The release of the mobile adaptation of Hero of Sparta has gone mostly unnoticed, overshadowed by the impressive 3D brawling of Hero of Sparta on iPhone. Even Gameloft itself has done little to promote this micro-screen version, which is almost unforgivable considering how desperately the mobile platform needs escapist arcade games like this.
Hero of Sparta isn't in an enviable position, being compared to one of the flashiest iPhone games thus far seen, but its development has clearly been approached with just as much dedication and vigour as the Apple iteration, and plays out with as much thumb-powered aggression as any miniaturised fighter we've seen for a long time.
You're thrown into the manly skirt and sandals of King Argos, just as he completes a one-man campaign against an evil cult worshipping the god Ariel. As the temple collapses, you're guided through a superbly transparent tutorial that feels as much a part of the game and story as any other part of Hero of Sparta, but eases you into the action and platforming aspects with slickness and refinement.
As you set out to sea on your way back to Greece, a shipwreck casts you ashore and alone on the island of the Oracle - with Argos unaware of how he came to be stranded.
Your mission to uncover the reason that Ariel still seems to have a presence in the world takes you across 13 levels (five more than the iPhone version, I might add) to the very peak of Mount Olympus to bring your wrath to the steps of the pantheon.
While the iPhone game has been compared at length to God of War, this mobile adaptation is more akin to classic 2D beat-'em-ups like Golden Axe (which, as fighting addicts will appreciate, is high praise indeed), with shades of the Bitmap Brothers's retro platformer Gods thrown in for good measure.
As you explore and fight, the action is shown from an isometric vantage point - allowing you move 'in and out' of the screen as you solve the rudimentary, physical puzzles so Argos can follow his quest.
But climbing a mountain requires some platform game aspects, and as you begin to ascend up and down through the wonderfully diverse levels, the view switches - seamlessly - to a side-on view. This subtle change of angle means you get the best of both genres - exploring, running and slaying in open terrain one minute, then shimmying along rock ledges and jumping from chasms the next.
The fighting pretty much boils down to mashing button '5', but this isn't as trite as it sounds. The game engine is just forgiving enough that Argos will make subtle, automatic changes in direction when an adversary explodes in a flash of blood and move on to the next.
But you don't spin around completely to attack the enemy behind you, so there's still just the right amount of dexterity needed to wage this one man war against all the diverse creatures of Greek mythology.
There are moments of quick-time button pressing, too (which generally aren't that welcome among the beat-'em-up fraternity) but aren't especially invasive and don't set you back a great deal when they inevitably fail. Along the way Argos collects power ups and extra weapons that gradually build up his arsenal to the point at which he's equipped to take on the heavens - as will you be thanks to the well balanced difficulty curve.
Because of the platforming and basic puzzle solving, Hero of Sparta is one of the few fighting games we can comfortably recommend to pocket gamers who prefer more cerebrally challenging games, but it still packs in the action.
It's also perfectly enjoyable for those who've already bought the iPhone version, since the extra levels and significantly different approach to the fighting make Hero of Sparta equally accessible on both platforms.
Once again a deplorable perversion of ancient Greek mythology proves to be massively entertaining, so if you're ready for another first class mobile beat-'em-up, there's enough in Hero of Sparta to slake your bloodlust well into the New Year.