In the 90s, Magic: the Gathering was everywhere. In libraries, universities, conventions...anywhere there was a spare few minutes, fans took their stack of cards and pitted them against others, tweaking and rearranging in attempts to come up with an unbeatable deck. The insane popularity of Magic spawned competitors by the boatload, but few offered the same quality and interchangeability of this mainstay. One such competitor, building from a rich backlog of characters, is the Vs. System trading card game (TCG). Featuring heroes and villains from the Marvel and DC universes, among others, Vs. has gained not only critical acclaim, but a huge fan reception as well.
The Marvel Trading Card Game is a slimmed down version of the Vs. System focusing solely on characters from the Marvel universe. As a veteran Magic player, I knew roughly what to expect in sitting down with the Nintendo DS version, though the interface proved to be a huge stumbling block on the road to properly learning the game. MTCG is only playable with the DS on its side, squishing the screen real estate and cramming a pile of icons on the touch-screen side, while leaving an entire screen for card descriptions. My experience PC version suggest that a better use of the screens would be to dedicate the bottom screen to the player and the top to the opponent without turning the DS.
The Nintendo DS version of Marvel Trading Card Game is a clear example of a poor interface sullying an otherwise great experience.
If you have a PC handy, it wouldn’t hurt to also download the free PC version. It sports better graphics and an overall less-cluttered interface and is linked to the official online community where you can play practice matches as well as participate in ranked matches and tournaments. Though there are local and online wireless modes in the DS, they aren’t tied in to the official ranking system.
To build a killer deck, it will take patience and lot of investment in story mode. The game begins after you choose to be either a villain or hero. From there you're led on a series of comic-book style scenarios that culminate in card battles. The goal of each battle is to exhaust the opponent’s 50 points by using any means necessary. The flow of MTCG is as follows: you draw cards, assign a resource, recruit characters, fight, and recover. There’s plenty of room for complicated combos, but for the most part winning requires luck and a well-engineered deck.
Like mana in Magic, resources are essential for using cards you’ve drawn. Each turn, you can add a card to the resources row. Each card added is worth 1 point, so if a character such as Punisher costs 4 to recruit, you’d need to have 4 resources to bring him to the battle. There are 4 types of cards: characters, equipment, locations, and plot twists. Locations and plot twists can affect characters or the game as a whole. They work well in the resources row since you can use them and still count them as a resource. Though this may sound confusing, it’s a rather efficient and simple system once you get the hang of it. Manage resources well and you’ll be able to recruit your favorite heroes or villains. As you traverse through the rather long story mode, you can spend points on new cards and backgrounds, and build custom decks in the deck editor.
The Nintendo DS version of Marvel Trading Card Game is a clear example of a poor interface sullying an otherwise great experience. The subpar production quality doesn’t trump the overall fun, and addictive nature of teaming your favorite Marvel characters together in strategic combat, but it may make you think twice about which version to ultimately go with.
PSP screens shown