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What time is it? "Adventure Time: Card Wars" review

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Adventure Time Card Wars mobile game

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If there’s one phrase that draws more ire to the gaming industry than “licensed game”, it’s “free to play”. The presence of microtransactions is enough to have gamers rant about its implementation for years on end; however, when done right, it can be a glorious experience indeed. Oddly enough, while Cartoon Network and D3 Publishers’ “Adventure Time: Card Wars” has a four dollar price tag with an additional free to play model, its combination of addictive and simple gameplay and mostly forgiving mechanics makes this game a wild, enjoyable mobile romp that can be enjoyed in short bursts or a longer playthrough.
Based on the episode of the same name, “Card Wars” is a defictionalization of the “Adventure Time”’s universe, pitting characters from the land of Ooo against each other for the title of “The cool guy”; this all makes sense in context. Players are tasked with eliminating their opponent’s health through the use of different creatures they acquire; each creature has a magic ability which can be activating by “flooping” the creature.
During each player’s turn, they are given magic points to allocate summoning creatures, using spells and abilities, or equipping building cards to fortify their allies. Each player character has a unique hero ability which they can use at predetermined intervals; Jake will power up corn creatures, Princess Bubblegum will heal everyone, and Finn will grant extra magic points, for example. Creatures are separated into five different factions, of which they can be summoned. Landscapes, which are determined by players beforehand, indicate which creatures can be summoned on the field. Battle phases are initiated during each turn; a timing wheel a la “Shadow Hearts” will pop up, granting the attacker the opportunity to score a hit, double damage, or nothing, while defending will either grant a hit, a block, or counter. If there is no creature on the opposite side, a hit is guaranteed. While there are other factors affecting gameplay, the game goes until one player depletes his or her health.
One thing that separates “Card Wars” from other licensed fare is the attention to source material. “Adventure Time” is a very colorful show with zany characters and a pretty psychedelic atmosphere. The aforementioned mechanics scream “Adventure Time”, and everything from the weird terminology to continuity nods (players cannot play against BMO with Jake, a reference to the show). There are some sounds from the voice actors included with each player character, which is a nice touch for a licensed game like this. The soundtrack, while repetitive, does have a lot of musical cues from the show, and the creatures themselves are part of the “Adventure Time” universe. This is an authentic piece of licensed media, and it’s an enjoyable way to explore more of the series’ world.
Of course, with a game such as this, the free to play model is implemented here. However, it goes above and beyond to be an enjoyable experience rather than a hampering limitation. Players are given heart points to advance the multitude of stages; once a duel has begun, at least one heart point is given up to play the stage; this system is reminiscent of any of the King series. However, points are lost even if the player wins, which means losing to a particularly hard challenger might lead to a frustrating wait. Gems are granted for completing certain objectives, which can refill the heart meter as well as purchase new cards and inventory slots. It’s interesting to note that one can refill the heart meter by progressing through the game as well, so exceptional players can blaze through without needing to wait.
Purchasing more gems is the source of microtransactions, but because players can earn them relatively easily, buying gems with real money doesn’t grant a huge advantage; this is where “Card Wars” really shines. One could acquire rare cards through paying to win, but the cards are accessible to everyone. Other than the minor quibbles with the free to play system, there were a couple of performance issues that could be improved; it might have been a personal phone issue (the game was played on an LG G2), but sometimes the interface would glitch out, and cause distractions while attacking. Hearts wouldn’t register as added when they were empty as well, and a gem was needed to refill them instead of waiting. While technical issues do cause a snag in the game, the quality of the game is ultimately top-notch.
“Adventure Time: Card Wars” is a remarkable little title that paves the way for future free to play model games. The wacky nature of the show is captured, and simple yet enjoyable gameplay is included. While the game is four dollars on smartphone app stores in addition to pending microtransactions, it’s a great bargain and a must have for those that want to explore the wonderful world of Ooo.

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