It’s always nice when a sequel isn’t just a re-skinned game with a new coat of paint. Developer Jaibo Games went back to ancient Greece for Heroes of Hellas 2, the sequel to Heroes of Hellas, but it isn’t all same-old.
The game greets you with a fully-voiced introduction, telling you how the land is falling due to rampant evil. You are to create a haven for the good people in the land of Olympia. Continue to grow and shape the land and its people, and you may yet stand a chance at freeing the rest of the world from evil.
To help you with your people- and land-shaping, you’ll need resources and as much help as you can get. Resources come from match-three gameplay, where you’ll earn gold pieces, population increases or even pieces of amulets that revive old legendary figures such as Athene (not Athena as you would suspect) or Icarus. These ancient heroes, once collected, will help you in your quest. And unlike before, you’ll definitely need them this time.
The basic gameplay of Heroes of Hellas 2 is the same as the first game. Click on a colored tile, and drag the mouse along three or more like-colored tiles to clear them. Chains of five or more tiles create coins which, while adding to your overall money, function like wild-card tiles, enabling matches with fewer than three. Other icons include lightning bolts which rip through the board in a given direction, or hourglasses which add time to the clock.
As you progress through the game, power-ups become available. These are earned by making matches of a specific color. Powers include destroying tiles (either in an area or by color), breaking monoliths (blocks which require a match beside them to break) or ropes (tiles which require an extra match before the rope breaks). Unlike the first game, these power-ups can be "banked," becoming more powerful if you’re patient. These power-ups will be a requirement for some levels, such as breaking a monolith on a pile that isn’t connected to anything, but the goal of the level is to destroy all monoliths.
Indeed, the challenges in Heros of Hellas 2 are varied, which adds greatly to the gameplay. Some levels are completed by making matches over gold tiles, while others require you to use a god’s power a certain number of times. Another level you’ll be breaking hellstones (unbreakable bricks that require a god’s help or lightning bolts) or collecting a minimum number of coins.
There are other kinds of challenges, too. One level type requires you to clear the board in a certain number of moves, while another is like a bonus round where just clicking groups of three or more tiles clears them, trying to rack up as much treasure as possible in 60 seconds. These add a nice change of pace to the standard match-three stylings here.
The challenge level is much-improved from the first game. No longer a cakewalk, there will be a few nail-biting moments later in the game. However, it never feels stressful or difficult; rather, it feels like a challenge to complete later levels on time.
At the end of each level, you’re graded on how much time it took to complete the level, how many tiles you destroyed, how many coins collected and such. The gold here is earned for building your beautiful city.
While you have little control over building Olympia – your hand is held most of the time as to what to do – you must keep three categories in balance: Food, Security and Culture. Building a gristmill will help your food rating, while building a coliseum will add to your cultural standing. While your town will rarely get low enough in any rating before you’re able to build something, it does add a sense of purpose to the progression.
Once you’ve built enough structures and collected a god’s amulet, you can play a unique mini-game, like a hidden object game or jigsaw puzzle. While not mandatory, these games reward you with wallpapers for your desktop.
While not stunning, the graphics in Heroes of Hellas 2 are a vast improvement over the first. Drawn in a hand-painted style, everything is clear, colorful and easy to see. The soundtrack has a Greek feel to it, at least most of the time. The music is a nice compliment to the action.
Finally, there are unlockable achievements, ranging from breaking a set number of tiles to completing a certain number of levels without the gods’ help. Though they interrupt the gameplay to change screens, illustrating your achievements in a temple, it does add some degree of replay.
This is wonderful, because otherwise, there is little replay value here. Upon completing the main quest, there isn’t much else to do. And with only one mode (the mini-games, though fun, aren’t worth repeating), that hurts the game overall.
However, the biggest problem lies in the saving system. When you quit, the game autosaves. However, upon loading, you are warned that, though your game was saved when you quit, unless you press continue now, you’ll have to start from the beginning. The two selection boxes are awfully close to one another, and there were enough close calls to be worrying. Why Jaibo Games needed to do it this way is unclear.
Nonetheless, Heroes of Hellas 2 is a highly-enjoyable, highly-polished match-three game. While not breaking any real new ground, Heroes of Hellas 2 improves on a number of flaws form the first game, and leaves enough room for improvement for a future installment in the series. You can bet we’ll be there with our spears on.