Just over one year ago CIRCLE released Castle Conqueror - Heroes for DSiWare. We weren't stingy with the praise in our review, awarding it a solid 9 out of 10 and holding it up as the strongest title in a very strong series. Now we've received a sequel, and we couldn't be happier.
For those who haven't played the first game, it's worth reading the review linked above to get an idea of what to expect from Castle Conqueror - Heroes 2. Unlike previous Castle Conqueror games, the Heroes sub-series features turn-based combat, as opposed to a real-time fortress seizing blitz. This lends Heroes and its sequel a unique feel, as speed and quick wits aren't the order of the day here; what you need is a steady mind, the patience for complex forethought, and the ability to plan for multiple units at once.
Heroes 2 maintains the necessity of chess-like strategic thinking that we loved from the first game, and it also retains the surprise attacks and mid-mission twists that keep you from ever feeling too complacent. While the missions can take upwards of 10 minutes apiece to complete, they never feel dull simply because Heroes 2 knows how and when to throw a curveball. Just as you thought you had the opposing army on the ropes a slew of reinforcements will arrive, or you'll find your main objective shifting, and you'd better hope that your army's in a position to adapt, or you'll find yourself instantly on the losing side.
The storyline continues from the first game, though it's certainly nothing revolutionary — pun intended. You guide your growing troop of freedom fighters through various missions against the evil Empire, overtaking compounds, looting supplies and defeating soldiers as you go. The relative weakness of the story, though, is easily counterbalanced by the nuanced and impressive need for evolving strategy. While you may never feel yourself attached to the troops you control, you absolutely will find yourself invested in the logistics of their survival.
Heroes 2 controls similarly to its predecessor. There is no touch-screen input at all, and everything is controlled via menu. The battlefields are laid out on a grid, and each turn you can move each of your units and / or attack with them. Once you attack your unit goes dark, and you must wait until the next turn to move again.
Each unit has a unique weapon, and each weapon has a different attack power and range. Ideally you'd like to attack from a distance that allows you to hit enemies but is too far away for them to attack back, but obviously that's not always possible. Additionally, close-quarters combat has its own benefit, as you can choose to "siege" a hostile unit, which allows all friendly units bordering that enemy to join in the attack. Needless to say, it's a maneuver that wears down enemies fast...but you'll need to direct multiple units into place before it does you much good.
Each mission has its own win conditions, optional objectives and conditions for failure, and it's important to familiarise yourself with them if you intend to get very far at all. Typically you will need to defeat enemy soldiers and take over their structures, but there are enough wrinkles to these objectives to keep them interesting.
If you end a turn on a friendly structure — or on a path connecting them — you will find your HP regenerated between turns. This is good, but needless to say the enemy will never be far from your structures, so this may also keep your units in harm's way. It's just one more level of strategy that keeps Heroes 2 as interesting as its predecessor.
However, we do have to say that we weren't quite as impressed with this sequel. While it's no doubt worthy of its title, there are a few issues that mar the experience. First of all, a few — but thankfully not all — of the music tracks contain that shrill instrumentation that plagues many of CIRCLE's games, and makes the otherwise excellent soundtrack a periodic chore to listen to.
Additionally, the enemy AI can sometimes be a bit too strict; there's very little room to "outsmart" them in certain missions, and it sometimes boils down to stumbling upon a precise set of commands that works, rather than working out a strategy as you go. The first Heroes game had a similar issue, but we did feel that it was a bit more conducive to experimentation there. It's worth nothing, though, that with three save slots and the ability to save at any time, this can cease to be an issue as long as you don't mind retracing your steps.
One big disappointment though is the graphical style. The original Heroes, we felt, looked great, but everything seems a bit more dull in this sequel, from the colours to the simple design of the units. Gone also are the crisp character portraits, replaced with muddy thumbnails of the character speaking. Visually, this game represents a definite step back.
Overall though, Castle Conqueror - Heroes 2 is a worthy instalment in an excellent series. For those choosing between the two games, we'd definitely steer them toward the first, but this is a solid buy all the same.
Castle Conqueror - Heroes 2 is a welcome return to all of the things that made the first Heroes so interesting. It feels like a slight step backward — due mainly to a weaker soundtrack, a less interesting graphical style and AI that's a little too intelligent — but it's still a more than solid buy for those who enjoyed the first game.