Mixing the heavy plot and masses of dialogue from an RPG with the instant gratification of a puzzle game might seem an odd choice, but Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes pulls it off with aplomb.
Reminiscent of classic DS puzzler Meteos, Clash of Heroes offers a stylus-sliding take on the match-three genre. Each puzzle is a battle against enemy forces, with theirs on the top screen and yours below: by sliding units in and out of place, you can form attacks with vertical trios and defensive walls with horizontal lines. Naturally each unit has its own strengths and special abilities, making this far more than your standard gem-matching game. There are more depths than the scope of this review can ably explain, with combos, link attacks, super walls and more all creating a satisfying puzzle platter.
Once you’ve got your head around the puzzle mechanics, the game starts to have some fun with them. Usually you win by depleting your enemy’s HP, but one mission sees you attacking two moving targets trying to saw down a sacred tree, and another asks you to take down a boss whilst avoiding a hostage. There’s always something different thrown into the mix, and it’s done so well you rarely feel overwhelmed, though there is a range of tutorials available to brush up on the game’s finer points. As with all great RPGs, there's a lot of tactical thinking required to find the perfect balance between attack and defence, asking you to do much more than match three and sit back.
The puzzle mechanics are undoubtedly excellent, but the RPG side of things is no slouch either. Winning battles nets you experience points that naturally improve your statistics as well as the strength of your units, making clever man-management the order of the day as you have to select and train your army from the available fighters. With archers, bears, druids, deer and more, there’s no shortage of unique units available and finding the right balance to suit your playstyle is as much a puzzle as anything you’ll encounter on the battlefield.
If you get bored of taking on the lengthy campaign mode, there’s a quick battle option as well as local multiplayer, including single card download play. Whilst the addition of online multiplayer would have been the icing on the cake, being able to play with only one cartridge is a boon and one that should help rope your friends into some friendly might and magicking.
In screenshots Clash of Heroes looks like your standard 16-bit styled RPG, and that’s a fair assessment. The sprites are undeniably cutesy and there’s some nice animation flourishes, though oddly you never see the backs of any heads. The battlefields are sparse but units move well and, crucially, everything is clear and easy to focus on in the midst of battle. Some suitably militaristic music booms along in the background and there are the usual thuds and thwacks when units clash, but it’s safe to say you won’t be rushing out to find the game’s soundtrack CD any time soon.
The real beauty of Clash of Heroes is it manages to feel like a good RPG and a great puzzler simultaneously. There’s enough value in both sides of the coin to please fans of either genre, and quick play mode thrives on the “one more go” puzzle philosophy. Although the dialogue and storyline carry very few surprises, the strength of the combat glosses over any fluffed lines. There’s no finer puzzle RPG on the market, making this a must-have for anyone who likes a bit of plot with their puzzles.