Back it on up there, Woody. This week’s Zombie Kill of the Week goes to Sister Angelika for putting three rounds into a zombie’s head, setting it on fire with a flamethrower, and then severing its head clean off using her massive scythe. And she gets bonus points for looking good doing it, because what — I ask you, WHAT?! — is hotter than a nun in a blood-smearing habit, baring serious cleavage, bearing a soul purifying reaper’s scythe and a large assortment of firearms?! Nothing, that’s what. And so, Woody, you can smack as many zombies as you want with a banjo and be as funny as you like about, but it’s Sister Angelika — sweet, soul Sister Angelika — that’s going to be winning Zombie Kill of the Week, every week, from now on.
Sister Angelika is the protagonist in Twin Blades: The Reaping Vanguard, a side-scrolling zombie slasher from Bulkypix. The game plays similarly to Zombieville U.S.A., but keeps a faster pace and mixes things up a little with a dual-weapon mechanic. The game’s simple story gets the job done: zombies have begun to overrun the region and Father Richiardo dispatches Sister Angelika — who has apparently been trained in this sort of thing — to track down and eliminate the cause of the infestation.
The game’s two pillars are its constant pace and its magnificent artwork. Twin Blades’ hand-drawn backgrounds and sprites are stunning to behold, and zombie deaths are rendered with much variety and detail. The variety is very welcome, as you will kill literally thousands of zombies during the course of the game. If they all died the same all the time, it would get old quick. Depending on how you kill them, zombies will keel over, their heads will explode or be cut off, they will be ripped in twain at the waist with their entrails dangling, their charred corpses will crumple to the ground, or their fleshless bones will scatter …
Which raises another point: Despite its lovely, Disney-like appearance, Twin Blades is not a game for children. Killing zombies is incredibly gory business, and the game isn’t shy about blood, often spattering your display with it while you fight. Conservative gamers may not appreciate the sex-appeal with which Sister Angelika is drawn, or the violence she exudes. Mother Theresa Angelika is not; instead, she’s part Dante from Devil May Cry and part Grim Reaper, and drawn to be equal parts nun, Japanese school-girl and sexy kunoichi. The story also implies that Sister Angelika may be involved in a scandalous lesbian relationship with another sister of the order. To wit, the game gropes with several adult themes. Some will find so much kinkiness a part of the game’s charm, while others will see it as blasphemy that such a character and premise are wrapped in the garb of the sisterhood. And despite Angelika’s big, soft anime eyes, let it be said again that this is not a game for children.
During the course of her investigation, Sister Angelika will visit several areas including her monestary, the town and town market, a forest, a lake and more. Cleared areas will become re-infested as the days and nights pass, and players will find themselves often returning to previously cleared areas to put down the zombies once more. The repetition of constantly revisiting previous areas is mostly alleviated, though, by the game being so damn pretty, by the nonstop onslaught of zombies, by alternation of Angelika’s weaponry, and because every zombie killed allows you to harvest its heart, which can later be spent with Father Richiardo to upgrade Angelika’s abilities and arsenal.
In combat, Angelika simultaneously wields her scythe and chosen gun. You can change Angelika’s equipped firearm by swiping the screen during play. Firing guns consumes weapon energy, represented by the blue orb in the upper-left corner of the display. Slaying zombies with her soul-purifying scythe replenishes that weapon energy, allowing Angelika to keep on shooting. It’s important then to carefully manage your attacks in combat to ensure you will have ammunition when you need it most, and also to spread out your character upgrades so that Angelika retains a good balance between her melee and gun attacks; dumping all of your points into powerful guns will do you little good when you run out of ammo and have to rely on the scythe that you’ve never bothered to upgrade. The first few scythe upgrades will also extend Angelika’s melee prowess from a single strike up to a three-hit combo, which is very helpful indeed. Zombies will either strike Angelika, or latch onto her and continually drain her health. When a zombie is holding on, players need to shake their device to free themselves from the zombies’ grasps.
Artwork: Twin Blades’ hand-drawn art is a treat. The backgrounds are lush, colorful and detailed, and coming in both day and night versions. The characters are excellently designed and animated, and exude personality. While the zombies behave similarly, they come in a multitude of looks and outfits, and also have a lot of personality. Zombies attack wearing shirts and ties, Hawaiin shirts, camo pants and more; some will armor themselves with kitchen pots and other scraps of metal, or wield frying pans and other weapons. For each weapon that Angelika uses, the zombies have different death animations which are a lot of fun to see. Even the blood and guts are well-drawn.
Music: Twin Blades features an original soundtrack largely comprised of synth drums and string arrangements. The music is quite good, and makes fine accompaniment for the zombie carnage that it scores.
Combat: The interchange between firearms and scythe is nicely done, with guns draining energy and melee attacks restoring it. In this way the game forces the player to change up their tactics, rather than becoming over-reliant on a single weapon. Once the difficulty begins to ramp up after the first few stages, combat becomes pretty frantic and requires fast reflexes and quick decisions to prevent your being overwhelmed. With the game being fairly repetitive in nature, it’s good that the developers put a little spice into the combat system.
Upgrades: As you progress through the game, the zombies become both more numerous and more resilient. Luckily, Sister Angelika can take the zombie hearts she’s reaped back to the monastery to spend them as currency for upgrades. Angelika begins the game with only a pistol, but five other weapons are available for purchase: machine gun, explosive gun, flamethrower, ice gun and the holy beam. For abilities, Angelika may upgrade her health, energy storage, the amount of energy drained by melee attacks or the overall strength of the scythe. The first two upgrades to the scythe will extend Angelika’s combo chain, and she can also purchase a jump attack. Weapons and abilities may be upgraded to five levels.
Developer Dedication: Twin Blades has been out now several months. I downloaded it when it first appeared, but quickly tired of it. The artwork was stellar, but the game forced you to run through the same few areas in a loop, fighting zombies until you died. It was a survival game with no story, no end and no clear goal, and it left much to be desired. Several updates have been made to the game, however, adding new locations and a complete Story mode featuring new characters, a stage selection map, boss fights and more. With so much new content, Twin Blades has well justified its existence. I’m just glad the developers continued to push the game to realize its potential. And for those who want it, the game still includes a separate Survival mode.
Repetitive: Whatever else Bulkypix might have done to add variety to the game — six weapons and five abilities to upgrade, a variety of cool death animations, day and night cycles, different zombie costumes, a combat system combining ranged and melee attacks, etc. — there’s no getting around the fact that the game is repetitive. You will be required to revisit the same areas over and over again, and there are only two zombie types in the game — armored and not armored — wearing different clothes. Aside from the boss fights, you will spend the entire game running from left to right, killing hoards of the same two zombies. This will surely annoy some gamers more than others, but I wouldn’t fault the game for this too much, as it seems to be the nature of the genre.
Jumping: For the most part, Twin Blades’ controls work really well. The part that doesn’t work is the jumping, which is done using the same virtual joystick as running. You have to be careful not to jump accidentally while moving, and if you intend to jump, you might have difficulty controlling the jump, whether you’re trying to jump straight up to execute an attack, or jump away to escape a pile of zombies. This issue could easily be fixed by added a separate jump button to the control scheme.
In the few short months since its release, Twin Blades has grown immensely. The new Story mode really makes the game worthwhile, and I hope the developers will continue to flesh the game out with additional content. I even have a wish-list for updates I’d like to see. Because artwork is such an integral part of the game, I’d like to see more of it. New costumes for Angelika would be awesome. It would also be great if there were a new story mode in which players could play as Angelika’s lover, Magdalena, to follow her part of the story. Of course, I’d want to see multiple costumes for her as well. Telling Magdalena’s tale could also allow the developers to include new locations, zombies and bosses without having to change Angelika’s story. Finally, an option for a separate jump button would be awesome.
Wishful thinking aside, Twin Blades stacks up pretty well against similar titles such as Zombieville U.S.A. and Inkvaders. If anything, Twin Blades outshines those games with prettier artwork, faster pacing and a better combat mechanic. And so, without further adieu, the verdict:
Twin Blades: The Reaping Vanguard is a great button-masher, and one of the prettiest games in the app store. Visually, it reminds me of games like Odin Sphere on PS2 and Muramasa: The Demon Blade on Wii. If you’re into action games, and unperturbed by the game’s kinky and violent representation of the church and its sisterhood, Twin Blades is well worth the price of admission.
Twin Blades: The Reaping Vanguard is developed by Bulkypix, and sells for $2.99. Reviewed at version 1.1.0 on an iPhone 3G. The only thing I don’t get is where the “twin” in Twin Blades comes in. I see the scythe; that’s one blade …