The devil is in the details, and sometimes those details can make the difference between a mediocre game and a respectable one. Released just months ago, Duel Masters: Sempai Legends was a decent but ultimately forgettable addition to the card-battle genre. Its successor, Duel Masters: Kaijudo Showdown, gets the details right and raises the bar for the inevitable sequels to follow.
Originating in Japan, the world of the Duel Masters follows the familiar pattern of collectable card games. The Game Boy experience plays out much the same as both the television programs and real-life card games. Players collect and manipulate massive machines and imposing beasts in a never-ending struggle to prove themselves the best battlers in the world. There is, of course, an evil plot to stop and glory to be won in this card-obsessed world.
Kaijudo Showdown begins with a passing of the torch, as an older brother gives his collection of cards to his sibling and charges him with upholding tradition and becoming the best card battler around. From here, things progress in a fairly linear story that will feel amazingly familiar to many players. Everything revolves around the neighborhood card shops, where cards change hands and reputations are built through one duel after another. Only after building a strong enough deck to win the local tournament can a player receive sponsorship to move on to another shop, another tournament, and eventually down the path to explore an age-old mystery.
The battles themselves are fairly straightforward, with enough variety to keep things interesting without slowing things down with too many rules or variations. Each player begins with a shield made of cards drawn from his deck, and a handful of cards to act with. Cards from the hand may be turned into mana, the universal resource needed to bring cards into play. If enough mana is available, creatures may be brought into play and spells may be cast to interfere with the enemy. Depending on their mana cost and which of the different colored civilizations they belong, creatures may be able to block, attack, or use special abilities in combination with each other. Players take turns trying to bring down their opponent’s shield, until a final blow is struck and the opponent must surrender.
Although these basic mechanics work identically to the earlier Duel Masters title, they seem to flow a bit more smoothly in the new one. The opponent AI seems to make better decisions, particularly when deciding when and how to block an attack. Decisions regarding which creature to attack also seem to make more sense, matching more closely to what a human player might do than following simplistic rules. The process of building a successful deck has become easier, as a number of starter decks may be purchased from the card shops. These static decks can’t be altered, but they do provide a good foundation for learning the game and winning prizes to improve the overall collection.
The presentation of the cards has also improved. Though the battle animations are still very simple and unexciting, it is now possible to view the interesting artwork from the real-life card game, instead of only seeing the simplified versions available in the earlier title. The bland card management and information screens from Sempai have also been replaced with a polished PDA-style interface called the Gizmo. It is now possible to manage multiple decks from the beginning of the game, as well as read small reference books about the game and receive advice on whether or not a trade is a good deal. The Gizmo also allows access to emails sent from game characters, an in-game magazine website, and practice versions of minigames that can later be played in card shops for prizes. Even these simple distractions, like the card trivia minigame, add some depth that had been missing in the series.
Still, many of the smaller complaints from Sempai are still valid. The crisp graphics are marred by the disappointing animation, and the sound is still quite forgettable. Multiplayer battles are possible via link cable, though they exist without many options or Pokemon’s support for the wireless adapter. Names familiar from the television series may be found, but in the end the RPG portion of the game still boils down to an extended excuse to string battle after battle together.
Overall, Kaijudo Showdown is a worthwhile title for Duel Masters fans, even those who may have bought Sempai Legends not long ago. The addition of expansion sets raises the total card count to over 300, but it is the small improvements that bring life to the game and make it more worth playing. Newcomers to the series will find a more accessible and friendly interface, and a better world to learn to duel in. Kaijudo Showdown isn’t for everyone, but those who love collecting and fighting with cards could do much worse.