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Card Shark Review

Card Shark Review

Before developing this Card Shark review, it was easy to assume that it was going to be some kind of card game set in the 1800s. Perhaps it was going to use old style vernacular and rules that are not commonly used today. This is not what you’ll get when playing Card Shark.

Card Shark is about card games and there it does help if players going in are aware of card suits and some basic rules, but there is no actual card games to play. Instead of playing a game of Papillion or Tontine, the experience is focused entirely on cheating or rigging the game.

Some say, “cheaters never prosper”, but in Card Shark, cheating is the only way to win. Just how well does this esoteric experiment pay off? Find out in the Card Shark review!

Card Shark
Developer: Nerial
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, Mac, iOS, Nintendo Switch (reviewed)
Release Date: June 2, 2022
Players: 1
Price: $19.99 USD 

The Victorian era backdrop proves to be a compelling setting for Card Shark‘s story that mixes real historical figures with a fictional mute protagonist. The player-character shows savant-like aptitude for sleight-of-hand gestures and the Comte de Saint-Germain takes him under his wing on a fateful night.

The Comte was a real-life adventurer and philosopher who was a bit of a socialite among high society. In Card Shark, he is the hero’s mentor and will take him on a wild journey, showing him how to be the ultimate cheater in gambling. He is an enigmatic figure and easily can be considered the story’s deuteragonist, as the conspiracy unravels. 

There are almost 30 different kinds of cheating methods that the Comte teaches the player. At times it feels as if entering a new world and the revelations of how simple it is to swindle other players becomes tempting. Some are simpler than others and some may require a bit of forethought or planning ahead. Cheats that can be convoluted and can require many steps and thats when Card Shark gets interesting.

In Card Shark, the entire focus is the ruse, not the card game. Most of the time there isn’t any indication what game is being played and the only aspect that the player must concentrate on is the various cheating methods and not getting caught by the mark.

The act of cheating takes on many forms and each can have variations and sometimes are combined with others. Mechanically, the gameplay is not that dissimilar to a Wario Ware mini-game… just slower paced and money is the failure allowance.

Depending on the mark, different tactics are called for and its always up to Comte to guide the protagonist on what will be the best method. It can be as simple as giving subtle hand signals or the way how a card is placed down or even merely bending the card slightly.

Complex ruses like the various deck stacking tricks can be more involving and the time-pressure won’t make it easy to not get caught. There are many different ways to cheat and the scenario will mix things up as the story calls for it. No matter what, the input methods will be consistent for certain actions and other times will be expanded upon; often combining cheats.

What makes all the deception so engaging is the way the story unfolds and uses witty dialogue that is steeped in period appropriate cadence. Card Shark‘s writing is sharp and has a lot of flavor to it that makes it feel authentic. The way characters will dryly insult each other and advanced vocabulary suggest that Card Shark‘s writers were well-read and did their homework.

The ambiance is tied together with a very unconventional art style that does not resemble a video game for the most part. The visuals do justice to the era that Card Shark aspires to emulate. The emphasis on textures and inky brush strokes give the graphics an old world charm about it that makes it undeniably unique.

The soundtrack was notable for also adhering to the style and sensibilities of the 1800s. The orchestral score when compounded with the painterly and stylized visuals; gave the game a lot of warmth and personality. Most original music in games in the 2020s barely leave an impression, but Card Shark is an exception and is unforgettable.

There is a lot to like about with Card Shark, but it may not be a game for everyone. Fans of card games may be disappointed that there is no actual card game to play at all which is disappointing when considering all the effort put into cheating in order to get a good hand. This is an adventure game with a story that just so happens to be centered on card game gambling.

Without any card games to play, there is no way to win without cheating. The only way to win any game in Card Shark is to cheat. If there was an actual card game, players could potentially win legitimately if they botch some of the many steps needed to successfully rig a game.

Botching a ruse means having to go through the motions of the card game that players cannot have any impact on. This can draw out the length of Card Shark due to these animations being unskipable. When retrying a failed stage, players won’t be able to speed up text either which can be frustrating due to the narrative focus causing Card Shark to have lots of dialogue.

Card Shark is an acquired taste and its worst design decision is merely an oversight. It is evident through out the entire experience that the developer poured a lot of care and attention into this game. The passion and ingenuity shines brightly in its illustrative art style and epigrammatic writing.

Every aspect of Card Shark is polished to a mirror sheen. Card Shark is one of the most original ideas realized in recent years and is executed with extreme confidence and panache. Anyone who is a fan of adventure games will find Card Shark to be an enthralling journey.

Card Shark was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a copy provided by Devolver Digital. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. Card Shark is now available for Mac iOS, Windows PC (via Steam), and Nintendo Switch.

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The Verdict: 8

The Good

  • A novel take on combining gambling elements and adventure games
  • Cheating is thrilling and educational
  • Interacting with historical figures and robbing them
  • Various mini-games and high stakes keep the scenario varied and gripping
  • Unconventional art style and Victorian era France is undeniably unique

The Bad

  • Unskippable animations and no means to speed up text makes retrying painful
  • No way to win without cheating and there are no actual card games to play

About

A youth destined for damnation.