December 30, 2009

DS Review: Might & Magic Clash of Heroes

Chris Nitz Says Match three puzzle games are as rampant as ragweed in a bad lawn. A match three puzzle game in a strategy-game shell: now that is some sweet manicured lawn action. Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes does just this melding. One might be turned off by the fantasy setting and the match three puzzle game, but this is one game you want to look into!

Clash of Heroes does a great job of blending two genres together. The match three puzzle crowd can get their fix by matching units horizontally and vertically to form attacks and walls. Strategy fans will get a bit of strategy as different fights require different methods of battle to win. There are times when the two blend together so well that you will forget you’re playing a simple match three puzzle game.

This game looks pretty darn good for an NDS game. There are lots of colors for the eyes to enjoy. Each unit looks unique. The animations are solid and the spells have a nice display that makes them look powerful.

What would a pretty sprite archer be without some fun looking backdrops? Clash of Heroes has some great areas to play in. From forests to crypts, it is all rendered very well on the DS. Each area feels unique from one another; and just as one area wears out its welcome, the story for that character draws to a close and moves on to a new area and a new character.

The storyline here is nothing ground breaking. When will we really see a storyline that really does feel unique anyway? The story here is that demon's are looking to take over the world...again. It is up to the forces of good to stop this. Unfortunately, the demon's have a plan that causes a bit of turmoil for the creatures of the surface.

The story is delivered through various in-game character interactions, as well as small storyboards that illustrate a major event in the story line. It all works pretty well and keeps the general feeling of the game flowing. The character portraits even change depending on the mood of the conversation. This is all really icing on the cake though. The real blast comes in the gameplay itself.

Where the game really takes off is its approach to the battle system. Not only is there the strategy of unit movement and how to best the enemy, but a small puzzle game takes front stage as well. The basics are to match three units of the same color to form an attack. These units will attack whatever is right above them on the enemy screen. The units will run directly at the enemy if the path is clear.

Of course, there is more to this than just a match three and win. Each unit has a different attack counter. This is how many turns it takes before the unit actually fights. This plays a role when you fight bosses that move around the board or you have to meet certain objectives in a timely fashion.

Stack three matching units on top of one another to form a normal attack. Matching six units of the same color forms a stronger attack, which is also called a fusion attack. Stacking three units of the same color sideways forms a protective wall. This is just the beginning.

Elite units are the normal unit times two. Elite units attack after two normal units of the same color are stacked on top of them. Elite units have special abilities like increasing enemy attack timers or jumping enemy walls. Champions are the strongest unit available. Champions take four normal units to attack. Champions have bigger special abilities and do a whole lot more damage.

If two units get ready to attack during the same turn, they form a chain attack. The more chains that get stacked together, the bigger the damage multiplier. This really takes off when units can be called to and from battle. The only units that cannot be summoned to battle are the elite and champion units that have been defeated in battle. Lose these units and it is time to spend some money, and resources, restocking them for the next boss fight.

After so many attacks have hit you, or landed on your foe, a magical ability becomes available. This magical ability gets stronger as the main character levels up. This magical ability varies by hero. One hero might have a magical arrow that you can use to hit the enemy directly; while another hero might grant you life at the cost of units on the field.

Not all fights are as simple as just attacking the opponent. One fight might have you attacking some specific enemies that would shift from side to side every turn. Another fight could have you trying to fight down a boss who moves around and blasts you from different positions. This makes for some very interesting battles that are enjoyable to play through a second time.

This might sound complex, but the game has good tutorials to introduce you to these fighting techniques. There is a lot of depth here, but it is very nicely spoon fed so that it does not overburden the player.

One of the best parts about the game play is how well it scales as the game is played. Starting a new hero means starting back at level one. The nice part to this is that each progressive hero feels a little more badass than the hero before them. There is even a nice little break-in period to learn what each new unit does. It might seem like a small thing, but this helped tremendously while playing through the game.

One of the most challenging aspects of this game came in the form of the puzzle side quests. Each new area nets a new puzzle quest giver. These puzzles entail defeating all of the enemy foes in one move. It sounds simple, but the game doesn't let that be the case. Some puzzles require you to look for dropping links and chains to help keep that move counter from dropping to zero right away. These little side quests provide a good distraction from the main game as they don't require any specific character level to be enjoyed.

Along with puzzle side missions, there are missions to hunt down specific persons who have done some sort of wrong. These can be fun, but taken on to early often leads to frustration. This leads to a big complaint of the game in that these side missions have no levels associated with them. Finding the bad guy and engaging them in a fight was most often met with a two to three level difference. This was terribly frustrating as it often meant a reboot of the DS so I could come back to these missions later. It is recommended to play these missions near the end of the character’s story line rather than doing them as they are found.

Die hard fans of hero point allocation will need to turn away here. Even though the hero and battle units all gain levels, there is no specialization to be had here. There are no points to dump into skill trees or constitution points to increase. This does take a bit away from replay as the heroes play out the same way they did the previous time. It would have been nice to maybe see a small skill tree introduced to keep things a bit different from one play through to the next.

One of the bigger areas of strategy are what to use for an army. Each unit takes up space on the board. People who enjoy building walls for defense will find that loss of space could hamper them from using champion units. The other item to concern one’s self with is how many units it takes before the special units will become active. While champions do a metric ton of damage, they take four normal units to activate. Elites take two units to activate. There is also the makeup of normal units. Whole chapters can be played only using one unit type. So there is quite a bit of room here to build an army that fits your play style.

This is a fantastic game. I have enjoyed this game more than I ever anticipated. The story was good enough to keep me wanting to play more. The presentation was top notch. Most importantly, the fun factor was at the top of the charts. Hell, even my wife couldn't put this game down. It is just that fun. Give it a try, you might just be pleasantly sucked away for a few days while you play!