Clash! Bang! Everplay’s puzzle-RPG Horde of Heroes tries to blend the addictive, free-to-play nature of Candy Crush with an action-packed RPG and an easy to learn, but difficult to master, puzzler. Is Horde of Heroes a treasure trove for any gamer, or is this one horde you should leave to the dragons?

In Horde of Heroes, players traverse a wild fantasy land, helping strangers and battling beavers by swiping together similarly-colored blocks to create chains of three or more. There’s an overworld map you’ll use to select which level you wish to play, to review/equip your gear, and spend real-life money on crystals and hearts. Crystals open up new opportunities by helping players acquire new items, and hearts are the lives players use when they fail a level. These hearts accumulate over time, but if you’re up against a particularly difficult level you’ll burn through them, leaving your only options to be waiting patiently or spending a chunk of change.

Everplay

Once you’re past the map, you’ll have to complete a speed-based puzzle with several possible objectives- most of which are RPG-style battles. In these puzzles you swipe similar blocks together, and each type of block does something different. Sword blocks let your character attack physically, magic blocks let you attack magically, shield blocks enhance your defense and so on. There are so many different kinds of blocks that much of the time they all kind of blend together. While you can strategize quite a bit, ultimately it doesn't make that much of a difference because you’re often better off thoughtlessly matching blocks as quickly as you can. At times things can get a little frantic because the enemy attacks every few seconds and your only limit is how quickly you can match blocks together, so you can’t afford to take a second to look away or scratch your face, ear or buttocks, because the enemy doesn’t care if your butt itches or not; it’s still attacking around the clock whether you are or not. You’ll have to move fast and pay attention during each match or die.

Everplay

Not every puzzle is a straightforward RPG battle, though, as some have you trying to collect apples or chocolate, or complete a task within a certain number of turns. These extra objectives, while not exactly game-changers, do bring enough variety to help keep things feeling fresh. Winning each level nets experience points and loot for your character. Leveling up and acquiring new gear lets you shuffle your character’s statistics around, like defense, physical attack power, and magical attack power. It’s a neat concept, but, again, as most levels can be won by combining blocks together as quickly as possible it makes the RPG aspect of the game feel a bit moot.

Everplay

For a free-to-play title, Horde of Heroes isn’t particularly greedy. That’s right, call the Pope, call yo’ gramma and call yo’ puppy, because free-to-play like this is a rare sight indeed. You start with 10 health points, which can last you a while before you’re forced to wait or buy more, and the coins/gems/keys are all available at a reasonable rate. They’re not exactly common, but you get enough that you won’t feel too pressured to spend real-life money. Horde of Heroes aesthetics are charmingly retro, with an awesome soundtrack and cute, minimalist pixel graphics keeping everything feeling light and fun. Its touch controls work perfectly, too, whether you’re playing on a roomy iPad screen or the smaller space of the iPhone.

Horde of Heroes blends disparate ideas into a fun, if not entirely successful, whole. The combination of “match three” puzzles and RPG battles makes for a decently fun time initially, but the lack of depth to the gameplay give this game a shorter shelf life than you might expect. At the cost of nothing up-front, however, Horde of Heroes still makes for a fun offering for anyone craving something a bit different, and who doesn’t mind a little shallowness.

This review was completed with a downloaded copy of Horde of Heroes for iOS.

App Store Link: Horde of Heroes for iPhone and iPad | By Everplay I Price: Free | Version: 1.0.6 | 56 MB| Rating 4+

7.0 out of 10 arcade sushi rating