A fighting game on a cell phone might not sound like the most enjoyable thing in the world to most fighting purists out there, but there are certainly plenty of people who would enjoy the chance to kick the crap out of some 2D sprites while on the go. Last year's Shado Fighter by In-Fusio proved that fighting games could work on mobile. Obviously, some of the intricacies of major 2D fighters had to be eliminated for the sake of making the game playable on a phone, but it worked pretty well, as the strategy was simplified just enough to make the experience fun. Gameloft's Medieval Combat continues in this tradition, this time focusing more on the sword-based fighting of a Samurai Shodown than a typical brawler. The gameplay isn't altogether remarkable, and in some respects, it's a little too easily exploited. However, the game has a fantastic look, and the fun fighting mechanics make up for some of its primary faults.
At the outset, five fighters are available for you to play with, though you'll eventually have seven in all once you've played through the arcade mode a couple of times and unlocked both the bosses. The character designs feel largely inspired from the Soul Calibur universe, with knights, executioners, and even a spindly freak with hand-mounted blades, a la Voldo. The two boss characters are basically clones of the same fighter with different skins. Apart from this mild disappointment, the rest of the characters look and feel pretty different from one another. Graphically, this is one of the nicer looking mobile games out there, and it's easily the best-looking fighting game available. On the LG VX8100, the 2D sprites are extremely detailed, and all of them animate smoothly and uniquely. Likewise, the audio is of high quality, with some decent tunes that play over the opening menu and in between fights, as well as some solid sound effects that occur during battle.
The basic fighting mechanics revolve around two main attack buttons and a magic button. The 5 and 8 keys perform weak and strong attacks, respectively, and the 0 key, when held down for different amounts of time, unleashes weak and strong magic attacks. Your fighter's magic meter fills up as you do more damage during a fight, and once your meter is full, holding down the magic button for an extended period of time will let you do a super attack. Once one of these moves is enacted, a combination of directional buttons will appear onscreen. Hit the four directional buttons with the right timing, and you'll pull off an unblockable attack.
The flow of the action in Medieval Combat is good. There are a few special combo attacks you can pull off, not to mention a rushing grab attack that results in multiple hits. The character movement is pretty responsive, and everything moves at a good pace. If there's one fatal flaw with the gameplay, however, it's that it's just too easy to win. Even on the hardest difficulty, all you really need to is just hammer on the attack buttons, even while your opponent is blocking. Though all the fighters start off with some kind of shield, once you knock that out of their hands, they'll start taking small bits of damage. You can basically back them into a corner once you're on a roll, and at any point you can simply jump back and do your unblockable attack to just finish them off. Periodically they'll use the game's one counter move to hit you back, but most times, they'll just sit there blocking. This issue is most prevalent when the auto-blocking feature is turned on, as this feature is a little bit broken. If the CPU happens to be the one to get the first attack on, your fighter will start hopelessly trying to block, and most attempts to jump away or otherwise get out of this detrimental loop are for naught. Essentially, you have to turn off auto-blocking to have any kind of a decent challenge in the game, and even then, you're not guaranteed one.
The game's arcade mode can be beaten in about 20 minutes on any difficulty level. There's no real story to speak of, so there isn't an awful lot of incentive to play it over and over again. There's also an instant play mode, as well as a survival mode, which is probably the most appealing mode in the game, since it at least gives you some sort of goal to work toward.
Medieval Combat is a fairly short experience, albeit a mostly fun one. With the auto-blocking turned off, and minus any expectation of an overly challenging gameplay experience, Medieval Combat does mobile fighting well. There's a nice roster of available moves, excellent-looking characters, and solid mechanics here for anyone looking to brawl on their phones. The addition of multiplayer--as in Gameloft's new multiplayer versions of Asphalt: Urban GT and Ghost Recon: Jungle Storm--or a more in-depth arcade mode would have been greatly beneficial to the overall package, but as it is, Medieval Combat is good fun.