Capybara Games is quickly becoming a developer I need to keep an eye on. First there was Critter Crunch, the game that proved nature's creatures spew rainbow colored vomit, then they released Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes on the DS, which unfortunately managed to slip completely past my radar, and I love puzzle games on the DS. So it's with much elation that they bring their portable puzzle brilliance to Xbox Live Arcade, unsurprisingly calling it, Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes HD. Featuring all of the gameplay elements of the DS experience, and combining that with the community of Xbox Live, Capybara Games has done a fantastic job of getting the portable puzzler on to my HDTV.
So the story is a little bit hokey, taking place before the Heroes V story arc, Clash of Heroes features a small band of heroes assembled from across the land of Ashan. Assuming the roles of these heroes, you'll explore all of Ashan across five acts that chronicles their struggles to find out what's got the demons in Sheogh stirring. The story is filled with typical political chicanery, cliché plot twists, and at times annoying characters, but overall is pretty serviceable. Though most people aren't really here for the story, they just want to get to the puzzling, you'll find that it's quite the expansive campaign, taking anywhere from thirty to forty hours to complete, so you're definitely getting your money's worth in time spent on just single player. Finishing the game also allows you to bring artifacts and side characters from the main campaign in to online multiplayer, and these characters have skills that differ from the main heroes, so it's worth the time investment to unlock them.
The main glut of gameplay is going to be spent staring at a grid of soldiers and infantry as you try to organize units of matching color in either horizontal or vertical lines of three. Matching them in vertical lines will set them up for an attack, arranging them horizontally will form them in to a wall to block incoming attacks. You move units around in a manner similar to the old puzzle game Magical Drop, taking units from columns and arranging them in other columns, and it works really well, even with the three moves per turn limit. With skill you'll create chains that can grant you extra turns, power up your units, and fill up the magic meter that will later allow for a special attack. There is a fair amount of depth in planning, since you'll want to link units together to get them to all attack on the same turn, receiving a power bonus if they are of the same color. Then you've got elite and champion units who require a little bit more work to get ready on the field, but once they are ready to attack they turn the tide of battle. There are also special abilities and artifacts for each character that add more options when rearranging your units. Some offer simple stuff like calling in more units without sacrificing a turn, or destroying idle units in exchange for a powerful blast of magic.
Most of the single player campaign is manageable the first time through, though there are a few fights here and there that will give you some trouble. I think a lot of it comes from the boss fights that feel quite a bit off kilter from the normal enemies you'll face throughout the game. They'll come at you at a much higher level, usually with more HP and stronger units, and will employ attacks that are seemingly unpredictable. One of the first bosses actually telegraphs where he will be moving to, but I initially thought it to be a bug since there was no mention of what the strange effect I was seeing on screen was. Then there is the last boss, a four hundred hit point behemoth that I really felt lucky when I toppled him, and it was an epic hour-long battle that I would not have been happy to lose.
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