Ok, I am having a hard time writing a cool opening paragraph for this game. A game combining our beloved poker with a mano o mano duel gameplay interspersed with RPG elements sounds kind of iffy. And that is where my problem starts as Sword & Poker is one of the best games I have come across in the last month. I have got almost every big release from Gameloft, Electronics Arts and even Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars on my iPhone. Still the game getting my attention is a small $0.99 game from a small Japanese developer.
The rules of poker is the foundation of the gameplay in Sword & Poker. Nine cards are placed in the middle of a 5×5 grid, and you have to make poker hands using your four on hand cards. In the early levels of the game you focus all your attention on the poker aspect of the game, and there is a lot of strategy involved. You play in rounds, and when the board is filled you get a new layout to play on. Usually the last hand to be played can create a chain of hands, and as you can choose to pass you can plan some hands ahead.
The aim of the game is to kill your opponent by reducing his health to zero. The enemy has the same goal of course, and if you die you have to restart the current floor. Each floor is shown as a map that you move around your little token. You can choose to go for shortcuts, or you can go for all the treasure chests on the map. The more treasure you have collected the more money you will get when conquering the floor. There are also charge coins that refills your health completely. These can be found in treasure chests, and are vital to your success as you carry your health points for the entire floor. Loosing a lot of health early on a floor is not a problem, as you can restart the floor easily. Getting killed at the end of a floor is a pain though as you have to replay the entire floor. I really enjoy this old school kind of difficulty that punish you for failing. There is always a strategy involved as you close in on an enemy. Should I use the charge coin to get full health or go for a close kill and get extra money for the charge coin?
The RPG elements are limited to buying health point upgrades, buying new weapons and shield, and choosing which magic to wield. Still those elements add a lot of fun as the weapons, magical powers and shields all have their different abilities affecting the gameplay. A bit of grinding is also needed, and as it is really easy to replay earlier levels for more money.
Enemies are varied, in both appearance and abilities. The AI is quite simple, and at times it misses clear opportunities to stop you from getting a great hand such as a flush or straight. For the most part it uses it’s magic though, and it can mess up your plan severely. The challenge in Sword & Poker comes from harder to kill, more vicious and definitely nastier monsters down in the dungeon.
Sword & Poker has got a story as well, but it takes a backseat to the brilliant combination of poker and strategy. The presentation is great, both graphically and in terms of audio. The music bores me after an hour or two, but thankfully you can easily play your own music if you turn the BGM down to zero. I have had some trouble with crashing on my 3GS, but my wife have had no trouble with her 3G. The developer has recently released a bug fix, and I hope there will be another bug fix addressing whatever problem causes my 3GS to crash.
I have spent more than 20 hours with the game, and I have yet to complete it. I guess it will be another 20 hours before I find out what the heck is going on with that evil Lord of Chaos. You can even play a friend on the same device making it one of the best pass n’ play titles available alongside Drawrace. This gives Sword & Poker a hefty gamelife, but of course some sort of online functionality would enhance it even further.
Sword & Poker gives me the same feeling that I get when I play PuzzleQuest. It has got that same “just one more battle, just one more” addictive flair. Poker is by itself a quite fun card game, but somehow I will never be able to enjoy it as much after having played Sword & Poker. At $0.99 there really isn’t any reason not to get Sword & Poker.