In terms of fanservice, few companies do it better than SNK Playmore and Capcom. The ongoing series of SNK vs. Capcom fighting games cram as many characters as possible into an arena and let the zany matchups take center stage. Back when the Neo Geo Pocket Color was still around, there was a card battling spin-off series called SNK vs. Capcom Card Fighters Clash. Unfortunately, the series faded into obscurity after only two releases. Now SNK Playmore has updated Card Fighters Clash and brought it to the Nintendo DS in the form of SNK vs. Capcom Card Fighters DS. This is both a blessing and a curse because while it's a fun card battling game that makes great use of the large body of Capcom and SNK source material, it doesn't handle the transition to the DS well at all. With prominent rough edges and absolutely terrible translation, Card Fighters DS is a sloppy, unfinished game.
In SNK vs. Capcom Card Fighters DS, you play as a young card fighter who has to work his way through 21 levels of a tower full of brainwashed card fighters. These card fighters are being controlled by a sinister computer named Max. By defeating the card fighters in a card battle, you can return them to normal. So you go to one floor, fight four or five card battles, then move on to the next floor and typically fight the same people all over again. The tower is split into two halves, the SNK side and the Capcom side. Depending on which side you're on, you'll have access to different cards at the various card shops in the game. Some tower levels have special themes, such as a Las Vegas level where you have to wager cards or points on each battle.
The battle system in Card Fighters DS is extremely simple, and even if you don't have any previous experience with card games, you'll be able to pick this one up quickly. Each player has a deck of 50 cards. There are three types of cards in the game: character cards, action cards, and counter cards. You can put character cards into play by spending colored force icons, which you generate at each turn depending on how many characters you have in play. Each character card has battle points and hit points, which correspond with strength and health, respectively. During your turn, you can choose to attack with your characters, and if your opponent doesn't defend against your attack, you'll damage him or her directly. The battle is over when one of the card fighters runs out of either hit points or cards.
The character cards are divided into SNK cards and Capcom cards. You'll see hundreds of different characters in the game, from such familiar faces as Akuma, Iori, and Ryu, as well as unexpected appearances from non-fighting game characters, such as Phoenix Wright and Dante. In addition to the basic stats and illustrations, each card also comes with a few sentences of flavor text explaining the background of the character. Most character cards also have special abilities that can be activated by spending force icons. Unfortunately, all that ancillary information is so poorly translated that much of it makes no sense at all. Often when you get a new card, you won't know what it actually does until you use it because the text is either unintelligible or flat-out incorrect.
The battles are simple enough that they flow fairly quickly. However, given that many of the character cards have comparable attributes, victory typically goes to the player who can get the most characters in play quickly. There's very little strategy involved in battle, but setting up your deck does require a bit more forethought to make sure you have plenty of cards you can actually afford. By using the default deck, you can easily fight your way through most of the opponents you'll face in the single-player game. The opponents typically play conservatively, and it's easy to predict what your opponent is going to do. As a result, with the most minimal deck management, you'll rarely lose a battle in the single-player game, even when you reach the upper floors of the tower.
Because the opposition isn't much of a barrier, there are arbitrary and annoying roadblocks that will impede your progress. For instance, some bosses won't fight you or let you pass to the next level until you bring them specific cards. So instead of just beating the boss in a straight-up card battle, you have to visit shops and talk to other characters to try to track down the cards the boss demands.
Once you clear all 21 levels of the tower in the single-player game, you can play through again in a new-game-plus mode. However, there's a glitch that prevents you from getting more than half way up the tower in this mode. When you speak to a certain character, the game freezes, and because you can't beat that character, you can't progress any further up the tower. The glitch is a seemingly simple programming error that can be incredibly aggravating if you're the type of person who wants to see 100 percent of a game. If you're only interested in getting through this game once and don't care about collecting all the cards, then you won't have to worry about this glitch.
In addition to the single-player game, you can play local head-to-head battles with a friend who also has a copy of the game. You can also trade cards with friends, but other than the very basic multiplayer features, there's not much in the way of bonus content in Card Fighters DS. Except for sliding the stylus across the screen to open new card packs, there aren't any touch-screen features to be found.
Because this is a card battling game, there's very little animation. The illustrations on the cards look good, and you can view them in the card gallery. However, during battle, the cards in play are so tiny that they're virtually indistinguishable. The backgrounds are all plain and simple but at least inoffensive. There is a bit of variety to the rudimentary battle animations, but none of them look especially flashy or powerful. The battle music in Card Fighters DS is an upbeat, catchy tune that sounds good.
It's disappointing that Card Fighters DS received such second-rate localization and quality assurance testing because the underlying game is fun and addictive. If there was just a bit more care put into it, this could have been a great game. As it is, the game fails to realize its potential.