Despite my obsession with retro games, it wasn’t until SNK released the Pocket Color Selection that I had a chance to play a lot of the legendary handheld fighters I’ve only heard about. But when the Neo Geo Pocket Color is brought up in conversation, the game I kept hearing about the most was Card Fighter’s Clash. It is often touted as the best game on SNK’s short-lived handheld, and it turns out, for good reason.
SNK vs. Capcom: Card Fighter’s Clash is a collectible card game. Unlike modern deckbuilders, Card Fighter’s Clash is modeled after the late 90’s era collectible card games. That means an emphasis on card collecting, and while the graphics might be confined to what the Pocket Color was able to produce, there is a surprisingly robust game with some pretty satisfying card battling mechanics there. Between card battles, you wander around in an almost Pokémon style world, picking card battles so you can earn better cards—so you can beat tougher opponents.
The card battles in SNK vs. Capcom: Card Fighter’s Clash play out almost like a somewhat simplified version of Magic: The Gathering. You can only have up to four fighters out at a time, however, each of these fighters can potentially have special abilities. Further, adding fighters to the field gives you SP which you can spend to use abilities against your opponent. Like Magic: The Gathering, your opponent has a pool of HP you must reduce to zero to win. Each fighter you deploy has a power rating which represents how much damage it can dish out and take. The more damage your fighter takes, the less damage it can then deal—making decisions to defend or to eat the damage part of the strategy. It’s a decently fun card game, but it has some quality of life issues, due to its age.
While I’d love to say that Card Fighter’s Clash is perfect for modern gamers, there are a lot of issues that arise with its age. First of all, cards give limited information on them. While I enjoy the art, I wish cards spared some front space to give information on their special abilities. To find out what a card is capable of, you have to click on the details view to get more information—slowing down the action a tad. Even just learning to live with the UI can be troublesome for some, and may turn away those who aren’t looking for a nostalgia hit.
I’ve been a huge fan of the Pocket Color Selection games because of their strides towards preservation, and giving these games new audiences. Card Fighter’s Clash is no exception. Included in the game is a digital manual, along with the ability to play Card Fighter’s Clash almost as if you were playing directly on a Pocket Color by allowing you to choose between different Pocket Color backgrounds. You can turn off the backgrounds altogether, or play it in handheld mode, using the touchscreen to activate the digital Pocket Color’s buttons. There’s also a rewind feature, and while it’s been super useful in other Pocket Color Selection games it doesn’t really lend itself to usefulness in Card Fighter’s Clash. I wish the rewind time was much longer, or there was an added ability for save states.
While SNK vs Capcom: Card Fighter’s Clash definitely feels like an older game, it’s as much fun as the hype would have you believe. Collecting cards is great, and card battles are challenging. You do have to wrestle with some archaic UI, unfortunately. Also, the rewind function just doesn’t cut it, and I would have much preferred the inclusion of save states for this title. However, Card Fighter’s Clash is a surprisingly fun game and worth checking out for the nostalgic and curious (and patient).
SNK vs. Capcom: Card Fighter’s Clash is available now on Nintendo Switch.
A Nintendo Switch key was provided to us for this review