Until now, the Heroes of Might & Magic series has been a game that's "popular in Europe". That slightly poisonous phrase implies a few things - deep, engaging strategy. Dialogue that's as clenchingly earnest as it is wincingly translated. And, usually, heavily geared towards - or exclusively available on - the PC.
Clash of Heroes takes much of what's familiar to the Heroes games - the factions, the lore, the board game feel. But then it grabs its wrinkly face with both hands and kisses life into the deadpan fantasy with a valiant stab at humour. Then it streaks that battle-chess gameplay with the satisfying combos and chains that made PopCap billionaires.
The game's built around the match-three system that's written through most puzzle games like a stick of Blackpool rock. Match three vertically and you'll trigger that unit's attack countdown. Match three horizontally and you'll build a defensive wall.
A small touch that sets Clash of Heroes apart is that every turn consists of three moves. This greatly reduces the aspect of luck - you actually feel like you're building a strategy and responding to your enemy, instead of dealing with the latest random cascade of gems.
Your basic Core units are disposable - destroyed stacks are mostly returned to your off-board 'deck', and can be summoned back on to the field using the reinforcements command. More powerful units take up extra space, are harder to match, and must be earned or bought with resources.
If these guys die, they need to be replaced with your winnings. Having to take care of certain units adds an extra level of strategy - their frequently devastating attacks are balanced by a long turn delay between activation and effect, and during that time they're vulnerable to counter-measures.
The first few campaign hours will be spent with the Elvish Sylvan faction, but other classic M&M factions are here - each impressively combining their classic feel with the tactics of the new game.
If most puzzle games leave you feeling slightly jipped and a slave to chance, Clash of Heroes offers an absorbing, long campaign, and a good variety of online modes. Maybe now Might & Magic will get something like the modern audience it deserves.
A faithful upgrade of a handheld classic
- Excellent value for money
- Endearingly funny campaign
- Quick but engaging multiplayer
- Pleasantly deep strategy
- Retreat is punished, dying isn't