Review: Twin Blades (360/iPhone)

Twin Blades
Publisher: Press Play Studio
Developer: Press Play Studio
Genre: Platform
Release Date: 12/29/2009

While epic HD 3D games face rising budgets and astronomical costs, the world of 2D is benefiting from lower development costs and a lower barrier to entry.

Twin Blades, by Press Start Studio, is a game that could never be made on a grand scale in 2010, yet finds a place in the market on both the Xbox Live Indie Arcade as well as the iPhone. It’s old school to the core – a 2D side scrolling action game with stunning vector-based graphics and tight, well-executed gameplay.

1. Modes/Story

There is a basic storyline where the player, as an ass-kicking nun, needs to take out zombies that have taken over. It’s not a story-driven game, so that is probably enough to sustain. If the game were further developed with greater level and enemy diversity, a deeper story could be added later.

Twin Blades offers only the main game mode, with no multiplayer or online modes. The developers are promising DLC for the game, although it’s not known what will be added.

Modes/Story Rating: MEDIOCRE

2. Graphics

If you can imagine a scenario where 3D never came to be, and 2D kept going, Twin Blades would be an all-star in that universe. The game is old school 2D but with large vector-based sprites that look amazing both on the small iPhone screen and on an HD TV. The characters are crisp and are teaming with personality, and they animate fluidly like a quality cartoon.

As an indie game with a limited budget, there is a core group of assets that are used over and over in the game. There are only two-three background locations that repeat many times, although they are varied with the time of day seen in the sky. The zombies are mixed up slightly more, with three-four types of zombies that each exist in multiple palette swaps. The game’s graphical look is impressive both on an HD TV and on the iPhone screen, which is an advantage of using vector-based graphics.

Graphics Rating: GOOD

3. Sound

The music in Twin Blades isn’t much to write home about – its basic instrumental melodies could be in almost any game. You do have the option of playing your own music through the Dashboard as well if you’d rather listen to something else.

The sound effects are a different story. The “crack” of a dying zombie is satisfying and pitch-perfect, as it is played hundreds and thousands of times throughout the game, but doesn’t get old. The blood spurts, death sounds, and weapons firing often overpower the music anyway.

Sound Rating: POOR

4. Control & Gameplay

The controls in Twin Blades are a relatively straight forward affair. On the Xbox 360, the D-pad is used to move left and right, and buttons are assigned for jump, slash, and shoot. Shoulder buttons are used to cycle through weapons. On the iPhone, there is a D-pad and buttons mapped to the bottom of the screen which are used controller-style to control the game. The only slight difference is that zombies can grab the nun in the Xbox 360 version, and the B button is used to shake them off.

Twin Blades has six weapons, all of which can be upgraded. The first two are regular bullets, with a pistol and an automatic. The flame thrower is perhaps the most important weapon. There is also an ice ray that freezes zombies, a blaster-type weapon that blows zombies up, and a laser beam that fries them.

Use of the weapons diminishes a blue energy meter, which is refilled only by using the scythe to kill zombies. When zombies die, the nun collects their hearts, and after each level, the hearts can be used as currency to upgrade abilities and weapons. By Day 20 or so, the upgrades are finished, and then it’s just zombie-killin’ until the end. When the nun is low on health, the other meter in the game, a zombie kill will often yield a red test tube, which replenishes energy.

Control and Gameplay Rating: ENJOYABLE

5. Replayability

Twin Blades is a straight up arcade style game, with an emphasis on scoring. There are unlimited continues with which to progress through the 31 days/levels, but the score is reset each time the player dies. Even getting through the game itself gets repetitive, and there isn’t much to go back to after you’ve achieved a high score you’re happy with.

There is also no way to select specific levels after the game is beaten. The options are to start from Day 1, or restart the beginning of Day 31. For score purposes, it might have been better to be able to choose a start level, or to be able to play infinitely looping levels with the maximum upgrades.

Replayability Rating: MEDIOCRE

6. Balance

There is a nice and steady progression from day 1 to 31 where the zombies get more difficult and plentiful, needing better skills and weapon upgrades to be defeated. The first half of the game or so can be primarily beaten just with the upgraded scythe slashing through enemies. About halfway through the game the zombies require more hits to kill than is possible with just the scythe. From that point forward, it’s best to use a combination of weapons to weaken the zombies, then the scythe to finish them off to keep the energy meter replenished.

Balance Rating: ENJOYABLE

7. Originality

Zombie invasions have been the subject of video games almost since the beginning, so theme wise there isn’t much new ground broken in Twin Blades.

The way it’s executed, however, is fresh and new. It feels like a 16-bit era side scrolling action title, but the variety of weapons and the feel of the scythe are spot-on. The nun moves with a gracefulness where she is propelled forward a bit with each swing of the weapon, almost dancing through zombies as she eviscerates them.

For me, despite the tried-and-true 2D style of gameplay, adding the graphical polish and style makes it an original title for the modern marketplace.

Originality Rating: ABOVE AVERAGE

8. Addictiveness

It’s always great to be able to jump into a game at any time and get a nice sense of the game right away. Twin Blades is the type of game that works well in small doses, so the iPhone version is perfect for this game. The Xbox 360 version kept me playing for the purpose of this review mostly, as it became apparent early on that the levels were simply repeating with more stronger zombies. Ultimately, by the time I reached Day 20, I knew I had to see it through. However, with my flame thrower strategy, I generally beat the game without dying.

Addictiveness Rating: GREAT

9. Appeal Factor

2009 was a great year for 2D and proved that there was still a market for high quality 2D games even in a market full of 3D games.

Twin Blades is the type of game that would seem like a dream if you had described it to a gamer in 1994 at the height of the 16-bit era. Like many of the 2D genres of that time period, the 3D revolution began before the games could reach their true graphical or gameplay potential.

There are some limitations in the game, though, that could be rectified with a larger budget. The game seems almost like a foundation/prototype that could be fleshed out for a real 2D classic experience.

Appeal Rating: GOOD

10. Miscellaneous

I chose to review the Xbox 360 and iPhone versions of the game in one large review because they are essentially the same game. The way the game controls is different on each, but the iPhone uses a faux controller layout rather than any touch controls. For six dollars, any gamer can get the game on both platforms, and support a great indie developer with a load of talent. It’s a great one-time playthrough on the console to see a 2D game in HD glory on the big screen, but the game is made for the iPhone. Twin Blades is best in short bursts, running through a batch of zombies, blasting them with some weapons, and then moving along to something else.

Miscellaneous Rating: GREAT

The Scores
Story: MEDIOCRE
Graphics: GOOD
Sound: POOR
Control & Gameplay: ENJOYABLE
Replayability: MEDIOCRE
Balance: ENJOYABLE
Originality: ABOVE AVERAGE
Addictiveness: GREAT
Appeal Factor: GOOD
Miscellaneous: GREAT
Final Score: ABOVE AVERAGE

Short Attention Span Summary
Kudos to Press Start Studios for creating a compelling, beautiful 2D game based on entirely new IP. It’s easy to overlook Indie titles because of the quantity and lack of polish, but Twin Blades manages to rise above the pack. It’s more of an expanded prototype/demo than a full-fledged game, but what’s here is excellent and it would be great to see these developers tackle something bigger.

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