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Nintendo DS Review: Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes

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When it comes to role-playing games, franchises don’t get much more classic than Might & Magic. For 23 years people have been strapping on their armor and dusting off their wizard robes for this venerable series. While Might & Magic has certainly been around the block a few times, the games have mostly made their home on the PC. Sure the occasional title would come out on a home console or handheld, but by and large it’s a PC gamer’s thing. Clash of Heroes, however, stands as the latest release to hit the non-PC market and the first installment of the franchise on the DS.

While the Might & Magic series used to be in the hands of New World Computing, Ubisoft made a bold move in tapping Capybara Games for its latest incarnation. This change in development team means the game is decidedly different from what fans have come to expect. In short, Clash of Heroes is more accessible to the modern gamer. It’s a mash-up of elements from traditional RPGs, strategy games, and from titles such as Puzzle Quest. It’s quite unique in many respects and in all honesty doesn’t necessarily need the Might & Magic name attached to it. The game stands on its own two feet and should be regarded as one of the best DS titles from 2009.

Before this review gets into what makes this game special, let it be said that Clash of Heroes takes a lot of time for users to become comfortable playing. It is similar to titles already available on the DS, but the complexities of the game’s systems will leave many gamers bewildered from the get-go. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because in some respects games are too dumbed down these days, but considering that it’s a handheld title there should be a certain pick-up-and-play element when one starting it for the first time. Patience is a virtue when it comes to this title, however, and it pays off once things begin to click.

At the core of the game there are obviously RPG elements. Players will gain experience points, level up, amass wealth, and build up units. There is also a fantasy story backing the events of the main campaign and the tale is actually quite good — it is entertaining and meaty with some surprisingly dramatic moments. Players will certainly have things to look forward to as the story unfolds. In fact, the story is surprising in many ways and I, for one, didn’t expect a tale of this complexity to be found on the DS. For fans of the series, there are references to other parts of the Might & Magic “Heroes” brand. Veterans will recognize names, races, and terms used throughout that branch of the family tree.

As nice as the story might be, the real meat of Clash of Heroes is its gameplay. When not exploring the world or towns, players will be fighting against the CPU in battles that pit army against army, or army against boss. The game uses both DS screens to show player’s characters and the opposing force’s.

Basically, the combat comes down to a grid with colored units. Picture a game like Puzzle Quest — which is basically a dolled up version of Bejeweled — and you’ll get a basic understand of the concept. There are different units players can use and the varying colors all have to be matched in order to execute offensive and defensive moves. It is simple enough once one grows accustomed to it, but takes a while to master.

For instance, if one wants to create a line of defense, then matching units horizontally does the trick. If one wants to attack, they’ll want to create a vertical line. Further depth comes in the form of special units with abilities that take time to charge, equipment that can be added to your army, and the fact that there are five different factions to control. The possibilities are endless and once you get past the initial learning curve, the game is wholly addicting. Be sure to set aside a good thirty hours or so of your life once the game is fired up, because that’s roughly how long the single-player component takes to beat and once you start you can’t stop.

One other important point to take away is the fact that Clash of Heroes is a very challenging game. This title will throw all it has at you at some points and totally, utterly destroy you. It is almost overwhelming to the point of being unfair at times, and this is compounded by the fact that many battles boil down to trial and error gameplay. Players will often think to themselves “am I ready for this battle?” The answer will only be made apparent after jumping in feet first. Because of this, expect several reloads if things don’t go your way, things like dying or losing several expensive units.

Once the story mode has been completed it’s worth taking a spin with local multiplayer matches if the option avails itself. There is some good stuff here and a nice variety of options. The game also allows players to select from different groups and characters, but it quickly becomes evident that some are simply far more powerful than others.  For instance, you will almost never see knights beat wizards.

Presentation wise, Clash of Heroes is pretty sharp. The game is quite colorful and mimics the traditional 16-bit RPGs of yesteryear in many respects. It is a charming package with loads of personality that makes an instant impression. Some of the anime designs work better than others, but even the negatives do not really detract from the experience. As far as sound is concerned, the game offers a solid soundtrack and a great use of effects all around.

From top to bottom Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes is without a doubt one of the best games to hit the DS in some time. The gameplay is incredibly addictive, the story is engaging, and the presentation is stellar for the hardware. This is a unique title with lots to offer, though I will say that it’s geared more towards those unfamiliar with the Might & Magic license. It’s such a departure from tradition that fans of the franchise may feel left out in the cold. Don’t let that deter you though, keep an open mind and check this one out if you own a DS. You’ll be glad you did!

Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes is rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) by the ESRB for Mild Fantasy Violence, Mild Language, and Mild Suggestive Themes.

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