Whenever a new card game emerges into the gaming world, it’s almost always going to be compared to the dominant Hearthstone or the ever-lasting Magic: The Gathering series, amongst others. With that in mind, the latest offering from indie development team Gambrinous, Cardpocalypse, is going to be up against it within its chosen genre. As it’s a single player RPG and CCG hybrid though, does Cardpocalypse possess the necessary attributes to not only stand out, but also captivate the strategic minds of those who are looking for a new card game to master?
Well, with a combination of ingenuity in gameplay, a surprising amount of tactical depth, and a whopping dose of nostalgia, there’s absolutely no doubting that Cardpocalypse is deserving of your attention. That doesn’t mean it’s bereft of issues though, so let’s get stuck in and time travel back to the ‘90s in order to discover whether these issues can be easily overlooked, or not.
Cardpocalypse transports us to the school playgrounds of yesteryear and puts us in the role of Jess, who’s just started attending Dudsdale Elementary – yep, she’s the new kid. It’s down to you to help her settle in, make some friends and become the greatest Mega Mutant Power Pets card game player around. Mega Mutant Power Pets is the latest craze on TV and everyone’s obsessed with the accompanying trading cards, even those kids claiming to be too cool for such tomfoolery. Unfortunately for Jess, she winds up getting the game banned and, to make matters worse, the Power Pets have come to life. She’s about to have one hell of a first week!
Putting the sci-fi element of invading mutants aside for a moment, and I believe it to be a truly relatable tale for everyone that’s ever been in the school environment, not just those who grew up in the 1990s; we all remember teachers frowning upon whatever trend was popular at the time, before they’d eventually outlaw such items. Whilst it’s reminiscent of when Pokémon cards and football stickers were being swapped around at break time for me personally, for others it might remind them of POGs or yo-yos.
But that’s just scratching the surface of the story really, as it goes off on multiple narrative tangents during the daily roaming of the school grounds via a ton of different quests and interactions. You see, each day of the school week presents a number of storyline missions and optional side-quests to tackle. This has you wandering to and fro between classrooms, the library, the cafeteria and more, seeking whichever kid or staff member is required to progress. The only slight drawback is that it can feel a tad irritating traversing the few accessible areas in the early stages, but as more open up it’s much better.
Fortunately, the missions are all suitably fitting to the theme with all sorts of tasks conjured up that you’d generally expect children to give each other. You’ll be dealing with sibling squabbles, tracking down specific cards to trade in order to sweeten people up, delivering love letters and even playing a Choose-Your-Own Adventure. The NPCs offer rewards for your troubles too, but the real bonus is that by taking on the many side quests available each day, their personalities really get to shine through and that’s almost as rewarding as receiving a rare card for your services. There’s a real mixed bag of characters here and they’re quirky in their own ways, with plenty of humorous conversations to be had as well as some bizarre situations unfolding along the way. And that’s before the arrival of Power Pets, which just cranks up the zaniness to a whole new level.
So far, so great, and we’ve not actually got to the core card-based aspect gameplay yet. Battling with the Mega Mutant Power Pets cards is the crux of Cardpocalypse, seeing players going head to head using their own decks comprised of 20 cards plus a Champion. There are four different factions to play with – Meowtants (cats), Pipsqueaks (rodents), Sinnisers (reptiles) and Woofians (dogs) – and each possesses a variety of Champions to unlock. You can create numerous decks and tweak them as often as you’d like, which is especially handy for trying out new cards that you’ve acquired or just experimenting with alternate setups.
Once battle commences you take turns and cards can be played from your hand using an amount of pet food equivalent to their cost; the food available increases as the encounter goes on, whilst also replenishing after each go. The aim is to defeat your opponent’s Champion by depleting their health to zero, with a little help from the various minions and mutations filling out your deck. A great deal of effort has gone into designing these larger than life Power Pets Champions, with them having awesome introductory vignettes and very useful mid-game abilities that trigger upon reaching half health. Poofant of the Meowtants is a personal favourite, as it can inflict two damage points thanks to its ability and has real potential to alter the flow of a match. Other standouts include Glowa the Radioactive Boa, Bunnibal (a parody of Hannibal Lector), and the truly menacing Fluffles!
Whilst the choice of Champions is limited early on, the sheer volume of other cards to supplement them ensures that decks never feel stale, even if you’ve been using the same leader for ages. And that’s testament to the brilliant minds who have come up with the silly, often outlandish, minions. What’s more, they all offer different attack and health stats as well as roles that affect their behaviour. For example, these roles mean some defensive cards have to be attacked first, whilst other lethal types simply decimate a minion immediately upon contact.
I have to admit, initial impressions of the card game are mostly positive as it’s fast, fun and tactical, but there’s a point where you wonder if you’ve mastered the basic concept and begin to sense a lull in proceedings. And then, not long after, customisation comes into the fray as you learn about precious stickers capable of boosting stats as well as changing roles and factions. Throw in the power to alter the rules of Mega Mutant Power Pets and you’ll revel at the pure manipulation at your fingertips.
That just highlights that pacing is a minor problem; not just in terms of gameplay features but also the main narrative. Everything needs to come across a bit sooner and the impatient folk amongst you may miss out on the wonderful experience it offers. That being said, there are a few technical issues worth mentioning. On occasion there have been black screens when loading a part of the school and that requires a reload of a save to remedy. When trading cards, the negotiation bar sometimes leans the wrong way after adding a card to swap, which makes your fellow trader need more in order to seal the deal. Possibly the worst occurrence of a glitch was mid-game, with me left unable to play any cards or attack, for no apparent reason. Hopefully these problems will be fixed, but if not, they shouldn’t ruin your enjoyment too much really.
In regards the visuals, and while the character and card designs are great, the art department deserves a huge pat on the back for creating so many environments that are bursting at the seams with Easter eggs. It’s brilliant to see images and such paying homage to classic literary works, blockbusters like Star Wars, a big purple dinosaur and so much more. Trying to find them all is like a game in itself. As far as the audio is concerned, well, I challenge you to get the Cardpocalypse theme tune out of your head – it’s very addictive and reminiscent of every cool TV show from the ‘90s.
Overall, Cardpocalypse on Xbox One is the nostalgic, tactical card-based RPG that everyone needs in their life. There’s a simplicity to the gameplay which allows anyone to give it a go and enjoy the battles, whilst offering enough depth for veteran gamers to construct masterful decks that are strategically sound. Every quest is interesting and full of variety, with some quirky tales to uncover alongside the main narrative too. There are a handful of issues, including pacing, but it’s not enough to be off putting.
With Cardpocalypse you’ll laugh to yourself, it’ll bring back memories of the good old days and by the time it’s over, you’ll be wanting to do it all again. So save up your pocket money and grab it swiftly.