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It’s no surprise that a cartoon like Adventure Time would branch out into video games to attract its young (and alternately, geeky adult) audience. What is slightly more startling is how well the latest effort from Cartoon Network stands on its own merits. While certainly effective as a tie-in to the cartoon, its card-battling mechanics are so strong that Card Wars could have done without the license and proven just as sophisticated and inventive.
Named after the popular episode of the same name, Card Wars sees the residents of Ooo challenging each other in a series of one-on-one card bouts. A match starts by laying down four tracts of land, which face against an opponent’s four tracts to form lanes. Those lanes usually define the face-offs between cards, and buildings act as modifiers to the creature cards in play. Each creature can be “flooped” (or tapped) for a special ability, as well. Your goal is to wipe out enemy creatures so that damage inflicted can instead afflict your opponent for the win, progressing through different opponents across the lengthy campaign.
The mechanics are easy to grasp, but with cards that do everything from weaken attack traits to possess enemies, it proves a remarkably deep experience. Each character can also be leveled up for increased HP and MP, and all of the playable characters have special abilities that complement their respective play styles. For example, Jake is best for use with corn-heavy fields — a clear reference to the episode — while Princess Bubblegum is a strong healer. The card collection aspect is rich as well. You gain cards for defeating opponents, but you can also sell cards for coins, or combine them into stronger cards once you receive special recipes. And all of this is delivered with Adventure Time’s signature zany style (complete with plenty of voice acting), so fans will definitely appreciate the humor.
Despite all of these smartly balanced play mechanics, however, an unwarranted energy mechanic rears its head. The energy was supplied generously enough that we didn’t often hit the wall while playing, but it certainly seems more at home in a free-to-play app than a premium one. Purchasable gems are also used to save yourself from a loss or buy premium chests, but they can be earned in-game for finishing challenges. Luckily, the underlying mechanics are so refined and fantastically fun that the energy-based annoyances are easy to ignore, and they’re thankfully not too onerous.
The bottom line. Adventure Time: Card Wars is an impeccably designed card-battler with the show’s signature humor generously slathered over it. Don’t be turned off by the energy mechanics — this is one game that makes that minor annoyance worth tolerating.
iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch running iOS 6.0 or later
Impressively deep card-battling mechanics. Spotlights the show’s signature humor. High production values with plenty of voice acting. Lengthy campaign to play through.
Energy mechanic feels out of place, and might turn off prospective players.