The game's clever blend of puzzle and RPG action makes for a refreshing downloadable package that's wrapped up in a gloriously vivid visual style.
Might & Magic: Clash Of Heroes is the video game equivalent of a warm day in England: you don't anticipate it, but when it comes it's glorious. Barbecues in the back garden, the fragrant whiff of dust in the the air and blue-skies topped with fluffy pillows of cloud. You know that come tomorrow you're going to be complaining about the heat or lamenting the on-set of rain, but for several hours everything feels magical.
Hands-up how many people were eagerly anticipating the release of Clash Of Heroes? It's ok for you to look shifty, we weren't either. In fact, we hadn't actually heard of the game until its North American release — roughly twenty-four hours before we received our review code. While the words Might & Magic ran like ice through our veins, one redeeming feature had us eager to test out the Nintendo DS port: Capybara Games. If you're unfamiliar with the studio then it's time to get up to speed. The Canadian team has a short but rich history on the PlayStation 3, self-publishing the phenomenal Critter Crunch in 2009.
The phrases "Might & Magic" and "Strategy RPG" don't always distill a great amount of confidence in us. Despite being taught not to "judge a book by its cover" from an early age, we can't help but get the wobbles each time a specific genre pops up. But ten minutes with Clash Of Heroes calmed our nerves and replaced our initial scepticism with overwhelming positivity. This game is fantastic.
The first thing that strikes you about Clash Of Heroes is just how amazing everything looks. The game's mix of moody water-colours creates a fantasy world comparable to the super-pretty Critter Crunch, with a much darker tone. You'll be hooked from the moment the game's rich, colourful sprites pop onto the screen to denote conversation. It's gorgeous. Sure, the style is completely derivative of virtually every other fantasy RPG out there, but Clash Of Heroes handles the genre with such attention to detail that it's impossible to dislike.
And Clash Of Heroes is so much more than simply a pretty face. Its fantasy RPG narrative is connected by short battles that blend traditional turn-based combat with puzzle games. Unlike Puzzle Quest's Bejewelled homage, Clash Of Heroes plays closer resemblance to Capybara's own Critter Crunch. The objective is to combine sets of three similar units to create attacks or defenses. Like Critter Crunch, you need to shuffle vertical stacks to succeed. Vertical trios will create attacks, while horizontal trios build walls that can be used to shield from enemy advances. It's a simple mechanic that is, at its very core, a puzzle game. But Clash Of Heroes has a bunch of additional strategy nuances that really add depth to its battle system. For example, you can link similarly coloured trios of units to enhance the power of an attack. You can also fuse lines of units to field a real super-charged move. Factor in turn counters, special moves and multiple unit types and you have the basis for a rewarding and challenging battle system that rarely disappoints.
In fact the battle system is so strong that it actually works as a separate multiplayer mode that's been fashioned into the PlayStation 3 re-release. You can play both online and off, and it works like a charm. And don't worry if the nuances discussed in the above paragraph sound a bit too complicated, Might & Magic holds your hand for the first hour or so, slowly introducing the intricacies of the battle system and explaining how each of the game's mechanics work. It's refreshing for a game of considerable depth to slowly reveal the pieces to you, rather than assume you know exactly what's going on.
The only real let-down is the childish banter that runs back and forth between characters. The plot isn't particularly captivating, and there's a little too much emphasis placed on character development during the game's opening hours.
Loading times can also be annoying. It's not that the game's necessarily poorly optimised, it just feels like it's taking a couple of seconds too long to load at every opportunity.
They're both minor quibble in a refreshing and deeply engaging strategy RPG that's as deep as it is accessible, though. Clash Of Heroes looks phenomenal and plays even better. Like the English sun, it's bright, colourful and unexpected. Oh, and it's definitely best enjoyed with Pimms and a comfortable chair.