Heavenly Sword keeps things fresh by mixing in a second playable character and a few different play styles. For some of the game you're placed in the role of the lovably quirky Kai, a bizarre catlike girl whose favorite "game" is to shoot bad guys with her crossbow. She can't fight at close range, and can only create separation between herself and the enemy by pushing them off of her. The awkward switch from one camera angle to another that occurs when you go from running to aiming makes it tough to get a shot off, so the levels where Kai's on foot and fighting aren't her best moments. It's good, then, that most of your time spent as Kai has you simply shooting bad guys with the game's enjoyable motion controls. By continuing to hold the fire button you can control Kai's arrow midflight in slow motion by tilting the Sixaxis left, right, up, and down. Nariko has a few levels like this where she mans a cannon and wields a rocket launcher as well. Kai's sections are sometimes a tad too long, but it's quite satisfying to guide an arrow across a level and then land it in a soldier's groin or head.
Overall the game's combat is a good mix of being easy to learn but deep enough that you don't feel like you're just hitting the same two buttons and seeing the same attacks over and over. This is an impressive feat considering how shallow the game's enemy artificial intelligence is. Rather than challenging you with smart bad guys with a wide range of moves, the game simply tries to overwhelm you with numbers. Sure, some are fast, some are strong, and some shoot arrows at you, but none of them exhibit any sort of creativity in their attacks. Even the bosses, who at least attack in new ways, aren't particularly clever and are challenging only because their life bars are seemingly endless. Slightly repetitive or not, it's hard not to have a blast when you're controlling a lone heroine against more than a thousand enemies, all of which are onscreen at once.
Heavenly Sword is elevated by its top-notch presentation. Nariko's attacks are beautifully animated and flow seamlessly from one to the next with only a little slowdown here and there. It's a little disappointing that there's not more visual variety to the soldiers, but the few types featured are all well designed and easy to tell apart. This is important when you're trying to use a certain fighting style to take out a specific enemy in a crowd. The levels are gorgeous and have an almost hand-painted look to them--especially when viewed from afar.
Great production values and interesting characters make Heavenly Sword feel like a summer blockbuster.
Many games come to a screeching halt when telling their story via cutscenes, but this is where Heavenly Sword excels thanks to is its main characters, which are all wonderfully designed and animated: beautiful, compassionate Nariko; oafish, sympathetic Roach; evil-yet-funny King Bohan (portrayed by Andy Serkis, who played Gollum in Lord of the Rings); and the curious, catlike Kai. The cutscenes are gorgeous, marred only by some lip-synching issues and a frame rate that sometimes stutters at the start. You really get a sense of the characters' personalities just by looking at them and watching them move. A well-written and often surprisingly funny script is brought to life by Hollywood-quality performance from the actors, who fit their respective characters perfectly. The inclusion of English, Spanish, German, French, and Italian voice options ensures that just about everyone can enjoy the performances, too. The music is a mix between orchestral movie-style tracks and more modern-sounding instrumental pieces with an ethnic flair to them.
Add it all up and Heavenly Sword is a fantastic game from start to finish. It's just a shame that it's not longer. The developer made the wise decision to keep the action tight by not including any fetch quests or backtracking, but skilled players will probably finish the game in a little more than six hours, and it probably won't take longer than eight hours for anyone else. There are some DVD-style extras to unlock and you can play it again on "hell mode" once you've beaten it; just don't expect to get much more than a great weekend for your $60. If you're OK with that, you won't be disappointed in Heavenly Sword.