I don't care what any style magazine says - green only goes with orange when you're vomiting or when you're lining up elven archers for an attack in Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes.
Those of you familiar with the series Might & Magic are probably surprised to see it, one, on the Nintendo DS and, two, converted from a hardcore role-playing game to a puzzle RPG. So, for the sake of not causing the Might & Magic fans to die inside by calling this game by the same name and to introduce the game as something new and different from the series - we'll stick to calling it Clash of Heroes.
Clash of Heroes puts players in a generic fantasy plot involving elves, necromancers, wizards and a ton of other stock fantasy characters. The game is divided into chapters with the player taking the role of a different stock fantasy character in each chapter. On the world map, you move your cute little 2D sprite from node to node to talk to characters, open chests and get into battles with other cute 2D sprites. Battle consists of two armies lining up on both the lower and the upper screen. Players' armies are made up of colour-coded units with specific stats and magic powers. To "fight", you've got to line up units of the same colour in a vertical line. To "defend", you arrange them in horizontal lines that then form walls. Battle gets more complicated as you get bigger units that require you to sacrifice smaller units of the same colour to charge them up for attack and equipped items also become a huge factor in battle.
Loved So Cute! Aside from 2D sprites, Clash of Heroes is terminally adorable. The writing and characterisation of the stock fantasy characters is witty and amusing - which goes a long way toward spicing the plot up. The anime-style cut scenes and character dialogue images are also very pretty and depict some of the cutest moments in the story. I think the instance that actually made me coo aloud was one where a cute demon sprite watches a volcano explode enraptured. Then he's hit by debris and burns up into an equally cute skeleton that says "It was worth it!" before crumbling into dust.
Very Clever: At their best, the battles are truly challenging in a way that makes you feel good about yourself when you beat them. Most of the challenge comes from finding ways to stretch out your turn. Unless you've got a special item equipped, most of the time you can only get extra moves during your turn to shift around units by causing chains of units to link up. For example, you could spend one move plugging a green unit into a formation that completes both a horizontal line and a vertical one - and that becomes two extra moves that you can use that turn - which will give you a major edge on the enemy if you manage to activate a larger unit and set up walls all in one turn. Aside from these normal battles with enemies, there are also specific "puzzle battles" that are actually brain teasers worthy of Professor Layton: You have to destroy all of you opponent's units in one turn.
Hated Unbalanced: The game suffers from fluctuating difficulty levels, weird distribution of special items and a frustrating game design choice. You notice this right away in chapter two when you have to start with a new character, Godric. For whatever reason, his boss fights seem tougher and the progression of fights in his level leave you battling people three levels higher than you almost constantly. Also, the items you find in his level are not nearly as useful as the items other characters have in other levels and most of them are geared toward defence instead of offence. Finally, unlike every other character you play in the game, Godric's special spell that charges up as he takes damage or deals damage is also defence only. This proves to be a poor design choice because it makes Godric feel like the weakest of the all the character even after you level him up all the way. Then, you get to chapter three with Fiona as a ghost and suddenly the game is a breeze because Fiona has offence magic and an item in her level that multiplies all her units' damage by 100 per cent. Crazy!
Can Be Repetitive: Because the game forces you to start fresh with a new character every time, the gameplay starts to feel stale. You always get the same type of units to start and then you have a grind a bit before getting the bigger units that actually have special powers. Then, once you're comfortable, it's time for a boss battle and end-of-the-chapter sequence that starts you back at zero all over again. I thought this repetition might go away in the final levels when the characters reunite to take on the ultimate baddy - but nope! Even there, you start over again with another character and then have to suffer through a string of boss fights with characters that the game picks for you (so you can't not play as Godric - ugh).
There is some good game design in Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes and I can't stress enough how adorable it is. But I would have appreciate some extra gameplay balancing with respect to offensive/defensive spells and what kinds of items are in which levels. I'm happy to recommend it to hardcore strategy game freaks and everybody who's waiting around for the next Professor Layton. But I have a harder time recommending it to the easily frustrated, especially kids who might miss the sexual innuendo between the succubus and Godric's brother, Aidan.
As for Might & Magic fans, I'm sorry to tell you there's not much here that resembles the games you loved from times past. It's a completely different experience more akin to Puzzle Quest than to anything else. While we're on the subject, Puzzle Quest fans beware - you cannot change units horizontally a la Bejeweled and this will drive you totally nuts for the first two hours or so. After that, though, your colour-recognition skills will come in handy.
Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes was developed by Capybara Games and published by Ubisoft for the Nintendo DS. Released December 1 for $US29.99, and due in Australia this coming January. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played all game types in both single and multiplayer modes and still think Fiona was better off as a ghost.
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