Despite greatly enjoying digital trading card games, I hadn’t played SNK Vs Capcom: Card Fighter’s Clash before now. That’s not for lack of interest, it’s just that I hadn’t played any of the Neo Geo Pocket titles. And so, I’ve appreciated the chance to experience it for the first time now, on re-release on Nintendo Switch… but I also don’t think it is quite the timeless experience that the Game Boy Color’s Pokémon TCG is.
Before I get to that, though, the emulation quality of this game is pristine. Much like the other Neo Geo Pocket re-releases, the whole experience has been lovingly crafted to remain as authentic to the original experience as possible. As an added bonus, you can play both the SNK and Capcom versions of the game off the one download (that’s more than what Nintendo did with its Virtual Console re-releases of Pokémon games, and I was genuinely impressed by this). Whether you want to play with the clear pixelation that closely emulates the original Neo Geo Pocket Color screen, or you want to play a smoothed-over, more “modern,” version, this emulation has you covered, and I’ve got to say, having only played the fighting games from previous re-releases, it is nice to play something that isn’t a fighting game on this platform.
The problem is that Card Fighter is a little too limited for its own good. It’s not that it doesn’t look the part. In fact, the presentation is gorgeous and Card Fighters very much looks like another Pokémon TCG, right down to the cute sprites and the way the “world” is broken up into little zones. The game was released one year after the Pokémon TCG on Game Boy Color and I can guarantee that Nintendo’s project inspired SNK’s in a big way.
There are 300-odd cards to collect in these games, so the raw content isn’t the problem either. The issue is that the card game itself is too simple for its own good. Unlike Pokémon TCG, you don’t need resources to summon cards to the board. Rather, the cards themselves provide you with resources (SP points) when they are played, which you can then use for various special abilities. However, because each card only has one statistic (health and attack power are rolled into one rating – BP), there’s only so much that can be done with the secondary abilities and effects cards. So, while there are 300 cards, there’s only one real way to play and the game feels like it has a dozen or so different cards, at most.
About the only feature in the game where there’s complexity is deck building. Some characters can “support” other characters, boosting their one statistic considerably, rather than taking up one of the three available slots on the board. However, each character can only be boosted by a tiny few specific other characters, and so once you’ve got a fair collection of the cards you’ll be pouring through the library looking for the ideal combinations. It’s still not as complex as deck building in something like Magic: the Gathering, but it’s engaging enough.
The upshot to the simplicity of Card Fighters is that it’s very easy to learn, and matches are over quickly. If you’re in the mood for a short burst of quick-fire card play, then you can do a lot worse than this game. The downside is that there’s very little to really love about Card Fighters. It’s fun, and it’s light, but ultimately it’s like playing Snakes & Ladders or Risk when there are other games like Wingspan or the Civilization board game available. For beginners, you’ll be tempted to bust out the Risk board, but in the longer-term people will always “graduate” to superior games and then need to be in a really nostalgic mood to look back.
There’s also the issue of visual variety in the Card Fighters decks. The cards themselves are fairly nicely presented (given the hardware the developers were working with), but it’s all human characters in combat poses. Yes, they’re beloved characters from beloved properties, but it’s a limited range in comparison to something like Pokémon, with all its varied critters. We’re used to trading card games having gorgeous artwork as a matter of course. Card Fighters is colourful, but it does look plain by comparison, so you will hit a point where building decks of homogenised cards stops being the entertaining personalisation experience that is standard for the genre.
With all of that being said, I don’t think Card Fighters is bad by any means. It’s quite the joy to play, and it is by no means the only “retro” experience that displays limitations that become more apparent with age. For the modest price being asked of players with this Switch release, it’s a great opportunity for a hit of nostalgia. As I said at the top of the review, however, it’s not quite the timeless experience that its immediate peer is.
– Matt S.
Find me on Twitter: @mattsainsb