Monday, October 17, 2011

Infinity Blade & The Death Of Handhelds

I hear people gushing about games on iOS systems, and I've heard good things specifically about Infinity Blade. Screenshots of this game have to be seen to believed, and the gameplay is being heralded as incredible.

Mainstream reviewers even herald the game, saying things like:
"The result is a beautiful, addictive, and surprisingly deep game easily among the best available on iOS4 devices." - IGN

"It's the kind of deep, well-thought-out combat system that puts most console sword fighting to shame."  - Joystiq

With mainstream success, beautiful graphics, solid gameplay and tons of depth, Infinity Blade seems to hit every bullet point on what makes a solid handheld game. Put it all together, and it spells doom for dedicated gaming handhelds like the 3DS and the PS Vita, right? I mean, seriously, compare the screenshots from Infinity Blade:

With the screenshots from the upcoming Super Mario 3D Land:

Jesus, handhelds are done for.

I picked up Infinity Blade the other day for my wife's iPod, wanting to see what the handheld market's death rattle looked like. Here's a retroactive running diary of my play experience:

Beginning: Holy crap! This HAS to be a cutscene! No, it's not! It's for real! This screen is so crisp and clear, and movement of the characters is so impressive! How are they pulling this off?

Handhelds are done.

Five minutes in: The battles in this game are AMAZING! I mean, fighting enemies with swipes and then leaping up and jabbing your sword into your opponent's head as a finisher? This is awesome!

Twenty minutes in: SO INGENIOUS! The game's story keeps on running after you've been defeated by the God King. It's such a great way to deal with the whole "extra lives" question while at the same time making sense in the game world.

Forty minutes in: So, this is it? These are the battles then? This is what the game is about? Don't get me wrong, I like these battles, but where have I played them before?

OH CRAP. I'm playing a prettied up version of Punch-Out, aren't I? Except with experience points and bonuses. Well that's pretty cool.
WAIT. So this is an Unreal-engine Rage of the Gladiator for the iPhone? Well, honestly, that's still pretty cool. I mean, how many of those are there?

An hour in: There is not a single thing that Infinity Blade does that couldn't be done with a less-robust engine. I mean, don't get me wrong, the great graphics are what got me in the door to begin with, but geez. All I'm doing is swiping the screen at appropriate moments, dodging attacks and returning with attacks of my own.

You could make this game on a DS with 2-D graphics and wouldn't lose any of the gameplay.

An hour and ten minutes in: I'm quitting to play something else. And, oh look, my battery has been almost drained. It started at 100% and now is down to 35%. I'll have to remember that for future reference.


So what did we learn? Infinity Blade is very, very cool. The developers have come up with something great: A gritty Punch-Out clone with a story of sorts and role-playing elements. That's not a combination you see very often.

Even still, this is not the death knell of dedicated gaming handhelds. Why will dedicated gaming handhelds keep on surviving even with so many challengers? We'll examine that in a different article.

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