For over a year there’s been an Infinity Blade-shaped hole in the Android Market. When the original game was released on iOS it got great reviews and even greater support from consumers, who have so far given developer Chair more than $23 million.
Now that Infinity Blade II is out the series’ absence on Android is even more noticeable. Blood & Glory is Glu Mobile’s attempt to fill this swipe’n’slash niche, and while the gladiatorial arena it presents is an enjoyable stop-gap it falls short of being everything Android users are missing out on.
Graphically, the game is stunning from the outset, with shadows and light on character models emphasising the strength of your scarily muscular foes. The central idea is recognisable from the start. You play as a gladiator in an ancient arena, and you have to face off against increasingly difficult challengers in an effort to win tournaments, arranged into groups of five fights.
To this end, Infinity Blade’s smart control scheme is borrowed in its entirety, but due to the buttony nature of the Xperia Play this touchscreen gaming masterpiece has been completely distorted.
In touchscreen mode a swipe across the screen will attack your foe or – if you time it well enough – parry an incoming attack. Tapping the shield icon will block, and tapping left or right will dodge in either direction. There’s also a special attack that you can use after successfully dodging and parrying a number of times.
But when you use the gamepad this intuitive play goes to waste, as the game falls back on the buttons to dodge and block, while a less-precise swipe on one of the maligned thumbpads is used to attack and parry.
It’s a bizarre mutation that comes as a result of backwards thinking. The game was designed for touchscreen devices, so why take a retrograde step into gamepad territory?
Gladiators, are you ready?
Still, the control issues are surmountable, and you can always forgo the gamepad entirely if you want. You may have to in order to take on more challenging fights later in the game anyway.
There’s an upgrade system that allows you to develop your character. By winning fights you earn money to spend on new weapons and armour, as well as experience points to level-up your Attack, Block, and Health attributes. However, the inventory-management screens are laid out in a somewhat unhelpful way, and sometimes button presses simply aren’t registered – a major faux pas for a touchscreen title.
The rate at which you are rewarded with both money and experience points can also be painfully slow. You can upgrade your earning speed by spending 69p on an in-app purchase, which is a reasonable enough outlay, but this is just tip of the priceberg.
Shadows and dust
Rather than being able to buy a completely ad-free version you’re instead forced to buy more and more upgrades through microtransactions in order to make any meaningful progress.
I use the word ‘meaningful’ loosely, of course, since every fight is largely the same and there's no over-arching narrative to make you feel like you’re getting somewhere. Just tournament after tournament.
In the end, the actual mechanical components of Blood & Glory are identical to its iOS inspiration, and it’s good for a few frantic bouts. But its free-to-play model and bewildering use of Xperia Play’s ill-suited controls is self-defeating.