Hail to the King: Deathbat Review (iOS)
The bad-ass members of Avenged Sevenfold have teamed up with Subscience Studios to bring to us Hail to the King: Deathbat, an action-RPG hybrid for the iOS and Android formats. At first glance, Hail to the King might appear to be nothing but catered fan service to the dead-icated masses who follow Zacky Vengeance, Synyster Gates and the rest of the crew as most other celebrity-associated games have done in the past. Avenged Sevenfold frontman M. Shadows has dropped the mic and stepped forward as Deathbat's lead designer, story writer and level creator. Surprisingly enough, Hail to the King makes for one hell of debut in the area of game design, acting as a proper homage to the timeless classics of yesteryear, such as Castlevania, The Legend of Zelda, Diablo, Wizards & Warriors and Ghouls 'N Ghosts. Combined with its excellent presentation, Httk makes for an addictive experience where you don't have to be a fan of any of the previously mentioned games or even Avenged Sevenfold to enjoy.
It's usually tough to pull off decent storytelling on the mobile format, but Hail to the King provides a unique story without ever dipping into the cliche. The presentation and lore of Hail to the King is where Avenged Sevenfold fans where undoubtedly fall in love with Deathbat. A trio of gods arguing among one another created the world of Haides and threw in all sorts of life onto the planet in order to see if those with the ability to think for themselves would follow a path of evil or benevolence (with two of the gods believing in good, and the third, Kerberos, believing in darkness). They dropped a powerful talisman into the world and watched as the world fought over it. You play as Andronikos, the great warrior king who united humanity and intended to stop the evil. Most mobile and tablet games would start the game right there and have you go out into the world and set things right. In HttK, Kerberos intervened in the war, killing Andronikos and replacing him with an evil version of his body which led humanity into chaos. The other two gods resurrected Andronikos as the Deathbat, and it's up to you to stop your evil self, find the broken parts of the Talisman and bring peace to Haides.
From the second I heard the Witch/item vendor's 'Tales from the Crypt'-inspired shriek, I knew I was in for something special. HttK's presentation is pure fan service, but not just for A7X fans. Upon starting up the first stage, I was introduced to what is easily the greatest soundtrack to ever hit iOS gaming. Sure, most people would think that the Hail to the King's soundtrack would just be filled with songs from A7X's 2012 album of the same name, but that is certainly not the case. Every single stage has background music that seems 8-bit in origin with modern instruments put on top of it. They call to mind the various, dark tunes of Castlevania, Simon's Quest and Dracula's Curse on the NES as well as the dungeon themes from the two original Legend of Zelda games. It isn't until you reach the bosses and mini-bosses where the soundtrack changes into the expected songs of the band, but even then the songs are usually presented in instrumental form, which never detracted or distracted from the task at hand -- it is done as an effective way of shifting gears.
Like its soundtrack, Deathbat's graphics are dark, dreary and welcoming. The top-down perspective of the camera mixed with the action-RPG combat scream Diablo and each level is filled with the band's longtime themes and motifs. The graphics are solid, pushing the iOS format as far as it can go without taking away from its overall performance. While this results in graphics reminiscent of the original PlayStation (especially seen with the basic enemy models), it's all forgiven because of the number of enemies you face at a time and the overall length of each level. Every stage is huge -- expect to spend at least an hour on each one, and there are many. While the graphics of Deathbat could have been dialed up a bit more, I'm glad that it didn't because the game never dipped in frame rate during my hours of playing it, which is a rarity for most action-RPGs on smartphones and tablets.
The gameplay of Hail to the King: Deathbat is relentless and can easily discourage those who are not dedicated to see things through. If you get frustrated at dying, or are the type to throw controllers in rage or give up after a few deaths, HttK is not for you. The game's controls are simple: there's a directional pad that appears on the left side of the screen (wherever you put your fingers on the touchscreen) and a melee attack and magic button in the bottom-right corner. Holding down the melee attack button results in Diablo-like, repeating melee attacks that Andronikos can do in place and while running. Tapping the magic button results in shooting a magical projectile in whatever direction Deathbat is facing and holding it down casts a powered up spell that is dependent on the current weapon equipped.
Despite these simple controls, combat itself can be rough. Aiming for your ranged attacks can be a real pain since Andronikos only shoots in the direction he's facing. Melee attacks work in a similar manner but are a bit easier since Deathbat's swings repeatedly move in a 180 degree-ish pattern in front of him. Weapon swings have a chance to stun monsters, but the effect is random. Sometimes I'll stand toe-to-toe against three enemies and chop them all down without ever being hit. Other times, I'll finish off the same enemies with half a health bar remaining when I started at 100 percent. There seriously needed to be a block function in this game, but HttK is all about experimenting and finding out what works. Older NES games had limited controls and were still tremendously enjoyable, and this concept definitely applies here. Most of my fighting, especially against the stronger creatures, mini-bosses and bosses, consisted in charging at my enemies, getting in one or two hits, backing out of reach, and doing it again. Another tactic I used to was keep running in circles around the monsters to weave in and out of hitting them.
Make no mistake, you will die a lot in this game, but it's meant to encourage you to adjust to its ever-changing learning curve in terms of combat tactics and trying to get past all of the game's elaborate traps. Combined with the iffy controls, I can see why certain players may be discouraged, but those who have experience with games like Dark Souls, Diablo, Monster Hunter and the various NES classics that had you frequently experimenting and dying will find solace and addiction within Hail to the King: Deathbat. My main grievances have to do with health, extra life and continue system. You get a limited number of lives and unlimited continues. Each time you die, you restart at the closest checkpoint or at the start of the level if you haven't reached one yet, with every enemy and treasure you cleared gone until you reach the spot you died. If you run out of lives, you go back to the world map and have to restart the stage completely. While you can buy lives from the Witch, you're better off using your gold for health-refilling potions and new weapons that boost your maximum health. I died often and I don't mind that.
What I did mind was the noticeable lack of health refills throughout each stage. Enemies and chests have a chance of dropping mana and health refills and the mana regens have about triple the drop rate than the health ones. Also, extra lives should be refilled when going from stage to stage. I found myself starting a stage with only one or two lives, knowing that there would be no way I'd clear an hour-long level when I die an average of every 15 minutes. As a result, I found myself purposely dying to use a continue and officially start the stage with a full set of extra lives -- this can be alleviated by resetting lives after clearing a stage, having enemies rarely drop extra lives, and increasing health potion drops so I'm not dying three or four times each level. I know this game is supposed to be hard, but it could use some balance tweaks.
Despite my critiques on the controls, health regens and continue system of Hail to the King: Deathbat, it still provides an unrivaled experience on the iOS format. The price tag might scare off a few people who are on the fence about purchasing it, but let's get one thing clear -- you do not have to be an A7X fan to enjoy the hell out of HttK. If you are a fan, you'll find yourself catching all sorts of references to the band, whether it be song lyrics in the lore or the appearance of all the band members as paid-DLC characters. If you're easily frustrated or are looking for an easy ride, look elsewhere. HttK's levels are massive, varied and keep you thoroughly entertained from start to finish, just as long as you don't mind punishment and grinding things out.
This review is based on purchased copy of Hail to the King: Deathbat for iOS.