Shadowverse: Champion’s Battle Review

You know how the story goes: the new kid joins a school where everyone is obsessed with a card game. Not wanting to be left out, the kid tries their hand, only to find out that they are not only a natural, but the soon-to-be best player in the world. Multiply that by Yu-Gi-Oh and you have Shadowverse: Champion’s Battle — an RPG deck builder that positively drips Japan.

Like Yu-Gi-Oh, our protagonist finds themselves playing an AR-based digital card game — in this case, summoning ‘followers’ by playing cards on their wrist-mounted phone stand. While it doesn’t have the very loose Egyptian mythology of Yu-Gi-Oh, it does have all the other tropes: a plucky group of friends that stick together through the tough times, a card game built by a shadowy corporation, a national tournament pitting a bunch of people with crazy hair against each other, and an evil CEO who watches children play games from a dimly lit room for some reason.

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Beyond that, you have all the usual beats, with tropey writing, racial stereotyping, and anime sections to boot. Lack of originality isn’t always a bad thing — sometimes you just want to play the same nostalgic game with a slightly different skin, as any Zelda fan will attest to. Fortunately, for a game that leans heavily on a tried and tested premise, Shadowverse: Champion’s Showdown brings a lot to the table.

All the anime

Shadowverse, the eponymous card game you play in Champion’s Showdown is undoubtedly engaging. In my preview last month, I said it has “the gameplay of Hearthstone … the vibes of Digimon and Yu-Gi-Oh, and the atmosphere of Persona crossed with Final Fantasy VIII”. This still stands, and I’ve found myself playing a lot more Shadowverse than I ought to. Even when I had more pressing games to review Shadowverse was the one I was reaching for, which is a sign of just how moreish the gameplay can be.

And this is in spite of the lack of interaction on the other player’s turn — one of the things that makes Magic the Gathering unequivocally the best card game of all time — and the completely over-the-top almost-hentai card art. The games themselves are fun, even if half the time is spent simply sitting there waiting for your turn to begin. You can’t cast spells or even decide how to block on your opponent’s turn, which is a massive shame.

Still, the gameplay works. The different classes you can play as are nice and varied, though there are some clear frontrunners in terms of which outperform the others. I spent the final week reviewing this using two decks in rotation, depending on whether I needed to play aggro or control.

This does tend to make the game monotonous at times. Fortunately, there are ways to break that, with side quests, puzzle battles and an end-game area that has you creating new decks on the fly to overcome NPCs with rule-changing superpowers. There are hundreds of hours of gameplay hours for you here and you will certainly get your money’s worth.

Artwork that’s NSFW

However, for all my enjoyment of Shadowverse, there are a couple of niggling problems that really stick in the craw. First is the unnecessary amount of skin on show. This is very much a game that was built with the sexual gratification of fans in mind. This is nothing new in card games. I see this all the time in the real world playing Magic — I’d sit down across from a stranger and they’d whip out their custom playmat with super erotic artwork before busting out their deck, sleeved up in equally, if not more outrageous ‘anime girl’ card sleeves. You then have to sit there for the next 15 minutes beating somebody who would seemingly rather be beating themselves.

Shadowverse fully embodies this ‘card shop creep’ vibe by taking the eroero art and sticking it directly onto the card itself as official artwork. If a card depicts a female character, evolving (powering it up) alters the art to shows more skin. If it’s male or neutral (say, a skeleton or demon), doing the same gives it more armour. It’s utterly shameless and it completely detracts from an otherwise excellent card game.

This really is unfortunate, because the art is very high quality — some of it looks genuinely badass, especially when a legendary card is played and they burst onto the screen with a flashy cutscene. However, the stuff that’s aimed at sexual gratification just holds the rest of the game back.

How does it play?

Looking at the game in which this game is played, Champion’s Showdown, we have a similarly accomplished, but not quite perfect situation. You pick whether your character is male or female, and then run around the town of Nekome, thrashing your opponents at a game you’ve only just learned, picking up cash, cards and ‘deck codes’ (deck lists) as you grind their dreams into experience points.

Despite your status as a child prodigy, with the locals continually commenting on your blazing hot win streak, there’s a pretty weird difficulty spike every time you win a tournament to increase your rank. Somehow, everyone around you has just done the same, allowing you to play them again, but with a slight variation on their deck.

When you win enough ranks, you reach a point where a brand new card set comes out. Despite being time-locked, you’ll find yourself playing against people that already have the cards before release, and as soon as the cards are released, all of your opponents have bought all the cards they need.

Herein lies the difficulty spike — you’re suddenly forced to either dump all of your cash into new card packs, in the hopes of cracking what you need, which is a dumb idea as any TCG player will tell you — or you can battle these newly OP enemies in the hopes of winning enough cards to power up your decks.

Grinding for cards

Since the only duplicate protection here is immediately selling cards you already own four of, buying cards quickly becomes a game of opening packs for zero reward. Since this is supposed to be a digital card game, the lack of an inbuilt system that ensures you get the cards you don’t own — something that exists in other digital card games — is extremely frustrating and makes Shadowverse extremely grindy.

Again, despite my gripes, this is a genuinely engaging game. Running around the town, hanging out with your hilariously tropey friends is great fun — more so when you realise how choc-full of innuendo it is. The 14-year-old boys the game is pitched at, who will no doubt channel themselves into the male character, are going to have a lot of guys in the game making weirdly charged comments at them, which I found hilarious given the amount of bums and boobs that are otherwise on show.

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Summary
I have really enjoyed Shadowverse, and I will no doubt keep this on my Switch as my go-to game when I’m stuck on the Tube. The problem is that if anyone looks over my shoulder to see what I’m playing, they’re probably going to make a snap judgement about me and what I’m into.
Good
  • An engaging card game set in a fun adventure
  • There are countless hours of gameplay here
Bad
  • There’s too much skin on display for what’s ultimately a kids’ game
  • The difficulty spikes are silly
  • There’s no duplicate protection
7