Thursday, February 4, 2010

Review: Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes

My old Nintendo DS was probably my most played system for a while before last year.  Looking back at 2009, I tried some Professor Layton, which is fun, but slow-moving and something I feel no need to play for more than one or two puzzles at a go-through.  Otherwise, I went back to Brain Age and did the majority of the Sudoku puzzles.  To be fair, I did mess with Phantasy Star 0, but that’s really only a good game with other people and not in bed after hours.  I recently completed Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes by Capybara Games, and that cartridge really gave me a reason to recharge my DS.

Clash of Heroes is a turn-based puzzle strategy role-playing game.  The game-play of Clash of Heroes is intuitive and seems pretty simple, until you actually try and write it all out like I attempted.  To delete most of the paragraphs following this and just say, “Play the tutorials” because they demonstrate everything more than adequately enough would work, but this was a fun challenge so I’m going to stick with it.

The overall premise is that the player enters a “battle” against an opponent with a rectangular grid as a workspace.  Rows are 8 units wide and columns are 6 units deep.   Whoever goes first gets to take two actions during their first turn, and then each player gets 3 actions for each subsequent turn.  The enemy’s gate is up, or to put it less obscurely your units attack the enemy, whose own army is at the top of the screen.  Actions consist of moving bottom-most units to different columns, deleting units to move other units up or to free space in the column, or summoning more units.  Units must be “activated” to attack or perform abilities, or are otherwise “idle” and take up space.  Activated units cannot be moved while idle units can be, obviously. 

The tools at the player’s disposal are:
  • Throw-away common units: these are guys like foot-soldiers or archers.  Every faction gets three different kinds of these units.  Depending on a player’s strategy, all three can be taken and each has a unique color, one type can be taken and will appear across all three colors, or anything in between.   When three units of the same color are lined up vertically in a column they will “group” up and start charging up for a number of rounds until they will eventually cross into the other screen and damage enemy units or the enemy itself.  Three or more like units lined up horizontally in a row will form a wall that moves to the top of the player’s screen and will take damage from enemy units.

  • Mid-tier champion units: units in this category pack a bit more of a punch than the common units.  Depending on the faction, there are two to three types of this unit available.  Champions take up two column spaces and are one row wide.  Examples are stags that will hop over enemy walls or vampires that will heal the player for any damage they do.  Champion units will come in any color and require two common units lined up behind them to activate, with the two common units merging into the champion and freeing up the space behind. The player can have up to ten units of a champion type and will cost the player resources.  When a champion is destroyed before it activates it is gone and will need to be re-purchased.  A player can have up to ten units of a particular champion type.

  • High-grade hero units:  Like champions, hero units cost resources and will be diminished if destroyed before activation.  Heroes are fewer in number than the champions, with a limit of three to five units, and cost significantly more too.  Heroes are two column spaces long, two row spaces wide, and require four like-colored common units behind them to activate.  As with champions, when activated, the common units will merge into the hero unit.  Heroes range from grim reapers that, after 6 rounds, will kill the enemy player automatically if they just hit them to acid-spewing dragons that cut off rows of the field for a short period of time with their attack.
Units of a like color can be “linked” if they are set to attack in the same turn, and this gives them a slight damage boost.  Like units of the same color can be “stacked” if activated in the same column.  For example, a group of blue spearmen will attack in two turns.  Two blue spearmen are lined up behind them in the same column.  You could add one more blue spearman which would make them activate.  The new group would then merge into or “stack” up onto the old group, doubling their strength and still ready to attack in two turns. 

The campaign mode in Clash of Heroes took me about 27 hours to complete, and this is where any RPG aspects of the game come into play.  Story-wise, Clash of Heroes is on the cutesy-side of things but serves the game well by exposing the player to each of the five playable, uniquely themed factions.  Effectively, five teenagers survive an attack, are scattered across the fantasy world, and try to reunite with each other.  The player assumes the role of one of these characters in each chapter and takes that character from level one to eight or higher, unlocking new items, units, and characters of each faction for use in either multiplayer or quick-play against an AI opponent.  As a character is leveled, their hit-points increase and they get a larger pool of total units that can be in play at a time.   Items that can be equipped one at a time serve a variety of purposes, from having a huge impact on the conventions of the game like allowing walls to be moved as idle units are or letting the player summon reinforcements without costing an action, to simply buffing the ability of a given unit slightly.  Each character also has a special ability that charges up when units are activated and damage is dealt.  Some characters deal direct damage or attempt to mitigate damage and go about that through different means.  One of the undead powers sacrifices every idle common unit on their field to power an energy blast, while a knight’s power would be summoning a last-ditch wall to try and preempt such an attack.  I would find myself sorely missing the offensive powers when I was stuck playing as a defensive character.

One thing about the story I did find particularly interesting was that, of the five main characters, three are siblings, and three are women.  The sibling angle makes the urgency in which the characters are trying to get back together have more meaning and explain the lengths for power that one of them is willing to reach for.  I’m not sure why there are more female characters though, and if that can be attributed to something in the Might & Magic franchise or the fact that puzzle games reportedly have a large following of women gamers.  Regardless, it was nice to see some women characters being raised above the chain-mail bikini trope.

The unlocking of the items and units is where I take contention with Clash of Heroes.  Since there is no consistency about how many champion units a faction has available, I missed unlocking one somewhere for the demonic faction, which happens to be the fourth chapter of five in the campaign.  If I could have just gone back to that chapter it wouldn’t necessarily be worth mentioning, but this is aggravating and soured my experience with Clash of Heroes when honestly I just wanted to play a skirmish match or two and instead saw a little padlock logo over the unit space in the selection menu.

At that point I really had to stop and think, and the temptation to just eject the cartridge and put it back in the game case was potent.  That I didn’t and as of this writing still find myself whittling away at a new campaign for a few minutes before bed each night speaks to the strength of the core game-play.  I can’t wait to have a comprehensive choice of units to try and crush the computer with since I don’t know anyone else who has this deep, unique, and addictive little game.

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