Card Shark (Switch) Review
Whenever a poker mini-game pops up in a game I think “now is the time to learn how to play poker”. And every time I wind up no better at poker, only playing as much as the story requires. Now Card Shark has arrived, a game where everything comes down to a game of cards. Now, don’t go looking up how to play poker just yet! Card Shark isn’t about learning how to play cards, it’s about how to cheat and win cards.
Set in 18th century France, you play as a young mute who is taken in by the Comte de Saint-Germain, a man who likes to alleviate the rich of their riches as he trains you to be his partner in crime. However some secrets are worth more than gold, and there’s a grand conspiracy about to unfold if you play your cards right.
Card Shark is an adventure game that has you select locations on a map. As you travel to a new opponent, the Comte will show you a new technique you’ll be using to help stack the deck in your favour.
As I mentioned at the beginning, if you’re coming into this worried that you aren’t any good at poker, there’s no need to worry! Card Shark isn’t about teaching you how to play poker, but to play your opponents. There are over 20 different kinds of techniques/tricks that you’ll learn throughout the game, with some building on previous techniques. Each technique is introduced through a tutorial session, explaining the tricks of the trade while giving you as much time as you need to practice it. With some techniques I spent some time getting it just right, but it was worth it so I could stick it to those fancy rich folk.
Initially the rounds are pretty straightforward; make sure you don’t raise your opponents’ suspicion too much or you’ll lose more than your coins. This is represented through a meter that begins at zero and climbs throughout the card game. It can get very precarious — if you want to bet big you’ll need to be quick to play your hand. The meter adds an urgency to pulling off these techniques, if you take too long peeking at the opponent’s hand you’ll tip them off. The only way to reduce the meter is to lose a round, which itself can be expensive for yourself and it may not reduce the meter enough. As the plot thickens you’ll learn you’re not the only one that doesn’t play by the rules.
Losing all of your money is the more annoying way to be set back. If you die, you get a chance to go back to the current scene with the opportunity to hold on to your money and, more importantly, your life. However when you lose all of your money, you have to go back to camp for a handful of coins and get a few small wins under your belt until you can get back in.
Card Shark can be a fickle game at times. One wrong button press, one missed moment and it can set you back. It’s super frustrating when a movement of the stick double registers, mucking up a round. Fortunately the techniques that rely on that kind of movement are few and far between, but still. If you are finding yourself getting stuck with some techniques but you want to see where the story goes, you can bump the difficulty down to give you the option to move on. If you want to really test your mettle then there’s increasing the difficulty, which won’t tolerate slip ups and you’ll be starting from scratch.
The game does run the risk of introducing too many different techniques. When it gives you the option of several to use for the round, there’s every chance you won’t quite remember what most of them are. It’s not helped by there being multiple steps, where one technique can be very similar to another. Most of the time learning the different tricks and using them while under suspicion of the opponent is exciting.
The artwork of Nicolai Troshinsky is lovely. The colours and patterns really pop on the Switch OLED screen. The game looks like a combination of vivid scenic paintings, and the characters alternate between looking like paper puppets and old newspaper cartoon caricatures.
As for how the techniques play out in the game, there’s some neat ways to engage. There’s simple interactions like pouring wine into a glass while you have a peek at the opponents cards. You have to focus on pouring while being careful not to overfill the cup and raise suspicions. There’s bending/marking cards, or even just thumbing through a deck to pick out aces which all have different ways to interact with the cards. The developers Nerial also have some form with card games, being the creators of Reigns and its spin offs. With Card Shark it’s good to see them doing something different in a familiar space, telling a story through cards in interesting ways.
Card Shark might not always play a winning hand, but it is an enjoyable game of cards. A story that pulls you in, an art style that is a delight, all the whilst making card games fun. You don’t even have to be into card games to get the most out of it, I’m definitely no wiser about playing poker. Card Shark is worth placing a bet on.
Screenshots courtesy of the Nintendo Switch eShop.
+ A great card game for people who don’t play card games
+ The story keeps upping the ante
+ A delightful art style
- Not every card technique is explained well
- Death is better than losing all of your money