Infinity Blade review: Greatness cut down to size

I dodge, since even my hefty shield can't save me from a gorgeously rendered mechanical titan and his crushing boot. I curse myself for not wearing my magical healing ring. It was stupid, but I wanted the experience point from leveling up my weaker fire ring. I slash at the titan's hammer, trying to match the angle of his swing so I can successfully parry and hit him with a flurry of blows from my poison-tipped blade. I pull it off and move in for the kill, leaping skyward, the sun glinting off my armor as I bury the sword in the monster's metallic head.

This is Infinity Blade. And it's all happening on my iPhone.

In Chair/Epic's new release, you are one of a long line of warriors trying to infiltrate an ominous castle and bring down a god king who dwells within. Well, "infiltrate" is the wrong word, I guess, since you're really just killing a series of increasingly imposing guardians while scavenging whatever weapons and armor you can find. As you use those items, they will eventually max out and grant you an experience point that can be used to improve your attack, defense and magical powers.

This system constantly encourages you to try different combos, because battling with maxed out gear means you're missing out on experience. It can also lead you to tempt fate by taking weaker, easily maxed gear into a fight to try for an easy experience point.

But be aware: You'll want your best gear equipped when you finally make it to the god king, who will, almost always, kill you.

You see, in a kind of brilliant story contrivance, your death isn't the end. No, your son will return 20 or so years later to attempt what his father could not, armed with all his armor, weapons and experience points. When he dies, the process repeats. So, technically, you're not one of a long line of warriors. You're all of them. It's kind of goofy from a narrative standpoint, but it's a great way to create bite-sized campaigns for players on the go. Don't worry about things getting repetitive, as the castle and ever-changing enemies are always a joy to look at.

Oh, that reminds me: This is on a phone. You'll likely have to remind yourself too as you ogle drop-dead gorgeous graphics that wouldn't look out of place in the earlier years of the Xbox 360. It's a technical marvel -- but Chair does overreach a bit, leading to too-frequent slowdown even on my 3GS.

The real shock? Infinity Blade's diminutive size isn't its most impressive feature. No, that'd be its sword combat, which blends blocking, parrying and dodging into a system that makes perfect use of the iPhone's control limitations and strengths. Slashing is as simple as swiping across the screen, blocking (a limited resource that doesn't require timing precision) is triggered by touching the bottom middle of the screen, and dodging is mapped to either edge of the screen. Picking the right response in a split second is crucial, which ensures you have little time to catch your breath mid-battle.

It's the kind of deep, well-thought-out combat system that puts most console sword fighting to shame, and it's still only part of what makes this one of the easiest recommendations I'll make all year. You might find games that are a more perfect fit for the platform, but in terms of recreating a console-level experience on the iPhone, you simply will not do better than Infinity Blade.

This review is based on final code of Infinity Blade provided by Chair.