Dial back the clock a couple of years and Lightseekers was a very different prospect. British developer PlayFusion successfully took to Kickstarter with an idea that was both ahead of the curve and a little late to the party. A mobile RPG with toys-to-life figures that served as both talking playthings and controllers – including collectable cards that used a neat AR function that added an extra layer of interactivity – it proved a crowdfunding concept too cool to pass up.
It was an ambitious project, and one that came together surprisingly well, but with the toys-to-life market already in a state of decline by 2017 (and one of its exclusive retailers, Toys R’ Us, disappearing into administration) the combo of expensive physical toys and a fun yet unremarkable Diablo-lite game were enough to see it retreat into obscurity. However, with all that lore and a treasure trove of in-game collectable cards, PlayFusion instead did the smart thing and used all that material to build its own CCG.
Originally launched on mobile last summer, the new iteration of Lightseekers has forged a decent little following in the months that have followed, which is quite the feat considering the vice-like grip the likes of Hearthstone and Magic the Gathering have on the digital card game market. But neither of those titles seemingly ready to make the jump to Nintendo Switch (and The Elder Scrolls: Legends still yet to launch), PlayFusion has decided to make the jump for itself, bringing cross-platform online play and all the current deck updates to a new console platform.
A big selling point is the relationship between physical cards and their digital selves. Unlike Hearthstone and its contemporaries, Lightseekers is already a moderately popular physical trading card game with starter decks, themed decks and booster packs available to buy online and at hobby stores. By using a smartphone app that links to your account, existing players (or those that already own the toys-to-life aspect) can scan all their cards directly into the game and incorporate every card into their customisable deck.
With practically every other CCG/TCG leaning entirely on their digital storefronts, the fact Lightseekers is creating a synergy between the tabletop version of the game and the mobile one shows its developer still knows how to think outside the box. This is a free-to-play title, so even if you don’t own any of the cards in physical form, there’s still plenty of free ones you to unlock via the tutorial and a series of single-player missions. However, by the same token, if you do want to purchase booster packs, avatar images and more, you can sink cash into microtransactions. That aforementioned tutorial is mercilessly brief, so prepare to research the deeper mechanics at play before you venture into the killing fields online in ranked or casual play.
As a CCG in the age of Hearthstone and its continued digital dominance, Lightseekers includes plenty of mechanics you’ll likely recognise and balances them out with its own take on proceedings. Certain cards will fortify others, taking some or all of the damage from an incoming attack, while others will provide instant debuffs or healing effects. The two most enjoyable elements are Buffs and Combos. Buffs are cards that last for multiple turns, with numbers on their corners that denote a certain value per turn. From doubling your damage output to absorbing incoming flak, these are the true long game of Lightseekers.
Combos use other cards as fuel – if they’re of the same deck type – and can provide game-changing damage or healing effects. These are the 'supers' of Lightseekers and are your sacrificial altar when praying for a win against the odds. Once you’ve ventured online and had your backside lashed raw by a seasoned mobile veteran with a full channel of Buffs and strategically played Combos, you’ll appreciate just how much nuance exists between cards. For every thrashing, there’s a back-and-forth thriller where the right hand can turn the highest of tides.
There are some problems, though – some of which developer PlayFusion is already actively addressing. Currently, the game only works in handheld mode, so you won’t be able to play Lightseekers on your TV for the time being, but a patch is expected in the near future to rectify this. It’s important to remember this is a game that benefits from the simplicity of touchscreen inputs and is in no way diminished by being restricted to a smaller screen. However, this does mean you can't use your Joy-Con either, so you really are bound to touch inputs only.
There’s also the issue of the need for constant online connection. Even when playing against the CPU in the campaign missions, if you don’t have access to Wi-Fi the game is effectively unplayable. It’s an issue that can be bypassed in the mobile iteration because you have a constant data connection, but on Switch, Lightseekers simply isn’t something you can play while on the commute or on your lunch break – unless you use your smartphone as a portable hotspot or you can connect to an open Wi-Fi point. As such, this is a fun and rewarding CCG you can only really enjoy in select places. Perhaps its down to the cross-platform functionality with the mobile version of the game, but whatever the reason, it’s an issue that will only serve to drive some potential Switch players away, and that's a shame.
Despite a limiting always-online requirement and a current lack of support for docked/tabletop play, Lightseekers rescues itself from by disaster thanks largely to the robust nature of its card system, the support for scanning in physical cards and the sheer depth of tactics available to different skill levels. Thankfully, it's also free-to-play and the the ability to earn digital cards at a steady pace via in-game challenges will keep players coming back for more each day. It’s great to finally have a proper CCG on Switch – even if it's not properly optimised for Nintendo’s hybrid console quite yet.