Part RPG, part match-3, and liberally dosed with unexpected sass and strategy, HeatPot Games' Hero Emblems for iOS is a fun and silly but also surprisingly clever spin on an increasingly crowded genre. When the princess is kidnapped by monsters, it's up to a band of four heroes to get her back, and then to save the ailing king, presumably while the entire rest of the kingdom's army sits around picking its nose or something. As you travel around the world map, you'll naturally have to contend with enemies through battles that play out like a high-stakes Bejeweled match. Each hero has a different token that, when matched, will activate their attack or ability, and your goal is to kill all your enemies before they reduce your hit points to zero. Matching the red tokens allows your priestess to heal you, for example, while the blue tokens will return a portion of your defense points (which reduce incoming damage), or cause your guardian to attack if they're full. Every time you swap tokens, it counts as a turn, and when the number of turns above each enemy's head reaches zero, they get to attack. Here's the kicker, though... while you can just make matches willy-nilly, you're not going to get combo bonuses to damage unlike, say, Puzzle Quest. Instead, there are certain match numbers and even a formation that yields powerful bonuses that you'll really need to create in order to take your foes down... especially the bosses! Match more than three tokens to create a super-powered token you can then combine for a stronger attack, for instance, or match five or more to create a massively powerful token that, when swapped with any other token, will unleash a strong spell or special ability from the corresponding hero. Toss in wrinkles like enemies being able to poison or lock tiles, and you have a game that's just smart enough to keep you on your toes, with a serious dollop of whimsical charm on top.
Hero Emblems, despite the colourful gem-swapping battle premise, is not Puzzle Quest. Though your heroes can level up, and you can purchase potions and new abilities for them, the game is largely a lot simpler than the title everyone is going to instinctively want to compare it to... and, in this case, that's a good thing! A large part of Hero Emblems' appeal is how vibrant, funny, and easy to pick up it is. The tutorial at the beginning will walk you through the few finer points, but it's hardly needed apart from telling you the way power-ups work. And yet despite that ease of use, Hero Emblems is far from mindless... your enemies are frequently much stronger than you, and you can only carry so many healing items into battle, so you really do need to think and plan your matches out to make the most of attacks, sometimes planning several moves in advance. Enemies can have special weaknesses, be impervious to certain types of damage, or just be powerhouses, and as you purchase more skills for your heroes to equip, you have to know how to use those skills properly in order to really win the bigger battles, especially when they have multiple waves.
The downside, however, is that Hero Emblems does still wind up feeling a little repetitive, especially when you're slogging through waves of identical enemies and random encounters. Battling is essentially the whole game, though the bits of dialogue that serve to tie the story together are largely light-hearted and funny in an endearing fashion, such as the unexpectedly greedy priestess, or the demon who insists he's actually very handsome for his species, thank you. It's the sort of game that puts a smile on your face and keeps you engaged without bogging you down with piles of extraneous elements and mechanics. It is, in a word, tidy, from its design to its gameplay, and in two words, very fun, and for another two, unexpectedly clever. Hero Emblems is colourful, fresh, strategic match-3 puzzle gameplay for just about anyone, and is perfect on the go, or lazing around in your favourite chair for hours on end.