SNK vs Capcom Card Fighters Clash released over 20 years ago to a limited audience. Whilst it’s had several follow ups across several generations; the original has been released once more on Nintendo Switch. Given the time gap; has this gem from handheld history aged well and is a re-release justified or is it just money for old rope.
It’s 1999, the Neo Geo Pocket Color had just been released across Europe, Japan and North America and entered markets dominated by Nintendo’s Game Boy handheld. Trying to take market share, Neo Geo partnered up with fighting game giants SNK and Capcom to bring together a dream collaboration with a ton of famous characters.
In order to compete, Neo Geo banked on the handheld audiences’ appetite for strategic card style battles whilst taking the best parts from the Pokémon series and blending it with a series of characters that players already had a strong affinity for across Street Fighter, King of Fighters, Fatal Fury and other less well known franchises.
Mechanically it’s similar to more current iterations of card series like Hearthstone and Gwent but at the time was much closer to Magic: The Gathering. Each player starts with a deck, customized or other. A hand is drawn by both parties and cards are played into the field with a maximum of three in play at any time. Each card is lovingly illustrated with a manga style interpretation of well known characters and detailed with the cards individual stats.
Rather than just a Top Trumps style trade off, SNK vs Capcom Card Fighters Clash adds another level of stratagem by supplementing certain cards with both special abilities which may be activated on the card being played, partner cards which can be used to backup existing cards on the field and Special Points (SP) which can be added to a pool to be called on to activate said abilities. Mixed into the deck, players also have action cards which can be played to regain card health, double attack or put cards out of action to name but a few.
SNK vs Capcom Card Fighters Clash comes from an era of little hand holding so don’t expect the simplicity and accessibility of the newer card battlers. It’s hard and fairly punishing until you become accustomed to its mechanics and start to build and customise a strong deck. Players who persevere however will find an extremely enjoyable strategy game with some interesting minor mechanics not available in other games since. Playing the wrong three cards to the field can essentially put you massively on the back foot with little opportunity to reverse your decisions and effectively resulting in a loss against your record.
The original game was released in two flavours. The idea that players would trade cards from one version with players of the other to obtain the 300 cards in total mirrored the Red / Blue dynamic introduced by Pokémon and allowed players to create their own customized deck that suited their play style. Given the Neo Geo Pocket Color’s unfortunate lifespan (a mere two years) it was simply too difficult to find someone with a Neo Geo Color and even more difficult to find someone with the alternative version to you. It’s a great move then that this release, almost 23 years later, has access to both versions from the get go with their respective starter decks and unique cards in one place.
Probably the strongest addition outside of access to both versions’ unique cards in one game is the ability to play the games versus mode on a single Nintendo Switch. Each player holds one end of the Switch which, given the lack of unique button assignments, can be easily achieved with a Joy-con each. Adversely, the presentation is a little awkward. Presented in its original aspect ratio with an offer to increase the fidelity via a smoothing filter, the situation is complicated by a virtual Neo Geo Colour placed on the screen.
Probably better on paper than its implementation, the virtual system of SNK vs Capcom Card Fighters Clash leaves you with a smaller amount of real estate with which to see the actual gameplay, instead most players will likely zoom to fit to the Switch screen leaving a half baked view of the rest of the system and its various skin/colour options.
Likely a game that was easily missed the first time around, this re-release deserves your attention if you enjoy card battlers with a mix of Pokemon-like character hunting.
SNK vs Capcom Card Fighters Clash is out now on the Nintendo eShop