It took me two and a half hours to go through the tutorial section of each class provided by this game. Not because the game was particularly hard, but because it required a very precise pattern of how to progress through situations presented, one of which was very, very long. With that first impression, I believed I would despise this game, one that would require the player to play by the developers’ rules and not their own. Thankfully, I was wrong, as upon finishing the tutorials and setting out on my own, I’ve found that not only is Card Quest more free than the tutorial lets on, but offers a vast amount of content despite how little is shown on the surface.
At surface level, this game doesn’t sound all that appealing to those outside the fantasy-RPG genre, much less fans of card games. To put the two together isn’t a revolutionary idea, but one not often found in the creatively ambitious world of video games. Going in with mild expectations, I found myself attuned to the challenges with great vigor and was swept with a fleeting feeling of nostalgia whose origins I cannot place. I laughed when I finally beat the last tutorial stage, after what felt like my millionth try; despite the animosity, I couldn’t help but be impressed by how functional and strict the rules of this game are. It was a premonition of the fun I would soon find myself having with the game’s true content.
Card Quest is available on Steam for your regional pricing.
The story is whatever you make of it. Hyperbole aside, there isn’t really a concrete “story” to Card Quest, only three different areas featuring different quest-like storylines for you, the hero, to travel through. Be it hunting for the King of the Forest, facing off against a nefarious dragon, or stopping an undead atrocity from polluting the world, the most general of fantasy settings apply here with little hesitation. Branching paths that alter the story by a very minuscule amount exist, but the beginning and end are always the same. These differences more influence the challenges of various worlds than the immersiveness of a story.
It feels about as simple as a game from the late ’80s, where story was as simple as can be so that game designers can focus on gameplay first and foremost. Seeing as it is late 2017 and the vast potential one can create with enough dedication, creativity, and resources exist, this can be a bit of a turn-off for potential buyers, something I think should be noted in future updates or potential sequels. Card Quest follows the K.I.S.S. model—keep it simple, stupid—in almost every capacity, despite how multi-faceted it may seem peering inside. Story is probably the weakest aspect due to this choice of model, and whether it can keep a gamer interested, especially those who find a story nearly essential to keep their interest, is not a strong likelihood here.
Now this is the part of the review where things get rosy. There is very little nuance to the control scheme or mechanics to Card Quest’s core gameplay. One is given a five-card hand at the beginning of each battle to use to destroy monsters in their path. Sounds plain. To accentuate this, they incorporate the use of chains, using card after card in a subsequent fashion, which strengthen a certain card’s effect. One step above plain. As is typical with any fantasy-RPG game, there are a number of status effects such as stun, poison, burn, and otherwise, as well as boosters such as armor-piercers and sub-weapons. Nothing revolutionary. Its depth is on par with a Super Nintendo game.
I am a big supporter in most cases of games containing a large quantity of depth and variety in its gameplay, and without it, see it as a criticism that should be noted. In most cases does not include Card Quest, as despite its straightforward claim to fame, it manages to enrich itself with the rules of decades past with a subtle twist of a card-based schema. The way the story is told, with three different areas branching off into different paths, gives ample replayability, as major items also spawn at varying rates. Not to mention, this game, despite my meager protest before, is quite difficult, as strategizing and luck both play a large part in a player’s success. Being able to accomplish the feat of progressing through one whole area alone can take one hours and multiple replays, without realizing that one has been at it for hours and multiple replays. The black hole of Card Quest’s design is a titillating feeling of old combined with the self-awareness of those who have been fans of classic RPG tales for decades.
There are four classes to choose from: wizard, fighter, rogue, and hunter. All play distinctly from one another, and based on player preferences, will hate at least one of them. (I’m not keen on hunter, myself.) Tutorial arcs provide an in-depth look as to how each class plays (perhaps too much) and the possibilities of their starting decks against a variety of enemies. Once the true game has started, and enemies begin popping up with random status effects, the true merit of these classes shine (and vice-versa). Rogue is very agile and quick on the kill, while wizard needs a lot of energy to cast their full-range magic. Attacking and defending are the name of the game, and utilizing one’s hand to efficiently capitalize on both fronts require patience and planning. That may be what I like most about the game: it requires thinking and quick-wits, as well as knowing what classes are good at defeating what enemy. Much of this is learned through trial and error, which pads a little of the game’s already potentially monstrous runtime, though I can also acknowledge the frustration of continually receiving cards that do little when one’s back is against the wall.
As with card-based game veterans, it should be noted that Card Quest is not a deck-building game. Certain decks assigned prior to battle all fall within the type of major items a class has, which can be obtained by going through the main game after every other minor area. These decks don’t normally have more than three different cards, which combined with one or two other decks leaves the player with only six to nine different moves for each class at the beginning of each battle, excluding self-beneficial recovery cards which come standard no matter what deck is chosen. One should know going in that there is no freedom when it comes to picking out maneuvers one-by-one for each class, only a specific set that either works well or horribly with another. Again, trial and error. I have no complaints about this as I think it makes the game more challenging, relying only on what one believes is the correct combination of cards and decks. It goes into that whole “thinking” thing.
Graphics & Audio
Completing the old gold effect of years prior, Card Quest has a dedicated look of pixelated pixies rummaging through one’s pupils. Its aesthetic does well enough in its dedication to its themes to present a fascinating look into the world it presents, though there are some slight grievances with that, as well. Most battles look the same, with monsters appearing and moving in the same fashion when attacking or distancing themselves from the player. The screen behind them is completely black; no background effects or setting placement, one can only use their imagination to fill the void. Battle after battle, it would be nice to see a little more dedication to the presentation of this world which one is traversing. Sewers full of mutants, forests full of sprites, castles full of aggressive dwarves—I wish I could see it all as much as I see myself blasting through warthogs on a turn-based procedure.
Enemy design is definitely a plus, however, and there is a lot of vivid(ly grotesque) detail to the baddies waiting to feed the player to the radioactive guppies. Despite the world behind them not being clear, the enemies themselves paint a picture of what the player is progressing through with each battle. I found myself in awe with a variety of enemies such as the dwarven king, who was clothed from head to toe in gold and black armor, and the mushroom heart, which is one annoying fungus. And while the character is never shown outside of a head shot, the art of the cards (came suspiciously close to a reference there) gives as much opportunity for the imagination of the class as the environment in which one would find trolls and goblins.
Sound effects are much more prevalent than background tracks here, which is both nice and not nice. I enjoy the music that plays with every boss fight, giving a great ambiance of seriousness to the situation present. Otherwise, I don’t remember any other track that does, or may, play throughout. An upbeat soundtrack is always good, but I realize there are games that are better suited for silence… I think Card Quest could have compromised a little more on the former front. True, for the aesthetic they desired, relative silence does well in fitting in with a retro feel, but I feel it would give off a more desirable bravado had they given even some attention to a battle theme. Perhaps I’m too used to Final Fantasy games to imagine turn-based RPGs not having a memorable battle theme.