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Portabliss: Infinity Blade 2 (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: Infinity Blade 2.

"Hey Marjorie, thanks so much for bringing the kids by for the holidays, we've had such a wonderful week. I'm just sorry your husband couldn't come along."

"But Michael ... he did come. He's just ... been in your bathroom since we got here."

"Ahh, Infinity Blade 2?"

"... Infinity Blade 2."

Gallery: Infinity Blade 2 | 4 Photos

Expect a lot of conversations like this to be going on this holiday season. While the original Infinity Blade wowed with its swipey swordplay and RPG trappings, its follow-up takes everything that was good and right about its predecessor and expands on it.

The best analogy I have is the leap from Assassin's Creed to Assassin's Creed 2. Chair knows it has its base mechanics, its foundation in order, so with Infinity Blade 2, it throws its energy into expanding the game around those core ideas.

Take the swordplay for starters. You still have your basic sword and shield combination as you battle against the God King, but you'll soon get access to heavy weapons, which ditch the shield and dodging, replacing them all with buttons that let you block with your weapon. You'll also have to perform timed strikes in indicated directions to pull off combos. Also on offer are dual weapons, which make you far more mobile, but remove the possibility of blocking entirely.

For even more adaptability, you're able to place gems into your weapons and armor that let you hit harder, stand tougher in the face of specific damage types like fire and shock or even find more items and gold.

The upshot is that combat never needs to feel repetitive. If you're getting bored, just switch to an entirely different fighting style or throw a poison gem in your sword and start tossing out some heavier damage.

But the key way Infinity Blade 2 parries the threat of repetition is in the way it evolves on the unique structure of its forebear.

It doesn't get much simpler than Infinity Blade. Kill your way to the God King. Get killed by him. Go back to the beginning in a new "bloodline" a little tougher and smarter. Repeat until you bring down the big bad. In Infinity Blade 2, you're still in a structural loop of sorts, but you'll have several targets to bring down (each of which restart your bloodline) before you can move on to the final act.

Where as Infinity Blade was the poster child of linear design, its sequel actually forced me to -- believe it or not -- create a hand-drawn map before I could find my way to the end.

While Chair has honed its craft in the field of game design, it's also gotten better at manipulating the mobile platform to get cash out of its players. There are a ton of weapons here, and unless you're willing to withstand a nutty amount of drudgery, it's nearly impossible to obtain some of the coolest ones without buying gold via micro-transactions. (There's even a prominent gap in the "Light" weapon tree that practically screams "Time to buy some gold!")

There's also a lot of cross promotion for the other Infinity Blade products and even some weird product placement for the Spike VGAs. None of it kills the experience, but it's a shame to see such a great product fall into some of the less appealing (if profitable) habits of lesser mobile games.

Of course, when "lesser mobile games" is a crowd that includes pretty much every mobile game that's not Infinity Blade 2, how upset can you get that its creators are trying to make a buck off of it? This is the standard that all mobile devs should strive for: A bite-size game concept that's so delicious it has a sneaky way of always transforming into a meal.

Infinity Blade 2 will be available Thursday on iTunes for $6.99 for iPhone and iPad. 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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