Version tested iPad
It's fitting, isn't it, that Infinity Blade should return this way. As in, it looks virtually identical to last year's effort but hides a layer of ability and confidence that Chair's inaugural iOS release missed.
That was the story with the first game's endless procession of vengeful heroes. Every time your character was bested by the stony-faced God King - unceremoniously bashed-in by his titular blade - your kid would come back to the foot of the same fortress, wearing the same armour, wielding the same sword, but packing a little added vigour.
Thanks to a few more experience points, an improved arsenal and a little cross-generational foresight into the tells and techniques of the castle's henchmen, your offspring would rock up to the ultimate bad guy and last a little longer in a battle of wits, parries and blocks.
In this area, Infinity Blade 2 offers much the same thrills as its immediate ancestor. It's still a volley of fingers and gestures as you fend off a snaking queue of monsters, knights, assassins and ninjas. It's a sharp and clever combat system about biding your time and waiting to attack, about reading tells and anticipating ambushes - Punch-Out, if it were in Elder Scrolls canon.
But this time round, the fighting system has fathoms more depth. You can trade in the traditional sword and shield combo for a pair of short daggers, for example, which is much more zippy, as turtling behind a shield is replaced by rapid dodges and ducks. Or you can swing the other way, clutching a monster war axe as you fend off incoming attacks with a satisfying clash of steel.
By having three types of sword - light, heavy and dual - on your person at all times, you can quickly leap between loadouts for different types of enemy, or focus on one particular class and tailor it to your style of play. In much the same vein, Infinity Blade 2 encourages customisation through a bagful of magical gems.
These crystal shapes - found in treasure chests and lifted from downed foes - can be infused in the game's enormous department store of blades, helmets and rings to give them a variety of buffs. Add an electrical zap to a hatchet, say, or make a shield that restores health upon a perfect block. It leads to more RPG-style inventory tinkering, and a more personal combination of loot.
Infinity Blade 2 also carries over the first game's unique Groundhog Day formula of repeatedly going up against a seemingly impossible foe until persistence finally pays off and your blade tastes blood. Only this time, the new castle is bristling with numerous Level 100-or-so bad guys, and they can be taken on in any order desired.
This fresh castle is an intricately designed maze of intertwining corridors and underground passages that crisscross into several different boss lairs. It's dynamic, too: a sapling on your first time round grows into a yawning oak by your seventh, using the interim decades to snake up the back of the fortress' main tower.
Those high-level baddies - the ones with the bottomless pit of hit points, and a little spoken manifesto before they tear you to shreds - are similar to the first game's God King. It's all about the heightened stakes, because slipping up and getting yourself killed means warping back to the beginning of the castle and having to do the entire trek again.
These fights dangle your mortality over you in such a way that your brow will sweat and your palms will clam up and you'll miss your tube stop in the focus. Games don't often supply such tense moments these days because there's usually a checkpoint just before the boss. Such unwavering, retrograde punishment for failure is refreshing. And it makes your eventual win that much sweeter.
Infinity Blade 2's less linear map does mean the game slightly loses its focus. Instead of going back to the same boss over and over again until you defeat it, it's easy to get distracted down a different corridor and end up in the mitts of a completely different high-level baddy. The singular pursuit of your nemesis, the God King, in the first game was more feisty, if less ambitious.
Chair has also attempted to add more story to the game. There are proper cut-scenes and the voices are now in English rather than the first game's fictional tongue. However, it's all a bit cheesy and laced with generic fantasy tropes, and the American accents are just plain off for the setting. Thankfully, it's all skipped easily.
More agreeable is the sequel's graphical bump. On the newest devices that are packing A5 chips especially, the game shines with gorgeous lighting that spills through stained glass windows and washes over open courtyards. Sharper textures add even more detail to a world rich in tiny charms and architectural flair. They make the bigger monsters even scarier, too.
For all that's new and improved, Infinity Blade 2 is still a game about high stakes combat and bloody perseverance. Still a game about fast and smart fight scenes bolstered by a personalised assortment of weapons and shiny hats.
More on Infinity Blade 2
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In honour of the App Store's fifth anniversary. Get 'em while you can.
Epic and Chair's follow up to the iOS eye-catcher.
The novelty of repeated bucket-kicking has dampened a little. And towards the end, the game just starts throwing high-level bastards in your face to see how many you can take. The core formula that defined Infinity Blade and made it so interesting has been tarnished in the move to write an App Store description with some higher numbers than before.
But Chair's unreal sword-swinging romp still puts up a hefty fight, and most of the added loot adds just enough to bring Infinity Blade fans back for a second, vengeful stab at victory.
8 / 10