There's an old Klingon proverb that says, "Revenge is a dish best served cold." In the case of Infinity Blade II, it's not so much a dish as an all-you-can-eat buffet of revenge-fuelled sword combat, dressed with some of the most beautiful visuals to grace an iOS game. It's a game that plays to the platform's strengths; there's no battle so long that you can't finish it on a bus, and no unwieldy touch-screen analogue sticks to get in the way of the action. It takes just a few swipes of your finger to execute brutal slashes and stabs, all with a precision and intuitiveness rarely seen in games played with a traditional controller. Role-playing game elements and an imposing sense of scale combine with the excellent combat to create a beautiful, compelling experience that's a shining example of how to make a superb iOS game.
You play as Siris, a knight who's on a quest to find the mysterious Worker of Secrets and avenge his father's death. To do so, you must battle your way to the top of a tower known as The Vault of Tears, where you face off against various enemies and eventually battle the God King. Most of your time is spent in combat. You're armed with a sword and a shield, as well as a range of magic spells, all of which are controlled via the touch screen. This isn't your standard hack-and-slash fare, though--think Nintendo's Punch-Out!! rather than the likes of Diablo or Dark Souls. Your opponents have a very specific set of moves they perform, such as sword strikes, kicks and punches, or magic spells. Anticipating those moves to block, dodge, or parry them is the only way to succeed.
Thankfully, your opponents have a number of tells that aid you in identifying their next attack. Sword swipes might be preceded by a long swing, while long run-ups usher in punches and kicks. If you're faced with a sword attack, your best option is to parry it by swiping in the direction of your opponent's swing. Kicks and punches are best avoided with dodges by pushing to the left or right of the screen, while blocks work as a last resort when you have failed to anticipate a move and need to defend a follow-up combo. Successfully defend yourself, and you can unleash an attack of your own, swiping at the screen to perform different types of strikes. By swiping smoothly back and forth you perform combos, which deal more damage. Or, if you're on the ropes, you can perform a magic attack that can't be blocked by replicating a specific swipe pattern, depending on the spell.
It's an elegantly designed system that works extremely well, with the direction of your swipes accurately replicated by Siris. Each enemy has unique moves, ensuring there's variety to the combat. Plus, battles are just the right length for a quick fix while you're on the move, letting you chip away at the game in smaller chunks. For each opponent you defeat you're rewarded with experience points, with bonus XP on offer for performing different challenges such as executing 10 combos in a row, or dodging five attacks. That XP is used to level up Siris, so you allocate points to your attack, defence, shield, or health to increase his effectiveness in battle. You also earn money, which you can use to buy stronger weapons and armour.
Different weapon types affect your abilities, so if you buy a heavy weapon such as an axe, you lose your shield and dodging ability, replaced instead by buttons that let you block with your weapon. Choose to dual-wield, and you become much more nimble, but you lose the ability to block entirely. You can also place gems you earn from battles within your weapons for extra bonuses, such as increasing the amount of gold you earn or the number of gems that are dropped by enemies. These RPG elements give the game depth, making battles all the more compelling.
They also go hand in hand with the game's structure. While you might manage to make your way to the top of the tower to battle the God King early on, his high level ensures that you're unlikely to defeat him on your first encounter. Your experience points and items remain intact, however, so you can work through the tower again, gaining new items and levelling up until you're finally ready to take him down. Each time you do so, the enemies change, so you're never faced with the exact same adventure twice. Not only that, but reaching higher levels unlocks different paths to the God King, with all-new areas to explore. There are also keys to find scattered throughout the tower that let you unlock new paths, or chests that contain upgrades and money.
Even when you defeat the God King, the battle system is so fun that you're still compelled to jump in and take down the many enemies that litter the tower. There's also Game Centre support, so you can share your high scores with friends, as well as unlock achievements. Infinity Blade II doesn't just nail the gameplay either--it's a beautiful-looking game. Breathtaking environments such as a Japanese temple surrounded by pink blossoms and the huge monolithic tower set amid mountains are stunning. The characters themselves are also striking. The bulging muscles, evil eyes, and ornate armour of your opponents have a detailed steampunk style that's a treat for the eyes, along with the sparks and streaks of light that accompany your attacks.
Infinity Blade II is a real showcase for iOS, bringing a full gaming experience to the platform that isn't simply a shoehorning of existing ideas onto a touch screen. It has an identity of its own, successfully straddling RPG depth with an experience that can be sampled in small chunks in a way that few other iOS games can match. Plus, like the first game, it should be heavily supported postrelease, with new bosses, environments, and rewards promised for future updates, all for free. Infinity Blade II sets the standard for big experiences on the go, and is an essential purchase for any iOS-toting gamer.