Written by Dark Side
|That’s animu alright.|
Back during the years where SNK was something a somewhat sizable audience still cared about, they did a lot of work with Capcom to help make crossover games. One of the sub-series was the SNK Vs Capcom: Card Fighters line, where you play a card game based around SNK and Capcom characters. It stuck on the Neo Geo Pocket Color for two games in 1999 and 2001, eventually disappearing for five years. In 2006, a new entry in the series was made for the DS …and the results were a bit on the iffy side. To date, I have beat this game a total of three times, counting both the regular campaign and the after campaign together as one time beaten. That’s insane, because this is not necessarily a short game. It’s also one exploding with flaws and issues. Yet I’ve beat it three times total. It’s doing something right, the question is what.
The story is a pretty simple and stock one for the genre. A red-headed kid named Taiki wants to be “TEH GRAETAST CARD FIGHTER EVAR1!!1!” and is going to a tournament to do so, run by a powerful computer called MAX. Along for the ride is his rival Kaito and useless female-character-who-does-nothing-but-minor-exposition Rico and then things go wrong. MAX goes Skynet on the tournament players and brainwashes everyone but Taiki and his friends, leading to them having to stop the AI by, what else, card battles! It even snaps people out of brainwashing! This isn’t exactly War & Peace here, but the English translation has an unexpected amount of charm to it.
|“These ars skulls of my siblings. Their flesh was too mild.”|
See, the translation here is not what you would call good by any stretch of the imagination. Characters spout unfitting pop culture references and outdated catch phrases randomly, there’s bizarre 80s and 90s slang, errors in word placement pop up randomly, multiple exclamation points are used for no reason, and ect. You can tell that the translation team were really uninterested with the material they were given, and I can’t blame them. So, like many early 90s anime translations, they fucked around with it a bit, hanging lampshades and poking fun at the childish, trite garbage they were given. The story is still uninteresting, but now there’s the occasional moment of baffling incompetence mixed in that instantly engages. It’s almost a work of art with how purposely bad the translation is.
The game itself is actually quite fun. The goal is to climb a tower by beating the card fighters on each floor, with branching paths between the gold Capcom doors and silver SNK doors. Some floors have fighters looking to trade cards, and others allow you to purchase packs with money you’ve earned and try to increase the power of your deck with new cards. It’s a really simple set-up, but it works. During the first campaign, there are some bosses towards the final floors that require you face several card fighters in succession, no save breaks, and not lose once. During the second, things are much more lax and you can go at your own pace while trying to get special packs that hold rare cards.
|Now this is card fighting!|
Once you get a challenge with a card fighter, you have one last chance to edit your deck before the match, then a dice roll decides who picks the person who gets the first attack. Your deck is mostly character cards that require energy saved in a little energy pool to be brought into the ring. At the beginning of your turn, you get one white energy and colored energy from the character cards you have in play, and you can discard cards from your hands to get more energy. There should also be a much smaller amount of action and counter cards. Action cards can be played with a certain amount of energy with various effects, from healing, stat boosts and direct damage. Counters work the same way, but only during your opponent’s attack phase.
The goal is to directly attack your opponent and wipe out their life points (usually 2000 and 3000 for major bosses), while they can defend with the active characters in their ring (characters that didn’t attack or do an action in the last turn). Each character has their own health and attack stat to decide what they can take and what they can dish out, and many also have added abilities that can be activated with energy. There’s also fusion attacks, dual attacks that can be done with two cards of the same color type, that combine attack power, only have the lead card take damage and can dish out extra damage directly if the attack is greater than the defending character’s current health, helping move along stagnating games with lots of defense.
|That is some expensive underwear.|
It’s a really simple game to get into. Unlike most card games, SNK decided to keep things simple. The various abilities are all relatively simple and aren’t meant to be the corner stone of a deck’s strategy. Instead, the flow of the match is like a boxing match; players trade blows and try to figure out the best times to be defensive and the best times to be offensive, either choosing to store up power or unleash as much damage as fast as possible for a quick victory. Energy is also pretty easy to collect as well but not easy enough to make summoning high energy characters easy. There’s a good balance in the mechanics …for the most part. There’s a few little things that make the game feel rather unbalanced, and it’s partly due to the coding.
The first major issue is that eight out of ten times, the player with the first attack will gain a massive advantage over the other. If your deck is properly built, it’s not hard to get a lot of high attack characters in the ring quickly during that first turn. It’s not game-breaking, but it is a noticeable problem. The bigger issue is the AI, as in most the characters are dumb as dirt. Even some of the bosses make some really stupid plays from time to time, like attacking when it means instant death next turn or using fusion attacks when there’s no active defending cards in the ring. It’s almost amateur, but the worst issue comes when the game goes screwy or gives misinformation. See, the translation occasionally becomes a problem in the actual card battles, since the wording of some abilities can give you the wrong idea on how a few cards can work. it’s thankfully not a constant issue, but there is a larger issue where the game will occasionally stack your opening hand with action and counter cards. In such a fast moving game, this can nearly be a death sentence at times, and this stacking issue occurred roughly one out of twenty times or so. Saving in this game is an absolute must, just because of that obnoxious bug.
|Smiles before pain? Total masochist.|
While I’m on the topic of bugs, there’s something you need to know before you think of tracking this game down. There are two versions of the game, one with a colored sticker and one where the background has no color. You want the no color copy, because these are the game breaking free versions. The first releases of the game had a game that made it impossible to continue during the second campaign, causing massive critical backlash, and I was lucky to have found the colorless version before I even knew this bug was a thing.
One other issue is that there’s a lot of needless prolonging. The game tries to pat itself out a lot with two twins named Takumi and Yui. They pop up in the SNK and Capcom floors respectfully at certain points, not letting you pass until you bring them certain cards. If you never got said cards, tough luck, time for grinding money and buying packs! It’s very annoying and took up nearly 70% of my playtime during the first time I played the game. While you can usually find certain cards on nearby trading floors, that also brings up the issue of still needing certain cards to properly trade. The last time around through, oh boy. I managed to get lucky my third time and already had all the cards I needed. First time …err. Also, switch between the Capcom and SNK floors every time you find a card shop floor. Trust me, it makes these parts much easier when you’re not restricted to just cards from one company.
|Tron is just getting lazy now.|
Along with the single player campaigns and the tons of rare cards you can earn by beating important characters over and over, there’s some multiplayer included as well. It functions similar to an area called the Vegas floor where you can bet cards, packs and money. If you ever find two copies and give one to a friend, consider trying out this feature and going up against someone with human intelligence for a change. Shame the game didn’t catch on to get that multiplayer some real use, because it’s a pretty good system.
That leaves art and music, and the music sounds like it came from the Megaman Battle Network series but somehow became less interesting. It’s really hard to have any strong feelings about it, one way or the other. The art style is a bit better, but the regular characters all have some really cheap kid’s anime look to them, complete with some batshit nuts hairstyles. The cards themselves, however, benefit from much better art and some exclusive art from other artists in the rare cards. The menus and ring are easy to sort through (especially with the touch screen) and the attack animations are all flashy and satisfying. The only exception is the water based one, which is a tad long.
SNK Vs Capcom: Card Fighters DS is not a very impressive game. There are bugs weaved in, a story not worth caring about and a real lack of polish. However, all these flaws give it a weird sense of personality that I’ve found lacking from a lot of games. I like all the rough edges and bad translations, they’re more amusing than frustrating. This isn’t a game we really see anymore outside flash gaming and some really indie releases, and I find that refreshing. The mechanics themselves for the main part of the game manage to be plenty fun, really making up for some of the weaker parts. On the whole, this odd patchwork of a game manages to be pretty fun and surprisingly memorable. So yeah, despite all my bitching, I really enjoyed myself with this title. It’s a rare gem, just one blasted with dirt and grime.