This Tuesday YUKE’S gave North America its Halloween treat early with Neverland Card Battles for PSP. Neverland takes off from a previously Japanese only PS2 title, but its finally made it our way with all kinds of new features including all new cut scenes, updated graphics and sound as well as an ad hoc multiplayer mode. This is one of those games Westerners should be thankful finally made the jump and certainly one that we’re grateful to get the chance to go hands-on with to see what makes this game so popular across the pond.
In Neverland players take the role of Galahad (no, not that one), who has magically appeared at a shrine built to seal away the terrible god Hellgia. Hellgia was imprisoned in an alternate dimension by the other gods because he tried to rid all of Neverland of the human race. His argument was that this would end the war between humans and demons, which has caused untold suffering for the generations it has been going on. Because they feared his power they broke it apart into Cards, which are rumored to give humans the power of the gods.
Now, Hellgia’s seal is breaking and several humans like Galahad have been summoned to the shrine. Some want to use the cards to keep Hellgia trapped. Other card wielders, called dominators, want to steal opponents cards to attain the godlike powers. Still there are those that want to free Hellgia and welcome his all cleansing fire and destruction. As Galahad, players must explore deeper and deeper into Cardinal Arc and face the many dominators already on their own journey toward destiny.
The visuals are strong for this type of game. Neverland Card Battles certainly isn’t eye candy, but that doesn’t matter. It does boast some great looking cards that, dare I say, easily rival most of the collectible battle card games out there. On board attacks using spell cards do feature some cool effects, especially when using some of the Godseal Talisman Cards. Fights between summoned cards or characters vary by what the character is, but never go much beyond the same sword swing or spell cast movement. The full motion videos happen completely outside of the actual battles.
While it may not catch players as visually stunning, the tactics and gameplay truly make Neverland shine. Each match takes place on a different playing field where players must move across the board to gain territory. The more spaces acquired, the more points they have to summon or cast spells at the start of a round. This factor alone calls for much of the strategy.
At the start of each round the player must have enough territory, called their Conquest, to support the costs of each card they currently have on the board as well. If a player begins losing ground, their opponent is gaining that much more territory and can accomplish more summons and spells, making it that much harder to make a comeback.
The playing field has another feature players will need to take into account. Some spaces on boards have elemental properties attached to them. Cards with this same element can be summoned onto anyone of those spaces instead of just a space bordering the character or another previously summoned character. Characters standing on their element are more powerful in both attack and defence. Also, pay attention to tight spaces as players can cast forts or walls in opponents’ paths to block an area and buy time to regroup and strategize.
Here’s how a typical round goes: Players start off with a deck of 30 cards which can be completely customized. Players can have 3 decks total, but only 1 can be brought into a battle. At the start players will have 3 cards in hand and will draw another at the start of each round. At first they’ll have to gain some territory to get enough points to summon. After a few rounds, gameplay picks up and more cards are summoned. The start of the round is where players can first use summon cards or cast spell cards. After they’re done or have no more points to use, it’s time to move on board characters and attack opponents. Then the role reverses and so on. At the end of the battle players are rewarded with new cards for their decks, which makes replaying helpful in building decks.
This pattern can be tedious, especially since there is no way to speed things up or skip the fighting sequence. This is because players can still use attribute cards just before individual character fights. This problem is highlighted by the fact that this is a PSP title. Battles can easily last 45 minutes to an hour, which usually isn’t what a portable system is for. Thankfully players can just put the system in sleep mode and pick up the battle the next chance they get.
The character summons are great and varied including wizards, knights, insects, elementals, demons and all kinds of monsters in between with varying stats. Some of these summons will boost other characters’ stats by positioning next to them. Once summoned, players can even cast spell attribute cards to boost individual or entire team stats. All of the summon cards from fighting characters, forts or barricades and healing pools create great strategy when taking the terrain, element areas and acquired territory into account. However, even the best fighter built deck can be wiped out with some well used spell cards.
The spell cards are one of the few gripes I had with this game. Some cards, like Magic Bolt can directly attack any opponent regardless of where they are on the board. Other cards can boost stats and effect characters in all kinds of ways. All of this makes for a more challenging and entertaining variety. However, and again I’m griping here, there are some cards that can destroy unsummoned cards from opponents decks or wipe out every enemy on the map. This last scenario happened to me and let me just say that I may have to start playing my PSP with a wrist strap on. That thing was about to make like a Wiimote and break something. Crazy cards like this destroy any strategy going on. Yes, this makes things more challenging and I did manage to pull a win from somewhere (my you know what), but major shakeups like this are better suited to fast paced and already crazy games like Smash Bros. and not used by a tough boss that “randomly” drew it to wipe out players and nearly kill them with an aneurysm.
Even with the long and occasionally unbalanced matches, Neverland Card Battles easily makes its home here on the PSP. The deep and constantly changing strategies by opponents and deck building system make for endless replayability. Even for expert strategists, Neverland will take around 30 hours to complete. If that wasn’t enough there is also the two player ad hoc system, so players can stick it to their friends (I recommend some of those particularly nasty spell cards to piss them off).
- Excellent strategy offering new challenges and tactics for every battle.
- High replayability and addictive.
- Ad Hoc two player battles.
- Unable to speed up gameplay or skip repetitive battle sequences — necessarily unavoidable.
- Long battles sometimes interrupted due to the fact that its on the PSP and players may just be playing on their commute.
- Some of the spell cards carry a heavy “cheating like a bitch” factor.