Marvel Trading Card Game (or Marvel TCG) is based off the popular trading card game of the same name by Upper Deck Entertainment, using the Vs. System.  One of the biggest draws of the game was that you would be able to play across all consoles (PC, PSP and DS).  As we all know, trading card games have always been a hit or miss proposition when brought to consoles or PCs (as anyone who has played some of the M:TG games can tell you), but things have gotten better with the Yu-Gi-Oh! games, among others.  This time, with Konami handling publishing duties, and developed by 1st Playable, the questions to be answered are both if it’s a faithful adaptaion of the card game, and if it’s easy enough to pick up for someone who knows more about the comics than the trading card game.

The graphics in Marvel TCG are a mixed bag, at best.  While in-game, the graphics of the cards and the playboards are passable.  The game is played with the DS held sideways, with the gameboard on your left, and the card showing up in better detail on the right.  While the detail on the cards themselves when brought up close is crisp and easy to read, the same cannot be said while it’s on the gameboard itself.  It’s hard to distinguish cards from each other at a casual glance, and it’s easy to mistake one for another.  If you’re not paying careful attention to your cards (or worse, your opponent’s), you’ll be easy prey for whoever you’re playing against.

One seriously bright point here is in the storyline itself.  The game’s story is told via comic-book panels, and they are extremely well done, having the visual style of the mid to late 1980s comics that I grew up with.  It was a welcome surprise to see this amount of detail given to the story in a trading card game, and it definitely helped to draw me into the game a bit more.

To be honest, there’s not much sound in Marvel TCG to go on.  There’s absolutely no voice and very little in the way of sound effects while playing the game itself.  There’s music, but it’s obviously looped, and without very much difference when in various games. 

The sound effects that are in the game do about what you’d expect them to do:  They react to the cards being played, having sounds for taking and giving damage and cards going off the table.  There’s absolutely nothing memorable about the sound, much less the music.  If I’m playing as a bad guy, I want to have some sinister march telling the world to beware my evil might!  And if I’m playing as a hero, I want something triumphant to let the world know that evil had better beware.  What we get here instead is something that says, “You’re in an elevator.  Press a button and get out, please.”

It’s disappointing, really, especially considering what the DS is capable of as far as sound and music.  Hopefully if there’s a sequel to this game, or another using the same engine, some tuning will be used in this area.

All of the controls in the game are via the touch screen.  The game even helpfully asks if you’re left handed or right, to adjust the screen appropriately.  You tap on the screen to select your cards, change phases, and do pretty much everything in the game.

Unfortunately, there’s no confirmation when selecting a card, so it’s very easy (especially for novice players) to select the wrong card and do something you really didn’t intend to do, and it’s also easy to skip a phase entirely, which can be quite disasterous.  There were a number of times that I simply quit out of a match because I had hit the wrong card, or skipped a refresh phase which crippled me.

What’s there works quite well, it’s more the fact of what isn’t there which is the problem here.  This is more annoying in the sense of having something mostly-polished, and having that one thing niggling at your brain which you just can’t let go of.  In this case, it’s the lack of confirmations.

Marvel TCG is, like many other TCGs, a battle between two players with the goal to whittle your opponent’s life pool to zero, in this case from fifty.  You do this by placing resources, and using them to recruit people and equipment, and use them to attack your opponent.  Along the way, you’ll use Plot Twists (essentially interrupts, for MTGers) to affect the course of battles. 

That’s the game in a nutshell, but buried within that is a wealth of strategy to make even the most avid TCGer think for a fair amount of time.  And that, really, is the problem.  The game starts you off with a set of tutorials narrated by Professor Xavier, and while they do a good job of getting a novice into the action and teaching them how to play the game, there’s no substitute for experience, which means that you’ll have to dive right into the action.

The problem here is that the first battle you fight in story mode, on either the hero or villain mode, involves a rather nasty pair of cards:  Arcade and Puppet Master.  Puppet Master activates (or taps) to exhaust (or tap) a character your opponent controls.  Arcade KOs (sends to graveyard) any character he stuns.  Normally, when a character takes more damage than he has health, he’s stunned, and you can revive one stunned character at the end of each turn.  While the game doesn’t bring out this combo every time you play, it does it often enough, and early enough, that it gives novice players a very tough fight.  If the AI gets it out early enough, you’re facing a character that kills almost anything you bring out and one that makes you unable to attack with a character.  This tends to keep you low on characters, making the game very difficult.

This theme is continued, really, throughout the game.  People who are proficient at the TCG will have much less difficulty building a solid deck and playing the game, and will likely enjoy it more.  People who are new to the game, though (like myself) will have a much harder time picking up on everything, and will get much more frustrated.  

Online play is another story, as while connectivity with the PC and PSP play was advertised, what you get is really only the option to play against a random person or someone already on your DS Friends List.  This may be more of a problem with the DS than anything else, and one would hope not a problem with Konami’s online service.

In a nutshell, if you play and like the Marvel Trading Card game, then Marvel TCG is a great purchase for you, especially at $30.  If, however, you’re like me and don’t know very much about the ins and outs and strategies of the game, it gets very frustrating very quickly.  Granted, the game has quite a bit of replay value with two stories to play through as well as online play, and the price isn’t bad.

In short, the game is definitely not aimed at the novice TCGer, which is a shame, as it’s really not that bad of a game.