April 2011

Capy has managed to do with Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes HD what Infinite Interactive could not do in their two attempts since Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords first combined an RPG mentality with puzzle mechanics. These type of games are perfect for those who like to sit back, take their time, and plan out their battle scenarios. I don’t care a lick about the story, but each and every battle is challenging without feeling cheap, and rewarding without making you feel overpowered.

Clash of Heroes is a port of a DS game, and it shows a little bit. There is more loading than it seems like there ought to be in a game with static maps, little voice acting, and next to no animation. That doesn’t take away from what Clash of Heroes does exceptionally well, however: engrossing battles. At its most basic level, Clash of Heroes plays like Capy’s other recent puzzler, Critter Crunch. Pull a unit off of the stack and put it back down on another stack. Form a vertical set of three, and you have an attack formation while a horizontal set of three forms a defense formation. Wait the prescribed number of turns (no more than three for standard units) and then an attack is unleashed. Taking a cue from Magic: The Gathering, it is useful to attack your opponent’s units, but you will only be victorious after attacking your opponent’s hit points directly.

In addition to your three standard units in three colors, you will pick up special units along the way. The majority of your force will be made up of normal units like rangers, bears, and knights, but you can augment your force by progressing through the story or by winning out-of-the-way battles. Winning these battles is worth it, because as a reward you will find sentient trees, dragons, and unicorns to fight on your side. Elite units work like standard units. Line two units of the same color up behind them, create an attack formation, wait two or three turns, and watch your opponent’s units fall. Champion units are larger and require a square of four standard units behind it. It isn’t always easy to find four available blue rangers to line up behind your dragon, but it’s worth it. Champion attacks are devastating, and they can turn the tide of just about any battle in your favor.

Clash of Heroes reminds me a lot of Othello’s tagline: “A minute to learn… A lifetime to master.” Clash of Heroes is deceptively simple, but the strategies possible when it comes to linking attacks (arranging to have several attacks fire off on the same turn which imparts a bonus on each of them), fusing attacks together (creating two attack formations of the same color in the same column, combining strength and firing at the earlier time), and strategically removing units from the field make for a great experience in both single player and multiplayer. Multiplayer works just like single player, except your opponent is a real live person so you can expect a better challenge than the AI can provide in campaign mode. (There’s also a bonus to the HD version: a co-op battle mode. You can play two-on-two or play against the AI, and each side’s units are color-coded so only one team member can move them.)

Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes is a rare thing – a puzzle RPG that works well. If you enjoyed either Puzzle Quest or Critter Crunch, then Clash of Heroes is a sure hit.

Pros: Surprisingly-deep strategic gameplay 

Cons: Unnecessarily-long load times


In an unexpected move, Nintendo posted a small PDF up on the Investor Relations portion of their Japanese website this morning titled “Wii’s successor system“. The entire contents of the note, which isn’t even on company letterhead, says:

To whom it may concern:

Re: Wii’s successor system

Nintendo Co., Ltd. has decided to launch in 2012 a system to succeed Wii, which the company has sold 86.01 million units on a consolidated shipment basis between its launch in 2006 and the end of March 2011.

We will show a playable model of the new system and announce more specifications at the E3 Expo, which will be held June 7-9, 2011, in Los Angeles.

Sales of this new system have not been included in the financial forecasts announced today for the fiscal term ending March 2012.

No other details are currently available, but we have reached out to Nintendo for comment. A mirrored copy of the PDF is available here.


Nintendo’s PR firm didn’t have any additional details yet. Their official response was:

Nintendo Co., Ltd., has decided to launch in 2012 a system to succeed Wii. The company has sold 86.01 million Wii units on a consolidated shipment basis between its launch in 2006 and the end of March 2011.


We will show a playable model of the new system and announce more specifications at the E3 Expo, which will be held June 7-9, 2011, in Los Angeles.


Sales of this new system have not been included in the financial forecasts announced today for the fiscal term ending March 2012.”

Portal 2

April 25, 2011

Very few games have been as beloved by gamers everywhere as the original Portal; it was only a matter of time before a full-fledged sequel was released. Many people were afraid it might stretch the experience too thin, or that it might even ruin what made the original so great in the first place. The actual result is a clever game that is leagues above the original, and could be an early contender for Game of the Year.

Portal 2 picks up shortly after the events of the first game. You find yourself back in the Aperture Science labs, rescued by a small robot named Wheatley who is attempting to get both of you out of there. It isn’t long before you find yourself performing another series of portal-based tests. Despite the simplicity of the first game’s plot, the sequel expands upon the story in great detail. To talk about it anymore would be ruining it for everyone else, but the combination of amazing (and hilarious) writing with clever storytelling twists make this a story you’ll be sad to see end.

Ellen McLain returns as the voice of A.I. nemesis GLaDOS, who is as snarky and sarcastic as ever. New to the cast are Stephen Merchant, who plays the quick-witted but often misguided Wheatley, and J.K. Simmons, as Aperture Science founder Cave Johnson. All of the performances are outstanding and really allow the writing to shine; there is never a dull moment to be had.

As you may have expected, Portal 2 is all about the puzzles, and it delivers on all fronts. Just like the first game, you are slowly reintroduced to the portal gun through tests that start out simple but get more difficult as you progress. And just when you’ve mastered one type of puzzle, a new element is slowly introduced to make things even more challenging. The puzzles are excellently-designed, as are the many levels you traverse, and the difficulty is balanced perfectly. You are never once lost or confused, and the game eases you into each new scenario rather well.

The new elements that are thrown into the mix include aerial faith plates that bounce you from one point to another and gels that will, for example, make you jump higher or run faster. The addition of co-op adds a lot to the experience. It’s an entirely different story with some unique twists that connect it well to the single player content. You can play it both online and locally, but don’t expect to get very far without some kind of way to communicate with your friend. 

To talk about the game anymore would simply ruin the experience for those who haven’t played yet, but I think you get the idea. Despite the lack of challenges that were so prominent in the first game, Portal 2 packs a lot of content for the price. It’s everything the first game was and more, with very inspired level design, some ingenious puzzles, and some of the best writing you’ll ever see in a video game. It might just be Valve’s best game yet. 

Pros: Brilliant level design, pacing and writing; co-op adds a lot to the experience

Cons: Lack of challenges might disappoint some

L.A. Noire isn’t all about solving cases. It’s also about salary! And pension! Oh, don’t forget benefits. Actually, we don’t know if that has any effect on the game, but we do know you advance through the ranks from a lowly officer to a vice cop. We know this because of the trailer after the break. Check it out. READ MORE

Trick-taking card games have been a staple of gaming for centuries, from Hearts and Spades to more modern variants like Wizard and Xactica. Japanese game designer Seiji Kanai puts his unique twist on the format in the form of Chronicle, published in the US by Z-Man Games. 

Chronicle consists of a 36-card deck, comprised of three suits valued 1-10 and six wild cards, and twelve “Historical Chronicle” cards that determine the scoring for each round. The object is to accumulate three Fame points, but the manner in which that is accomplished will vary from round to round.

Each round the entire deck is dealt out to all players (from three to six; if five are playing one card is discarded face-up before dealing), then the top card of the History deck is flipped over. This card will determine the conditions to earn a Fame point this round as well as indicating which player will begin: whoever has the specific card listed reveals it and begins with any card (s)he wishes. As with most trick-taking games, subsequent players must follow whichever suit (blue = power, green = wisdom, or red = love*) is lead; if a wild card is lead, the first non-wild card determines the lead suit. If a player cannot follow suit they must play a non-wild card face-down; wild cards are always considered to be “on suit” and can never be played face down. Normally, whichever player played the highest-valued card in the lead suit would collect all played cards, turn them all face-up, and put them in front of him/her as “allies”.

I say “normally” because each card has a special power, most of which take effect when they are played face-up; others modify how allies are counted at the end of the round. All of the similarly-valued cards across the suits have the same abilities, to keep things from getting too crazy. Of special note are the one-valued cards, which along with the “Demon” wild card are denoted as being “Evil”. Anyone who controls an Evil ally at the end of the round is disqualified from scoring that round unless one of two other conditions are met: 1) they also control the “Angel” wild card (which discards all Evil allies that player possesses before scoring); or 2) they control all four Evil allies, in which case they score an “Evil Victory” of two fame points while everyone else scores absolutely nothing. This is much more difficult than it sounds, as several other cards allow you to steal, discard, or otherwise eliminate cards or allies, and once one of these four cards is in the discard pile an Evil Victory is impossible.

A round ends when one player is out of cards in his hand; all other players add the remaining cards in their hands to their allies. Keeping certain cards (like the Angel) in your hand to surprise other players is a useful trick if you can manage it. Once the Evil-controlling players are eliminated, the remaining players check the current scoring condition. This is usually controlling the most/fewest of a specific suit of allies or all allies in general, plus a few curveballs; this is a count of raw cards without consideration of actual values, although it is important to note that the two-valued cards in each suit count as three allies when scoring, which can be a hindrance or a boon depending on whether the goal is to have the most or the fewest. Everyone who meets the condition scores one Fame point and then a new round begins unless someone has three (or more) Fame, in which case the game is over and that player wins; if there is a tie for Fame, you can either keep playing until the tie is broken or just let the tie stand.

A game of Chronicle is supposed to take about 30 minutes. However, your first session or two might take much longer as everyone gets used to what the cards do and how the game works. Our first session took over an hour, which was outrageous. Our second session was a much more reasonable 33 minutes, although that was played using the optional “two Histories” rule where we used two scoring conditions each round  that are scored independently; once everyone knows how to play this variant is highly recommended, even by the game designer himself.

Like most Z-Man card games, you can pick up Chronicle for $10 or less. Once you get past the initial learning curve it is a solid addition to a gaming library, even if it is a little long for what it is sometimes.

*Sadly, this isn’t a Legend of Zelda-themed game.