When it was released on the Neo Geo Pocket Color, SNK vs. Capcom: Card Fighters Clash quickly became one of my favorite games. I have never been a fan of Pokemon or Magic: The Gathering, so I was bowled over by the fact that I could love a card collecting game so much. But I loved it, I played that game hundreds (if not thousands) of hours trying to collect every card and sport the ultimate playing deck. It's important to understand this brief bit of history before reading my review, because SNK's newest DS version of the series left me with one question: What the heck happened to Card Fighters Clash?
This is SNK vs. Capcom: Card Fighters DS, the first game in the franchise since the 2001 sequel that was only released in Japan. When SNK announced this title I couldn't have been more pleased, the Nintendo DS felt like the perfect choice for the franchise's resurrection. For one thing, the touch screen seemed like an interesting (and easy) way of controlling the action; it seemed like it would be a natural way to play the game. On a more selfish note, I was happy that it was coming to the Nintendo DS because it's one of those systems that a lot of people own (and isn't going away any time soon). For the last seven years I have been trying to find people to play the original version with, but tracking down Neo Geo Pocket Color owners is harder than finding where Jimmy Hoffa is buried.
But this is not the Card Fighters Clash I fell in love with all those years ago. This is something ugly, boring and practically unplayable. Instead of porting the easy to learn, hard to master-formula that made the 1999 game so great, SNK decided to reinvent the series with disastrous results. This is not the same great game you might remember from the 20th century; this is a sequel that plays by a different set of rules and, in some ways, make this product feel completely broken. What did they do to my beloved Card Fighters?
In SNK vs. Capcom: Card Fighters DS you play a young card fighter who must work his way through a giant tower level by level battling other collectors and boss characters. There's a story here about brainwashed card fighters and a sinister computer, but it's only there to give you a reason to go up and play other people. In short, you have to go up to these brainwashed characters and beat them at a game of Card Fighters, which will (for whatever reason) return them to normal. Do this with everybody in the level and you can move on to the next level, all the way up to level 21. The good news is that there are plenty of brainwashed card fighters out there ready to take you on, the bad news is that you're doing the same thing over and over and over again.
Of course, the monotony of battling these computer-controlled players wouldn't be so bad if the actual card battling mechanic was stronger. The card fighting gameplay remains simple, but they've decided to complicate things a bit by allowing you to use more cards and deal with crazy (and annoying) colored force icons. For the most part the battles look and feel like they did almost a decade ago; each player takes turns placing cards on the table (each with different health, hit points and special abilities) and then playing them. Once you use a card to attack the defending player has the opportunity to use any playable card on the table to shield himself from the attack, however if you don't have enough cards to thwart the attack a bit of the player's overall health will be depleted. When a player's overall health reaches zero they lose, it's that simple. What's nice is that it only takes a few matches to understand how all of this works, for the most part every aspect of this game is easy to understand and completely straightforward.
Where Card Fighters DS falls apart is in the new stuff it adds to the formula. In the 1999 original, gamers laid down three different cards on the table, something that was easy to comprehend and kept the action balanced. In this DS game you have the ability to place eight cards on the table, which can mean that somebody with a lot of luck they can load up the board before the other person has a chance to defend and easily win. This wouldn't have been such a major problem had SNK found a way of balancing out the action a little, but Card Fighter DS emphasizes luck over real skill.
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