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Casino Kid (NES) artwork

Casino Kid (NES) review

"Have you ever wondered what it would be like to play a poker or blackjack game that feels a lot like a JRPG in the vein of Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy? If so, you're in luck because Sofel provides exactly that in its overlooked NES classic, Casino Kid."

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to play a poker or blackjack game that feels a lot like a JRPG in the vein of Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy? If so, you're in luck because Sofel provides exactly that in its overlooked NES classic, Casino Kid.

Released for the NES in 1989, Casino Kid puts you into the shoes of the title's eponymous star. His name is actually a loose localization of the "$1,000,000 Kid," taken from the manga upon which the game was originally based. Your goal is to take on the best gamblers in the world, who all happen to be conveniently located right in this very casino. You need to win all of their money so you can go face to face with The King of the Casino, a truly formidable foe.

Though the game is set in a Las Vegas-style casino, its Japanese roots shine through not only in the JRPG-style map screen, but also the manner in which the characters are drawn. The more exaggerated features on display prove helpful as you play against opponents whose facial expressions can potentially betray the hands that they hold.

As you travel around a Dragon Quest-like map screen that marks out the entire casino, you'll come across several people who will give you clues in brief cutscene-like screens. Those people offer tips about the dealers, suggestions on where to go next, or even just idle chatter. With so many people occupying the premises, the game cuts you a break by generally only allowing you to speak with those folks who are actually animated, unlike the zombies fixated on slot machines throughout the area. Even so, some dealers can be elusive, opting to roam the grounds instead of waiting near a dealer's table. Meanwhile, others can obnoxiously stand in your way, sometimes even preventing you from going anywhere until they decide to move.

Speaking of slot machines, don't expect to be able to use any of those here, and the same goes for roulette. Despite the presence of such attractions on the map, blackjack and five-card poker are your only options for the evening. The game has a very tight economy, one that requires you to defeat all eight of your opponents in each game before you can move on to face The King, and the developers apparently didn't want any outside sources of income to get in the way of their carefully crafted system. Once you prepare to face The King, you'll have one million dollars. No more. No less.

You can start by playing either of the two available games, then work to build up your cash reserves in one game before moving onto the other, which can be handy not only for providing a little variety while also preparing you for upcoming adversaries. As you progress through the casino's dealers, the stakes raise ever higher, until eventually you're betting thousands of dollars (minimum) on a single hand.

Casino Kid's soundtrack is catchy and upbeat, but rather limited. For the bulk of the game, you'll be treated to a friendly track on the map screen and an odd jingle whenever you engage in conversation, but most of the time you're going to be listening to the selection that plays when you take on a dealer at his chosen game. Games basically run until one competitor or the other runs out of money, so this can take a while, depending on the luck of the player and the computer. Even with a longer tune looping in the background, these tracks are likely to feel a bit repetitive after a short while. For what it's worth, though, The King of the Casino at least has his own distinct track, one that befits his mysterious persona and serves him well in his role as the final boss of the game. It evokes a sense of urgency and danger, as well, which is likely an attempt to psyche some players into making the wrong move at that critical juncture.

Despite the presence of a "saved game" option on the title screen, Casino Kid actually invokes the dreaded use of a 30-digit password system in order to maintain your progress from one session to the next. It's not quite a deal breaker, and at least you’ll be inputting all uppercase letters, which means you don't need to worry about mixing up an "I" with a lowercase "L" or the numeral "1." Better still, one can simply snap a picture of the password with a click of his or her phone's camera, meaning that the password system only needs to be about half of the work these days that it once was.

Overall, Casino Kid is a nifty and somewhat unique card playing experience. Having the run of the casino is a nice twist, even though you're only allowed to participate in a rather limited number of its various facets. Some might find its layout a little bit confusing, since you’re only allowed to take on dealers in a given game in a particular sequence, but those who grow accustomed to where everything is located (or simply consult a guide) should have little trouble getting around.

If the limited but potent combination of Japanese RPGs, poker, and blackjack appeals to you, definitely give Casino Kid a try. It's not a complete casino experience, but it tells the nice, simple tale of a young man who tries (and depending on how well you play, succeeds) in making it big.

LBD_Nytetrayn's avatar
Freelance review by David Oxford (May 20, 2013)

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