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Yu-Gi-Oh! DUEL LINKS’ RUSH DUEL format is a new dawn for duelists

The new Yu-Gi-Oh! DUEL LINKS RUSH DUEL format introduces a new way to play, with a heavy emphasis on momentum and summoning as many monsters as you can.

Header for Yu-Gi-Oh! Rush Duel preview with Yuga and Atem pointing cards at the sky

Following six years of expansions and additions, a fresh way to play is arriving thanks to the upcoming Yu-Gi-Oh! DUEL LINKS RUSH DUEL update, with cards you’ve never seen before, rules that turn the game on its head, and a whole new roster of anime characters to learn and level up. If you think you know everything there is to know about Yu-Gi-Oh!, it’s time to think again. Oh, and it’s time to duel. It’s always time to duel.

For a little context, the Yu-Gi-Oh! RUSH DUEL TCG format first emerged in Japan in 2020 and has become increasingly popular with old-school duelists and fledgling summoners alike. However, all we’ve seen of it so far in the West is the Switch title ‘RUSH DUEL: Dawn of the Battle Royale!!’, so this in-game update looks to serve as the introduction of the format for most of us in the U.S. or Europe. Fortunately, we were lucky enough to get an invite to try out the RUSH DUEL format early, including a few duels with the fresh decks arriving with the update.

Unlike DUEL LINKS, which Konami launched using iconic anime characters such as Yugi, Joey, and Kaiba, RUSH DUEL has to do some heavy lifting by introducing a lesser-known set of characters to fans. This new cast is from the Yu-Gi-Oh! Sevens anime series, which, while available in the U.S. and Europe, isn’t as well known as the first couple of anime series from the franchise. For nostalgia fans like myself, this means getting to know a new core group. Fortunately, they’re a charming lot.

Yuga Ohdo is the Yugi Moto equivalent here, an elementary-school-aged kid with a penchant for invention and a solid group of pals in characters like Luke, Gavin, and Romin. Canonically, RUSH DUEL is actually Yuga’s invention, with the plucky boy wonder creating the new format to combat the rigidity of the Goha corporation’s stranglehold of dueling as we know it best. Goha, before you ask, is the equivalent of Kaiba Corp in the RUSH DUEL world, with the corporation playing a key role in the anime series and Yuga’s desire to become King of Duels.

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Yuga arrives in the world of DUEL LINKS perplexed by the new digital world, but decides to do what he does best in the face of challenging situations; he decides to play some card games. Much of the dueling world is the same as you know it from DUEL LINKS, except for Goha iconography replacing Kaiba Corp’s overbearing presence. Otherwise, the regular duelists, legendary duelists, and even the vagabond are all ready to face off in a new format, while the card trader sticks around to offer rarities from a fresh catalog.

With over 150 million downloads, it’s no surprise to see the RUSH DUEL update stick with so much of what we know and love about DUEL LINKS. However, once you hit that ‘duel’ button and get into the fray, that’s when you realize how different things are. The cards don’t look the same, sure, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

The most noticeable difference in gameplay between classic DUEL LINKS rules and RUSH DUEL gameplay is that the latter rewards you for playing as many cards as possible. Unlike the Speed Duels format, where you simply draw one card per turn no matter your hand size, RUSH DUEL starts every turn by boosting your hand back up to five cards.

Screenshot of dueling action for Yu-Gi-Oh! DUEL LINKS RUSH DUEL preview

This change almost entirely removes the temptation to surrender with the constant possibility of a momentum shift between turns, meaning all your games are more likely to come to a satisfying conclusion whether you win or lose. In one of my games, I thought doom was inevitable, and it made it all the sweeter when I picked up four cards that could turn the odds back in my favor.

The second big change is that in RUSH DUEL, there’s no limit to the number of normal and tribute summons per turn. For those who don’t know, this is a gargantuan change to Yu-Gi-Oh! game design and one that takes a little while to get used to. Still, when you adjust, it feels great.

Those who grew up with the game probably played this way when they were younger, before they knew all the rules and copied what they saw in the anime series. The first of which was infamous for how it essentially bypassed the rules of a card game still coming together. RUSH DUEL is fast, occasionally loose, and you can get out ace monsters on a first turn without lucking into a convoluted special summon combo.

Yuga talking to Luciden, also known as Luke, for Yu-Gi-Oh! DUEL LINKS RUSH DUEL preview

To offset the fact that you’re drawing more than ever before, RUSH DUEL ups the number of cards in a deck from 20 to 30 while also increasing life points from 4,000 to 6,000. This is another example of excellent game design from the team at Konami, as it creates something of a balancing act. Sure, you want to start every turn with five fresh cards, but six turns of that and you’re looking at what we in the card game business call a ‘deck out.’ Simply put, if you run out of cards to draw, you lose.

Essentially, RUSH DUEL rewrites everything you think you know about momentum in Yu-Gi-Oh!. One card is rarely enough to put you back on your feet, as I’ve learned with plenty of experience in DUEL LINKS, but five new cards? That can really change the game, as there’s almost always a counter combination in the cards you draw at the beginning of each turn. It also leaves less scope for boring control decks, with the new format lending itself to aggressive play and quick thinking.

As those who can remember all the way back to the beginning of DUEL LINKS might anticipate, the card pool is pretty shallow at the beginning of the RUSH DUEL format, but it contains some interesting inclusions even the most seasoned of duelists may not yet be aware of with classic vanilla monster cards from the early era of the TCG.

RUSH DUEL’s Dark Magician equivalent, Sevens Road Magician, is the ace monster in Yuga Ohdo’s deck, while his dueling partner, Luke, rocks the Multistrike Dragon Dragias, which can attack twice in a turn. Yes, that is just as devastating as it sounds. I found that out the hard way.

Screenshot of the dueling world for Yu-Gi-Oh! DUEL LINKS RUSH DUEL preview

On the subject of ace monsters, card animations look better than ever in RUSH DUEL. Sevens Road Magician’s summoning animation properly catches the eye, with no better way to excite the intended young audience than by making the main character’s ace monster look this heroic.

Sure, this new-age Dark Magician clone isn’t quite as iconic as my favorite warlock just yet, but just like with the dueling characters themselves, there’s a renewed sense of personality and warmth. Konami isn’t aimlessly trying to appease a nostalgia audience that no longer knows what it wants here, but is going old school in a different way by introducing characters that might just stick with you for longer than you’d expect.

However, just because there’s a new magician in town, that doesn’t mean all the classic ace monsters aren’t invited to the RUSH DUEL party. RUSH DUEL introduces the concept of Legend cards. All of the Legend cards I got a glance at were iconic monsters from the first era of the anime series, like Yugi’s ace Dark Magician, but there’s plenty of scope for the collection to increase as RUSH DUEL evolves in time.

While it’s clear that Konami is targeting RUSH DUEL at a younger audience, something the developer and producer Akitsu Terashima readily admits, there’s still plenty here for older fans. For a start, the simpler style of play offers a means of escape from long combo heavy turns. DUEL LINKS’ Speed Duel format was once meant to do just the same, but after years of updates and new monster card types arriving in the game, the metagame is much more complex now and can easily scare off newcomers.

The rule changes, which might seem purely beginner-friendly at first glance, also leave plenty of room for tactical nuance. In both the regular TCG and Speed Duel formats, there’s no real benefit of sacrificing one six-star card to summon another, potentially less powerful, single-tribute monster. In RUSH DUEL, however, this is a smart play. You give your graveyard more resources for the future while also further emptying your hand to pick up more combo creators in the next turn.

Still, it’s important to remember who this is for. It’s no secret that the RUSH DUEL TCG format is primarily here for those unfamiliar with the game, especially the elementary-school-age demographic, so the approachability factor is important for both the developer and potential audience.

Screenshot of Lightning Voltcondor for Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Links Rush Duel preview

From the well-written lines of dialogue that color your experience outside of dueling, to the lack of limitations that come with the new rule set, RUSH DUEL is, on paper at least, exactly what ten-year-old me would want from a card game and serves as a shining new entry point for a series that has long been crying out for one.

All-in-all, the Yu-Gi-Oh! DUEL LINKS RUSH DUEL update is a breath of fresh air for both the mobile game and the wider franchise. What’s most impressive is the multiple tight ropes the new format walks. It appeases nostalgia and legacy fans while offering something simple enough for younger players to embrace, and introduces new characters while staying true to the tone DUEL LINKS has developed over six years.

More importantly than all that, though, is that the game design masters that easy-to-play, difficult-to-master dichotomy that all digital card games long for. With this in mind, I already can’t wait to play countless hours of RUSH DUEL, recapturing that magic I first felt all those years ago when I first discovered the TCG. Whether you’re a seasoned duelist or someone thinking of laying down your very first tribute summons, I suggest you do the same.

You can play Yu-Gi-Oh! DUEL LINKS RUSH DUEL when it arrives on September 28. For more on the latest games, check out our Baten Kaitos I & II HD Remaster reviewMonster Hunter Now review, and Final Fantasy Ever Crisis review.