The Original Returns in HD
I never played the original Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes when it was released on the DS in 2009, but the HD downloadable remake for PSN and XBLA could not have come at a better time. If any of you are like me, then you were probably experiencing a bit of withdrawal associated with the pre-summer release doldrums. The only thing you had going was looking to the horizon for the release of Portal 2 and Mortal Kombat. However, on its own merits M&M:CoH is a fantastic game with a nicotinesque level of addictiveness that will have you hooked until you can get your fix elsewhere.
The story of CoH starts with a meeting of the major kingdoms in the forests of the elves to meet diplomatically and discuss matters of state. Unfortunately the meeting is interrupted by a wave of demons form the kingdom of Sheogh and the elvish and human lords are slaughtered by the armies of darkness. In the midst of the chaos the children of these nobles manage to make their escape, and what follows is a campaign that segments itself into multiple pieces based on the characters and where they end up following the initial chaos. With each segment of the campaign taking place with you in control of a different child with a unique hero ability and a unique set of units at your command for combat.
Clash of Heroes does not share the same dungeon crawling, turn-based combat aesthetic that was found in its predecessors. Instead it eschews this for a puzzle based RPG mechanic. Each segment of the campaign is broken up into multiple screens which contain dots which a player can traverse much like a standard board game. Along the way various NPCs, such as bounty hunters, will have missions, puzzles or challenges which you can complete for gold, crafting items, or special artifacts which can be used in combat.
The combat in CoH is where this game takes its biggest deviation from the series. As opposed to calling up attacks in a turn-based fashion players are instead pitted head-to-head with an opponent in a match three game. The objective is to set the units of your army (gained through campaign progression) into formations or into walls to initiate attacks or defend against your opponent who is trying to do the same. If an attack breaks through your ranks and hits the end zone line it deals damage to you. The objective is to get your opponents HP to 0 before yours in order to win.
From the outside this sounds pretty easy, but the game does a fantastic job of keeping this fresh and entertaining. Its here that CoH’s addictiveness lies. In much the same way as Bejeweled, Money Puzzle Exchanger, or Puzzle Quest, CoH presents the player with units that can combo and stack in multiple ways that rewards you for thinking fast on your feet. Units can also be linked together in order to attack simultaneously which provides combat bonuses and increases the tactical thinking involved with playing opponents. Finally, there are hero and champion units which are limited in supply and can potentially die during combat, but can turn the tide of a fight incredibly quickly if utilized in the right way.
It’s this match three style of game play that also finds its way into the Battle Puzzles. Battle Puzzles are games provided by NPCs in the campaign which give you a starting unit layout and a default number of moves. Your objective is to set up your units so that you can eliminate the opposing force’s team with a single attack. These puzzles will truly test your skills as some of them can be very complex.
There are also boss battles during the main campaign, but these seem a bit pattern based. However, they are novel and oftentimes downright bizarre (there’s a boss that can turn some of your units into food so that he can suck them back up and eat them) moments. All of these elements feed well into the story which is generally told using still art and voice over narration. The game also relies on text box dialogs between characters for much of the exposition. But the dialog, albeit well written in many instances, can’t make up for how stilted the story feels. Also when progressing between the campaigns each character resets to level 1 and has to regain a full set of unit types for combat. It makes the game feel a bit repetitive, but thankfully this is mitigated through the use of the weird boss mechanics and other moments where you aren’t just given the objective to hit your opponent’s end zone.
The PSN and XBLA re-release contains both local and online multiplayer via PSN or XBL. The multiplayer comes in two formats with 1 vs. 1 play or 2 vs. 2 co-op battles. The 1 vs. 1 play mimics the battles from the campaigns but allows for different rule sets to be utilized such as timers or the restriction of artifacts for battle. The co-op battles are unique in that each player on a team is given 3 moves, but the catch is that you can only move or interact with units that are on the same color square as your cursor. This makes the game much more challenging as coordination with your partner becomes key. Thankfully the player is given the ability to signal when a piece should be picked up or removed. Mic support is also present, but it doesn’t isolate what you’re saying to your teammate. In other words, watch what you say when it comes to your strategy because the other team can totally hear you.
To be honest, I’m glad that Ubisoft didn’t pressure Capybara Games to make another dungeon crawler in the same vein as the original M&M series. What’s been done here is novel with respect to the franchise and risky considering the fanbase. Capybara’s hard work pays off in a bright, sharp looking game that is highly addictive. And while the story could have been better in some respects it is ultimately redeemed by a varied cast of characters and some good writing. Besides, the main draw here is the match three gameplay which is as addictive here as it is in other titles within the genre. So I guess if you haven’t got anything better to do until your pre-order for something bigger comes in, and you happen to have $15 ($12 if you have a Playstation Plus account) lying around in either your PSN wallet or in XBL points you may want to give this game a look.