I’ve been following the NEOGEO Pocket Color Selection from SNK and Code Mystics ever since Gals’ Fighters’ landed on the Switch out of nowhere. The road to the digital and physical, Limited Run Games release (which I missed out on and am sad about) of the whole set was a fun ride, since the lineup was never revealed far in advance. But the whole time there was one game I was eagerly awaiting, one that never would end up in that first volume. But to kick in the new year, the (assumed) second volume has kicked off with SNK vs. Capcom: Card Fighters’ Clash.
SNK vs. Capcom: Card Fighters’ Clash Review
The holy grail is here, baby. If there’s one game that really stands out from the NEOGEO Pocket library, it’s Card Fighters’ Clash. It’s one of the most sought-after titles on the secondhand market, and the title I always saw people hoping for as the NEOGEO Pocket Color Selection started rolling out. A lot of that energy is due to how there really isn’t anything else like it, beyond a Nintendo DS sequel that didn’t land so well with the fans. This is the game that you couldn’t play anywhere else in any form, and it was extra exciting due to its massive roster of characters.
Originally, Clash came out around a year after Pokemon Trading Card Game for the Game Boy Color, and the similarities are immediate. It has this similar visual style, similar UI elements and similar structure. It’s a lot smaller in scope though, and the card game itself is an attempt at something distinct instead of super derivative. What you get is basically a little board you can move around on and challenge a modest group of characters to matches. It isn’t nearly as story heavy as The Other One, but it has plenty of fanservice to make up for it.
I’m not exactly the biggest fan of the card game itself, though. It’s a bit of a conflict, really. I love the card art, because the NGPC was capable of a lot more than the Game Boy. The large, detailed and colorful character portraits are some of the system’s best evidence. It’s great to see characters I love and may not have expected to see in a more conservatively-populated fighting game. And the game is pretty simple too, which helps someone like me who doesn’t have the bandwidth for more complicated games like Magic or Yu-Gi-Oh. The problem is that simplicity ends up working against the, well, fun factor.
Because cards are largely just numbers that scale up with rarity, it’s really hard to feel like your individual decks have identities. Some cards have abilities, but they’re oddly uncommon and not always helpful. And while you can set up certain situations for them, it’s weirdly difficult because of the game’s limitations and pacing. It often comes down to feeling like a back and forth hockey fight between functionally identical cards with different characters on them.
And because getting new (and good) cards can be super grindy, you’re often making small tweaks to your decks that don’t always feel purposeful. Action cards don’t change the game up a ton either, often costing a lot of SP for an okay result. On the other hand, the one cool element I really like is a “backup” mechanic, which has specific relationships between cards and characters built in based on lore, personality, roles in respective other games, so on and so forth.
Using a backup can boost characters up in power, and figuring out how to optimize that system while still using your favorite characters is compelling. There are more obvious pairings like Ryu and Ken, and some more silly ones like Saki (Quiz Nanairo Dreams) and Mech Zangief or Proto Man and Blodia (Cyberbots). And crossover backups are mysteries until you find them, which makes for another little layer of fun. Optimizing your backups well and bullying an opponent with beefed up cards can be pretty gratifying.
SNK vs. Capcom: Card Fighters’ Clash is definitely one of the most celebrated cult classics in the NGPC library, and starting the year off with it feels like a smart move. Despite its reputation this game does have glaring flaws, but makes up for them with its charm and novelty. There may be “better” games, such as the last round’s bonafide banger Match of the Millennium. But you’d be hard-pressed to find a game anywhere near as memorable, and that counts for a lot.
- Awesome character art
- Backup mechanic is dope
- The usual NGPC Selection feature set; love to see it
- Card game feels undercooked
- Story/world kinda slapped together
- Getting to the good cards is a grind
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review