Some think that plagiarism is a bad thing - and for good reason. There's nothing worse than claiming someone else's ideas as your own. Occasionally, however, someone plagiarizes by copying his or her own earlier work. It's like handing in the same English paper twice. Not that any of us have ever done that, Mrs.White.
Now I'm not claiming that Heroes of Might and Magic: Quest for the DragonBone Staff is a plagiarized game. I'm not claiming that it's identical in every way, shape and form to a game made 12 years ago. I'm not claiming that the designers barely lifted a finger to differentiate this game from the original version beyond some new graphics. And I'm certainly not claiming that the developers are trying to pull the wool over your eyes by slapping a Heroes logo on a game they made a decade ago.
Wait a minute. Yes I am.
Indeed, it took all of about 15 minutes of playing Heroes of Might and Magic: Quest for the DragonBone Staff for me to realize that this is the exact same game as King's Bounty, a strategy game released in 1989 for the Mac that serves as the template for the entire Heroes series on the PC. It also came out on the PC and the Genesis. And when I say exact, I mean exact. As in, not different at all. As in, identical maps, identical units, and absolutely identical gameplay. As in, behold the following screenshots:
Heroes for the PS2 - 2001
King's Bounty for the PC - 1990
Yep, even the TEXT is the same. They wrote those lines 12 years ago. Ever hear of a thesaurus?
Now I'm not going to spend the next few hundred words lambasting 3DO and New World Computing for simply repackaging an ancient game, because the game in question was, and is, actually decent. I just felt that someone needed to point out the laziness of the developers.
Speaking of laziness, Heroes of Might and Magic: Quest for the Dragon Bone Staff is much too long a name to keep typing again and again. So from now on, I'm just going to use the name on this game's birth certificate, King's Bounty. Plus, I'm just going to copy the rest of this review from the one I wrote for Space Invaders.
King's Bounty is essentially a turn-based strategy game. You choose one of four heroes and gallop around four continents in an effort to discover an ancient artifact of enormous power (as opposed to an ancient artifact of crappy power, like an ancient shoe or an ancient doorstop). You only have a set number of days to find this thing, so it's a race against the clock.
The gameplay is pretty much a dumbed-down version of Heroes of Might and Magic for the PC. You only have 1 hero, and you spend most of your time roaming around the maps fighting wandering monsters. There are also 17 'villains' hunkered down in various castles. If you successfully nab a castle, you capture the villain and get a missing piece to a map that shows the location of the ancient artifact, as well as plenty of extra gold.
The crux of the game lies in recruiting armies in various places on the map and taking them into battle. While roaming around the adventure map is in real-time (i.e. the clock ticks away), the battles are turn-based. Each battle takes place on a 5 x 6 playing grid. The different units have different movements points and attacks, and knowing how to use them is where most of the strategy occurs.
Unfortunately, King's Bounty was made 12 years ago, and it shows in the somewhat paltry depth. Unlike the PC HoM&M games, you only have 1 hero, so a lot of time is often spent revisiting army spawn areas to recruit armies, then off to sack a castle, then the whole thing over again. You can't set up supply lines since you don't have any extra heroes.
Your hero gains in stats like leadership (which determines how many armies you can have at once) and spellcasting. You can cast spells on both the adventure map and during battle, though there are only a handful of spells and they don't have different power levels like in the PC games.
There's also a problem when you fight villains; namely, they're not there. Sure, there's a big army waiting to fight, but the villain him/herself doesn't do anything at all. No spells, no bonuses for his/her army, nothing.
I should note that King's Bounty was a fun game...and in turn, this latest version isn't terrible. The strategy elements are fine if a little simple. Fans of the Heroes games will find it a little bland, but if you're new to the whole concept, it's pretty easy to grasp and it can be a nice introduction to strategy gaming. Of course, it's the second time this game has been introduced.
Remember, the maps are the same. The text is the same. The unit types are the same. The gameplay is the same. Not similar...exact. This is not a rehash or a sequel, it's a straight port.
In fact, the only noticeable difference between this game and the original King's Bounty is the graphics. Sadly, it ain't much different. Some fancy models and smooth textures don't make up for the lame animations and half-assed fighting sequences. On the PS2, 300 orcs vs. 300 pikemen should look a lot cooler than one attack animation with one representative of each unit. Isn't this the next-generation?
The sound throws more confusion into the loop because it's taken directly from the Heroes PC games. So you have the sound from the PC series in a port of the game the PC series was based on. Go ahead and scratch your head.
After that, go ahead and write 3DO a letter telling them that slapping a more recognizable title on an identical port of a 12 year-old game DOES NOT CUT THE MUSTARD. They don't even mention King's Bounty in the manual. However, they actually go so far as to mention at the official website:
"To the experienced Heroes of Might and Magic(tm) Gamer You have never seen Heroes of Might and Magic(TM) like this before."
Right, that's because it's called King's Bounty. Someone please shoot me.
Look, this game is a nightmare to grade. I've tried to be fair, but I can't help but knock off a couple notches because of the brutal lack of effort and obvious shortcuts. If you've never played a Heroes game and the series is new to you, go ahead and rent it - it's certainly entertaining enough to warrant a try. But you could always go download an emulator and play King's Bounty for free...