Know when to hold 'em. Know when to run.
"Damn, I'll prove I'm man enough!"
"You will never beat me! Har, har... Max... har."
"Ugh... he's been brainwashed, too. There is but one solution. It's card battle time!!!"
[image1]That's right, digital cardboard now determines both manliness and sanity.
Each time before entering a card battle in SNK vs. Capcom: Card Fighters DS, I had the privilege of scrolling through one of the hackneyed variations of the above lines of "dialogue" just to remind me that my pride, nay, my very status as a man, was on the line - and that crushing the egos of my teenage opponents was the only way to save them from their red-eyed hormonal angst.
It doesn't matter that I am playing as Taiki, a wide-eyed, orange-haired, innocent lad, who must climb the Card Tower cleansing its inhabitants of their demonic possession by the sinister computer Max. The notion that I can dispel card-rage trances with the "effects" of yet another card battle is only made sillier by the idea that beating my opponents is as beneficial to me as it is to them.
I'm officially a bully.
Unfortunately, I know where this comes from and where this all-encompassing belief that mere pictures with accompanying blocks of text would make me belong in a group of elite warriors, armed with deadly card combinations and shielded by glossy deck protectors. I harbor a deep and terrifying secret known only to a select few... I used to play Magic: The Gathering and Pokemon in card form. I know you are laughing, or fainting, or shuddering with painful understanding, but this sequel to the cult favorite SNK vs. Capcom: Card Fighter's Clash for the NeoGeo Pocket Color [Editor's Note: That's one small cult.] brought back all those deck-filled memories, for better and worse. Mostly worse.
Opening the contents of SNK vs. Capcom: Card Fighters DS is like opening a common booster pack. Slapped between a couple of useful cards is a handful of crappy ones. Sometimes finding that one particular card after shuffling through several dozens packs makes people giddy enough to forget about their mostly wasted purchase - and the game makes sure to emulate that.
[image2]Yes, entering an imaginary card store, buying five-card packs, and unsealing them by swiping the stylus across their tops like a pair of scissors happens a lot. Several (annoying) side quests require finding a list of cards and wasting those hard-earned CP points just to open unwanted packs, since unlike the real-world card stores, individual cards are not for sale. So using the beta tester within me, I cheated the system by resetting the game until “finding” the right cards. It’s not an honorable approach, but I was not in an honorable mood.
Fortunately, the card game itself isn't crap, sometimes rivaling the engrossing play that makes the Magic and Pokemon card games such a (guilty) pleasure. As any SNK vs. Capcom spin-off should, winning revolves around the fighters we all know and love. So I took care not to misuse them, by way of a lack of attention - or just plain stupidity.
Once a die roll determined who went first, I anxiously slid the top six cards off my deck and flitted from card to card for those that didn't cost much Force to play. With only three white Force orbs to start, I could discard a few cards for additional Force, but it's not a resource to be treated lightly. Not having enough powerful characters to play is as dangerous as not having the right amount and type of Force to play them in the first place. Most fighters have 500 BP, so letting merely four of my opponent's characters slip by undefended could easily mean the end of my measly 2000 life points. Midway through the battle, I stare at my "Ryu (SSF2 version)" card, an equally offensive and defensive fighter with 700 BP and 700 HP, and settle my thoughts. [Obi-Wan, did you follow all that? ~Ed]
Should I wait to play my favorite card until my next turn, after gaining extra Force from the characters I already on the field? What would I have to sacrifice to make up for the two white and two green orbs I need to play it now? I can let go of a few extra Action and Counter cards whose effects won’t help me counter anything right now. But I’m going to have to throw away my only "Iori Yagami" in my deck. His "Instant Death" special ability might win me the game if I time it right. [Oh man, we might need Yoda for this. ~Ed]
Can I take the risk? I only have 900 life points left, and my opponent has two fighters more than I do. All of his characters have high BP but low HP. I can only defend one character against one of his, so at worst, I won’t last two turns if I'm blitzed by all of them more than once. Darn, I hope Iori doesn't come back from the grave to slaughter me. [Screw it, I'm going to the Dark Side. ~Ed]
Engrossing play like this definitely occurs in this game… rarely. Opponents usually play ultra-defensively and, apart from a spare few boss encounters near the end, don’t put up fights that warrant a lot of strategic maneuvering. A deck chock full of low-cost, high-powered cards bulldozes most enemy resistance. In fact, the default deck without any alteration will last until a-third up the tower. Some of this is due to the lack of synergy between cards that ruins any idea on creating a deck themed around a wicked card combination – or most any idea that doesn’t involve complete Character Card domination (read: pwnage).
[image3]But most of this comes from sheer misunderstanding of the rules – and none of the blame can be placed on the player. Despite my knowledge of Magic: The Gathering, never did I think that colored orbs could substitute for white (colorless?) Force orbs. Nor is it explained at what moment a fighter’s special ability is activated.
So after reading what I thought was a thorough tutorial, I began to investigate, giving notice to the small geometric shape in the upper left-hand corner of a card. With extensive in-the-field research, I discovered that a triangle defined a special ability that activates as the card comes into play, a square defined one that was permanent, and a circle defined one that was constantly active. Not exactly obvious, or at least I don't remember that from geometry class. And after such tedious research, I realized that I shouldn’t have to turn into a scientist with a Masters in Cardology to understand the basic rules of the game.
By no stretch of the imagination, words are important, right? Especially for a card game which relies on carefully worded text, yet with some bizarre lack of effort, the quality of the localization cuts close to the infamous “All Your Base” translation. Wizards of the Coast, the industry giant that parents of card-loving kids frequently despise, takes extreme care to phrase Magic and Pokemon cards correctly. And even then, there is a supplementary resource completely dedicated to clarifications and errata. So how SNK Playmore thought this mess of letters would be acceptable is incomprehensible:
“Unfreezes all unfrozen characters but this one frozen in your Ring.” (Special ability of SNK “Kyosuke” Card)
- Err… what? How do you unfreeze an unfrozen character? Is it defrosted?
“After choosing 1 Character card, the die rolls and you get 100 times the number rolled restored to your HP.” (Effect of “Pathetic Puppet Show” Action Card)
[image4]- What does die-rolling have to do with choosing a character? What happens to the character afterwards?
“Choose and discard 2 cards from your Hand and then discard them.” (Ability of SNK “King” Card)
- Somebody please just set us up the bomb.
The lack of effort is so overwhelming, it appears everywhere. Graphical sprites are reused often. Don’t be surprised to find that same shy girl in a dress, that well-dressed German foreigner, or that fatso with a headband appear three floors later, except with different colored accessories (Oh, so fab). Sorting through cards also isn’t easy, as they are organized between SNK, Capcom, Action, and Counter cards. Since sorting by Force cost, BP, HP, and rarity are not available, finding a specific card means having to become a resident expert on brand characters. Anyone know where Goro Daimon, Hibiki Takane, Mai-Ling, and Ton Pooh belong?
Worst of all, there is a game-freezing glitch that occurs in "New Game +", which effectively makes it impossible to collect every card in the game or even to get to the "true" ending. Assuredly, a courteous replacement program is now in effect and can be found on their company website. Still, a simple test should have caught the glitch in the first place. You know... like playing the whole game through... once.
SNK vs. Capcom: Card Fighters DS takes everything I remember about playing tradable card games, highlights the bad parts, and then breaks. It makes me wish I was actually one of the card characters - say, Chun-Li - just so I go to the SNK Playmore offices, sprint up floor by floor, slap the brainwashed programmers back to their senses, and finally spinning-bird-kick the president into card-sized bits - just as I would a car for bonus points. Because having to suffer something like this, something that could have been unbelievably awesome with some attention to fundamentals, throws me off my fictitious menstrual cycle.
"Huh? What? Where am I?"
"You were brainwashed. This is the Card Tower."
"Oh, thank you! How can I ever repay you?"
"No need. We're card battlers. Just duel me whenever I ask, okay?"
Yeah, with this game, I'm now man enough to accept essentially nothing in return.
I think I'm sane now...