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May 12, 2011

WP7 – Twin Blades: The Reaping Vanguard Review

by Master Pillow

Before diving into the review for Twin Blades I need to start with a note of caution especially for those new Windows Phone 7 owners who have purchased their headsets in the past few months.  Many might be wondering why they cannot find Twin Blades in the marketplace no matter what they do and the answer is exasperatingly simple – it’s been removed.  A few months ago Microsoft deemed the title to be infringing on their marketplace rules and decided to delist it.

While this sort of practice happens more often than gamers would like it is not confined only to Windows Phone 7 as one need only look at all the issues surrounding similar titles on iOS and even Android.  What really needs to be addressed though is how to treat those unlucky users who bought these titles and erased them by mistake.  As it stands now it is impossible to redownload titles like Twin Blades once they have been removed from the marketplace thus users better be aware of the current status of all their applications just in case they need to do a phone reset.

As for my case, I am lucky to own two Windows Phone 7 devices in my Samsung Focus and HTC Surround.  Unfortunately for me I blew away my Samsung Focus a week before Microsoft fixed the pre-Nodo patch issue thus I lost Twin Blades in the process on that unit.  Thankfully, my HTC Surround is working with no issues or else I’d be extremely angry that I had lost software that I bought with no avenue for compensation.

Twin Blades is yet another iOS port that has made its way over to Microsoft’s mobile platform and though some players might get tired with its simple but repetitive gameplay I found it to be refreshing simply because the game feels like it belongs in the old school era.  In other words, it starts off easy enough but the difficulty quickly ramps up to present a real challenge for your fingers.  Make no mistake, there will be times when the action gets so hectic that you are going to worry that your constant finger tapping is going to burn a hole through your device.

The player takes on the role of Sister Angelika who has been tasked to wipe out the zombie/undead menace that is plaguing the town.  To aid in her quest she comes equipped with two primary weapons, a close range melee scythe and a long range firearm that has a finite amount of ammunition that can be refilled by slashing more undead.  The game itself is a 2D sidescroller much like Sega’s Golden Axe or Streets of Rage in that the player moves Sister Angelika left and right on a single 2D plane all the while wasting any undead which get in her way.  Let an undead creature get too close and they will grab Angelika whereby the player only has a few seconds to physically shake the phone in order to free her.  As Angelika proceeds through a level every so often a zombie/undead will drop a health replenishing potion but they tend to be rare.

Controls are very intuitive especially for those players who are already acclimatized to touchscreens on iOS and Android with your left thumb controlling left and right movement along with jumping and your right ordering Sister Angelika to swing her scythe or shoot her weapon.  For the most part the controls are seamless although the argument still stands that a physical joystick or D-pad would be infinitely better as there are times when you are going to find Angelika jumping merely because your left thumb moved too far up.  In a game where the action can become furious this can be the difference between life and death.  I would recommend something like Ten One Design’s Fling physical suction cup joysticks for the iPad but alas there’s nothing comparable for Windows Phone 7 devices.  PSP owners who also have access to the game should have no control issues whatsoever.

Dispatching undead racks up points which can be turned in to upgrade either Angelika’s abilities like more health or augment her weaponry.  Make no mistake Angelika is going to need every single one of these upgrades since the difficulty can become quite suffocating.  This is especially so when confronting the game’s boss creatures which can easily dispatch Angelika in a few hits.  Chances are that players will get massacred the first time they encounter each one and only through attrition and studying the AI moves will players come to understand how they can be beaten.

Players need to understand one fundamental factor and that is though they can simply replay the same stage over and over again in order to beef up their character that this is actually detrimental as the longer the player takes in grinding experience the more powerful the undead menace becomes.  This sets up a nice dynamic of risk and reward and each player needs to find the correct balance that works of them.

Twin Blades’ claim to fame is undoubtedly the gloriously drawn 2D artwork especially Sister Angelika who is fluidly animated with many frames making her a joy to behold as she mows undead down.  The various undead creatures do not have as many animation frames yet the game engine never struggles to show a crowd of them on the screen at once.  Backgrounds are equally as colourfully detailed and the game does include the extra feature of having both night and day versions of each level.  This not only changes the graphics but adds some needed depth as zombies are even stronger during night time.

This is also a very bloody game which is the main reason why it was pulled from the marketplace.  Every swing that Angelika takes with her scythe or bullet shot from her guns causes huge amounts of arterial spray as well as bits and pieces of zombie flesh to splatter in every direction causing the screen to be splotched with tons of blood and undead body parts.  If this featured real human antagonists it would be outright banned in many countries.  Although I do not completely agree with Microsoft’s banning I can see the point although they really should rethink their strategy as there is definitely a huge market for mature gamers.

Nevertheless, as pleasing as the hand drawn graphics are the issue here is that there is a lot of repetition in art assets.  The undead in particular are merely identified with different colour schemes and while backgrounds are nice players are going to quickly notice that they’ve run past the exact same house or food cart a million times during the normal course of gameplay.  And herein lies the game’s biggest hurdle.  If players don’t care about overused art assets or the same basic gameplay of alternating scythe slashes with gunfire then Twin Blades’ has an addictive quality that can last quite a long time since the difficulty level is so high.  However, if after a level or two one finds himself/herself being bored to tears chances are that they will give up as there’s not much difference in later stages as the game essentially forces players to outright grind experience in order to purchase all the upgrades.  I for one did not mind the grinding mechanics although I have to admit that I couldn’t play for extended periods of time because it did feel more of a chore the longer I gamed.

Twin Blades comes with two primary modes of play the first being story mode and the other survival mode which tasks the player to survive 31 straight days of zombie attacks.  Both modes can either be played with either normal of hard difficulty. The game also includes the standard set of options with sliders for music and sound effects but there is also one for the heads up display transparency.  As usual, the game supports five languages in English, French, Italian, Dutch and Spanish.  Of course, this is also an Xbox Live enabled game with a good variety of achievements that rely either on skill or outright grinding.  While total game time will vary from player to player on average Twin Blades is still going to take many hours to complete.

While Twin Blades is certainly not for everyone it has enough charm to satisfy most old school gamers who wish for extremely difficult challenges so that they can feel as if they have really accomplished something epic.  The story might not be anything to write home about but there are a few unexpected twists and turns. Sure, the grinding and mindless killing of zombies can become sleep inducing for some but the sheer amount of button mashing and jumping alone will be enough to enthral those who like a good beat-them-up style of gameplay.  Still, it would have been nice if the developer manages to add some needed extra downloadable content that can spice up the gameplay or add new graphical features but I doubt this is going to happen as it is more likely to be incorporated in an outright sequel.  It is ultimately too bad that Microsoft has taken the game out of the marketplace but if you have an iOS device or a PSP then Twin Blades is a quality action title to pick up.

Final Score: ***

Reviewed On: HTC Surround

Date: May 12, 2011

Reviewed Version: 1.007

Size:  10 MB

Developer: Press Start Studio

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