Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes, from little-known Canadian developer Capybara Games (Critter Crunch), isn't like Might & Magic at all. This is a good thing. It's more like PuzzleQuest, with a pinch of 16-bit JRPG thrown into the melting pot for good measure. It's also ruddy brilliant, and the best game to come out on Nintendo's DS so far this year.
It seems simple enough at first. Place three-of-a-kind units vertically or horizontally, then wait for them to charge up the screen and slap bang into the enemy. But it's not simple. It's anti-simple. And that's why it's great.
Your fantasy forces line up on the bottom screen, with your opponent's on the top screen. Each turn, the player has three movement points to spend. The idea is to reduce your enemy's hit points to zero by vertically combining three-of-a-kind units, which, once their attack countdown has expired, trot off to the top of the screen and clash. On the defensive side, horizontally combining three-of-kind units creates a wall that absorbs enemy attacks.
There are five races, each with distinct strengths and weaknesses and unique units. The elves, for example, have a talent for defending - their walls regenerate over the course of each turn. The humans, on the other hand, are stout all-rounders, with good offensive and defensive options. There are three types of units. Core units are fodder, the pawns of Clash of Heroes' chess board. Elite units are doubly useful - they often deal as much damage as they absorb, and some inflict status changes. But it's the champion units that get the strategy juices flowing. These four-tile monstrosities require four core units of the same colour be placed behind them, just to get them activated. Then, there's usually a multi-turn wait before they do their thing - a wait that can feel like a lifetime. But when the clash comes, the sparks fly.
Clash of Heroes' genius is in its strategy, and how it skilfully unravels its complexities without bogging you down with boredom. For a game so knee-deep in nuance, it would have been easy to overwhelm the player with tutorial after tutorial after tutorial. Clash of Heroes' campaign, however, dodges that arrow by cleverly weaving all of its units, their strengths and weaknesses and what you can do with them, and the game's multi-faceted strategy, into a Saturday morning cartoon storyline that's entertaining enough to keep you going through the hugely enjoyable 30-odd hour experience.