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.
The other big difference in this game is the addition of the colored force icons. When you get into battle you will immediately notice a box of five colored dots (grey, red, orange, blue and green). Each card requires a certain amount of these force icons in order to be played, if you don't have enough of a certain color then you'll have to play something else. You get icons in a couple of different ways, you can either throw away cards that will give you a colored icon, or you will get icons for every card you keep on the table from round to round. I can understand where the developers were going with this idea, in theory it should help balance out the hands and keep people from playing powerful cards at the beginning. But this new system has a funny way of making it a lot harder to play anything. There have been more than a few games where I couldn't play any of my cards because I only started with grey force icons. I could throw something away, but by the time I finally get enough colored icons to play something good the other player already had five cards attacking me.
Unfortunately these colored force icons are used for more than just setting down cards; you also need them if you want to use the card's special abilities. Herein likes one of my biggest problems, I would have enough colored icons to place a powerful card down and not have enough to use its full power. It's hard enough to get enough icons to keep adding new cards, let alone enough to power up your cards to get their full benefits. And for this reason I found that it almost didn't matter what abilities these cards had, because I would beat people without using them. The card abilities were one of the best parts of the original game, yet here they seem almost inconsequential. I see where SNK is going with the force icons, but they didn't figure out a way of turning it into something that added to the experience. Maybe if they tweaked the icons things would be better, but you and I both know that isn't going to happen any time soon.
Once you've gotten the hang of the card battling system and new gameplay you will have very little problem beating the various computer opponents. For the most part the computer characters are push-overs, you just need to get them to a point of vulnerability and then attack with everything you have. It's also worth mentioning that there are some bosses that won't even fight you unless you have a specific card, which means that you'll have to battle more regular characters and then buy packs of cards. It's all so repetitive, yet somehow it's not addictive at all.
One of the reasons that I got into SNK vs. Capcom: Card Fighters Clash back in the 1990s was because it featured characters I knew and loved. I grew up playing classic Capcom titles and have a fondness for old Neo Geo games. When it comes to cards this Nintendo DS version doesn't disappoint, there are some 400 cards you can collect, featuring characters from all sorts of old (and new) franchises. You'll see people from Street Fighter, The King of Fighters, Mega Man, Metal Slug, Resident Evil, Samurai Shodown, and so on so forth. Half of the fun of these types of games is seeing your favorite characters and finding out what abilities they have. Doing this isn't as much fun this time around, but there is a certain charm in finding Blanka or a Servebot in your deck.
One of the reasons I spent so many hours playing the Neo Geo Pocket Color version is because I absolutely wanted to collect all of the cards. Want to do that with this brand new version? Well, unfortunately at this moment you can't. Due to a game ending bug, you will not actually be able to win all of the cards, which makes trying to get to 100% completely useless. The good news is that SNK is planning on fixing the problem and replacing the broken version ... but chances are this will happen after you've already started playing the game and all of your progress will be lost forever. This is just another problem with what should have been the best card-combat game of the year.
In fact, this game has so many major problems associated with it that it's easy to overlook a lot of the smaller issues. When you see how the additions change the gameplay you probably won't care that there's almost no animation and the battles all look exactly the same. When you get to that game ending bug you probably won't care that the music is annoying and that each of the characters talk too much. At the end of the day the small stuff just won't matter, you'll be too upset about the stuff they changed that didn't need to be improved.
Even the touch screen gameplay doesn't feel quite right. Changing cards can be somewhat difficult due to the tiny size of the individual cards, and it's easy to accidentally do the wrong thing by holding the card too long. If you can get the control down you shouldn't have trouble placing cards and keeping things under control, but there are a lot of little problems that bring the control scheme down. Worse yes is the upper screen, which is mostly used to tell you what each card is. In theory that sounds great, but you'll find that not all of the important information is on one page, so you'll be constantly using the shoulder buttons to cycle through page after page of information. At this point it just feels like I'm piling on this game, but in truth it really is that aggravating. The fact that this game can't even get the easy stuff right should give you a clear understanding why the entire experience is flawed.
When you get tired of battling the ridiculously easy computer players then you can always take your friends on at a one on one battle. This is what I've been waiting to do for eight years. Of course all of this is almost completely useless due to the broken card battling mechanic. If trading cards is more your thing you can do that as well, but since you can't reach 100% (and it's no fun to use these cards) one has to wonder what the point is. To top it all off there's no online mode in this update, something that might have made the game a bit better.
SNK vs. Capcom: Card Fighters DS is the type of game I really want to love. I have a huge soft spot for both Capcom and SNK, and the idea of using the Nintendo DS to play this card game sounds perfect. But this game is far from perfect, from the gameplay to the graphics to the sound to the story, this game is one problem after another. I'm horrified at what SNK has done with one of my favorite video games of all time, and this game truly is the biggest disappointing of 2007. With the pedigree of the original behind it you might think this is a safe purchase, but don't be fooled ... SNK vs. Capcom: Card Fighters DS is a flawed experience from beginning to end.
What do you get when you take one of the best portable card games of all time and resurrect it for the Nintendo DS? If you're SNK vs. Capcom: Card Fighters DS then you get one of the most disappointing games in recent history. Between the bad graphics, broken gameplay and game ending bug, this update only harms the franchise. Avoid this game at all cost!