Version Reviewed: 1.0
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Vanquish: The Oath of Brothers is a stylish hack-and-slash adventure, and Gamevil's latest US release. Demolishing soldiers from horseback is a swift, fun experience, which is no surprise—I've always been a fan of combat in Gamevil games. The ink-style graphics are also a nice departure from run-of-the-mill cartoons. It's a shame that autosave is entirely absent and that the game is so repetitive, because Vanquish is a lot of fun.
The game draws its story from the Three Kingdoms period of China. The basic premise is that three warlords once swore an "oath of brotherhood" to each other, and now the main character, Ghuan Yu, must lead his "brother's" wives to safety. There is great potential for an epic, historically sound storyline here, but the bland dialogue leaves much to be desired. The only times you have to pay attention are when a strategic decision must be made, and then it's easy to determine the other characters' intentions. Thankfully, there's more to Vanquish than its mediocre storyline, and the dialogue is easy to skip through.
Vanquish truly shines once you get into combat mode. It plays like a typical hack-and-slash, but with a good dose of flair. As Ghuan Yu, you must defend the wives' carriage from the enemy armies, which attack in waves. The story is divided into stages (10 for Ghuan Yu, and 4 apiece for the warlords you unlock later). At the end of each wave, one of the enemy generals will show up, and defeating him ends the wave.
What makes Vanquish so much fun is the way in which you attack. There's a basic slash as well as a "dash" that sends Ghuan Yu charging through a line of enemies. You can also press and hold on the basic slash button until the power meter turns red, thereby unleashing a storm of energy upon your opponents with the "Royal Flight" attack. Items like a lightning attack can also be equipped. There's just a great sense of constant action and speed, and being on horseback just makes it better. Light RPG elements are also included in the form of being able to upgrade your horse and equip different weapons, but for the most part it's a straightforward gallop to the end.
Vanquish is very proud of its graphics. The art is based on traditional ink and wash paintings, though you won't see much of that beyond the conceptual pieces. In-game, everything is much sharper, with ragged edges and a pixelated style. Whether or not you like this look is a matter of personal preference, though I beseech you to look at the video; the still images don't do it justice. What's really stellar is the balance of monochromatic elements against small bursts of color. The colorful wisps of your victims' souls and the dark-red flashes of blood become much crisper as a result, and the effect is really neat.
What I don't like about the graphics is the strange parallax effect used to create a psuedo-3D environment. The joystick that controls your movement speeds and slows your horse as well as moving him up and down on the field, but the attempted use of sorta-kinda-3D means that the depth of field changes. This looks great, but makes for some awkward issues when you're "zoomed out"—it's hard to tell if you're really hitting the soldiers, or just striking empty air.
That's a minor gripe compared to my two major problems with the game, however. First and foremost is that autosave doesn't exist. At all. And, more importantly, each level can take up to ten minutes to beat. With no way to save mid-level, even in the app itself, Vanquish's potential as a pick-up-and-play game is completely demolished. This is the iPhone, not a dedicated gaming device, and we need fast ways to save our games. Secondly, the levels are simply too repetitive. Hack-and-slash is fun, but it won't last you forever...especially with a mediocre storyline. With little variation between levels, there's not much content here, and even less replay value.
Vanquish is a fun jaunt through a war-torn ancient China, and I'll be the first to say that mowing down lines of soldiers is rather thrilling. But without more depth or a decent storyline, Vanquish remains a simple hack-and-slash. And who knows? That might be exactly what you want. Personally, I prefer more variety. At $2.99 Vanquish is an affordable, action-packed experience that's still worth playing through...albeit one without autosave. There's one feature you might want to wait for!