Version Reviewed: 1.04
App Reviewed on: iPad 2
Graphics / Sound Rating:
User Interface Rating:
Re-use / Replay Value Rating:
Hard rock/heavy metal and games about undead warriors, spooky ruins, and epic battles to save the innocent from vile fiends would seem about as much of a peanut butter/chocolate pairing as one could hope for. Hail to the King: Deathbat, born from the imagination of Avenged Sevenfold frontman M. Shadows, should seem like the kind of game that would more or less create itself. It’s certainly not the first time these two worlds have been joined together (I actually LIKED Tim Schafer’s Brütal Legend--critics be damned! [Editor's Note: Yeah, buddy!]) and it probably won’t be the last. But it’s not without a series of issues along the way.
Let's rip the Band-Aid right off: Hail to the King: Deathbat has problems. Most of these stem from fundamental elements of the design and a few arise from aesthetic concerns. It does a few things well, but those are generally not enough to redeem Deathbat in the eyes of any but the most hardcore A7X fan.
Hail to the King is a pretty standard isometric action hack-and-slash in the vein of Diablo, minus the loot or the old console-based Baldur’s Gate games. The biggest flaw here is that the combat isn’t especially smooth or rewarding. Lacking a block or dodge function of any kind, players only have the option of attempting to duck in and out between stiffly animated blows to avoid damage. Want to annihilate foes from a distance with magic instead? The awkward camera and lack of a targeting function will probably kill you just as fast as your enemies will. Graceless flailing aside, the combat never really reaches a satisfying groove and that is where games of this ilk live or die. And this is before we even get on nitpicky elements like the poorly timed trap-dodging platforming bits, the lack of a map, or the life-driven continue system.
The fact that players still have to deal with lives is indicative of Deathbat’s conception being mired in a lot of old-school gaming conventions that have long since outlived their usefulness. This is echoed in the fact that, while the game has a cohesive art direction, it still feels rather dated in its visual style and presentation - resting somewhere in the gap between the Playstation and Playstation 2 in terms of the lack of detail in the models, awkwardness of animation, and level design. Even the story of a dark impostor taking over the world (spelled out via a overly-long intro sequence that seems to plod on for an eternity) is not especially engaging or consequential in the long run.
To Deathbat’s credit, its soundtrack sports a quirky mix of orchestral grandeur with very chiptune-y sounding rock tracks, and the occasional A7X jam thrown in for good measure. It also doesn’t milk players with in-app purchases, with only playable zombified versions of the band members being available for cash. Speaking of which, fans will doubtlessly be happy to see that A7X’s dearly departed drummer The Rev plays a role in the game from beyond the grave. The game is littered with references like these that will doubtlessly make any fan's day.
And in the end, I think A7X fans will likely be far more forgiving of Deathbat’s flaws than I. It’s obvious that this game is a passion project for M. Shadows, but the problematic combat and archaic design issues aren’t likely to make this trip to Bat Country worthwhile for any but the most ardent admirer.