For a small die-hard section of the video game fan base, the Neo Geo Pocket was a special piece of hardware. Yes, its varied library offered some of the best portable fighting games ever made, a couple memorable sports games, and even a few solid puzzle titles. However, there’s one reason to own the Pocket: Card Fighters.
Call it the little game that could, Card Fighters Clash was a simple, engrossing, intuitive experience which would suck hours of a player's life before they realized the real world was catching up to them. The DS sequel, actually the third game in the series, doesn’t have the same addictiveness.
Part of that comes from the ridiculous story that fails to connect with either of the previous Card Fighters. While those would follow a young kid wandering around town to tournaments and playing against friends to earn new cards, this DS rendition places the fate of the known world on the cards. It’s a monumental step back from the casual tone fans are used to, and a number of hilariously awful translation issues only add to that.
No longer is the interface a free-roaming city. Instead, everything takes place in a 21-floor tower that must be conquered one level at a time. A point and click movement system is frustratingly limited, eliminating the chance to find little special treats in the game world as in prior Card Fighters.
Actual card-based gameplay maintains the familiar style with some tweaks. A new color system prevents players from sending in a powerhouse card from the start. Players are now forced to build up the specific colors required to place the character into the ring depending on their requirements. The strength of the cards is separate from their attack damage, requiring significant changes to strategy if you found yourself hooked on the older editions.
The goal remains the same, though. Each player is given a number of hit points, generally either 2,000 or 3,000, and must use attacks wisely to take that number down to zero. Preventing that from happening are cards based on SNK and Capcom characters. These are both mainstream (Resident Evil, Metal Slug) and obscure (Red Earth, Last Blade). Each has a specific attack power that can be defended against with another card. If a defensive card isn’t picked or is unavailable, the attack goes through the player, sapping their HP.
Certain problems remain, the most notable being a player who goes first can immediately land damage against an opponent who is defenseless to stop it. Letting each player select at least one active card before any moves are made would have been the balance booster this game needed. Computer AI is ridiculously stupid at times, and you can always count on it to ignore any opening. It doesn’t have the ability to crunch basic numbers that would lead to its victory. A number of irritating fetch quests also push this one downhill.
The touch screen plays only a small role. The actual battle interface is too cramped to make the stylus useful, so it’s negated to scratching off special bonus cards or opening packs. You can also use it to move the main character, though it’s no more effective than using the D-pad.
Card Fighters DS is a monumental disappointment. It’s utterly amazing how SNK managed to not only not fix core issues with the basics of the game, they added to them in the process. It’s still a very playable card battle game in the world of Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh, but also a completely lost opportunity to bring back memories of the Neo Geo Pocket.
Note: Due to a game-stopping glitch, the game has been recalled and re-released. To ensure you have a working copy, check the label on the cartridge. The background character collage will be in black and white on the fixed copies. This review was held until a replacement cartridge was received, and is based on the fixed version.
Card Fighters DS is ridiculously rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Partial Nudity.