Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes HD - Staff Review  

Clash of Prettier Heroes
by Mike "Wheels" Apps

Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes HD
20-40 Hours
+ Brilliant mix of strategy and puzzle gameplay
+ Beautiful cartoon style graphics
+ Battles variety keeps things fresh
+ Great Pacing
- Music is forgettable
- Underdeveloped Story
Click here for scoring definitions 

   Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes HD is a remake of the 2009 DS game by the same name. A great mix of RPG, strategy, and puzzle gameplay mechanics, Clash of Heroes is a clever game that will both entertain and challenge players.  With redrawn graphics and the inclusion of online multiplayer, both old and new players will find a lot to like.

   The story of Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes is a prequel to Ubisoft's first Might and Magic game, Heroes of Might and Magic V. It stars five young heroes who are separated after a tragic demon attack.  Each one stars in one of five story scenarios that comprise the main game. Despite that rather grim start to the story, it stays primarily light-hearted throughout. This proves to be a good combo with the cartoony visuals, making the whole game feel like a long lost Saturday morning cartoon.  It's a shame, then, that the story doesn't expand beyond its rather generic core. Preventing a demon invasion is something that has been done many times in RPGs, and there are few unexpected twists to bring interest to the base narrative. Still, the story manages to be charming, if forgettable and somewhat superfluous to the overall experience.

   Thankfully, the story is just a vehicle to deliver the game's fantastic core feature: the battle system. The battle system uses the classic puzzle mechanic of match-three in a way that somehow manages to make the system feel more like a strategy game than a puzzle game. Battles are presented as a grid for the player and the opponent, with eight columns and six rows. No actual lines are shown on this grid, but the base units each take up one space, and players can easily discern the grid from this. In a base battle, the player will have a number of base units, arranged randomly, in three different colors. Players then have two different kinds of moves: picking up and moving a unit, or deleting a unit. Players can only move a unit at the end of a row, towards the bottom of the screen, though any unit can be deleted. Making a vertical row of same-colored units will produce an attack which takes a set number of turns to charge, and producing a horizontal row will create a wall that will block incoming enemy attacks. Players get three such moves a turn, but deleting units to create an attack or wall will net players a free move, with multiple such creations from one deleting resulting in extra moves. Lost units from attacks, destroyed walls, deleted units, etc. fill a counter at the bottom of the screen.  Players can spend a move to call for reinforcements, which deploys the number of units (randomly chosen from the player's chosen army) shown by the counter.

    This creates very dynamic battles, where players must effectively set up defenses against their opponents while creating attacks to win the battle. Similar to walls, idle units will lower the power of the enemy attacks, but will be destroyed in the process. Similarly, an attack hitting a charging unit will lower its attack based on the attacking unit's power, and the unit could be destroyed if the attack is high enough. Thus, players can even use attacks as a form of defense, by sending attacks at the enemy's powerful units that are still charging, to lower their attack power. The battle system would have been quite good if it just stuck to this simple base concept, but thankfully the developers went far beyond this. In addition to the base units, each faction also has five different elite units, two of which can be brought into a given battle. These will show up randomly with the base units, and will be similarly color coded. To charge these units, players have to stack either two units of the same color behind them, or a block of four units of the same color for the more powerful elite units. These units are quite powerful, and many of the later battles in the game resolve around getting these units through to the enemy, while preventing while preventing the enemy's elites from breaking through. These elite units come in a limited supply, and any elite unit destroyed while charging or idle will lower this count. All units and the player gain xp after battles, with level ups resulting in more hit points for the player's heroes, and higher attack power for units.

    The game does a great job of gradually introducing the player to the battle system, and once things with one faction start to get stale, the next chapter begins. It may seem frustrating at first to go from a high level with one faction and then go back to the basics with the next, but surprisingly it works quite well. Each subsequent chapter unlocks the more advanced units quicker, with the final chapter even starting the player at a high level. Even better, the game includes many alternate battle scenarios, with battles where special units need to be protected, switches need to be hit at once, the attacks of several elite units need to be survived, etc. The most challenging of these special scenarios are bosses, which show on the battlefield as huge units with powerful attack that players need to figure out how to defend. All in all, the game provides an impressive amount of challenge, without ever becoming frustrating.

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   The original DS release allowed for local wireless multiplayer battles, but no online play. Clash of Heroes HD thankfully provides much more robust multiplayer, with both offline and online modes. One on one battles play out just like they do in story mode, but depending on the online opponent, these online battles can provide a much greater challenge than any of the single-player challenges. New to this version of the game are two on two multiplayer battles. Playing out mostly like a standard battle, in this mode each unit is color-coded to one of the two players on a team, so that only that player can move or delete that unit. In addition, one player can pick up a unit to let the other player grab the units behind it, and then put that same unit back without wasting a turn. This means that teamwork is essential to win. Voice chat is supported, but players can also press the grab or delete button over a teammate's unit to indicate they should be moved. Multiplayer can provide a lot of extra entertainment past the single player experience, with rankings and level gains that can lead to additional artifacts for use in multi-player. The only real hang up is one that often plagues online turn-based games: waiting for opponents to finish their turns. It's a relatively minor issue, so long as patience is applied.

    Outside of the actual battle system, there's not much in the way of exploration. Each of the campaigns have relatively small maps, with simple point to point movement. Besides going to where the player needs to advance the story, there are some optional quests that can be taken, along with special challenges called puzzle battles. These challenge the player to defeat all of the enemy units in a single turn. These can be quite difficult, requiring players to create multiple chains at once to get enough extra moves to complete them. These extra quests can provide extra gold and materials, used to buy elite units. There is treasure to be found in various parts of the map as well that players can hunt down. Other than the occasional puzzle on the maps, these are the only distractions outside of battle, but they work well enough to give the player a break.

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   The visuals in the game have been completely re-done from the original DS edition. All the locations and characters feature beautiful 2D art. Units will charge at opponents with flashy animations and even interactions while exploring maps look good. Oddly, character conversations are still done with still character portraits, similar to what is seen in an average JRPG. Another hang-up with the presentation is in the battles themselves. The actual battle field only fills up the center portion of the screen. The game manages to hide this the majority of the time by presenting battlefields with buildings or other obstructions on both sides. Other times the sides are filled in with a mass of trees or pillars that do not do as good a job hiding the obvious unused screen space. It serves to distract from the otherwise stellar production values.

    As far as sound and music, they serve to get the job done. The music is standard fantasy fare, sticking to classic themes that provide a suitable backdrop for combat and exploration. None of the music is grating or bad; the themes just end up being largely forgettable. The sound design fares a bit better. Dragons roar and knights charge with the expected sounds, and units crashing through walls produce impressive sound effects. It's a very nice touch that serves to give the battles a truly epic feel.

   In the end, Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes HD is fantastic port of the original DS game. Featuring astounding 2D visuals, improved multiplayer, and a battle system that will provide an impressive amount of challenge to players, it is a tremendous downloadable value that will provide at the very least twenty hours of gameplay, if not many more. There are some hang-ups with the presentation, music, and story that prevent it from being a true classic. However this should not deter people from trying what is the best puzzle-RPG mash-up to date.

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