Review: Card Crusade11 Mar 2019 0
Review: Card Crusade
Released 06 Dec 2018
Playing Card Crusade made this reviewer crave pizza...because it called to mind a shared truism between the two. You know what they say about pizza, when it’s good, it’s great, when it’s ‘meh’ it’s still pretty good. Well the same goes for roguelikes, a crowded yet beloved genre for pretty much the same reason. Few of them will reach the heights of, say, Dream Quest or Slay the Spire, but that doesn’t mean the also-rans of the genre aren’t any good.
It does mean that their fun and inventiveness are relatively limited. Card Crusade is satisfying to play but also suffers from some mediocrities. It’s quick and light and the development cycle shows future promise, but as-is needs a skosh more variety and challenge to stand on its own merits. Criticism aside, I couldn’t put it down.
The setup: a tale as old as time, an adventurer travels ever-deeper into a ten-level dungeon to face a final boss. The map in Card Crusade is almost entirely cosmetic, with a simple tap sending the player character scurrying to that precise spot. Tap to open doors and treasure and wander too close to draw aggro of the hostile mobs, which will hound you down once provoked. Battles ensue, with a turn-based, energy-limited card system.
It’s standard fare, with block, energy and health resources working just as you’d expect, along with a pretty nice suite of status effects to spice things up. Each piece of equipment you pick up adds a card to your deck, which starts off trim but needs to bulk up quickly in order to power through the scaling difficulties of the lower levels. Early mobs of packs of dogs or swarms of horseflies are child’s play to clear, but later on Witches and Eyeball Monsters (I guess they can’t call them Beholders?) will present a stiff challenge.
Each room with an enemy also contains a chest, which presents one of two possible new cards. While there are unique classes with abilities and a class-specific starting card, the rest of the possible card pool is totally open. Anyone can use poison, magic, a crossbow, a ‘metallicize’ defense. So in terms of deck-building the game is rather generous and free-form, which gives it a relaxed, sandbox quality. I love this, because it means that failed runs happen because of choices along the way rather than loot. The downside is repeat runs feel samey.
Battles have an unusual tempo to them. Of course it’s always best to clear the field as soon as possible, but the game usually proceeds in bursts of activity, with some turns devoted to healing and survival while others see play of an especially strong card to eliminate a key foe. Here Card Crusade breaks with longstanding roguelike tradition and does not offer full healing upon level-up or floor clear, which means damage suffered becomes persistent. This is one of the game’s smartest choices, adding a sense of pressure while simultaneously rewarding clean strategy and play. It unfortunately also weights defensive builds more positively and taxes health-sacrificing ones further.
The enemies have a little more variety to their abilities and effects. Some multiply and fill the field, others passively buff themselves until they hit like a truck. Their move sets are all made available right from the get-go, making planning a must for efficient clears. Aside from battling and choosing loot, the game offers nothing else, so its appeal lives or dies on the merits of these alone. The battles aren’t especially difficult, but the enemy variety is nice and refreshing, and the health margins for making it to the final boss are surprisingly slim. If the game feels relaxing or ‘easy’ this is a side-effect of its deliberately generous, low-variance design.
It also has some nice flourishes to differentiate repeat plays. Yes, the classes all work differently, but there are also Shrines which offer an optional benefit and drawback. (The closest analogue I can think of would be the excellent Desktop Dungeon’s shrine & faith system). They might boost poison, healing, burning or health, but the shrines always take a toll. The exchange is mostly fair, well-balanced and most importantly of all, well-advertised.
That’s probably the most just assessment of the game as a whole, honestly: fair and as-advertised. It might get quickly solved if you’ve already blazed through Dream Quest, Meteorfall, Night of the Full Moon, Slay the Spire, and every other card battler out there, but it’s still got enough meat on its bones to be worth the price of admission. Diverting, a fun time-sink whose future updates will hopefully add more cards and classes, maybe even a hard mode for those of us ready for a bigger challenge. It is undoubtedly good reliable fun, but this rush is half-nostalgia and half-quality. Here’s hoping the game continues to improve and enrich itself.