Hands-on: Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes

The most pleasant surprise -- and quite possibly our most favorite game -- from Ubisoft's "UbiNintendo" event was for Nintendo DS. Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes is a fresh new direction for the classic RPG franchise, and, from what we played, it's a good direction to be heading in on the handheld.

Clash of Heroes is being developed by Capybara Games of Critter Crunch semi-fame, so we weren't surprised by its combat's similarity to a puzzle game -- specifically Critter Crunch. Sure, it's a different approach for the genre, but, combined with a very JRPG art style, lush visuals and an actual story, it just ... works.

Seeing as it's a "clash of heroes," the main push of the game is battles between the player character's army and those of the various evil bad guys they encounter. We were just starting out during our demo, so there were maybe only a dozen units spread across both screens. However, we were told that, later in the game, the screens would be filled, with battles lasting up to 30 minutes. (Shame we were also told there's no quick-save feature.)

We were told that, later in the game, the screens would be filled, with battles lasting up to 30 minutes.

The role-playing portions of the game play out on a world map with a pre-defined path. There are "nodes" along it and the player's party can be moved simply by touching these nodes with the stylus (the D-pad is also supported). We were advanced past much of the story exposition and straight into a couple of tutorial battles.

It works like this: the player's army is on the bottom screen; the enemy's is on the top. Both "heroes" have a life/HP bar. Combat consists of sending attack waves towards the top screen, while defending against the waves coming from "above." Attacks are set up by matching three of the same unit (each of which has unique attack/defense stats) vertically. Defense is handled by building "walls" of the same unit at least three wide, which have different characteristics (regeneration, sturdiness) depending on the unit type.

Since the units are spread out randomly, it's necessary to use the stylus to "drag" certain ones down, move them left or right, and "flick" them up into another row in order to get to the one that's needed for a chain. Doing this within a set amount of moves per turn is the real challenge. Thankfully, units can also be deleted from the board if they're in the way of a three-unit chain, freeing up a turn. Players will also build up a stock of reinforcements that can be called in to replenish the stock on units on-screen.

The gameplay is unique in the genre, and the feeling of setting up a particularly good wave of attacks is great. The finished game will support local head-to-head battles, which we can only imagine will be a total blast.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.