I remember when Might & Magic Clash of Heroes for the Nintendo DS arrived. It was an oddity of a game in that I was immediately prepared to hate – a new game for a new platform by a new developer in a totally unrelated genre with a familiar name; I was like most fans of the original feeling that it was likely someone was trying to cash in by attaching a familiar name to a mediocre game. So imagine my surprise when I called Might & Magic Clash of Heroes ‘one of the best DS games of 2009’ in a year populated with great games on the platform! Now the game has been ported to the iPhone & iPad; let’s take a look and see how they did!
Technically, Might & Magic Clash of Heroes is an excellent port of a game done in a style that melds classic JRPG sliding character portraits, a fairly standard puzzle game combat board look similar to Puzzle Quest, and detailed and engaging battle animations. The artwork itself is detailed with rich saturated colors. Each sprite on the combat field is distinct, and the main characters and enemies are all expressive and detailed in their characterizations. Controls are simple and make sense – but since you could do everything on the touchscreen of the DS I had assumed the iOS port would have excellent controls. The music is pretty typical fantasy realm stuff, and perfectly suits the theme and environment.
Major features: The story is serviceable and as expected for a game of this type, involving a shaky alliance of different fantasy realm races that is tested when the one artifact said to keep demons at bay goes missing. Qickly there are attacks against all of the races made to look like they were perpetrated by another race. This pits race against race, and anyone who sees the underlying truth is quickly cast out as an enemy and forced to work to regain the trust and loyalty of their own race. The game puts you in the role of various characters from different races, and you need to complete each of their stories in turn to reach the end of the game.
Movement around the world is on a top-down map where your character steps from space to space on predefined paths. As you move you encounter new areas to explore, hidden caves, folks to battle or trade with or gain new missions from, and they all have corresponding icons over their heads. You also encounter special spots that allow you to replenish your Elite or Champion troops using the currency and elements you gather around the world or gain in battles. When in travel mode, information about your character is displayed by tapping on the top part of the screen, and shows details including your level and experience, resources, and currently equipped units. You can also see your location on the map as well as the location of your next main quest encounter.
The menu system is a thing of beauty. It pops in or out by tapping the unobtrusive upper-left icon, and offers you a view of your party, quests, equipped items, as well as offering the ability to save at any time outside of combat. It seems a minor point, but it quickly becomes second nature to save after every battle, check the status of your party and items, and make sure you’re headed in the right direction. Too many games make this stuff a chore, so I was thrilled that it was trivial to do in Might & Magic Clash of Heroes.
In terms of your party, you get five slots in which to spread up to eight unit types. There are three ‘base’ units and three ‘base’ slots, but you don’t have to allocate one unit per slot: if you want an all archer front line, that is your tactical decision. There are also three ‘elite’ units you can unlock and two ‘champion’ units. These units are much more powerful than the base units, but they also take longer to strike, have no defensive potential and when they are defeated or removed from the field they are gone for good. However, if they successfully attack or just sit unused they are safe.
But the real star of the show is the combat system. You are on the bottom screen and your opponent is on the top screen. Attacks are made in vertical columns, and any attack that breaches enemy defenses and reaches your opponents takes away from their health points. When their health reaches zero you are victorious – but conversely when your health reaches zero you are defeated. Each side gets loaded up with troops of types selected in the ‘party setup’ screen as mentioned previously, arranged randomly. Depending on enemy level and type, either you or the enemy moves first, and you get three ‘moves’ per ‘turn’, and each side gets one turn per round.
Your basic move consists of trying to build a stack of three same-colored base units: if the stack is vertical, then you form an attack unit; if it is horizontal you form a defensive wall unit. Because the units are stacked vertically facing the middle of the screen, you can only directly move the last unit in a column. Fortunately, when you make a stack it goes as far towards the middle as possible and any ‘free’ units come to the top of the column. Other than moving units you can also eliminate them strategically: for example, picture having three blue swordsman with a brown archer in between. You tap and hold the brown unit to remove it, and the three blue units form a stack in what I call a ‘drop stack’ move.
The great thing about doing a ‘drop stack’ is that it gains you back a move for that turn. These added moves can add up – I had one time that removing a single unit resulted in the formation of simultaneous horizontal and vertical stacks, and when they repositioned it resulted in another stack formation, for a total of three extra moves from a single removal. To make a stack for an Elite unit you add two same-colored base units; for Champion units, they take up two columns, so you need to add two same-colored units on top of the Champion in each column.
So what happens to these removed units – and what about the units used up in attacks by you or your enemy? As mentioned, Elite and Champion units that are defeated or removed disappear entirely. Base units and successful Elite and Champion units go back to the ‘available unit pool’. If you view the bottom screen from left to right, you have your character portrait and health bar, special skill status, remaining moves for this round, and available units waiting to be deployed. Tapping that icon when it is your turn drops all available units randomly on the field. Naturally, that counts as a move, and it seemed unusually rare that I ever got a drop that made a stack for me.
Vertical stacks of base units take up three vertical spaces, whereas Elite and Champion units only take up the space of the main unit. However, if you add a second stack of same-colored base units to an existing stack they combine and create a formidable attack unit that activates as soon as the original stack was planned to be ready and only occupies three slots. Wall units are also able to stack to form even stronger walls before needing to expand into a second row.
Once you make a vertical stack, you will notice numbers on the top middle and lower right of a bar that forms on the stack. The top number is the number of rounds until that unit is activated for attack. You will see that more powerful units take longer to ‘charge up’, but they are definitely worth the wait! The lower number is your health (which is also your attack strength), and you will notice that it charges up over time until the unit becomes active. When your units attack, they need to make it all the way to the enemy in order to be effective. They pass through every friendly unit without issue, but then need to break down any enemy walls and defeat enemy units before reaching the main enemy.
For example, imagine we have an Elite Knight that has just come ready with an attack strength of 24. He moves into enemy territory and has to break down a single-stack wall (strength 6), then defeat a normal swordsman unit (strength 9), then defeat two ‘free’ base units (strength 3 each), leaving him free to attack the main enemy with a remaining strength of … 3. Had the knight been aligned in an empty enemy row he would have destroyed a Level 3 Guard in a single attack, for example. That shows how proper attack and defense strategy can make all the difference in the world in a battle.
The entire time you are making moves and stacks and attacks, you will notice that your special skill icon is charging up. Each character has a different skill that can be critical to success in battle. For example, Godric has a ‘Holy Shield’ that provides a barrier in front of him. Deploying that when the enemy has an Elite unit ready to attack an open row can make a huge difference in combat.
After you defeat the enemy, you and all of your surviving units gain experience, and you also gain a variety of resources. If any of your Elite or Champion units were depleted in combat, they will not advance until you replenish their numbers AND equip them again. All units in your party (but not the main characters) have a maximum level of 5, but stronger units take longer to reach maximum level. Unit level is as important as character level in determining outcomes of battles, so make sure you keep an eye on your special units!
A few final thoughts on the combat system: first, there is no pretending that there isn’t an element of luck involved. I have been perfectly matched with an enemy many times and seen the entirety of a battle determined by what each of us was able to do in the opening turn. Yet unlike what many claimed with Puzzle Quest, I have never seen signs of ‘cheating’ by the game. Also, when approaching an enemy it isn’t possible to tell their level until you are in battle with them. I remember once being Level 3 and entering battle with a Level 7 enemy whose units were all Level 5 … I think it lasted three rounds, or until her first units came ready and utterly decimated me.
Finally, the punishment system is a bit strange: if you run from a battle there is a penalty in terms of lost resources, but if you fall in combat and choose ‘continue’ all you lose is the time it took for the battle. Occasionally when facing certain defeat at the hands of a much stronger enemy I chose the ‘third path’ of just shutting down and restarting the app, which took all of thirty seconds.
Ease of use/Overall performance: The swapping of characters is the biggest issue I had with this game – particularly the first time it happened! From your first to second character you change from a character who has gained loads of powerful champions and offensive strategies, and suddenly you are back to level one with a character who is more defensively postured but has stronger base units. That transition was the harshest of all, but once you get going with your second character the rest of the game progresses smoothly.
Playing Might & Magic Clash of Heroes on the iPad was preferred for me, but on the iPhone it works just as well. My only issue was that I wish on the iPhone 5 they set up the battles in vertical (portrait) mode rather than in landscape. I feel that would better match the elongated Nintendo DS dual-screen setup that worked so well. Just a minor nitpick that doesn’t impact the overall enjoyment of the game.
The other obvious concern is the use of the franchise name: have I mentioned a single thing that seems to attach it to the franchise, or the gameplay in any of the prior games? Not at all! There are elements that are used in the story that connect the game to the Might & Magic universe, but they could have easily been changed slightly and the game simply called Clash of Heroes. But unlike Dark Messiah Might & Magic, I have noticed something: folks are enjoying Might & Magic Clash of Heroes immensely and are seeking out earlier games in the franchise. The obvious beneficiary of much of this is the recent Heroes of Might & Magic VI, especially since it has been on Steam sales recently. But in my opinion, if they can take an otherwise dead franchise, release a very good game with the name and draw in interest to the main franchise games … I am all for it.
The main campaign took me about 30 or so hours, including hunting for a few secrets and doing a bit of ‘level grinding’ with Godric so I could complete a couple of his Bounty Hunt missions. Once done with all that there are some multiplayer matches – Quick Play and Multiplayer skirmishes. In each of these modes you have access to all five main characters as well as the companions you have unlocked in the single player campaign. Each side gets a character at the maximum level of 10, with all units set to level 5. There is obviously no advancement or other RPG elements involved, but it is still loads of fun for a quick battle outside of the main game – but make no mistake, single player is the reason to grab this game.
Would use again/recommend?: Definitely! In case I haven’t made it clear enough yet, I strongly recommend this game. I considered it one of the best DS games of 2009, and the iPad is already one of my favorite strategy-RPG games for any mobile device. I also see it as the best game in the puzzle-RPG genre since the original Puzzle Quest or Puzzle Quest 2, besting Puzzle Quest in many ways while staying away from delivering the sort of ‘me too’ design that so many others have fallen into(including Puzzle Quest Galactrix!). Might & Magic Clash of Heroes delivers an amazing diversity of gameplay for such a seemingly simple combat system – as I have said, the transition between characters is a stunning reminder of how quickly you become ingrained with the tactics and strategies required for one character. If you like challenging puzzle-RPG games with a decent story and loads of combat depth, this game is a must-have.
Suggested changes/wish list for updates: Restarting each character at Level 1 can be frustrating; would have preferred portrait mode battles on iPhone 5
Source: Personal purchase
Here is the trailer: