Put the average man up against a Roman gladiator, and he’s likely to have his head sliced off in seconds. Actually, it’s fairly likely the very same will happen when you first take on Spartacus: Blood and Sand. This is, perhaps, the bloodiest and most brutal title on iPhone to date, because the game employs “fatality” style moves that old-school classic Mortal Kombat made its signature.
Though Gameloft’s Blades of Fury proved, to some extent, that fighters can work on iPhone, Spartacus: Blood and Sand turns up looking polished, but not necessarily playing like it.
Based on Starz’s upcoming TV series of the same name, Spartacus: Blood and Sand comes fully decorated in Roman robes. The eight characters available (two of which have to be unlocked during play) are all dressed for the occasion, with weapons ranging from huge axes to a lion who attacks on cue.
Glaber is quick with a spear.
Purely from a visual perspective, there is a rhythmic quality that all the best fighting titles have. The characters almost dance around each other when the attacks kicks off. Blood spills left, right, and center, and the 3D arenas give the battle a sense of scale. But it is only a trick. In reality, Spartacus: Blood and Sand is a 2D fighter masquerading as 3D, and gameplay actually falls back on fairly plain fighting staples: block, attack, block, attack.
The problem is that fighters live and die by their ability to map out an extensive range of moves to the keys on the control pad. While some of the special moves are rather spectacular when triggered, they don’t really gel with the game’s on-screen buttons. It’s a setup that ensures play never quite flows as it should.
Any sense of momentum is also hampered by a touch of slowdown that interrupts play throughout. It’s not exactly a game-breaking fault, but it does muddy the sheen Spartacus: Blood and Sand goes to great lengths to polish on.
The story mode stars you as Spartacus himself in a tale of savagery and revenge. Though this is essentially a campaign mode, it comes interspersed by clips from the TV show, which add a sense of weight and glamor to proceedings, overacting aside. It’s a nice touch that really ties the game to its source material.
But Spartacus: Blood and Sand is all about the fighting, which displays a certain amount of naivety. For instance, there’s nothing to stop you from simply getting in the first hit and then spending the rest of the match backing off until time runs out, since the arenas are endless and without borders. By the same token, it’s equally frustrating to go on the attack, only to find your opponent blocking for the majority of the fight. Spartacus: Blood and Sand just doesn’t quite strike the right balance.
It does have plenty of modes. The story mode is complemented by a challenge mode that pits you against each character (either in standard battles, or surviving as many rounds as you can) and a “head to head” mode that lets you fight against real-life opponents through Bluetooth or local wi-fi.
This is a fighter that doesn’t really find its feet when it enters the ring. Too uneven to be considered a classic, Spartacus: Blood and Sand nonetheless has its gladiatorial moments and proves a fair, if not spectacular, companion to the TV series.