It feels like it was only yesterday when I reviewed the first Infinity Blade. At the time it was (and still is) one of the games iOS users could show off to friends that would legitimately make them jealous. Now here we are, roughly a year later, and Infinity Blade II has just been released on a semi-suspecting public. Is it just more of the same? Or does it take the franchise to a whole new level of awesome?

Well, why can’t it do both?

First, a bit of exposition for those who aren’t familiar with the premise here. Some horrible jerk known as The God King is oppressing people, so a guy sets out to stop him. He promptly gets killed by the evil tyrant. So his son comes back to avenge his father and save his people, faces off against The God King, and dies. Then his son decides to avenge his father, etc… See the pattern here? Now, it is possible to eventually kill The God King, but it takes a few playthroughs. Thankfully stats, levels and items all carry over from bloodline to bloodline, so nothing is ever really lost when getting murdered. I won’t spoil the final moments of the plot, but suffice it to say things take a very unexpected turn. Then Infinity Blade II picks up where it all left off.

So yes, technically it’s more of the same. It uses the same dodge/block/parry/attack system of swipes and taps that the first game did. Weapons and armor still need to be “mastered” (i.e. leveled up) in order for the player character to gain levels. There are still plenty of moments where the player will die and be “reborn” to keep plugging away until they finally best the bosses. And, of course, it’s still absolutely freaking gorgeous. In all honesty I think giving players more of the same, just with new areas and some new Titan designs, would’ve been enough to satisfy, but that’s not all Infinity Blade II has to offer. This is no mere follow-up. It’s a true sequel that doesn’t simply copy what worked before and tack on a few new bullet points to the back of the box. It’s a natural progression. An evolution of sorts. Infinity Blade II is what happens when ChAIR takes a fantastic game, then refines the hell out of it until we’re left with something that blows the initial offering out of the water.

Seriously, whoever worked on the character designs over at ChAIR deserves a big-ass raise and a bigger-ass medal.

First, there’s the new setting: The Vault of Tears. Unlike The God King’s castle, this is a fairly large structure with a lot of branching paths, even more of which open up after each successful boss elimination (of which there are several). I’ve been playing for I have no idea how long and, despite beating the game officially and starting all over again for more loot and such, I still haven’t followed all of these paths. Some of them loop around to familiar areas, while others act as offshoots with chests to open and maybe an enemy to fight before turning right back around. And there’s still the matter of a particular chamber that seems to house some kind of secret that I haven’t managed to unlock yet. No, I won’t go into more detail.

Second, there are the new enemies. A ton of new enemies. Sure, they all adhere to one of a handful of general “types,” such as the sword & shield users, the dual sword wielders, the staff swingers and so on, but each of these basic classes has a crap-load of variants that look drastically different and tend to favor different attacks. Even then, fighting the same exact enemy twice won’t result in deja-vu, as they vary their attacks quite often. The same enemies almost never appear in the same area twice, either. Also, every now and then there will be special “bonus experience” tasks (i.e. no magic, parry 10 times, etc…) that reward players with some extra XP, naturally. And not only do they add a great deal of variety that keep the constant replays from getting dull, but they look freaking awesome. Seriously, whoever worked on the character designs over at ChAIR deserves a big-ass raise and a bigger-ass medal.

If it weren’t for the fact that players would be totally lost on the story, I’d suggest skipping the original and going straight for Infinity Blade II. It’s just flat-out better in every conceivable way.

Third, we have the combat itself. The mechanics have been refined a little bit, sure, but what I really want to talk about is the enhanced weapon variety. The sword and shield are still there and function just as they did in the first game, but there are two more kinds of weapons available as well. Two-handed weapons are slower and don’t allow for dodging of any kind but they can still be used to parry and block), but do massive damage. Dual weapons can’t block and don’t hit as hard, but they’re faster and can do tons of damage when players start a combo attack. I’ve dabbled with all three throughout the course of my game and dual swords are definitely my weapon of choice. I’ve always preferred parrying and dodging to blocking, so they fit my play-style perfectly.

Finally, there are all the little things. Things like locked chests scattered throughout the prison, requiring special keys which can be purchased or found. Or the severely increased number of hidden bags of gold and health potions players can snag if they’re fast enough. And I can’t forget about the gems. Gems offer a number of different effects, such as boosted items drops or increased defense against a particular element, and can be slotted into any item with a setting that matches its shape. It sounds simple, but it adds a surprising amount of depth and customization to the original’s formula. Plus I can stack effects to become an unstoppable killing machine, which is always cool.

This sweet-ass dark fantasy violence is not flawless, however. While the controls have certainly seen notable refinements, they can still be unresponsive at times. It’s a very rare occurrence, but it still happens. I’ve also noticed that sometimes the game has trouble keeping up with the action, which usually results in me not taking damage when I clearly should have or somehow miraculously parrying a stunned enemy. Again, this is far from game-breaking, but it’s very noticeable and kind of annoying. Lastly, there’s the lag. It was a problem in the first one, and they addressed it, and now it’s a problem here, too. Since its release there has been an update that mostly fixes the lagginess, but there’s a particular hallway about two fights in from the start, that always lags. A lot. I’m hoping this will get fixed in the future, but as of right now it’s still a problem.

If it weren’t for the fact that players would be totally lost on the story, I’d suggest skipping the original and going straight for Infinity Blade II. It’s just flat-out better in every conceivable way. It’s refined, it’s got probably close to triple the content with even more to come in future updates, and it’s every bit as insanely addictive as its older brother. Now the only problem I have is being forced to sit here and wait for the new content updates to roll out. More of everything is cool and all, but they sort of hint at something that I hope will get added later and that has me seriously excited. I wish I could go into more detail, but the only clue I can give is that it’s a brief cutscene that plays after the game is beaten. If the do what I think they’re planning to do with it, I’ll gladly buy every title ChAIR releases in the future twice to show my appreciation.

Platform Reviewed: iPhone 4 – New to CFD!’s reviews? Check out our explanation here.