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Infinity Blade II: The best thing to happen to iPad/iPhone games?

The much-hyped Infinity Blade II has been released for the App Store. Does it change the face of iOS gaming?

Undeniably beautiful, but more of the same: Infinity Blade II. Screenshot taken on iPad 2.
Screenshot by Scott Stein/CNET

Does adding a "2" to one of the most popular titles in the App Store make it better? Much like the iPad 2 itself, Infinity Blade II is a refinement and an improvement on its predecessor. As a result, it's better. Does that make Infinity Blade II a must-have game? Most definitely, especially for its $6.99 price. Is it revolutionary? Well, not exactly.

Epic and Chair Entertainment's follow-up to last year's Infinity Blade has garnered as much front-row attention as the original, largely due to its prominent mention during Apple's recent keynotes. Those hoping for a true console-style RPG were let down by the simple, linear-path-based story and Punch-Out-esque gameplay, but most people quickly got over that when they found out how addictive the hack-and-slash/leveling experience was. A sword-and-sorcery version of Fruit Ninja, in a way, but that's hardly a bad thing.

My frequent early death point--a branching path to a treasure chest. Screenshot taken on an iPad 2. Screenshot by Scott Stein/CNET

The sequel throws in more voice-overs, tons more boss battles, and branching pathways, along with new ideas like locked treasure chests. If you liked the first Infinity Blade, you're going to love this. If you've been hoping for iOS gaming to transcend itself and become the second coming of console gaming, well, that's not what this is.

Games like Infinity Blade II keep making me wonder whether the lack of a true control pad is holding back iOS game development, or whether the casual nature of the App Store gaming market--with the limited resources developers are willing to put into a game that costs under $10--is making for these more limited experiences. Add a full-fledged control pad, and what sort of astounding game could Chair make with these types of graphics? Would that even be of interest to anyone? I'm not sure, but I'd love to see it happen.

Infinity Blade II on the iPhone 4S: Practically identical, smaller screen. Screenshot by Scott Stein/CNET

Infinity Blade II looks equally impressive on my iPhone 4S and my iPad 2. While I'd like to say it's a better game for the iPhone--its simple controls lend themselves better to the tinier iPhone screen's thumb-friendly layout--it's much easier to make out hard-to-find treasure bags on the iPad 2's larger screen. Dodging is perfect thumbwork, but the swordplay is a better fit for playing on an iPad on one's lap, what with all the finger-swiping.

I'd be remiss if I didn't discuss the graphics in more detail. Visually, Infinity Blade II is stunning; it even surpasses the jaw-dropping good looks of last year's game. Not only does it look better than nearly any handheld game ever made, it looks awfully close to console quality to the average gamer. The original Infinity Blade opened up a doorway to making iOS games using the Unreal Engine. This sequel has emerged among many games that currently use similar graphics techniques, but it still manages to shine brighter.

Infinity Blade II is a beefy download, but I think this game's going to live on my iPad for a long time. I'll gladly accept Infinity Blade II and love it for existing, but I'm feeling a little sad that this is currently being touted as the best that the App Store has to offer. I refuse to believe that, and you should, too.

Infinity Blade II is available from the iTunes App Store for the iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, and iPhone 4S, as well as for the iPad, iPad 2, and iPod Touch, third-gen or later.