Sweet Memories Blackjack is a strange arrival on the 3DS eShop, with a Japanese concept and style that typically doesn’t make it outside of the Land of the Rising Sun. While card games are common on DSiWare, this 3DS exclusive follows a different approach that aims to bring a relationship dynamic to proceedings. This title may want to be our friend, but we’re not sure we want to return the favour.
So, how is a relationship and memories plot – a term we use in the loosest sense – applied in a card game? It’s within the Normal mode that this is prominent, as you play round after round of blackjack with Kasumi, a Japanese teenager in whom you’re apparently trying to revive long-lost memories and, ultimately, develop a stronger relationship. We can only assume that she’s obsessed with Blackjack because it’s the most simplistic card game where little skill is required. You try to get as close as you can to 21 before you Stand, and if your score is better than hers you win the bet.
Some tactics are needed in terms of deciding the size of the bet, whether to double up or sacrifice half the bet in a ‘surrender’, but it’s ultimately a game of random chance. Generally we found that we won more than half the time, though Kasumi stretched the bounds of good fortune on some occasions, sometimes scoring as many as three perfect 21s at in a row. After a few rounds, or within about five minutes, you’ll have explored practically all of the strategic variations Blackjack has to offer. At this point the grind begins.
The objective in the Normal mode is to go from a level one relationship with Kasumi up to a level three, at which point a ‘kissing game’ is prompted. We’ll be honest and say that we never got that far, as a few hours play and over 600 rounds later we were still at level one, making the end game, if that’s what it is, seem like an interminable distance away. The problem is that all you do is play round after round, trying to increase your coin haul to the mysterious level required for level two. Tedium kicks in very quickly, with the occasional sense that it’s slowing you down with runs of bad luck to extend playtime further. This title is crying out for a variety of card games to play to keep things interesting.
Sweet Memories Blackjack does try to offset the laborious grind with some stylistic touches. When you play you hold the 3DS on its side, with your opponent on the widescreen and controls on the touch screen. This does mean that this is possibly the first 3DS download title with no 3D effect at all; we assume that this wasn’t on DSiWare due to file size restrictions. That said, the images are stylish but simple, yet the elevator music is unlikely to have caused space issues.
What the title does offer, beyond the Kasumi relationship, is a score mode where you can compete in short matches against five other unlockable Japanese teenage girls and young adults. They all have their own characteristics, and this mode accounts for some of the achievements that you’re encouraged to chase, with the rewards being simple images to gawk at. There’s basic use of the system’s clock as well, as your opponents wear different outfits in different locations depending on the time of day. Kasumi goes from school to evening wear to, peculiarly, lying in her bed. Rest assured anxious parents, it’s all thoroughly decent, but it’s strange that you’re ultimately in the girl's bedroom to play a bit of Blackjack, after all.
Sweet Memories Blackjack is a peculiar title that aims to add extra interest to a simple card game with the motivation to develop a relationship with the lead character. While it does this without any significant problems, the actual concept is worse than mediocre, as you’re expected to play hundreds, potentially thousands of rounds of Blackjack to make any progress. That’s a bad idea, and no amount of earnest attempts at keeping you interested can save that fact. Our memories are anything but fond.