It's truly amazing that five years into its life, new and innovative gaming concepts continue to blossom on the DS. Take Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes, a sword and sorcery epic from Capybara Games. This Canadian developer first caught the public eye with Critter Crunch, a 'Match-3' style puzzle game which features adorable fuzzy monsters that vomit rainbows into each other’s mouths - innovation is their hallmark.
Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes delivers a similar game experience to Fire Emblem: turn-based tactical combat sandwiched between talking head drama and RPG stat-grinding. It's an addictive combination. Each new battle is slightly more challenging than the last, gradually easing you into the game’s myriad complexities one skirmish at a time.
Positive reinforcement follows each battle; a high-pitched buzzing sound chirps as status bars fill and characters level up. The sprawling plot draws you in, and the map linking missions together is jam-packed with side-quests and hidden loot.
The graphics are crisp, and exaggerated animations bring each tiny bitmap to life. The music is particularly impressive - and presumably responsible for the noticeable loading times.
Yet these outward similarities are deceptive, for the core gameplay is radically different to Fire Emblem. As it's a Match-3 game at heart, the actual play mechanics are quite simple. Lining up three units vertically will create an attack formation, which after a set number of turns will launch upwards into the enemy-infested top screen. Match three units horizontally and you'll make a wall; such fortifications can buy time for your champion units to power-up their game ending mega-attacks.
Concentration is a must, as is the discretion to balance attack and defense. It can get intense, but Clash of Heroes ultimately owes more to Connect Four than to chess.
The rules may be simple, but the gameplay is haphazard. Each battle begins with your units in a jumble; a mess of little men that can never be fully squared away. Likewise, tapping on the reinforcements button mid-game will see fresh troops arrive in an equally randomised rabble. It is difficult to think of your colour-coded elves, men, and pixies as elite fighting units when they show such blatant disregard for the most basic of battle tactics.
The most important strategic decisions are made between missions, when you choose what mix of troops to take into battle.
The campaign mode puts you in control of a succession of five angst-plagued, teenaged generals, each with enough new unit types and special attacks to keep things fresh. For instance, the undead troops of Fiona the necromancer are still useful even when slain, for their scattered bones will automatically coalesce into defensive walls. Being on the delivering or receiving end of punishing attacks will charge up your special attack bar, Advance Wars-style.
Multiplayer is supported, and you can even spawn a competitive game from a single cartridge.
This bold mash-up makes old ideas seem fresh, and makes Nintendo's handheld come alive as if it were new, and still rich with novelty and potential. Frankly, with games like Clash of Heroes still being launched, talk of a DS2 next year seems premature - the original DS has still got what it takes.