In ancient Rome, gladiators battled to the death in vicious arena combat. Two men entered and only one would leave. The massive Colosseum that is the App Store entertains hundreds of games and while there isn't exactly one victor, it's definitely a bloody fight. Aurora Feint II: The Arena steps into the fray bloodying itself more than the competition. While it rises victoriously above the riff-raff, inexcusable instability leaves it a bruised winner.
Match-three puzzling enters the touchscreen arena once again with Aurora Feint II, cleverly refreshing the formula with role-playing elements and multiplayer. The fundamental gameplay, however, remains classic. Matching three or more identical blocks – wind, water, earth, shadow, and fire – clears them from the board. Blocks scroll up from the bottom of the screen, although you're welcome to speed up movement by swiping two fingers across the surface. Let the blocks build up too much, however, and it's game over.
Blocks may only be moved horizontally, which naturally throws a wrench into things. Fortunately, the accelerometer allows you to tilt the board to reposition blocks in play – tip the handset to either side and the blocks shift to that side of the screen. In this way, you're able to move about blocks in entirely new ways. It's an important mechanics for racking up multipliers and getting out of sticky situations.
Owners of the original Aurora Feint will appreciate there would be nothing particularly unique about the match-three puzzle play in Aurora Feint II if it weren't for the role-playing armour that keeps the game from being beaten to a pulp by countless competitors. Clearing blocks from the board fills your coffers with resources for developing your avatar. Using these, you can purchase block multipliers and weapons. Once bought, you then craft your purchases via match-three mini-games. Six weapons with eight possible upgrades apiece, plus four grades of block multipliers provides more than enough loot to lust after.
Advancing your character is critical to improving your performance online. Aurora Feint II employs an inventive head-to-head multiplayer system that pits you against the ghost data of other players. Instead of directly battling others, you actually combat a computer-guided ghost of their avatar. Ghosts are recorded by playing a short round for the computer with each move translated into points that are used to determine the ghost's behaviour in a real battle. It's a clever work around real-time play. Full leaderboards and individual news feeds help you keep track of your ghost's performance, not to mention those of your friends.
Other aspects of the game are conducted in real-time such as a chat bar that constantly runs along the bottom of the screen. Tapping it prompts a keyboard on which you quickly type out some trash talk. Having text chat always available gives the game a connected feel, despite the fact it's nothing at all close to a massively-multiplayer game.
Constant connectivity could very well be at the core of why Aurora Feint II crashes so frequently. Contrary to pre-release promise, the game suffers from regular crashes to the home page. It's an embarrassing flaw, particularly given the original game's serious trouble with the same problem. The issue is equally as acute here. Expect the game to crash often, especially when chatting or playing against a ghost. Well over half of our game sessions ended with it crashing. On top of it all, the performance is dreadfully slow. Clearly, subsequent updates may fix this, but for now it's something that significantly affects the otherwise engrossing and uncommonly deep affair the original game led us to expect in this sequel.
So like a hulking gladiator, Aurora Feint II lumbers into the arena and stumbles with frequent crashes and general sluggishness. Only when it gets its bearings and lands a hit does it become clear it's a knockout.