What are you doing right now? Right this moment. Are you killing time at work? Maybe idly browsing at your house or in the coffee shop, figuring out the next iPhone game you’re going to buy on the App Store? May we humbly submit that you’d rather be killing hordes of mythical creatures as the King of Sparta? Because you would, trust us. Hero of Sparta is a long, satisfying beat-‘em-up that will do action gamers proud.
In order to protect his kingdom (Sparta, remember?), King Argos has to wage war on a long list of fabled creatures. Yes, there’s a story, but it doesn’t matter at all. The bottom line is that Argos will fight Hydras, Centaurs, Minotaurs, Wraiths, Ghosts, huge Scorpions, and many others, one by one and in some cases all at once. To direct the violence appropriately, part of your iDevice’s screen becomes a NES-style controller. On the left is the virtual D-Pad for directional control, and on the right you have an Attack and Defend button. We were initially concerned that this simple setup wouldn’t be enough to let us fully decimate the Greek underworld, but we were wrong. You see, Argos has combos in excess. Holding the Attack button will result in a different attack than merely tapping it, and from there you get a wide array of vicious slices and stabs with which to annihilate your opponents.
There’s also finishers, which are probably our favorite part of the game; when an enemy gets very low on health, a button appears above the Attack button that launches you into a mini-fight. You then tap the screen where it shows you to execute your foe. Not only are these sequences awesome–stabbing a giant scorpion with his own tail never gets old–they also give you more orbs than eliminating them normally would.
The virtual D-Pad left a little to be desired, but it worked better than we expected it to. Furthermore, the game doesn’t let you make the stupid mistakes that waste so much time on consoles. When you need to jump, the jump button appears, and you make the jump; when you need to hop across ledges, Argos will do so by himself. This streamlines gameplay and lets you concentrate on what Argos does best: hack bad guys to pieces.
As Argos murders his way through Ancient Greece and parts beyond, he makes gains as a fighter. First, there are energy and health crystals to uncover as you move through the game. Five of either variety will let you upgrade your health of energy bar, and the difference between the complete bar and your initial one is pretty stark. Secondly, there are the aforementioned orbs, which you collect after dispatching your opponents. Red ones fill your weapon stash for upgrades, blues boost your energy bar, and greens increase your health. The energy bar factors in for your special moves; each weapon will have a ultimate move you can unleash on a group of foes when it’s sufficiently full. And yes, you get multiple weapons to choose from. There’s the Axe of Ajax, the Apollonian Bow, Damocles’ Sword, Ishtar’s Tears, and Hephaestus’ Arsenal–and they can each be upgraded 4 times for maximum carnage.
We love how the weapons actually have different functionality. For example, the bow and arrow give you a ranged attack, the dual swords a vicious close-quarter slicing mechanism, and the axe… well, you should have the pleasure of figuring out how to use the axe on your own. It’s our favorite. In any case, you can find a system that works for your playing style, which is a huge benefit. Powering up your weapons to full throttle takes some doing, but it’s worth it for the wounds you can inflict. In a nice graphical touch, the weapons will change significantly in appearance when they’re powered up. Also, along the way you pick up armor, so your standard-issue tunic will get covered with a helmet, cape, and body armor, all of which have their own healing and magical properties.
Hero of Sparta has three difficulty modes: Easy, Normal and Hard. That’s standard fare in most cases, but here HoS distinguishes itself ingeniously. After playing through the Easy mode and upgrading your weapons, perhaps you think you’re ready fight on Hard… well, good news! You can keep all your weapons and armor for the next go-round. It makes the Hard version much more palatable, because the enemies are substantially more vicious than before. You can also keep your longer health and energy bars when you venture onto a new difficulty level.
Visually, Hero of Sparta is spot on. Some of the wide shots get sparse, but the fight scenes are fast and clean enough to distinguish your individual combatants. Onlookers constantly asked us questions about this game, wondering if it was really on an iPhone, and not a PSP or something similar. The music is atmospheric and orchestral, which we liked. The sound effects are crisp but unobtrusive. You can turn down either or both if you choose. The on-screen display also includes a menu screen, which lets you upgrade your weapon mid-fight (enormously helpful), restart levels or quit altogether. You can’t save multiple games, but the latest game you’re playing will be automatically saved for you, and there are plenty of continue points in case you keep getting phone calls during the boss fights.
Overall, we have few complaints with Hero of Sparta. The action is viscerally fun, and there’s plenty of it. Combine that with the nice control scheme and the cool graphics, and we think that practically everyone will have a good time here. At $9.99, this is at the high end of the price spectrum for the App store, but this game is absolutely worth it. There’s nothing else like it around.