-balanced — each new set of enemies is difficult to fight in its own way, but you’re always made to feel capable of dealing with what’s being thrown at you, provided your skills are up to the task. Even when you get to the bullet hell scenarios, when you’re awash in flying enemies and projectiles, strategic movements and shots can generally win the day.

When it comes to strategy, Ring Blade has one big mechanic that will get you think about every shot you fire: The longer you wait to shoot, the stronger your blade becomes as it charges you. You can see the level of its charge at the bottom of the screen, as a tribal tattoo-looking design spreads from the center outward. When it glows orange, your blade is at full strength, and will cut through more enemies without being ricocheted in a different direction. Charged blades will kill more incoming baddies than standard blades will, so you’re forced into a trade-off: Does the situation warrant more weak shots or a single, more powerful shot? Survival is key — when you die, you lose all your points — but being able to rack up a big score is also a concern. There are a lot of moments when the screen is seriously flooded with enemies, and you won’t be able to kill them all or even most of them. It’s moments like these that deciding whether to go for a charge or just open fire gets more tactical.

Ring Blade exceeds in being simple and yet deep, challenging and yet fun. It’s definitely a hard game, but infinite continues that keep you in the arena and level where you died allow you to continue to progress, even if you lose your high score. It also ramps up difficulty nicely as you go forward, and you’ll feel like a better player going into the sixth arena than you did in the second.

If there’s quibbling to be done (and there is — this is a review, after all), it would involve two fronts: first, graphics.

While Ring Blade’s art style is a great, inspired and understated choice that fits well with the game while not being obtrusive at all, the game looks a little blocky. Ring Blade doesn’t look bad, exactly, but it isn’t optimized for the iPhone 4′s Retina display, and in fact seems to be somewhat low-res in general. That’s hardly a major problem, but take a look at iTunes reviews once in a while and you’ll see that lots of iPhone gamers are annoyed when a game doesn’t include┬áRetina support. It’s noticeable, and it weakens an otherwise beautiful game to have it look a bit ugly for no good reason.

The touch controls can also occasionally give players the business. This might be a matter of responsiveness on occasion, but I think it might in fact be more interplay between the flicking mechanic and the side-to-side control of the launcher. Sometimes, you can lose your grip on the launcher and it’ll cost you damage or even death, as you think you’re moving clear of danger, but in fact, the launcher is back where you just had it. Again, this is an easy fix: make the whole screen (or half of it, or just a little more of it) responsive when touched to move the launcher, and you can never lose it for accidentally slipping your finger off it. Again, it’s a minor thing, but a small change would make the game play a little better.

Ring Blade is exactly what a mobile game in an arcade-style genre should be: enthralling, challenging and exciting, bite-sized and sufficiently different to be more than a rehash of the games that came before it. Its designers, MindTrip Studios, have created a game that feels fresh in what is a genre seriously awash with boring sci-fi imitators. It could stand to have some higher-res visuals, but that’s not a game-breaker by any means.

For $0.99, Ring Blade towers above other mobile offerings in its genre.

Pros:

  • Strong use of touch controls
  • Very cool art style
  • Ramping difficulty and well-designed bullet hell scenarios
  • New arenas and OpenFeint support give good reasons to push on and keep playing
  • Phenomenal price point

Cons:

  • More of the screen could be used to control game launcher
  • No Retina support; graphics are a bit low-res

Final Score: 90/100

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