Thank you SNK for sending us this game to review!
In my younger years, I played a fair bit of Magic: The Gathering, and enjoyed it. This was a very long time ago - during the 4th edition era, for those who follow MTG. And yet for some reason, I never really got into card-based video games, so I thought this one was worth a shot. And by every metric, SNK VS. CAPCOM: Card Fighters' Clash is a decent card game, but it's not really for me, at least as a video game.
This one is another title in SNK's set of Neo Geo Pocket Color re-releases that has come to Nintendo Switch. This release is the first one after the first Neo Geo Pocket Color Selection Vol. 1, so this is likely to be a part of a future Vol. 2 (though this is just a guess, and my guess could easily be wrong). Graphically and otherwise, it's one of the better looking titles that I've seen so far from the Neo Geo Pocket, as the character sprites that adorn each card are very high quality, and look great given the limitations of the source system.
There are a total of four versions of this game included: Capcom and SNK versions, and English and Japanese versions of each. The SNK and Capcom versions can play against the other version in the same language. Each version and language has their own save file, so up to four different saves can be maintained, though realistically, unless you can understand both languages well, you're likely to only play two of them. The multiplayer mode is really neat, and as I suggested before, you can play against the other version on the same Switch, and it works well. Unfortunately, I do not believe there is a way to play with another player on their own Switch, which is a huge missed opportunity. This game allowed you to trade cards with your friend on Neo Geo Pocket; why not here too? The only way you can is if you and your friend both play it on the same Switch, with each person choosing to play a different starter pack (Capcom or SNK).
Each player builds a deck of cards, and before battle they are shuffled and their hand is dealt. One player randomly goes first, and gameplay then begins. Every turn, a player is allowed to deploy a character card, who can be used to attack the other player on the next turn, or defend your player character. Character cards have a certain amount of BP, which is used to determine attack strength, and SP, which is used to execute team attacks or use action cards. Action cards can be used at any time on a player's turn, as long as they have enough SP to use it.
At the beginning of each turn, a player chooses their attack cards if they choose to attack, and the opponent chooses with whom to defend. If they defend, the attacker's cards do damage equal to the card's BP value to the opponent's defender, and the defender returns damage equal to that card's BP value to the attacker. If a card's BP value reaches zero, it is sent to the discard pile and removed from play. If no one defends, the damage is done directly against the player's health - this typically starts at 2000 points. Once a player's health reaches zero, they lose the match. Most cards' BP values range from the low hundreds to about 1000. You can also boost a card's BP by having another one used as backup, though this can only happen if the card being backed up has the other one on their backup list. This makes backups powerful but rare - it takes a combination of luck and deck planning to make this happen, but is almost always worth it. This is especially true since no more than three character cards can be in play at once per side. When you execute a team attack, it acts like all of your attackers are backing each other up - their BP is added up for one big attack, and anything that is not defended against becomes damage against the other player. Team attacks use a lot of SP to execute, making this a rare but dangerous attack that can really pay off if planned properly.
Outside of the card battles, there are several areas to find other NPC players to play against. Your player sprite moves around the screen in a 2D above view, not unlike other classic RPGs like Pokemon. You can talk to other NPCs by pressing A when next to them, and many of them will challenge you to a match. When you win, you earn a card from them as loot. This, along with trading with other players and various stands and such to trade in cards for other ones, you try to fill out your card deck. There are Capcom and SNK characters, and cards from one side tend to be able to backup cards from the same team, but decks can be built using cards from either. Your deck can include a maximum of fifty cards, and there are three hundred total possible cards, though you can have duplicates of most. Either way, deck building is a major part of the game, and the RPG-style gameplay outside of the card battles themselves helps build the world and gives you non-human opponents.
Music is of a simple chiptune variety, like all Neo Geo Pocket games have. Menu and attack sound effects are fairly simple as well. The music is catchy. As I mentioned before, the visual presentation is good by Neo Geo Pocket standards, though certainly primitive now. No complaints on that end, though.
Morally, some card portraits have exposed cleavage or form-fitting dress, though this is limited to the size of the card. Skulls and other minor mystical or dark creatures exist as cards or on them; the game world itself is clean. Some characters (as represented by cards) have magical powers. There is a bartender in one area, so I assume that is the alcohol reference the ESRB noted. There are other ESRB issues that I could not find; these include mild blood. They note violence; the most I could find is that when one card 'attacks' the other, there may be a visual representation of what kind of attack they use, like fire or a weapon slash.
SNK VS. CAPCOM: Card Fighters' Clash is a solid card battling game mechanically. My main issue with it is the slow pace of battles, and that even if you can convince a friend to buy a copy, you can't play against each other. It's decent as a card battler, but I found that it wasn't really my cup of tea. I can see what people did enjoy it a lot when the Neo Geo Pocket Color was new, though. It's just a bit too slow paced for my liking.