- Developer: Elder Games
- Publisher: HeadUp
- Release date: 13/08/2021
- Price: £11.99 / $14.99
- Review code provided by HeadUp
Introducing: Cardaclysm: Shards of the Four Review
In Cardaclysm: Shards of the Four, you play as a young mage who just royally messed up. He’s managed to unleash the infamous Four Horsemen and all of their minions across the land. He’ll be in big trouble if the Council finds out about it! This is where you come in. It’s up to you to help this mage build a magic deck, collect enough artifacts and gain enough power to take on these four baddies and return your world to its supposed peace. In actuality, you’re staring down the barrel of yet another Card Based, Rogue-Like battle game. You know the drill, draw cards, manage mana and souls gems, do more damage to the bad critters than they do to you. Lather, rinse, repeat. But you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to have a good time, as games like Slay The Spire and Monster Train have taught us.
If only this game were closer to the aforementioned ones. The worlds you traverse are all procedurally generated, wildly branching hallways full of collectibles and monsters. There is a hub world, (here it’s a Pub. So it’s a Pub Hub. Sorry, couldn’t resist.) that offers a smattering of NPCs who offer to trade for cards, sell you new cards and occasionally hand out fetch quests, and of course the door out that leads to your next level. It’s out there in these random worlds that the majority of the gameplay takes place.
To the meat of the matter
As you make your way through the dungeons, you will find various forms of currency you can collect, including Golden Triangles (Mana), Soul Gems (creature count) Blue Cards (Cash), and, most importantly, a Key. The Golden triangles are your basic mana pool while the Soul Gems are more a limit on the number of creatures you can put into play in any given battle. Mana rises fairly quickly, while Soul Gems are much more metered, almost to the point of being a hindrance and actually left me wondering why such an arbitrary resource was used in the first place. It felt like a limit that wasn’t needed since most battles never last all that long and in longer boss fights, it’s going to lock you down unless you’ve collected a significant amount.
The Blue Cards act in the same vein as gold/credits, allowing you to pay for new cards or artifacts back in the Pub. Mana, Artifacts, and even Soul Gems are all persistent to your character and you don’t lose any of them when you fall in battle. The only thing you lose when you are sent back to the Pub are a handful of cards from your collection. The higher the difficulty of the fight, the more cards you lose which could lead to affecting your deck if you were to lose the wrong cards. Lastly, you also run into buffs/debuffs that only affect the next battle or next creature cast – buffs like +1 Health after each round or Nature cards get +1, etc. All these mechanics add up to leveling your character and gaining buffs to take on the creatures, and eventually the bosses, of each of the worlds.
Round One, Fight!
One of the biggest differences between this and other card battlers is that your mage is a one-hit-wonder. If something hits him, it’s game over and back to the Pub. Since you only lose a few cards and a little time, the game encourages you to experiment and take risks. Since you must also kill every instance of creatures on each level, there are plenty of opportunities to do so.
The actual combat involves the typical mechanics of casting creatures and magic trying to clear the mobs standing against you. It sticks fairly close to the “Attack number versus Defense number” formula, and that’s not a bad thing. Because it’s familiar, it also doesn’t waste a lot of time explaining these mechanics. I can also appreciate the fact that the card art is not static and gives the game a feeling of being alive. There is also no ‘summoning sickness’ round, so once your creatures hit the table, it’s time to attack. The game does away with phases as well, so creatures and spells can be used any time during your turn, provided you have the mana or soul points for them.
There are staples like counterattacks, mana stealing, poison, frost, and various staple mechanics of the genre. If you kill off the opposing creatures, you get awarded a chest containing a card or two and then you continue to make your way through the rest of the level. The big change-up comes once you’ve cleared the level of monsters. Once cleared, you are shown a cut-scene with one of the Horsemen stepping from the portal and headed your way. Unless you are severely overpowered, you have one option – RUN. You can stand and fight but these Boss Fights are tough and the numbers are very high. Unless you’ve done some serious grinding, most players won’t be ready for this fight in the early stages. Going in unprepared will end with you back at the hub world a few cards lighter than before. With the Boss running around, it can be tricky backtracking or doing anything but heading towards the exit. So keep an eye out for the key before this happens. Again, none of this is new or revolutionary, it’s just presented with its own sense of style and gameplay changes.
And then there’s the Switch!
The biggest problem while doing this review of Cardaclysm: Shards of the Four came not from the game itself, but from the platform I chose to play it on. I have the game for the Nintendo Switch and in Handheld Mode, trying to actually read the cards in your hand was impossible. The font is simply too small to make out anything more than the name, casting cost, and attack/defense numbers. Any effect the card has is pretty much obscured. You can select the card and the effect text will pop up, but this is cumbersome in practice and when you are trying to grind out pure numbers, it becomes a problem.
It’s also very difficult to find your cursor on the screen in most battles. If it’s highlighting something in your hand, it’s fine, but trying to select your creatures when attacking, the cursor is a very light blue that pretty much disappears on the screen. The rest of the graphics are serviceable, but you really get a sense of what could have been if they had tried to actually develop the game for this platform. I had hoped that Docking the Switch and using my TV would help in some of these instances, and while it does generally make the game easier to see, the fonts are still a jumbled mess on the smaller cards, the cursor is still practically invisible, and the world is still a blurry, muddled mess. The game was obviously designed to be played on a PC with a mouse, so the console commands can feel a bit awkward at times. Since it never makes use of the D-pad for navigation, it all just feels a bit more stressful than it should. None of this renders the game unplayable but it does render it more of a chore than enjoyable more often than not. Combined with the visual issues, I was not left feeling a lot of love for the game.
Overall, my time spent with this Cardaclysm: Shards of the Four review wasn’t bad. It’s a solid, rouge-like, card battler and the idea of picking up random items to make yourself more powerful was one I enjoyed. The cards and types were varied and interesting if a bit typical, but the animations kept them from being boring. Had I played the game on a system with a better resolution, or if the game had been developed a little better for a handheld, I think I would have had much better gaming sessions with the title. If you’re the type of gamer who cannot get enough of these types of games, or if you grab it on one of the larger systems (or PC), this could be a hidden gem. But if Switch is your only outing, you might do better looking elsewhere.
- A few interesting new takes on tried and true mechanics
- Colorful Animated artwork on the cards
- Well balanced battles
- Unintuitive controls
- A tutorial lacking in worthwhile information
- Impossible to read on a handheld
- Muddled graphics