There was one game that got me hooked to the Neo Geo Pocket Color back in the day: SNK Vs Capcom: Card Fighters’ Clash. It released during a time when I was addicted to collecting Pokémon cards and wanted any fix of card-based gameplay I could get, so the idea of earning cards based upon my favourite Capcom and SNK properties and battling with them was a dream come true (plus, I didn’t have to beg for cash for booster packs, which was always a plus). I’m sure just about anyone else who played the game would say the same too, with it easily standing out as one of the handheld console’s most beloved titles.
Now, just over twenty-two years on from its initial release, it’s available in a handheld form once again on the Nintendo Switch, bringing with it a collection of both the SNK and Capcom versions of the game to offer one ridiculously addictive and utterly fun card-battling fix.
Check out a gallery of screenshots down below:
I should probably clarify the whole ‘SNK’ and ‘Capcom’ version of the game thing from the get-go. Much like titles such as Pokémon, SNK Vs Capcom: Card Fighters’ Clash had two versions back in the day, with each bringing with them a different starter deck of cards based upon the version you got as well as five exclusive cards each. Gameplay-wise, nothing changes apart from the character choices you get to play as and some of the interaction they share, but those who wanted to earn EVERYTHING would either need both versions of the game or a friend who owned the other one to trade with.
This Nintendo Switch release fixes that by bundling both versions together, though it isn’t a perfect solution for completionists. The games aren’t combined when you play them, but can instead be played separately across different save files which you can trade between. This means that you’ve got to essentially have two playthroughs of the game going on if you want to swap rare or exclusive cards between them both; whilst this is something that fans of the game aren’t going to complain about too much (myself included), it would have been cool if there was just a definitive version of the game where you could get everything with one playthrough.
You can also battle between save files too, giving players the opportunity to have multiplayer showdowns locally with a friend. Again, this is linked to the two save files you have on your account on your console, so you can’t play competitively against another user’s save file from another Switch. It’s a shame, but it’s cool that some form of multiplayer play is available – and let’s be honest, it would have been a stretch to expect more given the amount of work it would have taken.
“Whilst card battling and deck building is the crux of the experience, there is a story to the game that takes place over an RPG-like adventure.”
Now we’ve got those little details out of the way, let’s talk more about how good SNK Vs Capcom: Card Fighters’ Clash actually is to play. Whilst card battling and deck building is the crux of the experience, there is a story to the game that takes place over an RPG-like adventure. Between the two versions of the game, there are four different characters to play as, and whilst they do have different motivations, the ultimate goal is to win the ‘SC Card Fighters’ Clash’ tournament. This means exploring the world to earn special coins to progress through the tournament, defeating players or trading to unlock new cards, and fine-tuning your deck to ensure that you’ll get the upper hand over your foes. You’ll even get to visit some cool locations along the way, including Capcom Plaza, Neo Geo Land, and a cute bite-size take on the Spencer Mansion from the original Resident Evil. SNK Vs Capcom: Card Fighters’ Clash has plenty of nods to both SNK and Capcom throughout its adventure, which is sure to keep a smile on the face of fans of each.
Whilst there’s plenty to see and do across the world, most of your time is spent battling other players. This is where SNK Vs Capcom: Card Fighters’ Clash really shines, with its card battling proving both addictive and fun from start to end.
The rules are straightforward, with players each given a specified amount of Battle Points (BP) at the start of a battle that acts as their HP. They then start off by drawing five cards each from their deck, whilst each subsequent turn that takes place allows them to draw an additional card. Your deck is made up of two types of cards: Character Cards and Action Cards.
Up to three Character cards can be played in-game, with each one acting as an attacker or defender for the player. Be warned though: once you play a Character Card, you can’t actually use it until the next turn takes place, so you can’t rely on it for a quick fix if you’re in a tricky situation. Each Character Card has its own BP which acts as its health and attacking value, whilst it also has a Soul Point (SP) value which increases the player’s overall SP count when played. Certain cards also have special abilities that can change up the gameplay a little to give the player a strategic advantage, though these cost SP to use.
Then there are the Action Cards, which allow the player to perform specific actions at the cost of some of their SP. These actions can be a big game-changer in battle, with things like the ‘Puppet’ card which allows you to un-freeze a character to use even if they’ve just been played, ‘Cover Fire’ which decreases the BP of an opponent’s card by 300, or ‘Pester’ which discards the top three cards from your opponent’s pile, all proving useful through the flow of play. There’s a diverse selection of Action Cards to be found across the game and they can really change the tide of a battle if use strategically.
“Whilst it’s easy to learn the rules of SNK Vs Capcom: Card Fighters’ Clash, you can be humbled playing against some opponents and will swiftly learn there’s a lot more to the experience that simply trying to take out your rival’s BP.”
Players will do damage to their opponents by playing attacks on their turn, with the BP of the card they use to attack determining the damage dealt to their opponent. However, if the opponent has Character Cards in play, they can be used to counter the attack, which sees that card taking the damage instead but also dishing out some hurt of their own. It makes for an offensive-defensive see-saw of actions that sees your Character Cards defend you just as often as they attack.
There are other things to consider though, such as the Union attacks which allow players to attack with either two cards at once (at the cost of 5 SP) or three cards at once (at the cost of 10 SP). This is a good way to deplete your opponent’s defences and deal damage to their overall BP when they don’t have many Character Cards in play, though be warned: they can counter these attacks, meaning they can deal damage to multiple attack cards until they are defeated.
That pretty much covers the basics of the gameplay, though there’s a lot more to learn and take advantage of if you want to get good at the game. Knowing when to counter and when to take a hit can be a deal-breaker, for example, whilst taking advantage of tricks such as returning played Character Cards to your hand in order to restore their BP can be a game-changer too. Whilst it’s easy to learn the rules of SNK Vs Capcom: Card Fighters’ Clash, you can be humbled playing against some of the stronger opponents and will swiftly learn there’s a lot more to the experience that simply trying to take out your rival’s BP… you’ve got to be tactical in your approach.
“A lot of it can come down to luck and drawing the right card at the right time, but there’s also a reliance on skill and clever-thinking that ensures no battle ever feels dull.”
It all comes together to make for a ridiculously fun experience where each showdown is full of tension as you try to outwit your opponent. A lot of it can come down to luck and drawing the right card at the right time, but there’s also a reliance on skill and clever-thinking that ensures no battle ever feels dull. It’s brilliant, whilst working on your deck and finding new additions feels equally rewarding as you progress through the game. You can put together multiple decks too, with different opponents often requiring different approaches in order to defeat them (I’m talking about you and your ‘evil’ deck, Mikami).
Even so many years after its initial release I’ve had a blast with SNK Vs Capcom: Card Fighters’ Clash, and whilst there are a lot more deck-building games available these days that bring with them more nuance and fleshed-out mechanics, there’s something about returning to this that feels so special. The artwork of the cards still looks fantastic today too; whilst the Neo Geo Pocket Color wasn’t exactly known as being a visual powerhouse, it’s hard not to appreciate seeing iconic characters across both company’s franchises in their cutesy card-form. Whilst I have no doubt that players who can appreciate the nostalgic appeal of SNK Vs Capcom: Card Fighters’ Clash will enjoy it the most (I’ll admit myself that the nostalgia of playing it again is one of the things that makes me love the game so much), I still think it holds up well for newcomers to come in and see what all the fuss was about in the first place.
I can’t end this review without mentioning that this is part of the Neo Geo Pocket Color Selection, meaning it brings with it some cool little features like being able to change the skin of the background surrounding the game screen, being able to check out the full original manual of the game, or even rewinding the game if something goes wrong. Whilst it would have been neat to have some additional extras like concept art or box art, there’s plenty here to make it feel like an authentic Neo Geo Pocket Color experience straight from 1999.
SNK VS Capcom: Card Fighters' Clash Review
SNK Vs Capcom: Card Fighters’ Clash still feels as brilliant and addictive to play today as it did back in 1999, with the strategic card-based gameplay still holding up well. I loved exploring the world again, building up my collection of cards, and facing off against rivals in intense showdowns, whilst all of the nods to the SNK and Capcom universes kept a smile on my face. You can even link up between two save files across both versions of the game, meaning you can get a complete collection of cards without too much fuss (as long as you don’t mind having two save files on the go).
It is a shame that it doesn’t include some features like online play, though you wouldn’t really expect it for a low-price emulated release. With everything it does offer though, there’s no way you’ll be disappointed with SNK Vs Capcom: Card Fighters’ Clash. Whilst I’m sure returning gamers will appreciate it the most, this is the perfect opportunity for newbies to check out what I believe was the Neo Geo Pocket Colour’s best game.
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed)