Marvel Trading Card Game

As functional videogame names go, this is right up there with Peter Jackson's King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie, or the shorter but equally exact PSP title The Bible Game. Precision is commendable when naming things, but you'd have thought Konami might have at least allowed itself the kind of gentle boasting seen in the Commodore 64's The World's Greatest Baseball Game or Strip Poker: A Sizzling Game of Chance.

Still, at least Marvel Trading Card Game is a little more descriptive than 1990's Japanese-only Game Boy title known simply as Card Game, a title so magnificently dull you have to wonder if it wasn't coded by two civil servants and a beige-corduroyed librarian.

But what Marvel Trading Card Game lacks in titular complexity, it more than makes up for in mechanical complexity. This card battling game is almost overwhelmingly intricate to anybody who isn't already intimate with Upper Deck's Vs battle system, the card battling aficionado's rule-set of choice.

Indeed, for newcomers the first couple of hours with the game will be a tortuous mixture of wading through overwrought and inexact tutorials before attempting trial-and-error moves against your opponent, while working out exactly what is going on.

In synopsis, things sound a bit simpler. Basically, you and an opponent draw cards from respective bespoke decks before taking turns to put those cards into play, attacking one another in an attempt to deplete the other player's life bar first.

Cards, which are all based on Marvel's colourful line-up of superhero characters and mythology, are divided into four different categories: Characters, Equipment, Plot Twists and Locations. Character cards are, as you might expect, key to winning, as it's with these that you perform actual offensive moves. Equipment and Location cards are used to back-up and improve the abilities of your character cards (or lessen the effectiveness of your opponent's ones), while Plot Twists have more general effects upon the field of play.

These cards can also be chained together with devastating results, enabling you to, for example, force an opponent to discard all of his cards or render all of his character cards unusable for a turn.

To anyone who has played Magic The Gathering this will all sound comfortably familiar. As in that game, cards have a resource cost, payment for which must be built up before they can be put into play. The more powerful the card, the higher the cost.

Additionally, Character cards each have an attack and defence rating, which determines the outcome of altercations with opposing characters. These cards can be placed in one of two front rows on the game board and their strategic positioning is of utmost importance: some excel in ranged attacks while others require proximity to their opponent to be effective. Character cards also have their own affiliations, and like-types will boost each other when placed close to one another, so card placement is an important consideration during play.

There's an awful lot going on, in other words, and, problematically, the screen is extremely cramped and the dull presentation and tiny text does nothing to help what is already a difficult and occasionally capricious experience.

Newcomers will be put off by the game's graphic design, which does little to show off the Marvel characters in interesting ways. The main play screen is cluttered with important-looking icons and it's very hard to keep track of what's going on without hours of perseverance. This dull and functional aesthetic does little to attract fresh players to the admittedly enjoyable depths of trading card games. Presenting so much information on a single screen was always going to be a challenge, but this will be of little comfort if you find yourself confused.

For those who do manage to get to grips with the game, Marvel Trading Card Game is a generous and extensive package, providing two unique single-player stories to work through (you can play as a goody or a baddy), as well as a raft of pleasing multiplayer options, including both local and internet play. However, for pretty much everybody else, its difficulty is too high a barrier to entry and, in all honesty, only the most dedicated newbie will likely persevere towards fathoming its depths to the point of being able to hold their own against devotees online.

Marvel Trading Card Game

For existing fans of trading card games, this is an addictive package offering potentially hours of exciting play. Everyone else may strongly disagree
Simon Parkin
Simon Parkin
Simon Parkin is an author and journalist on video games. A core contributor to Eurogamer and Edge, he is also a critic and columnist on games for The Guardian. He is probably better at Street Fighter than you, but almost certainly worse at FIFA.