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.
This style of gameplay gets a bit trickier when you take the game online. Especially in two player battles where you and a friend control a field of warriors who are color-coded to designate their owner. Each player can only move their own units, but essential tactics like free unit swapping make manipulating the board easy. The tricky part is dealing with the random number generator responsible for the units the game calls in for reinforcements. Seriously I have never seen a game be more punishing than Clash of Heroes. I'll play with friends, and our opponents will have three to four elite units with the immediate means to activate them, meanwhile I've received nothing until it was far too late to protect myself. Couple this with a few broken characters and the frustration factor of online gameplay quickly rises, and it's a shame that what is one of the most fun modes in the game is also the biggest blemish. But when you can survive these odds and mount an epic comeback there is nothing more satisfying, unless your opponent decides to drop from the game before the final blow is dealt. Thankfully the game will report on the number of disconnects you have, so there's no hiding from the shame. I am actually hoping that at some point there might be a patch to address the issue of balance, because right now I am sitting on an unimpressive record with defeats coming pretty much all from Heresh users who pick a special ability that allows them to instantly charge their champion and elite units, and when lined up properly can do over two hundred damage in one turn. Of course this might all sound like pointless whining to someone who's never had a difficult battle, but hey, this is how my experience has gone, and it's one thing to lose because of a lack of skill, it's another to be constantly done in by dumb luck, even worse when you consider you spent nearly two hours in battle and a bad draw is what finished you off.
Clash of Heroes sports some of the best looking sprite work and animation I've seen in a long time. We're talking close to Odin Sphere and Vanillaware quality here, and Capybara Games I commend your efforts. The graphical presentation for dialog portions are a little bit boring with just static character images on screen in a typical JRPG style, but when you're wandering around the world is colorful, but feels a bit devoid of life, there are plenty of places to explore but not a whole lot of people running around. But there are some nice visual touches here and there, like stepping in to a bar in Sheogh and seeing two demons engaged in a nice bout of fisticuffs. The battles are where a lot of the best work lies, like the idle animations for units, especially the zombies is quite impressive. The audio work is a bit on the weak side with a fairly minimalistic soundtrack that is quite honestly forgettable, and I think that's more because I simply don't take notice of it while trying to focus on the units I need to be moving around. What is there is good, but it just feels like a typical fare and it gets lost when you're in the heat of battle.
If you're looking for a puzzler that will replace something like Puzzle Quest then I think Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes is one of the best options out there. It's a ton of fun, even with the balance issues, and offers a great deal of value at fifteen dollars. Capybara Games did a fantastic job in getting me to realize the mistake I made when I passed up the DS game back when it was released in 2009. If you're in the market for a puzzle game, then Clash of Heroes comes highly recommended, just do me a favor and stay off the Heresh bandwagon, I'm getting tired of playing the same formation of enemies all day.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
In a past life I worked with Interplay, EA, Harmonix, Konami, and a number of other developers. Now I'm working for a record label, a small arm of casual games in a media company along with Gaming Nexus, and anywhere else that sees fit to employ me.