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Marvel Trading Card Game (DS) artwork

Marvel Trading Card Game (DS) review

"The nice thing about card games is that they allow for an absurd number of characters to be included, even if their roles are nearly meaningless. This lends itself nicely to a world like Marvel, where characters already exist in spades, and don't have to be created to suit the game. Everyone can find a home in a deck of cards. "

Most games that focus on modern comic book characters only manage to incorporate a tiny fraction of the total universe they represent. Twenty or thirty playable characers is but a tiny fraction of the total population. If only there were some way to incorporate all of them, the most loved heroes, the most loathed villains, and the overwhelming majority of characters no one has ever heard of. For every Spider-Man, there is a Mendel Stromm, Robot Master.

The nice thing about card games is that they allow for an absurd number of characters to be included, even if their roles are nearly meaningless. This lends itself nicely to a world like Marvel, where characters already exist in spades, and don't have to be created to suit the game. Everyone can find a home in a deck of cards.

Anyone vaguely familiar with the way of these types of games knows that there are rules. Lots of rules. Generally, learning the rules of a TCG is like swimming the English Channel, if the English Channel were filled with small cardboard rectangles. Marvel, however, brakes down the arcane structure of it's game in a surprisingly accessable tutorial. Anyone can learn to play the game in about twenty minutes, even without any prior exposure to the game. This isn't something that could be so easily said about many other trading card games.

In some ways, being on a computer system makes the flow of the game much easier to follow. It's hard to forget any of the little arcane rules or which part of your turn you are currently on, because the computer tracks all of that stuff for you. There isn't any real loss of freedom, either, everything you may want to do, you can, and generally as painlessly as possibly could be imagined.

Unless, of course, what you want to do is build a deck. That's right, in its early stages, the game is quick to deny the player one of the primary things that makes card games interesting at all. In the beginning, you only have enough cards for one deck, and have to play with those. Not a huge problem. Until you realize the fact is that entire types of cards aren't accessable for several chapters, and new cards of any kind trickle in at a snail's pace. Sure you can attempt to buy a small number of cards with the meager profits you make from winning the game's early levels. Generally, however, these are often cards of types that don't really help you at all.

Make no mistake, even weak characters have an important part in the game's strategy. Providing you with a way to attack your foe and defend yourself in the early phases of the game when you won't have enough resources to use beefier characters. Sure, the Incredible Hulk can obliterate anyone who stands in his way, but without Kingsley Rice the Amphibian watching your back early, you'll never get the big green monster out of your hand.

No, the problem isn't a lack of useful cards. The problem is that cards that are not of the same affiliation of other cards (the Fantastic Four, for example) cannot participate in team attacks together, and this is a big drawback. Often times, there is no way to get bast a particularly beefy character than to attack him with three or four small ones at once.

In the early game, you start with either heroes or villains, but the booster packs you buy contain cards from the opposite side. And therefore, your chances of finding useful cards supporting your faction near the beginning are slim. However, once you slog through the opening chapters, things do get a bit easier. More fulfilling too. Most of the satisfaction to be derived from a game like this is triumphing by using your wits, a feat that becomes substantially easier once you have room to employ them.

Still, by the time you actually have access to the entire game, you've already sunk in a considerable number of hours into a mostly inane single player campaign. It's hard to maintain interest in a phenominal story when it's routinely broken up by 30 minute fights. But the story isn't phenominal. In fact, it's pretty ho-hum. Especially since the cards themselves include such characters as Mysterious Fanboy Arthur Lundberg, but the story doesn't.

When the only reason to continue playing the game for any meaningful length of time is the multiplayer, there's a problem when you can't really access the multiplayer for a while. You simply won't have access to enough cards to build a competitive deck for quite some time. The multiplayer mode may as well be sealed off until after you complete a lengthy campaign.

Even better, the game is relentless in its challenge, and it's more than a little disheartening to spend upwards of 30 minutes on any one game only to lose in the end and then have to start over from the top. While it is frustrating at times, it is the nature of the beast. Anyone used to card games in general will be accustomed to that.

In the end, the game's saving grace is that playing with other people IS pretty fun, especially if you're both at the end game. All those hours of campaign grinding and deck building coming together to create a dramatic win at the last second is something that many other games can't replicate. There is a tangible tension, coupled with a chess like necessity for planning in the game.

Basically, if you like trading card games, Marvel is worth checking out. And if you're the kind of person who knows who Lyja the Lazerfist is, so much the better. This game has your name written right on it. It's an enjoyable card game experience, dripping with strategy and with countless ways to use the characters you know of (and don't know of) to cleverly defeat your opponents.

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Freelance review by Josh Higley (July 12, 2007)

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