It's a result we had previously only dared to hope for. When SNK Vs. Capcom: Match of the Millennium dropped on Switch almost a year ago, the fruits of the two fighting game companies' all-too-brief alliance were once again deemed "potentially in play". But when the labelled "Volume 1" of the wonderful Neo Geo Pocket Color Selection came out, we were a little cut up that the opportunity hadn't been taken to feature what is arguably the best game on the system, Card Fighters' Clash. We were sceptical that the professed first volume would ever be followed up by a second — as much as we love the Neo Geo Pocket Color (and we do, it's brilliant), it doesn't have the biggest library and most of the already-localised essentials were in that initial batch. Now, though, all bets are off as — thank god — Card Fighters' Clash has made it to Switch. Calloo callay, 'tis a frabjous day!
Originally released in 1999 (sufficiently close to the Japanese release of Pokémon Trading Card Game to allay any concrete accusations of style-biting), it's a card-battling RPG par excellence, with incredibly simple mechanics making the game — yes! — extremely easy to get into, but with depth enough to make it a long-term commitment to attain mastery.
Indeed, it's not dissimilar to the perennial Magic: The Gathering, with each side allowed to place a maximum of three Character Cards, drawn one at a time. Cards will attack each other first, then the "player" behind them (you, or your opponent). For example, say you played Terry Bogard against your opponent, who played R. Mika. That face off would see your 1000 BP Terry remove the 200 BP R. Mika from play, but her 200 BP would be subtracted from that thousand leaving Terry with 800 BP, which would then be subtracted from your opponent's overall health. Once said health hits zero, you win, so it's all about keeping the pressure on.
If it were just this Top Trumps stuff, then of course it would be too simple, so wrinkles are introduced with certain cards packing special abilities that can activate on play, during your turn or after playing another card. It's also possible to combine ("Unite") related Character Cards to really press the attack at the potential disadvantage of leaving you open to a counter.
Additionally, drawing and playing a Character Card from your hand grants you SP, which can then be spent to use Action Cards that will help you turn the tide. Think of Trainer Cards from Pokémon TCG, or — er, Community Chest. It's in judicious spending of your limited SP, clever application of your different Character Cards' various abilities and BP scores, and a strong line of defence from which a thoroughly enjoyable, profoundly tactical and incredibly addictive game emerges. The only downside is that games can sometimes drag on a little due to the extensive countering, and sometimes, if you don't manage to get a decent foothold (so to speak) on the match, it'll be a frustrating, losing battle of attrition.
Of course, it helps if you're a fan of SNK and/or Capcom — with 300 cards to collect, each brilliantly illustrated with classic super-deformed manga art that's rich with character and colour, while also communicating everything you need to know as concisely as possible. It's all rather marvellous looking, actually, with clean visuals and superb conveyance. All the information you'll want is always available. Picking cards, modifying decks and simply moving around the map are all intuitive and enjoyable.
Ah yes, the map. The RPG side of this card RPG is, again, simple — and familiar as heck to Pokémon fans — but it's packed with slightly wonky Neo Geo charm. The translation is exuberant and a bit strange, but in a way that's thoroughly nostalgic and quite charming. Travelling to the various Capcom and SNK themed areas, challenging other players to card battles and winning boosters... it's simultaneously chilled out and compulsive as you build your deck up with fan-favourite SNK and Capcom heroes and villains.
A brilliant game, then, but we should also talk about the port. Originally, there were two versions of this game — Capcom and SNK, natch — and here, you're able to play either. Even better, though, you can trade cards between the two versions, making collecting all 300 of them far less arduous than it used to be. You can also play versus mode using a single system — each player holds one end of the Switch, which is obviously not ideal but the fact it was included at all is a bit of a testament to how strong the port is. Other Neo Geo Pocket Selection features are here too, of course — rewind, manual, customisable display area.
As good as it ever was and now incredible value, SNK Vs. Capcom: Card Fighters' Clash is still essential. Obviously the card-based gameplay isn't going to appeal to everyone, but at this asking price we'd say it's worth a go even if card games usually turn you off, especially if you dig SNK/Capcom's extensive character rosters. Many, many series are represented here and everything you need to learn to play is available in the scanned manual as well in-game via tutorials. Let it get its hooks into you and you've got a bit of a masterpiece here, and we're absolutely delighted that it's graced the Nintendo Switch with its excellence.