I’m a bit of an ancient culture geek, and a big fan of the God of War series of video games. For these reasons I was both excited and wary about the new Hero of Sparta ($9.99) game for the iPhone and iPod touch, the latest Gameloft release. Having recently reviewed Brothers in Arms and found it rather enjoyable, I had every reason to believe Hero of Sparta would be good, too. While the games have some elements in common, Hero of Sparta will definitely appeal to a different kind of gamer, though the Gameloft polish is still there.
Let’s start with the familiar parts. Gameloft established a successful blueprint for iPhone/iPod touch game control with Brothers in Arms, and, luckily, they’ve carried over the core components of the system for Hero of Sparta. The control disc is located in the bottom list, and controls the direction and movement of your character in the game. On the right are the action buttons, which include your Weapon button and your Shield button. The Weapon button controls whatever offensive gear you’ve got equipped, and the Shield button controls blocking and special abilities.
In a move taken pretty obviously from God of War, you can initiate special kill sequences for certain enemies, above and beyond your basic attacks. When these are available, a special button appears above the Weapon button. Hitting this will trigger a special move, which you complete by tapping the screen in the appropriate place as buttons appear. I never had any trouble completing any of these, so I don’t find them particularly challenging, but they do break up the action and keep things interesting.
Visually, the game is also similar in quality to Brothers in Arms. The graphics are comparable to PSP games, with Gun coming to mind specifically in terms of the appearance of character models. There were no noticeable slowdowns, and environments and in-game cutscenes were also impressive. As with BIA, I didn’t feel like I was playing a game on a cell phone, which is definitely a good thing.
As for gameplay, I actually preferred it to BIA, probably because of the content and type of action. I’m a big fan of games like God of War and Devil May Cry in which you slash your way through waves and waves of enemies, and Hero of Sparta stays true to the model. They also introduce switchable weapons, abilities you acquire over time, and other unlockables and upgrades that elevate the gameplay over and above that provided by competitors like Kroll. Boss fights are fun, and require more than just randomly stabbing at things, although this is still a big component.
If you liked BIA, or Kroll, or God of War for the PSP, Hero of Sparta will probably provide you with a few hours of enjoyment. There are eight levels total, and an unlockable difficulty setting with harder enemies, where you keep and can continue upgrading your gear. The story is a little weak (why is the Spartan king called Argos? Just to confuse those of us familiar with Jason’s famed ship, I guess), but the monster-killing more than makes up for it. Until a genuine God of War games comes to the iPhone, it’s definitely the best hack-and-slash title available. Get it now for $9.99 in the App Store.