Review: Card Quest09 Jul 2018 2
Review: Card Quest
Released 25 Mar 2018
Card games are definitely having their moment right now. It seems like you can't kick an app store link without hitting a new take on questing with cards. With dozens of new card games, whether collectible, living, or just deckbuilding out there, it would be easy to let something as generic-sounding as Card Quest slip by.
Don't. This is a great roguish dungeon-crawler, that is elevated by its card mechanics and perfectly suited for mobile play without sacrificing any complexity.
First, the retro-RPG aesthetic hit me right in the nostalgia bone, especially the dope chrome text effect. Totally '90s! The sprites are distinct, detailed, and cool, although it’s disappointing there's no real animation to any of them. The enemies will bounce up and down slightly when they are getting ready to attack, and attacks only mean sliding forward threateningly. However, it is understandable individual animations were left out considering the sheer number of different enemies (maybe hundreds) you can face in the game, and each enemy frequently has more than one variation in their sprites.
But it's not just the old-school RPG style that Card Quest lifted. It takes the classic dungeon-crawler rules and flips them with a card combat and deckbuilding mechanic that only deepens the strategy. The game it reminds me the most of is actually last years’ best PC game and mobile-most-wanted-title Into the Breach. Both games give you a limited set of tools and a difficult-to-impossible situation to work your way out of.
Your decks are combined from cards associated with your gear and fighting style. Attack cards come mostly from your weapon choice, special tactics and abilities from your style, etc. This strikes the perfect balance between being able to customize your tactics but not being overwhelmed by filling a deck with individual cards.
The cards put a great twist on what might otherwise be very classic RPG fighting by limiting your options each turn. In combat, you're constantly considering how best to manage each wave of attacks given the cards you have on hand. Stamina and one other class-specific pool limit how much you can do each turn, but plenty of cards will recharge these counters and/or get you new cards. Cards also chain together (and some cards act as chainbreakers) in ways that alter their costs and effects, so you also need to consider what order to play. Then, each one of the dozens and dozens of enemies has its own abilities that cause individual problems. One might be immune to stunning, or able to dodge, or too distant. They might affect the opponents near them, or spawn new enemies. That doesn't even include the magical effects you'll encounter that are as varied as any typical RPG.
You need to stun, weaken, block or dodge every attack to last long. The tutorial levels will drill this into your head by always challenging you to avoid taking any damage to pass the level. These puzzle-like lessons can become irritating in their difficulty, but the rewards in knowledge and a bit of bonus gear are worth it.
I loved how defense-focused the combat was, which was such a refreshing change of pace from your typical RPG battle. Normally, you've got two massively powerful bruisers chucking flashy, thousand-hitpoint attacks at one another until one of them succumbs to zero-HP disease and crumples (or something like that). Even when we're talking about fantasy fights, that style seems a bit unrealistic - when you actually have two people throwing everything they've got into each others' bodies you end up with something closer to this very NSFW fight between Dan Dority and the Captain on HBO's Deadwood.
In Card Quest, dancing around, dodging and redirecting attacks just feels cooler and actually more cinematic, even when the game's animation is so painfully limited. You can just imagine your cool-cucumber rogue throwing thugs around, tossing dirt in the big lugs' eyes and redirecting sword thrusts into his opponents' throats.
Quests are divided into multiple stages, with branching decision trees that let you choose where you want to venture into next and what kind of enemies you want to face, but always culminating in a final boss fight. Each stage will have many separate battles that are procedurally determined, so while you have some idea of what might be coming next, each foe is a potential deadly surprise. Stages also finish with a sub-boss battle that really pushes your skills to the limit.
In addition to the procedural elements to the quests, Card Quest features permadeath, making this a bit roguish. A lot is riding on each fight, because failure means trying again - albeit with the gear you've found. Repeating earlier acts isn’t boring because the random elements in cards and opponents mean you still need to put some careful thought into how, exactly, you are going to wipe the floor with that pack of goblins, lest they slip in a single poke that will put you at a disadvantage later on down the line.
Instead of just getting more powerful cards as you advance in levels, you get cards that behave very differently. A new attack style might require totally different tactics. For a fighter, the barbarian gains strength by taking small hits, while the swordsman can enter a defensive stance that blocks all of them. A new sword might be more powerful but more expensive in stamina, or it might hit harder in a chain, requiring you to plan ahead. The additional options from new gear give you a better chance to survive, but only if you're smart about how you use them.
Every element of Card Quest shows that real thought and craft went into its creation. There is nothing wrong with this game at all. Card Quest is a genuinely great game that happens to work very well on mobile, no compromises required.