After reading an article about Capybara Games in a local paper, I just knew we had to interview them about the upcoming DS title whose release is rapidly approaching, Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes. Besides being located in my hometown of Toronto, Capybara also looked like it had a handle on how to take a simple concept and turn it into an addictive and entertaining game, which as it turns out is certainly the case with Clash of Heroes.
"Capybara (has) a handle on how to take a simple concept and turn it into an addictive and entertaining game."
This week myself and RPGamer Editor Sam Marchello went to Capybara headquarters, a well-appointed loft studio near one of Toronto's various Chinatowns. We were greeted there by Nathan Vella, President and one of the co-founders of the studio, who ushered us into a media room where several members of the production staff (and a mustachioed blow up doll-cum-mascot) were also waiting in case we had questions pertaining to their particular field of expertise. As it turned out though, they mostly just ended up answering questions about game mechanics, as Mr. Vella's brief overview of his company's (and the game's) history provided most of the answers we were looking for. With that taken care of, it was time to actually play Clash of Heroes.
Players start off Clash of Heroes dropped into a conference of leaders from around the game's world. There is concern among them that a relic held by the Sylvan people might be in danger of falling into demonic hands. As players follow a group of these leaders' heirs on a quick trip through the forest to welcome a sorceress to the conference, these fears prove justified as the camp is attacked and most of the conference attendees are slain. As the children flee through the forest back towards the portal used by the sorceress to travel to the meeting, she is struck down by demons and as a result, when they jump into the failing portal they are scattered across the world.
This is how the mechanic of the five-pronged storyline is introduced, but for the impression we were given the opportunity to play only one of the campaigns, that of the Sylvan (elvish) scion, Anwen, who doesn't make it to the portal and is left to pick up the pieces in her ancestral forests. Seeing her father's camp decimated and him dead after the dust settles and the demons leave, she sets off in the opposite direction to warn her people of the oncoming demonic assault.
Before teaching us the basics of how to play, we were told by the folks at Capybara a couple of times that "it's easier to just let people play the game than to explain it, because it really does have simple mechanics, but when you explain it it sounds more complicated than it really is," and that's certainly true; the beauty of the battles in Clash of Heroes is the ease with which the system can be picked up, and yet, there's enough depth that two hours of motoring through the first campaign passed in a flash, and a very entertaining one at that. Basically the game has three different unit sizes and as many different unit colours (or at least it did in the intro campaign; we got to see two of the unit sizes and I'm not certain but there may be additional colours later on). The object is to match three units of the same colour into rows or columns. These then can become attack formations, whose power is indicated below a little glowing bar which represents how much time is left before said attack executes. It is also possible to create a wall by lining up horizontally, a defensive formation that will impede enemy attacks. Later on there are also special units that are twice the size of a regular unit. These require gamers to place two units horizontally behind them in order for their attacks to execute. There is also one unit size bigger than that, but we didn't get to see any in our playthrough.
The object of each battle, then, is to reduce the opposing side to zero health. This is accomplished by sending attack formations at the other side, and if there is no wall or enemy unit to impede them, they will surge through and hit the back of the enemy playing area, scoring damage. Conversely, if the player's health is similarly reduced to zero, it's game over for Anwen. If that sounds pretty simple, it is, but that doesn't mean it's not fun, and as you progress through the game, different wrinkles are thrown in; in one fight, there are two woodcutters chopping down a tree that is sacred to the Sylvan who must be hit before they finish their lumberjacking, and in another, the enemy captures a friendly unit, who is jostled around their half of the playing field and cannot be hit upon pain of defeat. It should be pointed out here so that it doesn't get pointed out in the comments that I was very bad at this particular fight, failing at it three times, which allowed Sam to catch up and finish first. Stupid dodgy elf-guy.
Most of the battles players enter are related to the story, but there are a wide variety of optional battles that can be entered if certain conditions are met. Some are as simple to trigger as just walking up to a certain spot on the map, which features pathways as seen on the map in later Super Mario Bros. titles, while others require preconditions to be fulfilled before intransigent units will become pugilistic. There is also a bounty hunting sidequest that gives players the incentive to track down hidden miscreants and bring them to puzzly justice, which is a generally profitable pastime if the couple of outlaws I reined in are any indication.
Beyond a well-executed battle system, Clash of Heroes is also very polished in its presentation. Capybara's other big title, Critter Crunch, features lush, colourful graphics in an art style that I would have to call heavily influenced by anime. This seems to be the case with Clash of Heroes too, though that isn't to say that the two games necessarily look anything alike. The artwork is beautiful, and the character portraits expressive. The interface art, meanwhile, is clean and aids in the overall efficiency of the menu, which is considerable. Most screens can be accessed in one button push or less, and there isn't very much item juggling to do. Players have the option of equipping one artifact, such as a trinket I found that will resurrect you once upon death with 25% health. You can also decide which units to use in their available unit slots; there are three available slots for small units, two medium and one large, so deciding which units to use is an important part of battle strategy as some types are unsuited for certain encounters.
All in all, from what I've seen, Clash of Heroes looks like it's going to be a surefire hit when it is released. At the time of our interview the date had not been set, but in the intervening days it would appear Ubisoft has sorted out its busy fourth quarter release schedule and opted for a release date of October 8th for Clash of Heroes. With that sorted, I must say, it was great to get a chance to play this title, and I'd like to extend my thanks to Nathan, Kris, Greg, and everyone at Capybara Games for taking the time to give us a firsthand look at Clash of Heroes. Be sure to read Sam's impression, and check out our interview and other coverage for Clash of Heroes.