Developer: Pocket Monkey Games
Price: $0.99
Version Reviewed: 1.2

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★½☆
Game Controls Rating: ★★★½☆
Gameplay Rating: ★★☆☆☆
User Interface Rating: ★★★☆☆
Re-use / Replay Value Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

Overall Rating: ★★½☆☆

What the heck is it about the name “Sparta” that catapults things to instant popularity? It’s like the name oozes macho-ness and drama and action and blood. This “Sparta” is an iPhone game, and a very popular one—it’s at #16 overall—but don’t let that, or the name, fool you into thinking that it’s an exciting purchase. The promised future updates might make it worthwhile, but right now, Sparta is nothing more than a simple hack-and-slash. If you like simple hack-and-slash games, you’ll love it. Me? I was expecting something a bit more involved.

img_001112 When I first booted up Sparta, I was struck by the graphics. Good graphics are usually indicative of a certain level of polish, so I was rather optimistic. The graphics are based on cartoon animations, and the audio is your stereotypically dramatic. Both the graphics and the audio work well, and Sparta’s presentation is disarmingly well done.

The gameplay, however, adheres strictly to the Spartan mandates of simplicity. When you start a new game, a brief introductory blurb introduces you to your role as a warrior, and then the hack-and-slash begins. The entire game is based upon the simple premise of killing enemy after enemy, with no point or end in sight. Everything moves in 2D, which further simplifies and already simple game. The enemies don’t even change: every level involves foot soldiers and archers, without even the drama of a cavalry unit or pikesmen. After a number of successive linear encounters, each level ends abruptly with another parchment-scroll notice with about two bits’ worth of story. Once you move on to the next level, it’s the same thing, but you have different-colored armor. Joy.

Let me repeat: there is no variation. For me, games of this genre need to include some decent customization options in order to keep things interesting. Let me choose a bow instead of this clunky sword. Let me take healing potions or just a freaking first-aid kit into battle. How about some magical power-ups? I don’t care, really, just give me something to keep things interesting. No such luck. Sparta has no depth whatsoever, and as a result, its replay value is nonexistent unless you just want to mindlessly hack at enemies. Yes, that’s the point of a hack-and-slash, but there are ways to make them fun, you know!

img_000123The one tiny bit of variance comes in the form of a secondary attack, kicking, which stuns enemies. Er, why? Your kicking range is much smaller than your sword’s range, so kicking is near-useless. You can block, too, but it requires the same finger as your basic attack because the three buttons (attack, kick, and block) are clustered in the right side of the screen. Movement arrows take up the right side.

The bland gameplay isn’t the only problem. For some weird reason, you can’t hit enemies once they get too close. This is frustrating and often irrational, and it’s hard to tell where exactly your range of attack is. Sometimes I can see the sword point hitting an enemy spot-on, but they don’t react at all.

Thankfully, the developers at Pocket Monkey Games have promised much-needed improvements in future updates. 1.5 will supposedly have nine new weapons and three new enemy types, while 2.0 will supposedly boast online multiplayer. That’s wonderful, and it’ll make worlds of difference if done well. But we’re still stuck at Version 1.2, and I can’t recommend Sparta in its current form. Spend a few more bucks and get a real game with actual replay value. In the meantime, if this is your kind of game, consider Zombieville USA instead.

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