Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes (iPhone Game Review)

Might & Magic battleThe first thing you’ll see when starting Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes is a warning that quitting the game at the wrong time will corrupt all saved game data. That’s just not an acceptable flaw for an iPhone game to have, and it’s the first sign that this Nintendo DS port may not have been planned very carefully.

I bought Clash of Heroes because, after trying 10000000 and DungeonRaid, I was curious to see another cross between an RPG and a Match 3 puzzler. This game also rewards planning and puzzle solving, but it’s much more of a traditional turn-based RPG than those other two. Not only does it include normal JRPG elements (including exploration, a verbose but half-hearted story, and unnecessary mini-puzzles), but higher-level characters will crush weaker ones no matter how well or poorly each side plays the Match 3 game.

Judged by RPG terms, the battle system is very clever. Your hero leads units of three different colors that go in a grid formation. If you create three matching ones in a column, they will attack up that column, destroying opposing units and hopefully reaching the far end to damage their leader. If you match three in a row, they turn into a defensive wall to block attacks. Combos give you extra actions, and proper positioning can “fuse” and “link” attacks to make them stronger. There are also larger “Elite” and “Champion” units, which become especially powerful if normal units are lined up behind them.

A boss battle

A boss battle

It’s fun, especially since the campaign comes up with a lot of clever twists on the basic system. Some battles require you to attack targets in specific columns, maybe also in a certain order, or planning ahead as they move around. Bosses have unique patterns and attacks, and you can plan ahead by swapping around the units and magical artifact you’ll take into battle. Plus, as this is a Might & Magic game, you know that there will be several different factions, each with units that have their own special ability. If you take the time to get familiar with all of them, you’ll find a lot of depth behind the simple, logical battle system.

Will you take that time, though? Probably not. This game just doesn’t feel designed for an iPhone screen. Everything on the battlefield is very tiny, and it’s easy to make uncorrectable mistakes. (It’s sort of a mixed blessing that the opponent AI is so bad, because they messed up even more often than I did.) When not in a battle, I had more trouble tapping hotspots than I ever have in any game before. Perhaps this would be more playable on an iPad, but it was sold as one usable on iPhones, and that’s how I’m considering it.

Might & Magic dialogEven with a bigger screen, there would be other problems. The fights don’t become interesting until you gain a few levels and earn enough units to fill the battlefield. You need to wait for frequent load screens. Worst of all, the gameplay is slow, with the “minutes played” counter on the save screen feeling less like an interesting fact and more like a note about how much time you’ve wasted. Once your units are ready to attack, they take a certain number of rounds to charge up. This is important to the strategy, since you may use that time to set up combos, and your opponent may try to prepare with walls or by setting up a faster attack in the same column. However, it means that you may still have a few rounds left to play after the outcome of the battle becomes obvious. And the rounds play slowly. With the animations of each unit charging up or fighting and the slow-paced opponent moves, you’ll often need to tap your screen to keep it from falling asleep between the time you end one round and begin the next! That feels way too passive. By the higher levels (which you get to quickly, since the game is a series of campaigns), the no-risk battles against minions can easily take eight to ten minutes, and a battle featuring defense and healing abilities could feasibly take half an hour! They never feel meaty enough to justify that time.

The pick-up battles outside the campaign can be more fun, with evenly-matched high-level fighters and no distracting plot. It still suffers from a too-small screen that will guarantee mistakes, though, and you need to play through the campaign to unlock everything. After more than thirteen hours, I’m apparently halfway through, but I have no motivation to keep going. There are a lot of great ideas that make me want to like Clash of Heroes, but the flaws usually dominate.

Grade: C-

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