If you’ve ever
played the classic game Connect Four (Go 4 It!), you’ll be qualified to play Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes (M&M:CoH). Overqualified, in fact, as the play in M&M:CoH centres around making rows and columns out of only three pieces. It’s a puzzle/RPG hybrid a la Puzzle Quest, but with a bit more of a streamlined feel. Armies line up against each other in a six-by-six grid, and it’s your task to move them around and remove them to form rows/columns of three of the same unit. These units are then activated: if it was a row, they become a wall, if it was a column then the units attack after a number of turns. There are bonuses if you chain up multiple units in one move, or do multiples of the same colour, but overall all you really need to worry about his connecting up more units than your enemy. Accompanying the puzzle aspect is the levelling up of your hero to give them more hit points, better damage with their units, and items that can give them special powers. The storyline involves a mysterious, demonic Lord who is manipulating the different factions of the world to turn against each other; it’s your responsibility to play the part of five young heroes in their quest to discover and destroy whomever it is that’s screwing with the land.
Onto the complaints I had with the game, and I noticed that around about the fourth hero change (~14 hours in), the action does start to become rather repetitive. It’s somewhat inevitable: a straight-up RPG has the benefit of visceral action, complemented by what is ordinarily quite complicated levelling up/character customisation mechanics. Whereas a puzzle game’s mechanics are essentially static from the start. M&M:CoH does do quite well to keep things fresh: each new hero has a unique set of troops, and so gameplay does shift in subtle ways between them. But in the end, there’s only so many different ways you can play around with a core puzzle mechanic without making it unbalanced in the player’s favour (and therefore not fun or challenging any more). Having said that, it does much better than its spiritual predecessor, Puzzle Quest, in that it moves in a much nicer linear style and has a more reliable difficulty curve.
While I’m not in the habit of complaining when a game gets too hard–I did, after all, 100% Super Meat Boy, a feat that has so far been achieved by only 3% of players since it was released in 2010–special mention must be given to M&M:CoH‘s final boss. I typed up the majority of this blog post while waiting for it to summarily destroy me in over thirty attempts*. The challenge and fun of puzzle games rely on providing an environment wherein the player uses their forethought and planning in solving challenges. To my mind, an appropriate ultimate battle would therefore consist of a particularly difficult puzzle situation that requires planning more than the one or two moves ahead that the player can get by with throughout the main game. The final boss gives a big Fuck You to all that, requiring nothing more than dumb luck to get through. A fair analogy would be if you were to win an entire season of football, only to reach the finals and discover that when you kick the ball it bounces of in a random direction and then fucking explodes. It’s completely out of sync with the rest of the game and really soured the experience of a solid game up until that point.
A quick list of things that could be improved:
- Being good at the game has no measurable benefit. By this I mean that if you completely dominate an opponent, you get no special benefit compared to barely scraping over the line with 1 HP. I’d like to have seen extra XP given for quickly finishing a match, so that players could have that risk/reward of trying stylish, but risky, manoeuvres.
- Most of the items that you receive in the game are completely shit, leaving one item as the one that almost everyone is going to pick. Not only that, but most of the time you have to fight extra, pointless battles to get these artifacts. So wasting what can be up to 20 minutes to receive a shitty piece of equipment is really disappointing. Either come up with more even item benefits, or offer up the item for inspection before the battle so the player can make a decision about whether they want to dedicate the time to obtaining it.
- The story, while better than most, is still pretty bland and, as it turns out, kind of sexist at the end. Two out of the three female leads marry and have children after having overcome death (literally, she resurrects herself from the underworld) and defeating the final boss, respectively. Give me a non-Bella ending, please.
Anyway, despite the ending leaving a very poor impression, the game overall is a step in the right direction for the puzzle/RPG genre. A great art style, dialogue that was a cut above the norm, and a relatively deep set of mechanics made for an enjoyable 20 hours or so. Recommended if you’re starved for a puzzle game and enjoy RPG elements. Just don’t come and complaint to me about that boss: I warned you.
At the time of writing, I still haven’t finished the game. I’m about ready to stab a bitch. Just as I was about to hit the publish button, I managed to finish it through dumb luck. The ending ties everything up nicely.