The condensed platforming frustration in each of the levels in Ravenous Games League of Evil was one of the highlights of the year in iOS gaming for me. Mixing extremely short levels, speed-run time targets and hardcore difficulty isn't just incredibly addictive but also a fantastic formula for mobile devices. After the relative success of its first installment, the developer didn't want to rest on its laurels by simply adding some more levels a la Angry Birds.
Instead, it's turned what happened to be one of the best exponents of pixel art on the App Store into crisp hand-drawn characters while sending frames per second through the roof. This direction isn't for the faint hearted and perhaps some loyal fans of the original title will be disappointed — I worried about it too. There is, however, much more than the new Retina-Display-ready presentation.
League of Evil 2 [iTunes Link] begins setting the story backdrop with pages of a comic, a great introduction for the new art direction. The premise is the same as the original: explore the level as quickly as possible and eliminate the scientist. Yes, scientists always die in video games. The hazards and enemies will force you to retry the level plenty of times, allowing you to learn the precise movements to avoid obstacles, the right timing to through a punch and the exact moment to drop from a wall.
This should all be very familiar to fans of precision platforming games like Super Meat Boy. You get used to failure but when you get it right, it's like the Force is with you and feel you can complete your speed run with the eyes closed. Maybe that's exaggerating but the satisfaction level is on par with that.
The gameplay mechanics are the same, although it definitely feels more vibrant and alive. The main character looks bulkier and the physics make him very agile but heavier this time around. Clinging on walls isn't as easy and for some reason it disables the precious double-jump. There's nothing indicating this change so you'll learn't the hard way. I was very disappointed about it and it definitely takes some time to get used to it.
The levels are split across different worlds that will be familiar for the League of Evil geek. Instead of a repetition of the same themes, you get a new perspective thanks to the Retina Display graphics. While the animations and details on the characters is brilliant, the graphics used on the level design is repetitive and uninspiring. The patterns get tiring after a while and they're only saved by the colour palette and backgrounds used. The new aesthetics are, in my opinion, more pleasing, but you could think they're strangers visiting a pixel 2D world where they don't belong.
The franchise welcomes some additions such as final bosses, which are simply gimmicky and easy to deal with after all the frustration in previous levels. I like the fact they're tying the story together although they don't represent much challenge.
One of the most dramatic decisions in League of Evil 2 concerns level design. The briefcase hidden in every level is now almost impossible to get in a speed run. The change can only mean more replay value. With every new challenge you can simply follow your intuition and find the scientist of examine every part of the scenario and get the briefcase. Again, most of the times it's impossible to get the perfect run with three start and the briefcase.
The chiptune music is not gone and has been replaced by instrumental melodies in line with the original. I really liked the themed song and was gutted not to hear it anywhere — the new soundtrack is, however, very fitting and has even some hints of Pulp Fiction's Miserlou theme song. This is obviously another area that has been taken care of and represents an evolution. It's clear Ravenous didn't want to make the sequel any worse than the original.
It's difficult to believe that League of Evil 2 will gain a place in our hearts the same way it's predecessor did. That stranger feeling soon turns into familiarity and can only grow on you more and more. I'm sure League of Evil 2 will soon become a classic of the genre that you cannot miss downloading. Stop reading now and try it.