Man. You know how, when you're a cloud of non-corporeal black mist given life and kingdom, someone always comes along to challenge your supremacy and then you need to steal the four magic swords to make him disperse back into the darkness from whence he came? Don't you hate when that happens? No? Just me, then?
Okay, maybe this isn't exactly an everyday occurrence for most of us. Or even any of us. But you've got to think that Vandheer Lorde, the protagonist of Sun Studio's Armed with Wings 2 whose shadowy shoes you borrow for this stylish adventure, isn't exactly having his best day ever. As the game begins, you've been ousted from your throne by the original game's hero, and you're forced to flee your own palace to seek a way to reclaim your seat of power.
Unfortunately, you don't get your own bird in this one, so you can leave the crackers and falconry gloves at home.
During Story Mode, you can select from Easy, Normal, or Hard difficulties, which not only affects how much damage you deal or take, but also the layout of the levels—a nice change, since difficulty in most fighting games typically boils down to sheer, keyboard crunching frustration. There's also the Survival Mode, which drops you into a room with ever-increasing numbers of baddies and lets you see how long you last. This is actually a really good way to polish your skills if you find yourself having trouble with the battles on higher difficulties, but you can expect to get swarmed pretty quickly.
Gameplay is very straightforward. Between missions, you have the opportunity to save and change your meager inventory about. Each mission consists of a few short stages, featuring several enemy encounters and some jumping puzzles, and then a boss fight. There isn't a heck of a lot of strategy to combat, since you're limited to a few select keys for different attacks, and you'll probably get the hang of it in the first skirmish. Death is, at most, a minor inconvenience, since you can restart the stage of the game you died on with no penalties—which, of course, doesn't take the sting out of those instant-kill spike pits that litter the landscape like Starbucks coffee shops.
Analysis: The obvious question is how well it holds up to—or improves upon—the first Armed with Wings. Combat in this one feels much more smooth and natural, enabling you to wade into enemies without breaking stride. It's also a lot more cinematic, with more focus on story and character than its predecessor. What the two games do share is a striking visual aesthetic. Aided by some very fluid animation, Sun Studios coaxes a lot of emotion and variety out of mostly featureless inkblots.
That being said, Armed with Wings 2 isn't without its flaws—flaws that can basically be boiled down to one word: platforming. Truth be told, much of the platforming seems like busywork intended to lengthen the game, and the transition between slice'n'dicing your enemies into little puffs of smoke and then leaping about on nondescript ledges occurs with an audible clunk. There's some attempt to implement "puzzles" in some places, but they mostly boil down to "Get from A to B without dying". Which is a pretty good goal, I guess.
As a departure from mainstream game design, Armed with Wings 2 is worth a look, even if fighting games aren't necessarily your thing. Give it a try, so you can at least say you tried something different today, and don't be surprised if it sucks you in.