As I sit here, in a plane, thousands of feet (38005 feet to be precise, according to this little flight map) above the earth's surface, I contemplate Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes for the Nintendo DS. With this thought comes a desire to put my feelings of it into words.
Clash of Heroes is hard to describe well. In a nutshell, it's like solitaire. Only two people are playing at once, and only with Jacks, Queens, and Kings of one suit. Also you can attack each other, and create walls. Plus your cards level up, and aces are wild. Something like that.
What we're talking about here is a turn-based-puzzle-strategy-role-playing game made by the same developers who created the addictive Critter Crunch for the PSN a little while ago. The story unfolds as you move your hero across the map, activating 'nodes', which can either mean quests, battles, or other diversions like Row Row Row Your B- okay the kids are singing now. Other diversions like puzzles, which I'll get into later.
Anyway. Each hero has a number of 'core' units, and well as elite and champion units that they can utilize in battle. When battle starts, a random assortment of units are placed across the battlefield in columns, facing the enemy army who are arranged similarly (unless it's a boss or a special battle, in which things change). The units can be moved, but with the caveats that each move of a single unit takes one turn, and units can only be moved from and placed onto the end of columns. See, solitaire doesn't sound so crazy now does it? Attacks that manage to make it through army formations will damage the general on the other side, and the first to zero health loses.
When units line up in a vertical column of three, or elite/champion units have a particular number of core units behind them on their column, an attack is formed, which takes a number of turns to activate. Likewise, when a horizontal row of three or more core units is created, a wall is formed that is able to deflect enemy attacks. These simple strategies form the basis of battles, and other moves such as deleting units to create attacks and walls, creating linked attacks for extra damage, or fusing attacks of similar units to double the attack power also add to the strategy of the game. Your heroes also come equipped with spells that they can use once they've received or handed out enough damage.
Things can get pretty intense, and despite how confusing everything sounds on paper, it's very easy to learn as the game guides you through each step. Forming large chains and gaining more and more extra turns before devastating the enemy in a few turns is incredibly satisfying, though this can also happen to you. This is not as satisfying.
Apart from your typical battles, or the non-typical battles like boss fights, Clash of Heroes also features puzzle battles, which may strike a chord of recognition in those who've played Critter Crunch. You're given a certain number of units and one turn completely obliterate all enemy units. Some of these battles are easy, some of them will force you to think about what possible combos, links, fusions and other strengths you can utilize to possibly defeat the enemy formation, some of which look insurmountable.
Your units and your general level up as you win battles and complete quests (which generally means winning battles). With extra levels, your general earns more HP and his walls are able to take more of a beating before going down. As your units level up, they are able to do more damage with their attacks, and likewise can also take extra damage before crumbling under enemy attacks. Even with these RPG elements, there's less of an emphasis on your unit strength and more on the tactics that you utilize as a general. The very-light elements still allow you to build up strength and return to a battle that you may have thought just needed a slight bump in your favour.
Still, that's not to say that the experience is pointless, as trying to take down a general and army that's more than a couple levels above you is likely going to end with you nursing a pretty handy beat-down. Still, a single continue screen and you're back in the action, so there's never any risk in taking on whatever you ca- oh the drink cart is coming by. One moment.
If a plot (oh, which incidentally involves invading demons and the like) and the whole RPG-lite aspect of the game doesn't really interest you, then you can just play with the game's quickplay (you vs the cpu) and multiplayer portions of the title. The game's campaign is interesting to play through, however, but it's hard to see it as more than just a reason to put battle after battle in front of the player.
Clash of Heroes, on the outside, looks like a crazy smorgasbord of genres and gameplay types. But what lies beneath this is an intricate game that is filled with strategy and involving puzzle gameplay. It's a great title with some good sprite art to go with its battle system, and while it may not be perfect for everybody, likely anyone who enjoys a good battle, or puzzle, will get a kick out of how the genres come together.