How do you go about scaring people using a screen no bigger than a teabag? I'd challenge any of Hollywood's great directors to bring genuine fear to the mobile; phones have a sense of disconnection that just doesn't manifest itself in your average cinema, where the screen is usually the size of a small European country. If you want to embrace the darker side of life on the mobile, you have to be very clever about how you do it.
Gameloft's Soul of Darkness isn't scary in the slightest, but it does have a very classy take on the dark arts, creating a world of vampires, coloured orbs, magic and one-eyed monsters who, well, consist of little more than one big bulging eye.
This is action gaming at its most effective, and while it's fair to say that Soul of Darkness has more than a little hint of some of the genre's classics of old, it presents them in a way that will delight anyone looking for a serious title to get their teeth into on their phone.
Taking on the role of Vampire-slayer Kale (think a better looking and male Buffy), you're charged with tracking through eleven 2D levels filled with everything from zombies to werewolves, fighting them off with a combination of weaponry and magic, in a mission to seek revenge on the vampires who have turned Kale's life upside down.
The levels themselves are incredibly well designed, almost split into mini chapters, with the idea being to clear each area of adversaries while picking up the various treats on the way.
Said treats come in the form of soul shards, which can be found in crystal formations throughout the game, and – gruesome – in the death of your enemies. Tracking them down isn't always a question of sticking to the main path, however, as there are many rooms that might pass you by on your first play through.
Due to the scores of enemies at every turn, the shards come in an almost constant stream, with their power being distributed at your leisure. At any point in the game, you can open up the soul shard menu by tapping the right soft-key, assigning said shards in any fashion you wish. They can be used to up the strength of your attacks, the effectiveness of the kind of attacks you perform, and your magical prowess.
It's a system that ultimately encourages you to attack your foes by offering a carrot on a stick in return – the more ghouls you slay, the more equipped you become to take on the game's more challenging beasts.
Of course, a game like this lives and dies by the quality of said foes and the world they reside in. Gameloft has got all of its toys out of the box in that respect, serving up levels that have you feeling uneasy from beginning to end. Enemies will regularly pop out from behind walls, spring up from below, or pop down from above. Giant hands will appear out of nowhere grabbing you in their clutches, making it a constant battle to stay in one piece – a battle you will lose on more than one occasion.
But dying is no real problem and proves to be nothing more than a learning experience, dropping you back at the beginning of the part of the level you happen to be in. That means that, rather than being full of annoying setbacks, Soul of Darkness lets you instantly have a crack at whatever obstacles proved too much the first time. That's a sure fire way to keep your punters coming back, as punishing them too harshly or making the game too much of a pushover are the two roads to gaming hell.
Soul of Darkness takes the other road. With some of the most intuitive level design seen in mobile gaming, a multitude of enemies and an upgrading system that means taking them out is never short of entertaining, Gameloft has put its years of expertise to fine use here, serving up what is one of the best adventure titles you could hope to find on your phone. It really doesn't get much classier than this.