Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes – The Best You’ve Never Played

The Best You’ve Never Played is a retrospective review series on ‘hidden gems’ – games that did not receive the level of recognition that they deserved. Perhaps they were part of a niche genre, or had too many flaws to attract a significant audience – nonetheless they are quality games that deserve your attention (to varying degrees). 

2017’s Battle Chef: Brigade left me with an insatiable desire for decent match-3 puzzle games. Unfortunately, they are few and far between. One can only replay Puzzle Quest so many times, and the sequel just doesn’t hit the spot. I decided to return to an old favourite of mine that I hadn’t played since the days when the Nintendo DS was the top dog of the handheld market: Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes. This unique match-3 puzzle RPG that was ported onto Steam back in 2011 – and what a good port it is, at that. There are less than 800 reviews and less than 250 discussion submissions for Clash of Heroes on Steam, despite the fact that the game has been on the store for over six years. It’s definitely one of the best games you’ve probably never played.

Clash of Heroes is a unique puzzle game. There are no ‘gems’ to speak of, for instance. Instead, the match-3 game play is fueled by creatures from your inventory, such as bears, dragons, archers, fairies, knights, etc. You can recruit up to three different kinds of normal units and two ‘special’ ones with unique perks. The types of monsters drastically vary depending on what campaign, and thus, what character, you are playing. Each chapter takes on a different “point-of-view” main character, thus adopting different perspectives on the narrative. 

The game takes the form of a versus match-3 RPG with a linear narrative. Each encounter consists of you and an opponent matching units in order to send them towards your opponent’s edge of the screen, reducing their health points.

Showing the loadouts chosen in a versus match.

Matching three units vertically readies them for attack; a turn timer over their head counts down until they are unleashed. The length of the turn timer varies based on the unit type that was matched. An archer unit can fire for a weak attack the turn after they are matched, whereas a knight unit has to wait three turns, but their attack is more substantial.

Matching three units horizontally transforms them into a small line of protective barriers. They can no longer attack after such a transformation, but they’ll offer up more resistance to oncoming attacks in their lane.

The special “hero” units are stronger than the basic units and feature some kind of special perk. During the first campaign, you’ll be matching a lot of woodland creatures, including the Stag hero unit, which can jump over the first enemy barrier it encounters. Hero units only require two other basic units in order to be matched and readied for attack, and while their attacks are very powerful, several turns are required until they execute.

Each encounter is an ebb-and-flow of readying attacks, defending against attacks, losing units in the process, and then calling more units onto the field as reinforcements. But in order to win, your attacking units have to make it past defending enemy units in it’s lane and make it to the opponent’s edge of the screen, lowering their health points. Responding to your opponent’s readied attacks with your own attacks or barriers in the same lane will provide some protection and hopefully prevent the opponent’s units from reaching your edge of the screen. I like to think about it as fighting unit-power with unit-power. Hoping your meat-shield of a lane is durable enough to withstand their expendables. Every opponent has varying levels of health, and the difficulty ramps up as you continue the game.

There is also a special ability mechanic, which is pretty standard – sometimes I truly forget it’s even there. The player-character unique to each campaign has a unique ability that charges up after a certain amount of turns. These vary in function and usefulness, and can be both offensive and defensive.

These versus encounters are broken up with straight-ahead puzzle encounters. The goal might be to destroy the opponent in one turn, or hit certain obstacles on the playing field in a certain order. These puzzles advance the story at times and also provide the player with cash, which is used to replenish your stock of consumable hero units.

The presentation is quite nice – it’s what to be expected from the Nintendo standard, even from a third-party handheld title. The music and sound design is up to snuff, featuring decent fantasy style chamber music not unlike Taverns of Azeroth, but not at the same level of quality. The character design is defined by bold lines and bright, sharp colors, taking on a very cartoonish look that will appeal to a wide range of ages.

One might speculate that this is a more casual-oriented game based on the accessible cartoon art-style. But don’t be fooled. This game is not for the faint of heart. It will absolutely destroy you. There were several seemingly unimportant side-quest encounters that I had to retry several times due to having a really poor starting formation. That starting formation is, of course, random every time. Sometimes you just get screwed, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

I’ve also had some laugh-out-loud moments with this game. The writing is above average, and the narrative elements in general are something that set it apart from most games.

Encounters are engaged via the overworld screen. Your player can only move from circle to circle.

Clash of Heroes is not a perfect game, but it’s a good game. It certainly deserves more recognition than it seems to have gotten. 

Just like Battle Chef: Brigade, I was and am still enamoured with the versus match-3 game play with Clash of Heroes, despite its limitations and, at times, unfair difficulty level. The versus element of this puzzle game is very important, and I’ve realized it’s the one underlying thing that unites my favourite puzzle games: Puzzle Quest, Clash of Heroes, Ironcast, and Battle Chef. Match-3 game play on it’s own suffices as an idle distraction as a mobile game, but without the versus elements or RPG elements of these other games, there’s no meaningful meta-game or compelling narrative to sustain any serious long-term interest.

A game like Puzzle Pirates, which has been out for over a decade, feels very clunky and outdated in 2018. But the premise of a puzzle-based MMO is very compelling to me. We need more innovative puzzle titles rather than the same old coloured gems, three-star/hi-score, freemium garbage. The “puzzle genre” as a whole is a lot like the “classic rock genre” of music. It’s an umbrella term. The essence of a puzzle game can take many forms – it just so happens that the market is flooded with mediocre match-3 games because it’s such a proven and established flavour of puzzle game. It’s a safe bet. The Professor Layton series is a great example of what a puzzle game can become with a more innovative vision. 

Clash of Heroes ticks all of the boxes I desire in a puzzle game: a low learning curve, pick-up-and-play ability, strategy depth, RPG meta-game, and “versus” game play. The developers took a chance on a unique premise, and we’re all the better for it. With lots of games like these the replayability factor varies. But with a lengthy campaign and very compelling multiplayer versus mode, there’s the potential for hundreds of hours of intense puzzle play here. The reviews on Steam are unfortunately mixed due to the presence of bugs, some of which are claimed to be game-breaking. I have to add that in my experience the game ran flawlessly – I did not encounter any bugs, let alone significant ones. If you are someone who enjoys match-3 puzzle games, Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes should tie you over for some time. And like most things in life – it’s better with friends. So try the multiplayer!

The relevant definition of the word “puzzle” is “a game, toy, or problem designed to test ingenuity or knowledge” – clearly that leaves a lot of potential for breaking new ground. This is a genre that deserves more than being chiefly associated with merely matching three coloured gems.

Clash of Heroes is available on Steam for $9.99 CAD or your regional equivalent.

“The Best You’ve Never Played” is a series of reviews showcasing video game hidden gems from Steam and other platforms. If you have any suggestions for hidden gems that you want to see discussed on Lou’s Reviews, reach out to me at LousReviewBlog@gmail.com. 

–Lou

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