We hear from some quarters that video games that are not played with some use of a button do not count.
Wrong. The proof is on the iPad on my desk.
A year ago those buttons-or-bust gamers missed one of the iPad's best games, Infinity Blade. It was a medieval fantasy riff on a button-pushing classic: the old Nintendo game Mike Tyson's Punch-Out. Its developers complicated the old formula, which involved face-offs with a series of bruisers in one on one, dodge-block-and-counter battles. The Infinity Blade folks added swords, armor and role-playing game character-improving elements, but, making their game for iOS, they subtracted buttons. You played their game with carefully-timed swipes and taps, a scheme that suited the sword-swings of our hero knight perfectly.
The developers of Infinity Blade, Chair Entertainment, are back a year later with Infinity Blade II. They have not added buttons, but they have dared to bulge their game with many more things for the player to control. Like the first game, this one is on a loop, lasting about 20 minutes on a play-through before you will face an end boss, bring your accumulated armor and ability upgrades back to a restart and play through again. But so much has changed.
We're not playing successive generations of a warrior family each trying to storm the same castle this time. We're going through a branching, altering environment, unlocking new doors and planning new paths. We're not just swinging better and better swords. We now can dual-wield some blades or use heavy weapons, both of which enable new defensive techniques and offensive combos.
We can now specialize our weapons by adding gems that induce special effects like poison or health re-generation that is triggered during combos.
We even get a story worth caring about, as your first death introduces a twist to what these Infinity Blade games are really about. I re-played the game's introductory level once and its main loop three times, and, each time, the changes in the enemies and/or pathways made the experience feel new.
In screenshots, Infinity Blade II might look indistinguishable from its year-old predecessor, but the new game, which I played until my level 9 hero got obliterated by a level 75 boss, offers much more player choice. It's now as much a role-playing game than it is a Punch-Out. It most certainly is a satisfyingly complex video game with great graphics. And it uses no buttons.
The game will be out on December 1 for iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPad*, iPad 2, iPod Touch 3 (16GB+) and iPod Touch 4. Skipping it because it is, essentially, gesture-controlled, is not recommended.
[*UPDATE: The game is now out and is crashing at its title screen for me and others who try to run it on an iPad 1. The game runs fine on my iPhone 4. Those who have older machines should proceed with caution and keep an eye on consumer reviews on iTunes to see if/when any title updates fix these compatibility problems. I've also asked a rep for the game's developers for comment and will add anything I hear to this piece.]
Infinity Blade II for iOS [$6.99, iTunes]