Pocket Heroes and the Rise of the Windows Mobile Turn-Based Strategy Game

Topics:

With the release of Orions, the Windows Mobile strategy game scene got a major boost. More specifically, the turn-based strategy game scene, which in my opinion has long been neglected on our platform, got a boost.

ph01

And now, only a few months later, with the release of Pocket Heroes (based on the ever popular Heroes of Might and Magic games) the turn-based strategy genre has received another major boost. Read on for a detailed breakdown of this masterpiece...

Basic Gameplay

Pocket Heroes has many aspects of traditional turn-based strategy games.
You start each map with one hero, who possesses his or her own stats and
skills as well as a rudimentary army. Depending on what map you're playing,
you may also start with a castle as well. Castles serve several functions
in the game. You can build improvements to your castles that allow you to
recruit deadlier creatures for your army, raise gold, and create other
vital game resources. They can also provide you with a defensive advantage
when you're attacked. Finally, castles are where you can hire additional
heroes.

If you have a castle when you start the game your first task is usually to
recruit any available creatures for your army and to start building
improvements to your castle. You can only build one improvement to a
particular castle per turn and since certain improvements require that other
improvements have been built, it can be crucial to plan ahead and start
building right away. Once you've done these things, your next step is to
start moving your hero around the map. In simplest terms, your movements
are trying to accomplish five things:

(1) Collecting resources scattered around the map. There are seven resource
types in the game and buildings usually require a certain amount of one or
more of these resources to build (in addition to requiring gold). Furthermore,
some creatures require resources in order for you to be able to recruit them.

ph04
Lots of resources

(2) Collecting resource-generating assets. In addition to being able to build resource-generating improvements to your castles, you can also find many
resource-producing assets out in the wild (e.g., sawmills, ore pits, sulfur
mines, etc.). Sometimes, these will be unguarded, but more often you will
have to battle any number of creatures to gain control over the asset. Once
successful, you may want to leave some of your army to guard the area to
prevent one of your opponents from seizing control of it while you're away.

(3) Destroying your enemies and conquering their castles. Your ultimate goal
is to conquer all of your enemies. To this end, you'll need to engage them on
the field and at their own castles. Castles can have walls and moats that
make an offensive a little more costly.

(4) Finding artifacts. There are tons of different artifacts in Pocket Heroes.
Each artifact will give the hero that finds it some power (e.g., increasing
defensive skills, providing a certain amount of gold everyday, etc.). In
addition to finding artifacts on the game map, they can also be captured from
enemies after defeating them. There are currently 73 unique artifacts in the
game. It is also worth mentioning that certain types of artifact can only be
used by heroes with particular skills (more about skills below).

(5) Visiting buildings that give you some other advantage. Somewhat similar
to artifacts are the many different type of buildings scattered across the map.
Some of these will give you a temporary advantage (e.g., +1 morale in your
next battle, restoration of spell points, etc.); others will give you a
permanent boost (increasing one of your stats for example); and other
buildings are dwellings for particular creatures that you can recruit when
you visit.

ph02
Receiving a bonus for visiting a prophet statue

At some point, if you're playing one of the larger maps, you're going to find
an enemy threatening one or more of your castles while you are far away
searching for glory. Thankfully, you can recruit more heroes from any castle
you control. Each of these hired heroes acts exactly like your original hero
and can therefore lead its own army, find artifacts, etc. Sometimes these
hired swords are high level heroes but other times they're just level 1 green
recruits.

Additional Aspects of Gameplay

Heroes. Your hero can be any one of six races (knights, barbarians,
wizards, warlocks, sorceresses, and necromancers). Each race has
advantages and disadvantages and determines which type of castle you start
the game with (which in turn determines which type of creatures you can
recruit from this initial castle). Furthermore, as with many RPGs and
turn-based strategy games, your hero has skills that can improve with time.
There are four base skills ("attributes" in the game's lingo): attack,
defense, spell power, and knowledge. There are also 22 secondary skills to
choose from. I'm not going to list all of them here but they include such
things as armorer, luck, necromancy, scouting, logistics, archery, etc.
Each secondary skill has three levels, with the greater advantage coming
with the higher level of the skill, as you would expect.

Spells. Heroes can also cast spells. There are four schools of
magic (earth, air, water, and fire) with a total of over 40 spells. The sort
of spells that can be cast include the normal for these types of games,
like slow (slows an enemy), stone skin (increases defense), bloodlust
(increases hand-to-hand damage), and curse (reduces enemy's ability to
inflict damage), to name a few. Additionally, for each school of magic
there is a corresponding secondary skill that lets you cast spells from
that school at a reduced cost and with increased effectiveness. Of course,
casting spells requires spell points. Certain secondary skills (e.g.,
mysticism) can help you regenerate spell points quicker and certain
structures on the game map (e.g., magic springs) will totally replenish
your spell points.

Combat. Combat takes place on a hexagonal field (i.e.,
any given character can move in six directions). Each creature type has
a different number of movement points and different methods of attack. Also,
if you attack a castle, there will be a defensive wall and sometimes a
moat, which can be costly to cross. One feature that I didn't use too
much at first but have since come to rely on often is the autocombat
feature. As its name suggests, turning this on will let the combat take
automatically. While this may not seem very appealing to the newcomer,
trust me, after fighting battle after battle it's a nice feature to have.

ph03
An example of what combat looks like

Other map features. There are a number of other
structures you may encounter on the map. For example, there are border
guards which won't let you pass beyond until you've visted a keymaster's
tent, there are teleports, etc. Another interesting component of the
game is the puzzle map. On maps that implement this feature, there is a
superstrong artifact buried somewhere on the map. When you visit
obelisks a portion of the map is revealed. Once you've visited all the
obelisks, you should know where the artifact is buried. Then all that's
left to do is go dig it up. Be warned, however, that digging in a
particular spot takes a whole game turn(!).

Other Features

  • Four different map sizes
  • Multiplayer (on the same device)
  • Five different difficulty levels

What Makes Pocket Heroes a Great Game

Like Orions, the main thing that Pocket Heroes has going for it is the fact that it requires strategic thinking on so many levels. For one, timing is critical. You only have a certain amount of movement points per turn so you have to time your moves accordingly; you can only build one improvement per turn in a given castle so timing which to build when can be very important; and since the places that you recruit creatures from are only replenished once a week, choosing when to recruit them and how many to recruit is also very important. Then of course there is also the strategic aspects of battle: which units to use against which units of your opponent; which spells to use, etc. Since building improvements and recruiting creatures are dependent on resources, choosing which to go after and which resource-generating assets to build or conquer is also vital. Geography also plays a critical role. If you're playing a large map and you only have one castle, you're eventually going to run into the problem of needing to recruit more creatures but being far away from your castle. Additionally, certain territories are more vulnerable or easily defended than others. One also has to decide which secondary skills one wants to develop. The list goes on and on. The large number of artifacts, creatures, and buildings adds immense depth to the experience.

With the sheer amount of things going on at a given time in this game, you'll also be glad that the interface is as user-friendly as it is. Here, Pocket Heroes really shines. Take a look at this:

ph05

Here's what each of these buttons does (from left to right):

  • Allows you to select what hero your working with
  • Brings up detailed information about the selected hero (including information about their skills, level, army, and what artifacts they're wearing)
  • Centers the currently selected hero
  • Cycles through your heroes and centers the screen for each
  • Moves you to the destination you've selected
  • Brings up your spell menu
  • Digs for an artifact
  • Allows you to select what castle your working with
  • Brings up the castle menu for your selected castle
  • Centers the currently selected castle
  • Cycles through your castles and centers the screen for each
  • Brings up a topdown view of the entire game map (which is color coded to show you who owns what
  • Ends turn

The point I'm trying to make is that the Pocket Heroes interface leaves nothing to be desired. It is as perfectly tailored for ease of use as it could possibly be. Here's another example: at the top of the screen you can see information about the amount of gold and resources you have. Nice, right? Well if you tap on it once the display will show you the composition of your army (type and number of each unit). Tap on it one more time and the game time will be displayed along with the actual time and the amount of battery you have left. Little touches like this make all the difference.

A related area where Pocket Heroes really shines is its in-game help and documentation. For example, when you're recruiting creatures for your army, tapping on them will bring up information about their fighting abilities. If the creature has special abilities these will be indicated by little symbols, which can also be clicked, bringing up further information about the ability. Another example is that when you gain a level and are selecting which skill to acquire, a little question mark is displayed next to each skill explaining what it does. This kind of help is found throughout the game. Click on a spell to learn what it does, click on a skill to learn what it affects, etc. This documentation is flawlessly integrated into the game so that it's there if you need it but isn't bothersome if you don't. Additionally, there is a fantastic online help document with basic info about the different creatures, structures, skills, etc. as well as strategy tips. It is available here.

Any Room for Improvement?

There are a few areas where this game could be improved. The thing that needs the most work in my opinion is the scoring system. I might be wrong but it seems that the scoring work likes this: for any given map, you start out with a maximum possible score. Your final score is calculated by taking this number and subtracting the number of days it takes you to complete the map. Thus, for example, if a particular map's maximum score is 200 and you complete the map in 25 game days, your final score would be 175 (200-25). This scoring system is way, way too simplistic and needs major improvement.

Secondly, the sound effects in the game are sparse and music nearly nonexistent. It would be nice to have a little more in these areas.

Thirdly, a map editor would be nice.

Finally, the quality of the maps varies greatly. Many are great but several are just downright bad. While I'm in favor of having as many maps as possible, I think a little more quality control is in order.

ph06
Hero information screen

The Controversy

When Pocket Heroes was first released, there was some controversy about whether the developers should sell the game because the Heroes of Might and Magic games are owned by another company (as of about a year ago, that company is Ubisoft). As you can see in this thread, I initially had a problem with this fact as well.

I have since reevaluated my position somewhat. If Ubisoft had been in the process of developing a mobile version of Heroes of Might and Magic and the developers of Pocket Heroes had misappropriated their work and released the game before Ubisoft could than I would still have a major problem with Pocket Heroes and would not support it. However, there is no indication that Ubisoft had any plans of developing anything for Windows Mobile. And if they're not going to, then I'm glad that the developers of Pocket Heroes did. And while there may be legal issues between Ubisoft and the developers of Pocket Heroes, those issues are for the two companies to sort out between themselves. I am not the Grand Inquisitor of Windows Mobile software law; my job is simply to inform you about great games and applications, and Pocket Heroes is definitely a great game.

Plans for the Future

The developers have many ideas for the future of Pocket Heroes. These include:

  • Campaign mode
  • Multi dimension maps
  • New maps, nations, creatures, spells, artifacts, etc.
  • Multiplayer via Bluetooth and Wifi
  • PalmOS version

Conclusion

Pocket Heroes is a fantastic game in every respect. There is so much strategy involved that I'm not sure how my windows mobile device manages to contain it all! And with the great graphics, superb interface, and detailed in-game help, Pocket Heroes exceeded my expectations in almost every way imaginable. For those of us who have been patiently (or not so patiently) waiting for the release of quality turn-based strategy games for the Windows Mobile platform, Pocket Heroes will be a welcome contribution. And when its release is viewed in conjunction with the release of Orions, we may just be seeing the rise of the turn-based strategy game for the Pocket PC. I truly hope so.

[Note: these screenshots are from the developers website and differ slightly from what you'll see in the current version. The differences are: in the current version, the grid lines in the map are turned off by default and the little white writing in the bottom left hand area of the screen does not appear].

Great review! Congrats! Will definitely link it in / recommend in my forthcoming "Gaming news!"

Thanks Werner!

Glad you liked it tekpir8!

I haven't heard of any plans to port make a smartphone version available and I doubt that the developers will make one. While it may be technically possible to port it to smartphones, it strikes me that it would be difficult and cumbersome to play on a touchscreen-less device because so much screen-tapping is involved...

I'm not the developer, just a reviewer =)

Syndicate content