5 Card Hero
Unlikely genre mash-ups have a long (if not particularly illustrious) history in gaming. By all means bask in those memories of fighting off the undead with your speed typing, but do spare a thought for those who had Mario as a teacher. The quality of a given mash-up can never be determined through its concept alone, however, meaning that 5 Card Hero‘s pitch (“poker meets Pokemon”) tells us nothing about the game that has sprouted from it. If it is to be judged, it must be judged solely on its execution.
The first thing to note about the execution here is how directly it renders the concept. The notion of connecting turn-based combat and poker might bring to mind an array of intricate trading card games, including Pokemon‘s very own contribution. Put those thoughts aside. The poker element here is connected to the game’s battles not through a complex set of dice-rolling mechanics, but through a simple conversion: strong hands produce strong attacks, weak hands produce weak attacks.
“A fine job at crafting an engaging title”There’s more to it than this, of course. There’s a simple, though charming enough, story along which the various fights are strung. There are multiple protagonists to meet and employ, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. There’s an XP system, feeding into a level-up mechanic. There’s even, true to the latter portion of the poker-Pokemon partnership, a gottacatchemall card collecting side to the game.
Really, though, it all comes back to those combat mechanics. Simple as they may be, the developers have done a fine job at crafting an engaging title out of them. Each monster and the areas that they occupy have their own distinct design, and the multiple characters add a layer of variety to what could have otherwise been a repetitive enterprise. Taken as a whole, this side of the game has a remarkable compulsivity to it, with each battle proving rewarding enough to push you into the next. This addictive quality is aided by a responsive, clutter-free interface, which allows the game to provide an experience largely free of frustration or annoyance.
“The game is rewarding, colourful”“Free of frustration or annoyance.” High praise in the context of the previous paragraph, but we should consider the flip side. Frustration and annoyance with a game are usually, after all, signs of deep engagement and its absence here is indicative of the title’s shortcomings. Battles may be fun and satisfying, but they rarely rise above that to offer the challenge that poker (or Pokemon) can, in their best moments, provide.
That’s not to say that the game is lacking in difficulty – you’re likely to encounter seemingly unbeatable enemies early on. Defeating those enemies, though, is going to depend as much on a well-dealt hand as a well-chosen attack. A few flushes and those unbeatable enemies are very beatable indeed; a string of dud hands and you’re going to be coming back to this battle multiple times. This becomes less problematic as the full range of additional characters and abilities is unlocked, but the XP system remains basic and the palette of attacks fairly limited. The deeper strategic joys of role-playing and turn-based combat are therefore elided in favour of a more, simple superficial experience.
This should stand as observation more than criticism, because 5 Card Hero is clearly targeted at the mobile pick-up-and-play market, and caters to it well. The game is rewarding, colourful and has enough accoutrements (including, in true RPG fashion, optional bosses) to draw you back for multiple play sessions. Locked within it, though, are the seeds of a much more complex, far more satisfying experience, one that the developers might well consider pursuing in the future.