Card Fighters DS is a hard sell - to just about anyone besides the hardcore fans of the original Neo Geo Pocket Color game. It's a collectible trading card game, filled with the (mostly) obscure characters from the SNK and Capcom lineups of years past. Wait, come back!
What's particularly perplexing about this sequel, though, is just how far it strays from the winning formula of the original in a misguided attempt to try and make it relevant - to not just the sort of hardcore fans who still buy SNK's 2D fighting games. Nope, it's got a fully refreshed story and style that are faintly reminiscent of the Mega Man Battle Network games in a desperate attempt to rope in the kiddies. But no matter your age, the story is insultingly stupid: it stars a plucky young teenager in a battle to keep a malevolent artificially intelligent computer system from taking over the world... via collectible card battling. No, the developers don't even try to explain this idiotic tale, but the game sure does squirt out plenty of meaningless text about it.
The card battling system that forms the core of the game's play is, fortunately, competent. Fans of Magic the Gathering will recognize a stripped-down version of that game here. There are five different colors of energy required to place cards into play; character cards can do battle against your opponent's cards or deal damage directly to the opponent if not blocked. Lots of little special abilities mix up the gameplay. It's actually a very serviceable combat system, but it sacrifices the simplicity and speed of the original game - thanks also to a clunky interface, piles of unnecessary text, and overly long attack animations - in favor of trying to create something "deeper" and, presumably, appeal to fans of real collectible card games. This is another misstep.
You earn credits from fighting that can be used to buy new card packs. This presents two problems: there's nothing preventing you from resetting the DS every time you buy a pack of cards until you luck into a good card. And you don't earn cards fast enough (particularly if you don't cheat to get better ones) to improve your deck very much as you ascend the tower. In fact, cheating is probably the only way to get decent cards at anything like a reasonable rate. This can lead to real roadblocks later.