I have a confession. As much as I, like everyone else, adored the early Pokemon games growing up, I actually thought the Pokemon Trading Card game on Game Boy was more my speed.
It ignited a love of digital TCGs with me, but for all of Hearthstone and Legends of Runeterra's great action and strategy, nothing else added that full RPG-style campaign that I came to love - until now.
Shadowverse: Champion's Battle has come out of nowhere to become one of my favourite Switch games of 2021 so far.
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It's Time To Duel... No, Not Like That
In typical RPG fashion, players arrive as the new kid in town, running late on their first day of school. Fear not, though, as academics and hard work will only get you so far in life – you'll also need to learn to play Shadowverse.
You'll grow your school's Shadowverse club, all the while building out deck recipes and earning cards, with a fair amount of grinding for earning the missing pieces of the killer deck you've been perfecting.
The storyline is thin and predictable, but it's preferable to the likes of Yu-Gi-Oh: Legacy of the Duelist where you're essentially playing cards in between menu screens.
Once you're done, though, there's local and online multiplayer - provided both players have a copy of the game.
The Theory Of Evolution
What helps is that Shadowverse's basic card combat is pretty simple to pick up, but has a nice, clear difficulty curve - albeit with the occasional spike.
Cards are split between followers you can summon, single-use spells, and amulets that affect the battlefield in different ways. You'll need to take out your opponent's health to win, and after a few matches where they start considerably worse off than yourself, it becomes clear you can't just go attacking every turn.
Followers cannot attack the turn they were played, for instance, mimicking Magic: The Gathering's summoning sickness, but you'll accrue the points to summon more and more powerful cards each turn. In many ways, it feels closest to Hearthstone than any other digital card game I've played, but with one key mechanic - evolution.
After a set number of turns, players can spend one of their evolution points to buff a follower's stats and trigger any Evolution effect. It's strange to get your head around at first, with the player going first getting to evolve two followers, and the second having three opportunities available.
That means timing your evolutions, as well as evolving the right creature at the right time, are key considerations.
While Shadowverse Champion's Battle does make use of as much of the Switch's display as it possibly can, it can be a little overwhelming.
Between card types often looking quite similar, keeping tabs on evolution, and matches moving at a brisk click, you'll often find yourself wanting to slow things down and survey the battlefield.
What definitely helps are the pieces of card artwork. They run the gamut from almost gothic-looking dragon monsters, to anime-inspired magic wielders, to, well, pretty adorable little snowmen.
Interface issues aside, Shadowverse Champion's Battle offers a fresh new spin on the card-battling genre (unless you've been playing the base game on PC). Its mechanics are an interesting amalgam of all that came before, but timing an evolution effect to clear a path to victory remains exciting every time.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by the publisher