Cardpocalypse – Review
Follow Genre: Card Game
Developer: Gambrinous
Publisher: Versus Evil
Platform: Switch, PC, Xbox One, PS4, iOS
Tested on: Switch

Cardpocalypse – Review

Site Score
7.5
Good: Well-written, charming setting
Bad: Serious difficulty spikes
User Score
9.0
(2 votes)
Click to vote
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 9.0/10 (2 votes cast)

Has there ever been an era when playground fads were as big as the late 90s and early 2000s? If you grew up back then, you’ll likely have fond memories of trading collectible cards, taking care of virtual pets and most importantly making sure the teachers didn’t find out you brought your treasured flavor-of-the-month collectibles to school. Enter Cardpocalypse, a clever little game that throws you back to 20 years ago, when your biggest worry was if you could make a big enough offer to trade for your friend’s holo Charizard card.

Story

The opening cutscene introduces us to Power Pets (we’ll get back to them later) but this turns out to be just a scene that our protagonist, Jess, is watching on TV. Jess is not your typical video game protagonist: she’s a young girl in a wheelchair. Today is Jess’ first day at her new school, although she’d rather stay home and keep watching the Power Pets cartoon. Power Pets is the most popular franchise among kids of Jess’ age group. It’s a thinly veiled Pokémon-Expy, with super-powered pets beating the crap out of each other. Jess reluctantly gets on the bus to school, where she meets Yolanda. Like most kids in the school, Yolanda is obsessed with Power Pets as well, especially the card game. Jess doesn’t have any experience with the card game. She discovers her dad has put a starter deck in her lunch box as a surprise, and Yolanda offers to teach her to play the game. This is where Cardpocalypse starts, and the light-hearted story that takes place is arguably the main draw here. 

You’ll meet every archetype you’d expect in a school, and it’s hard not to crack a smile at how recognizable everything is. It’s a nostalgic throwback to a simpler time, written from the perspective of the kids. Gambrinous’ decision to use this low-stakes setting was a stroke of genius, as the relatable situations and characters will bring back fond memories to Cardpocalypse’s target audience. For the most part, the things you expect to happen will happen: of course the principal bans the card game after a fight breaks out on the playground, for example. It means that the game is predictable for the most part, although there are a couple surprises along the way.

Graphics

The art of Cardpocalypse is definitely crude, but it’s also charming in its own right. Both the card game and the overworld employ a style that resembles a child’s drawings. The exaggerated expressions on the character’s faces bring them to life in a cute and humorous manner. The monster designs in the Power Pets card game feel like Pokémon rejects, and none of them really stand out, but everything meshes together well enough to make sense in-universe. The color choices, both in the card-game and in the overworld do stand out, with the Power Pets game making use of flashy, primary colors, contrasting with the muted tones of the overworld. 

Sound

Electric guitars set the mood as you load up the game for the first time, reaching a satisfying climax once the game’s logo pops up. This game has a theme song reminiscent of 90s cartoons and it’s incredibly catchy. The card game section takes the same musical cues as the theme song, although it constantly loops so it can become a bit repetitive during prolonged gaming sessions. The card game itself uses stock sounds. There’s some voice acting in the game’s story, but most of the dialogue is delivered through on-screen text. The audio quality is good, but overall nothing really stands out apart from the aforementioned theme song. 

Gameplay

At the core of Cardpocalypse lies the Power Pets card game. This is a relatively simple trading card game that is easy to learn but hard to master. The aim is to knock out your opponent’s Mega Pet, using a variety of lower-level Power Pets, mutation cards and your own Mega Pet of course. Each card has an associated Food cost to play. Your food supply is replenished and increases every turn. This ensures that you’re not able to play more powerful cards until later in the game, and forces you to include some low-level critters in your deck for those early game turns. There’s a huge variety of Pets. Some specifically belong to one of the four factions that you can build a deck around, while others are neutral and can be included in any deck. Of course, the Pets have their own ability -some are defensive and need to be defeated before you can attack anything else, keeping your Mega Pet safe. Other examples include Pets that can attack the turn they are played, or Pets that can’t be targeted until they have attacked. Pets can further be enhanced by applying stickers to them, allowing for some truly unique decks. 

Unfortunately, customizing your deck is easier said than done. Early in the game, you get a relatively decent deck, but when the card game is banned from the school in the story, all your cards are taken away. You get four new starter decks shortly after that, but the cards included in these decks are underpowered compared to the cards your opponents use against you. This makes for some difficulty spikes early in the game, and while these can be overcome, there is a lot of effort involved in getting better cards to customize your decks with. You’ll get new cards through beating certain opponents, through trading with other kids and by completing fetch quests. Most of this is done in the game’s story mode. Here you’re Jess, and you’re at school attempting to fit in. This mode feels more like a light RPG, with lots of talking, and certain dialogue options even affecting the flow of the story. It’s expertly written, although you have to keep in mind that this story is from a kid’s perspective. This means that what seems like the logical dialogue choice for an adult isn’t always the most beneficial one. Although the card game is arguably the game’s bread and butter, the excellent writing makes the story mode the more enjoyable part of the game by far. 

Conclusion

Cardpocalypse poses a decent challenge with its card game, but the real reason to play is the overworld. Not because of the events that form the main story, but because of the well-written characters and recognizable situations that you’ll encounter. It’s escapism that banks heavily on nostalgia despite being its own IP. The low-stakes playground happenings make for an amusing way to relive your own childhood memories that is well worth the price of entry.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 9.0/10 (2 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
Cardpocalypse - Review, 9.0 out of 10 based on 2 ratings
Sebastiaan Raats
Sebastiaan Raats


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