Genre: Indie, Point-and-click, Adventure
Developed by: Nerial
Published by: Devolver Digital
Release date: June 2nd 2022
Platforms: Windows PC, Mac and Nintendo Switch
Platform I played on: Windows PC
Card Shark almost flew under my game radar, as the game was first announced way back in 2020, and had been quiet up until this year. Since that time many other games were released (and delayed) so it had remained under the radar for me. Thankfully though, I was lucky enough to have access to a full review copy of the game for Windows PC. I didn't really know what to expect from this game, or how I would end up feeling about it - but after playing through and experiencing it I have to say; this game is well worth checking out. It's uniqueness stems from every aspect of the game, from the premise to art style, to the narrative interwoven in. You may be thinking it's a card game considering the premise is learning to cheat at card games, but as the game unfolds it reveals itself to be more.
Card Shark takes place in 18th century France. You play as a young nameless mute, who soon after you begin the game, gets taken in by the notorious scammer Comte de Saint-Germain. Throughout the game, you travel across the country with Comte de Saint-Germain, learning about new techniques and tricks to cheat in card games, alongside other cool tricks that all come into play at some point of the game - all without being suspected. While cheating in the card games is about taking opponents money (and, I wanna say ego), it's also used for exposing secrets, and unravelling the truth about well known figures, and the past. With genuine unexpected twists, and a bit humour blended within, the story is an enjoyable experience.
There are 3 difficulties to choose from, and a hint system you can toggle between on and off at any time. The hint system is extremely useful if you're quick to forget something - I know I sure am at times - so this hint system came in handy to rejog my memory and guide a bit.
The gameplay has an emphasis on learning to be under pressure while you're on a suspicious meter timer during a game. The opponents suspicion metre rises if you take too long with the cards, make a mistake or even by how much coin you bet on the card game. One small mistake can cost you the round, and even to the point your opponents suspicion of you can cause them to lash out, and lead you into serious trouble.
Some card techniques can be frustrating to remember or pull off the first few times you try it, it's ultimately satisfying when you finally get it right and beat your opponent. The game allows you the option to practice each technique before heading into the actual card game. You can do this as many times as you like and at your own pace. (Keep in mind though, you're on a bit of a timer during a real game)
While it is mostly card techniques the controls and tricks do vary so you're not always repeating the same thing. You also get the chance to learn some other cool tricks other than cheating at cards, such as coin tosses and even a few sword fights. It was unexpected, but a welcome surprise that shakes up the gameplay and story to keep things fresh. The controls are genuinely simple and clearly made with a controller in mind, there were a few times where the analog stick and button didn't respond right away. It is also quite a bit to remember, but you can view the specific controls via pause button.
The game length clocks in just under 10 hours, though this is of course will vary depending on how you play, and how quickly you pick up the card techniques. Some card techniques may take a while to get used to - at times, this could get particularly frustrating. Other card techniques however are a breeze to get through.
The art style is by Nicolai Troshinsky, and honestly I'm not even sure where to begin on this section of this review. The monoprint art style is beautifully crafted with the styles aesthetic, authenticity and rich in a variety of colours as you'll see throughout this review. The art style is one of the most unique aspects about the game that perfectly captures the era the story is set in; it's crafted immaculately.
The game runs smoothly overall, with only 1 issue on my end that happened towards the end of the game. I had a glitch of a character not showing up when I clicked an action button for them to sit down at the table, so I had to quit the game, then come back to it. This worked just fine, and there were no further issues after that.
If you're wanting to play through and challenge yourself on all difficulties and see every outcome the game has to offer, yes. Personally I don't see myself playing this a second time as I'm not big on difficulty achievements.
The soundtrack is orchestrated by Andrea Boccadoro, whose previous work includes Astrologaster (2021) and 2 recent films. Composing Card Shark with 18th century instruments such as violins, flutes and piano/harpsichord, the soundtrack flawlessly captures the era and tone of the game.
With mostly positive aspects to each section of the game, I can't help but to just recommend it. Of course, this game won't be for everyone, and as much I did enjoy my time with the game I did find myself getting a bit frustrated and overwhelmed every now and then with some of the card techniques, some explanations and having to repeat the entire process again. However, I think it's safe to say I can highly recommend this game if you're someone that is looking for a challenge, or are looking for a unique experience to dive into for a few hours - Card Shark may be just what you're looking for. With it's impeccable art design and unique premise, Card Shark is sure to pop up in some categories at Game Awards, as well as perhaps being one of the best indie titles, and unparalleled games of the year so far.