SNK VS. Capcom: Card Fighters’ Clash Review: A Clash Between Giants
It’s easy for a game to be built up in your head for long enough that it can never live up to the image you had of it. That was my worry going into SNK VS. Capcom: Card Fighters’ Clash. Originally released on the Neo Geo Pocket Color back in 1999, I wanted it almost immediately. Comparisons to the Pokémon Trading Card Game for Game Boy Color, which stole far too many hours of my life, did nothing to diminish my desire to play a game I’d heard excellent things about. For over twenty years, it’s a game I meant to make time for. I even bought it at one point when I owned the system. There are only so many hours in the day, though, so it always sat there as a game I’d play eventually, just one I’d never gotten to.
That’s thankfully changed. When SNK started porting their Neo Geo Pocket Color titles to Switch and PC a few years ago, this seemed like a top prospect, but licensing concerns always looked like a major problem. After last year’s release of the system’s fighting crossover between Capcom and SNK, though, the possibility of their card game making an appearance grew, and now I’m able to enjoy the game I’ve wanted to play so long on my Switch.
Deal The Cards
Surprisingly, it’s not quite the game I expected either. For the most part, SNK VS. Capcom: Card Fighters’ Clash doesn’t have as much structure as even the Pokémon game it’s so often compared to. You’re dropped into the game and told to start playing. There are five coins to seek out in various locations, and eventually, a sixth after completing a championship you gain access to after getting those first five. Still, there’s not much in the way of story or characters here. The little that is seems to just be an excuse to get you playing the card game at the center of the title.
Thankfully, that card game is fantastic. As someone who has spent far too much of my time and money on trading card games in my life, Card Fighters’ Clash holds up. After drawing a hand of five cards, you and your opponent take turns playing one character each turn. Each character has a set amount of life, which doubles as the damage they deal. You can have up to three on the field each turn, and starting on their second turn on the field, they can start attacking. Opponents will then block or accept the damage. If two characters clash, they’ll deal damage to each other and lose that much life. So if a character with 1000 life fights one with 600 life, the one with 600 dies, and the other has 400 remaining to carry over into future turns.
There’s a lot more to the combat than just that, of course. You have action cards which can turn the tide of battle, healing characters, dealing direct damage, retrieving specific cards, and more. These are cast with SP that you gain by playing more characters. You also have the option to use SP on team-up attacks, which are potentially dangerous because they override a block. A blocker can still stand in their way, but any damage that they don’t take will still go against the other player’s life total. Take all their life, and you win the match.
Character powers help to keep things fresh and build great flavor as well, really taking advantage of the license in use here. Mega Man, for example, can steal any opponent’s power and then use that. This is the sort of world-building all card games strive for, turning it into more than just a series of numbers. Card Fighters’ Clash nails this. That flavor ties into the actual game, too, as you get to meet up with various Capcom and SNK characters and hang out in areas designed to resemble classic locations like the Resident Evil mansion. Ever wanted to take on a zombie in a card game?
With different powers and abilities, it’s important to build a deck that has great synergy. Many characters also have the option to be used as backup, giving their health to another character. The benefit of this is that you can use cards this way the same turn, you play another character card, letting you get power from multiple cards on a single turn.
Building your deck of 50 cards takes time. You’ll start the game by picking either the SNK or Capcom version of the game, two separate releases back in 1999, which are both included in one package here. You can get most cards in either game, but your starting deck will be based on the company you choose, and it will take time to build your collection of 300 potential cards. Each game has a few exclusives too. After victories, you’ll get a few new cards for your effort, allowing you to slowly build and expand your deck. Getting a new character might make you remember that you have others it can back up, or its powers work well with, and soon you’re rebuilding your whole deck. A few mini-games allow you to get cards as well though I didn’t find the crane game included very fun. Perhaps if it was more than just a series of choices and I actually got to play it.
Keeping Things Going
The computer AI can be a challenge as some of their decks early on will simply outclass you. You’ll have to build your way to taking them on. It isn’t particularly smart, though, often making foolish decisions. It wasn’t uncommon, for example, to win simply because my foe launched an all-out attack without enough damage to kill me, leaving them completely open to an attack that would kill them. Still, the game isn’t a complete pushover, and these matches are still fun.
I’m also impressed by all the options SNK took the time to add into this Switch port. All of the options from the earlier Neo Geo Pocket Color ports are here, like a digital manual, rewind, the game-saving your spot if you close it, things of that nature. They also implemented the ability to connect with SNK VS. Capcom: The Match of the Millennium as well from the original releases, a welcome option. You can trade cards between your Capcom and SNK versions of the game, too, if you like, which helps in collecting everything. You can even battle your two decks against each other on a single Switch which is cool, though I’d have preferred the option to face other players online.
Even after all these years, SNK VS. Capcom: Card Fighters’ Clash mostly lives up to what I hoped it could be. A more in-depth single-player mode would have been great and online matches are a glaring omission, but you still have an incredibly deep, rewarding card game with a ton of flavor from series many of us have loved for a very long time. This one could steal a lot of hours from your life.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Switch (Reviewed); Publisher: SNK; Developer: SNK; Players: 2; Released: January 12th, 2022; ESRB: E for Everyone; MSRP: $7.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of SNK VS. Capcom: Card Fighters’ Clash provided by the publisher.