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iPhone  header logo

Swords & Poker Adventures

For: iPhone   Also on: iPad

I'm cashing out

Product: Swords & Poker Adventures | Publisher: Konami | Format: iPhone | Genre: Arcade, Casual, Puzzle | Players: 1 | Version: Europe | App version: 1.0.0
Swords & Poker Adventures iPhone, thumbnail 1
You know when one of your favourite old bands reforms after a considerable hiatus? Swords & Poker Adventures feels a bit like that to me, and not in a good way.

The "band" stood before me has lost its key creative component. It appears to have had cosmetic work done in an attempt to keep up with the times, but it's ended up looking worse for it.

And most heinous of all, this band plays through its former hits in a perfunctory manner, seemingly in a cynical grab for cash.

Fuzzy memories

If that intro sounds bitter, I apologise. But the first two Sword& Poker games were two of my favourite iOS games of the early App Store era.

In fact, they still are. By a strange twist of fate, I went back to Sword & Poker 2 a few weeks ago to see if my fond memories of the game could withstand the ravages of time and Retina graphics.

If anything, it's gone up in my estimation. It remains a nigh-on perfect mobile game, combining RPG, strategy, and card game elements in a way that's as intuitive and immediate as it is deep and involving.

Sadly, Sword & Poker's original developer, Gaia, folded some time around the turn of the decade. And then Konami bought up the long dormant IP, which is why we now have this belated pseudo-sequel.

Chips are down

With of all that taken into consideration, it's a shame to report that Swords & Poker Adventures disappoints.

The core premise remains the same, though, which means that it's essentially pretty good fun.

IAPs explained
There's a welcome optional one-off £2.99 payment to remove the irritating energy system.

In addition, you'll probably need to purchase some gems if you're to make decent progress. A small bag of 120 gems can be had for £1.49. That'll buy you the first available gem-only weapon.

At the other end, 12,000 gems can be had for £69.99.

Sword & Poker 2 is still available for £2.49. Just saying.
You're faced with a 3x3 grid of randomly arranged playing cards, and are dealt four more. You then take it in turns with an AI opponent to place two of your cards onto the grid, one either side of a row of three, to form a classic poker hand.

The higher the value of the hand, the stronger the attack on your opponent.

As before there's a considerable RPG element to play too. You can purchase and equip new swords and shields which bolster your attack and defence stats respectively.

There are also limited-use magical attacks that can give you the upper hand if you play them smartly.

One boosts the effect of the bonus row. These are the extra rows of cards that accumulate around the outside of the game grid, and you can combine them for extra attacks at the end of a round.

Bad hand

So, Swords & Poker Adventures runs through the familiar beats that made the first two games so good. The trouble is that each individual element lacks a certain spark, and is markedly inferior to the original implementation.

Let's start with the new graphics. Obviously such things are subjective, but to these eyes the new fantasy art style is painfully dull. Out go the cute big-nosed gnomes and expressive scowling mushrooms of the previous games in favour of a deeply generic menagerie seemingly culled from a third-rate JRPG.

Yes, these graphics take advantage of the latest Retina display technology, and they fill the screens of both my iPhone and my iPad. But that's the bare minimum we expect from an iOS game in 2014, right?

Meanwhile, the menus are ugly and indistinct, prompting you to spend as little time as possible in them.

House rules

But it's the inevitable encroachment of a free to play system that really does for Swords & Poker Adventures.

Sword & Poker 2 presented an almost perfect level of challenge, enabling you to branch off to complete optional fights in a bid to secure more money for yourself. The related market for new weapons and shields was expertly balanced, forcing you to make tough decisions on your load-out prior to each floor.

Everything here, by contrast, seems to have been rejigged to fit a different payment model, and it saps so much of the joy out of the game.

You now have a persistent energy system that stops you from playing too many consecutive games in a row. This can be removed with a one-off purchase, thankfully, but it's annoying that it was implemented in the first place.

Everything else - including the requirement to purchase many of the bonus power-ups at the start of every round - cannot be removed. Some of the more interesting weapons and shields need to be obtained with blue crystals, the game's premium currency.

There's also a new star system that requires you to complete the levels in a certain way to unlock additional bonuses. Most of these bonuses can't be achieved without splashing out on new weapons or power-ups, rendering them a pointless waste of time for most players.

Beyond all this, everything just feels like it's been artificially stretched out in a bid to maximise your social interaction (a Facebook sign-up is strongly encouraged - essential, in fact, for the new bonus card feature) and likelihood of splashing out.

And it comes at the expense of a sense of meaningful progression and reward.

All bets are off

Swords & Poker Adventures plays a fundamentally decent game of fantasy-tinged card battling. The raw ingredients are all still there.

But the balance of the game, the visual appeal of it, the structure of its many systems, and the overall presentation - all of these things fall way short of the relatively ancient originals.

Of course, most people won't have played those games, and so won't care too much about the adverse comparison. They will probably see this limp reimagining as just another free to play time waster, discarded after a few days play, unaware of how brilliant it could and should have been.

And that's a bit sad.
Swords & Poker Adventures
Reviewer photo
Jon Mundy | 22 July 2014
A limp revival of a lost iOS classic, Swords & Poker Adventures offers an interesting mix of RPG, card game, and strategy ingredients, but the preparation has been fumbled
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