Sparta: Lords of War

Sparta: Lords of War

What we liked:

+ Style and presentation
+ Bloody combat
+ Score

What we didn't like:

- Controls can complicate things
- No global leaderboards

DEVELOPER: Pocket Monkey Games   |   PUBLISHER: Pocket Monkey Games   |   RELEASE: 07/03/2009

Is that Sparta in your pocket?

The enemies are numerous, the challenge uncompromising. You battle alone against hordes of foes because you, friend, are a Spartan. As a freshly minted Spartan recruit and armed with shield, sword and a dizzying kick you tackle the revolting peasants, bandits, Persians, or whatever Sparta needs you to slice and dice all in 2D side-scrolling action.

Instructions are succinct and make diving into the game a breeze. Controls use onscreen “buttons”: two arrows in the lower left move you left or right across the screen. Three buttons in the lower right control your actions with a button for a kick that will temporarily disable the enemy, a shield to block and a sword for attack. The buttons for each each responsive, and a good size so that you won’t be mistakenly trying to attack when you need to block.

More often, because you can really only perform one action at a time, you get stuck blocking in one direction when you need to reverse and block the other way. Moving and block is the most finicky of the control transitions, as you have to move, block, then release block and hit move again. When you have multiple archers attacking at different firing times you will crave the ability to achieve this smoothly. On the upside, you can move and attack for a proper Spartan rush on the enemy.

I tried to effectively use the kick in combat, and it was useful if I could pull it off quickly when I was being triple teamed by archers all firing at different times, but since the sword’s reach is farther I just felt better off getting a strike in rather than risking taking a hit trying to kick. Your health is measured in the upper left, with helmets below the bar indication how many of your three lives you have remaining. Death’s consolation prize is that it gives you a chance to strategically reposition yourself behind the enemy. All your foes are swordsmen or archers, and enemies do not have health bars so you have to learn how many strikes it takes per enemy in each level (with the standard rule that archers are weaker than swordsmen).

With only survival mode, you advance to the next level after every 25 kills earning gold for each enemy slain. Since you need a place to spend all the spoils of war the game features a Store, accessed through the sack of gold onscreen. Here, you can purchase HP potion, a better helmet, and three upgradeable swords. Between levels, a fine parchment screen details the story. Well, at least it tells you who you are fighting, but as a Spartan you barely need to know even that, right? Should you tire of battle, the pause menu allows you to turn off the sound (don’t you dare), quit or resume. Unfortunately, the game lacks global leaderboards.

With bright, crisp graphics and scrolling backgrounds the game looks like a fantastically gory coloring book of Sparta. The score is appropriately epic, though I noticed a time or two where the track started from the beginning rather than continuing in an endless theme. A real sound crowd-pleaser are the death groans of fallen enemies. Nicely done guys, it just doesn’t feel like a proper archer beheading without a despairing squelch.

Since this is one of those ongoing projects the developer is bringing yet another update with new features like nine weapons – including spears and bows and arrows – and the ability to fight in campaign mode and tackle bosses. An app with this kind of developer support makes it an excellent buy at the ninety-nine cent sale price, as the game will grow in gaming value.

If you are craving a side-scrolling action arcade game for your handheld, this is a great-looking survival game sure to charm you with its very guts. Hacking and slashing through the levels is made more fun by the bloodshed, increasingly difficult foes, and the ability to do a little shopping with the spoils of war. If you want some Sparta for your pocket, nab it at the sale price before the next update hits.

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