The once computerized term “reboot” is being thrown around far too frequently these days. Much like how the exasperated user will simply resign to “turning the damned thing on and off again” until the solution arises, the same makeshift solution has been applied to other bits as well. Our neighborhood-friendly web-slinger is getting the treatment, the Batman franchise came out better than ever, and Marvel did a damn decent job with the Hulk. When it comes to games, though, rebooting a series often gets confused with the more precise term of “reimagining”; something a far bit more difficult, but all the more rewarding. The Might & Magic franchise is one of the more veteran series in the gaming world and, to it’s unfortunate claim, hasn’t aged well in recent years. The 1st person action-oriented adventure met mediocre response, and Heroes of Might & Magic 5 was riddled with glitches and bugs that choked most enjoyment out of the turn based style games. My father had enjoyed the series for many years, but even he hadn’t the patience to watch one of his beloveds waste away. When I had heard a DS reimagining of the universe debuted—and to positive reviews—I still maintined a skeptical eye until I ran it through the motions on my own. That, and my DSi was starting to collect a thin film of dust on it, so it was an excuse to clean it off.
Any gamer, no matter their robust claims of being capable of mastering any genre, has a weakness. Mine rear their ugly heads in the fighting and puzzle genres. I began the game gingerly, almost looking for any excuse to turn it off and assume it was just crap, but Capybara Games showed me that they too were fans of Might & Magic and were tired of seeing it retreat into chaos. In a way, this game is so refreshing and different than any of the M&M series that I almost forgot it bears the name. While the fantasy universe is still intact, the original combat system was thrown away in favor of a newer version that borrows mechanics from other puzzle games and improves upon them. It’s battle chess meets Bejeweled but with Angels, Treants and Titans.
The story is broken up into five chapters, each centering themselves around one of the heroes. An innocent meeting in the forrest is interrupted by an invasion of demons, seperating them into different realms. While the narrative takes shape toward the latter half of the game, it’s focused around finding a certain artifact of great importance. The entire tale is a little lackluster in whole, but it provides enough locomotion to keep the player interested from chapter to chapter, in which you switch heroes and the combat units they control. I was happy to see that the tale reaches a full circle conclusion rather than Capybara leaving the door ajar for a possible sequel. As I have always felt, sequels are more organic and satisfying when they spawn from desire and not necessity or economic favor. In the case of Clash of Heroes, I know a sequel will occur not because it’s needed, but because it’s wanted.
The crowning jewel of CoH is definately the combat system, which is simple yet very deep and enriching. Every battle requires the same goal: deplete the enemies hp before yours. In order to damage him, you must launch your units’ attacks across the DS screens. If they reach the end of the screen, the enemy will take damage, and the same process applies against you as well. You can charge up your units by placing them in a vertical column of three, which initiates the attack countdown. If you put three troops in a horizontal line, they form a wall that will block some (or all) of the enemy’s attack. When your units are used up, you can call for reinforcements to replenish your stock throughout the battle. While these are the only main mechanics of every battle, you quickly learn more advance tactics such as linked and fusion attacks, wall combining and elite attacks. With each new tactic added to your arsenal, the difficulty curve increases to provide a constant challenge throughout the game. You can easily win battles in the beginning by launching simple attacks, but by the third chapter you will need to be thinking three, four, sometimes even five moves in advance so as to keep one-upping your adversary.
While the mechanics are addicting enough to challenge even the most clever gamer, the units themselves provide their own special abilities that you must utilize in order to win some of the final battles. Every school of troops have three basic units that serve as the building blocks of most battles, but the schools differ greatly when they introduce their elite and champion units into your selection. The elite and champion units attack the same manner as the basic troops do, but you must line up two or four basic troops behind them to initiate their countdown. When activated, their unique abilities can provide extra attack or defense depending upon the unit and the school they are in. For example, Unicorns create a shield across the entire battlefield while they’re charging, providing extra protection for the rest of your army, and Angels heal your units as they charge up their own attacks. It’s these attributes that turn some of the later battles into all-out wars, some of which lasted me an entire hour to finish. And although I lost more battles than I won, the presentation of this combat system tapped into that addictive part of my nature that only made me enjoy the game more and doubled my efforts to win against an adversary three levels above my own.
Along with the story are several side quests which provide experience for both your hero and his units. The higher your level, the more hp your hero has and the stronger your units become. These quests can also lead to artifacts that provide special bonuses to your units, such as more damage when you create a link attack, or giving you more chances to move your troops in a single turn (each turn grants you three chances, but it hardly stays at that number for long). My favorite aspect of the game, however, are the puzzle battles you can find in each chapter. These battles exist as more a riddle than a combat engagement, requiring you to figure out how to kill your enemy in a single turn. While optional, they have a dual purpose of both giving you experience and showing you creative ways you can create attacks and make walls at the same time, increasing the efficiency of each turn. I often found myself searching these puzzle battles out as soon as a new chapter began, as they were both brain teasing and enjoying all at once. It had nothing to do with the arching storyline, but the experience and artifacts were sometimes lifesaving for my fledlging mind.
In hindsight, it’s staggering to think of how much creativity and enjoyment this relatively unknown studio managed to pack into a DS offering. When it comes to portable gaming the golden rule is always quality over quantity, yet Capybara decided one half just wasn’t enough for a series as long-lived as Might & Magic. Part strategy, part turn-based, but all enjoyment, Clash of Heroes is a fantastic game that provided dozens of hours of entertainment to a man who usually sucks at puzzles games—imagine what it will do for you.
See you in the next level,