REVIEW: ‘Card Shark’ Is a Full-House Period Piece (PC)

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Card Shark (1)

We’ve seen a huge growth in card games recently. With Deckbuilders, digital card games, and games like Neon White, there’s just about a card game for anyone. However, we haven’t really seen a card game that really isn’t a card game.  Card Shark, the newest action-adventure game by developer Nerial and publisher Devolver Digital, calls that bluff.

Card Shark puts you in late 1700s France, where definitely nothing revolutionary is on the horizon. You play as a mute server boy who gets whisked away into the world of playing card games. Under the tutelage of your new patron, Compte de Saint-Germain, you not only learn how to enjoy the better things in life, but how to swindle those who enjoy the high life too much out of all of their money. Just about everyone in 18th century France enjoys playing cards. And apparently, they also enjoy betting way too much money. Thankfully, you know just about every way to cheat, swindle, and deceive your fellow players of their not-so-hard-earned money, as well as valuable secrets.

At first glance, Card Shark wasn’t appealing to me. I thought it was first and foremost a card game. I’ve never been one for card games, save for collecting Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh cards back in my 10s. But this isn’t a card game. This is a hustler’s game. There is no focus on what cards YOU’RE going to play, it’s about pulling off the right moves correctly. Instead of looking at hands of cards, you play many quick-time events (or QTEs) to play or help your partner play the perfect hand.

A fun mechanic that plays into this is the “suspicion” gauge that takes up the bottom portion of your screen. While I at first overlooked it, it quickly became apparent that that is what you should be paying attention to the most. It adds a really interesting layer of pressure and risk on top of everything else. The longer you take to pull off certain moves, the faster the bar fills up. The higher you bet, the less bar you have to work with; almost like a difficulty slider.

Thankfully, and what I enjoyed most, you don’t have to choose what move you need to pull off before a new game. Plus, there is no surprise either. As an introduction before you start your next card game, you are trained on a new move. Whether it be a whole new move or building on previous experience, you know what exactly you need to do.

Better yet, they don’t just tell you and have you throw in with everyone else. The game gives you as much time as you want to practice. If there are potential variations of what may be expected of you, you’re given time to practice that, too! I never felt like I was lost or confused at any point. That doesn’t mean the game is a cakewalk though.

That “suspicion” gauge I mentioned earlier, on top of having to do 3-4 different tricks in a game really adds up. For instance, in a mid-game match, I was tasked with the following: reading cards quickly by using a mirror, remembering the best suit, relaying that best suit and the number of cards in that suit to my partner, pour wine to get a stolen deck of cards and not seem suspicious doing so, high-value cards quickly, then deal out the cards using sleight of hand tricks to ensure my partner gets all the high cards. It’s a lot there, but I never felt overwhelmed.

But there is a risk of failing. Getting caught cheating, or failing too much at these challenges can lead to two things. First, you lose money. Money is what allows you to progress in the game. You need to meet the minimum buy-in to play large story games. Second, which becomes a much larger risk further on in the game, is you can die. On lower difficulties, death isn’t permanent. Actually, you get a chance to either buy your way back to life or do what you do best. Cheat your way through a card game to win a new lease on life. While it sounds annoying, they weren’t much of an issue. In fact, losing money actually feels like the way to really enjoy the game further.

To allow you to get more money, Card Shark provides opportunities for you to play little-to-no-stake games to earn some quick money. These include card games that you actually do get to choose the moves you want to pull off, or street swindler games, like follow the birdie. This added touch does take the stress down a little with less of a focus on a “Game Over” and more of a “get back up there and try again” feel.

So what is the point of all this? Why are you joining a known cheater to be a French Robin Hood? Comte is on the hunt for the truth of a story that could change France entirely. A story that involves the monarch, Louis XV, known as “the Twelve Bottles of Milk”. To do this, you’re not just playing with any random rich people, you’re playing with those who have status, who when their funds are low tend to slip up information. All the while trying to help the growing community of homeless and shunned people of France to build up their new community, the Court of Miracles. The more money you donate to them, the more it helps that community grow. It’s a fun and engaging story full of twists, that I never wanted to put down.

Card Shark (1)

What truly drives home this world though is the art aesthetic. Everything looks hand-painted, from the environments, down to the actually probably hand-painted cards from that time. Many scenes can feel like a French Revolutionary painting. This style gives this game the push it needs to feel like a period piece and not just a game set in a time period. Almost like you’re experiencing this engaging story in its proper setting.

I only truly had two issues during my playthrough. And that was how certain actions just never really felt right when trying to perform them speedily. Specifically, there is a move where you need to move the left stick (the game makes it clear that a controller is preferred, and I agree with this sentiment) in a certain pattern. I don’t think I ever pulled this move off right unless it was strictly a clockwise or counter-clockwise motion. I tried different controllers and could never get it right. This could be from trying to perform the trick speedily and cutting corners, but no matter what I did, I couldn’t get the move right.

Additionally, my choices didn’t feel impactful to the game. Did my donating money than asked affect The Court of Miracles’ growth? Did certain choices I made (in the form of smirks or headshakes), actually change how certain events played out? None of that ever really felt that way. Unlike other games, I felt like I was being brought along a certain path full of QTEs and those choices just added more interactivity during cutscenes than leading to many different endings.

Card Shark is a truly unique experience that shouldn’t be slept on. This is the game for those who don’t like card games. The developers have made a very fun experience that builds on itself fluidly in a way that many other games don’t seem to get right. From the story, the handpainted aesthetic, to the actual gameplay, Card Shark is a great journey right from hitting “New Game” and was one that I didn’t expect to enjoy as much as I did.

Card Shark is available on PC and Nintendo Switch.


Card Shark
  • 8.5/10
    Rating - 8.5/10
8.5/10

TL;DR

Card Shark is a truly unique experience that shouldn’t be slept on. This is the game for those who don’t like card games. The developers have made a very fun experience that builds on itself fluidly in a way that many other games don’t seem to get right.