The Ginsu Knife of Video Games? - shootist2600 Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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The Ginsu Knife of Video Games?

My spring break family vacation had everyone wired to their mobile devices, and so introduced me to iOS titles that this console gamer otherwise might not have tried (especially for a cheapskate who waited for a 99 cent sale to play a game on an iPad my wife won in a lottery).

If you haven’t played Epic Games’ Infinity Blade already, you might think you know what you’re missing, but there’s more than meets the eye with this title. Developed by Chair Entertainment on Epic’s Unreal Engine 3, the game is a straightforward action title that uses basic touch-screen moves.

A trip to the store can yield a fantasy haul for the savvy warrior shopper.

In some respects, it reminds me of Shadow of the Colossus, in so far as the threadbare story weaves together a series of boss fights. Where the former manages to be more poignant then its narrative would otherwise suggest, Infinity Blade sets up your standard good vs. evil challenge played out ad infinitum.

Indeed, like famed Ginsu knives, you slice and dice your way through repetitive encounters over and over. But what this game also shares with the much ballyhooed cutlery is a knack for never getting dull, this despite standard RPG elements and tried and true combat moves that form the basis for its seemingly stale gameplay.

The bigger they are ... the more places to strike

In fact, a friend had long waxed poetic on the game but it had had little appeal to me. I did try Blood & Glory on my Android phone, which was free and compared often with Epic’s game. However, it ate too much memory and battery power to be worth the effort. Then Epic’s title went on sale for the iPhone and iPad.

It’s safe to say I didn’t have high expectations despite knowing of its reputation. But even with such tempered anticipation it still managed to surprise me with its addictive nature. In retrospect it’s tough to narrow down its appeal to any one feature, but as the saying goes, Infinity Blade is more than the sum of its parts.

Unreal Engine 3 put a shiny coat of arms on this action title

The presentation was already renowned for its detail and fluid animations, but displaying it on an iPad screen in high definition really showed off its skillful use of Unreal Engine 3. Besides crisp textures, a consistent framerate and seamless cut scenes, characters move convincingly and spells are impressively cast.

Map design is thoughtful if somewhat standard with areas such as a wilderness path, interior hallway, dungeon and throne room, most with about two paths to choose from. That said, each is well conceived and the art direction captures the grandeur of the royal setting albeit in a forsaken land.

The spare narrative provides just enough context for your journey to keep you moving forward, fighting a desperate battle against a disreputable God King that spans generations like the Belmonts’ struggle against Dracula and his hordes in the Castlevania series.

In a fantasy land, there is no workers' comp.

Indeed the gameplay is what gamers obsess about. Despite the touch screen moves indicative of games on mobile devices, combat is a standard repertoire of strike, block, parry and dodge. Augmenting this action are spells such as lightening, heal and poison, if I recall.

I made copious use of strike, block and heal. The problem is that foes can break your blocks. This required more use of the dodge mechanic, though misjudging attacks left me open to more damage. Parry proved very useful though it likewise relied on careful timing. Any one executed well could leave foes vulnerable to counterattack.

Defeating foes not only increased one’s bounty in the form of currency and loot, as could exploration or opening chests, but also added experience points that likewise helped master weapons and equipment. These also boost level progression, which likewise yields experience points.

It pays to be extra vigilant in this game, even during interactive cutscenes

Indeed next to combat, the role playing elements of loot grinding and inventory management help enhance the game’s replayability. Upgrading your inventory means more variety of items and their effects, whether weapons with special attributes or rings with special powers.

Early on its fairly easy to cycle through items in your inventory and experiment with different loadouts. However, there comes a moment when items become almost prohibitively expensive and I regularly mastered most materials so that I was prevented from leveling up in an efficient and timely manner.

It’s a testament to the quality of this game that even at that juncture I was compelled to continue playing. I had defeated the God King and was rewarded with one significant item. I was not interested in its attributes so sold it, but its price meant I was able to upgrade quite a few items.

Ultimate victory is seemingly as illusory as defeat. It's like the movie Groundhog Day, if the God King were really Andie MacDowell.

Now, my motivation for playing is less about the regular upgrades I received early on in my playtime and more about defeating the God King for the chance at pricey loot to upgrade my character significantly. The real beauty of this game, as is true of many iOS titles, is its design for mobile play.

Whether one has a few minutes to spare or more, this provides a console quality experience in a more streamlined design. Now that I’ve returned home I do wonder how much I’ll feel compelled to play it, however, there is no denying that Infinity Blade demonstrates the value that mobile devices can add to one’s overall gaming experience.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve long enjoyed casual games on my portable devices. From Tetris to Angry Birds, they’ve proven a fun distraction to pass the time while on an errand. But until Infinity Blade, I would not have considered one a legitimate substitute for video games on other platforms. Leave it to Epic to set that standard.

Don't press that button!! Unless you're downloading and installing Infinity Blade.

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