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Portabliss: The Dark Meadow (iOS)

Justin McElroy

Did you know that you can download handheld games now? That's amazingly convenient! The only inconvenient part of it is finding the right games to buy -- and that's where we come in, with our Portabliss column. In each installment, we'll tell you about a downloadable game on the iPhone, iPad, Android device, DSi, 3DS, PSP, etc. Today: The Dark Meadow.

There are really two kinds of influence in the emerging mobile game market.

On the one hand, you've got the sort of race-to-the-bottom developers that attempt to copy whatever's successful to a note, never bringing anything of their own to the equation. But the really exciting thing is seeing smart devs take a page from a game that works and build on it, while never directly copying.

Phosphor Games' The Dark Meadow is firmly in the second camp, taking its lead from Infinity Blade, but inventing a few new steps of its own.

It's a classic video game setup: Our hero wakes up in an abandoned hospital with no memory of how he got there. His only friend is the disembodied voice of a demented old man, who may not be quite as helpless as he seems.

Oh, and there are monsters. Lots of them.

Presented in first person, The Dark Meadow doesn't give direct control over your movement, instead letting you tap specific points in hallways and rooms to move to them. You can also tap objects like cupboards and drawers in each room to search for gold and supplies. You'll also peel gold off the monsters roaming the hallway.

When you stumble on a creature, your first line of defense is your crossbow, which wears them down as they approach. When you're finally face to face, you'll switch to your sword, swiping the screen to strike while tapping either side of the device to dodge attacks.

While the swordfighting lacks some of Infinity Blade's depth, you can avoid turning it into a random swipefest by employing some of the combos hidden throughout the hospital if you're lucky enough to find them.

Much like Infinity Blade, The Dark Meadow is built on repetition. When an enemy brings you down (be it a hallway-dweller or the ghostly witch the old man has you hunting) you wake again in your starting room. All the gold and loot in the hospital have replenished, but so have the now-even-deadlier enemies.

Exploring the same environments may not be to everyone's liking, but the Unreal-generated hospital was so gorgeous I didn't much mind. It helps that your relationship to the old man is always evolving, even if the floorplan isn't.

It's a surprisingly funny, gorgeous game that's an easy recommendation, especially for those who loved Infinity Blade. Though the two have some key differences, they both ram home the truth that mobile games are getting surprisingly good at creating big worlds on tiny screens.

The Dark Meadow is available on iTunes for $5.99 for the iPad and iPhone. We're always looking for new distractions. Want to submit your game for Portabliss consideration? You can reach us at portabliss aat joystiq dawt com.

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