This is on a Phone?!
That’s one of the Game Center achievements you can get in Chair’s Infinity Blade for the iPhone. The task it’s attached to is playing through the game 20 times, but the sentiment behind it comes from the game’s outstanding beauty. Infinity Blade is the showpiece for the Unreal Engine III on the iPhone, and, to put it succinctly, that means developers can make iPhone games that look about as good as high-end console games. Infinity Blade is certainly notable for its graphics, but for me it’s just as notable for how Chair understands the nature of gaming on a non-gaming device.
Infinity Blade is, in essence, Punch-Out!! the RPG. The fighting consists of watching your opponent for how they are going to attack, dodging, blocking, or parrying in the right direction, and counterattacking to do some damage. Instead of rounds, there are short cutscenes, and instead of doc riding his bike behind you, there are navigation sections with hidden bags of gold and health potions that allow you to upgrade your character.
One cycle of the game lasts between 15 and 30 minutes and culminates in a boss fight that sends you back to the beginning if you lose. The next cycle allows you to retain your equipment and stat upgrades, and makes all of the opponents more difficult, but also more lucrative to defeat. It’s this short time frame that makes the game perfect for the road. You can fight through a single enemy in the bathroom or play through a quick cycle before bed.
The entire interface consists of tapping or holding to dodge, block, or stab, and swiping to attack. Overall the controls are very tight and intuitive. This is where Infinity Blade gets things right. Other games that try to bring the console game experience to the phone begin by deciding where to place the virtual controller and/or how to emulate the analog stick using the accelerometer. In my experience these things just don’t work.
Take, for example, the “other” showpiece for iPhone graphics that came out last week. It’s a toned down version of Rage, the next big FPS by the creators of Doom. Rage attempts to simplify things by removing the ability to move, leaving only aiming and shooting. In this game, aiming is done by either swiping your finger across the screen or by tilting the phone using the accelerometers. Because precision aiming is at the core of this design, neither of these methods work very well at all. Fighting for precision with imprecise controls becomes the game, and actually making and executing decisions takes a back seat.
What gives a game depth isn’t a high button count or requiring precision aiming, but the feeling that there’s still more to learn. That’s where Infinity Blade excels. When an opponent attacks, you are given three ways to avoid those attacks. Near the bottom of the screen is a block button. This button will block almost any attack, but you’re given a limited number of uses. This is the “easy” option. The “normal” option is the dodge. Dodging allows you to avoid taking damage, but most attacks require that you dodge in the correct direction, making it essential that you watch your opponent closely. The “hard” option is to parry. Parrying requires that you swipe in the opposite direction of your opponent’s attack. Parrying is very hard, but will dizzy your opponent, allowing you to get in several hits.
I spent most of my time in the early part of the game trying to perfect the parry. It was so hard that I eventually reverted to dodging. This is now how I handle most attacks. When I did finally defeat the final boss I did so by dodging attacks until the final round, then taking the easy way out and blocking everything I could for the victory. It’s juggling these three mechanisms where the depth comes into play and the design really shows its strength and versatility.
I’ve played through the game 8 times now, one of those was immediately after beating the final boss, and I’m sure I’ll continue to come back to the game to perfect my parry and level up my equipment. Maybe some day I’ll get that achievement for playing through it 20 times. And this is on a phone!